To-do List Liberation: 50-4-50 Lesson

I could look back at my 50-4-50 list and be disappointed for not accomplishing more, but why? Maybe I didn’t kayak a total of 10 times, but I did kayak more than previous summers.  I also didn’t travel to all the places I listed, but I did travel. Part of setting goals is celebrating the small steps. That’s what I chose to do for the past few months however, my 50-4-50 list still nagged at me.  Not so much a nagging that I needed to rush and accomplish everything, but a nagging that I learned some kind of bigger lesson from the whole experience.

As 2019 approached, along with the end of my 50th year, I’ve spent many of my dog walking hours thinking about my list to see if I could figure out why I wasn’t closer to crossing off the entire list. I started the blame game: my family’s medical situations the past year, a job that requires me to grade and plan in the evenings and weekends, buying and selling a home, moving from our home of 24 years into a new home.  I could find all kinds of excuses but then I remembered, it was my list, not anyone else’s. It was time for me to look inward.

My brain loves to find patterns, so I started to notice almost everything on my list related to other people can be (at least partially) checked off.  Those that I let slide focused solely on me. Not a surprise really. There’s a reason I chose teaching as a profession–it’s about the people.

That’s not to say I put everyone else first, it just means I love being with others and helping others. But even this realization didn’t completely satisfy me for some reason. I felt there was more to it, so I kept walking the dog and thinking. That’s when I remembered Oprah turning 50.  On her show she talked about a feeling of liberation at the, and that’s how I feel now as I begin year 51. My 50-4-50 list didn’t dictate my last year, people did, but in a good way. I’ve found that when someone reaches out to me, I don’t look guiltily at my to-do list for school, home, NWP, union, shopping, etc.  I stop and focus on the person. Call me to join you for dinner or a night of cards? Sure! Ask me to be the fourth pickleball player Thursday night? Sure! Drive to Milwaukee just to spend a day with Pam, Matt and Mariette? Sure!

Time has become less important to me in many ways. When I find myself worried and stressed about not having enough time, I remind myself that there will be plenty of time if I just focus on the current moment.  When I do this, my to-do list is just that, a to-do list, not a mandate for how I must live my life. It’s that liberation I feel as I enter year 51 today and the reason I will celebrate today by having no specific schedule, not even a specific time for birthday cake. Today will be another day to  enjoy the people around me, and who knows, maybe cross something off the to-do list.

PS:  Here’s a link to my original 50-4-50 list if you’re interested in just what I accomplished or want to try something similar.

Crossed off 50-4-50 List

Here’s my list.  Crossed off means I accomplished it but doesn’t mean I’ll stop doing it.

I will continue:

  • writing a daily list of 10 items in my gratitude journal (don’t always write, but do reflect each night)
  • 50 Random Acts of Kindness (I’m sure this happened, I just didn’t mark them all down)
  • Volunteer 50+ hours (Special Olympics-Jan; WFTR, Food Fest, Noque, etc.)
  • Vote in every election (Of Course!)
  • Trying new recipes (50 maybe?  Did try cooking w/bean sprouts two days ago–see 5 vegetables a day below)
  • Read books (40ish)

Be healthy:

  • 5 vegetables a day (better but not always)
  • 650 intentional miles of walking/running for my Run 2018 Team (officially over 600 but then realized my 2 mile loop is actually 3 so I’m sure I walked 650)
  • 5K race (nope)
  • 50 push-ups daily (Started this but stopped for some reason)
  • Kayak at least 10x this summer (a few times(
  • Choose my bike or walking over the car (not as much as I should’ve)
  • 50+ minutes outside at least 5x a week (walking the dog helped but still needs work)


  • playing tennis (no but tried Pickleball and loved it!)
  • How to change oil on a car (Yes)
  • Sewing (Nope still need to unpack the machine I bought over a (2) year ago)
  • Planning the neighborhood block party (Soup w/new neighbors after Christmas)
  • Posting to my blog (50x this year) which will also keep me accountable (Ah no…)
  • Write letters/notes to friends (yes I did a few of these and included old pics even)
  • Invite friends over every 4-6 weeks for dinner/games (new house is great for cards!)


  • the violin (with Ali’s help) Does trying it once count?
  • to crochet (no)
  • some foreign language (no)
  • a dance (Salsa anyone?)


