May 6, 2016

The Impact of Daily Intentions

My daily intention: Stay Loose; and some other touchpoints
(in this case, bracelets) to remind me of what's important
I've been working on mindfulness for a while now. It used to be that I spent a lot of my time lost in thoughts of the past or the future. Nowadays I'm more likely to get lost in thoughts of all the things I should be getting done or plotting how I will manage to get them all done (and doing laps in the pool of guilt and shame for not getting more accomplished each day). But I'm trying not to do that.

I'm also trying to focus on what's important rather than what seems urgent. One of the ways I do this is by setting a daily intention--an over-riding idea, theme, objective for my day, each day. I try to do this right when I wake up, but sometimes it's more like 9am before I give it the thought it needs. Sometimes it's a phrase, sometimes it's just one word.

Today's intention is Cherish.

I often write my daily intention on my hand, the way I used to write reminders or phone numbers when I was a kid (before I could just type them into my phone). It wears off by the end of the day, but it makes for an easy reminder all day long of what I want to bring to my day.

Today's intention is born from recent conversations about how fast kids grow up and yet another news article about someone walking into a business with a gun and opening fire on the people inside. (I never thought the day would come when I would sit in my favorite coffee shop and think: someone could walk in here and start shooting people. Yeah, it could have happened ten or fifteen years ago, but I never would have thought of it, because it would have been rare.)

So today's intention is a reminder to Cherish the people who are most important to me. To hug my kids tighter. To say yes when they want to play. To Cherish their little faces and their sweet souls. To Cherish my day and my life. To remember what's really important to me and honor it all the way it should be honored every day.

Sometimes my intention is broader like this: Focus. Love. Be Joyful. Be calm. Say yes. Breathe.

And sometimes it's more specific: Approach everyone with love. Find peace in the chaos. See the beauty everywhere.

It's a small thing to do. But I think it has an impact on my day. Sometimes I'm driving and getting annoyed by the traffic, or worried that I'll be late for something, and then I see the words Be Joyful on my hand and I feel myself physically relax and change my internal dialogue from "Shit, I'm going to be late. Move people!" to "Is it really that big of a deal if I'm a few minutes late? The traffic is out of my control. Just breathe and listen to the music."

If I decide when I wake up in the morning that I'm going to live that day with a specific intention, it actually can make a difference in how my day goes.

It's amazing the power of our thoughts. Good or bad.

Choose good.

Until next time...focus, love, be joyful, be calm, say yes, and breathe.


April 14, 2016

On Writing (part one)

For those of you wondering what I'm up to in my writing world, here's a little glimpse... 

Soooooo...I'm currently working on three different books at three different stages of the writing process. For me, writing like this is exhilarating and fun and tedious and confusing and infuriating and impassioned and depressing and joyful...all, pretty much, at the same time.

Yeah, writing is weird.

Plus I'm currently reading a bunch of books, which kind of makes it even weirder. I just finished Amy Poehler's Yes, Please! and Cheryl Strayed's Wild, and am in the middle of my bookclub book, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, and a parenting book called Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham. I also started Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (then tabled it because I had to start the book club read) and Inkheart (which I tabled because I discovered a plot line too close to something I'm writing and I didn't want it to influence my work).

So my brain is a jumbled mess of other people's voices.

In a typical week, I take my jumbled brain to a local coffee shop three mornings a week, when both kids are at school, and I write. Most days I sit at the same table in a corner by the door and order the same Americano. (The people who work there know my order and my table and what I'm working on. That's how often I am there.) I shove earbuds in my ears and listen to loud music. The Pandora station I listen to varies a bit based on the work I'm doing and my mood. Though, right now, there's a lot of Imagine Dragons.

I also squeeze in writing time anywhere else I can (when I'm not too tired) during my son's one-hour gym class, or when my husband has work to do in the evening, or when the kids play well together on a Sunday morning.

I have two middle grade novels (actually I have three, but the third one, Maybelle, I've set aside for a bit) that I'm working on. Both were first written in 2014. One, The Princess Scientist, is nearing the end of the revision process and I hope to take it through my first ever round of agent querying in May or June. The second, The Smart Girl and The Magic Boy, is just beginning the revision process.

