Author Archives: Kelly

How to Survive the Slow Pace of the Publishing Industry

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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…

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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.

 

 

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

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On our way back to Connecticut, my husband and I stopped off in Pennsylvania to spend a week with my parents.  To add to the mix, my oldest brother, who lives in Texas, is also visiting.  This time he’s not in PA because of a funeral (as he was the last two times he was here) so our time is being filled with all kinds of activities.

One of the activities is eating since my Mom, like many moms out there, shows love with food.  Since we’ve been here, there’s been a cake from Costco, two dozen cookies from Costco, an apple pie from Costco, and two gallons of Turkey Hill ice cream (all of which I said NO to), lots of sweet potato tater tots (which I said YES to), and some delicious grass-fed NY Strip Steaks (also a big YES).

We’ve gone to Hersheypark a few times

Hershey Park

and even though I was tempted with lots of chocolate goodies, I managed to say NO to everything except a hand-dipped milkshake.  My oldest brother, on the other hand, said YES to everything he could, in part to reap the benefits of an all-you-can-eat meal pass, with one of the stipulations being you must wait 90 minutes between meals.  Here’s his status report throughout the day:

Cropped 1

Cropped 2

Cropped Food 3

I wasn’t at the park with them, so this way I could live vicariously through their eating.  I’d had enough Hersheypark Happy by that point and, truthfully, the park is expensive.  Since my favorite parts on my visits there were attending the Sea Lion show

Sea lion

and walking through Zoo America,

Porcupine ZA

I didn’t think it a worthwhile use of money for me to go back to the park one more time.

We had also planned to go to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and since they offered a substantial Labor Day discount, we took advantage of it.  The Faire is expansive and there’s always a historically-based storyline that is woven throughout the entertainment, including a human chess match in the afternoon and a live-action joust at the end of the day, so it’s a pretty fancy affair.

Ren Faire

But for some reason, I just wasn’t into it this year.

I did, however, get a kick out of seeing all the dogs at the faire.  This past weekend was one of their “Royal Hound Weekends,” where dogs are encouraged to attend.  I saw this royal pupper

Royal Doggo

A fluffy unicorn

Unicorn

And a service dog who had to wear dog muffs during the Royal Chess Match so as not to become agitated by the whips used during some of the combat scenes,

Dog muffs

in addition to many other dogs that I did not manage to get a photo of because I felt a little self-conscious sneaking around trying to take pictures of people’s dogs.

These dog experiences remind of the time I was sorely disappointed with how commercialized the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios is and instead found absolute delight with a service puppy I met there.

Service Puppy

And as I’m typing this, my family is discussing visiting the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.  In response to finding out the admission price is $22, I asked, “Will there be dogs there?”  When my mom laughed, “no,” I replied, “then I probably shouldn’t go.

We say good-bye to Pennsylvania tomorrow and then we’ll be back in Norfolk.  There, I’ll be reunited with three dogs whom I’m absolutely crazy about.

Three dogs

I haven’t seen them since July 1st and even though I sing Somewhere Out There to them at night while staring at the moon (seriously), it’s not the same as being around them.

I know some people still think it’s crazy that I quit my job as an associate professor to write children’s stories and play with dogs all day long, but as I reflect on how I’ve spent my time this past week, my only regret is that I didn’t quit sooner.

Monday, August 21st, 2017

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I recently had the chance to catch up with some of my former colleagues from the University I previously taught at.  The school had a peace vigil this past Friday and since I’m in town house/pet-sitting, I decided to attend.  I’m pretty disgusted with the events as of late in this country of ours, and supporting peace through lovely words and prayers seemed like a wonderful idea.

Peace

While there, several people made the same comment to me: you look so happy.  I consider this compliment to be one of the greatest I can receive, because, truthfully, I do feel happy, and this wasn’t always the case.  This past year of living a writer’s life, spending as much time as I can with my husband, and playing with and caring for dogs in exchange for amazing houses to live in, has been such a blessing.  I am so grateful at the friends I have made this past year and the opportunities that have presented themselves.

