Sunday, December 15, 2013

Setting and Resetting Goals

An important goal I set for this time at home was to put more effort into my writing.  If I was going to take it to the next level, I would need to dedicate more time to it.  The hour before everyone gets up in the morning wasn’t cutting it.  Most mornings, after getting coffee, shaking my head awake, a “quick” check-in with Facebook and Twitter, I had whittled my window down to 20 to 30 minutes.  No career writer can produce a great work in 30 minutes or less.  I am not Domino’s!
At my June critique group, I brought chapter one of my newest work in progress – a middle grade chapter book about a 5th grade boy who has math anxiety.  While I shared, the pages vibrated in my hand as I read and my voice changed with each character’s string of dialogue.  I was excited.  I could feel this story bubbling inside me.  I described it like trying on hats.  I had once complete middle grade novel, one quarter of a young adult, and now this one.  The first two were just OK but they weren’t the right fit.  I still wanted to work on them… someday… so I carefully tucked them away onto my thumb drive for later. 
But this story was just right!  The agent I met with in May said, “You’re a teacher, you must have some funny stories to tell.  Everyone loves a funny middle grade character.”  I had that! I spent the next two weeks building characters and settings, jotting down plot ideas and funny anecdotes from classes past. 
Then summer started and my writing stopped.  The alarm was no longer set, the rush to squeeze in writing time was gone, but so was my motivation.  This is OK, I need a vacation.  September brought me a little momentum – I should be working on something by now!  I’ll research!  I read about math anxiety, I watched wrestling videos – just waiting for that spark to get more words on the page. 
Then November came - National Novel Writing Month!  I headed to to check it out.  It was a free way to finish my novel with guidance and support along the way.  Hooray!  This was just the push I needed.  Then I saw the word count was 50,000 words!  I panicked.  The goal for my book was 30,000.  How the heck was I going to write 20,000 extra words?!  Luckily, @NaNoWriMo and @NaNoWriMoSprints had suggestions and prompts. Phew!  I could build backstory!  I could work on the second book!  I could do this!
When I wasn’t writing, all I did was think about my characters and their stories.  Then, I’d sit down and only 1,000 or so words would make it to the page.  To get to 50K by November 30th, the average per day should be 1667.  As week one ended, I set myself a new goal: write everyday and hit 30K.  There were many moments when I felt disappointed about lowering this number.  However, I had a goal and I was writing every day.  I was happy.
I finished with 34,109 words.  For NaNo, I was considered a loser.  I consider it a win! 
I love new challenges and setting goals.  I also think it is OK to change those goals so that you are able to feel successful in the end. 
Healthy challenges are fun, keep you motivated and with social media support, a way to connect with other people.  My new challenge starts today.  It is a 50 day challenge.  You choose your own goals.  Mine are: write, meditate and exercise every day. 
Check out the following links to join!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Laughing at Myself
     Tell me I’m not the only one!  I do some pretty silly stuff but rather than learn from it and move on, I keep doing it.  Most likely, it’s because these things are not harmful to anyone or me.  A few of them make other people a wee bit crazy though – maybe that’s why I continue!  ;)  Read on and see for yourself.  Hope I bring a smile (or two) to your face. :D

·          Wait until I hear the low fuel light “ding” until I consider getting gas
(It’s a first warning.  I know I have time.  And isn’t that what the “E” is for?) 

·         Forget when to cook shrimp with the shell on and when to take it off
(Is it really that important?  Doesn’t the shell hold in the moisture?)

·         Stay up too late reading.
(This can’t be so bad. I’m reading! And the more you read the smarter you get!)

·         Hit the snooze bar.  Once, twice, sometimes three times.
(I hate that annoying beep, but I love another 7 minutes of sleep!)

·         Get twisted up when putting on a front-close bra.
(Some days I don’t realize I did it for a few hours!)

·         Wake up two hours before I need to leave the house only to make the last ten minutes a mad dash in order not to be late.
(I did this even before I had the boys!)

·         Mix up baking soda and baking powder
(Why are so many baking ingredients white?)

·          Put ketchup on my macaroni and cheese – even the fancy lobster kind
(Of course my favorite is my mom’s!)

·         Mix up left and right and east and west when giving directions to others
(Be very glad GPS was invented if I have given you directions!)

·         Can’t do math in my head
(Especially subtraction with regrouping and don’t dare ask me about percent!)

