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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What Worked This Week



The Art of Slow Writing. I don't think I've enjoyed a writing book this much in a long, long time. Not since Elizabeth Berg's Escaping Into The Open. I recommend this book to anyone who writes, or wants to write. It's so counter-cultural to the current publishing climate of "hurry! publish! create!" that it is refreshing. Take your time. Focus on the process. Find the joy again. All messages I need to hear.




Here is an excerpt that I think best sums up the flavor of this book:

"So much of life today occurs quickly. All this instant this and instant that makes it hard for us as writers to understand that it might take a long time to write a book, and that we often can't predict how much time the work will take. It might make us expect to write our books more quickly than they can or should be written. It might make the people in our lives believe we should finish our work sooner than it's possible. It might make us feel like failures because we're taking such a long time. And it might cause us to abandon an important work... Sometimes a book comes quickly. More often, a book takes a long time. The only way to finish is to keep working until a book is finished. Rushing through writing a book is rushing through life." (p.225)

Uniball Signo Pen. It's the little things, as they say, and this is one of those little things. I spend the $4 to splurge on this pen (and yes it must be the pink ones) and use it to write in my to-do notebooks (see Monday's post about organization for explanations about these) and it makes the actual writing just so pleasant. This is no small thing, when you think about it. If you've got to make a list of things to do, the action should at least be pleasant. 


Into the Woods. This worked on two levels-- one, I took my 9yo to see this, just her and me, when she had a day off school last week. We were just about the only people in the theater and at one point she climbed in my lap. I held her close and thought about how this very well may be the last time I hold one of my kids in my lap while we watch a movie. All too soon she will be too old and too cool for such things. So I enjoyed this moment when she wasn't.

On another level, I found this movie to be a perfect example of what I teach when I teach story to high schoolers. So many of the elements of story that I point to are so clearly indicated in this movie. It'll be a great example in future classes. And a bonus, I heart Meryl Streep.





This workout my 20 year old daughter has been doing. Not one to be shown up by a child of mine, I started doing it too. It looks so little and innocent but do NOT let it deceive you. You will feel it tomorrow. I do that and this ten minute arm workout every morning as part of my new 2015 morning routine, which I hope to post more about next week. 




So that's what's been working for me this week-- what's working for you?? It's so nice to think about what worked instead of bemoaning what didn't.


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Monday, January 26, 2015

How A Mom of Six Stays Organized


Inspired by this post, I decided to share ways I've learned to stay on top of things. Most through trial and error. While I'm not organized on all fronts, this post managed to hit on some things I'm already doing, so I thought I'd share the actual tip from the post, then my thoughts about how it pertains to a busy mom of six trying to balance kids, home and writing:



Plan each day the night before: I definitely sit down with my to-do list from the day and go over what didn't get done that needs to be slated for the next day. I also look at my master to-do list (more on that below) and add items from it, based on what the day looks like. If I know I'm going to be out all day, for instance, I'm not going to add a big task to the list. But thinking through the day that's just happened and planning for the day to come is a nice way to both wrap up and anticipate.

Keep only one to-do list: I actually have two lists, so I guess I break this rule. One list is kept in a 5X7 spiral bound notebook (this is the one I actually use, pictured below), with one page devoted to each week. I also have pages to keep lists for special projects, She Reads, post ideas, monthly goals, etc. If something comes to mind that needs doing but it's not something that can be done that particular week I can add it to a week in the future. That way I don't forget about it, but I also don't add too much to my immediate plate.

The other list is a little yellow legal pad (I get mine at the dollar store-- a pack of 3 for $1, can't beat it). Each day I write down what I need to do that day, using the master list as a guide. When I do it, I cross it off... and boy does that feel good.



Spend at least 30 minutes per day going through emails: I definitely do this. I have a personal rule for myself that I have to respond to emails within 24 hours and I also try to never have more than 25 emails in my inbox, so that means I'm pretty vigilant on emails. I usually check emails first thing in the morning and then in the afternoons after the kids get home from school. While they're working on homework, I can respond to emails. I've found emails are a task I can do in stops and starts so I try to fit them into times when I expect interruptions.

Clear their desk of paper piles: I can't say I do this daily. Usually about once a week I sort through my paper pile. I have two spots in the house I let papers accumulate: on top of the microwave and on my dresser. When those piles start looking unwieldy, I know it's time to put "sort papers" on my to-do list.

Have a morning routine and evening ritual: With a busy family life, I can't say that-- much as I'd like to have a morning routine and evening ritual-- that's always possible. Our days and nights change constantly, which makes sticking to any one pattern pretty much impossible. As I said above, I do end my day (and begin it too) by looking over my to-do list. I'm hoping to write about my morning routine, as in what's working right now, soon.