These feelings of joy and gratitude were especially salient yesterday as I walked around a forest preserve.  I thought I had been driving to another community gathering of love and peace, but it turned out I had the wrong location.  Although that was bad news, the good news was I ended up at Fullersburg Woods, a forest preserve of DuPage County.

Waterfall

For about an hour, I wandered around enjoying the beauty of Salt Creek, before settling myself on some rocks by the Rainbow Bridge to simply be at one with nature.  Although I missed the community fellowship I had been anticipating, I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful way to spend my afternoon.  And I wasn’t really alone.  Spirit surrounded me, as did the rocks, trees, birds, leaves, and waves from the river.

Rainbow bridge

Walking along the trail on my way back from the bridge, I began marveling at the world around me.  Then, it hit me! One of the reasons I think I’m so happy is I’m able to find wonder and awe in the little things.  I began thinking of what brings me the most joy in life.  Here’s an incomplete list:

  • Laughing with my husband
  • Playing with dogs
  • Talking about dogs with my Mom
  • Reading a good book
  • Finishing a draft of a story
  • Helping someone edit a draft of their writing
  • Fantasizing about future travels, especially if they can include family and/or friends
  • Watching funny online videos of animals, particularly bears

It’s good to know these things because right now, there’s a lot of unhappiness and turmoil in the world.  Sometimes it can be overwhelming, especially when it’s hard to know what to do in response.  What I liked most about the vigil I attended on Friday is that the event was not against anyone or anything.  I have often heard spiritual teachers caution against what you give your energy to, such as an anti-war protest versus a rally for peace.

With these thoughts in mind, I am recommitting myself to focus on the things in my life that bring me joy.  Selfish and elitist?  Perhaps.  But I’m going to subscribe to the words of Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world.  I wish to see peace and happiness.  So that’s what I’m going to be.  Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…one youtube bear video at a time.

Memoir Monday, August 1st (which is really a Tuesday)

HB to my blog

Happy Birthday to my blog! One year ago today I posted for the first time and I am now up to 97 posts.  A little bit short of my (overly) ambitious 156 (3 posts a week), but I’ll take it.

Originally, I started this blog as a way to document my new career choice as a writer.  I planned on writing about writing (there’s a novel idea [haha, pun totally intended]), as well as featuring some of my fiction writing (Fiction Friday posts), with a dash of other writing as well (poems, one-liners, life lessons from a dog, etc., for Whatever Wednesday posts).

Now a year in, I have more realistic expectations.  It turns out there is only so much I can write about writing in any given week.  A lot of my Memoir Monday pieces morphed into metacognitive pieces of how I am my own worst enemy in achieving my goals of being a healthy and peaceful person and a productive and prolific writer.

I actually quite like the evaluation process, having conducted program evaluation research for well over a decade, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that I ended up spending a lot of time reflecting on my goals, objectives, and whether or not I am making progress.  As I continue writing my blog, I expect the process of what I am trying to accomplish over several different areas of my life, not just writing, will continue to fall to the forefront.

My Whatever Wednesday posts and Fiction Friday posts certainly stretched my creativity and writing muscles.  But I often found myself feeling forced to come up with content.  Although I am a big believer in having a consistent writing practice, I like to have freedom in the process.  Telling myself I had to come up with a thought provoking one-sentence caption for a photograph or another flash fiction story created undue stress for myself and a lot of times I felt a bit resentful because the time and effort it took away from the writing projects that are closer to my heart (my children’s picture books and middle grade novels).

Therefore, year 2 of my blog will not include these outlets for my writing.  Over the next few weeks, I will be updating the blog site to reflect these changes.  However, at some point I would like to finish my Fox Through the Forest story.  For those of you who have read, I feel it is unfair to leave Malcolm the fox and his friends stuck in narrative limbo.  I know he has his journey to finish and I want to see him to the end.

It’s exciting to think about where year 2 will take me.  A year ago, we were housesitting in Johnsonville, NY, and taking care of a Bernese Mountain Dog, a Border Collie, and a Bordernese mix, as well as two rag doll cats and a barn cat, in addition to goats and chickens.

