Family, Church, and Local Community College

During my first year of college, Dr. John Willson’s history class mapped a substantial portion of America’s history through study of “Family, Church, and Local Community.” Expanding on Dr. Willson’s famous phrase, I observed a connection to education. Last fall, I accepted a part-time position as afternoon secretary at Kellogg Community College’s Fehsenfeld Center. To be completely honest, I questioned whether I should instead pursue a full time teaching position. However, I recognized something special here.

I first began working at the Fehsenfeld Center in the fall of 1996, teaching Transitional English and serving as a paraprofessional. Teaching at this level improved my understanding of the writing process. If students could master a quality paragraph, they could readily transition to the college essay. This experience served me well when later teaching Freshman Composition. I also met fellow instructors; many were members of the local community: Lawyers, high school teachers, business and community leaders, etc. They offered a unique combination of education paired with real world experience.

The Fehsenfeld Center also brings in a lively group of local students who, year after year, often form a learning community. Many become friends, form study groups, and succeed together. As an Adjunct Instructor for the past two decades, I was already part of this process; however, I wanted more. My brother once shared that secretaries are the sergeants of an institution; without their leadership, facilities could not function effectively. In addition to time in the classroom, I discovered that assisting students in the office often increased the classroom connection. I enjoy hearing about their current semesters and future plans, providing assistance if they are feeling frustrated and need a small nudge, perhaps a starting point for an assignment, someone to help brainstorm summer options, or just an ear to listen.

The Fehsenfeld Center offers a unique learning experience for the residents of Barry County:

• Want to complete core classes close to home and transfer to a four year institution? Did you know that 4 out of 10 students who earn a four year degree begin at their local community college? (

• Want to pursue a class or two at an affordable price and see if college is the next step?

• Interested in learning a trade? Come learn about our welding and manufacturing programs.

• Want to explore special interest classes? Perhaps you might enjoy Pastor Anton’s Life Long Learning Class, The Bible: A Closer Look.

• Want to earn an associate’s degree and take on the world?

Come see me in the office!

Thanks for reading!


College or Bust!



As my eldest ventures into the world of higher education this fall, I pondered what helped me the most in my college years and what I might have done differently. Ever the list maker, I came up with some tips that helped me succeed:

  1. Sign up for a lighter load the first semester. In addition to taking fewer classes, try to take easier courses while adjusting to college life.
  2. On the first day of class, introduce yourself to a couple students and exchange contact information. That way if you forget to write down the homework, miss a day of class, or have any questions, you have contacts from the classroom…plus a great way to make friends.
  3. Anything your instructor writes on the board belongs in your notebook! If your instructor takes the time to write something on the board, you probably need to know what’s there.
  4. Only miss class if absolutely necessary! Even though work can occasionally be made up and notes copied, there is no substitute for being there, absorbing the information. During my college years, I discovered that if I missed more than one class, my grades would suffer.
  5. If not a morning person, do yourself a favor and avoid 8:00 classes (at least for the first semester while you adjust to the new routine).
  6. If you use a memory stick, take good care of it! My senior year I lost ten pages of my senior thesis by tossing my computer disk among textbooks, kleenex, and notebooks. Learn from my mistake and take care of your equipment!
  7. When writing essays, start the writing process as quickly as possible, allowing time for at least three drafts. Additional suggestions for producing quality essays can be found here.
  8. Have fun, get to know your classmates, and try new things! College is about experiencing life and making life-long connections…enjoy the journey!

Thanks for reading!

The Watcher at the Gate: Friend or Foe?

quiz pic

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Happy Fall, Readers! Life has been busy here with the back to school activities and an increased teaching load. I finally found a small window this week to write.

Every semester, my Freshmen Composition students read “The Watcher at the Gate” by Gail Godwin. Her words address an issue that many students face: How can writers over come the negative voice in their head and just write? Has this ever happened to you? You might be half way through the first draft of an assignment and begin to doubt yourself: “That sounds awful!” or “Why even bother writing this? I’m just going to fail!” We tend to be our harshest critic. I think this criticism keeps students from writing quality essays, so we begin each semester reading about other “Watchers,” and students write a response. Recently, a student named “Ella” wrote a memorable tribute to her “Watcher.” I hope you enjoy her work as much as I did!

I know her as the Inner Editor. Since 2011, I’ve been an avid member of the NaNoWriMo community, and through them I first personified my inner editor. I think her name is Penelope, but more often I call her the Goddess of Well-Starched Female Lawyers.

She has a snappiness about her, an efficiency which demands to be obeyed. Sleek blonde hair pulled into a bun, rectangular glasses over stern eyes, a neat grey suit, and heels just low enough to be practical, but high enough to click like gunshots on a courthouse floor.

