October 30, 2014

Name Your Doubt and then Banish it!

A quick little post for you all today, simply because I read this great idea in a NaNoWriMo pep talk from author Kami Garcia and I wanted to share it...

First, let me say that day after tomorrow, November 1, is the kick-off of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for 2014! I am both excited and terrified. Last year was my first year participating and I didn't quite make it halfway to the 50,000 word goal (I landed somewhere around 21,000 words). It was still a huge success for me since otherwise I would have written zero words, but I let life get in the way of getting my word count in. And, to be honest, to don't feel any better prepared this year to keep that from happening again. But I will give it the old college try!

Wish me luck!

Anyway, as a part of NaNoWriMo various authors send out these (usually awesome) pep talks to all the participating writers to get/keep them energized and inspired to reach their 50,000 word goal. Well, the first pep talk was sent out this week, as we gear-up to start. It was from author Kami Garcia and she wrote about this idea that was both new to me and fascinating/awesome: naming your doubt. 

We all have the voice of a doubter in our heads. A voice that plays on our insecurities and self-consciousness and self-doubt. A voice that tries with all its might to keep us from our heart's desire. A voice that makes us question our abilities and worth. And often times that voice sounds like our own. But it's not. And we need to make that much clearer to ourselves. If we can differentiate ourselves from that nasty little voice, then we can banish that voice.

So give it a name. That's what Kami suggests. And I think it's a great idea. Kami named hers Ozzy. I named mine Jason. (I honestly have no idea why.) But now, when that little voice starts harassing me about...whatever...my writing, my parenting, my looks...whatever it is, I can tell that it's not me. It's just a hater. His name is Jason. And he's an asshole.

Shut up, Jason. Go away. You're a jerk.

Now that doubt has a name, I can block his calls. I can banish him. I can ignore him like I would any hater I'd encounter outside my own head. He can talk to the hand. (Right now he's telling me that nobody says "Talk to the hand" anymore. So I gave him the finger and asked if people still do that. Man, that guy's a dick.)

So, name your doubt. Then banish it. Leave that hater behind and go do whatever your heart desires.

I'm gonna go write 50,000 words.

Until next time, keep on keepin' on. Peace out.

October 24, 2014

I am an uncool, mediocre failure. And that's okay.

I typed these words into my phone just before going to bed the other night...

Sometimes I fail amazingly at some things. Like, really amazingly. At small things and big things. At lots and lots of trivial things. For most of these things, I am the only one who notices. Or at least the audience is pretty small...my kids, my husband, occasionally some other family member bears witness, sometimes I share the embarrassment with a friend. But mostly it's just me who notices. (Thank goodness I am not famous!)

And I am not cool. I never was. Not. Ever. I was never most popular. I was never prettiest or smartest or best at, well, anything, really. I've always been good enough or okay at most things but never exceptional, never a superlative. This used to bother me. It used to make me sad. I used to long to be really great at something. 

I fail a lot. Everyday. And I'm not cool. And I'm not the best at anything. 

I've grown out of caring about cool (and my definition of cool has changed dramatically over the years). And I've learned that in the things that really matter to me, "the best" is a matter of opinion ("Mom, you're the best!"). And I think finally, FINALLY, I am learning to get comfortable with failure.

Kind of heavy for just before bed, I'll admit. But these things had been swimming around in my head that day. And they still are.

Failure has been weighing heavy on my mind lately, the littles and the bigs. It seems like nothing has been turning out quite right lately, from the dinners I've been cooking to my ability to get in my workouts or tackle my to do list. I can't seem to navigate corners without running into stuff or empty the dishwasher without dropping things. I can't seem to get enough sleep or make enough progress on my writing. And I seem to have totally failed to set my daughter up for a successful kindergarten year. Oh, what a miserable, fantastic failure I have been there!

The weight of all this failure has forced me to lay down and assess. To look at today and yesterday and tomorrow. And, to come clean. So, here you have it everyone:

Regardless of what you may have taken away from any of my blog posts or Facebook status updates or shared photos or smiley Christmas cards, neither I nor my life is in any way, shape or form perfect. I am thrilled that, to me, you all look so beautiful and your lives look so wonderful. My life is wonderful too. But not like a magazine photo shoot. More like an old Family Circle cartoon.