Johnsonville three dogs

Frank with Heath Rosie Jack Cat

Now we’re on the road in Joliet, IL, caring for an old timer Golden Retriever, a rescued Great Dane, a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix that came from the pound, one cat, and 37 (I think) chickens.

Phyllos Lilu Rafiki Triferros

A year ago, I had no completed manuscripts over 1,000 words.  Today, I have one complete 41,000 middle grade novel, and a 51,000 word middle grade novel sorely in need of revision.  I wrote an additional seven picture book manuscripts.  One of them won the top fiction prize in Kidlit College’s picture book contest.  As a result, this manuscript is now being considered by five publishers.  Plus, I now have an agent who makes me laugh a lot and is supportive of my story ideas.

I am so blessed and grateful to be on this journey.  I thank God every day that I had the courage to change the life I was living for the one I wanted to live. I am grateful to my husband who has shown me unconditional love, laughter, and support as we realize our shared visions for life.  My parents have also been incredibly supportive and I know they hope and pray for our continued prosperity and success, as do my extended family and in-laws.  We have met so many wonderful people along the way and every day we make new connections.

We have no idea where this next year is going to take us, but there is not a doubt in my mind it will be filled with abundant gratitude, joy, love, light, and laughter.  I look forward to telling you all about it.

Memoir Monday, July 10th, 2017

What Dreams May Come

This past week that my husband and I spent at my parents’ house was an epic achievement for me in that I did not gain any weight.  This is good news because I’ve been working on keeping the momentum of staying active and eating less junk food that I’ve sustained since the beginning of May.  Ever since I fell off the whole foods, no sugar bandwagon approximately 1.5 years ago (note the coincidental timing with my marriage), it’s been a struggle to release the addictive hold sugar has on me, but I’m here to say I’m still going strong.

The bad news, however, is that I enjoyed other foods that for me, personally, wreak havoc with my health.  Night shades (i.e., white potatoes, peppers of any kind, including spices, tomatoes, and eggplant) all cause my narcolepsy symptoms to be significantly worse.  Specifically, when I eat night shades the amount and intensity of the time I spend in REM sleep increases.

REM is the stage where dreams occur; for people with narcolepsy, we already have overly long, incredibly vivid and emotional dreams, as well as more frequent dreams throughout the night.  During the week that I ate nightshades on a regular basis here are the dreams I had:

  • I was driving someone else’s car (someone I used to work with at my former university) and the brakes wouldn’t work

 

  • I kept missing my flight – where I was going, I couldn’t tell you, but in the dream, no matter what I did I couldn’t get to the airport on time.

 

  • SNAKE! A long vicious snake, kept trying to attack while I had to hold its mouth at bay.  It was all I could do to keep the snake from biting me.

 

  • I was back in college and I had to turn in a paper that I was totally unprepared for.

 

  • I was still teaching and I couldn’t find any of my work to turn in my final grades.

 

  • I was at a high school dance, or perhaps a reunion, and I kept worrying about what I was going to wear (at least I think that’s what this most recent dream was about.  Unlike my previous dreams, this one has faded more).

Any one of these dreams is enough to exhaust anyone, let alone having them six nights in a row.  I’m convinced these dreams are my own personal ayahuasca experience, with nightshades serving in place of the illicit vine that so many seek out in the Amazon.

For the record, I have never used an illicit drug to alter my state of consciousness, as ayahuasca does, but having traveled for three weeks in Peru of course I met people who had.  Their reported experiences were not unlike this video

so I’m not sure why anyone would want to have those experiences anyway, and, frankly, because of my narcolepsy I’m having these experiences of my own accord (though to be clear, not soiling myself).

I also realized that my nightshade consumption has bumped right up into the full moon.  Thanks to my Fitbit (which my Mom gave me as a gift in May), I’m much better at tracking my sleep. Sure enough, during and around the full moon, I have trouble falling asleep, my dreams increase in vividness, emotion, and duration, and I wake up around 4:00am.