  • the trails in South Marquette (once)
  • Hogsback (weather issues but it’s on the list again)
  • The Iron Heritage Trail from Ish. to Mqt.
  • Brockway Mountain Drive
  • Triple A to see the fall colors


  • 250+ miles to spend time with Lisa (Vegas baby!)
  • Mackinac Island (Yes with the girls!)
  • Duluth (a few times)
  • Niagara Falls and hopefully NYC
  • The backroads of my childhood/teen years (planned for 2019 summer w/friend)


  • Colonoscopy (Yup and good for another 10 years)
  • Pedicure (Mother’s Day this year?)
  • Facial: my bday present last year

With Todd:

  • watch a horror movie with him (Pet Semetary is his choice)
  • Jump off Blackrocks  (Yes, thanks Todd, Cathy and Jackie for joining me)
  • Schedule weekly date nights (again)
  • Drive the Razor instead of always being a passenger
  • Shoot Archery


  • Skydive with Ali to celebrate her transition to adulthood (it’s still on our lists)
  • Zipline

Because I can and just want to:

  • plant 50 gladiola bulbs (yes at the old house so need to do this at new house)
  • Watch 50 sunsets/sunrises
  • Purge 50 items at once (We moved!  Who doesn’t purge then?!)
  • Smile more
  • Binge watch an entire series of a show, undecided on which one still (Series 1 of Handmaid’s Tale)

Celebrate my Lucky 50 with some family and friends on Friday the 13th. It was awesome!


Purge Is Not the Word

Downsizing is also not the word. What I experienced starting last April was so much more. My 50-4-50 list included “Purge 50 items at once,” but The Purge actually encompassed weekly, and sometimes daily, sorting and discarding over five months. It began in my home office area on a Saturday in April. That first purge lasted five hours, included a car trip to a recycling dumpster and half-filled our home’s recycling bin. I shocked myself as I discovered many of the papers I’d stored for so long. After living in our house for 23 years, raising two daughters, obtaining 3 college degrees, and teaching 23 years, the types of papers I’d collected ranged from manuals for kitchen appliances no longer in our home to students’ writing for my research papers to our daughters’ school work to tax returns from more than 10 years ago.

I’m not sure what prompted the first purge, but once I started, I didn’t stop. The Purge also led me to decide I was ready to sell our home and move into a new one. A call to a realtor and a quick purge by Todd and I of some basement items, resulted in us signing a Buyer’s Agent contract and one ticked off daughter. How could we sell her childhood home just as she was leaving for college?

With the prospect of finding a new home, selling our current home, and a move, the urge to purge increased. For the next one-two months, I surveyed every item in our home. “Do I need this? Do I want to move this?” By July, my hope of finding a new home dwindled, but The Purge mindset continued. I enjoyed surprising people with that little something. I gave a former student her 7th grade magazine project from at least 12 years ago. (The Purge spread to include my classroom.) A former colleague discovered an “I Love Cincinnati” magnet on her back porch railing I had planned to give her for at least the last three years. Along with the wooden student desk their mom planned to refinish, bottles of bubbles delighted two young cousins. I wanted to purge and kept purging.

In July when we signed a purchase agreement on a new home and the paperwork to actually sell our home, the purging continued.   Needless to say, by the time we moved at the end of August, I’d purged 50 items more than once. A drawback of The Purge though is that it, and the selling/buying of homes, took precedent over the rest of my 50-4-50 list. I’m still writing in my gratitude journal but my other writing, including blogging, is woefully behind. Now that The Purge is done, I can refocus my energy on attacking that 50-4-50 list. I’ll keep you posted…

The Blank Refrigerator

Once upon a time there was a blank refrigerator.  It dutifully kept its contents cold for its owners.  Over time the refrigerator held more than just perishable food; it kept memories.  These memories were not found on the inside, but on the exterior of the refrigerator.  There were candid snapshots of family, magnetic momentos of trips and special surprises, a handmade poster, report cards, certificates of achievement, grocery lists, menu ideas, and more.  These physical objects meant less to outside observers but still provided a glimpse into the owners’ lives.


A few of the items found on our fridge.

Over time the refrigerator tired and was replaced, but each new replacement refrigerator’s door became a display–until last week.  

