How to be a true fan

IMG_8180Whatever your passion is, show your support

If you know me, you’ll look at the photo above and ask “Why is she wearing a Carolina Panthers jersey?” or better yet, “Why is she wearing any jersey?” That’s because I grew up in a non-sports-watching family and I borrowed this for a Super Bowl party during which I wasn’t really rooting for the Panthers because I don’t know anything about them.

That’s when I realized I need to be a better fan to the people and groups I do root for. My biggest passion, aside from my family, is great women’s fiction. This year I joined the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a group founded by women’s fiction writers to offer support to their fellow authors. Within the WFWA, I also joined a critique group with three other writers and we’re anxiously awaiting critiques on the first pages we sent each other a few weeks ago.

I’ve resparked my reading list and I decided I’m going to write an email to each author I’ve read to thank her for putting her story out there for the rest of us to enjoy. And for the books I really love, I will post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. These are the things that keep writers going, and since I know that, I am going to send all the positive energy into the universe for other writers to show them how much they mean to me.

I just finished reading a book I really enjoyed, so I looked up the author on Goodreads, wrote her a message, and heard back from her the next day. We have unprecedented access through social media to the people we admire, so why not let them know how much we appreciate their work? I also wrote a review for her book on Amazon…I don’t know about you, but I don’t buy anything without checking the reviews first.

I would encourage you to think about what passions keep you going and how you can nourish and sustain the people who add joy to your life. I’d love your comments on how you’ll bring this to fruition.

P.S. If you’re a fellow writer or an avid reader, please check out this excellent blog by Cathy Day called “Literary Citizenship.” She goes into more detail about how we can support writers and books.

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Kids and homework: Backing off is best

IMG_8237(I promise I was only hovering to take this picture!)

A recent study has been released that says helicopter parenting, especially in schoolwork, might backfire when it comes to promoting student success. You might think the most involved parents have the best students, but it’s not necessarily the case. Kids who never have to create their own task list and prioritize their assignments don’t develop the skills to do so. Kids who aren’t used to being held accountable don’t learn responsibility. Our best intentions in helping our kids stay on track can fall short.

I’ve been teaching for ten years now, and I have a few cases every year of students whose families I am begging to get more involved. The main thing I ask is that they give their children the time and routine to sit down each night and do their homework.

The issue I see far more commonly is parents taking over their kids’ school lives. I’ve had parents drive to school to drop off a paper that was forgotten at home. I’ve had kids whose parents make them flashcards or fill out maps instead of telling their children to do their own work. And worst of all, I’ve had parents berate me for punishing kids who cheated because it was “too harsh” to give them a failing grade on an assignment.

Being a parent and watching your kid struggle is heartbreaking; believe me, I get it. There are so many times I want to step in and somehow fix a situation, but I know that doing so is not helping my children in the long run. I have a special advantage as a teacher of seeing kids at all stages of development and this long view helps me realize that calling another parent to try to get a copy of a workbook page my fifth grader forgot at school is not going to help him pack his homework properly at school tomorrow because there was no consequence today.

These are the suggestions I offer at parent-teacher night (this is advice for kids in middle school and high school, not very young children):

  1. Make sure kids have a time and a place to do homework each day. Even if there’s no written homework, tell your children they will sit down for a few minutes to study new material. The routine is important, just like you need for any good habits in your own life.
  2. Don’t “rescue” them when they screw up. Trust me that forgetting a homework assignment provides a learning opportunity of small consequence that may prevent a much larger mishap later.
  3. If your child has a problem with a teacher, please encourage your child to talk to the teacher. I always tell my students to talk to me directly first. If that doesn’t solve the problem, their parents can talk to me. If it’s still not resolved, they should go to my boss.
  4. If your child is overwhelmed, take out an index card. Tell him to write down everything he has to do. Then number the list from soonest due date to farthest out. If there’s a lot to do at once, alternate between fifteen minutes of a “hard” activity with longer periods of easier work.
  5. Let your child know you love her just as much even when she goofs up. When parents try to prevent their children from making mistakes, it can make them fearful to try anything outside their comfort zone. It stifles creativity and bravery.