I am absolutely sick to death of the first one. I have been working on rewrites of it for a year and I am so tired of revising it. I just want it to be done. I have workshopped the entire book with my writers group and am almost done workshopping it with my writer-niece, Katie. I have reworked characters, created new characters from nothing, deleted entire chapters and plotlines, and written entirely new chapters and plotlines. I have ripped it apart and welded it back together. And it's been exciting. And it's been hard work. And I am tired.

The second one and I are still in the honeymoon phase. It feels new and exciting since I haven't touched it since I wrote it a year and a half ago. But a day will come, in the not so distant future, when I will be sick to death of it too. If that's not the case, then it probably means I haven't done an adequate job of rewriting and revising it. (Thank you, Stephen King, for letting me know that this is normal.)

That is a major lesson I've learned about writing over the last couple of years. As much as I LOVE writing first drafts (most of the time), so much of a good book happens in the rework. I used to think that just sitting down and writing a book was IT.

It is not IT.

It is just the beginning. There is so much hard work that comes after the work of writing a book. At least for a rookie like me.

The third book I'm working on is my new one. It's working title is The Firefly. My first draft is in progress, and at about 55,000 words it's somewhere around two-thirds done. This one is a Young Adult book. And it's very different form the other three I've written. It's far more complex. And I did a lot of prep work before I even started writing it. That prep has helped a ton. And I am absolutely in love with this book. But, I am also terrified of ruining it. Some of the story weaving I've done so far is really good, so whenever I sit down to write more, I worry that whatever I write won't live up to what I've already written.

It's weird. I know.

Plus, another thing I've learned since this writing thing got serious is that what seems awesome when you're writing it, sometimes seems far less awesome when you go back and read it six months later. So there's that to contend with as well.

A few nights ago I had my monthly-ish critique call with my writer-niece, Katie. (Who is awesome, by the way.) For the umpteenth time in a row she tore my writing a new a good way, if that makes sense. I've gotten past the pain of constructive critiques this last year. You can tell when someone is trying to help you and when they're just being mean. Most people are trying to help. It's all good stuff, so helpful for rewrites. But all I could think was, ugh, more work to do on this one.

I just want it to be done.

Then last night I met with my writer's group (4-6 of us exchange about 4000 words each for critique and meet once a month) to go through the first three chapters of the other book. More tearing...but good stuff too. Everybody loves one of the characters, Peter. And everyone liked the dialogue. Both good things. And they gave me great feedback to start revisions. I don't feel so downtrodden after that one because it's all still fresh.

All of this action means I haven't worked on Firefly since last week. I hate that. The longer I go without working on a book, the further out of its world I get and the harder it is to get back in. Especially in Firefly which really does have it's own world. I have to reread multiple chapters to find the flow. And I begin to forget small details. (What did I name the mayor? What did Ben say when he first met Alexa? If I can't remember I either have to go back and find it, or I have to leave a placeholder to be dealt with later. Both I am loathe to do.)

Then, today, the director of my daughter's school asked if I'd be willing to talk to some of the older students at the school about the writing process. I find this prospect both cool/exciting/validating and a bit scary. I, of course, first made sure that she knew I wasn't published yet (I don't want to mislead or disappoint). Then I said I'd be happy to. I have learned a lot about the writing process these past few years. I have a lot more to learn, of course. And a lot of work to do to get better. But there is wisdom to share. Wisdom and a take on courage.

All of the last three years of regular writing and revising (and revising and revising)...I'm beginning to feel like a real writer. Even if I'm not published.

And since it was my dream when I was writing poetry in my journal at ten, or making up stories and scrawling them in spiral notebooks during sleepovers with my friend Abby at eight or nine, that's pretty cool.

When I let myself stop and really think about it--all the writing and creating I'm doing, I get tingly all over, a little flutter in my chest. And that's really cool.

So, until next time, find what makes you tingly all over and get to it, my friends.

March 31, 2016

A Break in the Middle of it All

On the to-do list: Change ink cartridges in printer

So. I just came back, let's see, 4 days ago, from a culture-sanctioned life-break commonly referred to as: Spring Break.

At some point in our culture, everyone got together and agreed that we would celebrate the end of winter and the coming of spring with a little time off. The schools let my kids off of the hook. Nobody questions it when my husband takes time off work. We load everything into the car and head out on a family vacation.

Which means that I just had a "break."

So can someone explain to me why I so badly want another one?

Is it Spring Fever? Is it longing for summer? Is it rebellion against the routine? Boredom with the monotony? Overwhelm with all of the activities?

