Be Kind to Others



In Oklahoma, we have a saying, and you may have a similar one in your language as well.

Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.

Although we never really know what someone else is going through, empathy can certainly help us to practice kindness with others.  I’ve been struggling a bit lately. The reasons, big or small, aren’t really relevant here. It happens to all of us from time to time.

Recently, in two completely unrelated situations, I received a touching gift.

Both came from out of the blue as an unexpected expression of thanks. These were specific acts of kindness, which made me more aware of all the random acts of kindness I am fortunate to experience every day in my life. Moreover, I realized that I myself need to be kinder to others in the world. This week’s blog, late post though it is, suggests 5 specific ways we can offer random acts of kindness toward others to show some empathy, to show some humanity, and to make a positive impact on another’s life.


Smile At Strangers

Smiling is so easy to do. It costs so little, just the movement of a few muscles. Nonetheless, a smile can make some one’s day. A smile says I see you. You exist. You matter to the world.

Personally, I have to make a concentrated effort to smile at others as I go through my day. I’m generally stressed by deadlines both of others’ and my own making. I’m often analyzing, planning, or writing in my head as I move through the world, so focused on the upcoming that I ignore the now.

Thus from time to time, I check myself, noticing my concentrated leave-me-alone face. As I walk by others, I meet their eyes. I smile. They smile back. Positive energy has transferred from one to another.  Just like that, an act of kindness has occurred.

Try smiling at strangers. You’ll feel good. They’ll feel good. The world will be a better place for your smiles.


Offer Compliments

It is actually quite easy, with a bit of practice, to give compliments to others. This is something I am quite good at since I have practiced it extensively for teaching purposes.  Now, I can give compliments as easily as I breathe. You could too with a bit of practical advice and practice.

The complimenting guidelines are easy to understand. When complimenting strangers, you should make sure to stay in the safe zones so that your kindness isn’t confused for sexual interest.  The further away from the core of the body, the better the kind word will be. The safest complement begins with “I like your…” or “That is a great…”

Some people go through their entire day feeling alone and ignored, feeling like they are not part of the world. A simple kind “I like your bag” or “that is a great hat!” is an easy way to practice random acts of kindness and change the world.

Try it. Say something nice to a stranger today. You could very well find, like I did, that the flash of joy you provide to another is quite addicting.



Open Doors

I grew up in a small Midwest town where polite behavior was the norm, not the exception.  Opening doors for others, holding elevators, saying hello—this was just the way it was.  Fast forward to 2017 in a major metropolis with everyone self-absorbed in their own cell phones and their own problems, the social niceties are few and far between.

At IVC, where I am currently fortunate to be teaching, people hold doors open for others. I have bags and bags of stuff at school in addition to my drink, my hat, my glasses, and the list goes on and on. My hands are always full. Without fail, people open doors for me. They hold the door when they see I am behind them. Now, this is a tiny minor act of kindness. Yet I am touched every time. Someone holds a door for me, and I feel like the queen of the world. Every. Single. Time.   These strangers don’t know that they are shining a bright ray of kindness on my day. Of course, I say thank you, but I doubt they hear me. They don’t know that such a small act of kindness can make a positive difference in a difficult day.

If you too want to practice easy yet wonderful acts of kindness for others, try opening and holding doors. Little by little, we can change the word one act at a time.




Let Someone Go Ahead

You’re busy, I know. I get it. I am too. I haven’t been to the grocery store in two weeks. We are out of soda and fruit. My lettuce looks like someone ran over it with a bus. I’m trying to find time in my schedule today to get to the store or I won’t be able to go until Sunday, and that’s a holiday. Ugh! I’m busy. You’re busy. I know.

Regardless, if I let someone go ahead of me in line at the grocery store, at Target or in the coffee shop, how much time am I really losing?  5 minutes? 10? How much will those lost minutes really matter to my day over the course of my very busy life?? How much could the kind act of matter in the life of another?  I think those minutes are worth it for the reward they provide.

I let people go ahead of me in line often. In fact, doing so is one of the random acts of kindness that I try to make part of my routine. When I’m in line, I keep my eyes open. If someone comes up behind me with less merchandise (which is easy to do since I shop like I’m feeding a horde of teenagers rather than two people and a cat), 90% of the time I offer to let them go ahead of me.  Here’s what I do. I meet their eyes, smile and say “You can ahead of me if you’d like. I’m in no hurry.” The flash of surprise and joy I see on their faces is sublime. “Really?!” they exclaim more times than not. “Are you sure?” And when I respond with my smiling absolutely, I feel like I have single-handedly brought about world peace.  Seriously, it feels that great to make a difference in someone’s life. Try it. You’ll like it.





Let Cars Go Ahead

This random act of kindness is actually one of the hardest for me. Living in Southern California, we don’t talk about distance in getting somewhere. We talk about time and time is based on traffic. Ah, traffic—the bane of existence in California. No matter where or when you go, everyone else is going there too.  Angry, busy, stressed out individuals all going the same direction at the same time can create a seriously selfish, ugly car culture. What a better time to practice random acts of kindness.

I actively try to let in one driver every time I go somewhere. I feel so lucky to have my beloved M-5 convertible, a car I had wanted the whole of my life. So, to pass on my gratitude, I let others go ahead of me.

