Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

It's almost Turkey Time

Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car.  This photo is from November 12th, 2015:

Tree bRANCH THEN

And here’s today’s photos:

Fall brnach today 3 fALL BRANCH TODAY 2 Fallen branch today 1

I could have been driving on Route 44 when that big honkin’ tree came down!  Talk about kick-in-the-pants gratitude.  I always welcome these small moments into my life that remind me how truly lucky I am.

There is a downside to this fallen tree (HAHA, downside – get it?).  It stopped me from meeting up this morning with one of my writing partners.  She was, of course, understanding and gracious about my last-minute cancellation.  I just hate wasting people’s time and she didn’t get any of my emails informing her of my blocked street.

I also don’t get the benefit of discussing writing craft with her, sharing our weekly writing updates on our projects, and commiserating over the long and arduous path to publication.  Since next week is Thanksgiving, it will be a few more weeks before we can reconnect again.  So, I’m doubly bummed about missing out on all the writing fun we have together.

In the meantime, my husband and I will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, to spend the holiday with my parents, brother, and niece.  I’m quite looking forward to it and this will be the first real test since September to see if my writing and exercise habits that I’ve been developing stick.

I’m at the half-way point towards my 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week interval training goal.  Using Dr. Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot as my guide, I’m building this habit slowly, by tacking on an extra minute of cardio every week to my already established 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week strength training regime.  For example, today I lifted weights with my upper body for 20 minutes and then I alternated in 30-second increments of frenetic dancing with marching/dancing in place for a total of 10 minutes.

Confession: Today I exercised a little bit longer so I could finish dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the FeelingI dare you to try listening to it and not dancing to the entire song.

Normally, I abide by my strict time limits because I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then build the activity too quickly.  I know myself too well and that is a surefire way for me to burnout and then give up.

Adding one minute on each week seems to be the trick for me to keep up with this routine.  Although sometimes I forget that my morning exercise routine now takes longer than 20 minutes and I do occasionally feel rushed.

Anyway, it’s easy to have my morning habits in place when I follow the same pattern every day: Get up around 5:30-6:30am, feed the dogs and let them out, hand write 2 pages of my latest novel, hand write a prayer to start my day, which will also serve as a first draft prayer for a daily devotional I’m writing, meditate for 20 minutes, and then workout.

With the time I’ll be in Harrisburg and the few days after that in which I’ll be staying with my niece in Washington, DC, there’s sure to be disruption along the way.

One of the keys to disruptions that Dr. Carter writes about in The Sweet Spot is to have a plan already in place so you know how to deal with them.

I expect the biggest disruption will be that my daily wake-sleep schedule will completely fall apart.  Traveling makes me feel even more tired than usual and I tend to have very vivid dreams when my schedule is disrupted.  If I wake up feeling exhausted, then I’m less likely to get out of bed in a timely manner.  Then, when I do get up other people in the house are awake and my concentration and time is diverted.

This solution will be easy enough because I’ve had many mornings this past fall where I’ve struggled to get out of bed.  I don’t like writing in bed, but sometimes it’s the compromise I make for being productive and respecting my narcolepsy.  So, I’ll sleep with my notebook and a pen on the side of my bed.  I’ll also keep my phone and headphones nearby.  That way I can also meditate before getting up.

Note to self – un-install social media and gmail apps on my phone, lest I get distracted by those time wasters before accomplishing any of my usual morning goals.

I suppose I could also visualize exercising before getting up, which is my current fallback plan for if I am too exhausted to get out of bed.  But that hasn’t happened yet and I want to use it as a last resort.

If once I am up and about, I’m unable to exercise the way I’d like, my backup plan is to do short, mini-exercises for one-minute increments throughout the day sneaking them in whenever I can.  Ideally, I’d hit 20 increments but 10 is going to be my starting point.  Again, this is a fall back plan so hopefully the 10 versus 20 increments is a moot point.

I’m kind of excited to see how it goes; the other parts of me are worried I’ll chuck everything by the wayside and spend my days gorging on junk food and reclining on the couch.  Psychology tells us that most of what we worry about is imaginary, but having succumbed to the treats at my parents’ house and the comfortableness of the couch one to many times over the past few years, I know this a real and valid concern.

But if nothing else, I have learned by forming my new habits that just because I have behaved a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean I have to behave that way in the future.  It’s up to me to make my choices and I know I will do my best.  That’s all I can ask.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next week!  I am so grateful for your love and support.

Getting My Nature Fix

Title

This fall has been particularly gray and wet in Norfolk.  To give you some idea, here’s what the Norfolk Creek that runs on the property looked like recently after a few days of steady rain:

 

Here’s what the creek usually looks like:

 

 

We also had our first wintery mix of the season this past Tuesday, too:

 

Wintery MIx

 

I happen to like winter.  The peace and solitude of the season nourishes my soul.  Then there’s the fun and magic of a newly fallen snow.  Winter can be simply wonderful!

Yet, I also love the sun and I’m pretty sure I’m solar powered.  So on Thursday when we had blue skies with fluffy white clouds and a sun that peaked out every once in a while, I wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the feel of sunshine on my face.

