“Why am I so encumbered?”

My son and his friends enjoy playing online games together, and the other day I overheard him ask, “Why am I so encumbered?” What he meant was he was weighed down by the items his character was carrying, but it struck me that I’ve been encumbered too, if not by physical objects, at least by the maintenance of myself, the people in my family, and our stuff.

I have constant running to-do lists, one for work and one for home, and I realized I rarely feel a sense of accomplishment on either of them because there’s always more to do. Now that the boys have constant homework and activities, it feels like life has gotten infinitely more complicated. They are big enough to help out around the house, and they do, but there are three people’s schedules running through my head at all times and most events have to be scheduled weeks in advance to happen.

I’m working out how to enjoy my days and savor them, despite all of the parts that make me tired and sometimes weigh me down. Even though I can’t stand the idea of looking at one more list, I had to make one to remind me of all the good little routines that pull me up like helium-filled balloons. Here’s mine and I’d love your suggestions too.

  1. Every morning, I look forward to my same breakfast (coffee and raisin bread toast with peanut butter) and reading a few chapters from the Bible. That is often my only quiet time in an entire day!
  2. At least one meal where I sit down with my boys. It’s usually dinner, but even if it’s breakfast or lunch, we talk and find out what’s going on with each other.
  3. Time with my loved ones to go for walks, work on a New York Times crossword, or watch a movie. These are a few of the moments where my mind isn’t running on hyperspeed.
  4. Going to sleep at night. Usually it’s more like passing out from exhaustion, but I treasure those few minutes where I’m warm under the covers. I love my bed.
  5. Listening to RadioLab podcasts on the way to and from work. This amazing show has opened my world to so many new ideas I would have missed in my myopic little world.

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

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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Traveling way outside my comfort zone

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“East or west, home is best.” This is a phrase I grew up hearing my father say often, especially when he got back from another international business trip. It’s something I say to myself nearly every time I pull into my driveway.

Even though I’ve been a single parent for the past several years, I’ve never in that time taken my kids anywhere overnight by myself. I don’t really enjoy traveling, flying, or going to new places. This spring and summer, I decided that had to change.

My kids and I just got home from a one-night trip to western Pennsylvania (about four hours away), to places we’d never been before. My older son developed a fascination with Fallingwater, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house. He set a picture of it as our computer desktop background and asked me every few months about going.

Wow, was it worth it! We had a great time. My older son said the tour was even better than he had expected and my younger son (the one I’ve now and then accused of taking all his blessings for granted) thanked me many times for our trip and how much fun it was.

I will confess that I naturally have a lot of anxiety and the main way I keep it at bay is through routine. Get up at the same time every day, have the same breakfast every day, follow a to-do list I wrote the night before every day… what may sound boring to you is comfort to me.

Most people would be shocked to hear that I’m anxious because I come across as easygoing and carefree a lot of the time. That’s because I happen to be fortunate enough to have a lot of control over what I do when (a major indicator of human happiness). Only those who know me well see the cracks at the seams when we eat dinner two hours later than I expected or had plans to go somewhere that get changed last minute.

I am not a go-with-the-flow type of person, so taking a last minute trip to somewhere I’ve never been before, finding a hotel online, and driving across the state with some handwritten directions scrawled on a scrap of paper were definitely pushing my boundaries. To one of my world-traveling coworkers, I equated it with her going to Russia.

It got me thinking, what else can I do to keep growing and experiencing new things? What do you do, large and small, to get out of your comfort zone and into the great big world? I’d love your ideas! (Please don’t suggest varying my breakfast, ’cause that ain’t happening.)

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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The most rewarding things in life are not the ones that come easy

ID-100129086The other day, my sons and I were talking about what we would wish for if it would come true instantly. I wished I could sing well. My older son said he wished that whatever he wanted to be good at, he’d be able to do it perfectly right away. You think you’re fooling the genie by wishing for all the wishes you want, but you know it’s going to have to backfire somehow.

 

I said I wished I could sing well because singing is something I’d like to do, but it’s not essential to who I am. Don’t go suggesting I take vocal lessons (I might be pitch deaf for all I know) because I don’t have the drive to practice and put in the hours it would take to improve my singing, even if it were possible. It’s just one of those things that’d be nice, ya know?

 

But writing… that’s super important to me. For most of my life, I told myself that if I could be anything, it would be a writer. There were times I tried to bury that, or work around the edges – proofreading, copy editing, teaching other people to write – because it seemed so precious to me that I was afraid of messing up and losing my only big dream.