Spend at least ten minutes a day tidying up: Just ten minutes? (Pause for laughter.) I have no idea how much time I spend tidying up... and I'm not sure I want to know. Suffice it to say I'm constantly tidying lest our stuff overtake us.

Put clothing in their laundry bin: We have one main laundry basket located in our laundry room. Ideally the kids put their clothes in that basket without being asked. (More laughter.) I use the laundry basket as a guide of when it's time to do laundry. Full basket = time to wash clothes. We also have a rule that, once they turn 13 they do their own laundry. This has worked well for us, and it means slowly but surely my workload is getting lighter.




Carve out time for lunch: This is something I've started doing with some intention and it is nice. Since I work at home, it's easy to just shove something in my mouth while standing over the kitchen sink and call that lunch. But with my healthier eating I have to give some thought and intention to what I'm eating. Which has caused me to give thought and intention to how I eat it. I actually treat myself to an actual lunch break, either eating at the kitchen table with a book or on the couch in front of a tv show I've DVR'ed. I've enjoyed this midday break and plan to keep doing it.

Never leave dishes in the sink: I rarely leave dishes in the sink unless the dishwasher is full and we have to wait for it to run through the cycle before there's room to put the dirty dishes in. I have this thing about my sink being not only empty, but also clean. My white sink must always be white, with no scratches. I'm not OCD about much, but my sink... don't mess with it. Clorox and Comet are my friends.

Open up their mail: I make sure the mail is brought in (usually by a child) and I sort it right then and there. My husband has a mail holder and I file any mail for him there, then open and deal with anything that has arrived for me.


I know organization can seem daunting, but just pick one thing from this list to begin with, and commit to do that one thing each day. (That's pretty much what I did, only I did it usually by accident, in the name of survival.) When that becomes a habit circle back and try one more thing.  If you're not already, you'll become what the post called "an organized person."




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Friday, January 23, 2015

Netflix Movies You Might've Missed


Disclaimer: Before you read any further, please know I'm not recommending these movies across the board to everyone who reads this. I'm saying I liked them. What I'm not saying is that they're without sex, drugs, violence or curse words. In fact they probably have some combo of those things because, you know, Hollywood. We all have different thresholds of what we can tolerate so if any of these look interesting, look them up on a site like IMDB to see the rating, and why it got that rating.

I liked these movies because of the way they made me feel or what I took away from them, so I thought you might like to know about them too.



Stuck In Love:  Three years past his divorce, veteran novelist Bill Borgens (Academy Award® nominee Greg Kinnear) can't stop obsessing over, let alone spying on, his ex-wife Erica (Academy Award® winner Jennifer Connelly), who ignominiously left him for another man. Even as his neighbor-with-benefits, Tricia (Kristen Bell, ''House of Lies''), tries to push him back into the dating pool, he remains blind to anyone else's charms. Meanwhile, his fiercely independent collegiate daughter Samantha (Lily Collins, MIRROR MIRROR) is publishing her first novel while recoiling at the very thought of first love with a diehard romantic (Logan Lerman, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER); and his teen son Rusty (Nat Wolff, PEACE, LOVE AND MISUNDERSTANDING) is trying to find his voice, both as a fantasy writer and as the unexpected boyfriend of a dream girl with unsettlingly real problems. As each of these situations mounts into a tangled trio of romantic holiday crises, it brings the Borgens to surprising revelations about how endings become beginnings.




A Long Way Down: In this touching comedy based on the acclaimed novel by Nick Hornby, A LONG WAY DOWN centers on four strangers (Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots) who decide to end it all on New Year's Eve. However, when they meet by chance on a London rooftop, they agree to halt their plans for six weeks. Along the way, they discover that even accidental, dysfunctional families make life worth living.




Last Night: Michael (Worthington) and Joanna Reed (Knightley) appear to have it all. Young and successful, they're a married couple who share a comfortable and seemingly perfect life. But when Michael finds himself alone on a business trip with an attractive new colleague (Mendes) and Joanna encounters the other great love of her life (Canet), each is thrust into an evening of temptation.




The Joneses: The Joneses, a seemingly perfect family, are the envy of their posh, suburban neighborhood filled with all the trappings of the upper middle class. They are the ultimate trend setters with an endless supply of high-tech toys, designer clothes, fast cars and the latest gadgets. But as the neighbors try to keep up with the Joneses, none are prepared for the truth about this all too perfect family.