I didn’t realize it at first that getting out of the house is what I wanted.  I sat at the kitchen table for a long time Thursday morning feeling like something wasn’t quite right.  My husband and I ate breakfast and then with a whole morning stretching in front of me I thought I would get down to writing.  But something prevented me from getting out my computer and opening up one of my writing projects.

After wasting time on Facebook for a little bit, I forced myself to get up.   I headed to the shower thinking the water would energize me.

Leaving the table ended up being the best choice I could have made, because once upstairs I realized: I needed to get out of the house! Sure, I had been several places throughout the earlier part of the week, but because of the rain I limited a lot of my activity.  I didn’t even crack 4,000 steps on Tuesday.  Monday and Wednesday were hardly any better.

I also had the great idea to take a dog with me.   What an extraordinary afternoon:

Tobey running

I reaped so many benefits from that hour and a half – I felt joyful, energized, creative, and inspired.  It was exactly what I needed and being outside served as a good reminder that for me, nature really is the best medicine.

I kept this idea forefront in my mind Friday, too.  Another gloriously sunny day, though we’re also experiencing record colds for the second week in November.  I decided not to let that stop me from walking to someone’s house approximately 1.5 miles away for some tea and conversation.

A few people expressed concern that I’d be walking in 20-ish degree weather.  But I had a hat, scarf, gloves, long underwear, and a feeling of excitement to be out in the sunshine moving around.  I left with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

Besides, the distance wasn’t that far.  I once headed out on the Las Vegas strip to walk four miles to a handstand yoga class a Whole Foods was offering.  The concierge, bellman, and doorman all told me NOT to walk.  I said various forms of ”pshah,” to the them – I could walk four miles no problem.  Didn’t they know I got an A in my walking class in college?

I quickly learned a four-mile walk in the desert, even in April, is right up there on the list of stupid things I’ve done, especially when you have no water, don’t wear a hat, and forget extra sunscreen.  I’d put that walk slightly below breaking my ankle while chasing after a bird on the ancient Inca trail in the Andes Mountains of Peru and then thinking I could walk the injury off.  I felt pretty confident walking 1.5 miles in the cold, on a populated path, while completely bundled up, wouldn’t even compare. And I was right!  Looks like my intuition is finally getting better.

A little over halfway on my cold-weather sojourn, I received an IM from my husband: Hey babe. Are you cold? My response: Exhilarated!

I made it to my destination no problem and even managed to snag some quality time with a dog.  His name is Max and don’t tell Tobey, Smudge, or Faith, but I LOVE HIM!

Cropped MAz

What another wonderful day.  It’s amazing what a little sunshine and time outdoors can do for the spirit.

As we head into more wet weather before the snow arrives, I’m going to be more mindful of how I can work with the season to stay connected to nature.  As long as I take proper precautions, there’s no reason I can’t be outside when it’s rainy and cold.  I shouldn’t let those conditions stop me.  The same indomitable spirit that overcomes me when it’s sunny is still there when it’s raining.  I just might have to dig a little deeper to bring that spirit forth.

Happy 21st Birthday to My Niece!

Happy Birthday BT

HB Now

Tomorrow marks an important milestone in my family’s genealogy – my niece turns 21! I can hardly believe it.  I remember when she was a little nubbins of a human being, super sweet and quiet, barely making a sound.

Little Nubbins 2

Since then she has grown into an extraordinary adult.  And although I can no longer pick her up, some of us still can because her nubbinsy-ways have carried forth.

Jori and Heath,

To celebrate this momentous occasion, here are 21 reasons why my niece is AWESOME, in no particular order.

#1.  Her nickname is Monster because she was so quiet and good-natured as a baby that I had to somehow create excitement for her; thus, an ironic nickname.Jori Baby

#2. She loves dogs nearly as much as I do (she’d probably argue that we are on equal footing when it comes to doggo love; however, as I’m older that means I’ve had more time to love them).

Jori and Faith

#3.  In the Harry Potter Universe, she’d totally be a Ravenclaw. That girl is SMART! and I’m not saying this because I’m biased (and I’d totally be in Hufflepuff, by the way).  She graduated from high school with the highest science GPA in her class, she got accepted into the Honors College at UT-Austin, she double majors in Chemistry and Economics, and she’s living right now in Washington DC as part of a prestigious fellowship program.

Harry Potter motorcycle

#4. Her motto is, “God made the dirt and dirt don’t hurt.”  Don’t we look GOOD in our detox mud masks?

DSCN2210

#5. She totally gets my narcolepsy frustrations because she has narcolepsy, too!

SNug as a bug in a rug

#6. Even though she has narcolepsy, she was totally on board with my let’s go watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon plan during our 2016 southwest springbreak roadtrip extravaganza.  As she said when the sun started to rise, “Narcoleptics Prevail!”

Grand Canyon

#7. Speaking of roadtrips, she’s always up for one! So far we’ve gone from San Antonio, TX to Chapel Hill, NC, by way of Hot Springs, Arkansas, with stops in Austin, Murfreesboro, and Memphis; Phoenix to Las Vegas, with stops at the Petrified Forest, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon; and a mini-tour of CT ala the television show Gilmore Girls.

