goals · writing

April 2019: Monthly Writing Goals

It’s spring! The weather is beautiful. and it’s almost summertime. And the summer is when I’m going to get A LOT OF WRITING DONE NO MATTER WHAT.

My goals for this month are pretty basic. I’ve abandoned the hope of getting substantial novel writing done at this time. J.J. is sleeping way better, but until he’s sleeping through the night, early morning or late evening writing is nearly impossible because I’m exhausted. I do still have my afternoon nap writing time on the weekend days, but that’s not always a given (need to have both boys asleep at the same time!) and I often use those chunks of time for blogging. So for now, I’m just aiming to get myself in gear so that when summer arrives (or when the sleep situation improves), I am READY to get some good writing done.

Here are my goals for April 2019:

  1. Maintain my blogging, posting every Tuesday and Saturday.
  2. Continue reading Story Genius. (I’m giving up on finishing it! This is a “write as you go” kind of book.)
  3. Get all of your novel writing transferred into Novlr. (More on that at some point!)
  4. Continue a modified digital minimalist diet.
  5. THINK about the novel as much as you can! Use your commute, and use voice memos. Plan things out and try to write at least 2,000 words this month.

So far, my monthly writing goals have been a great new ritual. Here’s hoping April brings more of the same!

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all the things

All The Things (March 2019)

I’m enjoying writing these monthly summary posts. It feels like a good opportunity to reflect on the month and see how things have been going personally, professionally, and creatively.

Here are the things for this month:

Things I’m Reading: Not much, sadly! I did finish reading Daisy Jones and The Six. I’ve been listening to an audiobook version of Drop The Rock, which is an AA book, and I’ve been enjoying that a lot. There are also 8 other books on the “Currently Reading” shelf of my Goodreads: Between The World And Me, How To Be Less Stupid About Race, Story Genius, I’m Chocolate You’re Vanilla, Freefall, The Dreamers, Come Rain Or Come Shine, and Unsheltered. I don’t love operating like this – reading a whole bunch of books at once – so I’ll probably zero in on one or two soon.

Things I’m Watching: I have been super into old seasons of The Good Wife recently. SO GOOD.

Things About Writing: I got a trial version of Scrivener, and I’ve been trying that out. I’m not sure so far – I find it a little overwhelming – but I’m excited to keep at it and see if it helps with my creative organization. Plus, the blogging is continuing to go well – 2 posts a week for all of 2019!  🙂

I’ll write a lot more about March 2019 when I reflect on my digital minimalist diet in another post.  Stay tuned!

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parenting

Get Your Coffee First

Toddlers.

They’re adorable and lovable. They’re also irrational, illogical, and exhausting.

Our older son, Edgar, is two years old, and I truly love this age. He is cuddly and sweet. He loves to learn and to be independent. But MAN – when he gets thrown off by something, whether it’s hunger, needing to poop, or the fact that his favorite bulldozer shirt is in the laundry, it takes an enormous amount of patience to help him through it.

The tone for our day is set during the first moments of the morning, and on weekdays, our day starts early. Edgar has to wake up by 6 a.m. at the latest if we’re going to get him to school and get me to work on time. Usually, I am downstairs, getting dressed and gathering my things for work, and I hear Edgar start to toss and turn on the baby monitor. Sometimes he’s still sound asleep at 6 a.m. and I have to wake him up. No matter what the situation is, I can expect some resistance on his part. It might be just some mild wrestling with his pajama shirt because he doesn’t want to take it off, or (worst case scenario) every single step of the getting ready process is a struggle – Edgar struggling against every task that needs to get done, and me struggling to keep myself calm and composed. 

I have found a trick for helping our mornings to go smoothly, and I think it’s a metaphor for one of my overall parenting strategies. It also has almost nothing to do with actual parenting.

The trick is: Get your coffee first.

Brewing the coffee is one of our morning tasks, and either Tamara or I usually get it going soon after we wake up. But, even if Edgar has been rolling around and calling out “Time to wake up?” to me for a little while, I make sure that I have a steaming hot cup of coffee, turned brown paper bag color with half-and-half, in my hand when I climb the stairs to get Edgar’s morning going.