I do my best to think like a teacher rather than a mom when it comes to my kids and their homework. That doesn’t mean we never have nights of frustration and tears, but I do hope that keeping professional objectivity will pay off in the long run.

As always, please let me know what you think by commenting, and thank you for reading!

 

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Keeping your house sane with routines

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If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably guessed that my biggest obsession is how to run the household smoothly. Today I want to talk about a website that got me on the path to sanity and organization through daily routines: www.flylady.net.

The FlyLady is Marla Cilley, and FLY stands for Finally Loving Yourself. You could spend hours reading everything you need to know about decluttering and cleaning your house on her website, but if you prefer, you can sign up for her daily emails that break down her whole process into smaller steps. When I was a housewife, I did attempt to follow the whole system, but I ended up unsubscribing to the emails because it got overwhelming once I had two kids and a full-time job. Theoretically I should still be able to keep up with her step-by-step cheerful directions, but truthfully, I dust when I see dust or I have company coming over, not according to a schedule.

Still, trying to keep up with FlyLady left a lasting impression and some improved habits. I make my bed every morning (well, almost every morning) and somewhere I picked up the phrase “messy bed, messy head,” which is so true. The days I don’t make my bed tend to be the chaotic, hurtling-through-to-the-finish-line kind of days.

She advocates doing laundry every day to conquer “Mount Washmore,” and I wash a load every other day (well, almost) and keep up pretty well. It’s so much easier to wash, dry, and fold one load three times a week rather than three in one day, at least I think so.

Her first instruction is to “shine your sink.” I don’t shine my sink every day, but I do the dishes every night. It’s so worth it when I wake up grumpy and tired to walk into a clean kitchen with my favorite coffee mug waiting in the dishwasher.

The general idea is that the more you do things by routine without thinking about it, the less stressed out and overwhelmed you will feel. I’ve read in other places that you have a limited amount of willpower each day and you spend a lot of it on decisions of “should I or shouldn’t I?” I’m really hoping that since washing dishes and clothes is automatic rather than a matter of willpower, I can save my miniscule supply for saying no to donuts and coffee.

I’ve also read that the most successful way to build new habits is to attach them to habits that are already firmly in place. I’ve built the habit of washing the dishes every night by making a cup of herbal tea after dinner and doing the dishes while the water is heating. Since I was already having tea every night, adding a few minutes of doing dishes wasn’t a big deal.

Whether you can follow all of the FlyLady’s ambitious plans or just a few of them, I think you’ll agree that she has a lot of great advice for making the home front more pleasant.

What routines help your days?

Thanks for reading and take care,

Grete

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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I just shredded years of my life

I am on a relentless quest to get rid of the paper clutter that’s bogging me down. Last March, I took an entire day to sort all of my papers and create a new, simplified filing system. I’m happy to say that nearly a year later, it’s still working. You can read about it here. And the six-month update is here.

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tidyingNow that I’m keeping up with new papers coming into the house, phase two is eliminating all of the old clutter I let accumulate over the past twenty-five years. I recently read and really enjoyed this revolutionary little book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. I followed her advice to take care of clothing and books before moving on to paper clutter. I had success with this, which you can read about here.

One of the keys to her system is putting all of the items you’re sorting into one room so you can evaluate it all at once. This way, you know how much you’re dealing with. Then when you finish your sorting and discarding, you keep all of that item in one place. I had papers in four rooms of my house. Here’s what I started with when I put everything together, although you can’t see all of it because of a filing cabinet and a few stacked boxes:

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At first I felt completely overwhelmed by the task ahead, but Kondo’s advice is to tackle a category all at once rather than a little bit at a time for a more emotionally satisfying experience and to prevent relapse. I treated myself to a large coffee and pretended it was a party (as you can imagine, this took some imagination).