Jori on bridge

with dinosaur

Gazebo

#8. Together we created only one rule for our roadtrips – if you see a stone staircase, you have to take it!

Stone stair case

#9. You should always stop at botanical gardens, too, especially when they’re on a top 10 list.  That’s not an official roadtrip rule, but I think it’s good practice.  I almost didn’t stop because I thought the admission fee was too high.  That would have been silly, but she was okay with that. This glass chapel helped me see the error my ways.

Glass Chapel

#10. She’s enthusiastic about llamas, as we all should be!

Jori and Jack the Llama

#11. If you ask her to make a face like a tiger, she quickly obliges.

Tiger Face

#12. She also quickly obliges when you ask her to play games like Memory. I will never get tired of playing games like that, especially with someone as fun as she is.

DSCN2147

#13. Her advice is excellent. When I asked her how I should tell my parents my husband and I eloped in Nashville, she suggested I spell it out during a game of Scrabble since my mom and I play every time I visit home.

Married with Jori's picture

#14. Hamburger cakes are just weird, but because she wanted to try one I now know differently.

Harburger Cake edited

#15. She believes in reduce, reuse, and recycle. See these awesome sandals?  She wore them for a few seasons then passed them on to me when I needed a pair.

Sandals

#16. Even though she’s sleepy a lot of the time, she’s always willing to be a co-pilot. Even when we have to drive to the airport at 4:00am.

Copilot

#17. We both hate Las Vegas. That right there makes her an outstanding individual.

Las Vegas

#18. She always has a book to read.  And she takes it with her everywhere!

Jori Reading

Always book

Jori with Book 2

#19. My extreme sun safety protective measures – she always supports them.

At the beach

#20. Have you seen her smile?  Beautiful, always.

IMG_1388

#21. She is a bright light in this world. Literally and figuratively.

Inner beauty

Happy 21st birthday!  These last 21 years have been a true gift.  Thanks for being one of the best parts of my life.  You are amazing and I love you.

 

The Benefits of Taking a Break

Title

We’ve been having some extraordinary weather in Norfolk this fall.  It’s been in the 70s and 80s and from what people have been saying, the fall foliage hasn’t been too spectacular.

I beg to differ.  Here’s exhibit A:

Exhibit A

And Exhibit B:

Exhibit B

The weather has cooled off a bit and it looks like we’re going into more days of rain with more decreasing temperatures.  So I’m glad I took some time off from writing this week to meet up with a new friend.

I met this friend at an artist’s opening we both happened to attend in early September.  I knew some of her local photographs, and with my husband who is also a photographer, we struck up a conversation about how much we love Norfolk, amongst other things.

We then became friends on Facebook.  One day last week, up popped in my Facebook feed a notification that this friend was attending an event at White Memorial Conservation Center.  My husband and I have driven by White Memorial many times, most notably on our way to Arethusa Dairy to get the best ice cream in CT and possibly the United States (rumor has it they wash the cows’ butts with Pantene Pro V every day to avoid tail poop contamination with their udders), but we had never stopped there.

The event looked fascinating.  A Scottish naturalist and biologist named Bernie Lundie would lecture on what it means to be wild.  Having an interest in the nature-human connection, I thought attending would be well worth my time.  Plus, I’d get to hang out a bit more with my new friend.

My friend and I chatted about the event on Facebook Messenger for a bit, before she ended the conversation with a temporary farewell as she had to see to her pig.  Of course, I wanted to know more about that.  So that’s how on this past Monday I ended up at her family’s farm outside of Norfolk.

farm

OH. MY. GOSH.

Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe scenery.  I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful fall day.  Then there are her animals.  I am delighted to introduce to you:

Abe R Ham the pig

Hammy 2

If you love him as much as I do, he has his own Facebook page.  Just search for Abe R. Ham @AbethePig

Zorro the goat

Zorro

A frisky little fellow who has a very sweet, playful personality.

And Drummy the turkey who is as majestic as he looks.

Drummy

There was also a peacock out and about but he never made his presence known.

What a wonderful way to spend the day! I sat surrounded by everything I love about nature – changing leaves, fluffy clouds, a placid lake, and ANIMALS!  Plus, I got know my new friend a little bit better and I have a feeling we’re going to be friends for a long time.

After such a wonderful day outdoors, I felt refreshed on so many levels – mentally, physically, and spiritually.  It’s a good reminder for whenever I feel myself become too time invested in my writing.  There are benefits to taking a break – friends, pigs, goats, turkeys, and fall foliage are just a few of them.

The Positive Ways Narcolepsy Has Affected My Life

Title

After writing last week about how frustrated and angry I felt with having narcolepsy, a funny thing happened.  I began to feel better about the situation.

Initially, I debated even writing that post.  Narcolepsy is a part of my life, but I didn’t want my struggles with it to define me.  I wondered if I shared my feelings, would I suddenly be “that person who can’t cope.”