You see, I am in a constant battle with cluttered kitchen countertops and room corners. I cannot get a handle on the toys in my house. I have boxes sitting in my dining room of random stuff (deliveries, gifts, donations) that I just haven't dealt with yet. I have signs of half finished or just started projects all over my house. I have so many things that I want to be doing but I can never seem to get to any of the cool stuff because I am forever drowning in meal preparation and laundry and kid care and just trying to get a shower in. I still have polish on my toes from a pedicure in August. I no longer believe it's possible to get the flat tummy of my twenties back...and most of the time I don't really care. I look SO MUCH older than I did just five years ago. I oscillate between wanting to be super fit and look great and shaking my fist (or possibly my middle finger) at a culture that focuses on such superficial things. Lately I don't really enjoy cooking and many of my meals have been simply mediocre. And the inside of my car is a total mess.

I am always happy for friends when I hear of their successes. But I am also sometimes a bit envious. All of your vacations look so amazing, all the runs you go on are so impressive, some for their speed and others for their distance, your kids and pets look adorable and I'm so proud of all the things they do. I love it when you're funny and I tear-up when you're sad. You are all so awesome. But I just can't live up to the projected image. And I no longer want you to think I might be.

You need to know that I look like crap far more often than I look good. And even when I look good, I don't really look that good. And that's okay. Because who cares. Do you? No, you don't really. I am blessed with a beautiful, warm and cozy house. But you need to know that walking through our lower level is like an American Ninja Warrior obstacle course...there will be jumping over things and possible painful injury involved. I am exhausted from nights up with kids with bad dreams and a husband on a business in Europe. I am drinking too much coffee and snacking on things I shouldn't be and not doing my physical therapy exercises for my neck. We had frozen pizza for dinner last night because daddy's out of town. I didn't have time to shower this morning and I put my makeup on in the car in the preschool parking lot. I currently have 61 reminders on my iPhone, some have been there for a year. I have at least ten things on my to do list for today that I will never get to. At least one of these things is probably important and time-sensitive. I finally cleaned out a ton of old clothes from my closet and donated them and I bought a few new things. I still do not look cool.

I am an uncool, mediocre failure. And that's okay. Because, despite what I may think, most of you probably are too.

A wise children's book once said, "Everybody poops." And everybody does. We all poop and get sick and have bad days and get bad haircuts and make bad fashion choices and make bad life choices. We all make mistakes and pick our noses and yell when we shouldn't. We all have some less than stellar qualities right along with the great ones. And sometimes we're awesome parents and sometimes we're not. And sometimes we're awesome people and sometimes we're not.

Some days I am perky and energetic and full of life and I can do it all. And some days I'm not. Some days I am dancing Snoopy. And some days I am Linus + Pigpen + Charlie Brown with the rain cloud over his head. Today I might be a mess. But by next week I'll have my s*#t together again...at least for a day or two.

But even on the days when I have it all together I am still uncool. I am still mediocre. And I'll manage to fail at something. That's the real me. I guess the cat's out of the bag. I am not an image projected on Facebook or Christmas cards or when I go out dolled-up for date night or girls' night. I am the wake up with crazy hair and puffy eyes and pillow marks on my face stay at home mom of two adorable, smart, funny, crazy, loud, naughty kids and a sweet, broken, insane dog; I am a wife and a homemaker and a wannabe writer; I am the overseer of a million unfinished projects and the harborer of thousands of ideas that may never come to fruition; I am a cook and a decorator and sometimes crafter; I am a type A, work before play, get 'er done gal who never feels like enough but who is trying to change her ways. I am me. Just plain me. Preferably in comfy clothes.

And today, the real me raises my coffee cup to the real you: Here's to being authentic. Here's to being real. Here's to a world that celebrates the uncool, the mediocre, and the failures, those who get knocked down and get back up and keep going and keep trying each and everyday. Here's to the amazingly imperfect lot of us.

Until next time, be authentic and share your secret self with the world.