I found out by accident that this was something I needed. I noticed that my voice was calmer and I felt less rushed to get him moving if I had already just done this tiny thing for myself. I think that sometimes, as a mom with young kids, there are times when we can only realistically engage in tiny moments of self-care.

That’s why there are days when I hear Edgar starting to fuss and roll and wake up, and I ignore the mommy instinct to go cuddle him immediately, and I wait until the coffee is ready. I pour it into my favorite mug, I add half and half, and I climb the stairs to Edgar feeling like I can take my time and enjoy our first few moments together. I can enjoy them – and I am the best at enjoying them when I get my coffee FIRST.

My big picture parenting strategy is: you have to give yourself oxygen first. You can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. You also can’t teach your kids to live a calm and happy life if you’re not living that way yourself.

So get your coffee first – whatever that means for you. Then you’ll be able to exude the endless amounts of patience, silliness, and wit it takes to navigate life with kids. Or at least, you’ll give it a pretty good shot.

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family · parenting

Happy Birthday Dad

Today, on what would have been my dad’s 71st birthday, Edgar played ‘organized’ soccer (laughing out loud at calling any toddler activity ‘organized’) for the first time.

This was ordinary, and it was extraordinary. I got emotional last weekend when I first realized this coincidence – Edgar starting out with soccer on Dad’s birthday. I felt a little in awe of the universe at the timing of things, and a little bit like laughing hysterically. (“Seriously, Universe?  I needed a reason to get MORE EMOTIONAL on Dad’s birthday?”) I cried for a while, and then, while Edgar wandered around the farm kicking a soccer ball, I followed him and I thought about my dad.

The inscription on my dad’s grave reads: HUSBAND, DAD, & COACH. Because that is who he was. From the moment when my mom signed my dad up (without asking him) to coach at Holy Child Soccer in Staten Island, NY, he coached. He coached my sister, my brother, and me on various teams, and he coached hundreds of other kids. He ended up running Holy Child Soccer, and then serving as president of the Staten Island Soccer League. I did not ever know my dad not as a soccer coach.

Every parent involved in Staten Island soccer when I was in grade school called my house at some point. I know this because I was my dad’s unofficial secretary. His responsibilities as a leader in youth soccer in Staten Island are the reason why, to this day, I have an EXCEPTIONALLY friendly and polite phone voice.  The coaches would call about fields, referees, schedules, uniforms, and I’d take their message and promise that my dad would call them back. When my dad eventually talked with them, I’d hear him laugh and say, “yup, that was my youngest on the phone,” and I’d beam with pride. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize just how much my dad did for youth soccer in Staten Island – and he did all of it after a long day or week of full-time work. We don’t realize how much our parents are doing for us, I think, until we grow up and are exhausted adults or parents ourselves.

I have countless memories of my dad as a coach – from him leading my team at practices and games to the thousands of quiet moments he had with me and my siblings, helping us to learn life lessons on the field and off. This year, there are two stories I can’t get out of my head. They both involved my dad as coach of my grade school soccer team, the Holy Child Crosskickers.

We had a heartbreaker of a game one season, when we came in second place in the league after a 1-0 loss to the Notre Dame Academy Sweethearts. The other team’s goal was the result of a long ball that hit a weird bump and bounced awkwardly over the head of our flustered goalkeeper. A fair loss, to be sure – but a real bummer after a hard-played game and season.

A week or so after this game, my dad showed up to a team gathering with a large cardboard box. He explained that a stranger had left this box of T-shirts on our front porch; they were red and white (our team colors), and the text read: “CROSSKICKERS – SIMPLY THE BEST – ONLY ONE SWEETHEART OF A BOUNCE CAN BEAT US.” We all smiled and laughed and put on our shirts and questioned nothing.  It was YEARS later when I realized that my dad (who made T-shirts for our entire extended family every summer, so it’s not like there weren’t clues, Kerriann) had ordered the shirts himself because he knew that it’s important to acknowledge our defeats, laugh if we can, and move forward with determination and a smile.

