2013 Week 45: NaNo’s first days

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween

The writing project got off to a bumpy start, but nevertheless, the words are slowly adding up.

First, I had my second of two dentist appointments to repair broken fillings.

While I was still drooling out the left side of my numb face, we had to take Olivia to a new doctor to see if the reactions she’s been having to fruits is an allergy or some other  anomaly.

Poor baby had to have a vile of blood drawn — results to come later this week or next. The phlebotomist happened to be a friend of Dom’s, so maybe we got the extra special treatment. There were tears, but she actually handled everything really well, especially considering this was all happening when she should have been napping.

Most of the day was shot, but I did manage to steal away for a few moments with my laptop and discovered an utterly maddening phenomenon was getting worse. As I type, my cursor hops around within previously written text so that what I’m typing gets shoved up into earlier paragraphs. Sometimes it just highlights and deletes sentences. Perhaps “someone” telling me that what I’ve written is crap and needs to go. Or maybe I listened to too many ghost stories over the Halloween weekend.

I didn’t get much writing in on Saturday and Sunday either, but that’s OK. I actually wanted to avoid writing too much on the weekends. I want to do things like we did this weekend — really tear up the house to get some cleaning done, carve a pumpkin a little late, watch Sophie fall in love with Snoopy’s World War I reenactments in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Eat slow meals of mussels and port poached figs. I want to enjoy these times without checking my watch and my word count.

Sophie tugs at the Pumpkin lid.

Sophie tugs at the Pumpkin lid.

So, I’m a few thousand words in and a few thousand words behind, but I’m not sweating. I think I’m discovering the thing some writers have said is the most important for succeeding in this NaNoWriMo project — and in writing in general — my writing routine.

I have a little plan for writing during the week and I’m looking forward to this first full week of NaNo to see how my new schedule will fit into real life. So far this morning — Monday — my first writing block was spent cleaning the sick off of Olivia’s sheet she deposited after eating what must have, at one time, been a magazine.

OK, that’s all I’ve got for Another 52 Weeks this week — 30 minutes and 400 words. Now back to work.

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2013 Week 44: Letting go of embarrassment, the college years

A weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I can’t believe I lived with it for so long.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, a perception of my college years soured.

If rose-colored glasses shade your past in only the good light, then mud-colored glasses are what I’ve been wearing when I think of my four undergraduate years.

I don’t know how it happened that little by little, I forgot DePauw University. I forgot where buildings were, what I studied, my social life, my school work. Any time conversation touched on college, I felt it was a four-year blob of embarrassment I’d soon enough shove back into the box in which it was hiding.

But recently, as I reconnected with a woman who had been one of my best friends in that time, I stopped shoving the feelings down and started acknowledging them.

And with that acknowledgment came the logical follow-up question. Why? Why was this such a big deal? Why was I cringing at the thought of what so many say were the best years of their lives?

The next morning, a friend and former colleague posted a link on her Facebook page.

This one by a woman I’d never heard of, Seane Corn, a yoga instructor. I listened to it. Then I listened again. Then I listened one more time, pausing it so I could transcribe some of the parts that hit me like just the power wash I needed to clean that mud from my glasses.

This quote, for instance:

“… go back into your relationships and look at the value … where is grace? … If you can learn to love your journey for what it is, how it has been, that will create the possibility for empathy.”

The clip is just a couple of minutes, and worth your time if you’ve ever in your life questioned your past.

People who make you feel bad about yourself, who say mean things, do mean things, or even you in your own sense of victimization, it’s all a belief. If you see the “other” as more valuable, of having an opinion greater than your own, all you’re doing is allowing someone power over your experiences. If you see them as a human being just like you trying to make their way in the world, you can relate.

You don’t have to surround yourself, of course, with people who bring you down or live in a way you don’t approve.  Sometimes you have to cut people out of your life, divorce your friends, divorce your family, if they treat you poorly, without respect, in whatever negative way. So sayeth Oprah in this clip I found after getting all inspired.

But it’s interesting to realize how much power we give other people. Some people, like yours truly, may see this person or that as having a better lock on life, on cool, on the answer. Then we imagine what they think of us, then we respond accordingly.

I’ve read this quote a few places and I can’t seem to find a source that makes me comfortable sourcing it. Still, it fits here.

“I am not who you think I am. I am not who I think I am. I am who I think you think I am.”

There’s a psychological term for this. Metaperceptions. The notion that humans, in their search for acceptance, see themselves through the eyes of others.

From what this article in the journal Psychology Today said, it may even point to a level of social anxiety. Clinical or not, I’ve sure had my share of feeling like I don’t quite fit in the group. I wonder what they think of me. I stay quiet and appear aloof. And a small four-year institution is the epitome of fitting into groups.