(Check out my new favorite song, Secrets by Mary Lambert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqqqV50zaAc for a little added inspiration.)

October 14, 2014

A Super Short Book Review: Love and Other Foreign Words

Hello friends!

I have something to report.

I have decided to cut back on blog posts for a while so I can focus my limited writing time on my fiction writing. (I've tabled the novel I was working on last fall and am focused on a children's chapter book and some picture book ideas. I hope to share some of that with you all at some point.) 

In the meantime, most of my posts will likely fall into one of two categories: short and sweet (like this one), and the more journal-like, cathartic essays that seem to rise up from inside of me when I just need to vent or think-write. 

I hope you'll continue to follow along with me. 

So here's my first short and sweet post: a Super Short Book Review:

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Fun. Light. Entertaining. A YA book and a quick-and-easy, pleasant read. Kind of like reading a John Hughes Brat Pack movie. (If you're too young to know what that means, look it up.)

Until next time, read on, folks. Read on.

October 7, 2014

My Top Ten Family Outings for the Fall

Yesterday morning I awoke to a very cold house. Then I walked to my daughter's bus stop thinking, seriously, it's freezing out here...where are my gloves?!?! I came home and looked at the calendar and was shocked to find that it was, in fact, October. When did that happen??? (I know, about a week ago.)

Looks like it's time to turn the heat on. Looks like it's time to get out the warm coats. Looks like it's time to finalize the Halloween costumes. And, it looks like it's time to fill the calendar with fun fall outings! (Woot!)

We got things rolling this weekend, with our first Fall Family Activity: a 5k charity race. We had to get the kids up in the dark (at 6am) and it was raining out! But we had so much fun. We all ran together...at 3 and 5 years old, the kids were in and out of the jogging stroller throughout the race, but they got out to run across their first finish line and get their medal...they were so proud! We had a blast! And, it provided a great teaching moment about The Four Diamond Fund charity we were supporting, about kids who are sick with cancer, and about doing something to support other people. I highly, highly recommend a charity run or walk as a fun family activity. I hope to do many more of these! I implore you to give it a try...and fall is such a great time to do it.

So what else do we have planned for the month to come? Well, here it is, my Top Ten Family Outings for the Fall:

Top Ten Family Outings for the Fall
10. Family 5k charity race (we ran The Conquer Run for the pediatric cancer charity The Four Diamond Fund)
9. Apple picking (followed by some baking fun)
8. Pumpkin patch, corn maze and hay ride
7. Fall color walk and nature scavenger hunt (we'll go to nearby nature paths to check out the leaves turning color, wade thru the creek, do a simple scavenger hunt and collect fall craft supplies like acorns and pretty leaves)
6. Hershey Park in the Dark (trick or treating and rides at the nearby Hershey Park amusement park)
5. Hershey Gardens Pumpkin Glow (trick or treating and fun decorations at the nearby Hershey Gardens...over 150 glowing jack-o-lanterns!)
4. Trick or treating in the neighborhood
3. Farmer's Market Fall Fest (you can check out any local farmer's market or community fall fest)
2. Campfire smores at Hershey Chocolate World (of course you can do smores anywhere...even the microwave, if you don't have a handy fire pit)
1. Picnic at the park (we'll pick a warmer, dry day to take a picnic lunch to a nearby park)

In addition to all of these fun family outings, I also have planned some fun, fall crafts and baking ideas. We're going to try making some fall scented play dough, some hot pumpkin cocoa and an apple crisp. We're going to create candy corn catapults and pumpkin sun catchers. And we'll do some painting and crafting with some of the things we collect on our nature walk...like acorn and leaf people. And, of course, we'll carve and paint some pumpkins. For some fun ideas for fall activities, check out my Aaaahhh Autumn board on Pinterest here: http://www.pinterest.com/amylorbach/aaaahhh-autumn/.

Until next time, go get your fall on!

October 2, 2014

From My Nightstand: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I finished this book following a marathon, late-night, hundred-page reading session (almost unheard of now that I have small children), and I found myself in awe of Erin Morgenstern's ability to imagine, create and weave together such a wonderful, wondrous tale.

Spoiler alert: I'm in love with this book.