I don't know what it is, but I just want a break in the middle of it all. Not a regularly scheduled holiday. Not a culturally-sanctioned vacation. A Break. In the middle. Of it all.

In the middle of the school commute. In the middle of the after school activities. In the middle of the laundry and cleaning. In the middle of the phone calls and emails. In the middle of the appointments. In the middle of the mountains of paperwork. In the middle of all of the crap that I feel like I have to get done EVERY DAY.

I just want a break.

My husband says, "Take a break."
My husband says, "Don't do it all."
My husband says, "Stop."

But my head says no. My head says you have shit to do. My head says you've got to get it all done. My head says you're not doing enough each day. My head says you've got to earn your keep. My head says you've got to do more, be more, do better, be better.

On the other hand, my body asks...Can we take a nap? How about a leisurely walk?

And my heart? Well, my heart is torn. My heart has too many things that it wants to do and not enough time to do it...especially since my head keeps taking up all the time with its "getting shit done."

I hate getting shit done. I hate my to-do list.

I feel like a teenager rebelling against the parent who's telling me what to do...except somehow I'm both the kid and the parent in this scenario.

Which is way weird.

I want to stomp my foot and say no. I want to ball my hands into fists and scrunch up my face in anger and rebellion and scream about how unfair it all is. I want to run to my room and slam the door and turn my music up loud and block out the everything-- most especially the voice in my head that's telling me to get off my ass and...make that call, clean that stove, get that workout in, walk that dog, play with those kids, organize that stuff...

But I won't.

What I will do, most likely, is go get more shit done.

I'd write more, but I have dog messes to clean up and laundry to fold and thank you notes to write and garden beds to weed and...


Until next time, I wish for you duct cover up the mouth of the voice in your head that keeps telling you to do more.

March 18, 2016

Eulogy Virtues vs. Resume Virtues

I recently saw an interview Oprah did with a man named David Brooks. His face looked sort of familiar, but I wouldn't have been able to place it without some background. Turns out he's a writer and political pundit (a term that makes me go, eew). But that's not why Oprah was interviewing him.

Apparently, a few years ago it occurred to David Brooks that he, like many of us, might possibly be focusing his energies on the wrong things. I have to believe that Brooks spends much of his work life surrounded by a combination of really smart people, really powerful people and real dirtbags (these categories are likely not mutually exclusive). I imagine this might make the idea of "focusing our energies on the wrong things" even more glaringly obvious than what most of us experience day-to-day.

Anyway, I watched this interview and found it really thought-provoking and rather interesting. And then I went back about my regular business. Not long after I watched the interview, I came across a NY Times article he'd written on the same topic, when someone shared it on Facebook...then I saw his book on Amazon...then I saw his TED Talk.

So here's the thing. I kind of feel like the universe sends us signs of things we need to focus on. And, if we're paying attention, we can find the lessons we need to learn or what we need to work on in our lives and ourselves this way. So, I think the universe is telling me that there's something in David Brooks' message that I need to focus on. And here's what I think it is:

Live for your eulogy, not your resume.

Weird sounding?


But Brooks found a very succinct, easy to understand, bumper-sticker worthy way of capturing a really important idea with Eulogy Virtues vs. Resume Virtues. Here's the core of what he says:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
He goes on to expand on how we can go about building these eulogy virtues by focusing on building humility and other-centeredness, confronting our own weaknesses, being committed to others, giving love, finding and following our calling, and letting go of labels and being our true selves. We must allow ourselves to stumble, then get back up and move on. We must focus not on being better than others, but on being better than we used to be.

He captures, in his talks and articles, things that I've been focusing on more and more since having kids. But I've found that it's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stuff and sucked into focusing on what our culture deems important. Though it shouldn't be, it's somehow easy to lose sight of what's important to me.  And, I have to believe that I'm not alone in this.

I've mentioned in prior posts, I think, that I am a big fan of having mantras and touchpoints-- easy reminders of what I want to focus on. I own bracelets that say "Only Love Today" and "Live Hands Free," I have a necklace that says "Writer" and I've taken to writing a daily intention on my hand with a ballpoint pen (things like: Stay loose. and Have fun. and Focus on Love.). All ways of reminding myself throughout the day--when things get crazy, when I feel overwhelmed, when I get tired and cranky-- of how I want to live the moments of my life.

So, for me, this "eulogy over resume" idea is an easy way to remind myself of what's important to me...and where I want to focus my time and energy everyday. On being kind, brave, honest and faithful. On loving deeply. And all the other things I value...