The next step with paper clutter is to separate non-sentimental papers from those that you consider sentimental. This was the part that really gave me difficulty. Besides old bills and receipts and other nonessential paperwork, she recommends getting rid of all lecture notes. I have most of the papers I’ve written since high school, along with notebooks, syllabi, and other evidence of my education. They shouldn’t be sentimental; I’ve never looked at them again, so obviously they’ve long outstayed their usefulness. But it seems anything I’ve ever written is sentimental because “writer” is the essence of me and it feels like I’m throwing away a part of myself.

The task went faster when I put these items into my sentimental pile and instead moved on to boxes like this:

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Shredding ten years’ worth of phone and electric bills was oddly satisfying (except in that fact that my local recycling center doesn’t take shredded paper.

When I was all finished (I think about six hours later), this is what left my house:

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Unfortunately, this is what’s left for sentimental items:

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About half of that is my kids’ stuff, and the rest is letters, history papers, old calendars, greeting cards, workout logs, and other miscellaneous stuff I never look at. I will save the next installment of my clutter journey to explore why these items are so hard to part with.

I highly recommend Kondo’s book. Check it out and please let me know what are the toughest material possessions for you to manage.

Thanks for reading and take care,

Grete

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Could folding your underwear change your life?

I’ve been on a quest for years now to manage my paper clutter, and while it’s getting better bit by bit, I still feel most of the time like I’m forgetting something or losing something in the copious notes, lists, and receipts that pile up like snow drifts on my dining room side table.

tidyingI recently read this revolutionary little book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo, in which the author advocates throwing out almost all of your papers. What?! I’ll give you more detail on this in my next blog post because papers come later in her multi-step process.

According to Kondo, who has made tidying her life’s work (this was the kid who was organizing drawers as a hobby), we should start with our clothing. I figured if she can help me with papers, I am wiling to go along with her system, even though I don’t consider my clothes a big organizational problem.

Here is a picture of my shirt drawer before:

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Everything was always folded and stacked. Sometimes the piles collapsed when I was digging through to find something, but overall, my clothes were unwrinkled and I figured manageable. Oh, was I wrong! When I finished her whole process, I had given away four garbage bags worth of clothing and folded everything I kept (except for skirts, dresses, and jackets) into little “packets.”

Here is my shirt drawer after:

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Now I can see everything in one glance without having to move or disturb anything I’m not pulling out to wear. This kind of folding doesn’t take any longer than regular folding. It takes a wee bit longer to get things in the drawer neatly, but her point is you need the speed more when you’re taking something out than when you’re putting it away.

I realized my papers look like the “before” drawer. Yes, they’re all in one place, but no, it is not easy to find what I need…compared to “after” drawer, it looks disheveled and depressing. It is much more enjoyable to choose an outfit from my drawers now.

I have also completed step two, which is books, another area of possessions that I don’t feel overly attached to. I’ve been thinking that I have such a hard time throwing out papers because writing is one of the key facets of me. If I throw out the history papers I wrote in college, or the travel brochures I designed at a job in my twenties, it’s like discarding a piece of my identity.

Stay tuned for my next blog… I’m planning a paper-purging party!

In the meantime, please let me know which of your possessions are hard for you to manage, and see my link for Marie Kondo’s book, which I highly recommend.

I hope your new year is off to a wonderful beginning!

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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How (not) to handle stress

 

I was going to write about healthy ways to handle stress until I realized that I covered this topic a few months ago (it’s obviously on my mind), so I decided this time I’ll write what NOT to do because I’m an expert on that!