Why that would bother me is a post for another day, but in retrospect, I realized it was silly to think a one-time post would become the essence of who I am as presented to the world, more so than my dozens of posts about writing, playing with dogs, procrastinating, and dreaming about seeing bears in the wild.

Instead, I felt free from the hold that my poor-quality sleep had on me.  Once I got out all my feelings, the anger and resentment stayed on the screen and allowed me head space to start moving on.  I thought to myself, well, if this is how it’s going to be for the rest of my life, does that change anything?  I realized, no, it did not.  I still have goals and dreams I’m working towards and I’m not going to stop.  I may be more tired along the way, but I didn’t come this far to quit now.

My gratitude habit also kicked in about 24 hours after I wrote that post.  For years now, I have either written prayers of gratitude for the blessings in my life or I have practiced gratitude in a meditative form.  I honestly could not help but think of all the ways narcolepsy has improved my life.  The biggest way is that I realized if I only have so much energy to expend, then it’s going to go towards things I value the most:

  • prioritizing my health

flip flops

  • writing

Writers Group

  • being an animal enthusiast

Snake

  • serving others with the best of my talents

COP

  • connecting to nature

SMudge at HayStack

  • traveling to new places (preferably with my husband and/or family)

Library

  • growing my spirituality

TObey and Erick

  • and now that I’m married, loving my husband as much as I possibly can (super easy; he’s such a good person and so cute!)

Heath edited

Not on the list of things I valued was being an associate professor of psychology, and so my narcolepsy was one of the biggest motivating factors to give me the courage to quit my job, and give up tenure, amazing benefits, and a matching retirement account.  Thank you, narcolepsy.

I also didn’t expect the amount of love and support I received from friends and family who read my post.  My phone blew up with blog comments, Facebook comments, IMs, emails, and pictures of polar bears, all from people who wanted me to know they heard what I had to say.  I received validation, empathy, and sympathy, and let me tell you it felt really good.

These responses were especially meaningful to me because there was a time when I lived a rather isolated experience.  At that time, my closest friend at work had moved on, my office had changed locations to accommodate my narcolepsy so I could have a space with natural sunlight from a window and my new suitemates didn’t have the same level of socialization as my previous ones, I wasn’t on social media, and most of my friends (the few that I made since moving to Illinois) lived more than 30 minutes away (on a good day), and the ones who lived close by were married with families.  I felt lonely for many days and then a doctor told me, “you need to spend time with people.”

It took me several months to really buy in to what the doctor said, but once I did I began to realize just how important community is.  Especially when you are dealing with chronic illness.

So, thank you to everyone for showing your love and support.  Two days after I wrote my blog post last week, I got a decent night’s sleep.  And the night after that, and another night after that.  For three days in a row, I felt like I had won the sleep lottery.  I believe it can happen.  I plan on using a natural sun light for when the Connecticut mornings are dark and dreary.  I’m going to utilize my health insurance for therapy to help me cope on sleepy days.  I’m also going to investigate acupuncture as an option.

There are so many wonderful things going on in my life.  It looks like narcolepsy just may be one of them.

Living with Narcolepsy AKA Today, Life Sucks

This blog post is brought to you by frustration, irritation, and anger.  As a generally positive person, I don’t usually succumb to these feelings.  But as a recovering academic with a PhD in psychology, I know full well that when I have these feelings I am at perfect liberty to actually feel them.

Case in point: Dr. Daniel Wegner’s classic psychology study on suppression.  In this study, which was published in 1987, Dr. Wegner asked undergraduate psychology students not to think about a white bear.  If they thought about the white bear, they should ring a bell.  Then, he told them to go ahead and freely think about a white bear if they wanted to.  These students ended up thinking about a white bear more often when they were “allowed to” than a control group who had not been asked to suppress their thoughts in the initial testing round.

So today, I am feeling my feelings and let me tell you I am blankety-blank sick and tired of having narcolepsy. It has been weeks since I’ve had a good night’s sleep.  I can’t tell you the last time I woke up after 8+ hours of sleep and didn’t have deep dark caverns under my eyes that would make a racoon jealous.  It takes me hours (that’s right, plural) to get out of bed some mornings. I have even broken one of my cardinal rules of good sleep hygiene and I’ve started writing and reading in bed in the mornings.  It’s the compromise I have to make because I have no energy to force myself out of bed.  Dreams about snakes and death and being stuck in never-ending time loops will do that to you.  Plus, it’s dark outside and I wake up before the dogs, so I don’t even have external motivating factors to get out of bed.

This morning while meditating at the kitchen table I fell asleep twice.  I had only been out of bed for 20 minutes.  I had already spent three hours being awake.  I suppose I should be grateful because I still manage to be productive – I finished Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Lit as an Adult, I wrote over 400 words on a new manuscript I’m working on, and I wrote a prayer for my daily devotional manuscript for people who struggle with chronic exhaustion.  Yet, I am not grateful.  I am mad.