As you can imagine, after a week of this kind of sleep (though the 4:00am wake-ups just started this morning and I expect will last two more days according to my Fitbit records until the next full moon), I could really use some rest and recovery.

To that end, I am choosing to say NO, THANK YOU, to all nightshades and processed sugar for the next few weeks, I am striving to meet my daily 8,500 steps goal, and I am staying optimistic.  Although in this moment it’s not as easy to stay optimistic, except that twice in the month of June I had really good sleep.  Sleep where I woke up refreshed and enthusiastic about my day.  The last time I got sleep like that (other than naps) was the last weekend in September 2015.  No, that’s not an exaggeration, and yes, it was a long time ago.

I just wish I could remember these feelings in the moment when I’m about to eat those delicious hamburgers with ketchup, the crunchy and salty french fries that I love so much, or the spicy goodness of Chipotle.  I’m not sure what it would actually take for me to commit to NO NIGHTSHADES EVER AGAIN but at least maybe these dreams are enough to make me commit to NO NIGHTSHADES EVER AGAIN for at least 30 days.  I can do anything for 30 days, right?

Memoir Monday (though it’s really Wednesday), June 28th, 2017

On the Move

It’s packing time…again! My husband and I will be heading out at the end of the week, leaving dear, old Norfolk, CT, behind for two months.  We’ve been making the rounds, saying goodbye, returning library books, and for me, personally, trying to soak up as much time with these three dogs that I can.  I’m going to miss them so much!

Tobey

Smudge

Faith

Here’s where we’re headed:

  • Harrisburg, PA, to visit my Mom, Dad, and brother.  For those of you who read my blog, you know the biggest challenge here will be to NOT eat all the cookies, cakes, and peanut M&Ms my family keeps on hand.  I’ve shaped up quite a bit in the last month and a half and I don’t want to lose momentum.

 

  • Cornelius, NC, to pet and housesit while my cousin and his wife (who is far and away one of my favorite people EVER), along with their two kids, head to their annual extended family beach week in the Outer Banks.  They have a boat and a dog that looks like Rick James reincarnated, so I have plenty to be excited about there.

Rick James

 

  • Smyrna, TN, to visit with my husband’s parents, brother, two dogs, and three cats.   My husband’s mom is recovering from surgery, so we’ll help out where needed, and on my agenda during that time is to get my car registered in TN.  After hiding my car title in a SUPER SECRET PLACE, then moving three times in four years, I appear to have lost it.  I finally got the replacement title.  I would have simply re-registered it in IL until we figure out what we’re going to do with my car (it’s currently hanging out in my in-laws’ driveway), but the car needs an emissions test in IL first.  As we’ve been in CT, well, not going to happen.

 

  • Joliet, Manhattan, and Elmhurst, IL, for various pet/housesitting jobs.   We sat for one of these houses last year, which inspired my picture book story The Best Darn Dog Ever, and when they asked us to come back and take care of their dogs, we immediately said yes.  I was able to find other sitting jobs which fit neatly into our timeline for being there, so we’re happy at how it’s all working at.  Plus, one of the houses is dome-shaped with 87 (or maybe 84) windows and the other has two geriatric wiener dogs (wiener dogs are AWESOME), so we’re going to have some great new experiences.

I’m really looking forward to these new housesits, even though I lived in IL for 8 years.  My writing has been going exceptionally well lately, but I still think my absolute best creativity comes when we shake things up and have new experiences.  Like at the end of March when I met Theo, the therapy llama, at the Norfolk Public library.

Llama

I’ve now started writing a nonfiction picture book based on this gentle and loving pack animal (FYI – they only spit when threatened; watch their ears for signs).  Nonfiction picture book writing is something I had on my to-do list, but now I find myself actually doing it.  My agent also thinks the story is a great idea (did I mention I now have an agent?!?!?!  HUGE STEP FORWARD! YAY!).

So, there will be lots to see and do over the next two months.  It makes saying our temporary goodbye to Norfolk bittersweet.  But for now, I bid this wonderful town of Norfolk and its wonderful people a fond farewell.  See you soon!

