July 22, 2016

Ten Little Pieces of Inspiration

One of my little places of inspiration, Grand Traverse Bay

Lately, I find myself seeking out little pieces of inspiration.

I don't know if it's the state of my mental and emotional well-being at the moment, or if it's the state of our world today. But I'm seeking. In the books I'm reading, in the Pinterest memes I come across, in thoughts shared on Instagram, in the words of friends...I'm hungry for bits of wisdom that might correct the course of my day, or week...or, life.

I find these little motivational nibbles remind me to do better and be better. And I am always striving. (Sometimes maybe a little too much.) I am trying not to strive so much in the way of the perfectionist, but more in the way of the Frankie. (see Netflix: Frankie & Grace; reference also Phoebe Buffet, Friends) Not seeking perfection, but goodness...or maybe grace.

So I thought I'd share ten of these little pieces of inspiration with you today. Maybe one of them will change the course of your week or day, or even just the tiniest moment...for even if the sun shines only for a moment, the flower still grows toward it. And that can only be good. To lean toward the sun.

Even better, to be the sun.

With all the negativity and hate and fear thrumming through our world today, I think we can all stand little more warmth, a little more light...and maybe to be the light.

Be a lamp or a lifeboat or a ladder. -Rumi  This makes me dream of doing great things. Until I suddenly feel totally incapable of doing great things. But then I remember that this can be a small gesture. A phone call to a friend at just the right moment. A kind word. A chat or a snuggle with your kid. A smile at a stranger. It is a great thing to be a lifeboat. But can be equally great to be a simple bedside lamp.

She designed a life she loved.  This reminds me that my life is what I make it. When you get caught up in the daily stuff of life, it can be really easy to feel like you're caught in the current on a fast-moving river. It's important to remember that that river is shallower than it looks, and if you just put your feet down you can stand up and wade to shore. You can take a break there or decide to walk in the woods instead or go find a different river to ride. Even when it doesn't feel like it, you can design a life you love.

She took a deep breath and let it go.  The thing I need to do every day, multiple times a day. Just take a deep breath and let it go. Sometimes we carry the weight of things with us, these heavy, heavy burdens of shame or anger or guilt. We need to remember to let them go. Shrug them off like a heavy wool coat. The walking on is easier that way.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. -Pablo Picasso  Whether your enjoying it or creating it, art is a balm for the soul. It truly is. Make it a part of your everyday. Read. Write. Draw. Color. Paint. Stare at beautiful art. Listen to music. Sing. Dance. Compose. Create. It will always do you good. It always does me good.

Expectation is the root of all heartache.  When I used to work in market research (a lifetime ago)  everyone always thought that the most important measure of a new product was what we called purchase intent (how likely consumers said they were to buy it). I always thought that the other most important measure was "performance vs. expectations" (how well did the product perform against how you expected it to). And I think this is true of most things in life. If you expect everything in life to be perfect, and it's not, then you will be heartbroken. But I think it's less about lower your expectations than it is about not having expectations and just letting things happen as they will.

Do for one what you wish you could do for all. -Andy Stanley  Here's an example: When I look at all of the dogs and cats out there in need of "forever homes", all those who have been mistreated and abandoned, it breaks my heart. And it feels so overwhelming. How can we ever fix this? I get a surge of emotion and desire to adopt them all, which, of course, I can't do. But I can adopt one dog and give him a great, loving home. And I can change the world just a little by raising two amazing kids who will one day go out into that world and be little rays of light. I can be kind to the person right in front of me, and, like the beating wings of the butterfly, hope that the current of that kindness goes out into the world in waves of goodness that grace it all.

This is the beginning of anything you want. -Boy  Anything. Truly. You can start anything right now. Right. Now. Anything you want. Just do it.

Be a warrior not a worrier.  Some days this can be so hard. But the truth is that worry never accomplished anything. It never saved anyone. It never got anything done. It never helped. Ever. Instead of worrying about things, power through and make things happen like the warrior you are.

No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anyone but oneself. -Virginia Woolf  Oh my, how often am I trying to hurry and sparkle?  Just be you, without the fancy wrapping paper and big, bright bow. Just you. You're enough. 

Failure is only the opportunity to begin again. Only this time more wisely. -Henry Ford (variation)  I almost never am able to remember this in the moment of failure. It's only later, when I've calmed down and gained a little perspective that I can see this. I'm hoping to get better at seeing it in the moment. Someday.

And a bonus tidbit, from one of the great philosophers of our time...

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. -Ferris Bueller Remember that. It really is true. It. Goes. Fast.

Until next time, friends, be inspired...better yet, be an inspiration.

July 12, 2016

Zucchini-Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, it's summer. (In case you hadn't noticed.) And summer means spoils from the garden and time to bake. So I've recently re-shared my favorite recipes for zucchini bread and zucchini brownies (which you can find here: MamaManagement Zucchini Recipes...along with a few others). Now I'm sharing my newest zucchini baked good: Zucchini-Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies.

