July 20, 2016

What I learned from writing 30 blog posts in 30 days

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I did it. This is my 30th post in 30 days!

I admit I did a happy dance this morning when I got the notification on my phone. This little experiment has been really enlightening but I'm glad it's over.

The rules for the 30 in 30 series were that I write a post every day, and that I wouldn't recycle or finish anything that I had already written. My intent for my 30 in 30 series was to a) get me in the habit of writing every day without an agenda/outline, and b) get comfortable with posting imperfect work. I've also been really curious about doing a #100daysproject and this was a bit of a trial run.

If you've been following along, you know that some days were better than others. I didn't always proofread very well or as is the case with one post in particular, I just didn't care -- so the work was definitely imperfect. 

I did get in the habit of writing every day. At first it was because I didn't want to lose face since I'd made this big announcement and everything, but as time marched on it became more important for me to fulfill the promise I had made to myself. I really wanted to know that I could set a lofty goal and stick to it.

Here are the four things I learned that I hadn't expected:

1) Even though I didn't plan my posts ahead of time, I found myself thinking about them throughout the day. Sometimes by the time I got home, I was excited to write!

2) I think I might overuse commas. I need grammar & punctuation remedial school.

3) I can write through the inevitable discomfort that occurs when a post isn't going well. I hope to be able to transfer this to my fiction writing time. Sometimes I surprised myself and ended up really liking a post I started out hating. Those posts were worth all of the really crappy ones (at least for me).

4) I learned to let go. There were a couple of nights I didn't want to push publish because I knew it wasn't my best work, but it was late and I needed to sleep or I just didn't have it in me to do one more pass through, so I hit publish. 

That's it! I have no idea when I'll post again, but I'm sure ya'll need a break (I know I do). I'm going to be transferring my blogging time to fiction writing time starting tomorrow. 

If you're interested here's a list of the most popular posts from this month, and one that was my favorite.

3. Book Nerd Spreadsheet

2. Hack your Habits

1. Do you have a morning routine?

Have you ever done a #100daysproject or something similar?

When your brain needs a break

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I'm in the middle of a creative conundrum tonight, working hard on a deadline. Whenever I start to get too stressed out creatively, I want to do two things:

1) Eat
2) Play stupid games

Eating isn't much of an option, since I'm on this new health kick and trying not to eat for comfort, but I did end up havimg some raw cow's milk cheese and gluten free crackers tonight instead of dinner because it just made me feel better. (When I'm cranky I do not want salad--at least not yet).

Tonight in between drafts, I've been binging on Candy Crush (I love the jelly layers), Township (level 53), and Diner Dash (when I was a little girl, I used to want to be a waitress because they were always super nice to me and brought me crayons. LOL).

It's not the best, but sometimes you just gotta step away and let your mind wander a bit.

How do you decompress when you need to keep working but your brain needs a quick break?

July 18, 2016

What I learned after a week of eating clean

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

What you must know about me first is that my diet before last week was pretty bad. I mean, I tried to be healthy in that way people try when they don't really want to change anything but know they have to. I'd give myself a pat on the back for ordering a medium sized Coke instead of a large at the drive-thru. Baby steps are good, but I wasn't really trying and I knew it.

When Cori, the amazing woman and coach behind the clean eating challenge, asked if I wanted to participate in her challenge group, I said yes but I'll be honest and say I wasn't excited about it. My inner rebel child had a field day with the whole thing. I've tried so many diets in the past, the rebel knows exactly what buttons to push. If you give me a rule she will chew it up, spit it out, then step on it as she skips away. This time, she had the brakes on full stop.

It turns out, the way to silence the rebel is to ask her to explain herself. A number of fears popped up as well as a bunch of "I dont's", and that's when I made the connection between the inner struggle I'd uncovered and what the term "leaning in" really means. I needed to be open to changing how I thought about food and being surrounded by a group of other like minded leaners was probably a good idea.

The challenge came with a meal plan, shopping list, recipes, and a private Facebook group of over 30 people ready to cheer each other on. I prepped meals and snacks in advance and Cori encouraged everyone to find some way to measure their "before," so I wrote up a few quick goals.

Monday was a piece of cake. Tuesday I woke up with the mother of all headaches thanks to caffeine and sugar withdrawal because I'd vowed to give up my most favorite beverage - Coca-Cola. I'd gone from drinking the equivalent of 24-48 oz of soda a day to none and my body was in full revolt. I barely kept my eyes open and people at work whispered to me like I had a hangover. Wednesday I was bone tired but alert. On Thursday a flight of stairs felt like climbing Kilimanjaro. Friday was better. Saturday and Sunday almost felt...normal.

I was shocked to discover my body was pretty resilient. I'd expected worse--much worse, but as usual the reality wasn't nearly as bad as what I'd imagined it would be.

So would I do it again? Yep. I exceeded my food goals for the week. I ate not just breakfast from the meal plan, but 90% of the rest of the menu. I was surprised by how obsessed I was with checking the Facebook group page to see how other folks were doing. I was inspired by the recipe tweaks people were posting - and it made me feel like I could mold this new way of eating into something I that worked for me.

I also learned how to listen to my body. I feel great. I'm alert all day, sleeping well, my heartburn is gone, and I'm eating better proportions. I'm hungry about every 2-3 hours, but it's been a while since I knew what hunger felt like, so that's still a win. The other thing I remembered this week was how GOOD food tastes when you are hungry. I mean...GOOD. I practically sang an operetta after eating a slice of toasted Ezekial Bread topped with organic peanut butter and sliced fresh strawberries.

The best part about participating in a group like this is that it gave me a model of what my diet could look like. And it wasn't as daunting as I'd thought once I broke it down into smaller chunks. Having a starting point like a meal plan to base it on made it so much easier to do.