The difficulty is getting them to go without running me over or without letting in a stream of cars. You let one go, then another pushes its way past, and before you know it, people behind you are honking and cursing and ahhhhh, the kindness seems wasted somehow in the crazy competition for space that is So. Ca. driving. Nevertheless, I persist.  Every time I drive on surface streets or merge in traffic, I try to let a car or two go ahead.

I’m not sure, honestly, how my little random act of kindness is taken by the drivers. I know I am always pleased and grateful when someone lets me in, but I don’t see the gratitude, if there is any, on their faces the same way I might in a store. I go on faith that my random act of kindness is making a difference, however slight, in a big difficult world.

Random acts of kindness are never wasted. Web sites abound online offering suggestions for being kind to others. There’s even a new idiomatic phrase “pay it forward” based on the time-honored principle of doing to others what you would like them to do for you. Honestly, I have yet to pay it forward – to pay for someone’s dinner or coffee anonymously—I’m not opposed to the idea; I just have not had the opportunity nor the means. For me, though, I can give something just as precious as money — , my time, my energy, my actions–  I can pay that forward. I am also fortunate to receive such kindness back most days.

How about you? Can you find some ways to practice doing random acts of kindness for others?

Let’s all try to be kinder to one another.

Imagine the world we could create that way.

Black or White… or Grey?

In teaching this week, two different phrases came up that required explanation for my students: mixed blessing and false dichotomy. Additionally, I used the phrase double-edged sword in a mini-lecture and had to explain that as well. These phrases and the explanations got me thinking about absolutes and how we like things to be one or the other, yet often situations, experiences, classes, and overall life is rarely that cut and dried. Hence, this week’s blog examines the language of absolutes, advantages, and disadvantages.

Beware Absolutes!

False Dichotomy / False Dilemma


For example, a situation is either black or white. For example, students who earn high grades care a lot, and those who earn low grades don’t care.  This choice eliminates all other possibilities. However, gray may also be a choice, so students may earn low grades because of sickness in the family or working many hours, not because of care or lack of care about the class. These are other possibilities than the either-or scenario presented as black or white; these are gray. Sometimes there are two choices; however, more times than not there are alternatives rather than a dichotomous choice.

This logical fallacy, which is an error in logical argument, means that only two choices are possible and if one is correct, the other must be false.  It is also called either-or reasoning.

Often false dilemma choices are presented as black or white, right or wrong, yes or no, day or night,  one side or the other.


Advantages and Disadvantages Co-exist

Sometimes situations have both positive and negative aspects occurring simultaneously. We have some idioms for these situations.

Double-edged sword – because a sword has two sharp edges, it cuts on both sides. An example might be my ESL 201 class is a double-edged sword. One the one hand, students learn a lot, but on the other hand, they have to work extra hard to do well. Thus, it is both positive and negative experience.

A mixed blessing is used when something has both positive and negative facets. If you get a high-paying, competitive job so that you earn lots of money for fun, but you don’t have any time to spend the money because you are working so much, that job would be a mixed blessing.

Two sides of a coin – a coin usually has two different aspects often called heads and tails, but it remains one whole unit.  An example of this usage might be taking Mrs. C’s ESL 201 course will be a great learning experience, but the class starts at 7 am, so you’ll have to get up super early! Thus, it has both positive and negative aspects.


Bittersweet is used when something is pleasurable and painful at the same time. For example, Lucas is my co-author of the book Get Into Medical School.  When he got accepted to the Carver College of Medicine in Iowa, it was a bittersweet for me. I was thrilled that he began his education to become a doctor but was also saddened that he would be far away for years and years.

Remember, life and language are rarely either or.

You can be happy and sad, energized and tired, or thrilled and saddened, all at the same time.

Advantages Created by Disadvantages

Other times difficult situations create the very circumstances that lead to a positive outcome. English provides some optimistic phrases for these situations as well.





There is a silver lining in the dark cloud, it is darkest before the dawn, and to get the rainbow, you’ve got to have the rain are all phrases that mean the same thing: there is good in a bad situation. Some examples of the usage could be:

The silver lining in the dark cloud of no longer teaching at UCI is that I now have the time and energy to develop my own business.

It is darkest before the dawn so during the worst situations, I can look forward to the light of morning and an improvement of the difficulty.  Thus, I believe that all the time I spend giving feedback on papers will pay off in students’ writing improvement.

Since to get the rainbow, I’ve got to have the rain this means I have to work hard and suffer through vocabulary development in order to become a better writer.

Here are two more phrases that are so common, that people modify them to have fun.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade – this means that one can take a bad situation and turn it into a good one.

Modifications of this phrase that you may see online are:





When one door closes, another opens. Or a window. This is a phrase used to express that there is always more than one way to achieve a goal.

So if your door closes and you don’t get into the school you wanted when you applied, another door will open to another school with a different opportunity.

My favorite modification of this phrase is to open the door since that’s how doors work. Love that!

Whether you are in the middle of a good experience or hoping to resolve a bad one or whether you are faced with a difficult choice, English has a way to express it! Take some time and learn these idioms so you can understand when people offer you encouragement and talk about your own situations as well!

In Sickness and In Health

Everyone everywhere gets sick some time or another. Luckily, most of us get better too. Subsequently, every language has its own phrases for talking about sickness. I was wiped out by sickness all spring break, so I had the chance to think about how we speak of sickness and health in English. Hence, this week’s blog is all about idioms that you can use when you unavoidably get sick and happily get better.