Phoebe in Wonderland: This heartfelt, fantastical story of a troubled, imaginative girl (Elle Fanning, The Door in the Floor) devoted to Alice in Wonderland explores the agonies of growing up as an outsider and the complexities of parenting. Oscar nominee* Felicity Huffman (Transamerica, TV's Desperate Housewives) gives one of the most powerful performances of her career as Phoebe's guilt-ridden mother. She and her perplexed husband (Bill Pullman, Independence Day) initially see Phoebe's unusual behavior as signs of creativity, but with the help of an unconventional drama teacher (Oscar nominee** Patricia Clarkson, Lars and the Real Girl), they soon realize that their daughter is in danger of falling "through the looking glass."




Arbitrage: Dynamic performances by Richard Gere and an all-star cast highlight this riveting, suspense-filled thriller about love, loyalty, and high finance. Robert Miller (Gere) is a New York hedge-fund magnate who appears to have it all - money, power, a loving wife (Susan Sarandon), and a devoted daughter (Brit Marling) working by his side. But behind the gilded walls of his mansion Miller is running on borrowed time, trying to unload his crippled trading company before his frauds are revealed. A deadly error throws Miller's "perfect life" into a tailspin, raising the suspicions of a detective (Tim Roth) and threatening the future of his financial empire. As the line blurs bet ween what is right and wrong, legal and criminal, Miller is driven to desperate measures to protect the only thing more precious than his considerable fortune: his family.



One Day: After one day together – July 15th, 1988, their college graduation – Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) begin a friendship that lasts a lifetime. She’s a working-class girl who dreams of making the world a better place. He’s a wealthy charmer who thinks the world is his playground. Somewhere over the next two decades, these two very different people realize that the love they’ve been hoping for has been there for them all along. Directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education) and based on the bestselling novel by David Nicholls, it’s a touching story critics call “a smart and endearing romantic comedy.” 
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What's Working For Me This Week


It's Wednesday, which means it's time for me to share what's been working in my life, saving my sanity, etc.

Blistex Lip Medex: This stuff is addictive, but worth the dependency, especially in these winter months. I have this thing about my kids having chapped lips so I have little blue pots tucked in strategic places for quick application. (Why do children lick their lips until they're bright red?) I've been handing it out a lot more than usual these past few weeks. I am so glad I have it and it's entirely possible that I bought a case or two of it because I don't ever want to run out.

Tyson Frozen Grilled Chicken Breast Strips came in handy last week when it was way too cold to actually grill out, yet I needed to add grilled chicken to a pasta dish I'd planned to cook. Though of course it wasn't as good as homemade, it really wasn't that bad, especially tossed with the pasta. Keep it in mind if you need to add some grilled chicken to something and don't have the time or the weather to make your own.

My McAlisters Deli cup: Like a Tervis tumbler, but it looks just like the large cup they serve tea in. Every time you bring it back they refill it for just 99 cents. I love their unsweet tea with a few packages of Splenda added to it. It's a small thing but it makes me happy. And with this cup I can also make my own tea at home and enjoy it at home too.



My new reading journal. Thanks to Modern Mrs Darcy's recommendation I finally took the plunge and bought an actual reading journal instead of the old spiral notebook I used to use. This feels very official and has several fun sections to fill in. My favorite is the list of books to read in the back. I'll be adding, and adding, and adding.


Chocolate Almond Milk: I'm back on the healthy eating bandwagon but let's face it, sometimes you still just need a little chocolate. Having this in the fridge enables me to get the taste of chocolate without feeling like I totally blew it. A little glass is usually just enough.
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Monday, January 19, 2015

What To Do With Your One Word


If you've spent any time on this blog you already know I'm a huge believer in the my one word concept. What is it? Just venture over to this site to learn more. I'll wait till you get back...



Ok? You're back. So you're inspired to pick a word for the year but then... what do you do with it after you pick it?

Well, I've got some suggestions for you today. After five years of doing this I've learned how to put your word to use so you don't forget all about it in the midst of your busy life. (Ask me how I know this can happen...)

1. Start a journal just for your word. In it you can record thoughts about how the word is showing up in your life, verses that pertain to your word, quotes that make you think about your word, etc. By writing in the journal a couple of times a week (or every day) you will be thinking regularly about it.

2. Get a piece of jewelry that has your word on it then wear that piece often.



3. Print up a sign with the word in a pretty font, add the definition of the word and maybe a few quotes or verses that you'd like to keep in mind. Then frame the paper and put it somewhere you will see it daily. (Mine goes on my bathroom counter where I get ready.)

4. Find someone to hold you accountable to the word you picked. Make a monthly date to get together for coffee and talk about how the word is challenging and growing you. Can't think of someone? My good friend Rachel (co-author of the book My One Word) is now offering monthly coaching packages where she'll hold you accountable.

On the far left is Rachel Olsen. And this is also a group of friends so this picture works for two reasons.
It's good to have friends to hold you accountable, even better if they make you laugh. That's Zoe Elmore in the middle and me on the far right. 