I admit I didn't follow ALL the rules. I didn't make some of the recipes, but I got brave and crafted equivalent ones. I had birthday cake on my mother's 73rd birthday. I ate two "healthier variety" frozen meals for lunch instead of what the meal plan called for, and I drank a total of three non-caffeinated grape sodas. I mention this because I learned this week that I don't have to be perfect, I just have to keep going.

And yeah, I still crave not so healthy food. Today while driving to my chiropractor's office I fantasized about eating a Culvers Double Sourdough Melt with no onions. I reallllly wanted one. I decided to be excited about eating something else instead, then drove home and had homemade spaghetti sauce over yellow squash (it was so good, people).

I can sum up all of my week into this: Lean in, do the work and keep swimming. You are resilient.

If you are interested in joining a clean eating group, check out @FreeHeartFitMom on Instragram.

Have you ever done a food challenge before? Did you like it?

July 17, 2016

Weekly Goals Recap + What's up for the week

So, last week I blogged about some goals I wanted to achieve as part of the Clean Eating Challenge. Today is the last day of the challenge. I plan on posting my thoughts on the challenge tomorrow, but today I'd like to recap my goals, whether or not I meet them, and set new ones for this week because the accountability really helped me stay focused. Join me and link to your post in the comments if you're looking for an accountability buddy!

Last Sunday, I defined three goals. A new goal that I could accomplish with moderate effort, an expansion goal that builds on something I am already doing., and a stretch goal that makes me a bit nervous and will require some effort.

Last Week's Goals

New Goal: Eat a homemade breakfast everyday.  Complete! I did it. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I'm kinda shocked.

Stretch Goal: Gave up Coca-Cola for the week. Complete! Not. One. Sip. I had a helluva headache on Tuesday which I affectionately dubbed "My Coke Hangover." Thursday and Friday my (likely emotional/psychological but possible biological) cravings kicked in. I miss it, and I imagine this will not change for a while. But I faced the beast and one. Score!

Expansion Goal: I'm committing to move my body six days this week. Fail. I didn't to this. In fact, I kind of went backwards on the whole thing, only attending my gentle yoga class this week. I'll talk more about it tomorrow, but I was pretty exhausted most of the week. Also, I seriously need a chiropractic adjustment. I'm going to have to start scheduling them closer together as I challenge my body to do new things. I listened to my body and rested, and I'm okay with that. I've spent 20 years ignoring it, so if it needs a little TLC while I'm making a change, then so be it. I'm feeling pretty good about what I accomplished this week.

This Week's Goals

New Goal: Get out of bed at 7 a.m. everyday.  I'm not defining what I do with my extra time, just that I am OUT OF BED at 7.

I'm really not excited about this. I'm actually dreading it because I am not a morning person. I have three alarms and the first one goes off an HOUR before I have to get up. Going to bed too late is part of the problem because I am naturally a night owl, but also because SoundMan's schedule means he doesn't get home until late sometimes and it's nice to see your spouse once in a while, you know? Seriously though, the morning is where it's at as far as getting things done. You may be wondering why I don't vow to go to bed earlier. I've tried. I figure that if I consistently start waking up at a certain time, eventually my body will win the war and I'll start going to bed at a decent hour. It's worth a shot, anyway.

Expansion Goal: Keep up the healthy eating. I'm still new at this and the temptation to give in to old ways is there, lurking. I can feel it. I've already bought my groceries for the week and have a rough meal plan in place to help with the task.

Stretch Goal: This should be no surprise...I want to move my body 4+ times this week. 

I really wanted to add in a writing goal this week, but I've got this 30 day blog commitment which is taking up a lot of writing time and I figure once I hit 30 posts (on Wednesday) I can transform that blogging time into writing time. Also, in the grand scheme of things, my health has to come first. I want to be around to get published someday, right?

It's kind of relaxing to narrow down the focus to only three things for the week. I used to have lists of ten or more things I wanted to do EVERY DAY and it always felt so overwhelming. Three is a perfectly doable number for the moment.

Tomorrow I will tell you how I feel after a week of clean eating, Tuesday's post is yet to be determined, and Wednesday is my final 30 in 30 blog post where I plan to sum up my findings on the experiment. 

What are your plans for the week? Have a good one!

July 16, 2016

I wonder as I wander

The name of this post is one of my favorite holiday tunes. 

I wanted to post this video yesterday, but I didn't because I feel like everybody watches VlogBrothers videos on YouTube and so it seemed silly but I'm still thinking about this video and the concept of wonder and how much I want more of it in my life.

If you haven't watched John Green's video from Tuesday, here you go.

Wasn't the sunset pretty? It makes me want to go back up to the North Shore. I spent the day outside on the deck writing and enjoying the time with my pups as we frittered the day away in the sun and shade. While out there, I made sure to spend time noticing things I normally take for granted so I could practice doing the work that awe requires.

When was the last time you felt wondrous?

Finding the right headspace

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

Learning to meditate has always been something I wanted to master. The benefits range from better sleep to improved concentration, but also there's evidence that it actually changes your brain. One study indicated that meditators had better preserved brains as they aged. Isn't that cool?

I've tried meditating in the past, but always found it difficult to get the hang of it because my brain never shuts up.  That's why I love the Headspace  app -- it just works!

Headspace is a really simple way to try meditation for the first time (or the 50th like me). It provides animations that help explain concepts before you start your guided session and then asks questions at the end to help you work on your "technique" for next time. Oh! and they also have short meditation sessions designed for kids. How cool is that?

The first 10 intro sessions are free and then the app requires a subscription fee for additional meditations. They have a variety of topics to choose from so you can customize your practice once you start your subscription. You can also set reminders to meditate and it has a feature called "Mindful Moments" which are daily messages you can choose to receive up to five times a day.

The other thing I love about it is the branding and design of the app. The animations are super cute and I just find the whole thing well put together.