     All of these things make me laugh.  All of these things make me – ME!  I hope you are able to take time each day and smile and laugh – especially at yourself!  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Let Me Entertain You

Alex has become quite the entertainer and attention seeker.  As a result, the most popular phrases in my house lately are, “Look at me!” and “Watch this!”  Only he says “wook” and “dis.”  It was bound to happen; he needed a way to be recognized apart from Andrew.  Of course, this has now added a whole new layer of competition to their relationship.  They each strive to become faster, louder and funnier.  
When these moments happen, a good parent stops what they are doing, feigns interest in said activity, smiles politely and makes a comment:  “Good job!”  “Wow!”  “How cool!”  A better parent looks up from whatever they are doing, is genuinely interested in the twirling jump or fire fighter rescue and asks engaging questions:  “Can you twirl in the other direction?”  “Did everyone get out safely?”
I have done both.  And I’m sure, you have too.  It’s OK.  These “Look at me!” moments can get a bit overwhelming.  Our children don’t understand we have other things that we need to get done around the house.  I haven’t yet tried to explain to Jim that I couldn’t get the laundry done because I was watching the boys’ tricks all day.  Maybe I should try it.  But somehow, “Look at me! I’m making dinner!  I’m mopping the floor!  I’m scrubbing the toilet!”  don’t sound as appealing.
What I wonder, then, is when do we lose this fearless “Look at me” attitude.  Sure, there are actors, performers and professional athletes who love the limelight, but the majority of us regular folks would rather go unnoticed.  Why is that?  Fear?  Lack of confidence?  Modesty? 
It’s too bad.  Each of us has some hidden talent, some special ability that deserves sharing. So try it!  Even if it’s only among your immediate family and closest family. Tell someone, “Look at me!”  Make them notice how important and talented you are.   

And then you can go back to scrubbing the toilets.  J

Friday, July 12, 2013

Toddler Translations

When your child is an infant, you eagerly await for him/her to make a noise that you can connect to a word.  You hover over them cooing and chatting away in attempts they will mimic you.  You make videos, call family and (nowadays) post these “conversations” on Facebook.  Eventually the babbling emerges into more recognizable words – or so you think. Many of our children say “Dada” first.  I’ve been told it’s easier to say than “Mama.”  Nice!  In our house, Andrew called us both Dada for a bit.  Even when I would respond with Mama to help reinforce my name, he would just laugh and say Dada again – little stinker!
          As words become phrases and phrases become sentences, certain mispronunciations occur.  I find these to be quite cute and waver between correcting them or letting them be.  Many times when I parrot back with the correct way, Andrew will still respond back his way.  It’s just how he hears it.  So sometimes we just use that variation.  We just have to be careful not to use it in public! J
          Here are some of my favorite Andrew-isms:
Note – nope
Amn’t – am not
Frope – throat
Un- um
Excabert – expert
Excabator – excavator
Vermote – remote
To confinamy and beyond – infinity
That was the best pizza I never had – instead of “ever” had
Freef – third  (he says three as “free”)

          In the past two months, Alex’s language has exploded!  He is stringing words together at lightning speed.  He’s not into the beginning “s” sound on many words which provides many Alex-isms.
Boopbrush – toothbrush
Fruitbus – school bus
Yes are – Yes it is/ Yes I am
No are – No it isn’t/ No I’m not
Fippery – slippery
Peabutter – peanut butter
Nake – snake
Pider – spider (not sure what he has against the letter “s”)
Tar – star
Cared- scared
Funder - thunder

          As times goes by, I am getting better with these toddler translations.  I also find it helpful information to pass on to family members and babysitters.  If you’ve ever been involved with a toddler, who is trying to tell you something over and over again, and you are getting the words wrong, EEESH!  It’s frustrating for both you and the toddler!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Move On

