Buried Treasure

When I taught high school English, I loved creating lesson plans that helped my seniors connect personally with literary works and navigate their lives after high school. Polonius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet sort of inspired those lessons with his “To thine own self be true” advice to his son going off to college, but really, Oprah gets most of the credit. Before we had THE INTERNET, Google, and Pinterest, and Tik Tok, teachers had to find inspiration from trusted sources — like Oprah.

Oprah featured Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort of Joy on her show several times in the 1990s. Obviously, I bought the book. When Oprah tells you to read something, you read it. I had no idea how much my students would love one of the activities I shamelessly stole from that book. It was called “Your Personal Treasure Map.”

In the January 29th daily essay, the author tells readers to create a collage of their ideal life and to use that collage as a map for discovering buried treasure. The way to start, she writes, is to “visualize your ideal life.” Don’t get me wrong…When she instructs us to close our eyes and “go within,” some of my students thought the activity was a little hokey. However, when she says we should cut pictures from magazines to match those visions, most students were All In. This is fun, not real school work, they thought. To be honest, they were sort of right. Taking the time to think about things like where they wanted to live one day — city or country; what they wanted to wear to work each day — dress up clothes or athletic wear; what kind of pets they wanted, etc., was seemingly just plain fun. And, then being required to look through old magazines and cut out pictures for a collage when they were accustomed to reading books like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre for this class?? That was a blast!

The activity resonated with some students, while some just politely played along. It was the end of the year; most were finished with high stakes exams, and they were pretty much checked out of high school and ready for college. I remember Jennifer cutting out many pictures of outdoor furniture and even an outdoor bedroom. She wondered if she would ever have a “normal” home. She had a vision of sports being a part of her life, too, as she was a star athlete at Hunt High School. When I look at her Instagram posts now, I can see those same visions manifested in her “real” life. Her family members are outside a lot! I think they have bedrooms inside and whatnot, but they eat outside, sit by their fire pit often, and seem to enjoy having several acres for playing. Jennifer played soccer in college and was a coach afterwards. I think she found her treasure. Another student, Mahalia, mentioned this little activity in her published book, 30ish. (!!) I was shocked that ten years after high school, she remembered mapping out her future. Her visions did not quite turn out as planned, but she had one hell of a story to tell, and I dare say her life turned out to be more amazing than she had imagined as an eighteen-year-old. She has traveled around the world, has been a teacher, is a writer, and is the owner of Casita Brewing Company while also being the most amazing ambassador for our city.

The one component of the ideal life collage exercise I keep thinking about almost twenty-five years after I first discovered it is the final instruction: “When you’re finished, find a photograph of yourself that you especially like. Make sure it’s a picture of you looking radiant and happy…Think fun. Think delight. Think seven years old….This is a wish to the Universe. Our deepest wishes are whispers of our authentic selves.”

Recently, I decided to complete this part of the assignment. I rummaged through some old photographs to find one that reflected happiness and delight. I found these two favorites of a happy day when I was probably ten or eleven years old:

“Our deepest wishes are whispers of our authentic selves.”
Simple Abundance

I love so many things about these pictures. I am wearing a t-shirt and jeans. My hair is messy. I am surrounded by puppies. I am wearing my POW bracelet with the name of Captain John H.S. Long, an American soldier who was Missing in Action in Vietnam. (I remember watching on TV, waiting and waiting when those who had been imprisoned came home. His name was never called.)

All of those details reflect who I was then, who I am now, and who, I suppose, I have always been — a no-frills fashionista, a dog lover, apparently a bleeding heart liberal before I knew what that was, a somewhat quiet activist, a homebody. I wrote stories and kept a journal even then. I dreamed of being a school teacher and a writer. I wanted to have a horse and even wrote a little book about that wish. I loved going to the beach with my family every summer and also loved being at home and having quiet time. The t-shirt I am wearing in the picture said “ESCO” for Electric Supply Company, where my mom worked; it was my uniform as the bat girl for the men’s softball team. I like that I was confident enough to run out on the field to retrieve bats in front of a crowd. I was comfortable in my own body, and I thought I was athletic. I had not started my period yet. I had not become overly obsessed with boys or slam books or trying to fit in with the cool people. I didn’t know my family was poor or that my jeans were not from a name brand designer. All that would come way too soon. I would eventually lose touch with the buried treasure of the little girl in those pictures. I suppose we all do as we grow up.