Memoir Monday, June 12th, 2017

Oddly Refreshing

This past Saturday I was delighted to attend the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley June conference.  This is the third writing conference I’ve attended which focuses exclusively on children’s writing.  It was also the smallest writing conference I’ve yet to attend (my count is now at six; I forgot I attended Fall Philly Fest from the Eastern PA Chapter of the SCBWI in a previous conference count that I mentioned on my blog) and I have to say I learned A LOT.

One of the best parts of a small conference is that you don’t have too many options to choose from.  This has been a problem for me not just in writing conferences, but when I attended academic conferences in my past life as a professor.  I would always scour the conference schedule, circling the sessions that looked most intriguing to me, having to weigh options and presenters and then make some tough choices.

For this conference, there were only two options for the morning session: focus on middle grade novels or focus on picture books.  Then, everyone came together for an afternoon session on revising work masterfully presented in a way that blew my mind.  I suppose there is nothing truly earth shattering in learning that the picture book and the novel can both be revised using the same methods, but in my mind I had the two genres as incompatible in how story is presented and thus, would require different processes for the all-important revisions.

I consider it to be a valuable use of my time to learn not just one new process of writing, but several, and so I am itching to review my notes and see what I can do to some of my manuscripts in terms of improving them.

The day ended with another joint session; this time the day’s presenters came together on a panel and reviewed the first 100 words of manuscripts submitted by conference participants.  I feel a tad guilty that I included four different manuscripts of mine (two picture-book and two middle-grade) because I am so eager for feedback, but not guilty enough not to have only submitted one manuscript.

I did rationalize to myself that because I didn’t find out about the conference until a few weeks before and I missed the deadline to schedule one-on-one critiques, I should be allowed to submit more than one first 100 words.  I also didn’t keep it a secret from the conference hosts that I turned in four, so I guess in the end it was okay.

Well, the action was okay; the process brutal.  Two of my first 100 words got selected and holy cow, it is hard to sit there with a straight face while four strangers perform what one of them called a “parlor game” in highlighting the weaknesses of your work.

To be fair, one of the other panelists gently explained that this process was not to focus on what people were doing well because that wouldn’t necessarily improve the weaker parts of their writing.  The panelist also went on to say they probably wouldn’t be so harsh if they were to spend more time with more words of the manuscript.

The first 100 words of my picture book got torn to shreds. The first 100 words of my middle grade book first got accolades for an intriguing first paragraph, then fell completely flat upon reading of the second paragraph.  It was a truly a humbling experience and I’m pretty sure no one could actually hear the pounding of my heart as they read and critiqued my writing.

The strange thing, though, is that after getting over the initial emotional response, I am nothing but grateful for the opportunity to hear from four different industry professionals on what can be objectively improved with my work.  There was a time in my not so distant past that I might have been thoroughly demoralized, perhaps maybe even have cried, and probably would have said to myself that these people don’t know what they’re talking about and my work is brilliant.

I find it oddly refreshing to discover I have reached this point where I do believe industry professionals are experts in their field and not all my work is brilliant.  This revelation has been in progress for a while as a few weeks ago, I opted not to submit two of my manuscripts to a contest because I truly didn’t believe they were my best work.  In re-reading and revising them, I still felt like some spark was missing and I feel rather validated that my own professional judgement is becoming less biased as I become more familiar with the revision process.

That’s not to say I didn’t feel any sort of emotional wound or negative gut reaction to hearing the comments from the panelists.  Hearing criticism/rejection is one of the hardest things we ever have to do in life and I can’t imagine it ever gets easier over time.  But it is now easier for me to move on and I feel quite liberated by this knowledge.  We’ll see how it goes once I receive feedback from the editor I’m in the process of hiring for one of my manuscripts.  At the very least, it will be a good measure to see how far I’ve really come.

Memoir Monday, June 5th, 2017

Fear Factor

It’s now been a full-on month that I’ve cleaned up my diet, kept up my six-day-a-week 20-minute daily exercise routine, and practiced meditation twice a day on most days. It’s probably not a coincidence that I’ve also had an upsurge of productivity with my writing.