The other story I can’t get out of my head is about my dad selecting the team all-stars from the Crosskickers for the end-of-season league all-star game. That year, we were allowed to pick two players to represent our team in the game.

There were a lot of strong athletes on our team, and I was certainly one of them; my sister, my brother, and I all played soccer well, with passion, hard work,and talent. However, it never once occurred to me that my dad would choose me as an all-star for the game; he was not the type of guy to engage in nepotism, even at the level of a youth soccer game. He was harder on me, at times, and he was diligent about coaching our team in a fair and supportive way.

I remember asking my dad about who he would pick for the all-star game, and he sat down with me and explained that he really wanted to reward the players on our team who had worked especially hard and performed exceptionally well that season. I instantly understood that he wasn’t going to pick one of the three or four other “stars” on my team; he was going to reward players who had shown exceptional spirit and effort even if they weren’t the top goal scorers. We talked together, and he asked me to guess who his picks were; I thought and I talked through our season, and I guessed two players who had improved tremendously that season, moving from being average players to essential starters as the season progressed. I remember my dad beaming at me when he told me I’d guessed correctly – maybe because he was happy I understood his logic, or because he learned that we thought in similar ways.

That was my dad – he wanted to acknowledge when he saw young athletes working hard and improving. He knew that youth sports was about cultivating talent while also teaching important lessons about effort, disappointment, teamwork, and grace.

There is no pressure on Edgar to play soccer. Yes, he owns six soccer balls and only two of any other kind of ball, and yes, I’ll be thrilled if I get to coach his teams the way my dad coached mine. But really, truly, he doesn’t need to play, and I don’t need to coach. However, watching him run and kick today – watching him listen to his oh-so-patient coach talk to him about respect and fun and how to dribble – watching him run to me with a huge smile, telling me how much fun he had at “soccer school” –

Those were pretty good gifts.

Happy birthday to my dad. Keep the lessons coming, Coach.

balance

Values

One day a few years ago, I was at a training and we were prompted write down a list of our values.

I paused, and I felt puzzled. And then I felt surprised at how puzzled I felt! For someone who reflects as often as I do, you’d think a list of my values would pop into my head immediately. But it took time, and even when I’d written my list, I didn’t feel confident that it was accurate or complete.

I started to think about this again recently when considering my digital minimalist diet. I’ve stepped back from my phone and social media and several other apps for 30 days. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, advocates taking a 30-day break from social media and then gradually adding things back to your digital life that support your values.

So that left me, once again, which a simple but complicated question: What are my values?

This is the list I developed, in no particular order –

  1. Kindness. I want to embody kindness in all areas of my life.
  2. Laughter + joy. I want life to be fun and enjoyable.
  3. Books, reading, and writing. Writing and reading are two of my fundamental hobbies and joys; I value them immensely.
  4. The outdoors. I believe fresh air and physical engagement with the outside world keep me healthy and sane.
  5. Family. My family is the most important thing in the world to me.
  6. Friendship. My friends, too!
  7. Connection + community. This is related to family + friends, but also different; I want to feel connected with my community. I don’t always feel like I have that connection – but I want it.
  8. Peace of mind. I want to feel peaceful and on top of things as much as possible.
  9. Creativity. I am at my best when I have a creative outlet and ongoing creative projects.
  10. Presence. It’s important to me to be fully present in my life.
  11. Flow. I love it when it feels like my life is in a state of flow – everything making sense and happening in a natural and smooth way.
  12. Positivity. I value a positive attitude and optimism whenever possible.
  13. Wellness + sobriety + recovery. I value my sobriety and my overall wellness above just about everything else. (Because, well, if I don’t have sobriety, then I don’t really have anything else.)

That’s my list, and I love it. I feel proud of it. It’s not fixed; it can evolve. At times, I think certain values will rise in importance and others will take a backseat.

I’m so glad I did this exercise. I think it will help me, in a few days or weeks, to be able to look at my digital life – my phone, my iPad, my laptop – and be intentional about what apps and other digital tools support these values. Stay tuned.