I've already used some of the techniques to help manage anxiety spells--and they worked great! I do my sessions in the morning before I get out of bed (I don't even fall asleep) and I've noticed a huge difference in how I approach my day--I'm calmer, less likely to check email on my phone 10 times before I get to work (which always just ends up making me crabby), and I feel in charge of my day rather than the other way around.

Have you ever tried meditation? Did you stick with it?

Edited September 20, 2016

July 14, 2016

Do you journal?

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

Do you keep a daily journal? I'm inconsistent at it at best, but I'm trying to get better.

I've tried a myriad of methods over the past couple of years, but none of them ever stuck:
  • Morning Pages from THE ARTIST'S WAY
  • Lynda Barry's journal technique SYLLABUS: NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL PROFESSOR
  • Straight up journaling (like a diary)
  • I created my own hybrid day planner/journal and used that for a year
Drawn by the hand design and artistic style of the bullet journalists on youtube, I decided to try my hand at it. What I ended up doing is a bit of all the journal techiques I've tried in the past all twisted up into one.

I create a page for the week (shown above) with a place for me to write down the good stuff for the week, any special events, to dos I'd like to accomplish, a list of what I'm reading that week and my goals.

So far this just sounds like regular bullet journaling, but I take my daily journal entries much deeper. I don't really need a daily to do list because I'm using TeuxDeux for home and dapulse for work, but I do like having a record of my day from what I accomplished to the podcasts I listened to and any notes I took, to story ideas and what I ate. If' I'm having a tough day, I might write about it like a traditional journal. Or I'll draw pictures if something really caught my eye.

It's become a freeform journal along the lines of Austin Kleon's method with a little Lynda Barry and Julia Cameron mixed in. I even take a moment to think about how I feel when I wake up and what's on my mind in more of a bullet point kind of way if I find I'm distracted.

It seems to be working for me at the moment. I like how I can turn to it whenever I need to think rather than at specific times during the day. And I like having a record of what I was doing on a specific day and how it correlated to my thoughts.

Do you keep a journal? What method do you like the best?

On Faking It and Finding Your Voice

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016. 

I love this photo. That's me (on the left) trying to be just like my Auntie Shirley while on a family vacation in California.

When we start learning something new don't we all start this way at least for a little while--testing the waters of who we are and who we wish we could be through imitation? There's even a saying for it, "Fake it until you make it."

Maybe it isn't such bad advice, but I've spent years trying to fake my way into being a writer by going through the motions and not really getting anywhere. When it was time for the rubber to meet the road, I must have been off on the shoulder looking at pretty rocks.

But it's never too late. Never. 

Consider this quote from author Richard Russo, spoken during his appearance on the 10-Minute Writer's Workshop Podcast:
"Sooner or later, every writer had to ask himself/herself who and what do you love? And, until you answer this question no amount of knowledge is going to get you where you want to be as a writer. It's only when you know who and what you love when your vision really takes shape and your voice becomes generally your own and not just an imitation of somebody else's."

We start out imitating because we aren't sure who we really are yet, but eventually all of these facades fall away--or they should--in favor of something real. Based on the books of Austin Kleon, the process of developing authenticity (and originality) in your work is born out of taking that which resonates with us -- that which we love -- and combining it with other things we love to make something new.

Ask why you love that novel or painting or performance, or more importantly, ask why you didn't. That's how you become MORE THAN. You can take a class to study other people's voices, but no one can give you a shortcut to finding yours.

I love...love. And writing about teens. And kissing. And for a long time I resisted this because I wanted to write deep important things that mattered. But life is short and I'm tired of picking rocks by the side of the road and pretending to be a different kind of writer.

Writers write. Artists make art.  Performers perform. Live. Practice. Repeat.

Edited: July 31, 2016

July 12, 2016

A gif review of the last couple days

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

Three days ago, this was me, merrily drinking my favorite caffeinated beverage cola
and proclaiming I would give it up starting Monday.

Monday morning....

I stuck to my promise all day even though I didn't want to.

And at the end of the day...victory.

I felt good. I went to bed.

Me when I got up this morning.

Me at work today...

Me whenever someone asked me how I felt...

Me during a brief attempt at exercise...

Me trying to get in my daily writing....

But tomorrow is another day...


Caffeine and sugar addiction is no joke, ya'll. So happy to be able to snuggle in with my pups and go to sleep.

July 11, 2016

Cracking Through Creative Resistance

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

One of the tricks I learned in a creativity coaching class taught by Eric Maisel has led to a profound realization for me--I hate messes. Here's the premise of the exercise: When I sit down to write, I first crack an egg into a bowl, dropping the shell in with it, and then get to work. The egg resembles the resistance to write, helping the writer break through a mental barrier with a physical one. Then, when the urge to leave the work space either physically or mentally pops up, to pick up a spoon and sir the egg/shell mixture.

So I sat down to write with a bowl, spoon, and an egg.

I can't do that one handed thing where I splay the egg shell open with my hand once it's broken, so I had to stick my fingers into the fissure and pull the shell apart. It was the feeling of prying the shell open that reminded me of what my resistance felt like--pulling the story out one drip at a time.

Per the exercise, I dropped the shell into the bowl, wiped my fingers, and began to write. To my surprise, it worked. I wrote, the words were halting at first, but then picked up speed.

Ten minutes after starting, I'd started thinking about emails I needed to return and whether or not I'd taken the chicken out for dinner. Instead of getting up, I looked down into the bowl and picked up the spoon. The squicky sight of the egg and shell all mixed up freaked me out a little.

Angry at first and feeling stupid, I jabbed at the shell wanting to break it into smaller, less noticeable pieces. I broke the yolk in the process, so I whisked the yolk and the white together in swirls of color and smiled a little as little bits of egg shell swirled around a sunny vortex. It didn't take long for me to figure out the method to the madness.