 

Why wouldn’t I wish that I could immediately be really good at writing and a big success? Because it would take all the fun out of it. Sometimes writing is really stressful and overwhelming. Sometimes I get discouraged and say, I should give up; this is going nowhere. But some little kernel inside me makes me keep going, no matter what, because when I’m writing and it’s going well, it’s one of the best feelings there is. Experts call it the flow state – where time stops and you are in the moment enjoying yourself. It’s not easy to get into that flow state, but the hours of frustration for those few unexpected moments of flow are SO worth it.

 

I am happy to say that I just finished the manuscript for my second book yesterday. It was more than a year in the making, a few pages at a time. I texted a few people, jumped around, told everyone else I saw for the rest of the day, and then I got back to writing.

 

I don’t want the joy of learning to write taken away. I want to savor each hard-won success as it comes. I want to climb my way up that mountain, scrabbling over every rock, losing my footing a few times, but still holding on tight, until I get to the top. The top is still shrouded in clouds right now. I don’t even know what’s up there yet. Will this be the breakthrough bestseller I’ve been dreaming of all my life? Will it be a movie someday? I sure hope so, but no matter what happens, I’m going to keep writing.

Whatever your secret wish is, I hope it comes true for you, but not instantly. I wish it comes true in the way that makes you say “all the hard work and all the time I hoped and waited was worth it.”

[Image courtesy of Photokanok at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net]

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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Wanna be my (fitness) pal?

IMG_6107I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project and finding it the kind of book that I am irresistibly drawn to writing in the margins. I think if I took amphetamines and lived in New York City, I could be a lot like Gretchen. I’m not saying she’s on drugs, just that she has waaaay more energy than I do.

What really got me was when she openly admitted she is a big fan of Benjamin Franklin’s daily virtues charts. Franklin measured himself daily on thirteen virtues that included sincerity, temperance, and humility. He gave himself a little dot on his chart for each day he felt he succeeded in each of his virtues.

Rubin wisely points out that we often talk about goals when we should be talking about resolutions. A resolution gives you a fresh start every day. A resolution is presumably something you want to continue doing for a long time, if not the rest of your life.

Charting your resolutions is a way of reinforcing them daily in your mind. You can’t push it to the back burner when you are looking at a chart every day and having that urge to be able to put a little check mark of accomplishment.

You’ve probably also seen studies mentioned in the media that say people who chart their food intake are more successful at losing weight and keeping it off than those who don’t. From my personal experience of years (I’m talking twenty-plus years!) of watching my weight, I can attest to the power of logging what you eat to keep it real.

Yesterday I ate a handful (okay, it was a couple servings) of jellybeans that someone at work had left out on the table. I logged in what I ate on MyFitnessPal and was horrified to realize I was over my calorie allotment for the day by about a thousand calories! Aghh! Without that reality check, I’d probably be telling myself that I’m eating just fine, nothing to worry about (even though I felt rather sick and shaky after all that sugar).

I have myfitnesspal (goodmorninggirl) and Fitbit and I’d love to be your pal if you’re looking for a buddy to work on your fitness goals. I’m hoping we can encourage each other. I’d also love to know what else you’re charting (or are Gretchen and I the only nut jobs who do this?).

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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Smart advice from a successful woman

blog isaacscherylbooneLast week, I wrote about the importance of sharing our setbacks and challenges with other women, and this week I’d like to add to that one very successful woman’s advice to high school students.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (best known for the Oscars!) spoke to a student audience where I am a teacher, but I found her words encouraging and inspiring for people of any age.

The film industry is a daunting one to break into, but Boone Isaacs decided her passion for movies made all the hard work worthwhile. She started at entry level, but she gave every job her all, telling students the best way to make headway in a new career is to make yourself indispensable.

A lot of top executives make it sound like they were destined for greatness on one long trajectory of success, but I appreciated Boone Isaacs’ honesty in stating that she flitted from job to job until her mid-twenties because she didn’t know what she wanted to do.

“Every experience matters, the bad ones as well as the good ones,” she said. “The bad makes you appreciate the good and realize what you don’t want.” Nothing you’ve done has been a waste because it is all essential in creating the person you are today.

She also openly stated that she still struggles with maintaining a positive outlook, saying that her first instinct is to tell herself why something won’t work before rewriting her mental script to a more positive message. I find this tremendously reassuring: If someone who has gained this level of career success has her doubts, it makes it seem normal for me too.