In my quest to treat narcolepsy with lifestyle and diet choices, so I do not have to take medications with other effects such a paranoia, delusions, bedwetting, suicidal thoughts, anorexia, etc., I have cleaned up my diet, meditate for 20 minutes at least once a day, mostly twice, strength train for 20 minutes six days a week, and run interval cardio drills six days a week (I’m now up to five full minutes).  I do not eat white potatoes, my favorite food (well, French fries) because they are a night shade.  I limit technology at night.  I used to wear amber glasses around the house at to block out additional blue light until I left my glasses in Nashville.  I wear a sleep mask and ear plugs.  I keep my room as cool as possible.  I do not drink caffeine or alcohol (although that one is super easy for me because I think alcohol tastes gross; most times, I can’t even stomach the smell of it).  I go to bed relatively early and I get up relatively early.  WHAT MORE CAN I POSSIBLY DO?

It flat out sucks to be doing everything “right” and still struggle with the one thing I desperately want more than anything else.  Is this my cross to bear?  Am I missing something?  Is there some physical, emotional, or spiritual component at play?  Do I just accept it and move on, do the best I can?

As I typed the above paragraph, I am reminded of another psychologist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.  She developed the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Perhaps that’s what I’m experiencing now: I am grieving the loss of hope that I will ever get a good night’s sleep again.  Realistically, that may happen.  And part of me thinks it’s so silly to be crying as I type this because there are people living in this world right now without access to any healthcare, without love, without hope, without goals and without dreams.

Should I really play the what sucks more game? Seriously, what sucks more than not getting a good night’s sleep for, well, years now?  Okay, now that I’m thinking about it:

Terminal illness

Sexual assault

Child abuse

Animal cruelty

Poverty

Famine

Genocide

Homicide

Mass shootings

Illiteracy

Terrorism

Climate change

I have to admit, I do feel a teeny tiny bit better when I look at this list, though now I am questioning what it says about me as a person that I use things like climate change and genocide to make myself feel better.  I can’t win.

The truth is, I don’t think any of us can win.  We all have struggles, and they are all personal and individual to us.  I’ve chosen to share my struggle today in the hopes that someone somewhere may be reading this and feel like they have a comrade in arms going through the same tumultuous experience we call life.  Narcolepsy is frustrating, awful (comparatively speaking), and a part of my life.  It’s okay to hate that part.  The important thing is to know that the hate and frustration are feelings.  They are not permanent and they are not who I ultimately am.

If you believe in prayer, I would appreciate some.  If you don’t, then just send thoughts of baby polar bears my way because those of you who read my blog know just how much I love bears.  I would have been awful in Dr. Wegner’s experiment.  They would have had to throw out my data – why is this woman thinking about white bears every five seconds?

And special thanks to my husband, who is incredibly supportive through all the narcolepsy ups and downs.

A Lesson in Time Management

Calendar Title

On Tuesday morning I met with a friend to discuss writing.  I shared with her how I seem to keep writing new material, while my older manuscripts hang in limbo waiting for me to edit and revise them.  I then told her about my plan for how I wanted to tackle this problem: on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I was going to block out time specifically devoted to manuscript revision.

Why Tuesday and Thursday afternoons?  These were the times in my past life as a professor when I typically taught research writing.  I couldn’t just cancel class on a whim, though on really nice days I did sometimes move us outside to have class next to Lake Benedict.

cropped

As a self-proclaimed self-help junkie, I know that many experts recommend this approach for getting high-priority tasks done.  By scheduling time for them on your calendar, you are validating that, yes, this task is important to me.  I resolved to make editing and revision a recurring appointment on my calendar.

Then yesterday I received a text message from someone who wanted to meet with me to discuss a new writing project.  She asked about my availability next Thursday.  Funny thing is, I hadn’t actually blocked out Tuesday/Thursday afternoons for manuscript revision and editing on my calendar.  Since I like this person and find her writing project to be quite interesting, I typed out on my phone, “My schedule is wide open.”

I knew I was already breaking my commitment.  I can always start the next week, I said to myself.  Then I’ll definitely add it to my calendar. 

Just as I was about to hit SEND, I stopped myself and asked why was I so willing to break my plan.  Hadn’t I declared only a few days earlier my intention to prioritize editing and revision?  What was wrong with me that I was willing to put it off?

The deciding factor came down to other plans I had already made for the following week.  Next Tuesday, my writing friend and I were going to meet again to continue our discussion.  I somehow felt that if I didn’t follow through with my revision and editing commitment, I would have to admit that to someone other than myself.

You know what self-help advice also recommends for getting your work done?  Find a partner to make yourself accountable.  I’ve read that advice so many times, but I’ve never applied it to my writing. How interesting to see that it actually works.  Well, so far.  We’ll see what happens next Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (and beyond).

I ended up retyping my response text to say I was available to meet on Thursday until 1:30pm.  It felt quite good to honor my commitment and then I rewarded myself with a head nod and “way to go!”

Of course, I laughed at myself because self-help books also recommend recognizing your achievements with intrinsic rewards.  After 20+ years, it’s good to know the advice is finally sinking in.