I’m changing up the blog format to use these phrases in context rather than individual tidbits.  If anyone has a comment or thought about which format is more beneficial for your language learning, I would love to hear it!

Idioms in Context

In Sickness

Colleges are sickness microcosms; every little bug, cold, or flu is floating around the halls with every sneeze, sniffle and touch all year long. When I first started teaching, I caught pretty much everything going around, but over time, I learned some strategies to keep the sickness at bay. Nonetheless, at least once a semester, I come down with something. Unfortunately for all my spring break plans, that time was this week when I was sick as a dog or like they say in the UK, sick as a parrot. Not feeling like myself, I was not able to grade, write, or play as I had desired because of feeling like death warmed over. While I didn’t have a frog in my throat, I was certainly under the weather all week long. Luckily, it was spring break, so I was able to spend the week in bed with cold medicine and Netflix.

In Health

Now, I am on the road to recovery, slowly getting back on my feet. I’m still coughing and run down, so I’m not yet in ship-shape. Mr. C had this particularly nasty bug first, and based on his experience, I expect it will be at least another week before I am truly fit as a fiddle. After two weeks of being sick himself, his health is still not the picture of good condition. Regardless, classes resume on Monday, and I’ve got a lot of grading to get done by then, so right as rain sooner rather than later. Hopefully, with some more rest and lots of cold medicine and chicken soup, I will get a clean bill of health and back to the top of my game before I know it!

Idioms Meanings

In Sickness

sick as a dog or (sick as a parrot the UK only) – can be used to express feeling very sick, often nauseous. As fun as the phrase sick as a parrot is, in the US, we only use sick as a dog.

not feeling like myself – can be used for physically ill or emotional upset.

feeling (or looking) like death warmed over ­– can be used when feeling particularly bad physical or when looking awful.

frog in my throat – can be used when one is having trouble speaking because of illness.

under the weather – can be used to express not feeling well, usually refers to physical well being  

everything going around – usually refers to a contagion like cold or flu because they are in the air, on surfaces, and in the general area.

keep the sickness at bay – can be used not only for avoiding sickness, but also many things can be kept at bay which means held off or kept away from oneself. Another typical application is to keep someone at bay.

come down with something – can be used to express getting sick.


In Health

road to recovery – can be used not just used for recovering from a physical illness, but this term is often also used for emotional distress or addiction.

getting back on my feet – can be used not just for recovering from a physical illness, but this term is also used for financial recovery from a loss as well.

run down – can be used when one is feeling tired or ill.

ship-shape – can be used when one is in the best physical or emotional condition.

fit as a fiddle – can be used when one is in the best physical or emotional condition.

fit as a fiddle – can be used when one is in the best physical or emotional condition.

picture of good condition – can be used when one is in the best physical or emotional condition.

right as rain – can be used when one is in the best physical or emotional condition.

clean bill of health – can be used when one is in the best physical or emotional condition.

top of my game – can be used when one is in the doing extremely well.

Spring Break Idioms

Spring Break that wonderful break in the middle of the Spring Semester – how I love and hate it both!

Vacation is, of course, a wonderful thing! Nonetheless, Spring Break for me is less of a break and more of a grading marathon to get caught up for the second half of the semester.

To celebrate the idea of Spring Break actually being a break and time for a bit of enjoyment, this week’s blog will cover some idioms about relaxing and having fun, something I hope all my students are doing this week!

Footloose and Fancy-free

If you are footloose and fancy-free, then you are free of responsibilities or free as the wind. For example: Since I’m on Spring Break this week and don’t have to teach, I am footloose and fancy-free all week long! 


When you are a happy-go-lucky person, you are cheerful and carefree or very optimistic. For example: I love to hang out with happy-go-lucky people because they have such great attitudes about things!

Have a Ball

When you have a ball, you have a terrific time doing an activity. For example: I hope all my students are taking a break this week and having a ball with all their free time!

More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

When you are having more fun than a barrel of monkeys, it means you are doing something really fun. For example: Spending a day at the beach is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Let One’s Hair Down

To let one’s hair down means to take a break and relax. For example: At the end of a long day of teaching, I like to let my hair down and just chill a bit at the beach


So during this spring break, I hope you have the time of your life (have lots of fun) and live the life of Riley (enjoyable, effortless life) for a bit.

Take a break so that you can come back to school ready to work hard and finish the semester strong!

Success by Choice

It’s almost midterms at IVC, so everyone, instructors and students alike, is on edge.  Over the past week, several of my colleagues have bemoaned their students’ lack of understanding of basic college concepts– not the classroom content, but the soft skills so needed for success in an American college. Here in the USA, it is simply not enough to learn the material and get good grades. In fact, that is only one part of the overall college success package. While I have taught in various educational institutions, I don’t pretend to know every single American school culture. Nonetheless, at least in the California Community College, school is a job with all the requirements that suggests such as showing up on time, participating fully, and meeting curriculum requirements.

Today’s blog arises from the ashes of the instructor frustration burning hot around me this week. I thought it could be helpful for my students’ and all students’ futures to share five truths that college instructors live and grade by.

Fun is a bonus, not a requirement!

If you happen to be having fun, if you have an engaging instructor, if you have the opportunity to do exciting activities or play enjoyable games, if you genuinely favor the topic – that’s all bonus, not required. College is not supposed to be frivolous even when it is fun. College is a serious life-preparing endeavor.  And like life, having fun in college is not guaranteed.