You see, last week one of the owners started packing for the family’s move to a new house and the refrigerator isn’t coming along. Even though that particular owner isn’t sentimental, once she took all the items off, she found it odd to look at the blank refrigerator door. The move became more real to her, and a tinge of nostalgia hit her heart.


Waiting for another family to fill the blank slate.

In the next house with a new refrigerator, the owner will post many of the same items but life is changing.  There are more transitions happening other than the move across town. College Dean’s Lists will replace the K-12 report cards. New UMD magnetic momentos will be added. Some photos will include new friends.

The owner finds it a little ironic that the new refrigerator will be slightly skinnier to fit in the new space.  It’s as if there’ll be less to post. Her heart is saddened a bit, but she’s certain there will be plenty of memories to share with the outside observer who takes a moment to glimpse at the new refrigerator’s door.

Hidden Benefits

When we bought our home 24 years ago, I pictured how it would look after our 10-year updating plan:  no suspended ceilings, fluorescent lighting, paneling, printed wallboard, or orange and black shag carpeting. The plan also called for a deck off the patio door, a new custom kitchen for me, and a big garage for Todd. Surprisingly, the 10-year plan only became an 11-year plan by the time all the major renovations/additions were complete. I enjoyed helping with all the projects, and living in the finished home, but that level of love and enjoyment has slowly diminished.

For the past  few years, I’ve mentioned possibly selling our home sometime in the future and that possibility could become reality soon. People ask me why I want to sell and my answer is  simply, “I don’t enjoy it anymore.” It’s the same reason I’m selling my piano. I don’t play it, and it’s time for someone else to love it the way I once did.

Twenty-four years ago I imagined raising children in our house but knew it would be a bit before a child would keep me awake all night crying in the panda-decorate nursery or learn to walk across the living room from the couch to the recliner.  What I didn’t know was just how wonderful our location would be for raising our two daughters. I thought about our yard’s hill and the sledding fun my kids would have, but I never thought about how they’d grow into the “big” hill at Harlow Park.  I didn’t realize how the alley and the American Legion’s parking lot next door would be where they’d learn to ride their bikes, drive the Power Wheels jeep, Todd’s truck, and for Ali, the 5-speed Ford Focus.

I also didn’t realize Park Cemetery would become our after dinner excursion spring through fall so the girls could learn to ride their bikes around corners, up and down hills, and end the adventure feeding the ducks.  

Then there’s Harlow Park.  It’s so close I would sometimes dish up our dinner and we’d walk down to have a picnic supper followed by playtime in the park.  The Fit Strip provided nature walks and snowshoeing excursions. So why sell? Because we don’t do any of these things anymore. It seems just a few years ago exploring our home’s interior and the yard proved enough to satisfy Amy and Ali’s curiosity, but soon came the requests to sled at Harlow Park without my supervision, then walk home from elementary school and a few more years later, bike to a friend’s home or Subway for lunch.   

Our girls’ worlds are ever-expanding and our home and it’s location isn’t big enough for them.   Yes, I’ll miss my neighbors (especially Sue Ann who has watched all of our home renovations and our babies grow into adults) and the quick access to the bike path, downtown and all my banking and shopping, but with each passing day, I know it’s time to leave our home and find the hidden benefits of another location.

How an Oil Change Reminded Me How To Be an Effective Teacher

Nervous. Stupid. Weak. Incompetent.   I didn’t expect to have any of these thoughts when I decided I wanted to revisit how to change oil on a car as a part of my 50-4-50 list. I spent many hours in garages with my high school boyfriend and his friends, so these feelings caught me off guard. Why was I so nervous? I’ve done this before.  I even thought of backing out at the last minute.  Was I really that concerned about looking incompetent in front of my husband of 25 years? I guess so.  Luckily, my confidence built quickly as I found the hood release, propped the hood up, and pulled the oil stick. A moment of doubt followed when I pushed the floor jack under the car and Todd asked, “See the frame?”  “Sure???” He pointed out a few different parts, and then we jacked up the car.

After successfully retrieving the proper tool by name only, my increasing confidence showed. Todd offered to help me unscrew the skid plate. “No. I got it.”  I struggled a bit (bifocals are a bitch when lying on a creeper under a car and trying to put the screwdriver into the screw), but I was able to chuckle at myself by this point. My confidence continued to build as I independently found the oil filter.  Then, when I tried to loosen the filter using the filter wrench, it happened again, that feeling of incompetence. Luckily, Todd struggled releasing the oil filter too, so I didn’t feel as bad.


