‘Tis Almost the Season!

I Google’d how many days until Christmas before I started working on this post. 59. 59 days. Which means it will be 57 days when this lands in your mailbox. It’s enough to make me start stress-baking (and eating) dozens of Christmas cookies. You know the minute Halloween is over we are going to be bombarded with full-on, lights-blinking, music-blaring Christmas in every store and online. Over the last few years I’ve tried to bring some calm to Christmas by simplifying. But you can only simplify so much. There’s still a lot that has to get done. The gift buying, food prepping, and activities coordinating tend to fall into moms’ laps, so here are a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way to make it easier.

Organize. (Insert laughter.) Organization is NOT one of my gifts. I’m awful at it. If you could see my desk right now…oh, wait…you can’t see my desk because it’s covered in crap! Ok, so knowing this isn’t a strength, I started making a Christmas binder. (“Every successful project begins with a trip to the office supply aisle!” I tell myself.) In the binder I put the following:

A place for gift receipts (I label the receipt with the recipient’s name before I slide it in.)

A list of EVERYONE I plan to give a gift. From Great-Grandma’s to school bus drivers – everyone gets put on the list. I jot down any ideas I had for that person next to their name. As I buy/make gifts I check them off.

A list of the possible activities I think we’d like to do. Dates for family parties and any special school concerts get listed, too.

A separate list for my boys and their gifts. (Don’t leave the binder lying around if you have readers!)

A page for food. We go to a lot of holiday parties and bring side dishes and desserts. I make a list of what I want to bring and then on a separate page I list all of the ingredients for said side dishes and desserts. That way, I can take the list with me when I shop in November and get some of the non-perishables. It also helps avoid that panic when I’m halfway through a recipe and I realize I’m out of nutmeg. I also list all of the types of cookies and breads I want to make and stick to it. Once those holiday cookies start showing up on magazine covers I start getting delusions about my baking abilities. The last thing I need to do is to waste time trying a new recipe that is likely to fail miserably. So, I keep it simple and my cookie trays look strikingly similar to last year’s cookie trays. I’m happily consistent.

Prioritize. In early November I take a look at the list of activities and choose 4-5 activities I don’t want to miss. Just like in the post about summer planning, I try to pick out the most important ones and let the others fall in where they can. I do this early because I feel like once December arrives, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and start assigning all the activities equal importance and then I’m trying to pack it all into the schedule…and everyone gets crabby. So I pick the most important stuff early and get it on the calendar. Continue reading “‘Tis Almost the Season!”

Ready…Steady…NANO!

“Patience” is a word my five-year old meets with a face like someone who’s just licked dish soap. I’m pretty sure that in his world, “patience” is equivalent to a four-letter adult word. Now and again, I’ve heard him creating dialogue between his toys, and one will counsel the other to ‘just be patient.’ The toy being counseled usually responds by knocking down, jumping on, and otherwise assaulting the toy that sounds a lot like me.

I smile to myself and try to remember how hard it is to be patient when you’re small and all the world is a great adventure full of mysteries to be explored. I pack him off to preschool with a hug and a kiss, and then I sprint for my writing nook, anxious not to waste a second.

Alright, alright. I do NOT generally sprint for my nook. I want to. Desperately. Sometimes it feels like my brain makes the mad dash, and the anguish when it hitsthe end of its tether and recoils back into the reality of what my body is doing is no joke. Some days, it’s enough to make me want to cry.

At least, that’s what life’s been like for me since July.

It’s one of those ‘seasons of life’ things we all read about. One of the fallow ones. Like early spring, when the ground is still too hard or too mushy, the night air still too fickle to put the seeds in the ground and expect anything to actually grow. This one is taking waaaaaay longer than I thought it would when I planned to take some time off from writing this summer. It’s time filled with 1000 other good things. But between all that good stuff, and challenging schedules, and a perpetual need to address the other issues that have also been neglected for months, I’m lucky if I manage to creep to my desk for five quiet minutes to reflect on my day or make a to-do list (and we’re talking the ‘no-kidding-do-this-today-or-suffer-the-consequences’ kind of list) in my daily planner.

Having read and reflected and counseled others through these periods, I know I’m supposed to grant myself some grace. That life sometimes takes us on surprising detours, and with grace that exceeds the merely human, the detours usually end up having greater meaning than we realized they did at the time.

But as I was sitting in my nook for 30 hectic minutes — each of which I spent gritting my teeth and telling myself that if I could just get through one more to-do list item THEN I could reward myself with writing time — I felt like my son must every time I ask him to do a chore before getting to the thing he really wants. And I just wanted to smash the obstacles that are keeping me from writing.

That’s when I realized: it’s mid-October already! For once, the recognition of time having passed isn’t accompanied by harsh self-judgment of all that I’ve yet to accomplish. Instead, hope hangs on it like the hint of rain in the wind.  Mid-October hold the promise of unbridled creativity the same way the scent of September always spurs me to run, the smell of wet earth and cooler weather triggering the Pavlovian instinct to lap the soccer field or rugby pitch. Only, mid-October is the time to clear the deck to make the time in November to put everything else to the side in order to write a new novel: NaNoWriMo.