What if I needed to learn to get comfortable stirring my own creative mess? Could I ever get used to gently (or not) tossing it about, breaking it down in order to create something else? When it comes right down to it, the process of creating anything is being comfortable with uncertainty, to be willing to stay for as long as it takes to make something whole, even when it appears that none of the pieces fit together.

So I guess it worked. I'm moving forward, slowly.  And I need to buy more eggs. How do you get moving after being stuck?

July 10, 2016

Clean Eating Challenge Goals

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I'm starting a seven day clean eating challenge tomorrow. I'm having a fair amount of anxiety about this tonight, even after I've spent an hour prepping my snacks and making breakfast for a couple of days.

I've been slowly making progress towards taking better care of myself physically and mentally over the past few months along with gently working on my creativity issues. 2016 is turning out to be a year of big changes for me!

Our coach for the challenge has asked us to find a way to benchmark the beginning of our week and so I've decided to blog about it so I have something concrete to look back on and see my progress.

I decided to define a new goal that I can accomplish with moderate effort, a stretch goal that makes me a bit nervous and will require some effort, and an expansion goal that builds on something I am already doing.

New Goal -- Eat a homemade breakfast everyday. On work days, I typically run to McDonalds and have a Sausage McMuffin with Egg, two hashbrowns and a large Coke because, um, it's a really bad habit. And it's embarrassing to admit I do this. When it comes right down to it, I like hot food for breakfast and I'm kind of bribing myself with food to go to work because I hate starting things. Once I'm there and working, I'm totally fine. So. I am now bringing my own HOT breakfast to work. I might even take a different way to work so I don't have to drive by the McD's for a couple days. :) .

Stretch Goal -- I AM GIVING UP COCA-COLA FOR THE ENTIRE WEEK. It's possible my coach read this and fell off her chair. This is huge, you guys. Huge. I depend on my Coke to get me through the day. It's a crutch I've relied on too long and the reality is that it is very bad for me and it is a gateway beverage to other very bad things. So, no more Coke. I can do this. Right? Yes. I can.

Expansion Goal - I'm committing to move my body six days this week. This can be walking the dogs, doing yoga or the PiYo video I have. I've been consistently moving about 3-4 days a week, so I'm feeling confident in my ability to add a couple extra days.

Okay. That's it for what I plan to accomplish this week. Oh, and if you are interested in challenges like this one, clean eating tips and more, check out @freeheartfitmom on Instagram.

Do you make a list of goals at the beginning of each week? How do you keep yourself on track?

Favorite Screen Kisses

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I watched the Outlander finale tonight. No spoilers, I promise. 

I'm just going to say there was KISSING, which, since we are talking about Outlander here shouldn't be a surprise. My heart beat very rapidly for a while and it was glorious. I started thinking about how it ranked in my top five screen kisses -- which surprised me because I didn't know I had a top five screen kisses. And then I got to thinking about what makes a good kiss and what the other 4 kisses I seem to love so much were.

So of course I had to blog about it.

5.  MAD ABOUT YOU - This TV series is something SoundMan and I rewatch once every couple of years. Paul and Jamie's relationship felt so real and imperfectly perfect. (SPOILER ALERT) Their last kiss on the show was a bookend to their very first kiss, which was just so perfect for who they were as a couple. I couldn't find a clip of that last kiss (probably because while I loved the ending to the series, many other people did not), so I posted this one from their wedding instead. The resolution is absolutely horrible. Sorry.

4. OUTLANDER Season 2 Finale. No video to post because SPOILERS.

3. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES - Anne + Gilbert 4ever! I don't even think I need to explain why I love these two.

2. THE PRINCESS BRIDE - "Since the invention of the kiss, there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure--this one left them all behind." Okay, so this isn't the best kiss ever in the world in my book, but I do love the whole darn movie so much, this kiss gets the #2 spot.

 1. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY - I think this is my #1 because I love Harry's speech so much. I'm a super sucker for leading men who profess their undying love. I could write a blog post on how great and funny and wonderful this movie is.

Honorable mentions go to:
Friends - Just...all of them
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II (Ron and Hermione)
Notting Hill
Bridget Jones' Diary
Lady and the Tramp (dogs are cute!)

 I have a feeling my favorite kisses in fiction is going to be a bit tougher to nail down.  What are your most favorite kissing scenes on the big (or little) screen?

July 9, 2016

Five steps to beating a bad habit

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

Brain science is something I really geek out about. I read somewhere that it takes 66 days to learn a new habit for most people--but for some it can take up to 254 days!* If you don't already know, our brain creates neural pathways (like shortcuts) for tasks we do repeatedly. Part of the process of creating a new habit is actually the time our brain needs to create a new neural pathway.

I'm in the process of kicking a few of my worst habits out the door. I haven't conquered my habits yet, but I thought I'd share a few of the things that have helped me along the way. Your mileage may vary.

1) Know your type. Are you a white knuckler? Do you need accountability? Gretchen Rubin did this really interesting talk where she identified four tendencies people have when developing a new habit. She defined the strengths and weaknesses of each type to learn how to "hack" themselves. You can check out my post about it here. And, there's a quiz (I love quizzes). Know thyself!

2) Take baby steps. Know what your big goal is, but also break that down into really manageable steps. Sometimes I get embarrassed at how "baby" my steps have to be. I'm out of shape. When I started walking, I could only handle 5-10 minutes at one time. I didn't want to admit it to myself much less to anyone else. Everyone has to start somewhere and what matters is that you DO SOMETHING with intention. I've been gradually increasing my time by 1 minute every couple of days and now I'm up to walking 18-20 minutes. My goal by the end of the summer is to be able to walk 2 miles or roughly 30 minutes.

3) Celebrate your success daily. It sounds super cheesy, but keep a gratitude journal or something along those lines. Use it. If you stuck to your daily goal--no matter how small--allow yourself to feel good about it.