Todd continued being patient as I looked for the drain plug and struggled to loosen that too.  He taught me how to add leverage by hooking two end wrenches together and then lovingly offered to hold the wrenches and provide a little extra umph when my weak upper arm strength still showed. Once the oil drained and it was time to put everything back together, my confidence allowed me to work (almost) independently.  Of course, Todd checked in and didn’t wander away. He continued to answer my questions and even chuckled with me as I continued to complain about my bifocals, my weak upper arms, and my understanding of why my uncle’s garage was built with a floor pit.

One of Todd’s many sayings includes, “I’m only a dumb plumber but…” Without his guidance, I’m almost positive I would’ve never attempted the oil change or would’ve cried Uncle early on. He nudged me by asking a simple question, “Do you see the skid plate screws?” then when I wasn’t sure, he’d point one out and let me find the the rest. He provided the physical assistance I needed when I just wasn’t strong enough to budge the filter or drain plug, yet once loosened, he let me take over.  His patience and persistence, allowed me to eventually chuckle at my struggles. His genuine heart, belief in my ability, and careful balance between helping and pushing me guided me to my end goal and feeling of accomplishment. But more importantly, my “dumb plumber” husband reminded me just what I need to do, say, and believe to be a good teacher. Love you dear!

I Shouldn’t Be One of Those People You Envy

“You’re so lucky. I wish I didn’t have to worry about what I ate.  How do you stay so thin?”

I’ve heard these statements many times in my 50 years of living, and during my teens, it was especially tough.  I knew of girls struggling with eating disorders, and I felt guilty that I didn’t need to worry. Regardless of what I ate, I never gained weight.  But I also got tired of being told, “You’re too skinny; you should gain some weight.” Trust me–I tried. My doctor checked me for hyperthyroidism. I met with a dietician whose suggestion included eating more food. Maybe a nightly bowl of ice cream?  Considering my mom rationed my ice cream to one five-gallon bucket a week, I figured I met my ice cream quota already.

By my mid-twenties, I heard comments such as, “What until you have babies,” or “What until you turn 30.”  Those milestones occurred together. I gained close to 40 pounds with my first pregnancy and planned to keep about ten of those pounds after the baby was born. Nope.  Six weeks after the birth, I was back in my size 4 jeans to the chagrin of many of my fellow new moms. Pregnancy #2 didn’t help. Neither did the ages of 35, 40, or 45.  I don’t expect 50 to be much different.

So why am I the lucky one?  I’m not. During my teen years, it seemed as though I was told I should gain weight at least once a day.  Even my caring high school teachers would express their concern during parent-teacher conferences. I became self-conscious about my body.  I tended to wear baggy clothes more often because I hated how my hip bones protruded and my rib bones showed. Sure, even today, I still never have to worry about my clothes becoming too small, but I’m not the lucky one. You see, I also don’t have the visual reminder to eat healthy.

Being thin isn’t the perfect sign of a healthy eater.  I love chocolate and anything sweet. Remember my mom’s rationing of ice cream?  In high school I’d eat a pound of M&Ms during a Friday night movie. My mom would find chocolate bar wrappers hidden in my pillowcase and realize why her baking supply cabinet was missing some.  Luckily I grew up in a home where fresh fruit was always available and our family dinner always included vegetables that had to be eaten before I left the supper table.   Yet, I didn’t have to worry about my weight, and as a teenager, my heart health wasn’t even in the back of my mind.  

As I’ve grown older and raised my daughters, healthy eating habits are prominent goals. Do I eat as healthy as I should?  No. I’m still not a big fan of vegetables and that’s why part of my 50-4-50 list includes eating more of them. When I realized I eat fruit more often because they are sweeter and they require less prep, I used that idea to help increase my vegetable intake. 


Honey Mustard Chicken & Vegetable Pasta Salad

This past year I started taking a daily Bugs Bunny moment and chomp down a full carrot.  I try to remember to cut up vegetables so they are readily available in the refrigerator, and I try to find recipes which incorporate vegetables. Will I ever be a big fan of vegetables? Probably not. Will I ever get to a point when my clothes are too small? Probably not. But I certainly won’t let that be an excuse for not taking steps to improve my diet because even skinny people need to eat healthy.

