Operation: Vacation

You’ve survived spring break. Julie’s shared her valuable tips for figuring out summer camps. But what about summer vacation? You know, that priceless time wedged between camp experiences and steeped in family values and learning opportunities. The together-time where everyone is supposed to relax and all the photos include allof you caught in spontaneous play, smiles wide, lit by the soft glow of afternoon sun….

No, seriously. It can happen. But like any adventure or military operation, it takes a little planning, some courage, and field-tested survival tactics.

Strategy. How many missions have gone terribly awry because they lacked a clear strategy? Ask your favorite history buff someday. Luckily, for planning a family vacation, all you need to do is answer two questions:

What recharges you?

What recharges the other folks your traveling with?

Because that’s what vacation is all about, right? You can camp. You can hit the beach. You can fly across the world to take in sights on your bucket list. Or you can hang with relatives or friends. But whatever it is you decide to do with your time, wherever you decide to go, if it doesn’t recharge you and your family, then what’s the point?

This is one of those “simple” truths that took me ages to figure out. Growing up in a relatively blue-collar part of the U.S., people didn’t go anywhere fancy for family vacations. We drove a couple hours to stay with my grandparents for a week a couple of times a year. Sometimes we’d cross into New Hampshire to spend a long weekend with my Aunt’s family. Rare occasions took us into Boston. So when I had enough disposable income to visit exotic locales on my limited vacation time, I felt an imperative to pack Every. Single. Minute. Full. Of things to see, to try, to taste, to feel. I barely left time for sleeping. Just ask my husband, who after six days of a honeymoon spent racing from one activity to another, finally staged a silent lie-in when I woke him at 6 a.m. to get to our surfing lesson on Day 7. I was crushed by the experience lost. To this day, I don’t know how to surf, but I started to grasp a greater truth that day: vacation isn’t about ticking things off the to-do list. In fact, it’s supposed to be the opposite of ticking things off the to-do list.

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Journaling Through

I’m so excited to introduce my friend, the lovely and talented Carolyn Koesters. Carolyn is a journaling pro and she’s written a post about how she uses journaling in her everyday life as a mom, non-profit coordinator, and all-around awesome human being. I think you’ll love it! You can learn more about her professional background on our bios page here, or catch up with her at www.wordcatching.com. She will also be teaching this November at Life is a Verb Camp.


Journaling Through

by Carolyn Koesters

We space betweeners, we sure do wear a lot of hats, don’t we? And I’m just thinking about the hats I like wearing- those I’m comfortable with, that explain my relationships to a point, or, that have suited me all along. What are some of the hats I currently juggle in my many-splendored life? I’m so glad you asked. Proud wife of 20 years; mother of a Hamilton-quoting, teenage percussionist; deeply devoted, but long-distance daughter; running-around-like-a-crazy-person non-profit coordinator; semi-committed meditator; coffee enthusiast; labyrinth aficionado; and most recently- owner of the cutest therapy dog you’ve ever seen. But of all these, there is only one hat I have worn proudly since second grade: journaler. Not a journalist, but someone who writes in a blank book, with some frequency, with the intention of being curious about their inner life (and outer life, too). Let’s break this down a little, shall we?

I write in a journal to keep me sane. Regularly. At least weekly, sometimes daily, and in all manner of styles, settings, speeds, and sizes. Sometimes my journal writing is very formal process, selecting a journal and a pen, an empty table, either at home or out and about, usually with a coffee, and a set aside amount of quiet solitude. However, I have been known to scrawl wildly for 6 minutes in a pocket notebook I’ve stashed in the glovebox of my car, waiting for a train to go by.

The most recent entry I wrote was last night, in a thick, sturdy journal with an image of Alice in Wonderland on the front that says:

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then”.

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Reward Yourself!

It’s been one of those days. The house is a disaster, your kid(s) melted down seven times since waking and you’re barely through lunch (leftover chicken nuggets and fries). You’re behind on your latest work in progress, there are deadlines to meet for your clients, and you and the spouse have barely been able to exchange more than necessary instructions for survival as you pass each other coming or going. You’re exhausted, the caffeine isn’t sufficient (no matter how many cups you microwave), and you’re wondering when or IF it’s going to get better.  How are you ever going to get through your mile long to-do list?

Take a breath and prepare to reward yourself!

No, I’m not a millennial. I’m a child of the 80s, raised on the belief that you’ve got to pull yourself up by your astro-boot straps, jump on your bike, and take on the neighborhood bullies yourself if you want to enjoy your poprocks and your Bruce Springsteen in peace.

But did you see how many rewards were up for grabs in that idealized 80s reflection? Not just the poprocks and the music, my friends, but also the freedom of flying on two-wheels, the joy of pulling on those boots that you picked out yourself, and the bliss of owning your environment. Potential rewards are all around us, and if we structure the rewards program the right way, they’ll help us not only achieve our goals but boost our productivity and sustain our achievements.

This is something the HR world figured out long ago. When you’re employed by someone else, rewards come in many forms, and they can be relied upon to be doled out with regularity: employee-of-the-month, quarterly awards, semi-annual performance evaluations, annual ceremonies.  The rewards range from You’re a Star! certificates to cash bonuses – with many top employers effectively employing the full range to help keep the work force positively motivated, i.e PRODUCING.