Learning hurts. You have to do new activities, often repetitiously, that you may or may not really care about. You have to change the way you think about things, both big and small. You have to spend hours and hours reading, writing, and studying when you would rather be soaking in the sun at the beach, playing video games, or talking with friends. You have to do what someone else requires you to do when she requires you to do it. Overall, this can be painful. Expect it.


Stop griping about being bored.

Stop whimpering at how difficult it is.  

Stop expecting your instructor to entertain you or motivate you.

In college, having fun is a bonus, not a requirement!

Homework is not optional!


Homework assignments are designed to give students the opportunity to review, practice, and incorporate the class concepts. In college, few instructors assign “busy work” (work just to keep students occupied without any inherent value). Instructors are busy people trying to both fulfill their own dreams of helping others while struggling to make a decent living in an underpaid and under-appreciated profession.  Therefore, every assignment assigned usually has a long-term or ultimate purpose for the class.

When you don’t do the homework or when you complete it with a lackluster effort (yes, this is a real word! Vocabulary can be fun! Find fun where you can!!), you don’t build the necessary knowledge or skills to meet the classroom objective. Therefore, your grades aren’t as high as they could be, you don’t have the foundation for the next level, and you irritate your instructor, all at the same time! Most instructors value diligent hard work over innate brilliance. In my own classes, it is almost impossible to pass the course, regardless of how intelligent one may be, without completing the homework.



If you are going to spend the time, money, and effort to attend college today, why not just decide to complete, consistently if not enthusiastically, all of your homework for your classes?

Doing homework is not optional; it is required for college success.

Following directions is imperative!

 Every instructor has his or her own visions for the assignment, for the class, and perhaps even for the whole department. In most schools, instructors have something called “academic freedom,” which is the freedom to choose how to teach the course material based on their own expertise, experience, or preference. Therefore, the instructions given by each and every instructor will vary in some manner, sometimes a little but sometimes a lot.


Think about assignment instructions like a map to a specific destination that is only in the mind of the instructor, kinda like a treasure map. If you follow the directions, then you can reach the “X marks the spot,” find the hidden treasure, and enjoy the rewards of your discovery. However, if you don’t follow the map, then you might end up in the jungle being chased by King Kong! (There’s a new King Kong movie out in theaters, and I just love that misunderstood big guy!) When you don’t follow clearly given directions, you may not achieve the desired goal of the activity, thus wasting both your own time and your instructor’s time as well.

But wait Mrs. C, you might ask, what about those directions that are not clearly given? What about when you don’t  understand what the directions are, where the map is directing you, or even what you are looking for? Great questions and sadly, this does occur quite often. What should you do then? Read on to then next truth for the answer!


Following directions is an essential aspect of prosperity in college! 

Following directions is imperative to be successful in college and life.

Questions Facilitate Learning!

Instructors are not mind readers. Yes, they have experience, so might be able to anticipate problem areas. Yes, they have worked with many students with similar problems. Yes, they themselves have been students. Nevertheless, instructors are not mind readers. They do not know what is confusing to students. They are not aware of every single student’s personal background, academic knowledge, emotional state, or anything else for that matter.  They do not know which of the seemingly clear directions is actually a confusing mess. They do not know which of the myriad details might send comprehension for a loop. Again, instructors are not mind readers.

Articulating questions is an integral part of the learning process. One reason this is so important is because,  as I’ve mentioned, instructors are not mind readers, so they need feedback from the student in the form of questions and comments to help personalize the lesson to a particular group, class or individual. Perhaps more importantly, students need to ask questions to truly learn the material. Asking questions helps to create the mental pathways that help the information stick. It also makes the learning more active rather than passively accepting information. Asking questions also indicates to an instructor that the student is present, engaged, and even learning! Asking questions in imperative for learning!  Some classes encourage students to participate in classroom discussion; others have online forums. Some instructors have office hours; others are only available through email. Regardless of the possible venue to ask questions, most if not all instructors value questions as an essential part of learning.  



Ask questions,

lots of lots of questions,

and enjoy as your success increases!

Asking questions is an integral part of college success.

Acceptance & empathy not permission!

Actions have consequences.  College is not prison. Classroom instructors are not jailers.  Students have the right to attend or not, do the homework or not, and actively attempt to pass the class or not. In California, students have the right to fail the class.  As an instructor, I can recommend, cajole, and even require students; however, I cannot force them to do something.  I genuinely feel with and for my students when they are stressed because of financial problems, emotional difficulties, or immigration challenges.


I accept that students will do whatever (within their legal rights) they wish. I truly empathize when life’s challenges cause problems with their school work. Therefore, when a student asks me if she can leave early because she has a doctor’s appointment or if he can skip class because he has an immigration hearing, my answer must, of course, be yes; I even build into my core curriculum stop gaps for when these situations arise. There will always be consequences, though.

When a student tells me he will be absent because something came up and I say ok, somehow that “ok” translates in student language to mean that being absent has no repercussion because the instructor gave me permission. When a student tells me she can’t finish her paper on time, and I say I understand, someone somehow that “I understand” translates in student language to mean that there will be no grade penalty for the late work because the instructor gave me permission. When students tell me that the course required reading is so difficult because they are taking 17 units of course work and I say I agree, somehow that “I agree”  translates in student language to mean that not reading the materials is not required because the instructor gave them permission to skip it because of the difficulty. However, acceptance of students’ choices and empathy for students’ troubles does not translate into instructor agreement that this action will produce a positive result.