20 Recipes, 30 To Go

At Christmastime Instapots were all the rage, but instead I asked my mom for a cast iron skillet. My schedule during the school year results in a rut of suppers, so I figured something new would result in new recipes. For Mother’s Day, Todd and girls bought me two more skillets. img_1152My new skillets paired with my 50-4-50 list worked!  I’ve tried 10 cast iron skillet recipes and 11 other recipes. Many thanks to my family who have tasted all of them, even if it was a courtesy bite.

Cream Balsamic Mushroom Chicken aka “Stinky Chicken”  Ali is hesitant to try new foods and even though it “stinks” and she doesn’t care for mushrooms, she’s asked for this one numerous times since.  

Chicken Parmesan Chicken Parmesan is an old favorite in our house, and my family is used to me tweaking recipes, so I felt safe with this one. It is a hit including my individual tweak of using panko instead of bread crumbs.

Chicken Pot Pie  Another recipe to repeat.  I used a homemade Bisquick mix for crust.

Skillet Garlic Butter Herb Steaks: Using the skillet for steaks was completely new to me. Recipe earned repeat requests.

Lemon-Blueberry Dutch Baby  I found this recipe in the Parade section of the Sunday paper. My freezer is empty of hand-picked blueberries so I used frozen blackberries instead.  After making this dish, I realized it’s basically Pannukakku (Finnish pancakes).

Cinnamon Apple Dutch Baby A different version but still tasty!

Easy Pan-Fried Chicken  I made this w/canola oil and instead of dipping, served the pieces on a salad bed.

Skillet-fried Bratwursts from the Food Co-op:  I’m lucky to live just one block away from our local food co-op.  Ali requested bratwursts the other day so I stopped at the Co-op deli to purchase individual ones.  I chose the Turkey, Basil, Tomato Sausage. Todd enjoyed the Jalapeno-Cheddar while Ali chose the regular over Oberon.   

Cheesy Tex-Mex Cauli Rice  I prepared some cauli-rice as a side dish recently. Ali refused to try it since I wouldn’t tell her what it was, but both Todd and Amy liked it. For this recipe I used cauli-rice that already had some peas and carrots in the mix.  I skipped the tomatoes since I didn’t have any. Amy enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Other recipes

Slow Cooker Scalloped Potatoes Not only is this a new recipe but the cheese (Gruyère) is new too. Though not a favorite of Ali’s, the rest of the family enjoyed this recipe.  I figure I’ll use it when she’s off to college next fall. One tweak: I added leftover ham.

Another Scalloped potatoes  If you’re interested in keeping it to basic ingredients, here’s one to try. Since Todd was off of work healing, I found the recipe and he made these.

One pot turkey taco skillet  I’ve made a similar recipe but usually don’t put the cheese and tomatoes into the skillet as this recipe calls for.

To Die for Crock Pot Roast For the past few years, I’ve made my own Ranch and Italian seasoning mixtures so for this recipe I only purchase the gravy seasoning packet.

Garlic Herb Tuna I made this one for myself and loved it.

Sloppy Joe Bowls  I can only ask my family to change their eating habits so much.  For this we still used buns instead of the potato.

Lentil Sloppy Joes I make this recipe in smaller batches for myself as my family prefers “real” (meat) Sloppy Joes.

Mini Turkey Meatloaf Ha! Tricked the family on this one.  They never even knew they were eating sweet potatoes and loved them.

Honey Mustard Pasta Salad.  One of the benefits of being invited to parties is the chance to try out a new recipe.  I found this recipe card stuffed in with some of my other recipes. Even though I’m not a big fan of mustard, I enjoyed this one.

Last night I used an all-purpose seasoning mixture as a rub on steak for steak tacos and today I’m using a Mediterranean seasoning mix in the slow cooker with pork tenderloin. Both of these recipes are from Beach Body. I already use a taco seasoning similar to their Smoky Southwestern combination.

Over the summer break, I know I can find more recipes to try.  As for the rest of my 50-4-50 list? I’m making progress, especially continuing to write in my gratitude journal, logging 50 miles per month for my 2018 Run the Year team, and scheduling my colonoscopy for early next month.