How to Survive the Slow Pace of the Publishing Industry

Title

My mom and I like to say, “no news is good news.”  For the most part, I believe this saying to be true.  No news that North Korean is nuking us – GOOD NEWS!  No news that the Affordable Care Act is trying to be dismantled again – GOOD NEWS!  No news that the president hasn’t said something inappropriate on Twitter – GOOD – oh, wait a minute.  This one hasn’t happened.  Well, two out of three isn’t so bad.

Where “no news is good news” can be tough is when you’re a writer.  The publishing industry is notoriously slow and a lot of the time you simply have to wait for editors to get back to you/your agent.  This time can take days, weeks, months, or even over a year.

Following the advice of Jane Friedman in The Great Courses: How to Publish Your Book,

how to publish your book

the important thing to do during the waiting game is to keep writing.  In addition to working on several new (and old) picture book manuscripts, I’m about two-thirds of the way done with the first draft of a chapter book tentatively titled Henry the Housesitter (Not by Choice!), which follows the adventures of a 10-year-old boy as his parents ditch their lawyer jobs and become professional house sitters.  Considering all the source matter I have on house sitting, this book is pretty much writing itself.

I also started writing a daily devotional, which means every morning I write a prayer asking for help with my day’s work.  A lot of the prayers deal with motivation when feeling exhausted (I’ve had several days in a row of poor sleep) and I’m wondering if the end result will be an inspirational prayer book for those of us dealing with chronic illness.  I suppose time will tell.

My goal is to write a new prayer every day and so by September 2018 I should have the first draft of this manuscript done.  Talk about an easy way to finish a draft! Though at first I felt a little lazy at the idea that it would take me 365 days to finish a first draft, but the time is going to go by anyway and I already have several writing projects which will be finished in what I consider a more acceptable length of time for someone who aspires to be a prolific writer.

Another way I’m passing the time during the publishing waiting game is by immersing myself in children’s publishing as much as possible.  I’ve started attending author readings at local libraries and book stores.  Last week I listened to the incredibly talented Sara Beth Videtto read her picture book Turtle’s First Winter: A Read and Find Storybook at the Norfolk Library

Turtle's First Winter

and Tuesday I celebrated the release of The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip C. Stead by attending “the shortest, grand parade,” in downtown Hartford, followed later in the day by a reading at the actual Mark Twain house (Mark Twain lived in Hartford, CT, from 1874-1891).

 

Shortest Grand Parade

Prince OleoMargarine

Then there’s Inspiration Day at the Eric Carle Museum coming up on October 7th and the Children’s Literature Festival at the Dr. Seuss Museum the following weekend.

I also came across this gem of a book at the Norfolk Library last week:

Wild Things

I wasn’t even looking for a new nonfiction book to read, as I was trying to finish The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for a book group, and then I had Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry on tap to read.  But there Wild Things sat on a shelf in the “new nonfiction” section at the library’s entrance, just begging for me to pick it up and read it.

The fairytale chapter is rather gruesome; however, I am completely enchanted by the Good Night Moon chapter and all the fascinating historical tidbits from Margaret Wise Brown’s life.  I’m now on chapter 4, which is all about using animals in children’s literature.  Considering 75% of my main characters are animals, I suspect this chapter will also enchant me.

With all that I have going on and all that I have to look forward to, I find the publishing waiting game much more tolerable.  Dare I even say, enjoyable.  It’s fun to be out in the world, going new places and hearing new stories.  So it looks like the no news for me is, in fact, good news for now, until that day comes when I receive GREAT NEWS by way of a book contract.

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Now that we’re settling back into our Connecticut life, I’ve been considering another goal of mine: get all my belongings down to just one backpack.  Yes, this is a lofty goal, and if I’m being honest with myself I’m not entirely sure why I want to take my minimalism to such an extreme point.  I think what it boils down to is I like the freedom and mobility that comes with being able to pick up and move at a moment’s notice.

I’ve done a decent job of whittling away at my belongings.  It was fairly easy to do, what with moving eight times in the last ten years (not counting a few short-term housesitting stints).  When you don’t unpack boxes from one move to the next, that’s a good indicator you do not need those items, whatever they are.

What I’m having the most trouble with at this point is the amount of clothes I have.  For anyone who knows me personally, this may make you laugh, because I pretty much wear the same thing every day: yoga pants/leggings (usually in a fun pattern or bright color) under a black skirt and a t-shirt of some sort.

