The Sand Pail List

We’re in full summer meltdown mode here, folks. It’s the end of July. All of those camps I carefully plotted out are over. Done. As in, everyone’s home all the time. At the same time. Together. My children are sick of each other, to put it mildly. And they can smell school coming. The other day my almost 14 year old was covering his eyes and yelling, “Ahhh! Tell me when it’s over!” Was this a preview for a horror movie? Was there a couple making out on the TV? No. It was much worse: a commercial for back to school shopping. It sent chills down his spine.

The first three weeks of August are all about holding on. To my sanity. Every other summer I’ve had amnesia when it comes to these three weeks. This time I remember and I’m going to do it differently. This will likely involve behavior modification/bribery. I’m okay with that. Because I would like to enjoy this last bit of summer with them. I would like to stop having to be the ref, waving my arms, and  pulling them apart when they fight. Is that too much to ask?

A “kindness” jar has worked in the past. It’s where they get a cotton ball in a jar when I catch one of them being kind. They share the jar and try to make a collective effort at filling it while working toward some reward. Kindness comes naturally to only one of my sons, so he does the heavy lifting when it comes to earning cotton balls, but it does raise the baseline for civility in our home.

I also don’t want to regret not getting to this or that before summer ends. I’m not talking about Facebook-worthy adventures and smiles. That ship sailed in June.  I’m talking about some little things that will make me feel like I tried to make summer very summer-y.

So, instead of a Bucket List, I’m making a Sand Pail List. A list of all the summer stuff I want to do before it slips away. The following list is in random order , if I’m lucky I’ll get to half of it, and you should in no way feel like you need a Sand Pail List. It’s just my latest attempt to bring meaning to chaos. And did I mention it’s almost August? Don’t bother with a Pinterest search…

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Handling First Day Of Camp Fears

Cara Martinisi is a wife and mother to three boys. Her oldest son lives in heaven. Cara is dedicated to helping families navigate life post child loss. She is a contributor to The Mighty and writes an inspirational blog about her journey through grief. She shares her unique outlook on child loss at As our guest blogger today, she reminds us to find the balance our own anxieties and those of our kids.


This morning as I sat editing my latest writing piece with an urgent feeling, my five year old son, Nicky, came to me, whining that he didn’t want to go to camp. My husband misspoke and told him to “Have a good day at camp!” He truly thought that it was the first day.  My husband didn’t realize that he had just ignited anxiety in my son. Of course he would never do that intentionally but upon hearing that he would be going to camp, Nicky panicked.

I wish I could say that I responded as I would have liked right from the start, but I didn’t. I continued on, editing this piece because that’s what I was having anxiety over! Camp didn’t begin today and I knew that we had time to deal with the issue. My writing piece however, was due today. As I kept my eyes and attention focused on my writing, Nicky carried on whining that he could not go anywhere without his mommy and daddy. He said he was scared to be without us! This was, of course, not true. He had just completed a year at preschool! He went on playdates without us! He was just trying to play me! Admittedly this was all probably part of the reason why I ignored his whining and responded by telling him, in a frustrated voice, that camp was not starting today!!! Who wants to hear their kid whine? Especially when attempting to attend to an urgent matter of your own.

Once it became clear that I would not be able to focus on my own anxiety and writing piece, I looked up and actually saw my son. Immediately I was reminded about a book I am reading called, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, by Meg Meeker, M.D. The premise of the book is to help mothers develop healthy relationships with their sons. Meeker writes, “Every mother has to start the process of building an emotional vocabulary when her son is young and do her best to help him acknowledge and express appropriate feelings in the healthiest manner possible.” My tactics of simply telling my son that he had nothing to worry about was not in line with that philosophy.

My writing piece could wait. It was clear that the anxiety about having to start camp was torturing this poor five year old. The self-deprecating voice in my head would just have to wait now too! I would have to deal with my own conscience about how I treated him later. Right now, he needed me. My children are, and have always been, my priority.

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Thoughts on Thoughts

So, I adore Amy Poehler. I think she’s hilarious. She also happens to say a lot of really smart things about women and how we should treat ourselves. In an interview for Marie Claire in November of 2014, she was asked, “What should every woman try at least once in her life?” Her response was:

“Treating herself as kindly as she would her own daughter.”