23 Years

My classroom is ready for summer now.  All the student desks are pushed together, the computer is unplugged, the bulletin boards blank, the cabinets filled with miscellaneous office supplies, and the door is locked.  As of 6:40 pm yesterday, I’m officially done with my 23rd year of teaching.

Each year brings its own successes and challenges, with one of the biggest challenges being the last week of school with a group of eighth graders excited, but still nervous, to become high schoolers. Every year I try to embrace the last few days, and this year I truly did.  

I don’t know what was different, but this past week didn’t seem as trying to me.  Sure there were times when I was forced to take a deep breath before reacting, but even those moments only needed me to pause for one breath, not 10 or 20.  Part of me thinks it’s because I have a graduate in the house and can compare senioritis with eighth-grade-itis, but then again, there’s lots of events this past year that helped me to react differently to each moment (Growing Down, Barometer Check).  This past week I relished each positive more, especially yesterday. Who can’t help but laugh and smile when four of her students dress up as Greasers Dally, Sodapop, Ponyboy and Johnny on the last day of school just because? Or when the students put her desk chair on the standing desk because, “You said to get as much as possible off the floor.” Or a few minutes later when there’s a student sitting in the same chair even though the chair is still on the standing desk? “Look we gave her a heart attack!”  Or when that one kid sees her in the parking lot and says, “Thank you,” twice because she didn’t think she heard it correctly the first time? Yes, these were the moments that made me feel a little more sentimental this year, yet I still know it’s time to let go. As I tell my colleagues and students’ parents, “They’re ready. They need to move on.  If they didn’t act this way or I didn’t feel ready for them to leave, I wouldn’t feel as though I’ve done my job.”

PS:  As I prepared to post this, I happened to read Bud the Teacher’s post.  He summed up what I’ve been doing, “take the time to notice and appreciate when things go right, too.”  What difference it makes.

Celebrating Our One Year Anniversary.

It’s been one year ago today when Todd reached over and squeezed my knee in the middle of the night to wake me up. We can joke now about my first thoughts, Really?! Now? I need to work in the morning,  but that night, it took me only a few more moments to realize he was squeezing my knee and he was squeezing it hard.  When I rolled over to look at him, he told me he was having chest pains. My cynicism turned into the realization that one of my worst fears was probably coming true–Todd was suffering a heart attack.  

I knew by the time I drove the few blocks to the hospital, the ambulance would only just be arriving at our home.  I also knew an ambulance at 1:15 am would cause too much excitement for Amy. I decided to take a chance.

“Can you make it to the garage?”

“I think so.”

I quietly woke up Ali and told her I needed to bring Dad to the hospital. Within seconds Amy called out from her room. I don’t remember what I told Amy, but it was something quick with the hope she would go back to sleep.

I found Todd struggling to walk the stairs to the garage. Don’t make me regret not calling the ambulance. 

With him finally slouched in the passenger seat, I pulled out of the driveway and then sped up Seventh Street. It’s only a few blocks to the hospital.  What if he passes out? Do I keep driving or stop and call the ambulance?

This wasn’t our first middle of the night drive to the ER, but I knew this one was different.


“Wheelchair.” The only word he said as I parked by the ER doors.

My fear increased.  Todd asking for a wheelchair? I remembered a friend saying, “If you say ‘chest pains’ in the ER, you’ll get moved to the top of the list.”

The moment I pushed Todd through the entrance doors, I said, “Chest pains!”

In the ER the doctor confirmed my fear; Todd was having a STEMI. The cardiologist was on his way. Todd would be headed to the Cath Lab very soon.  A hospital employee offered to move my car. I called my dad and Cheryl to have them come down to be with the girls. Todd joked about the shaving job the nurses were performing. I watched the clock, the monitors, and the nurses charting his medications. The ER doctor gently rubbed my back as I turned away for just a few moments to wipe the tears which had formed in my eyes.  

I refocused on my left hand which was engulfed by Todd’s. I tried wiggling my fingers. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him he might cause me to end up in the bed next to his with a broken hand. “Sorry,” he said as he loosened his grip and smiled. I returned the smile and somehow knew hewas going to be alright.  


Now, I can smile again as I think back to that night one year ago. It’s been a trying year for all of us, but I know his grip is just as strong and his heart just as soft.