My Uniform

For curiosity’s sake, I just took stock of my closest and checked my laundry.  Here’s what I own:

  • 13 pairs of yoga pants/leggings
  • 10 pairs of Be Present yoga pants (I’ll come back to why these pants are in a separate category later)
  • 3 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • 7 short-sleeved t-shirts
  • 10 tank tops
  • 3 skirts
  • 2 dresses (including the dress I wore when we eloped)
  • 3 sets of long underwear
  • 2 pair regular underwear
  • 6 bras
  • 13 pairs of socks (3 athletic; 8 wool for hiking; 2 fleece for warmth)
  • 1 pair jammy pants
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 quilted flannel shirt
  • 1 hoodie
  • 1 bathing suit, plus swim bra
  • 1 rash guard
  • 1 all-around scarf
  • 2 winter scarves
  • 2 pair fingerless gloves (including the pair I wore when we eloped)
  • 1 winter hat
  • 2 ear warmers (one handmade by my niece)
  • 1 pair heated gloves
  • 1 pair arm warmers
  • 1 pair leg warmers (a gift from friends when they went to Peru)
  • 1 winter coat
  • 1 up-cycled sweater coat (which I also wore when I eloped and I wear until I need my winter coat)
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • 1 pair “dress” boots I bought in Peru
  • 1 pair Uggs I now mostly wear around the house to keep my feet warm (but I also wore them when we eloped)

Here’s what 95% of the clothes look like all together:

all my clothes text

And in case you’re interested, here’s my full wedding ensemble:

Wedding

Yes, these are all the clothes I own in the world.  For the record, my mom still has some of my clothes from my teenage years and a few fancy dresses stored at the house I grew up in.  I have cheerfully encouraged her to PLEASE DONATE/GET RID OF all of them as I do not want any of it.  She claims she has a plan to do so.  If I didn’t question the ownership of whether those clothes really belong to me at this point, I would haul them all off to the Shining Light Thrift shop first chance I got.

But I digress.  When I looked at my list of clothes, first I felt a moment of disgust.  How can I be a minimalist and own so many t-shirts! You thought I was going to say yoga pants, didn’t you? I promise, I’m getting to that.

I let those feelings of disgust sink in and then realized that while I could cut down a few t-shirts and tank tops, I reminded myself that I only own one sweater.  I use that sweater and my three long-sleeved t-shirts to get me through the winter.  Plus, I like to layer a short-sleeved shirt or tank top over the long-sleeves, just so I have some variety to my wardrobe and then I get to use those shirts year round.

I do admit that 13 pairs of socks are excessive.  That count increased recently by three because I only brought a few pairs of socks with me the two months we were on the road housesitting.  I ended up wearing my hiking boots more than my sandals, which turned out to be not so good for walking long distances, unlike what the Zappos reviews claimed.  After wearing the same pair of socks for an entire week, I finally broke down when my Mom and I were at Costco and she offered to buy me some more.

But now on to those yoga pants. Yes, it is ridiculous for me to have so many.  There are two reasons why I do. First, yoga pants are my underwear since for the most part I treat them like tights.  And although I may wear the same socks for an entire week, that doesn’t seem nearly as gross to me as wearing the same “tights” two days in a row. So, clean yoga pants every day!

Realistically, I know I could halve the number of legging-like yoga pants I have.  At least three pairs are starting to wear out, so I’m hoping I can lessen this number simply by wearing them more.

The second reason I have so many yoga pants is one that I frankly don’t know what to do about.  The 10 pairs of Be Present yoga pants I have were made by a company that went out of business over two years ago.  I LOVE everything about these pants – they’re comfortable, loose, flexible, made-in-the-USA, and the material has a patented breath-weave technology so they dry super quick.  Plus, I have them in some really great colors.  They also are virtually indestructible, as I’ve had most of them for more than 7 years.

Yoga Pants with Smudge

Here’s the problem – they make excellent summer clothes, but during the cold, windy Connecticut winters I almost never wear them.  With my minimalist mentality, this should mean I donate them somewhere because I can wear my other clothes during the summer anyway.

Except…once the Be Present pants are gone, I can never get them back.  I have a profound sense of fear that if I give them away, I will someday regret it.

Have I ever donated/sold/trashed anything that I then regretted?  Just once.  Last summer, when a huge snake took up residence in the compost bin where we were housesitting, I wished I still had my rubber rain boots.  But I knew that once we left that house in August, I wouldn’t have a need for them.  So I sucked up my fear and instead wore my hiking boots outside in the yard.  That snake never did end up slithering across my feet (THANK GOD).

And I have lost a pair of my Be Present yoga pants – a bright and shimmery pink pair – that several times over the past year I wished I still had because I wanted to wear them.

This situation is quite the spiritual conflict for me.  If I truly believe in the spiritual law of circulation (that whatever you give, you receive back), then I should be able to let go of some of these pants.  Yet, for some reason I can’t let go of my attachment.

Thankfully, this is not a choice I have to decide RIGHT NOW.  We’ll be in Norfolk until May, 2018, and I won’t have to pack any bags until then.  Also, anything and everything could be different with our life at that point in time and there’s a good chance I will have worn through several items of clothing on my above list.  Still, I think it’s good to know how I’m holding myself back on my spiritual journey.  In the coming weeks, I will certainly reflect on what these yoga pants mean to me and try to gain some insight.  If I come up with anything, I will let you know.  Until then…peace, love, and yoga pants!

In 20 Weeks From Now…

Title

We are officially back in Connecticut!  One of the best parts of housesitting in a small town is how easy it is to run into people. When my husband and I went for a walk around town center our second day back, we saw a few people we know and I got to meet two new dogs. Technically, I already knew one of the dogs. But, I hadn’t formally met him, so I felt thrilled to learn the dog I had nicknamed “Giant Cocoa Puff” is really named Tucker. I now refer to him as Tucker Giant Cocoa Puff, which I think suits him.