Like a lawyer studying for loopholes, she has an eye for detail, and catches every slip I make. She reminds of my so-called rights, instructing me not to say or write until she’s there to advise me. Sometimes, I’m grateful for it. She’s kept me from saying a great many stupid things, and certainly she’s good at what she does.
But at least once a year, I beg her pardon, and close the door to her prison cell. And I write. At least 1,667 words per day. And as the days of November tick by, I weave a story without her assistance. Yes, it’s messy. It could even be called word vomit. But first drafts are supposed to be.

When December comes, I let Penelope out of her cell. She’s exhausted – emotionally drained from the onslaught of messy grammar. But we share a cup of tea, and then she goes to work. And by the time Christmas arrives, she’s back in full force, snapping commands into my ear.

To be honest? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You’re Never Too Old…

quiz pic

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

I recently read about the National Science Foundation’s basic science quiz and was motivated to create a Language Arts equivalent. Special thanks to the grammar guru for your input and my research subjects (hubby and the kids). It’s just ten questions–give it a try and let me know how you did.

1. A noun names a person, place, thing, or idea.  True or False?

2. Vitamin supplements (improves, improve) daily health. Which verb is correct?

3. Which sentence is correct, A or B?

A. I couldn’t care less.

B. I could care less.

4. An adjective describes verbs.  True or False?

5. Which sentence is correct, A or B?

A. Between you and I, the judge was too harsh.

B. Between you and me, the judge was too harsh.

6. The verb is always found somewhere after the subject of the sentence.  True or False?

7. Which sentence is correct, A or B?

A. Every one of the girls remembered her homework.

B. Every one of the girls remembered their homework.

8. Driving into the pounding blizzard on a dark night and wishing the weather would offer a break for travelers.  Is this a fragment or a run-on?

9. I asked my Aunt to join me for lunch. Is this sentence correctly capitalized?

10. The president of the Student Council began the weekly session without taking attendance.  What is the subject, “president” or “Student Council”?


1. True
2. improve
3. A (A unique explanation to this answer can be found here.)
4. False
5. B (Between is a preposition. Prepositions use the objective form of pronouns.)
6. False (Here’s an example of a sentence where the verb comes before the subject: There were many loyal fans at the hockey game.)
7. A (Every one is a singular pronoun; therefore, the pronoun her (also singular) would be the correct choice.)
8. Fragment
9. No (Only capitalize aunt if her name is included: Aunt Jackie or if referring to that person by name: I’m going to the store with Mark and Dad.)
10. president (Student Council is part of a prepositional phrase, so it can be excluded as the subject.)

Education in America: A Letter to Rush Limbaugh and America

Dear Mr. Limbaugh,

As an educator, I have heard commentary from you, from the public, and from educators about the needs of education in America. I won’t begin to solve America’s educational needs; a true educator will only offer suggestions and not claim to know the answer to every problem. However, I was troubled that you did not support the classical education offered at Hillsdale College.

Again, as an educator, I see many different students with many different needs. For example, I have taught at the community college level for the past 17 + years. I have met many learners who meet your recommended model. All they want is to know the needed material and skills, presented in the plainest form, so they can move on to earning an income and support their families (a worthy goal). Yes, there are many adult learners who meet this model and succeed with this path. It works.

On the other hand, there are many different learners out there. Some want to learn about the Greeks and the Romans and any other area that inspires them. We, as educators, can teach additional inspiration through the classics. Even at the undergraduate level at Hillsdale College, where I was not the strongest student, I still learned and absorbed information. I remember lessons from my instructors that still pop up in my mind today. Sometimes I complete further research. Often, I learn a deeper lesson, 20 years later, and sometimes I share those important lessons with my current students. Many classical learners never stop learning and form the educated base of AM radio. They keep thinking, keep striving for knowledge…I assume you want these listeners, Mr. L? I would value their input!

Perhaps that is the benefit of a liberal arts education, to follow Michelangelo’s model, “I am still learning.” Perhaps it provides degree earners with an alternative for their career as often the first choice doesn’t “stick.” Education can’t be regulated, bottled, or formed in a pill. Education thrives through the inspiration of the individual teachers who breathe creativity into each lesson, story, and moment.


Maggie (Roche) Murphy

The First Blogging Award, The Liebster


I am honored to report that Reflections from the Journey was nominated for its first Blog Award, the Liebster. This is an award where fellow bloggers recommend other bloggers. Thank you, Margaret Locke! By accepting this award, I have to answer a few questions and nominate other bloggers. Currently, we are in the process of building a house, selling a house, packing up a house, and raising a family and eight ducklings, the latter being much higher maintenance than anticipated, so I am going to modify this a bit. Instead of answering the eleven questions in each section, I am giving myself a much needed “pass” and shortening them to three:

#1: Three Random Facts About Myself:

I am a singer, high soprano. My Great-Aunt Gladys sang at the Met. Everyone in the family thinks the talent comes from her.
I am currently raising eight ducklings, four Anconas (a rare British Heritage breed) and four Pekings (which my husband wants to serve for Thanksgiving–this is still in discussion!)
Much to my husband’s chagrin, I prefer to sip wine out of a small coffee mug.

