Finding joy in the unexpected

I went to college because I wanted to write. I jumped into journalism my first semester at Western Michigan University and learned all about reporting and writing. I had an internship at the Gazette writing. I wrote for the Western Herald. I spent four years writing.

Following graduation, I am not writing for a newspaper. I am designing them. This is not something I expected.

But quite honestly, I love it.

There is beauty in words and language, but there is beauty in presentation as well. I still write for myself and I hope to write in the future because it truly is a passion of mine but I love design.

Similar to writing, in design I am constantly learning new tricks, how to make things tighter and how to make it interesting for the reader.

It’s not what I expected I would be doing but it gives me joy to see a product of mine and be proud.

Time to get off your high horse

You know you need to put the pen to paper (or letters to the computer) when you have been thinking about the same thing for days.

Last weekend, something happened that I cannot get off my mind. I have been holding off on writing about it because I don’t exactly know what I will say, but it’s just time to put the pen to the paper and see what happens.

A few days ago Josh and I went to Walmart (I think I needed new leggings to wear with dresses). Once we had our items we stood in the 20 items or under checkout lane. Ahead of us was a woman and of course, the cashier.

As we settled into the line we saw the cashier reach out to hand the woman her change and as he did, he dropped a nickel. He immediately apologized. But the woman insisted that because he  was the one to drop it, he needed to come from behind the counter and pick it up and hand it to her.

Casually, as he was walking around to do so, he said that she was closer. She started screaming a him about his attitude and how he had to service the customer and pick up her nickel. The nickel that was maybe 5 inches away from her feet.

Now, this situation in itself sounds ridiculous. But what broke my heart was to see this woman get some sort of high off of bossing around this cashier who clearly had some handicaps. This behavior is not appropriate to anyone.

Josh, being the sympathetic man he is, piped in and kindly told the cashier that he was fine and that, “some people just wake up mean on the weekends.” He was promptly given many choice words and the middle finger several times.

She then left and we had a wonderful conversation with the cashier and wished him a good day.

This story may seem trivial but I have not stopped thinking about it because it exemplifies two things:

1. There are some people who just thrive off of sitting on their high horse and belittling people who they deem less than themselves and

2. There are some people who will defend those who are being belittled.

I am so blessed to be marrying someone in the second category.

Ten books that have left their mark on me

This is a list that has been making its rounds on Facebook, but I have too much to say to make it a simple numbered list.

First, the rules: list ten books that have had an impact on you in some way. The books don’t have to be epic works of literature, just a book that has had a lasting impression in some way.

So here I go:

1. Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

Call it cliche, as I have seen this series on basically everyone’s list, but these books have stayed with me for many years. When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone released in 1997, I was just five years old. Ten years later at age 15, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows was released. Amidst that, eight films were released and they all did one thing for me: instill a love for magic, other worlds and fantasy. This series largely sparked my love for books and films such as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Game of Thrones.

2. Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)

I think that I first read this book in middle school and I have read it several times since. Only around 100 pages long, this book is my go to quick read that packs a lot of punch. The relationship between Lennie and George is my favorite part. Every time I read this book, I am captivated by Lennie’s character and his dependence on George.

3. The BFG (Roald Dahl)

Right in line with Roald Dahl’s other work (Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, etc), The BFG has always stayed with me. It was quirky and introduced me to the concept that people (or giants) aren’t always who you assume them to be.

4. The Awakening (Kate Chopin)

The summer before my senior year at Western Michigan University, I took a seven-week English literature course and we read The Awakening. Although I just read it a little over a year ago, the book has resonated with me since. Published in 1899, Chopin’s book brought to light things that were unorthodox to think about, let alone act on: what motherhood and feminism should mean. The book is often referenced as an early work of feminist literature that is painfully honest.

5. The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

I first read The Scarlet Letter in high school and while many others were complaining about another 1800s book, I was drawn in by Hester Prynne’s choices and the consequences that came of it. While probably not the main point of the book, what stays with me is the question: Should someone’s life worth be characterized by one (or a few) things they did? It reminds me to not base my perception of a person on one interaction.

6. Pendragon series (D. J. MacHale)

The Pendragon series was my go to series when I was a kid. There was love, friendship, adventure and fantasy. I haven’t read the series in years but even as early as two weeks ago I was buying one of the books in the series to complete my collection. Like Harry PotterPendragon helped in developing my love for fantasy books.