Class guidelines, curriculum requirements, and course expectations are not dependent on accepting or empathizing. They exist as a bar of achievement.  College success requires you to fulfill the stated course requirements regardless of whatever life situations you may find yourself.



Please don’t confuse caring with permission.

Acceptance of your behavior and empathizing with your dilemmas does not mean permission to disregard the class requirements.

Instructors are people, not robots!

It staggers my mind sometimes when I realize that many students honestly don’t realize that I am a living breathing person with needs of my own. I do not only exist for their educational benefit. I actually have a life outside of my interaction with my students.

This comes up in various ways. One of the most frustrating occurrences is during breaks. Embracing the idea that questions facilitate learning, students often forgo the idea that following directions is imperative. I explicitly tell them that everyone, including myself, gets to take a break during breaks. Furthermore, in every single class discussion, I give multiple opportunities for students to ask questions. More often than not they don’t.  However, when we take a break, everyone wants to talk to me. Despite the fact that I’ve been teaching for over an hour and I too need a restroom and drink break, everyone wants to ask me questions about the lesson, the homework, the due dates, whatever.

Why? Are they simply putting their needs before mine? Do they not understand that I too am a person who needs down time? Are they so afraid of the other students that asking a question in class paralyzes them? Honestly, it could be all of the above.  This does not just happen in my class during breaks. Students often do not consider the instructor’s stated preferences about communication, required due dates, or even effort expended in teaching. Needless to say, this is very aggravating for the instructor.

So remember, every interaction you have with your instructor affects your success in that class. You have needs as a student. Your instructor also has needs as an instructor. 


 A little bit of practical consideration

can go a long way to helping you

prosper in your educational pursuits.

Instructors are human beings, who want to see you succeed,

not educational robots, who only exist to teach you!

Keep Your Fire Burning

One of the most awesome yet arduous aspects of working for or with others is that there is help in feeding the fire of accomplishment and motivation.  Unfortunately, many aspects of life require us to stay motivated on our own and finish what we started without cheerleaders or spectators.  To be successful, you have to feed your own fire.

For many people, including myself, the beginning is great with the anticipation and excitement of a new endeavor. I am full of ideas and have very little difficulty in firing up a project. Similarly, the glow of achievement that occurs as my aspiration comes to fruition and my goals are realized is enjoyable and spurs me to greater feats. However, the in between in the middle, when the activity is no longer exciting but becomes tedious, when I have to focus on the minutia, not the grade scheme, and when I have to buckle down and consistently perform, this middle often gives me problems.

How do I stay motivated through the treacherous and monotonous middle? How can I continue to keep the fire of accomplishment blazing until the end? How can my motivation burn brightly all the way through my tasks to keep me going? As I asked myself these very questions this week, I found 4 ways to keep myself going. Perhaps they will work for you too!


Use Appropriate Fuel

Just like a fire requires different kinds of fuel to get burning, maintain heat, and die out, goals and projects require different activities along the way. What works in the beginning, may very well be insufficient in the middle. Thus, it is important to have various strategies to fuel the fire so that it keeps going.


Take my current book project for example. I’ve been working on it now for almost a year. Planning, organizing, writing for hours – those were great fuel earlier, but now, I have had to change the process because, honestly, I’m tired of the whole thing at this point. 

I have to change the fuel for my fires and be open to change and continued learning. I can’t simply do the easy and familiar, but have to challenge myself and to modify my actions if I want to keep my fire burning. I’ve actually recently started a new educational project which has nothing to do with the book, but it has made me excited about teaching in a new way. Now, I can apply this new excitement as a new kind of fuel and get the book finished.


If you have reached a point in your project where you can see it is starting to wither and not flourish, perhaps you need to find an alternative way to approach it or a new method of work.  We have to use an appropriate fuel to keep our fires burning!

Anticipate Problematic Aspects

If you’ve ever camped and had to keep a fire burning for light and warmth, you know that all kinds of factors are a danger for that fire. There’s the wind and wet; there’s a lack of wood; there’s even a lack of skill in starting and maintaining the fire.  Basically, keeping a fire going takes a lot of work!

Likewise, keeping our own motivation going overtime takes a lot of work, and there are many possible problems to burn it out. Boredom is a big one for me, so is exhaustion, and, of course, the inevitable trying-to-do-too-much.  Everyone encounters different problems, but if we plan for them, then we have a greater chance of overcoming them! There are many ways to anticipate problems. One that I have found valuable is to know myself.  My problems repeat themselves in endless loops, so I can anticipate them and even have strategies to overcome them.



For example, I am at a low point of my semester. The excitement of the new semester and getting to know the students has worn off, and now I have to slog through their difficulties and try to help them achieve. Right now, I am smack in the middle of part of my worst time. I have many plans for this problem time both tried and true techniques, and I also have some new ideas I want to try. Changing up my fuel a bit will help keep my fire going.



Even if you are doing a new activity or starting a new project, you can be aware of your weaknesses and plan for those moments of difficulty when you want to give up, which can help you keep your fire going!

Get Others Involved

In our individualistic society, self-reliance is usually rewarded; nonetheless, sometimes we all need help to keep a fire going. Regardless of how much experience you may have or how good you are in maintaining a fire, there comes the point where it is just nice if someone else throws a log on the fire or gives it at stir. Sometimes a new perspective, whether large or small, can make a huge difference in the project. Sometimes we just need someone else to question or encourage. No matter how independent you may be, no one can go completely alone!