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balance

Slow Down

When I do an inventory of how things are going in my life, I almost always end up resolving to do one thing: slow down. 

I have a tendency to move quickly through life. I’m a fast walker. When something tough is happening, my goal is to get through it ASAP so that I can recuperate and move forward. I’m impulsive. I often start getting ready for the next event on my schedule before the current one is even over. I love getting prepared ahead of time for things, even if it means scrambling a bit.

Lately, it almost feels like I’m too busy to even remember to do all the things I want to do, let alone to actually get them done! And it gets overwhelming. When I am overwhelmed, my tendency is to move even faster than I usually do – I race around, buying things, doing things, anything to feel in control.

That’s not how I want to live my life. I want to slow down. I can feel a visceral difference when I intentionally slow my walking and my talking. For a few days in early March, I had a cold and low fever, and I found myself moving slower and more intentionally throughout the day. As bad as I felt physically, it felt lovely to be living life at a slower pace. It’s so easy to forget this; the world moves fast, and I find that the more stressed I am, the faster I go.

When I slow down, it helps my boys to feel calm and safe. When I slow down, I can think more productively. When I slow down, I can process input from the world without reacting too quickly. When I slow down, life goes better.

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balance · family · writing

Thoughts On Time

Sometimes Tamara takes the boys out to the coffee shop or the library so that I’ll have time to write. When this happens, it takes time getting used to having the house to myself – for the first thirty minutes, I keep looking around, expecting to spot J.J. asleep in his bouncy seat or Edgar quietly munching on Goldfish crackers. But they’re not here – they’re out, having an adventure, and I’m at home with a crackling fire, a cup of coffee, and my computer on my lap.

It’s always a challenge, finding time to write when you’re a working parent with two kids under three. And it’s really important to me to make time for writing. I haven’t made much progress with my novel – I blame the boys’ sleep needs for this – but I have managed to post on the blog twice every week since 2019 began, and I’m determined to stick to that routine for as long as possible.

I’m delayed on my novel – my goal is to finish a draft by the end of 2019, and I’m not as far as I’d like to be. But my delay is in part because I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the novel, and planning things out, rather than writing it. It feels a little uncomfortable, at times. I’d much rather be writing than planning. But as I page through the book Story Genius, I find myself wondering if this whole novel writing gig requires more planning than I’ve ever tried before.

There’s a debate in the writing community about plotting versus pantsing. The plotters map out the entire story of their novel before they write it, and the pantsers just start writing and see where their story goes. I have always been more of a pantser. But the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron is arguing something in between; I’m not done with the book yet, but I think she advocates that the writer should know the story of what is going to happen ahead of time, though the writer may allow themselves to be somewhat of a pantser when it comes to the hundreds of little details that make up the eventual plot. (I’ll let you know when I finish the book if this is an accurate representation of the Story Genius method.)

So, the boys are out with Tamara, and here I sit, with a rare few hours of alone time to write and think. And one of the things I’m considering is re-evaluating the way I spend my time.

I’m going to have more flexibility with my time now that Edgar is, thank goodness, going to sleep by himself in his bed after about six weeks of bedtime struggles. That means that I’ll have a little extra time in the evening after Edgar goes to bed, and a little extra time in the morning before the boys wake up. I’ve been pondering what routines I want to create.

I thought about this in terms of the WHEN – like, when are the little pockets of time that I have available for exercise, writing, reading, self-care, etc? There are the mornings – the wee bit of time I can steal if I wake up early enough. There are the evenings, after Edgar goes to bed, when I can write or read if I have the energy. There are the weekend afternoons during nap. And there are the times like today, when Tamara takes the boys out for an adventure on a weekend morning and I have a few hours to use for whatever I need.

That’s what I have right now – little pockets of time. It can feel frustrating sometimes! I really wish I could start building up my writing stamina, spending 2 or 3 hours at a time sitting down to write. But it is what it is for the moment, and I have to accept that, enjoy my baby boys, and be ready for the pockets of time when they pop up.

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