Somehow I fit in. Somehow I didn’t. Through it all, as time passed and friendships slipped farther and farther away, I managed to let a handful of regrettable decisions or reactions to others’ decisions skew my emotions, my perception of this wild and crazy and wonderful time in my life.

Shortly after I started down this trail of discovery, I talked with another college friend I hadn’t seen in years and admitted the truth of my feelings. A funny thing began to happen. I started to see everything completely differently. It was as sudden as taking off a winter coat and feeling the warmth of the fireplace.

I started to remember the truth. That:

1. Many, many college kids do embarrassing things, feel embarrassed, at least some time in their four year career. This may seem obvious, it feels obvious writing it, but I honestly felt a giant spotlight on me and my flaws.

2. I had amazing friends. Whether we see each other now. Talk to each other on a regular basis. Or slipped past one another into our new lives outside the ivy-covered buildings. My friends were amazing and I cherish every one of them.

3. I learned so much about myself. I tried on a lot of different me-types back then. Putting aside all of the emotional growth that happens between ages 18 and 22, I learned some practical lessons. I learned I would never be a music teacher or a biologist. I was a writer. I learned that late in the game. Senior year, in fact. But once I stepped up to the plate, I had loads of support from advisers and professors and friends. I flew high that year and hope I can tap into that passion going forward.

Not only did I recall these things, by I was actually flooded with images. Memories. I could see my campus, classrooms, parties. Remember faces. Good God, the clothes. (I do not miss you, over-sized flannel button-downs.)

It feels so good, so obvious and right, to be back on my college memory’s good side that it’s difficult to recall how it felt to be so bothered just a couple of weeks ago.

I can say now, with full confidence, I have no regrets. I see the experience, as Corn said, without judging it (or people) as good or bad. I can see value in it all.

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2013 Week 43: So, I have this idea for a book …

For years and years I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a novel. If you’ve known me long, it might not be hard to imagine. I’ve always been a writer. Some of my earliest memories are of creating characters, building tales. But a story idea has been bubbling around in my brain stew for quite some time but I have yet to do anything about it.

Now that I’m a freelance (read: unemployed) writer with oh so many spare minutes in the day, I thought: Why not now?

I’ve been toying with the idea of participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo started 11 years ago and brings together some 200,000 writers each November in a challenge to write their novel’s first draft.

Anyone can sign up. The rules are simple: begin writing a new novel at midnight Nov. 1 and finish writing Nov. 30 by midnight. Complete 50,000 words in this time and blamo, you’re a novelist.

Obviously, it’s not that simple. But you get the idea. Stop talking about writing a book. Stop thinking about writing a book. Get to work and write the darn book.

Writing an average of 1,700 words every day for 30 days doesn’t leave much time to edit, to make sure at least some of those words are good, make sense, make someone feel something other than putting your book down. But that’s part of the point. Just dump your brain into your notebook in November and use that glorious high that comes with having “written a book” to carry you on to the real work — sculpting your lump of clay into a masterpiece.

I won’t say I’m not scared. Committing to something usually makes me nervous to the point of nausea. But hey, I’m not getting paid. o one is going to read what I write. No one is going to be disappointed in me if I don’t finish. And if I don’t finish, there’s always next year. Surely I’ll learn something along the way, even if it’s just that I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew.

But since I dream of one day facing the new misery that is seeking an agent, then finding a publisher, then of walking into those ancient temples of dead trees to see my book on a shelf, I think I’ll go for it.

I still hope to post here each week while I’m buried in the torment, so I think I might just post pictures of my kids and perhaps a quick update on how I’m doing. Maybe a word count. Maybe a read on my blood-pressure cuff. Who knows. Whatever it is, I don’t want to have to think about it too much. You know, save the brain cells for MY BOOK. 🙂


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2013 Week 42: Stretching my wings

Keryn and kids spent a week with us in 2012.

Keryn and kids spent a week with us in 2012.

If you read my blog, you’re most likely a friend or family member so you may already be aware that I have taken on a new project. But it’s time to formally announce that I’ve joined my graduate school friend, Keryn Means, at her family travel blog. It’s called Walking On Travels and it’s a great resource for parents who may be daunted by traveling with kids or anyone interested in tips for making travel easier, more enjoyable and turning travel nightmares into great memories.

Keryn and I met seven years ago on our first day at Medill School of Journalism. We started chit chatting and it’s fair to say we haven’t shut up since.