4) Keep the promises you make to yourself. I'm a perfectionist, so if my goals are too big and I can't meet them, I get really discouraged and beat myself up for it, which makes it harder to keep my promise the next day. This is why setting really manageable tasks is important. Think of a person you love and the promises you have made to them - now treat yourself the same way. Part of learning a new habit is making this promise, believing you can keep it, and then doing everything in your power to do so.

5) Give yourself permission to fail but not to quit. I'm borrowing this from my sister-in-law who is a beach body coach and a clean eating advocate. I hate failing, to the point that up until recently, I didn't do stuff if I thought I would fail. But failing is a part of every learning process. I fail. I learn. I move on. Be kind to yourself, but don't let failure be an excuse to give up. Just keep swimming.

Writing this post is my way of keeping myself accountable.
What bad habits are you trying to break? Got any good advice? Share your success!

* I honestly don't know where I read this, but this page has the same data.

July 6, 2016

Are you a vacation Pantser or Plotter?

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

So, I have long believed that there were two kinds of vacations: ones for relaxation and ones for doing. It's the difference between unwinding on a beach and reading a book to walking until your feet hurt at The Magic Kingdom. The short trip we've been on the last two days is very much a "doing" vacation.

Normally "doing" vacations leave me a little wasted. I almost need a vacation from my vacation or at least an extra day at home to unwind. Tonight I feel different. I'm tired, but refreshed. I am fulfilled in a way I didn't expect. What was the secret sauce for this vacation?

It was shorter for one, just two days, but I think something else happened--I had no expectations. We really had only vague plans that were flexible. I wasn't thinking about my next Fast Pass time for Space Mountain or how I had to be ready for dinner at 8:30. A couple of times while looking at the lake I was very aware of how in awe of it I was. How beautiful it looked and how lucky I felt to be standing there on such a gorgeous day. I was also reminded of how much I love traveling with SoundMan. Like, seriously, folks he's amazing and I had so much fun. Time went by both very fast and very slowly.

In the past, I've always felt this drive to know what's next and told myself that being prepared would allow me to relax a little. Now I'm not so sure. Because we decided to "pants it" I ended up being present in a way I normally am not. It turns out, when it comes to vacations, I might really be a vacation Pantster who's been masquerading as a Plotter all along. It. Was. Glorious.

This makes me wonder about my self-declared Plotter status when I write. Perhaps I should try winging it once in a while. I might surprise myself.

Today we toured the Glensheen Mansion. The home is beautiful inside and out, but honestly, when we walked out into the gardens I breathed a sigh of relief. The house had felt stifling to me. Too many people, too much detail to take in, and while the woodwork was beautiful it just felt dark everywhere. The gardens and the view of the lake, though, were awesome. I forgot to take pictures I was so happy. The pictures below are from SoundMan, who had the presence of mind to snap a few photos.

We also stopped at Canal Park on our way home (something I have done almost every time I visited Duluth since I was a child) and got to see a ship carrying ore that was headed to Sault Ste. Marie leave the harbor. I'm always so amazed how much these ships look like giant bricks. How on earth do they even float? It's a miracle. Okay, it's science. It's a miracle of science.

Are you a vacation Pantster or Plotter? What's your secret to an amazing vacation?

July 5, 2016

Duluth, MN Mini-Vacation Pics

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

SoundMan and I are taking a mini-vacation in the "Air-Conditioned City" of Duluth. Located in northern Minnesota on Lake Superior, it is one of my most favorite places in the whole wide world. I loved it so much, I went to college here about a thousand years ago.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous today. Air temp in the sun was around 80 when we arrived, in Duluth, but as we moved farther North to take visit a few state parks, the cool breeze off the lake (which is about 39 degrees this time of year) kicked in and the air temp got a bit more comfortable.

When the sun is hot and the lake is cool, Lake Superior gets misty. There is a set of 174 steps that head down from where I took this picture to the shore. I was too nervous to try and make it back up the steps this year because I'm not very physically fit right now, but the next time we come here, I will be able to do it!

We hung out at Split Rock Lighthouse


There's this really cool typewriter in the lighthouse keeper's cottage. 

Hiked at Gooseberry Falls State Park

We've had so much fun! We've never taken a little mini vacation like this and after this one, I don't know why we haven't ever done this before.

Are you taking any trips this summer?

July 4, 2016

Happy Independence Day

I spent the day in one of my happy places hanging out with family and basically unplugging.

To celebrate, here's an a Capella version of Lee Greenwood's God Bless The USA by Home Free, the season 4 winners of NBC's Sing Off who also happen to be from Minnesota.

Happy Independence Day!

July 3, 2016

Nine Writing Podcasts I Love

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I love podcasts. I mostly listen to them at work, where I can typically get through 3-6 hours of content depending on how many meetings I have or emails I need to write. When I'm in design mode, the podcast keeps the logical part of my brain busy while I move things around on the page. It's a trick I got into the habit of doing as a kid when I wanted to practice drawing. Now I recognize it for what it really is--a way to silence the inner critic. Oh, how I wish I could do the same thing while writing!

I thought I'd list out the writing podcasts I enjoy with links. While I've tried many other podcasts on writing, the podcasts on this list are the ones I find myself waiting for a new episode.

10 Minute Writer's Workshop
Sponsored by New Hampshire Public Radio, the interviews in this podcast tend to be a bit less conversational than I prefer but with only 10 minutes I understand why. I love this podcast because it reminds me that everyone's process is different and I love hearing about other people's writing/creative process.

Two screenwriters, Craig Mazin (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) and John August (Big Fish), discuss screenwriting, film and television industry topics, answer listener questions, and have a three page challenge for listeners to submit their own work for critique on the podcast.