7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)

A perfect blend of science, history and family, this book hits on every one of my loves. While I love fiction and fantasy, the real world has some amazing stories and this is one of them. This book has sparked my love for non-fiction books that tell the sometimes insane stories of real people and events.

8. The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster)

One of my favorite books of all time, The Phantom Tollbooth explored the English language and love for knowledge in a fun quirky way. From the jump to the Island of Conclusions to Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason, this book is packed full with a love for language and helped me greatly to develop my own love for English.

9. The Three and Many Wishes of Jason Reid (Hazel Hutchins)

For the last three years, I have been trying to figure out the name to this book. All I could remember was that it was about three wishes, a boy and baseball. Not much to go on. Finally, with the help of my mom, I figured out the book. I can’t exactly tell you what stayed with me but the fact that at 22 years old, I was still thinking about this book and trying to figure out its name should say something about it.

10. Silverwing (Kenneth Oppel)

I can still remember picking this book off of the shelf in fifth grade. The story follows the young and very small bat Shade as he tries to find his way back to his family. Even though it was perfect reading for an 11-year-old, I have read the book as recent as a year ago and have also bought it’s prequels and sequels.

Honorable mentions:

  • My Sister’s Keeper (Jodi Picoult)-This book ignited my love for Jodi Picoult books.
  • Carrie (Stephen King)-Having already seen the movies, I decided to read Carrie and I have since upped my Stephen King collection from zero to around 20 of his books.

Ready to move on, Part 3

The apartment is nearly spotless. Filled with only the indents of a family that used to live here. My room is the worst. It is crammed with boxes that are stacked to the ceiling.

It’s time to move again and relocate my life. Once again my Disney movies are packed into a box, away for safe keeping until we move.

I am moving back to the home that I grew up in. The beautifully tacky green house with weed filled gardens and debris filled gutters. It’s not always great, but the house is my home.

My room is painted green. Prairie green to be exact. I can paint the walls. It is so different from the white walls of the apartments. I can be creative. I can imagine the oranges and reds vibrating off the walls in explosive colors; the cool colors of winter spread throughout; and the spring-like pastels of relaxation. I can imagine the vintage of worn down homes and the variety that a new beginning should have. I can do more than imagine now, I can create.

I can put nails in the wall. Bang, bang, bang! This is amazing. I can put the sharp edges through the dry-wall, piercing the green, to hang up pictures.

I can sweep the floor. No more carpet. I walk on the floor and can still feel the roughness from the refinishing.

I walk around the room that is still covered with boxes stacked to the ceiling. I have more boxes for my room than any other room in the house. I can’t even reach the ones at the top. I think of the unpacking and don’t look forward to it. I had counted them before we moved: 47. 47 boxes.

I suppose I should get started.

Seven hours later I am done. Although exhausted, I am relieved. I sit down on my newly made bed and settle back. I click the red button on my remote and fall into the sounds of “Spongebob Squarepants, Spongebob Squarepants, SPONGEBOB SQUAREPAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNTTTTTSSSS!”

Needless to say my homework didn’t get done that night but I was finally happy looking at those prairie green walls.

Ready to move on, Part 2

Rip! Smash! Crack!

A mangled chair makes its way up the stairs in the arms of a family member. The chair is construed into every possible direction and is barely recognizable as the comfort object it used to be. Now it is just a heap of fabric and metal. The dumpster sits outside surrounded by wet snow.

“Blizzard conditions,” the weatherman says on the TV in the background. And it truly is blizzard conditions.

Today is the day that my dad is moving out of the house I have spent my entire life in. Yet, I am not sad because this is a good thing. But it is still difficult to see the look on my dad and brother’s faces as that pack everything into the rickety U-Haul. All of the couches, chairs, lamps, clothes and everything else that holds a memory is packed into the nastiest most vile ridden vehicle I have ever seen.

I know that my dad, and myself as well, isn’t really ready to move on. It’s a hard thing to do after all.

The remains of an unplugged freezer leak on to the basement stairs. My dad’s cousin is trapped behind it, getting the worst of the job. The fridge is stuck and everything comes to a stand still. A small broom weighing no more than a pound and a half emerges and I think, “how can that possibly help.” With the help of a least four people, the still leaking fridge is slid across the broom and up the stairs.