While no one in my life is involved in my creative endeavors as much as I (not even Mr. C!) I have many people that I involved in small ways.  I am able to get my students involved by offering a bit of extra credit for responding to the blog.  I have brought in excerpts from the book to use in class. I talk to my colleagues at work; I discuss aspects of the work with my family. I ask for opinions and advice from friends. Basically, I encourage others to help me feed the fire of creation.


No one will care about your projects as deeply as you; it is, after all, your fire. Nonetheless, involving others, getting others help can enable you to keep your fire burning all the way to the end!

Bank Your Fire

A fire doesn’t have to be raging hot to survive. In fact, keeping a fire low in embers actually keeps it alive, just resting a bit. You can still cook on it, and it still produces heat. We can’t go full throttle 100% of the time; we will burn out. Sometimes, fires and people need a break to perform at their best.

Personally, I try to plan my breaks. I know that I have to renew myself and remember why I’m doing this in the first place! I arrange small breaks every day, a bit of stretching here and a funny Facebook video there. I arrange larger breaks every week. Wednesday is my go to take-a-break for myself day. It’s when I do those small things to reward myself like getting a message or reading for pleasure. Occasionally, I take big breaks, like Saturday when Mr. C and I drove to drive up to Big Bear to enjoy the last of the snow.
These breaks can also change up the fuel for my fire and involve others while such breaks can even give me new insight into dealing with problems! Hence, these breaks are not distracting me from my goals, but are, in fact, helping me achieve them. I am banking my fire a bit so that it can burn more brightly in the future.


Don’t be afraid to take breaks. They will help you keep your fire going for the long term! Bank your fire to keep it strong!

Being motivated, in and of itself, is terrific! Nonetheless, it is essential for success that you persist in your endeavor through the difficult and boring middle so that you can achieve your goals and keep your own fire burning! I hope these techniques which I use in my own motivational process can help you in yours!


Lessons from Mom

I miss my mom. She passed away from complications of her multiple sclerosis in 2014.  These feelings are epitomized in a current pop song by Luke Graham titled “You’re Not There,”  when he sings:  

You’re not there

To celebrate the man that you made

You’re not there

To share in my success and mistakes

Is it fair?

You’ll never know the person I’ll be

You’re not there

With me…

If you aren’t familiar with the song, you can listen to it here.


Though my mom, Pamela Ruth Smith, is gone from the world, her lessons have made me the woman that I am today; I will continue to strive to pass on her wisdom to others as a writer and instructor. Here are 5 of the things that I learned from my mother.

Be Yourself

My mom was an original; she loved purple. The more purple, the better was her motto. Sometimes all the purples she wore together clashed, but she didn’t care. Purple hat, purple earrings, purple bracelets, purple rings, a purple necklace, purple shirt, purple pants, purple shoes, purple bag…She loved them all!


Like most people, I want to fit in. I want to be stylish and attractive. I want to be liked.  Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the most important thing to me is to be true to myself, to my values, and to my preferences.

This is a lesson that we could all take to heart. If you or I love something, and it doesn’t hurt others, we should embrace it! We should make the most of our individuality even if it doesn’t fit in what others think is right.

Be Creative

My mom was a creative innovator. She knitted and crocheted; she sewed and painted ceramics; she baked and canned; she even did decoupage! She was the first in our neighbor to have a microwave, and she used one of the very first home computers on the market.

From her, I learned that having a creative outlet was an important aspect of life and that that I shouldn’t be afraid to try new things.

Often times we get caught up in the minutia of the daily grind. Go to work, do the chores, get some rest and then repeat day after day. We should all remember to find time for creation, however big or small it is. Find your creativity, and you’ll live a happier life!

Be Kind

My mother taught me to give. She gave her time, her possessions, and her love. She gave to her family, to her friends, to her church, and even to strangers. She didn’t judge others for their differences but accepted them as they were. My mother was a kind caring woman whom I can only attempt to emulate.

In today’s antagonistic America, being kind to others is under-rated. I get it. I get frustrated with traffic and students not following directions. I snap at others daily. I let the stresses of life affect me. 

There are many areas in which I could be kinder to others. More kindness is never amiss. I could choose to give others the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. I could choose to be kind not only with my deeds but with my words as well. In what ways could you be kind to others in your life?

Always Continue to Learn

My mom was a reader. Even though she never went to college, she never stopped learning. If she didn’t know how to do something, she would get a book and learn. She believed that anything could be accomplished with knowledge and education.

Going to school is just one avenue for learning, and yes, it is an important one! As a college instructor, I clearly believe in the value of a classroom education, yet learning does not have to take place in a classroom.

We can, and should, learn from everything in our lives. I am learning something new right now: how to start my own business. I am sure I will make many mistakes, but like my mom, I will never stop learning. I hope you also continue to learn in whatever way that suits you!

Always Do Your Best

Before her illness forced her to quit, my mom was a secretary; today, she would be called a personal assistant. She ran the office lives of several businessmen. They would have been less successful without her unceasing efforts. Much of what she did was behind the scenes, and no one realized the sheer amount of work it took. Nevertheless, she always did her best even when no one saw or appreciated her work.  Through her actions, my mom demonstrated how to pursue excellence.