Our timing is practically perfect. Life dramas tend to alternate between us, so over the years we’ve had the energy for each other when bosses made unreasonable demands, when we questioned our career paths, when we had kids, when we questioned our life paths. We also share a love for exploring, even when we’re a little nervous about the prospect. Keryn, for instance, took her young son on a business trip across the planet, which meant flying alone with a child from Seattle to China.

When people (foolishly) told Keryn that her wanderlust would have to be put on hold while she had kids, she realized there were probably a lot of parents who feared travel with their little ones. Parents might not know what to expect from jet lag, flying solo, flying while pregnant, taking long road trips or exposing kids to unusual foods in foreign countries. She knows the fears but she also knows how rewarding even the craziest times can be.

Keryn started collecting travel tips, writing stories about her own experiences, attending conferences, stretching her reach in the blogosphere and into the lives of loads of families.

From time to time she would ask me to help her tweak a post, edit a page, brainstorm an idea.

This summer, when my second daughter was just a few months old, I started to get cabin (crib?) fever. I missed writing regularly, collaborating with coworkers. I contemplated work opportunities but am not anywhere near ready, or interested in full-time work. But I wanted to feed the creative beast that’s been on diaper duty for two years. So I asked Keryn if she needed help. If you’ve seen her prolific blog, you know that’s a silly question.

She manages not only to raise two beautiful boys who happily tear up the house with soccer balls and sippy cups, but also takes them out exploring their hometown and the globe. She writes travel tips and narratives several times a week, she helps with charities, all without pay for the love of travel. On top of this, she’s building a portfolio of freelance articles she’s had published in a handful of publications.

Needless to say, she welcomed the help and I am excited to work with her whenever I can.

So, if you have kids, if you love travel, if you want to support a great site, pop over to Walking On Travels, like the page and tell your friends. Also, please, please, please, send along any feedback, questions or topics you’d like to read more about.

Happy trails!

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2013 Week 41: Ninety minutes of me-time

When you start birthin’ babies, all the books tell you, all your friends tell you, strangers on the street who stop you to ooh and ah at your babies tell you, you may even tell yourself, to find some mommy time. It’s so important to set aside a little piece of your day or your week for yourself.

In the beginning, though, it’s possible that you don’t want mommy time. Maybe you’re in baby love mode, or baby protective mode and you can’t imagine leaving the little ones with anyone — even their grandmother.

It’s also possible you really can’t take mommy time. Maybe you can’t leave the baby with someone for too long because you’re still nursing. Lots of things can make you a willing or unwilling inhabitant of baby land.

But if you’re like me, the day will come when you will finally understand your own mother’s obsession with enjoying “a quiet house.”

You’re suddenly aware that every thought that passes through your mind, before it can even escape as an action or a statement, is interrupted, overlapped, drown out, by your kids.

You start to notice how meals you were excited about while preparing them have disappeared from your plate to your belly without so much as tasting a single bite.

It’s no wonder I put recycling in the dishwasher and try to take out contact lenses I’ve already removed. If I worked in an office, I’d put my phone to voice mail and shut the rest of the world out until I completed a task. But try as I might, I can’t mute my kids.

So in my haze of early parenthood, I somehow managed a coherent thought. Instead of going to class and rushing home, why not stay in town. Enjoy the furlough. In that thought, I have found a way to defrazzle, made possible with a couple of lucky breaks.

Daughter No. 2, as opposed to her big sister at this age, actually lets me out of the house, even missing her bedtime. She is still nursing, but will happily take a bottle of formula just the same. I also have a partner who will handle most of the chaos without calling me home. I have seen first hand that not all parents can take charge when the main caregiver is out of the house. Trust me. I know I am lucky on these two counts.

So, one night a week, I hop on the train into the city. I practice speaking German. Then, when my work is done, I bring my laptop to the coffee shop, attempt to wow the barista with my language skills and sit, for 90 minutes in my little bubble. I write. I read. I think. I stare off into space. I eavesdrop on people’s conversations I don’t understand.

I feel like I’m plugging myself back into life. I’m not needed. Not even on call. OK, maybe a little bit on-call. But it’s an emergencies-only basis. I can let my brain run wild. Somewhere, in those 90 minutes, I manage to put together a idea or two so that even after a full day with the girls, stretching my brain in language class and a late night in the city, I feel refreshed and ready to face another week of truncated thoughts.

This has been a truly wonderful motherhood milestone.

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2013 Week 39: I drive my daughter crazy

Rolling and cheese grater pin denied

Rolling and cheese grater pin denied

The 25 steps from the sidewalk to our apartment are fraught with tantrum triggers, from my toddler’s desire to leap-frog down stone steps to merely passing through the front door, thus denying her access to the playground. This is our daily test. But really, everything’s fair game.