First Draft with Sarah Enni
This podcast features interviews with YA writers from a writer's perspective, giving a complete view of the writer’s career. The interviews are conversational in tone and done live. This podcast is a great way to see what the road to publication has looked like for other writers.

A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment
Hosted by authors Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter, the hosts read work they are noodling with, interview authors and performers, answer listener questions, and they also post a fair amount of live episodes with an audience. They haven't posted a new episode in a while, though. So now is a great time to catch up on previous episodes.

The Oral History Podcast
The tagline of this podcast is "Sex & Books: Two things that are always better when you talk about them." So, you can guess what YA Authors Christa Desir and Carrie Mesrobian talk about. The two discuss topics like cheating, femininity, and sex with and without romance within the YA category. The show notes also list the books discussed on the podcast.

Narrative Breakdown
This discussion style podcast is about a wide range of writing craft topics from non-fiction to playwriting. They often analyze and talk about popular movies, novels, plays, etc. I think it's a pretty well-rounded because the hosts discuss the craft of writing in a general way that includes all writers versus just one specific category.

This Creative Life
This is the first podcast I ever subscribed to. Host and YA author, Sara Zarr interviews other authors in a conversational format. The interviews are short, usually around 30 minutes, and besides being hosted by an awesome writer herself, I love this podcast because Sara's focus on the creative process and what it means to live a creative life is a special interest of mine.

The Worried Writer
Author Sarah Painter discusses overcoming fear and procrastination and interviews authors on their writing routine.

Shipping & Handling
Two literary agents talk about publishing, books, & writing. This is the newest podcast in my list, so I've only listened to one episode, but I enjoyed it and learned something.

I always keep a notebook handy to write down favorite quotes, writing tips and such. Do you listen to any of these? Do you have other favorites I should check out?

Edited September 20, 2016

The Wildcard: a free writing exercise

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I keep a jar of words - kind of like one of those magnetic poem sets for the fridge - that I can pull three words out of and use them as a quick start writing prompt. I made big lists of things I love, hate, fear, etc and placed them all on their own little square.

Here's the piece I came up with today. The words were: Photography, Class, Wildcard. I write for fifteen minutes without stopping. What follows is unedited.

The Wildcard

Mr. Habnity handed out the photography assignment with a gleeful grin on his face. Judging by the sighs, snorts, and the occasional groans from the rest of the class it was a doozy.

He slid the paper onto my desk as he walked by and I got a whiff of processing chemical. The school only had one small darkroom now, since most of the classwork was done on digital cameras, but Habnity was old school, right down to the bowtie, plaid socks and velvet green jacket.

Someone said they saw him in the mall parking lot once and that he was wearing a leather bike jacket and carrying a helmet, but it’s generally assumed that the story is a lie since no one knows exactly who stared the rumor.

Habnity slid to the front of the classroom and did a little hop that reminded me vaguely of a cartoon leprechaun on a cereal box. The too wide grin didn’t help. I glanced down at the assignment sheet.
“Assignment 7: What makes life worth living?” was written in big bold letters across the top of the page.

Habbie was fond of abstract assignments. It was too easy to tell us to photograph a rose. Instead, the assignment would be something like, “Define beauty in conventional and unconventional terms.” I skimmed the assignment details-most of which looked normal-until my eye caught something in the lower right corner of the page. F3 was hand written in what looked like green sharpie. Weird.
Habnity cleared his throat.

“This assignment will be completed with a partner, but since your work has gotten a little predictable, I’m not interested in the same old pairings. I went to the liberty of assigning you a partner.”

A rumble of discontent shuttered through the class but Habnity spoke over the noise.

“Find the corresponding photography term to the one written on your paper and you have found your partner. And remember that this is supposed to be fun!” Habbie sat on top of his desk and clasped his hands. The class stared at him until he clapped. “Time is wasting people.”

Chairs slid away from tables. Chris Rogers yelled resolution and Janaya Welsh swung around in her chair and waved her paper at him and yelled Megapixels back. The rest of the class started comparing papers in a less obnoxious fashion. I looked down at the green F3 scrawled in the corner. Aperture maybe?

I stood up, slowly, and stretched while watching everyone pair off. Habnity had really outdone himself this time. Perfect and polite Jenna Holmes was paired with Benji Taft, the living embodiment of Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon. He didn’t carry a blanket, but he did bring his backpack wherever he went and inexplicably smelled like melted Velveeta cheese. Paul Woo, who’d lost more brain cells to his weed habit than he’d ever had lucid thoughts, was paired up with Jack Dahl, king of debate and class president.

As I analyzed the pairs, I started worrying about who Habbie had paired me with. I’d half hoped he would do my love life a favor and I’d get to work with Lee Bailey, first trumpet in symphonic band, and the reason I’d taken photography in the first place.

But Lee hadn’t done anything but nod his head in my general direction a couple of times and I hadn’t had the courage to try to talk to him yet. I’d planned to ask him to be my partner, but I swear my tongue started to swell whenever I got within 10 feet of him and all I could do was mumble.

Lee was one of the top five students in our class. I wasn’t exactly honor roll material, but I did okay. I had friends. We weren’t picked on or anything. As I looked around the room to see who Lee’d been paired with, I started getting uncomfortable thinking about how the choices Habnity had made said something about who he thought we were. I resented him for it. He can’t do this to me. To us. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t…a head shrouded in a black hoodie stepped in front of me. Quiet but clear blue eyes darted up to mine and then away as the boy licked his lips and held up his paper.

“Aperture,” he said. His voice dripped with honey, his southern accent thick. A corner of his mouth tipped up in a half smile even though he wasn't looking at me. "Abbey, right?"

It was John-Freaking-Strom.

I’d drawn a wild card. From across the room Habbie winked at me before hiking up a pant leg and sitting down behind his desk.

I'll be visiting these two again soon, i imagine. Anyway, how do you jump start your writing?

July 2, 2016

Don Music: Tortured Artist or Resilient Creator?