5. Organize a book study and go through the book with a group of girlfriends. There are dvd's available to enhance your study, or you can just gather and discuss a chapter at a time.


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Friday, January 16, 2015

5 Dates To Go On This Year


Been thinking about strengthening your marriage in this new year? Here's some fun date night ideas to get you out of your usual rut.

Curt and I on a recent date-- this was to a local pub for a mini high school reunion over Christmas

I am a big believer in date nights, and these are either dates we've already done or dates I'm looking to try in 2015. Maybe you'll find one (or more!) you'd like to try too!





1. The Groupon Date: Choose a Groupon offer for something you wouldn't normally do-- a tour of a local vineyard, a Segway tour of your city, a restaurant you've never tried, or a local event that just sounds fun. Let the Groupon be your guide into an experience you'd ordinarily never think about doing-- and save money at the same time... win/win!




2. The Goals/"My One Word" Date: Since it's early in the year, there's still time to steal away to a local restaurant or coffee shop to share your individual, family, and professional goals. You can also each share one dream you'd like to tackle in this new year. If you don't want to do it now then think of some other times during the coming year it would make sense to do this. Your anniversary is a nice time, or back to school or the start of summer. Pick a time that means a fresh start to your family. There's nothing magic about January. Another idea is to each pick a word for the year and then "reveal" it to each other over dinner. This is a great conversation starter as you discuss how and what you want to change about yourselves. Sometimes it's nice to talk about something other than the kids or why the car is making that funny noise. You'll walk away feeling inspired, and closer to each other.



3. The Book Club Date: Read the same book and then pick a night to discuss it. Consider making a meal to coordinate with the theme, time frame, or location of the book, or come up with a special cocktail along the same lines. Then compare notes on the book. Need some book ideas? Unbroken by Laura Hildenbrand, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (this is the one we are doing), A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion or most any Harlan Coben book that looks good, if you're into thrillers.


4. The Overnight Date: go away somewhere with your spouse, even if it's to a hotel in your same city. Beg someone to watch the kids and then get away from them. This is good for the marriage. This is good for the two individuals in the marriage. I can't promise this will be a magical evening, but I can say you've got a good shot at it.




5. The Play Cards and Popcorn Date: Pop real popcorn, not that microwave junk. (We learned how from this book.) Then pick a card game that you either loved as a kid or have been meaning to learn. Then kick the kids out of the kitchen, take your places at the kitchen table and play. If all goes well, you'll both win, and you'll find yourself talking about things as you deliberate over your respective hands.


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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Worked This Week


New thing I'm trying here on Wednesdays: sharing what worked in my life in the past week. It's been kind of fun for me to notice the things that work instead of obsessing over the things that didn't. And hopefully you'll find some things to check out or consider as I share.

Ham and Vegetable Soup with cornbread. I could live off this stuff and pretty much did last week. I felt very savvy using the leftover ham bone from our Christmas Eve dinner and making another meal from it. Martha White Buttermilk mix is my favorite cornbread. I've tried so many and this is consistently the best.

Guarding my Mondays. When school started back last week I didn't schedule anything or make any commitments on that Monday. I didn't answer the phone either. Instead I hunkered down and got stuff done. Mondays are my days to get back on top of my game after a relaxed weekend. It's a day to hit the ground running and get a handle on my week before it gets away from me. Though it's not always possible, I'm always glad when I guard my Mondays.

Easy Lunchboxes. These were my way to add some pizazz to my kids returning to school after break. We spent the first semester Trying All The Breads so we weren't having the same old sandwich. We did pita and rye and bagels and tortillas-- all filled with different varieties and combos. But now they are over sandwiches so these bento boxes are a fun diversion. They're having a much happier time thinking of ways to fill them. I am very glad I got these, and so are they.

This devotion book has been the perfect way to start my mornings in this new year. I like that it offers short but deep devotions with verses to read as well. I like having direction each morning and this offers just the right amount.

Eating clean. I am back on the healthy eating bandwagon but not entirely cutting out grains. I'm liking Udi's Granola-- particularly the Vanilla kind-- it has significantly less sugar, and tastes great. Some granola with some almond milk is a good, quick breakfast on days I just am not in the mood for (yet another) egg.




A date with my son on Saturday am. He's 12 and agreed to go to the screening of Paddington with me and then to lunch. We both ended up loving the movie, enjoyed a nice lunch, and topped it off with a trip to the art supply store so he could spend a gift card he got for Christmas. He's recently gotten into drawing and it's so fun to see him invest in something that is not electronic. I definitely recommend Paddington-- cute, cute, cute, and funny and heartwarming. If you've got kids, make a point to catch this movie when it starts on Friday.
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