Teaching is often a thankless task. Hours of preparation go into a lesson, a class, or a conference and then it is over with little to no feedback on the materials or any clear connection to any tangible result. It is so easy to just slide by and just give a minimal effort rather than what is really required for excellence. There are many jobs like this today, including being a student.

There is no doubt that it is exhausting to always do one’s best and most students only do so on the big graded assignments, yet the continued pursuit of excellence, every day and every assignment, is what leads to academic success. I try to do my best in whatever I pursue whether or not I get credit and whether or not anyone is watching. This is a great lesson for us all.

We are all products of our environments and of our past. I was fortunate to have an original, creative, driven, and kind mother in my life. While I still miss her every day and she is not here to see the results of her life’s example, I will continue to strive to be the best person I can and pass on her wisdom to others.

I hope these lessons are helpful to you as they continue to be for me.

Mistake Idioms

Mistakes.  Some are incidental while others, of course, can be substantial, but we all make them, usually on a daily basis. As a college instructor, my mistakes are so often very public and thus that much more embarrassing, frustrating, or even potentially harming than the errors of others less in the public eye. I try to acknowledge my own mistakes rather than hide from them since they will more than likely be brought to my attention by multiple sources anyway. A recent mistake I made prompted today’s blog, which is a review of some of the many English words and idioms for errors and mistakes.

English offers quite a few synonyms for mistakes, so it’s good to have a couple in your own linguistic arsenal.


Noun Synonyms  

Blunder, Faux Pas, Snafu, Blooper, Failure, Indiscretion, Slip, Oversight, and Goof

Make a Mistake

Verb Synonyms

Flub, Miscalculate, Misrepresent, and Bungle

Of the countless idiomatic ways to indicate mistakes and their consequences, there are 5 general categories in which many of the phrases fit. 

While you should be familiar with all these common idioms, you can certainly choose your favorites to describe your own blunders.

Some mistakes happen internally in our thoughts or decisions that can lead to other mistakes.

Here are five similar idioms that mean to have an incorrect thought process or make a bad decision.

  • Lapse of judgement

  • Be off-the-mark

  • Bark up the wrong tree

  • Make  false move

  • Go off the rails

Other mistakes can occur when we open our mouths or our computer keyboards (a form of digital talking).

Here are three idioms for mistakes in speech that basically mean the same thing: to say something foolish or incorrect.

  • Put foot in mouth

  • A slip of the tongue

  • Make a gaffe


Internal mistakes and spoken mistakes often lead to mistakes in action, so here are five idioms that all indicate doing something incorrectly.

  • Goof up

  • Mess up

  • Screw up

  • Slip up

  • Trip up

With all these mistakes we are making, sometimes we just don’t want to acknowledge them, which leads to idiomatic language for avoiding admitting the mistakes.

These four idioms can be used when not wanting to admit the mistake has occurred.

  • Give song and dance

  • Give lame excuse for

  • Squirm out of

  • Worm out of



Ultimately, we often have to not only admit the mistakes but also apologize for them.

Here are six idiomatic phrases used when that happens.

  • Eat one’s words

  • Eat crow

  • Eat humble pie

  • Swallow one’s pride

  • Beg pardon

  • Ask forgiveness

A Story of Errors in Idioms

Mrs. C miscalculated last week on Facebook with the snafu of re-posting fake news. This was, of course, not her first blunder of the day, but it was certainly the biggest goof.  Her lapse of judgement causes her to go off the rails with an erroneous news story. Even more unfortunately, she really put her foot in her mouth by commenting on the story as well. Basically, it was an air-headed mess-up. However, she did not try to squirm out of the faux pas, but instead swallowed her pride and asked forgiveness. Also,  she quickly removed the indiscretion and has resolved not to bungle her posts, at least in the same way, again!

Mistakes happen.

Now you have even more language to use when considering them!

Life Lessons from the Super Bowl

Football is the quintessential American entity with both simultaneous awful and awesome aspects. There little doubt that ticket prices are exorbitant, player salaries are not equitable, and injuries are potentially extreme; nevertheless, it provides some measure of unity across social, age, gender, and economic classes. The topic transcends the sport. When you have nothing to connect you with another – no ideology, no interests, no information – you can still always discuss the game. Despite, or maybe even because of, its problems, football will always be my first love. Thus, I was one of the 111.3 million Americans who watched last Sunday’s Super Bowl game.

Here are 5 lessons I learned that apply to life today.

Haters Hate

Tom Brady has an impressive record. Is he the greatest quarterback of all time? Mabye, but my best will forever be Peyton Manning for qualities both on and off the field. The point though is that Brady is an amazing player who consistently leads his team to greatness. Yet, many people disparage all he has accomplished.


What can I learn from this?


Well, victor or loser, someone will be unhappy with my behavior. Everyone is not going to like me or you regardless of what we do. There will always be one, or many, of those who think badly whether it is justified or not. Thus, I must not attempt to satisfy all people all the time since it is an impossible feat. Instead, I should just do my best in my chosen tasks and be glad if I am pleased with the result.

Friends Matter

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, quarterback and coach, have been together for 17 years which is an eternity in football.  Together they have gone to the sport’s highest contest, the Super Bowl, six unprecedented times.  It is impossible to say what one would be without other for their successes are built upon a strong relationship foundation.

What can I learn from this?