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

Writing had never felt hard to me before three years ago. Up until then it had been a happy, exciting process full of light. I was always amazed when someone liked something I'd written. I didn't know it then but in my head I believed real writers struggled for the right words. I saw their work as deep and meaningful where mine lacked the substance I'd imagined for them because I couldn't write a book without kissing.

It didn't take long for me to manufacture my own reality. Writing became a chore. I agonized over every word, every blank page, every missed deadline. Don Music and I became drinking buddies. I have the dent in my forehead to prove it.

I smiled at my critique partners and nodded at their encouraging words but privately I hung my head in shame over my creative paralysis. I left the writing group, fearing they had tired of my excuses. I didn't want to become a burden. I quit writing. And then I tried again. And then I quit again. I read books on it. Sometimes I got real with myself, sometimes I let the drill sergeant out of his cage, and sometimes I tried imposing ridiculous deadlines. Lasting change was elusive. I was broken. It wasn't writer's block, it was a writer's unmaking.

Looking back, there were friends and family who had tried to help. They supported me, encouraged me, and some even pushed me a bit because I needed a good old fashioned shove, but I wasn't ready to accept what they were offering. I didn't think I deserved it.

I never felt like I had earned the title of writer because the effort I put into my work had felt so effortless. It was fun, and work isn't supposed to be fun.

As a last ditch effort to save my creativity and thereby my soul (as you can see I am still a bit mellow dramatic about the whole thing) I enrolled in the first of two Creativity Coaching classes taught by Eric Maisel. I took it out of desperation because I was broke, couldn't afford my own coach, and couldn't fathom asking my friends to help when I'd already made it so clear to them I didn't need it. I was tired of holding myself together with scotch tape and paperclips.
Rumi said, "The wound is the place where the light enters you."

Through coaching class, I've ripped open a lot of old wounds. The effect this has had on my life is comparable to dropping a a bagful of Mentos in a bottle of Coke. I won't tell you it's easy because it's not. And I'm not writing 2k a day. Yet. But I am moving forward--baby steps at a time--not just with my writing but in other areas of my life, too. My physical health, my mental health and my relationships are all getting a boost from this work and I'm starting to feel alive again.

I'm building up the kind of resilience and perseverance I need to build a lasting creative practice that works for me. When I started the classes, I told myself I never wanted to be a creativity coach because I didn't think I could do it. After 5 months of work, if I ever get the chance to help someone out of their own creative dark place, I'll do it. I'm starting to build the kind of self-reliance I think is necessary to be of service. I know what it's like in there and the dark is always less scary with a friend.

It hasn't escaped me that Don Music's desperate head pounding could be a small piece of my deep seated beliefs about how easy or hard creating something should be. For years, I'd pictured Don when I thought of how creating made me feel and never realized the significance. What my five year old brain never noticed was that Don had friends. They helped him discover the missing letters in his alphabet song. They teased a version of Mary Had A Little Lamb out of him that only Don could have written. It's always a little tongue-in-cheek but Don was resilient and he finished his songs. Eventually.

Sometimes we need help. And that's okay. If you're stuck in your work--tell someone. Let the light in.

Have you ever heard of a creativity coach? Have you ever used one? Do you have a favorite Rumi quote? Who is your favorite Sesame Street character?

July 1, 2016

Hack your habits: 4 personality types and how they form habits

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

Hey Guys! It's super late, like 3:45 a.m. and I just finished up a work project but before I go to bed, I wanted to make my post for Thursday! Eek.

I watched this video today about the four ways to successfully adopt new habits by Gretchen Rubin. She looked at the ways that people respond to the idea of a rule (which is really what a habit is, isn't it?) and grouped responses into 4 categories. Rules can be defined as either inner rules (new year's resolutions) or outer rules (work deadlines).

The Upholder - Responds to outer rules and inner rules. Upholders want to know the rules and what's expected. They avoid making mistakes or letting people down (including themselves). The people in this category are motivated by fulfillment (checking the box or a feeling of achievement), they wake up and look at their to do list. Upholders are great self-starters, but they can also be rigid and constrained by rules--to the point of paranoia. They can also be overwhelmed in situations when there are no rules.

The Questioner - Questions all rules, but will follow rules if they make sense. Questioners can have tendencies toward Upholding and Rebeling. They are motivated by sound reasons and must decide for themselves what makes the most sense. Rules must not be arbitrary. They thrive on information. A questioner thinks about what needs to get done today, they like to ask "why." Questioners can be paralyzed by lack of trustworthy information or if they can see both sides of the organization.

The Obliger - Responds to outer rules but struggle with inner rules. This category is motivated by external accountability. They have trouble fulfilling obligations they set for themselves. They don't like to let other people down. They wake up and think about what is expected of them that day. Obligers are very aware of their lack of commitment to their internal rules.

The Rebel - Resists all rules! Rebels resist all types of control (including self-control). They are motivated by present desire. It doesn't matter if you ask or tell them what to do, they choose to do the opposite. They act from a sense of freedom--they wake up and think about what they want to do.

Our task is to know thyself so we can understand how to set up situations in which we can be successful in any new habit we try to develop. Still don't know which type you are? Good news!- There's a quiz.

You can read more about Gretchen's four tendencies here. She also discusses the four tendencies in her book, BETTER THAN BEFORE.


Edited on 7/8/16: I couldn't stand it! I had such wonderful plans for this post that got hijacked, so I added in the content I had planned after the fact and fixed the typos, etc. I hope you find it useful.

June 29, 2016

Taming the TeuxDeux List

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I've been keeping a bullet journal/journal journal for a couple months now but I've gotten super tired of moving tasks from one day to the next. I've struggled to find a fun and engaging way to track habits.