I think it is important, though, to think back to when we were kids and remember who we were before the world sort of reined us in and made us become teenagers and then grownups. What mattered when we were ten? What made us happy? What made us laugh? What was fun? These are important questions for kids about to graduate from high school, sure, but they are also relevant for older people figuring out careers and relationships, and for people in retirement trying to figure out how to enjoy our days and still matter. I am glad I dug around for the buried treasure of those 1970s photos to remind me of my authentic self. I like the girl I see in that picture. It is important to listen to the “whispers of our authentic selves,” to stop trying to be someone we are not and just be the person God made us. For me, it was someone with messy hair and Levi jeans and puppies all around.

Yep, that still sounds about right.


  1. Great article! That’s a nice throwback Thursday picture! I think I remember the day those pictures were taken!

    We had some good times at the ESCO softball games at the Toisnot fields. I was recently telling someone that mama was pretty young and I remember some of the softball team coming over to our house and hanging out after games.

    I never felt like we were poor. But I’m a “glass half full” type of person. 😊

    The best lessened learned from this blog is “stop trying to be someone we are not and just be the person God made us”.


  2. Yes, we had good times, for sure! I loved going to those softball games. I didn’t think of us as poor then, but looking back, I can see we were. I remember we qualified for free lunch at school, but Mama didn’t sign us up for it and made those precious bagged lunches instead! Also, you are the one who made me think I was athletic! hehe That is a subject for another blog post one of these days.


  3. I’ve recently gone through some reflection of this sort, wondering who I’d have been and what I’d have done if I could go back to 18, which was the motivation for starting my newest “book”, titled “Love Is Love”. For one, I’d have done a LOT more with supporting the athletic departments at the schools which I attended, specifically women’s teams. I would have been bold enough to crack their bubble in search for an ever after. I would have dialed down to what specifically I wanted to do as a career instead of starting at a certain point and continually modifying it instead of scrapping that whole plan and starting from Square One again.


  4. Kathy, you are such a good person, I’m so glad I was able to work with you and start our friendship. I wish we saw each other more, I miss visiting with you. I’m also glad Anna was in your classroom.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember this lesson (and you) fondly! You’re the reason I’m still in the classroom today, although I am now a middle school teacher—who would have ever thought that would be true?!?! Love you, KP!


  6. I am so glad that I now get to share everyday with the beautiful woman that beautiful little girl became. My life is truly better because of you. Not a day is taken for granted, each touch is cherished and that smile is something I look forward to every day. Enjoyed the read Beaches. 😉


  7. So beautiful Kathy. Your words are tiny hugs sent to embrace us, hold us tightly, and keep us warm. I felt held, like a child who skinned her knee, only to be comforted by a mother’s love. Your voice is strong. Your advice is even stronger.


  8. Great read! Glad I came across this and look forward to reading more of your posts. Looks like retirement suits you and that you are doing well.


  9. Kathy I loved reading your post. You described my lifelong friend so eloquently. I remember a time on the bus to a basketball game I said something to you that hurt you. (Ask me in private and I’ll remind you what I said) I meant only to tease you but I recall that moment as a pivotal moment where I began to realize that people are different and we all receive words and actions in different ways. And because you were different than me I had hurt you and it didn’t feel very good. The wonderful memories of high school, where we finally “found each” despite our huge differences and later in college are forever burned in my mind. You were and are all of those things described in your blog and while we are very different personalities, our friendship is one of the most important friendships I have ever had and I treasure it. ❤️


    • Thank you, Jacque! I am going to text you now and find out what in the world you said. All I remember is the YOU were the athlete, and yet you were the one putting make up on me, the cheerleader, because you knew all about glamour — and blue eyeliner actually put on the inside of the bottom lid. lol


  10. What a great activity- testimony to how you were as a teacher! I love looking at my little girl pictures and think about how that time of my life made me who I am now- still a tomboy at heart even though I don’t lay down in cornfields anymore! Keep writing- I love it!


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