But at home…well, that’s a different story.  When did you last get a gold star for keeping on top of the dishes? A certificate for paying your bills on time? Perhaps a performance bonus for putting away the stacks of laundry threatening to consume anyone who walked into the dining room? Me either – though my four year old once said to me “Good job, mommy! You got this!” when I surprised him with a ‘good’ snack. Let me tell you, I still get excited when I think about that moment! Maybe sometime in the next four years, I’ll earn another verbal reward, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

And if you’re no longer in the office, if you’ve been accustomed to regular rewards, but now you’re self-employed (or free-lancing, or taking time away to focus on your family), whooowheee! That can be one tough transition. We all need to feel like we’ve done good every now and again. And when you work for yourself, no one’s going to give you that pat on the back but you.

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Spring Cleaning and Other Ridiculous Measuring Sticks

First, a disclaimer. I know there are people out there who are just naturally organized and tidy. I have sincere admiration for those of you who work hard to keep things in order. I’m guessing you don’t get suckered into every new plastic organization system. And you actually use your label maker. You’ve probably never even considered sleeping on the couch rather than putting away the six baskets of clean laundry that were turned upside down on your bed by some helpful child.

In my eyes, you have a gift. It’s not a gift I was given. And I’m okay with that. Mostly. So, this post is for the rest of us who struggle with keeping a house suitable for humans while keeping everyone alive – and just want to stop feeling bad about the struggle.

Now, a choice:

  1. Happy Children
  2. A Clean House
  3. Your Sanity.

Pick two.

Nope, only two…because you can’t have all three!

I read this somewhere and it’s stuck with me. If you come over and my house is clean, it’s because my children have been dealing with a raving lunatic all day and my sanity is hanging by a very clean thread. It looks something like this:

What’s the point of a clean house if everyone in it is unhappy?

Don’t get me wrong. I love it when my house is clean. I just can’t take too much pride or pleasure in it because the clean is fleeting. These people I live with take a clean family room as a personal challenge.

I know some people suggest multi-tasking. My multi-tasking is basically me starting seven projects and finishing none of them. Not effective when you are trying to write, parent, and keep a house. So lately I have been deciding which days will be housework days and which days are writing days. If it’s a writing day, that’s what I do. If I happen to manage to throw in a load of laundry, then bonus! On housework days, I try to get whatever errands or cleaning done as quickly as possible – just in case there’s time to work on my writing. And then, I shrug. I’m not going to lose what’s left of my sanity over a pile of dishes. 

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We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Samantha P.!

She’s the winner of our first giveway!

Samantha, we will be emailing you to get your home address – so we can send that planner your way.

Thanks to all of you who have subscribed and left comments. We’re very glad you’re here.


Working around the Shoulds

Last weekend I found myself in Montpelier, VT, in something near a euphoric state. I was attending a novel writing retreat at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. For almost 48 amazing hours, I got to immerse myself in lectures and conversations with other people passionate about writing. With our meals prepared for us, our lodging simple and uncluttered by the nagging to-do piles and lists that seem to dog my heels at home, the weather still more conducive to being inside than out, I could set aside the rest of the world and indulge my passion for two whole days. Almost guilt free.

“Almost” for two reasons. One I’ll lay at the feet of Mr. Stephen King, who in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (one of the best – and admittedly only – writing guides I’ve read cover to cover), spends several pages questioning the value of writing seminars. Woe to the aspiring writer who turns a deaf ear to this paragon’s advice – no matter how snarky! But Mr. King also interrogates the reader earlier in this same book, ‘When you write, you want to get rid of the world, do you not?” (On Writing, p. 156)

Yes! Yes I do! Despite that desire and my small nook in the spare room tucked under an eave and without even a window to distract me, the world finds its way in so often that there are days I fear ever achieving the publication of a single novel – let alone the stack of manuscripts sitting in my drawer or on my thumb drive.

My husband, our son, the dogs – these are the other reasons for the ‘almost’. These are the blessed time-eaters I love as much as I love creating new worlds. These make fleeing to Vermont at the end of winter for an opportunity to hole up and be productive seem like heaven. Paradoxically, they are also what prompt me to return again, pulling at me over any distance.

There are so many other things that also pull at my time though. Those things we think we ‘should’ do. In the category of ‘self-care’, there’s get enough sleep; prepare healthy meals; take time to actually chew said meals; shower; exercise; meditate/journal/process. Then there’s taking care of your relationships: with your spouse; with your friends; with the family that is not co-located in your home; with your pets. Don’t forget making ends meet. Whether you’re the primary breadwinner or working to make sure the winnings are enough to get you all by, maintaining an income for maximum possible outcome remains at the top of most people’s lists. There’s housework, yard work, and paper work. And once you’re a parent, there’s the trump card: anything your kid needs.

One of the speakers at the retreat talked about motivation to write, relating creative methods he’s designed to trick himself into engaging with writing when his brain is throwing up blocks. I was amazed at his self-awareness, and his ability to use his brain to create work-arounds to circumvent his own mental obstacles. Genius! As much as I admired what he was saying, I realized motivation was not my main problem. Mine is guilt. Guilt tied to perceptions of where I should be investing my time. Guilt born of being able to focus on only one thing at a time, when my heart cherishes so many and wants to engage them all simultaneously, as well as guilt that comes from not meeting all the ‘shoulds’. And I realized: I’ve got to find a way to circumvent the shoulds; to trick my brain out of the guilt.

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