She told students that even though she is asked all the time about barriers in her field based on race or gender, the biggest issue is the obstacles we create ourselves.

“People put up their own barriers, such as ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not smart enough,’ but the barriers that you create, just know that you can also take them down,” she said.

My favorite quote in her hour with us was “Why not me?” No matter what you are dreaming of doing, instead of thinking how audacious it is to imagine yourself achieving your most far-off goals, say, “Why not me?”

Photo credit: http://www.oscars.org/about/board-of-governors

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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The paper clutter disaster that was dragging me down

FullSizeRender (4)Everyone who knows me knows I am super-organized. At work, I can pull out any file, piece of paperwork, or email you might need in a minute or less. I’m compulsively on time, and everything goes into my calendar.

But beneath the veneer of the put-together version of myself was the stress caused by a teetering mountain of papers covering half of our dining room table that got scooped up and shoved into my bedroom closet when we needed the whole table. Coming home from work to look at that overwhelming stack of bills, receipts, school papers, and who-knows-what was disheartening. Every night I said I’d deal with it and every night I threw the day’s mail on top of the pile and ignored it for another day.

I made it a goal for this year to once and for all tackle this little nightmare and, yes, this new year’s resolution took more than two months to cautiously say I think I’ve got it licked. I reached the point where having to shuffle through months’ worth of papers to find the form my son needed for school the next day or to remember to pay that bill on time felt worse than the daunting work of fixing it. “Filing” for me meant periodically throwing out papers that were no longer relevant and sorting the rest of them into some semblance of priority.

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I took an entire day from breakfast til dinner to salvage my sanity (and our tabletop). I started by sorting everything into piles (school, tax receipt items, upcoming bills, etc.). Things that needed to be filed but didn’t need ready access got put into my office filing cabinet. I made a few files for papers I expected to be filing regularly in the upcoming months.

I bought a cute fabric box that fit on my new writing bookshelf (because I’m girly and I feel more inspired to put things away in a cute box than a metal filing cabinet). Every day I put in any papers that can’t be recycled, and once a week I have to deal with everything that’s in the box, whether it’s filing to the office filing cabinet, making an appointment, paying a bill, or whatever else might be in there.

IMG_5831I’ve felt such a load lifted from my shoulders in the past few weeks as I come home from work to see a beautifully clear dining room table, ready for family dinner. I feel at peace when I look at my file box, knowing it never has more than a week’s worth of papers in it.

I’d love to hear what you’ve done to lighten your own load. Please comment!

 

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

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Give respect to your passion

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What’s the thing you most wish you could do, but it means so much to you that you put it off or push it to the side? What’s that one thing you want, but you’re afraid it will get ruined forever if you don’t do it right?

For me, it’s always been writing. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White was the first book I remember reading that filled with me with longing… if I only I could write like that. Then I read White’s The Trumpet of the Swan and swooned. In the years that followed, there were many others. I recently finished reading Me Before You by JoJo Moyes and had the same experience.

For many years, writing fiction felt like a fragile bird’s egg I held in my cupped hands. The idea of breaking that egg caused me to avoid my truest passion by majoring in journalism and starting a career in nonfiction because it didn’t seem so precious to me. I loved the creative outlet that news and feature stories brought, but there was a desire in my heart that wouldn’t die, telling me to go ahead and write a novel.

I finally did so a few years ago, and as I work on my second novel now, the same fears dance around in my head. What if this is the one that everyone hates? What if even my friends think eww, but don’t want to say it to me?

I’ve decided to put away those fears once and for all. I don’t need them telling me what not to do anymore. The fear of writing manifested for me in a lack of time and organization to devote to my craft. Sure, I’m a single parent with a teaching career, and I don’t have a lot of time to write, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. What I found is that I was often putting everything else ahead of writing, even things like scrubbing down the refrigerator.

Instead of having an office for my writing, I used the side table in my dining room to throw my writing notes in with a teetering pile of kids’ schoolwork, bills, and other papers that have varying levels of priority. I wasn’t giving respect to my passion.

I may not write in an office, but I recently made my writing more official by devoting a small bookshelf exclusively to my notes and files, my copies of Writers’ Digest, and the binder that organizes my work-in-progress. The boost of knowing there’s a physical space in my house devoted to writing has fired me up to keep at it, day after day. Instead of hiding my writing with the rest of my household detritus, it has its own orderly space.

What can you do to respect your passion? Make a space, even if it’s a little one, so that you can see the evidence of your biggest, fondest dream every day. Don’t hide your passion in the corners of your life.

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s