The right relationships lead to success. Whom I associate with will affect my life in both obvious and subtle ways.  Associates, friends, and mentors not only give me companionship, but these very relationships can also direct my path toward successes or toward failures. Hence, I should develop my positive relationships through time and effort and perhaps be more selective in whom I allow in my inner relationship circle.

Boredom Ok

A one hour football game drags on for three hours or more with all the time outs and breaks. Even Tom Brady can get bored sometimes. Every minute of an endless, exciting game won’t be the most thrilling moment.

 What can I learn from this?

The middle gets tedious. I should expect certain times in my life to be a bit boring. Every minute of every class can’t be breathtakingly fabulous. Sometimes, the topic is boring, or the students are unenthusiastic. I can’t gauge my success in my class or my life directly by the exhilarating nature of the moment. Sometimes, one has to wash the dishes and sweep the floor, to grade the language and discuss the prompt one more time. Therefore, I should enjoy more any engaging activities when they occur so that I can sustain my forward momentum through the drudging circumstance of class and life that will occur daily.

Breaks Required

Time outs and breaks more than double football game time and the super bowl was no exception. During half-time, the players went to their locker rooms and presumably got motivational speeches from the coaches.  Lady Gaga’s halftime performance was spectacular. The drone show was particularly awesome. Time outs allow for players to get a rest and for spectators to run to the kitchen or bathroom.  These breaks are an integral part of the game.

What can I learn from this?

Everyone , including me, needs a regular rest. I have to step away from my computer from time to time. I have to enjoy the weekend sunshine. I have to realize that extreme productivity requires extensive rest as well. I have to give myself a break and not push every minute of every day.

Finish Strong

The Patriots, this year’s winning team, were behind for most of the entire game. At the end of the third quarter, the score was still 28 points for Falcons to the 9 points for the Patriots. Many people thought it was a route and the game was over. Nevertheless, the Patriots had a plan, and they continued following it in the face of defeat even as it seemed they were never going to succeed. Again and again, Brady was sacked on the field, yet they soldiered on. In the fourth quarter, Brady led his Patriots team back to tie the game 28-28 and go into overtime for the first time in Super Bowl history, ultimately ending the game with a win of 34-28.


What can I learn from this?

It isn’t over until it’s over. I shouldn’t give up on my plans, my goals, or my dreams even when it seems that all hope is lost. I shouldn’t be overwhelmed by currently attempted distasteful changes in my country but should continue to stand up for what I know is right. I can represent my beliefs even when getting knocked down. To do this, I must continue to fight the good fight for good grammar even when frustrated students get angry with their grades, for human equality even when frightened people reject American ideals, for a healthy environment even when short-sighted officials make ruinous policies, and for my own dreams even when I feel they are unobtainable.  

I won’t always be the Tom Brady who overcomes the deficient and wins the game;


sometimes, I’ll be the Mat Ryan who watches the expected success go up in smoke.


Either way,

I’ll finish strong!

Important lessons can be found in unexpected places, even football games, music extravaganzas and commercials. We grow, or we stagnate.

Where will you find your lessons this week?

Love Not Only for Lovers

Valentine’s day is coming up, offering a wonderful chance to express affection and appreciation for those in committed relationships. Idioms for romantic love will abound on the internet this week, so having one more from me seems superfluous. Moreover, love is not limited solely to lovers. Casual friends and even strangers in the street can benefit a bit of loving kindness, whether it comes in chocolate, an open door, or just a smile. For this upcoming week, I intend to be actively loving as much as possible to everyone I meet (even those students with off-task behaviors in class!).  With that in mind, I thought I would examine 5 love idioms  that can apply to all areas of life, not just romantic devotion.

Labor of Love

A labor of love is a something done for pleasure or enjoyment, not financial reward.  Often, this phrase is applied to volunteer work.  For example, building houses for the homeless is a labor of love because the builders are not getting paid for their work. Even it someone is getting a monetary recompense, it may be a labor of love if the reward does not fully meet the cost of the effort.  Teaching, in many ways, is a labor of love in the United States.

Cupboard Love

Cupboard love is an expression that means love given because of a reward. Thus, an animal may love you because you are the one who feeds it or an employee may love you because you are the one who signs the paychecks. Many students have cupboard love for their professors, but some have genuine affection shown by coming back semesters or even years later and checking in with their professors.

Somebody Up There Loves Me


Somebody up there loves me this is a reference to a higher power giving favor to someone resulting in good results. This higher power can be a heavenly intervention, or it can be a worldly power.For example, it has rained all week, but for my party, the sun was shining. Similarly, I forgot to study for the test, but then my professor called out sick today! Apparently, somebody up there loves me!

Tough Love

Tough love is an expression used when being strict or stern for a good intention. The intention behind the action is very important. It could be used, for example, when the result is less than someone hopes but it is for a good reason.  In the classroom, a student might complain that he got a zero on an assignment for plagiarizing, but such extreme measures are a form of tough love. If one doesn’t learn that cheating is unacceptable, sooner or later when caught, the result could be catastrophic!

No Love Lost

No love lost between them means to have extremely negative feelings toward or even be enemies with another person.  It is a rather strong meaning, signifying more than mere dislike. One could say that there is no love lost between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for instance. 

As we have seen, love is an English word with many meanings used with altruistic activities, selfish motivations, anonymous good will, strong actions, and even enemies! Of course, there are all the other beautiful loving phrases not covered here! Let’s all love language this week!