Story telling is a craft, and when it is done well, it leaves me in awe. When I finish a book that is so well-crafted, one in which the story is so intricately woven that it surprises you all along the way and you find yourself flipping back through the pages to reread sections and marvel at the breadcrumb trail the author left you, and you followed, without even knowing it...I just marvel. When an author creates a world so detailed and believable, even when it stretches the bands of reality, that you are sucked-in and standing: living and breathing in that world...I am in wonder. And, I am a little bit in love. I find myself smitten with writers who can do this. (And actors...great example: James Spader in Blacklist. He's so good. I totally have a crush.) Erin Morgenstern does this with The Night Circus.

While The Night Circus takes place in the late-18-and-early-1900's, with it's center in London, the traveling circus venue really suspends both place and time. Morgenstern creates her own world and draws you in. In her world, there is a traveling circus that arrives without warning. It never advertises, beyond word of mouth. It simply appears, is if from no where. It stays for a few days, then is gone once again. It is called Le Cirque des Reves and it's gates open when the sun sets and close when the sun rises. It is The Night Circus.

Visitors are entranced by The Night Circus's magic. But the magic they see, the magic they sense, only scratches the surface. What they cannot comprehend is the delicate balance, the painstaking work and the competition that lives "behind the curtain" in a world that does not follow the rules of their own.

Because of the book's complexity, you must bear with Morgenstern through the early chapters as she lays the groundwork for the story. It has the potential to be a bit confusing early-on as it quickly changes time and place and perspective, introducing new characters on what seems like a whim. But she is, in fact, weaving a tapestry for you and eventually you will see the beauty of the art and no longer the individual strings of yarn.

I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. If you haven't already, check it out.

For more recommendations on what to read next, check out the Books Worth Reading tab at the top of this page and the Books tag on the list at the right, or check out my Books, Books, Books board on Pinterest here: http://www.pinterest.com/amylorbach/books-books-books/.

Until next time, happy reading.

September 30, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons...

My Sweet Cooper

I know I should be writing a real blog post right now. Something useful like a recipe or a craft. I have a book recommendation more than half written, but I just can't bring myself to finish it right now. Both kids are at school. I'm in one of my favorite writing spaces. I have a nice cup of hot coffee inches from my right hand. I even got a good table today.

But it's gray and foggy outside. And it's been a rough month for me. I'm feeling a little blue. My eyes and my body feel heavy and tired. And, I guess I have blogger's block. I think I have too much "life stuff" swimming around in my brain today. I can't seem to clear it away to make room for anything else. So today you get a journal entry instead of a real blog post...

So here's my laundry list for the month: my grandfather passed away; my sweet 9 year old dog, Cooper, has been having some problems and we just discovered he has a cancerous tumor in his bladder; and I had some X-rays done and found out I have degenerative arthritis in my neck. Plus my daughter is not loving kindergarten-- she doesn't think it's fun, she hasn't made any good friends yet, and she's not feeling challenged. ("Challenged" is my word, an example of her words would be: "I want to do REAL math, Mom. This isn't math, this is counting. I've been counting since I was three." Said with the sarcastic tone of a fifteen year old.) She also wants to know why they don't learn science in kindergarten.

This has all left me feeling sad and old and like I've failed my child on educational choices and my dog on love and attention.

I know. I know. Wallow. Wallow. Wallow. Cry me a river.

I know I live a charmed, blessed life. I know I live on easy street. I promise, I know this.

But cut me a little slack, just for a day or two.

Tomorrow, Cooper is scheduled for surgery. If the cancer hasn't spread, he stands a good chance of recovery. But we won't know anything until they go in there. I am dreading tomorrow. I don't want the bad news, so I don't want to know anything at all. I would like to stick my head in the sand until it all has passed. Please let him be okay. Please let me have a second chance to give this little guy (who is forth in line behind two kids and a husband for my love and attention) more love and attention. Who will I take my nighttime walks with if he's not there?