Tucker Giant Cocoa Puff cropped

3,000 + miles are a lot to drive in two months and many of my (supposed) habits fell by the wayside by the lack of consistency in my daily routine. For the most part, I did manage to keep up with daily meditation (sometimes even twice a day!), since I’m a big believer that meditation is the single greatest action that can change one’s life (feel free to ask me for advice on how to start). I also kept up with 20-minutes of strength training every day except Sundays; again, for the most part.

I can’t remember when I started the 20-minutes of strength training. I believe it was January, but I’m not very good at keeping track of things, even when I try. Case in point: On July 10th, after I finished reading Gretchen Reuben’s The Happiness Project, I typed 13 daily tasks to promote my happiness and well being in a spreadsheet and started marking “X” when I completed the activity or “O” when I didn’t do it. The last marks I have are on August 6th.

Resolution Chart Cropped

I’m not sure why I stopped keeping track, but I have to seriously consider that somedays I am too lazy to turn on my computer and/or open a specific file. This failure on my part makes me marvel even more at one of my former students, who I caught up with while in the Chicago area. As of August 22nd, he was on DAY 127 of 50 daily push-ups. This student is currently working as an OT aide, while applying to OT schools. Even more remarkable, this student suffered a traumatic brain event in 2009. Considering everything this student has been through and what he’s accomplished since (bachelor’s degree, finding work in his desired field, being a generally upbeat and positive person), I should be able to turn on my computer to make X’s and O’s.

Except, I know that if there is an extra step that doesn’t have to be there it makes me more likely not to do something.

One of the books I read while on the road this summer is The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine Carter, a happiness sociologist.

Sweet Spot

In her book, Dr. Carter detailed how having more productive and efficient daily habits related to your life goals can increase happiness and wellbeing. Yes, I know, this is essentially a duh finding, yet I am still not living the fully productive and efficient life I desire, so I clearly have more work to do.

Dr. Carter wrote about taking “tiny steps” to establish our habits. She states the key is to find a trigger for the habit and then start the habit with the least amount of effort possible. For example, if you want to establish a daily meditation habit, link meditation to something you do daily, like brushing your teeth in the morning (this is the trigger) and then immediately after your morning brush, go sit on a meditation cushion for 30 seconds. And that’s it. You don’t even meditate at first. You increase the time of sitting there on a weekly basis and then you start with the meditation, again which is something you would build up to (meditate for one minute and sit there for another nine minutes).

So, I took a page out of The Sweet Spot (haha, pun totally intended) and started taking tiny steps with the least amount of effort possible in establishing new habits. For me, least amount of effort means: 1) I am not going to record my daily progress because that’s extra effort I don’t really want to do (and apparently am not good at); and 2) I am only going to focus on one habitat a time.

Since every single aspect in my life is infinitely better when I get a good night’s sleep, and I know I sleep much better the more exercise I get, my new habit is to increase my amount of daily exercise. The 20-minutes of strength training is going well, and to it I’m adding 20-minutes of high-intensity interval training.

Here’s how establishing my new habit is broken down with The Sweet Spot method:

  • FIND A TRIGGER – Easy!  I’m already exercising 20-minutes every morning after I meditate.
  • LEAST AMOUNT OF EFFORT – 30 seconds of a high-intensity cardio move (this week I selected mountain climber), 30 seconds of rest, and 30 more seconds of cardio, then DONE! Seriously. No more, even if I feel good and want to keep going. Though now that I’m almost a week in, holy bananas is my butt already getting kicked and I don’t think I could continue much longer anyway.
  • REWARD – In addition to the natural high that comes from exercise, I play a fun pop song from one of the already created playlists in Amazon Music while I complete the interval. So far this week I’ve listened to Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon, Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, Firework by Katy Perry, Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen, and Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, all which can be found in the 50 Great Songs from the Last 10 Years playlist. In case you’re interested, I usually listen to an audiobook during my strength training and right now I’m finishing up the Sookie Stackhouse series (for probably the 4th time), which the HBO show True Blood is based on.
  • PROGRESS – On Monday, I will increase another minute of exercise/rest. And that’s it for the rest of the week!  Each Monday, I will increase by only one-minute intervals.
  • HAVE A BACK-UP PLAN – In the event I cannot complete my target time for whatever reason, I will do 1.5 minutes of interval cardio. In the event I am sick, I will visualize my exercise. These options are the “better than nothing,” approach that Dr. Carter writes about and because they are so easy, I can’t imagine not being able to complete them on any given day.

Yes, I realize that it will take me 20 weeks to establish just ONE of my desired habits. But I would much rather build towards one high-priority habit, then go all in right away on multiple habits, burn out, and completely stop exercising or writing or eating healthy or whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish because they all get lumped together with too high expectations. I am investing in my health and sleep for the long haul and I think this is the best way to do it. I will certainly give updates in the future, and in the meantime, if anyone has recommendations for some fun cardio exercises, please let me know.