It starts with a stare, shaking, a deep growl that rises up from her toes pushing words through clenched teeth. It ends in earsplitting screams, defiant marches in the opposite direction and the spaghetti maneuver – going limp as I attempt to forcibly remove her from the battleground.

Some days she walks past her temptations with nary a glance.

Some days, the tantrum surfaces and I have patience and creativity that surprise even me. I see a meltdown approaching and entice it away with a promise of pasta lunch, a charade game of marching band. There are days where nothing matters. The barrage of bullets will fly, my efforts be damned.

Then there are the other days. The days I wake up on the wrong side of the bed … five times between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. to tend to the baby’s night feedings or the toddler’s cries for the orange ball she just remembered she’d put under the bed.

On these days, I just want to get where we’re going. I don’t care about a 2-year-old’s absolutely-must-have-five-seconds-agos. I need, please GOD, to get everyone fed and down for a nap. My head screams: “Please give me five minutes of quiet!”

Surprise, surprise. My push toward peace gives me just the opposite.

These rushed moments turn a hungry, sleepy or just plain toddler into my worst enemy. My frustration leads to her frustration leads to my frustration.

After a particularly rough afternoon that had me, for a good few seconds, questioning my ability to parent, I acknowledged my role in our shared misery. I vowed to do better.

I honed in on a familiar demon — sleep deprivation. My early morning (about 4 a.m.  to 7 a.m.) consists of just a few short naps. When the girls call out to start their day, I feel every minute of deprived sleep. I’m aggravated. I thunder out of bed with a chip on my shoulder and move somewhat thoughtlessly through the rest of the day.

So I started an experiment I’ve dubbed The Great Get-Out-of-Bed Plan. I’ll write about it in more detail another time, but the idea is to try to face the day with a new attitude.

Even when I’m beat, I’ve been getting out of bed just a few minutes before I expect the girls to wake. I stretch, wash up and acknowledge the day.

Simple, really, but when I take these few minutes in the morning, not begrudging the babes for the sleep I’ve missed, I can carry more patience throughout the day. Not perfect patience. I don’t expect that. I’m sure I’ll yell and she’ll yell. It’s inevitable.

But when I have patience, chances are better that I will make Sophie laugh instead of scream, make her think she wants to play with her puzzle instead of play on the swings in a thunder storm. If tantrums ensue, even after I’ve brought my best, I can more calmly deal with the fallout.

Maybe then I can drive her (and me) crazy a little less.

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2013 Week 38: Fearless learning, a lesson from my 2-year-old

I am a few weeks into German language lessons and I’m (surprisingly) loving it.

I’ve studied French (high school) and Danish (abroad) and I’ve always been intimidated by the result of my efforts when practicing with native speakers: The blank stare — the one that says: “What the heck are you saying? Are you an idiot?”

(Here’s a funny clip about how the German language sounds compared with others)

But I’ve been watching my daughter’s efforts to develop her vocabulary and build sentences and there’s something I can apply to my own studies.

Kids have no concept of embarrassment, the fear of looking like a fool to someone else.

My 2-year-old happily calls penguins “cremmins,” and builds sentences like: “Can we like to make Bubble Guppies together watch it TV?”

She understands certain words and throws them together in a sentence she believes will get her point across. Who cares where the verb is in relation to the noun. She’s not afraid to look imperfect. She doesn’t have that judge whispering in her ear: “They won’t understand anyway, and you’ll look stupid.”

I hear a word people say when they run into you in the grocery store. I’m certain it means “Sorry” or “Excuse me.” It sounds like “Enshootygong.” That’s a pretty bizarre word, and I feel foolish attempting it so I blurt out, “Sorry.” Luckily, the Swiss say “Sorry,” too. But Sophie hears a word, and she doesn’t have to know how it’s spelled. She can only go by how it sounds, so she says “Bitobitobito” for “pickle.” We learn to discern what she means and eventually she hears us say it enough that now she says “pickle.”

The word is “Entschuldigung” and I can say that with confidence, now. But I am also breaking out of my shell and trying to communicate other ideas, throwing nous and verbs and pronouns together in this or that random order. Some people just respond. Some stare until I give up. But others work with me, and it’s really fun to see I can communicate a tiny idea in another language.

Thanks, Starbucks barista whom I make repeat phrases and decipher my attempt to order. And thanks to my boyfriend and his family, who listen, without judgement, and help me over and over and over and over again with the same phrase.

I have to remind myself that my crappy German isn’t about some schmo on the street. It’s about me and my desires to learn. And that means I have to stop caring if I sound like an idiot. I accept that I will sound imperfect (like an idiot who is trying 😉  ) for a long time. That’s fine by me.

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