If a chocolate chip cookie and a slice of zucchini bread had a baby, it would be these cookies. A marriage made in the gardens of heaven! They really are delicious...give them a try!

Zucchini-Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c shredded zucchini (excess water squeezed out and packed into measuring cup)
1 to 1 1/2 c old fashioned oats (start with 1 c and then see if you need more; I used closer to 1 1/2 c)
1 1/2 c chocolate chips
3/4 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl, then set aside.

Either in the bowl of an electric mixer or in a mixing bowl with a hand held mixer, whip together the butter, sugar and brown sugar until creamy. Mix in egg and vanilla. Mixing on low, add zucchini, mixing until combined. Then slowly add flour mixture. Stir in oats, chocolate chips and nuts (if adding). At this point, take a look at your dough and make sure you're happy with the consistency. It should be slightly wetter looking than your typical chocolate chip cookie dough. I started off using just 1 cup of oats, but ended up adding close to another half cup of oats to stiffen the dough a little more.

Scoop by tbsp onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake 11-14 minutes or until the edges are just a touch golden and the tops are set. Cool on baking sheet for a couple of minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


Until next time, happy baking.

June 1, 2016

Listen * Support * Encourage * Believe

Some of the best parenting advice I've absorbed recently can be summed up in four little words:

Listen * Support * Encourage * Believe

I think I've shared this belief before: I believe that if you're paying attention, the universe is constantly sending you messages. And when they're really important, the universe will present these messages to you in a variety of ways, often in rapid succession.

The universe will put articles and books and people and experiences (and blog posts) in your path that direct you to lessons and information you need right now.

And that's how I feel about this particular lesson. I read at least three different articles/books/posts within a very short period of time that all said essentially the same thing about helping your child deal with tough stuff. And all at a time when I was feeling less sure about how best to help my 7 year old cope with increasing complex emotional and relational issues.

And the lesson can be boiled down to four steps.

When your child comes to you with a problem, or melts down and you're trying to understand why, or wallops her brother for no apparent reason, or is upset after school and won't say what's wrong....

Whatever the reason, when your child is dealing with something tough, don't dismiss his/her fears or anger; don't try to fix the problem for him/her; and don't banish him/her to their bedroom.

Why? In the words of Rachel Macy Stafford: My friends, shielding our loved ones from struggle, challenge, pain, and disappointment is tempting; I know. But let us remember the characteristics we most want our beloveds to develop are often born from a place of adversity. So that one day, when our beloveds come face to face with sadness, trauma, loss, or hopelessness, they will not be paralyzed with fear or give up because it's too hard. Instead they will say [to that adversity], "I know you. I've seen you before. You cannot take me down. In fact, I'll face you and come out stronger than I was before."

Instead of shielding our children from the tough things (or worse, ignoring that there even are tough things), try doing these four things:

Listen * Support * Encourage * Believe

1. Listen...Really listen to what they have to say. Hear what they are going through. Don't think about how you'll respond as they're talking. Don't interrupt them. Don't solve the problem, even if you know the solution. Just. Listen.
2. Support...When they've told you their story and you've truly heard it, offer your support. Let them know that you're there for them, that you love them unconditionally, that you support them in how they choose to handle things.
3. Encourage...Once you've shown them your support, give them some encouragement. Tell them that you believe they can handle this, that you believe they can overcome any obstacle, that you believe in them. Tell them that they're strong and smart and wonderful.
4. Believe...Then...really believe everything you've just said. Really believe in them. Really believe that they are strong and smart and wonderful. Really believe that they can handle this. Believe in your child. Believe that this too shall pass. Believe that he/she shall overcome.

It's that simple (not always actually "simple" to execute, though...until you get used to it). As RMS reminded me, our role in our children's pain and struggle is not to rescue, minimize or abandon them in their time of need, but is instead to listen, support, encourage and believe in their ability to overcome whatever obstacle they're struggling with.

Here's the really cool thing about this approach-- it's not just applicable to parenting. It's perfect when anyone (like your spouse or your best friend) brings a problem to you.

Guess who else you might want to give this a try with? You. Yep. You. The best thing you can do for yourself when you're faced with a problem...listen, support, encourage and believe. You deserve that just as much as your child and spouse and BFF do.

True story.

Thank you Dr. Laura Markham, Rachel Macy Stafford, Glennon Doyle Melton (some of my go-to parenting/life gurus) and all of the other people/places that shared some form of this concept with me in recent months. And thank you, universe, for bringing it to me.

Until next time, happy relating to the ones you love most (and listening, supporting, encouraging and believing ;-) ).


**To read Rachel Macy Stafford's post that was part of the inspiration for this blog post, click here: http://www.handsfreemama.com/2016/03/29/your-role-in-a-loved-ones-struggle/. **

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)...like 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 one...in 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 this...plus 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 tape...to 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 links...to 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.