I’ve read other articles where she expands on this idea and how women talk to themselves. Basically, we’re chatting about “self-talk” here. The sometimes not-so-nice things we say to ourselves when we look in the mirror, make a mistake, or get anxious. It takes a some self-awareness and metacognition to recognize and improve your self-talk. You have to stop and really think about your internal responses. I can advise you not to say awful things to yourself, but I think it’s become an ingrained habit in many of us. So I thought of a way to evaluate those thoughts. A little cognitive behavioral therapy, if you will.

I remembered the acronym T.H.I.N.K. (You can find it on posters in a lot of schools.) The idea is to think before you speak to others:

Before you speak, T.H.I.N.K. –

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Inspiring?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

The next time you are stressed out, take a moment to evaluate what you are saying to yourself – whether it’s while your parenting or trying to write your next chapter. For example, you might be thinking, “All of the other moms are doing this mom-thing better than me. I’ll never get it together.”

Is that True? No. All of the moms are not doing better than you. “All” is a lot of moms. Are you comparing yourself to all the moms in the world? Or to those people posting all their perfect summer nature experiences with their children? (Who are yelling at their kids to stop hitting each other and smile for a second or no ice cream. You just don’t see those pics.) And what does “better” even look like? And does anyone ever really “get it together”? Whatever that means?

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Dormant but Not Forgotten

by Erin Forrester

Erin lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and three boys, 7, 4 and 2 years old. Her passion for writing sprouted from the picture books she read as a child and reads to her own kids today. She attempts the impossible as a stay at home mom: to extract the ideas from her head and channel them onto a page. She is currently in query mode, seeking an agent to join the world of published picture book authors. 

I have always wanted to be a mother. As a child I knew deep inside, one day I would have little ones to call my own. Today, I am “Mom” to three amazing and busy young boys. Sometimes they ask for kisses, sometimes they block kisses, and sometimes they ask for kisses while they block them (my favorite). I revel in this time and know all too soon it will be gone. They will be grown, and life focused around my little ones will evolve to a place where their agenda isn’t first.  It is in this present space and time I’ve gone dormant. There’s a ME with thoughts and ideas of my own that have nothing to do with fart jokes, super heroes or toy trains, but rarely does anyone see or hear from her.  I miss her. I feel that side of me has another calling, but I am waiting for the right time to pursue it.

In my dormancy I eat as fast as humanly possible, for fear someone will need something and I won’t find my way back to my food. I tour my town to lull children to sleep so I can park the car and sit…in peace…with my phone, maybe a book on a good day, or snooze myself. I make myself PB&J for my lunch without even thinking about what I would actually want. If you text me I text back rapid fire or you never hear back from me at all (sorry!). My accomplishments exist in laundry piles of various stages, (bonus points if it is actually put it away), a clean kitchen, dog hair free floors or sleeping kids by 8:00.  Sometimes I feel like I conquered the day when I look back at everything “mom” has completed. Then I remember that it will all be undone by the next morning and my heart tugs to visit that other side, because “all I did today was fruitless labor.”

What I didn’t know as I dreamt about my future, was that in becoming a mom there is a chance you may bury the YOU that people call by name deep down inside. I’ve done this. I miss being her, being light-hearted, rested, creative her. I trade my passions of writing, traveling and concert hopping for playground hopping, board games, and if I’m lucky, sleep. I’m quite the chauffer, building block architect extraordinaire and read a mean picture book. Occasionally a burst of ME will come out by way of a phone call with an old friend, a song accompanied by a flashback, or a string of words on paper I am properly proud of.  It fills me for a moment, but inevitably, that me retreats so the house is in order, homework checked, and yes, more laundry.

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Lights Up! An Interview with Greg Vovos

Photo credit: Steve Wagner Photography

We were very excited to interview Greg Vovos for this week’s post. He is a playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director in Cleveland. You can read his impressive full bio here. I worked with Greg at American Greetings where he is a Senior Writer by day. We asked him about his creative process, his most recent play on the heroin epidemic, and how being a dad impacts and informs his work. This is longer than our usual posts, but there’s so much great stuff in here! We couldn’t leave any of it out!

And now, the talented and unfailingly kind Greg Vovos.  -Julie

Tell us about what led you to writing.