          The first weekend of May I attended the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Springfield, CT.  It was, in one word, amazing!  But, I want to talk about the low point, or shall I say, turning point for me.
          I have spent much of the past three years working on a young adult chapter book.  Last fall I completed the rough draft - about 120 pages.  During January and February, I combed though it adding more depth and detail to my characters and scenes.  Then, in March, I attended the Whispering Pines.  I took part in a YA critique group; afterwards I decided my characters would be better suited in the middle grade category.  So, I printed out the entire 143 pages, pulled up my sleeves and grabbed a pen and proceeded to cut and slash my way through the manuscript changing and tweaking.  Yes, I thought, this was going to be great!
          Then, about two weeks later, something strange happened.  Maybe it was the change in temperature, maybe the pollen began tickling my brain but I decided that this was not the book for me.  I didn’t have the energy to put anymore into it.  I needed to write something else.  I had to, heavy sigh, begin the process again!   
          But I was OK with that.  I’ll go to the conference, get a ton of new inspiration and become a writing machine!  Oh, wait, I have that critique on Saturday.  A moment of dread hit me. Just a moment, though.  Then I realized, if she did not like, no worries, I wasn’t working on it anymore.  Then, I thought, what if she liked it?  Well, I’d just have to cross that bridge when I got there…
          She didn’t like it.  She gave me a very straightforward, a bit rough critique.  ‘I want to hear more about the main character, don’t include dream sequences, they’re cliché.’  I explained to her where I was with the book.  ‘Great.  You’ve proved you can write a book, now move on.  This is not the book for you.  Use this character in another book.’  We went on to have a constructive conversation about what was selling, what kids want to read, and a variety of story ideas.  I left satisfied.  I had received confirmation.  This was not the book for me. 
          There’s just one problem now.  What is the book for me?  Advice from published authors says, ‘Don’t write for trends. Write the book you want to write.’  I certainly have a lot of ideas.  Therefore I’ve been dabbling.  When an idea comes to me, I jot it down.  I might spend a few days on it, but then something else creeps in.  I haven’t written one draft and I’m not worried.  I’m still writing, and that is most important.  I am moving on.
          Moving on from something I worked so hard (and long) on is frustrating, maddening, scary, and a huge hit to my ego.  I feel so much lighter and free to write what I want now!  Moving on brings new opportunities that may have been missed.  So, my advice to you, try it!  You never know!!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Mess Test

            I’m sure you've seen the e-cards that say, and I paraphrase, ‘I’d rather have a happy home and healthy kids than a clean house.’  I should have that inscribed on a prominent wall in my home.  To be honest, I wasn't the world’s best house keeper before I had the boys.  I’d wait to dust until I saw it, dishes routinely stayed in the strainer rather than be dried and put away, clothes, even though I folded them, spent quality time in the hamper, rather than in the dresser drawers. 
            Enter one, then two toddlers, and, vóila!  Hurricane House!  Let me give you a little taste – an evening that I have fondly dubbed “The Mess Test.”  I was home alone with the boys and we were having dinner at the kitchen table:
            5:30 – Alex’s cup falls to the floor and milk leaks out
            5:45 – Alex manages to get more rice on himself and the floor than in his mouth
            6:00 – Andrew decides to stand up with his cup (with no lid) and drops it on the floor
            7:00 – The boys run out of paper and decide to decorate the kitchen floor
            7:15 – The boys realize the joys of drawing on each other’s back
            We generally follow the if you made the mess, you clean the mess, philosophy in our house, therefore, they each took a turn “helping” with each mess.  I use this term “help” loosely here.  I don’t know if you've ever had a toddler try to “help” you clean, if not, you might want to rethink it.  It’s a simple equation really: toddler + helping to clean mess = more mess for Mommy to clean.
            When I sat down that night, with a glass of wine in front of the fire (yes, really), I asked myself, Was tonight some kind of test to see how many messes I could tolerate?  Then I shook my head and smiled.  I realized how lucky I was to have these little messes.  We cook dinner at home six nights a week and eat together as a family.  The dishes remind me of this special nightly ritual.  The boys are extremely curious and active, it’s only naturally that things will get bumped, spilled and sometimes dented or cracked.  We are very fortunate to have a beautiful home that needs dusting and a plethora of clothing that needs washing.
            So I accept the challenge of the mess test!  I know there will be moments I will grumble or grip at the task laid before me, but in the end, I will raise my glass and say, “Cheers!” to my happy, healthy and lived in home.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Where is Spring?