At work we use a task tracking app called dapulse which I LOVE. Seriously, if you need a task app for your team to be able to use that isn't as technical as project management software can be, allows you to communicate with each other and pass tasks back and forth - dapulse is awesome. I'd be happy to tell you about my experience and how we use it. It's also addicting to use, which is part of why it's the only thing we've tried that's stuck. Sadly, it's not available for individual use and I can't afford to pay $25 a month for just myself, so I've been on the hunt for something more affordable for personal use.*

After trying multiple apps I started using TeuxDeux. Designed by graphic designer Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka the SwissMiss), Teux Deux is essentially a design-y list app that allows you to also add recurring tasks and links. There's a daily task list as well as a place to make lists for other things so it essentially functions as a brain dump for errands I need to run, groceries I need to pick up, Target lists, gift lists, etc. My favorite function so far is that if I don't check an item off on a particular day, it automatically gets moved to the next day. Presto!

My favorite part is when I check off a task, a magical cat flies across the screen in celebration. It's adorable and I am easily amused. The app is affordable ($3 on a month-to-month basis or $24 for the year if you are a believer) and offers a free month to try it out.  The website functions as a desktop version but they also have an iphone app. This is starting to sound like an ad or something, but really I love using it.

I'm still recording what I get done in my journal (bullet journal whatever) on a daily basis because I like having a record of what I've done that's tied into thoughts I had, notes I took on podcasts, etc. all in one place because I am fascinated by my daily influences and how they affect my progress (or don't).

How do you keep track of all the stuff in your life? Any apps to recommend?

*Update July 31, 2016: dapulse has an amazing feedback loop for their users to provide info and feature ideas. I also spoke with them about the cost for dapulsers who want to use it on their own. I was offered a generous discount which was awesome. I will admit that neither Teux Deux and dapulse ended up working for me in the long run. I'm back to working off of a modified bullet journal.

June 28, 2016

My Book Nerd Spreadsheet

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I know writers are often nerdy in ways that non-writing readers aren't. I haven't been able to find a way to successfully keep track of my reading that would also allow me to search my notes when I want to find a book.

So, I built an Access database for my books. I love it like I love The Princess Bride. Maybe more. Tonight I'm spending a portion of the evening entering details on the books I've read recently, and eventually I might start adding books I've read in the past as well.

Here's a quick screen shot of my data entry form.

I chose Access because I wanted to be able to write a summary/review of each book to remember my thoughts and Excel was just too clunky for me. AND, this way I can create reports, search it for keywords, sort by any parameter I want, and even add tables to expand on the data if I want.

You can see the types of fields I'm keeping track of and I fill in whatever I can. Bonus, when I'm ready to query, I have a separate list of agents correlated to books they represented etc. There are two fields not represented here: a one sentence summary (or pitch) of the book so I can practice writing those darn things, and my review/notes section.

See? I told you I was a nerd. :p

Do you keep track of what you read? How do you do it?

Edited: July 31, 2016

June 27, 2016

Do you have a morning routine?

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016. 

I took a drive this morning along my favorite road. Yes. I have a favorite road. It's lined with farms and stables, it's twisty, hilly, full of trees and wide open fields. There's something about a simple white fence lined with trees that I just love. I wanted to park myself under one of these trees and watch the clouds float by. It was a perfect way to end my morning errands.

I'm working on finding a new morning routine. I know a lot of famous and successful folks swear by their a.m. routine. My problem is I'm not a morning person. Never have been.

As I typed those words, I wonder if all these labels I apply to myself do more harm than good. Am I really a morning person or just someone who has developed habits that equate to not being very alert in the morning? Change is hard, but I got up this morning and worked out intentionally for the first time in a VERY long time. Once I pressed play on the DVD player the rest wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated. And the endorphin rush afterward felt AMAZING. I wasn't sleepy this afternoon, either.

My normal routine is to get up, take care of my dogs, stumble into the shower, throw on some clothes, grab McDonalds on the way to work and hope no one at the office talks to me for an hour -- at least. But at the end of the day, I have trouble finding time for the things that are important to me and handling the family stuff that needs to get done. It's time for a change.

When it comes to morning routines, I have a long list of things I want to add to my routine, but honestly, once I wrote down this list, I can see why I've had a difficulty breaking my resistance to trying it. There's, like, 3 hours of work on this list. I'd have to get up and 5 a.m! It's too much to start all at once.

1) meditation
2) intentional exercise (strength training, etc)
3) walk the dogs
4) write
5) morning pages

This week I'm sticking to physical activity. Either walking the dogs or intentional exercise (strength training, yoga, etc). I will build on my activities from there. There is something I have to add to my evening routine to make all this possible: go to bed earlier. I'll report back on my progress next week.

Also, I've been blogging for 7 days! only 23 to go. LOL.

I'd love to hear about your morning routine. Any pointers?

Edited: July 31, 2016

June 26, 2016

Adults suck and then you are one

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I turned 43 today.

In my wildest dreams I never envisioned myself actually BEING 43. Nor would I have imagined that just yesterday I uttered the words, "Kids these days." I mean honestly. I never wanted to be that kind of adult.

Of course, I went romping through my parents old photo albums and pulled out a couple of gems because I am nostalgic like that.

Oh, how I loved Mickey Mouse.

This cake, however, is by far the one I remember the most. Every summer, my mother, my aunt and my cousin and I took a car trip up to the UP to visit my grandmother so Mom and her sister could perform the annual spring cleaning of my grandmother's home. Spring cleaning back then was very serious business in my family that involved washing walls and waxing floors. We usually spent at least a week there playing with cousins in the yard while the rest of the women in my family worked for days making the house spotless. This particular year, my mom asked another family member to make me a birthday cake, and she made me this glorious Holly Hobby cake. I LOVED IT. It was my most favorite thing ever to have such a fancy cake. And I was wearing a sundress, which pretty much made this day the best day ever.

What is your best birthday memory?
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