The list of what went wrong that day does not end with the fridge. The blizzard puts a foot of snow on to the already icy roads, my dad’s thumb get slammed between a TV and his truck, the U-Haul (the ever reliable vehicle it is) gets stuck in a ditch in the snow and I end up being late for work.

Finally, many hours later, everything is done. West Main is now my other home. Again, the apartment has the sterile white walls. I can’t seem to escape the damn white walls.

To be continued…

Ready to move on, Part 1

“Dad, are you ready to take me back to Grandma’s house?”

Rushing through my house to gather up all of my weekend things, I try my best to hurry my dad out of the house without being too obvious of my intent. My intent being I want to go now!


He slowly emerges out of the house like a shrimp from its humble abode. Even more slowly he glides into his metallic blue truck with ease and absolutely no rush. I think that maybe he is trying to savor the little time we have together. But I don’t have time to be waiting. I need to get to my grandparents house quickly, so I can pack everything up for the new apartment.

Click. Swoop. Vroom.

We pull swiftly out of the tragically sun-dried yard onto the dark night pavement weathered with debris and rocks. With every passing of those gorgeous houses into perfectly pristine and preppy Portage, I envision what the new apartment will be like. I see oranges and reds vibrating off the walls in explosive colors. I imagine the cool colors of winter throughout, and the pastels of a springlike relaxation. The vintage of worn down homs and the variety that a new beginning should have. My mind is filled with endless possibilities.

“You seem distracted,” my dad states, but doesn’t question.

My response is no more complex than a simple dismissive shrug and a sigh escaping my chapped lips. I am too anxious to give any further explanation, especially since my dad doesn’t even know about the apartment yet. My compact mind wanders from what the apartment will look like, how much work it will take to pack my stuff, how much harder it will be to unpack it and finally: “Am I ready to move on?”

“Bye Dad.”

There is no more time for the images dancing vividly through my mind. It is time to pack, and I have to do it quickly too. My mom will be at my grandma’s soon and I need to be ready. Brown box after brown box is filled with my memorable items, my useless junk and my priceless treasure. I pack away memories of a long ago family love, musical memories, notes, flowers, books, and of course the most important item of all, Disney movies. I leave behind the memories that I have harbored at my grandparent’s house in the past couple of months and quickly move on the the idea of an actual room. But am I ready to move my mom and I in with her new boyfriend?

As I mull these questions over, a black ’94 Lincoln moseys its way into my grandparents rock paved driveway. My mom. It’s time to go. There is no turning back now. Soon every crevice of the Lincoln is filled with my life. As I wave goodbye to my grandma who stands at the foot of her steps, I reminisce over the strength she has provided me during a difficult time for my family. From the divorce, to my father and my other grandmother, she has helped me with everything. I start to feel sad about leaving, but those feelings are soon replaced with the hope of a happier life, even if I am slightly afraid of it.

A quick ten-minute drive and we are there. I can feel the excitement bubbling through me like a volcano on the brink of explosion. I silently tip-toe into the apartment and I am sadly disappointed due to my own overflowing imagination. The colors that I was imagining jumping off the walls were replaced with the sterile white walls of a doctor’s office, and had the creativity of a grain of dust. But it’s home and I try to make it work.

I spend weeks decorating my room and trying to make it feel homey. Bu those sterilized walls allow for no creativity and block my outlets. I replace what I can with art and love. This is as close as I can get to a true home, and the people within the home are more important than the materials within. I am ready to move on from the period of struggle and re-emerge into a life of little worry and happy endings.

To be continued…

This is from a piece I wrote in my high school advanced placement English course. It is divided into three parts.

Throwback Thursday News Edition: Young Kalamazoo Promise students excited about the future

In my version of a throwback Thursday, I am publishing an article of mine from 2011. Although old, it is an article that I am still very proud of, both as a writer and as a recipient myself of the Kalamazoo Promise. I wanted to pull the article from my other more obscure blog and publish it here

A journalist. A geologist. A paleontologist. A lawyer. An entrepreneur. A dancer. These are all careers that Carrie Schultheiss’s fifth grade class at the Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School in Kalamazoo, Mich. list as future careers.

This classroom of fifth graders chattered excitedly about how their career aspirations would be possible through the Kalamazoo Promise.

The Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship program that offers up to 100 percent of tuition at any public university in Michigan, was announced in 2005 and provides Kalamazoo Public School students with a tuition free college education, for at least the next 13 years.