Continue reading “Ready…Steady…NANO!”

Parent Teacher Conference Fun

Parent Teacher Conferences

Fall parent-teacher conferences are just around the corner. I’m not an expert on these, but I’ve been a teacher and I’m currently a parent…so I do have a few thoughts to help ease any anxiety you’re having. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts…

Do take deep breaths. If you’re a newbie to this, there are a few things you should remember. First, your child’s performance is not an evaluation of your success or effort as a parent. In fact, you should probably stop tying your success as a parent to your child’s performance in anything. Because, dude, they’re going to mess up. Sometimes they make crappy choices or struggle with a subject and it’s not because you failed them somehow. They’re gonna need your help, but you’re useless if you’re self-flagellating over every mistake you surely must have made as a parent.

If your kid doesn’t know his sight words yet, the teacher does not assume that you aren’t trying. (Yes, I know there’s exceptions to this rule.) Just try not to take it personally when they point out areas for growth. They have to talk about something for 20 minutes and your kid isn’t supposed to have everything mastered. That’s why they go to school.

Do be prepared. Some teachers send home questionnaires for you to fill out so they can get an idea of what your concerns are prior to the conference. If you don’t get something like this, just jot down two or three things you’d like to ask about. Write it down because you’re going to forget everything as soon as you sit down in those tiny people chairs.

Do be on time. Seriously. The conferences are like, 20-minute slots. I’m not going to be happy if I have to wait for your conference to finish because you were running late.

Do respect the time limits. Most teachers are masterful at keeping the discussion within the 20-minute time frame, but do your part to not extend your conference beyond its slot. Remember, I’m waiting in the hallway and already annoyed.

Continue reading “Parent Teacher Conference Fun”

10 Ways to Make Procrastination Work for You  

Let’s face it – it’s not just the kids who put off doing their homework. My husband is famous (at least within our family) for the phrase, “If you wait ‘til the last minute, it only takes a minute.”

Procrastination’s power pulls all of us off our virtuous course now and again. When you hear its siren song, sometimes it’s okay to give in. Just a little. But don’t just flip on the tube. Make procrastination work FOR you.

How, you ask? Take something from your to-do list that sounds better than whatever it is that you’re desperate to avoid doing and put your energy into that task. Simple, huh?

As a writer, putting words together makes me come alive. But some days, there’s just no way. No matter how much caffeine, sugar, ritual, or will power – it seems the schedule and all the forces of nature and the cosmos are determined to intervene. This is one of those weeks. The family’s got way too much to do, my brain is pulled in twelve directions, and it’s fogged by the germs my little person so kindly shared. Yet there are things that need doing! Progress must be made!

So I strike a deal with my self: I can slack on the writing, so long as I’m doing something that advances my broader writerly ambitions. Luckily, one of the things I love about being a writer is that there’s an almost infinite number of things one can do to keep step with the drumbeat demands of progress while still giving yourself some slack. Here are ten of my favorites, done as a count-down in true ‘90s style:

10. Set the mood for your work. Create an aesthetic with visual reminders of key elements to your WIP. Make a playlist that captures the tone and gets your creative juices flowing. Find a candle that smells like the setting in your Work In Progress (and then light it each time you sit down to write – it will help bring you to your work, and I’ve heard, it can be helpful for getting you back to that mental space if you’ve got to go back to do some revisions on it after you’ve already switched to another project).

9. Journal. It’s writing but without the pressure. Up to you whether to free write for a set time (see if you can make it at least 10 minutes) or if you want to journal about something in your WIP that’s hanging you up. Q&A with yourself, especially written out long-hand, can be a powerful tool – and you’ve got written proof of your genius ideas later.

(source: Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash)

8. Diagram your plot. Whether with a storyboard and several specific steps (a la Save the Cat by Blake Snyder) or rough sketches that look like something you might have made in geometry class (Venn diagram anyone?), look at your story from another angle.

7. Research. Remember when we had to go to libraries, and God forbid, there was microficheinvolved? Now your internet search engine of choice can bring more than you ever imagined to your desk (or couch or bed – no judgment). Good research can make or break a scene, or your story. Remember that scene in the Little Women movie where Jo March is distracted by trying to determine in which hand one carries a rapier? The details are important and at least some of your readers will know them.

6. Hit the library. Because not everything is online. Or you may need to check out books. Maybe audiobooks so you can listen to a book while you’re doing one of the other things presently distracting you from your writing? (Multi-tasking – yay!) While you’re there, check out the titles in your genre. Talk to the librarians about what’s hot in your field, or simply enjoy being in the presence of other book nerds.

Continue reading “10 Ways to Make Procrastination Work for You  “