Food for thought.

Until next time, give some thought to what you want people saying in your eulogy...and then see if how you live your life, day in and day out, and where you focus your time and energy is in line with where you want things to be in the end.

P.S. If you'd like to read/watch more of what David Brooks has to say on this topic, check out these his NY Times article: The Moral Bucket List, to his TED Talk: TED Talk: Should you live for your resume...or your eulogy?, to his book (which I haven't read yet, but may add to my list now): Amazon: The Road to Character, and to clips from his Oprah interview: Oprah Interview. Or Google him...there's lots more. Happy reading and pondering.

February 10, 2016

Fred: A Picture Book Reco

A short post today, but I felt the need to share after reading this lovely little picture book with Portia the other night:

Fred by Kaila Eunhye Seo

It is the sweetest story with a wonderful message for both kids and parents: Imaginary friends are wonderful and we shouldn't let them go as we grow. In fact, they might be even more important to keep with us as we get older. Because sometimes, no matter what your age, you need friend when no one else is around.

Plus the art is just lovely.

It makes me smile.

images pulled from Amazon

Until next time, go spend some time with an old friend, imaginary or otherwise...and happy reading!


February 3, 2016

The Winter Funk

It is January 28th and I am in full-blown winter funk.

Every year I forget how much I detest January and February. And every year, after the brief glow of the new year has worn off, I wander around in a half-asleep haze wondering why I feel so blah.

And then I remember...Oh, right, it's January.

The days are short and cold. Everyday looks just like the next. I'm now slugging through the routine that seemed a refreshing, new structure back in September. It's all I've been working on the railroad all the live-long day...

The kids and I are going stir-crazy. Okay, well, it's mostly me.

The only breaks from the routine are snow days--one is good, two is too many-- and I spend the whole time wishing they were sand days.

Can you imagine waking up one morning around February 1st to a school alert on your cell that reads SAND DAY!

Imagine looking out your window to find piles of warm sand, sunshine and lapping waves...and, if we're going to go with this delusion (and we are)...then a man named Pablo knocks on your bedroom door with a tray of hot coffee and lemon ricotta pancakes and says the kids are already fed and are doing crafts with their day camp counselor, Louisa.

But that never happens.

Like, ever.

Instead, you (and by you, I mean I) get up tired, in the dark and cold, and negotiate with little people in an effort to get them dressed and fed and out the door for school and errands and whatever.

Blah, blah, blah.

But here's the thing, I don't think my day-to-day life is all that different in January than it is in April--other than the weather and the number of hours of daylight. Yet the feeling...and my attitude...are miles apart.

They just are.

That's the thing about this time of year. It's got a few extra downs to go with the ups. But, like I said, come April it will be a different story. Which brings me to one of the main lessons I've learned since becoming a parent. A lesson that applies to life as well as childrearing.

Everything is a phase.

The bad news about this is that when things are really awesome, guess what? Phase. But the flip side is also true. When things are really crummy? Also a phase.

When Tommy is waking up every night at midnight just to chat? Phase.
When Suzy is throwing temper tantrums every time you take her to the grocery store? Phase.
When Bobby eats everything on his plate without complaint and sleeps through the night every night and never wakes before 8am? Also a phase.

But the same thing goes for life in general.

It may be true that every year I fall into a winter funk sometime in January. But it's also true that every year, somewhere around March or April, I am reborn an energetic optimist.


Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas my workouts and healthy eating disappear...and then right around December 27th, boo-ya, they're back! Every so often my husband and I start to annoy each other for a week or two...then, suddenly, we're star-crossed lovers again (then annoy, then star-crossed, then annoy, then star-crossed...lather, rinse, repeat). Sometimes I go for long stretches of infinite patience with my, I'm just kidding, I've never had that phase for more than a few days!

But I've learned that I have seasons of blue and seasons of yellow and seasons of red. And I've learned that they are nothing more than that: seasons.

What better way to combat the times when things aren't great than with the knowledge that if you just hold out a little bit longer, they will be. You know, this too shall passthe sun'll come out tomorrow, and all that good stuff.

It's my theory of Phaseology.

Something to ponder, until next time.

January 26, 2016

What I've Been Reading

Here's a little peek into what I've been reading lately...

I'm just going to leave it at that.

Until next time, go grab a great book and lose yourself in it for a while.

Happy reading, my friends.