Friday I have my first physical therapy appointment to see what we can do for my neck/back. It's hard to hear the word "arthritis" the same year you're forced to face the number "forty". I feel SO old. And it's not like you can fix arthritis. All you can do is "manage" it. The doctor said the good news is that once the two bones in my spine fuse together, I should be in less pain. With a little loss of mobility. (This doesn't sound like good news to me.) I imagine myself hunched and frail with a walker.

And Thursday I have a meeting scheduled with my daughter and her teacher. I gave my daughter two choices when she complained to me about school again last week: we can talk with your teacher together and try to make changes at school, or we can start working on math and science at home (we already work on reading). She asked if we could do both. So we got some math workbooks and a cool science book from the library. And I've been on Pinterest looking for projects. Now, we're going to talk with her teacher about what we can do to make her school experience better. I'm trying to work within the system first. If that doesn't work, I will have to look at other options. Unfortunately I haven't found any good private school options less than 45-minutes-to-an-hour away. Why didn't I look deeper into schools before we chose our house?

Oh, and, I think about death a lot more since my grandfather's passing. This can be a bit depressing.

So, dear diary, there you have it. My September. What's a gal to do?

Of course I will pull myself up by my bootstraps and ride on. I will take Cooper to the vet tomorrow and I will get through whatever happens with him as best I can. I will listen to the physical therapist and do good things for my neck. And I will figure out what's best for my daughter's education. And life will go on. And I will be smiling again soon.

But maybe I'll give myself today. Just today. To be glum.

Then tomorrow, I'll bake cookies.

Until next time...When life gives you lemons...make a batch of lemon cookies...and eat them all. Maybe share a few. But let's be honest, there aren't that many cookies because you ate most of the batter.

And it was good.

September 23, 2014

Top Ten Things I Love to Fill My Day With

There is this wonderful little children's picture book that you may have heard of, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A guide to Daily Happiness for Kids, by Carol McCloud. I think this is a wonderful book for kids (of any age) and adults alike. (Check it out here, if you haven't already: Have You Filled a Bucket Today?) The basic idea in the book is this: We all carry with us an invisible bucket in which we tote our happy thoughts and feelings. Our bucket is filled when others say and do nice things for us, as well as when we do and say nice things for others. When we are hurtful to others we dip into their bucket (and ours) and take away some of those good feelings. When our bucket is full, we feel happy. When our bucket is empty, we feel sad. So, when you do and say nice things to other people you fill both their bucket and your own. Lesson: Make filling people's buckets a daily goal and everyone will be happier.

I love this concept, and think it's so true, but I like to take that idea one step further with this: you can also fill your own bucket when you say and do nice things for yourself and when you fill your day with the things (and people) you love. This idea is especially important for those of us who spend so much of our time caring for others' needs and sometimes forget our own. It is also important for those who sometimes mistreat themselves with negative self-talk...that nasty habit definitely dips into our bucket and takes away some happy. And it stands to reason that the fuller our bucket, the more our day is filled with happy, the more able we are to share the happy and fill other people's buckets.

Now, these concepts aren't exactly groundbreakingly new. I'm relatively confident that you already knew that doing/saying nice things for/to others and yourself increased the overall happiness level for everyone involved. But, do you make it an intention each day? Do you start your day with the goal of seeking out ways to bring a smile to someone else's face? And how about your own? Can we all make it a goal to bring on the happy?

...Because I'm happy. Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof....

So, really, this week's top ten list is simply a reminder for all of us to stop for a moment and remind ourselves of the things we love, the things that bring us joy, the things that fill our hearts and our buckets, the things we can do for ourselves to increase the happy...and then make sure we fill our days with those things. So here's a list of The Top Ten Things I Love to Fill My Day With. If I can get most of these things into each and every day, well, then, life is pretty good.

Top Ten Things I Love to Fill My Day With
10. Good books
9. Good coffee
8. Good food
7. Good wine
6. Good friends
5. Good sleep
4. Good conversation
3. Good music
2. Good laughter
1. Good lovin', good hugs and good cuddles with my babies

Until next time, go fill your day with the good stuff. And then share the happy with others. Fill your kids' buckets. Fill your spouse's bucket. Fill your neighbor's bucket. Fill the checkout clerk's bucket. Fill the person on the street's bucket. And fill your bucket.