          Spring’s arrival is taking forever!
          I sat down last Wednesday morning and wrote this:
          It’s coming! It’s coming! And I couldn't be happier! After yesterday afternoon’s run (wearing light layers) I hopped into the car and read 47 on the thermometer.  Forty-seven can be rounded to fifty! Sweet! 
          When the boys and I arrived home at 5:15, it was still light and would stay so for another 30 minutes.  Walking into the backyard there were more signs.  The ground beneath my feet had a spongy, springy feel.  Tiny curls of new grass were emerging between the snow trampled brown blades.  The massive piles of snow were decreasing by the day.  A blue bird couple has been visiting one of our bird houses.
          This morning at 5:45, the sky is steel blue instead of inky black.  The thermometer reads 36 instead of 26 or 16.  The birds arrive at the feeder earlier for breakfast.
*                 *                 *                 *
          I had not paid much attention to the weather forecast and was in quite a perky mood.  Imagine my surprise when I walked downstairs Friday morning to find six inches of snow covering my spongy grass and a phone message canceling school!
          I’m not sure if Mother Nature had a really mean teacher she is seeking revenge upon, (our last day is now June 25th), or if she enjoys toying with New Englanders.  I jokingly will tell people not from the area, “If you don’t like the weather wait a day.”  Yesterday, it was more like wait an hour. The day went from snow, to partly cloudy, to a whirling dose of flurries back to partly cloudy!  All before noon!
          I am, however, enjoying the later sunsets in the evening.  The boys can now run laps around the house and hike through the woods, which keeps them from sprinting through the house – well, sort of. 
          The return of darkness in the morning has resulted in Andrew sleeping later, so I get some extra quiet time in the morning.  And even though the outside thermometer reads 27, I can start my day in front of a cozy fire.
          I can’t control the weather I can only make the best of what the day brings.  It is supposed to be 41 today and I plan to run after school.  I’ll pack an extra layer and something to cover my ears.  One day, spring will be here for real.  But, until then, I won’t put away the snow boots quite yet!

Thursday, February 21, 2013


             You know you need to focus when you are writing another post about focusing!!

             I think it is impossible to multi-task effectively.  I think too many people spend their time juggling more than one activity and take pride in doing so.  That being said, as a full-time working mother of two toddlers, I know that multi-tasking is essential to survival.  So how the heck am I supposed to stay focused?
            I can focus for larger amounts of time at work.  I have no choice.  There are blocks of time when I have 20 students staring at me, just waiting to learn something fabulous.  I have to be focused or else their attention is lost.  So, I make a valiant effort, gather materials ahead of time and assume the position of “she who has the knowledge.”  Then, without warning, something I am talking about, or a comment made by a student will send me off on a roller coaster of a tangent.  After a few minutes, I realize what I have done.  I see a few of them have turned their attention to the pencils and erasers on their desks – not a good sign.  So, I quickly come up with a bridge of information to carry them back on track.  Sometimes it works and sometimes I just say, “Well, that was way off topic!”  See, it’s always good to admit you’ve lost your focus before you try to get it back.
            As you already know I drag myself out of bed and pay homage to my Keurig while it’s still dark to be able to get some quiet time to focus on my writing.  I have decided to begin my morning with meditation because I was found myself leaving the house feeling way too rushed and hectic (as you will read about shortly!)  Problem is, I can’t focus long enough to meditate in quiet.  OK, no big deal.  I can put on some of my favorite music by Krishna Das and settle into a chanting meditative state.  I have a goal of ten minutes.  I usually make it about two before I check the time.  Back to focusing.  Then the thoughts creep in.  In meditation you are supposed to “label and let go.”  I tend to grumble, kick them out of my brain and restate my objective, “Focus!”
            Another little note about my writing…I have a little person who somehow knows it’s a morning that I slept in a little and am crunched for writing time.  Hence, while I am writing this, Andrew is singing various themes songs, making weird noises and asking questions.  I am trying to stay focused because my goal was to blog today.
            Mornings are not may favorite.  Even when it was only the dog and I, I couldn’t get out of the house on time.  Now, I have the pleasure of getting myself and the boys ready.  Can I stay focused on one thing at a time? Nope.  I have told myself for the past few years to get things ready the night before, that way when I am trying to fix my hair and face and one is requesting snack and the other is yelling because the TV show has ended, I won’t feel frustrated.  No luck.  Then I thought, I’ll stop what I am doing and get ready from 6 to 6:30, when they are both (usually) asleep.  However, when I am writing, and the thoughts are flowing, it’s really hard to stop.  Or, after a night of be woken up by “he who yells out in his sleep,” I sleep in 30 minutes so I’m already starting later than usual.
            I really want to focus more, I do.  I will continue to try.  I am hoping to  feel calmer and less frustrated.  Until then, I join the multitude of multi-taskers and get along the best I can!
P.S.  Is any part of this blog seem unfocused – don’t be surprised!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mommy Confessions Revealed!