#2: Answer Three Questions:

If you could give one piece of advice to other writers/bloggers, what would it be?

My advice is Go For It! Write from the heart, show passion in your work. Yes, there will be duds, but in the long run, readers value your glimpse of real life.

If you could go back and relive college again, would you?

That’s a good question. I attended college where my father served as president. I have mixed feelings about this. I learned many valuable lessons, but it was challenging and at times painful being the President’s daughter.

If you could speak any other language fluently, which would it be?

Even though some consider this a dead language, I would LOVE to be fluent in Gaelic.

#3: Nominate Three other Blogs:

Pacificparatrooper (I nominated you because we have so much to learn from history.  You provide us with a front page view of your father’s experience in WWII.  Please keep sharing!)

Bluewhimsywriting (She’s a newbie, trying to get off the ground.  Take a look!  🙂

Raisingfivekidswithdisabilities (You take on the world, defending, protecting, and raising your kids.  Kudos to you!)

#4: Three Questions for the nominated Bloggers:

What is your favorite meal to prepare?

Share a moment in history that inspired you. Why was it so influential?

If you could pass one bit of wisdom along to another writer/blogger, what would it be?

Thanks for reading!

Family and the Power of Fishing…

Several years ago, I attempted to write a novella. It was an amazing experience! I committed to 15 minutes EVERY DAY and just let the creative process flow. Sometimes after 15 minutes of torture, I stopped. Although more often, that time blossomed into a period of creativity. Within six weeks, my 50,000 word novella had reached its first draft. However, I now know that my characters need to be a tad farther from reality, as my brother pointed out that my story was “barely fiction.” So while I have decided not to publish this work, here’s a short story from my first attempt at the novella, “Far From Lothlorien.”

oregon 20060090 (2)

(I have a picture of myself, catching my first fish, yes, a pike, but we are getting ready to move, and all extra items are packed. Instead, I posted a picture of my son, catching a fish many, many years ago in Oregon)

It was in June, just a month after her sixth birthday. She had been given a Zebco 202 fishing pole complete with a matching tackle box. As much as she wanted to go down to the lake and fish by herself, a parent had to go with her. Finally, Dan followed her down to the lake only after Sophie fitted her with a bubble to wear on the boat.

A bubble was a large round piece of Styrofoam which all the Stuart kids had to wear until they learned how to swim. It was a great help in holding a child afloat while learning the task of coordinating arms and legs in the water. The only problem with the bubble was that when it was worn on a child’s back and the child stopped swimming, the flotation device would force the swimmer to float face down in the water. Mary always found this annoying as a child, but Sophie insisted she wear it. When they arrived at the dock, Dan looked at their boat, which actually was a small swimming raft with a motor on it. “Let’s take out the boat! The fishing is better there.”

“Take me where the big fish are, Dad.”

They loaded up the boat and after several attempts of starting the old motor, using the choke, pumping extra gas, and with a few extra hard pulls of the lever, they were slowly motoring across the lake. Dan drove the boat to a place where there were lots of weeds, and the lake floor was covered with leaves and branches. “I think you might have some luck here, Mary.”

Dan had set up Mary’s fishing pole the night before. The boat did not have an anchor, so even though they were starting in the weeds, soon the wind would blow them out farther into the deeper areas of the lake. For her first fishing expedition, Mary was using worms as bait. She stood up on the boat and whipped the pole behind her and cast, almost piercing her father’s right ear in the process. This led to a some yelling and an attempt at a patient lesson on checking if the coast is clear when casting and finding the appropriate angle to avoid contact with family members.

Within an hour, Mary had her first fish on the line. She was so proud and excited as she reeled it in. It was a tiny, 10” pike. Once Dan saw the type of fish it was, he took the pole from Mary and grabbed the fish. “These fish bite, better let me take it off the hook. What do you want to do with it?”

“Let’s have it mounted,” suggested Mary.

With a smile and a shake of his head, Dan said, “Well it’s a little small for that. What I meant was, do you want to keep it or throw it back?”

“Let’s eat it for dinner tonight.” Hoping she would have made another choice, he brought the fish on the boat. Not being much of a fisherman himself yet knowing that pike bite, he decided to kill the fish right away. The boat had old metal railings about it, so Dan started beating the fish on the side of the boat to make sure it was dead and wouldn’t bite his daughter. Once the deed was done, they headed for home.

Sophie was quite surprised when Mary handed her the now tenderized 10” fish, and Dan asked her how she was going to prepare it. Luckily, she had purchased some other fish filets for a future meal, so there would be enough for all. Mary was so proud that she had contributed to the night’s meal.