Year End Reflections by Christina Knowles

Once again I sit here reflecting on the year that is coming quickly to a close. As all years do, 2015 brought its share of joys, heartaches, and problems, and with them life-lessons and growth. Looking back on this year, the things that stand out to me most are the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me, and though these stories are not mine to tell, I have learned from them. I’ve learned about the value of love, loyalty, and to prioritize time with loved ones above all else. With that in mind, I’ve had my own issues with which I have dealt.

The biggest personal event in my life this year was probably experiencing a stress heart attack last summer. It was minor, and I have been given a clean bill of health, but nevertheless, it was the catalyst for making several changes that I knew I needed to make for some time, but like most people, I had to come face-to-face with my own limitations before accepting them.

As a result of this event and of the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me this year, I have finally “lightened up.” I no longer work every night at home on schoolwork. I grade almost all my papers at school, I do most of my planning at school, and I simply eliminated anything that was not essential or directly related to my students’ success and learning. I work my butt off at work, and I still work my butt off at home, but it’s different work. It’s my work—creative work that I choose. I spend my time doing what I think is important because my time is not guaranteed to last.

So often, it seems, that we imagine we will have time to be happy later, time to relax and do what we want some day. Maybe we are waiting for retirement, but sometimes retirement never comes. Maybe we are waiting for a new job to make our lives more bearable, a new schedule to give us time to spend nurturing relationships, or to make more money to make our lives more enjoyable or less stressful, but what we don’t realize is that waiting will never end unless we just stop. Just stop waiting to be happy. Happiness can be found right now in every day.

So instead of detailing all the things that happened this past year, I’ll just say that some of it was good and some of it was not, but I learned from it all, and what I learned is that my life is in my control, and I don’t need a specific set of circumstances to start living it the way I want to.

All in all, I am happy with how this year turned out, happy with what I did with the time allotted, and that’s a good feeling. This year I learned to prioritize my life, find more balance than I ever had before, and do things that give me and those I love the most benefit from the time we have. Time won’t slow down, and I probably won’t either, but I can decide what is worthy of the minutes of my life. And the funny thing is that all of those things that I was waiting on to change, don’t even need to change anymore because I have changed. I love my job again. I love my home-life. I love where my career is going in both teaching and writing. I love my life again. I’m not waiting for anything to get better ever again. I’m making what I have better and enjoying every minute of it. Happy New Year!—Christina Knowles

Bad Neighbors by Christina Knowles

'Normally I'd be optimistic that we could work out a little problem like this.'

We’ve all had that neighbor, the neighbor that makes us want to immediately put our house on the market and move. I’ve lived next door to this neighbor for the past seven years. They let their weeds grow, they do stupid, weird things like instead of fixing the fence, they nail brand new boards to the broken down posts, adding more weight to something that already could not support the weight it had—even after we offered to go in with them, paying for half of it ourselves. They park rusted RVs that don’t run in their driveway for 6 months at a time. In the summer, they have parties in their backyard that start at 3 AM and go until about 7 AM—loud parties. But I can live with all of that without complaining. What bothers me is how they treat their dogs—and the fact, that I can never get a good night’s sleep in my own bed because of them.

They have several big dogs. At times there are up to five of them, but usually I only see two or three. I think the owner shares custody with her ex-husband, so they come and go. They have a large fenced backyard, but the dogs have to stay in about one quarter of the yard in a dog run. Within the dog run, there is a smaller caged area. I’m not sure what that is for, and thankfully, I’ve never seen any of the dogs in it. The dogs can run back and forth, but it looks really boring and not of adequate size for big dogs. In the dog run, there is a big plastic shed that takes up a lot of the space, and they do have a dog house for shelter. The ground is dirt, and there is no grass to roll in or trees for shade. In the summer, the people take them on a walk about once a week. I think the dogs are pretty bored and neglected, so I’m not blaming them, but at least one of them barks continuously all night.

My bedroom window is right next to their backyard—the side with the dog run. These dogs are out even on the coldest nights. Sub zero temperatures? They are out and bark even more, probably trying to stay warm.