  1. Spending too much money. One of my biggest stress triggers is loneliness. I know there will be days I will be spending the whole. day. alone. It is healthy to head out and about to be among people in a public place, but it’s not a good idea to go on a shopping spree for cleaning products or office supplies (my two favorite binges besides food – see below). Coming home with stuff I don’t need only triggers financial stress and clutter stress. It would be a much better use of my time to grab my laptop and get some writing done at a café, filling my need for both creativity and human interaction. Fortunately, over-shopping is a rare problem because after all the grocery shopping I need to do, there’s hardly ever time or money left to buy more whiteout and Post-it notes. Sometimes, it feels therapeutic to seek out the very corners of a big store just to see what’s there instead of buying anything. I think of it more like a museum than a store. Hongo Killer, anyone?
  2. Eating too much of the wrong foods. Something about stress makes me reach for crackers. And then chocolate. I want them both, and in that order. The Pepperidge Farm Milano cookie bag says I deserve a cookie. But I think I deserve them all after a bad day. While being lonely makes me go shopping, being angry makes me eat like the Cookie Monster. They’re gone so fast I don’t savor or enjoy them, and I’m left with a stomachache. This is the worst kind of stress for me, because instead of dealing with my emotions productively, I end up stuffing them down with food. I feel much better on the days I sit down and write in my notebook to process those unpleasant feelings.
  3. Yelling at people. Being late is the trigger for this. Usually one of the first things people would say about me (and probably assume, since I’m both a mom and a teacher) is that I’m very patient. Easygoing. Mild-mannered. My kids would tell you otherwise on the days we are running late for anything. I am half-German and I swear there is a clock built into me. The trains must run on time. But when I yell, I end up with a headache and a guilty conscience. And surprisingly, it doesn’t help anyone to be more on time when I lose it. The cure for this is getting more prepared the night before. One of my resolutions for 2016 is to put my clothes out the night before for work instead of staring at the closet in the morning, or worse yet, trying on four things before anything feels right.
  4. Excessive Netflix. Having too much to do usually sets off this very counterproductive reaction to stress. Instead of starting the task, I shut down, crawl into bed, and watch mindless entertainment until I fall asleep. It would be much better to get at least the essential tasks done and then reward myself with some time to relax when I could enjoy it.

Well, that’s it for my true confessions this week. How many vices do you think one person can have? How about making me feel better and letting me know I’m not alone on unproductive reactions to stress?

Take care and enjoy the many blessings left in 2015!

Grete

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Planning on paper vs. electronically

Paper-Clip-Cluster-1By mid-December, I’m already reviewing the past year and preparing for the next one. Perhaps it’s because my birthday also falls at the end of the year, but for me, January is always a time of review and change.

I’m still searching for that perfect organization method that allows me to feel like I’m prioritizing correctly, remembering everything that needs to get done (laundry, dishes, groceries, paying bills), and keeping track of what I want to do (printing and framing photos, decluttering, finishing my needlepoint project I started over the summer, and much, much more).

For now, I’ve settled on a hybrid of putting every appointment and regular event into my iPhone calendar  and writing tasks on paper, divided into daily and long-term.

Some examples:

  • As soon as I make an appointment, it goes in my calendar. I don’t even let doctors give me the appointment cards because I don’t want the clutter.
  • If I need to bring something to an event, I add it to the appointment (“bring gift”.)
  • Recurring things I need to nag my kids about go in the calendar. (“Bring gym clothes.”)

I have two to-do lists: One is a little lined Post-it note pad with room for only ten items. That’s where I write (the night before) up to ten things I need to do the next day.

The other list is on regular sized paper that I keep in a manila folder of Goals. There are actually a few lists in this folder because some need to be done soon, but not tomorrow (like “get annual inspection for car”) and some are the more wishful thinking variety (like “clean the garage”).

Whenever I have space on my small to-do list (and an abundance of energy), I put one or two items from the big list onto the small list.

Every evening, I review my iPhone calendar and my paper to-do list for the next day. I look at them again in the morning. Obsessive-compulsive? Maybe. But it also puts my mind at ease that I’m not forgetting anything (and because of this system, I rarely do.)

My lcoach and friend, Cathy Colangelo, has developed a 2016 planner/calendar and her coach, Sage Grayson, gave me the idea for this post with her blog tour on planning. Please check out their offerings and feel free to comment here with your own planning ideas. I’m always looking for improvement and I learn something new every time I read a blog or a book on planning.

Take care and enjoy the many blessings left in 2015!

Grete

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Cathy calendar

Cathy’s 2016 “Year of Clarity” Coloring Calendar

 

I’m participating in the Edited Year Blog Party! The 2016 Edited Year Planners are your secret weapons for staying on target with your goals, appointments, projects, and to-dos in a fun and systematic way. Click here to get your planners.

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