Between the 2005-06 to 2007-08 school years when the Kalamazoo Promise was announced, Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School experienced an increased enrollment of 43.1 percent, according statistics from the Center for Educational Performance and Information.

As of 2009, the total enrollment at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary school was 536 students and the Kalamazoo Public School system had a total enrollment of 12,100, with the number continuing to rise through the years, according to data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.

Administrators, teachers and parents, since the announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise, have been devising ways to motivate students to go to college. Kalamazoo Promise Evaluation updates from Western Michigan University highlight information about the Kalamazoo Promise and its continued effect on Kalamazoo and its students.

Getting to and especially through college is what is promoted each and every day at the Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School, Carrie Schultheiss said. In her classroom, Schultheiss said that one significant thing that they do is talk with students about when they are going to go to college, not if they are going to college.

“We change how we talk about it, almost so that college is really just viewed as a continuation of high school, which a lot of parents don’t view it that way,” Schultheiss said.

The graduation rate in Kalamazoo Public Schools since the Kalamazoo Promise was announced has reached 70.73 percent in 2009, according to data from Center for Educational Performance and Information.

“Graduating high school is not only the goal, but also the milestone to reach college,” Schultheiss said.

The Kalamazoo Promise and college are not just discussed in the classroom, Schultheiss said. There are assemblies, speeches and guest speakers coming in constantly to speak to the students about the importance of college, Schultheiss said.

“I don’t think that there is a day that goes by that Carol Steiner, the principal of Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School, doesn’t acknowledge the importance of a college education,” Schultheiss said.

The constant reminder of the importance of college for these students gives them an understanding of how the Kalamazoo Promise affects their lives and other students, Schultheiss said.

Above each classroom door posters hang telling the year that the students will graduate and enter college, and there is Promise Week, Schultheiss said.

Promise Week focuses on the importance of the Kalamazoo Promise in the students’ lives, Schultheiss said. Promise week provides not only activities, but guest speakers as well to illustrate how far the Kalamazoo Promise really reaches, Schultheiss said.

“I think that the Kalamazoo Promise is really good just in case people don’t have the money to go to college of they need some of their college money for other things,” said Daniel Elyea, a fifth-grader at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary school.

Money often presents a problem when planning a college education for a child and the lack of funds can often inhibit the true potential of a student, said Jessika Bragg, parent of Kamron Bragg, a third grade Kalamazoo Promise recipient.

“I’ve often wondered what if Kamron wants to be a doctor. How in the world are we going to come up with the money to put him through 5 to 11 years of schooling?” Bragg said. “I think that it’s offering a lot of young adults the opportunity that most parents can’t afford.”

But parents of Kalamazoo Promise students aren’t under the impression that college will be cost free, Bragg said. She said that she is still continually putting money away for her child’s education in order to ensure him the most beneficial education.

The Kalamazoo Promise has helped so many students, families and the Kalamazoo community, and it means different things to different people, Schultheiss said. She said what is interesting is seeing how students think about their future in college and how parents react to the excitement in their child.

“I think that the Kalamazoo Promise is important because we can tell people who don’t know about it,” said De’Angelo Sanders, a fifth grader at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary.

Patricia Williams, academic coordinator for Kalamazoo Promise Students at Western Michigan University, agreed that it is important for other people to be aware of the opportunity that the Kalamazoo Promise provides.

“I think that it is really important because as a result of the Kalamazoo Promise in the last five years there have been lots of other cities, states and organizations that have attempted to put something similar in place,” Williams said. “They don’t have the same thing but they are attempting to look at how they can help their particular population get through college.”

As the years pass by and young Kalamazoo Public School students work toward their graduation year, they still experience the fear of the unknown, Schultheiss said. As several students in Schultheiss’s class of fifth graders talked about their future careers, a number of them asked, “How can I go to college if I’m not smart enough?”

Today’s young people are the smartest that this world has ever seen, Williams said. It is all about knowing the steps to take to ensure that students reach their full potential in college, Williams said.

“I think that it has to do with their [students] lack of security and self-esteem,” Williams said. “I would say this is what you have to do: Work hard, ask for help when you feel like you don’t know what you need to know and follow up by talking to people who think that you are smart.”

As Schultheiss’s class of fifth graders think about their future careers and the college they will attend, they all gave one reason that they would be going to college.

“The Kalamazoo Promise made it possible,” Sanders said. “I’m going to Western Michigan University because of the Kalamazoo Promise.”