One of my greatest accomplishments in the last week is getting the revision of my middle-grade manuscript, Top Dog of K-9 Academy, in tip top shape.  I’ve managed to edit an additional 19 chapters and I still have 6 to go, but I fully expect to have a working third draft by June 10th, the deadline I gave myself.

I’ve been debating about whether to get the manuscript professionally edited once it’s in its third draft form.  All my research suggests that having outside, qualified eyes look at your manuscript can only improve it.  My only hesitation?  Edits can cost $3 to $4 (or more) dollars a page, so it is an investment.

Having been raised in a frugal family, I sometimes have a hard time spending money on things I should.  However, as my Mom likes to say, “If money solves your problem, then it’s not really a problem.”  So the question becomes why don’t I really want to get the manuscript edited?

I think like most aspects of our lives that are beneficial in the long term (e.g., good diet, exercise, stress reduction techniques), there’s not an immediate return on investment with an editing process.  But I honestly don’t think it’s a time issue.

I’ve written before about how slow the publishing industry can be and if I take the time to get a professional edit, then, yes, that’s several more weeks before I can start submitting the manuscript to agents and editors.  But what difference would a few weeks make, especially if my manuscript is all that much stronger for it.

Other questions that pop up in my mind when I consider getting an editor are: what if I spend the money and I don’t get anything useful out of the edit?; what if the editor says my work sucks?; what if I invest all this time, effort, and money, and the manuscript doesn’t result in a book contract?

But when I really think about it, these are all just fear-based excuses that are getting in the way of achieving my dream of being a published author.  If I don’t get an editor, then I can always make an excuse that my manuscript wasn’t ready and I submitted too soon and that’s why it didn’t get published.

Good thing I’m done letting fear get in my way.  I spent over a decade and a half stuck in a career that my heart wasn’t really in because I was afraid to try something different.  That’s long enough.

I reminded a person I’m very close with the other day that, “Most of what we worry is about is imaginary.”  That’s one of the more useful pieces of advice from the intro to psych textbook I used the last time I taught that course, and quite frankly, was the best part of teaching it.

This little piece of advice came up when this person expressed concerns that no one would like them or their chronic illness would get in the way of them having a good experience when they start a new chapter of their lives in the coming months.  I then followed up my advice by providing a list of other things that could also happen to them in the coming months, including:

Being liked so much by everyone, that they want you to quit school and work for them full-time;

Meeting Leonardo DiCarpio, who falls in love you at first sight so then you have a relationship dilemma with Leonardo and your current boyfriend; and

Finding escaped pandas from the zoo and hiding them in your bathtub because they’re too precious to return.

My point with all these was that anything could happen in the coming months, so you might as well focus on the wacky and wonderful.

Advice I really need to take to heart, then, because if I allow myself to think rationally about my fears, I already know the answers to them:

1)      Of course having my manuscript edited wouldn’t be a waste of time; I know what to look for in an editor and I understand what to expect in the editing process.

2)      If I really thought my worked suck (and in retrospect I can now say that, yes, some of my past work has sucked), then I would edit and revise it myself until I felt it was good enough to send to an editor.

3)      I have no time limit in achieving my goal of being a published author.  Yes, I want this sooner rather than later, but I was also once told that, “It’s not my job to manage God’s plan for me.” Meaning, I don’t have to worry about the “how’s;” I just need to keep taking steps in the right direction and believe that everything else will work itself out.  Which, it will.  Because my mom also likes to say, “Everything always works out in the end.  And if it doesn’t, that means it’s not the end.”

So as I wait for the details to work themselves out, I will keep on with what I’ve been doing – prioritizing my health and well-being to keep my productivity flowing, writing and editing my own stories, reading and studying other stories to help improve my craft, playing with dogs because that makes me really happy, and getting my manuscript professionally revised.  I look forward to sharing more about this process in the coming weeks.

Silly Faith

Smudge Tennis Ball 2

Tobes swimming 2