Writing has always been a part of my life. Even as a kid, it’s something I would do for fun – write stories, poems, plays – but not necessarily something I was good at. (I can still remember my rejections from 3rd grade!) Growing up I was actually a better musician. But when I was at Ohio State things began to change. First, I dropped out of my clarinet major because I knew I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. Then, feeling lost, I went into Business like so many others, and wrecked my GPA. Quickly. So I decided I’d take an acting class because I knew I’d like it. My teacher was a grad assistant – Megan Freeman – and I will always be grateful to her. Because on the first day of class she told us to bring something personally meaningful to our next class, something we would save from a burning house. So I brought a notebook that I’d write stories in and I talked about that. When she asked me what my major was and I told her Business, she looked at me confused and asked, “Why?” I had no answer.

After that, I switched my major to English, which might not seem like a big deal, certainly not professionally, but for me it was everything. A lot of people thought I was making a mistake, but it was the first time in my life that I legitimized what I truly wanted to do. Now, I had a loooooooooooong way to go and a lot to learn (and still do), but the hard part was over. I knew what I wanted and I was going to pursue it.

Not long after that, Ohio State brought in a visiting professor, Julie Jensen, to teach playwriting. I was actually considering on giving up creative writing altogether at that point, because I wasn’t having much success with fiction or poetry. I told myself this was it: either something happens for me in this class or I’m done. The class turned out to be a turning point for me. Julie invited me to UNLV to study playwriting with her and to earn my MFA. To this day, she is still my greatest mentor and will offer dramaturgy on my work.

After grad school, I spent a lot of time working as a director and playwright. But my day job was as a typist. Which wasn’t so bad, because I love to type (weird, right?), but the job didn’t burn my creative brain and I wasn’t proud. In fact, when my son was born they allowed me to work from home. But when he was a year old, they wanted me to come back to the office, and I was pissed. So I started looking for a different job, specifically one with writing – and I found the perfect posting late one night – writer for American Greetings. And my life changed .

You work full-time as a writer by day AND you’re also a playwright. How do you structure your time? 

This is a really important question. And the answer for me is pretty simple: I schedule my writing. I schedule it as if it were a business meeting, but the meeting is with myself. Every writer is different as far as when they do their best work, but for me, for my playwriting, I like to write EARLY in the morning. And I want to get at least two hours a day (5 days a week). Sometimes I get less, sometimes more. If I get less I don’t beat myself up. I learned this from a different writing mentor of mine. If I get off schedule, I just work myself back into it. I look at it like exercising or running, just get in the habit and it becomes really easy and it’s a great way to combat resistance.

I start with my playwriting in the morning because that’s when I’m closest to dream state – less tainted by the day – so it’s when I feel most open and creative. After that, my brain is actually primed to do my day-job writing, which is also creative in nature. But honestly, it’s as simple as scheduling it and holding myself accountable. And then once I’m in rhythm, it’s pretty easy.

One tip: I do a variation of Julia Cameron’s morning pages just to warm up. I write longhand about whatever comes to mind and I find it extremely helpful. When my writing’s not going well, and I’m looking back on my process to diagnose the issue (good process = good product, I believe), the problem usually lies in the fact that I haven’t kept up with my morning pages. If I write something I love and others enjoy, obviously this makes me happy, but I get my most satisfaction and worth as a writer by staying on schedule.

Do you have any time-management tips for other creatives out there balancing multiple projects?

I think it’s worth taking time to separate the projects and see where you’re at with each, and then determine what time of day your brain best meets those particular demands. I think of things in terms of Conceptual Brain and Intuitive Brain (I learned this from screenwriter Corey Mandell).

We know the intuitive is the part of our brain that just loves to write, doesn’t think, just writes and writes without any inhibition, like when my daughter is playing with her dolls. She’s just playing, having fun. I do that kind of writing in the mornings – if I’m exploring. But if things are more conceptual, i.e., think structuring your story, outlining, editing, things of that nature, I can handle those tasks later in the day.

Or another tactic is to work first on the thing that is causing me the most anxiety. That way I just get through it and it frees me for my other projects. And, of course, nothing sets a schedule better than a deadline, right? But again, schedule it. It sounds so uncreative – but I find it lightens my spirit and anxiety. And PS, if you’re a writer like me, and you doubt your writing or what you’re working on, keep an anxiety journal, a journal where you can just write down all the things that are freaking you out or the voices in your head that are trying to stop your momentum – the witches. Do this, get those thoughts on paper as fast as possible, and you will become more productive in the time you have. Even just five minutes of doing this can be really helpful. But the best advice I can give is schedule your creative time and protect it – guard it like you would a newborn 😉

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