            One weekend, I had a rare few minutes to read through my Parenting magazine.  There was a book review section and one title caught my eye: Confessions of a Scary Mommy: An Honest and Irreverent Look at Motherhood - The Good, The Bad, and the Scary by Jill Smokler.  It was born from a blog Smokler developed while home with her children.  Each chapter begins with anonymous, but true, confessions, shared by blog followers.  The rest of the chapter is then a full description of her own experiences surrounding such topics as pregnancy, birthday parties, other people’s children and husbands.  I found these parts a bit self-indulgent but the confessions were hysterical and many rang true of my own life.  It inspired me to write my own list.  While they will not be anonymous, I hope you enjoy, get a little chuckle and take a few moments to ponder your own secret confessions!

v  I tell Andrew certain shirts are in the laundry so he can’t wear them.
v  I really began to enjoy running when I realized it was a guaranteed 30 minutes of “me” time.
v  I am not a morning person, but I get up at 5 a.m. so I can write, drink coffee and watch Days of our Lives.
v  I have spent 30 minutes carefully preparing a dinner only to have Andrew say, “I wish it was pizza night!”
v  I pretend to be asleep when Alex cries in the night so Jim will get up.
v  When Andrew’s questioning brings me to the brink of insanity, I say, “That’s a great question.  Go ask your dad.”
v  The boys yell, “Stop, Mommy! No sing!” every time I try to sing in the car.
v  I have no patience for children with bad, or no, manners.
v  I take long showers at night for an escape from the boys’ after dinner burst of energy.
v  I have turned the cooking of dinner over to Jim.  I have lost the motivation to be creative with food.

For short tidbits without reading the whole book, you can check out the Facebook page: Scary Mommy.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Resolve to be You!

            So I’m a little late on writing about New Year’s resolutions, but that’s no surprise, I’m a little late for most things in my life! I feel I would be remiss as a blogger who imparts fabulous tidbits of knowledge and witty excerpts from my life, if I did not jump on the resolution train – even if it’s already left the station.
            In fact, my post couldn’t come at a better time.  In researching resolutions, this is what I found:
·         40 to 45% of American adults make one or more resolutions each year.
·         Among the top are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and stopping to smoke. Also popular are resolutions dealing with better money management / debt reduction.
·         The following shows how many of these resolutions are maintained as time goes on:

-             * past the first week: 75%
-             * past 2 weeks: 71%
-             * after one month: 64%
-             * after 6 months: 46%

One statistic I found stated that the percentage of people who were successful at achieving their resolution was 8%!  This is why I believe I have come up with the best resolution yet.  Sure, I could resolve to save more money, get (and stay organized) organized both at work and at home, and be on time; but that just wouldn’t be me.  I don’t spend beyond my means.  Nowadays most of what I buy is for the boys anyway.  For years I have been declaring the effectiveness if my “disorganized disorganization.”  And, if I started to be on time, I would have to relinquish my self-appointed title: “Queen of Procrastination.”  (I never did get that crown!)
All that being said, my resolution for 2013 is to be me!  To be the BEST me I can for myself, my family and friends!  At 40, I have a pretty good grasp on my strengths and weaknesses.  And so do the people who care about me.  They have come to know I will be about ten minutes late, pile papers rather than file them away quickly and impulse buy books and shoes.  All these wonderful qualities make me Jess.  To change now could confuse those I care most about – and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that! 
      Therefore, in 2013, I will put all my energy into developing my strengths.  I suggest you do the same.  Why set yourself up to be one of those statistics that don’t achieve their resolution?  Why engage yourself in discussions about how you’re trying to “be good” or “get back on track.”  Just be yourself!  You will be MUCH happier in the end…and so will others around you.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hidden Toy Labels

            Santa Claus came. Santa Claus went.  He left quite a selection of toys behind.  The boys were overjoyed.  Jim and I are reeling from the new buzzers and buttons, directions and distractions, frustration and fun.  It seems, the toy manufacturers have forgotten to include a few labels in their quest to market these terrific toys.  It could be considered fine fin print, I guess.  Let me share my top five.
1.       Live action sound!  Guaranteed to hit a decibel level to grate on any adult within 50 feet.
2.      Hours of creative play!  Be sure to buy two of these because there will be battles with siblings.
3.      Some assembly required.  Have screwdrivers, hammers, and wrenches ready.  Present opening will be a bit delayed.
4.      Batteries included.  These batteries will only last a week so make sure you have backup.
5.      Requires xyz batteries.  You should take stock in Duracell or Energizer to get back a portion of what you will invest in this toy.

So, I’m sorry toy manufacturers.  I am on to you and I am spreading the word!  Adults everywhere, make sure you read the fine print, or at least read through the descriptive lines.
            Santa’s bounty has also completely overrun the boys’ already plentiful collection.  Therefore, Jim and I have been catapulted into Christmas cleanse mode.  I think we’ll start with anything that requites batteries! J