At first, I politely went to their door to talk to them during the day. They did not answer, after clearly peaking through the window at me. Then I would ring the doorbell in the middle of the night in my bathrobe while the dogs were ferociously barking in the backyard. No answer, but the dogs would mysteriously disappear inside for about an hour. Then I escalated to ringing their doorbell over and over, ringing it perhaps twenty times in a row in the middle of the night. No answer. Next, I called the police, standing in my backyard, making the dispatcher listen to a chorus of five barking dogs at 4 AM. The police arrived, rang the door bell, the dogs mysteriously disappeared into the house. No answer—even for the cops. The police told me that since the barking had stopped, they couldn’t do anything about it. The dogs were released back into the yard twenty minutes after the police left and continued to bark all night. Next, I called the Humane Society when the dogs were barking all night in sub zero temperatures. They said if the dogs had a dog house, there was nothing they could do. I took to going over to their house as soon as my alarm went off in the morning at 4:45 AM to ring their doorbell twenty times whether their dogs were barking or not. This is what bad neighbors reduce you to—pathetic and childish retaliators, obsessed with revenge for lost sleep and neglected dogs. I didn’t like what I had become. Helpless anger has always been my most despised emotion.

I’ve had many suggestions; one that sounds great—shaming them publicly, which I guess I’m trying to do right now. The only problem is that I won’t reveal who they are or their address because I worry that if they end up getting harassed, then there may be legal ramifications for me—oh, the injustice! Also, giving out their address makes mine public by extrapolation. Despite my filling the internet with my personal business, I do appreciate some privacy. What to do, what to do?

My only weapon has ever been words, specifically the written word. I am going to write them a letter, detailing their crimes, and how these have affected my life. Specifically sleep! The lack of, by the way, my doctor has blamed for a recent stress angina I suffered. I should sue them! But, I will just make my case in written form, appealing to their common decency and educating them on the need for warm shelter for the other victims of their crimes—the poor dogs, who obviously are not content suffering through the winter in their stark, freezing, and boring dog pen. I wonder if they will care. Will they even read it? Perhaps, if I leave it on their doorstep on Christmas Eve with a plate of cookies, after ringing the doorbell thirty or forty times, of course.—Christina Knowles

Cartoon by Carpenter, Dave

“Snow Day” by Christina Knowles


“Snow Day”

An unexpected gift

Like waking up on Christmas morning

Brightly colored packages piled high by the tree

Sitting in the dim glow of the TV

The “Closed” message trails across the bottom of the screen

Outside, it’s still dark but with a mysterious glow

Surreal, as if lit from some unknown source

The white sky, a snow globe, shaken

Oversized and intricately detailed flakes

Drift gently to the ground

Forming a lumbering blanket of white

Mounds drift and roll and disappear

Into the fog, the thick, wet air

Not quite frozen, heavy with the promise

Of more to come

I turn on the lights of the Christmas tree

The undulating glow casts a soft pattern on the wall

The village lights reflect on the glittery surface of the snow

My own private scene suspended in time

I light the fire and sit, absorbing the moment

The gift

A day to do anything, my own suspension of time

Life does not go on without me

I’m not missing anything

When I emerge from my snowy haven

Life will be just as I left it

—Christina Knowles (2015)

“Words Don’t Fail Me” by Christina Knowles


I dance this pen across the world

and all I am is set free.

Words become separate

lives unto themselves,

free to roam and do as they please,

to be sucked up by thirsty souls

and to be tossed aside as waste by others.

Sometimes ignored, unread

but still looming, like ghosts

invisible but present

or taken and changed—


interpreted and reinterpreted.

Unrecognizable to their maker,

they stretch and encircle.

Sufficient to their purpose,

words don’t fail me.

Feelings impossible to quantify or understand

become tangible, ideas made substantial,

absorbed into the universe

yet marked as distinct.

Through words

I know and I am known

—Christina Knowles (2015)

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