Since Then

June was insane.  I finished a draft of my third novel by writing every day for thirty days, no excuses, including weekends (I logged about 40,000 words).  During ten of those days, my husband was singing in California, leaving me to parent our 12, 13, and 14-year-old on my own (read: forage for brightly colored foods like pop ice and cheese and binge-watch old episodes of House while the kids played too many video games when they should have been sleeping).

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(Photo by my son, Ivan)

By the time my husband finally came home in early July my youngest sister and her three kids were already visiting our home to celebrate Independence Day.  Then, suddenly, my grandmother passed away, and my middle sister and her three kids drove thirteen hours to join the rest of us during that hard time.  The last seven days are a smear of lipstick and tears.

And, to quote Sarah Mclachlan, I’m so tired that I can’t sleep.

A few things come to mind: 1). Life happens in contractions.  There’s the normal we get bored of and there’s the pain we resent.  2). We don’t appreciate the respite without the strain in-between, and 3). You can still get a lot of stuff done in chaos, but you’re always glad when you managed to work ahead and can somewhat avoid that I-can’t-feel-my-feet feeling.

And then there’s this.  God is always good, even when life isn’t.

Turning A Page

Our trip to Paraguay was relentless, hot and wonderful.  We were able to accomplish more than we’d hoped, thank God, and our flights and connections remained smooth (no small thing considering we flew over the Amazon Basin twice and there are, let’s just say, bumps in that ride).  The whole experience was life-altering, as trips like these often are.

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In our Paraguayan hotel room.  It was 99 degrees and humid outside but at night our AC wall unit worked overtime.  It reminded us of the good old days in India. 

Predictably, I arrived home with a sore throat and fluid packed ears, so I spent last week trying to recover and getting the kids back on track in their regular routines while hoping my exhausted husband was somehow making it at work.  My work in progress (affectionately known in writer world as WIP) remained mostly untouched, save for a little fiddling here, a few hundred words there.  I kept telling myself that it’s insane to spend a grueling, love-filled week in South America and then expect for things to immediately fall back into place just because the plane touched back down at home.  Still, I fretted.

And now it’s Monday again, come what may.  Things are slowly coming together.  I signed up for the ACFW conference last week, which is in August this year.  It’s terrifying to have a real deadline by which I should have my manuscript ready (or ready-ish) in order to receive helpful feedback.

It’s also clarifying–meaning I will, once again, have to trim the fat from my life in order to meet my goal.

For the next several weeks I’ll have my head down in an attempt to finish and polish the manuscript I’m working on while also helping my kids wrap up their school year and keep the home fires burning in my marriage.  If all of that seems reasonable to you, I’d love to take your productivity course.

So I’ll be scarce on the old blog. I won’t even be writing much poetry, for heaven’s sake.  I’ll miss you all.  In the meantime, feel free to drop in here and comment, look around, or email me if the mood strikes you.

Until I emerge on the other side,

Hannah

 

 

Resolved: To Wait for the Right Resolutions

This is a stop-in because today is Monday, and it’s turning out that Monday is blog day.  Also?  It’s 2016, we’re not on holiday anymore, and I feel the itch to return to routines, writerly and otherwise.

Which leads me to my next thought:  I’m not sure how to approach resolutions this year.  I do have things I’d like to accomplish in the next twelve months, disciplines I want to incorporate into the warp and woof of my life, but the idea of official resolution setting has fallen flat for me this go-around.

On the other hand, time is short and none of us is promised tomorrow, so I don’t want to waste it.  These days, I’m trying to think through how to set myself up for success in the things that matter, how to best use the time I have, while not being locked into a pass/fail mentality.

It’s January 4th, and I don’t really have a plan, yet.  But I’m mulling it over.  Something will turn up, eventually.  And if it doesn’t, well…

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Of Goals and GIFs

In the wee hours of the morning, I dreamed a recurring scene:  I was supposed to write a magazine article about parents setting goals in front of their children so they can show them how to do it in their own lives.  I planned to use the (somewhat silly) example of growing out my hair–as my daughter watched me doggedly struggle through bad hair days and awkward seasons–until I got my hair the way I wanted it.

FullSizeRenderMy sisters and me (left), playing around with our mother’s monstrous stash of wigs.

So far, so good. (?)

But in my dream, every time I wrote a couple of paragraphs, the computer screen ate them and I was left with nothing.  Then I grabbed a notebook and rewrote them, but I couldn’t read my own handwriting.  Back to the computer.

The clock kept ticking, and I was aware that I had fifteen minutes until my article was due.  This scenario replayed itself in my dream like a wretched little GIF until I woke up, cranky and stressed.

After the kids and I ate breakfast and fed the dogs, I headed to my bedroom to write.  I told them that I needed some time to work because I’ve given myself a deadline to finish a first draft of my second novel before I leave the country next week (it doesn’t look like I’ll meet this goal, but I’ll probably come close).

I still felt the cloud of that anxious dream hanging over me and I wondered if my kids will think I’m crazy someday.  But then I consoled myself with this thought:  They’re seeing me work towards little and big goals every day, and, crazy or not, I’m showing them how to keep going.

I tell myself that’s got to count for something.

Moral of the story:  Don’t use over-the-counter sleep aids unless you’re prepared to dream in GIFs .

Avoiding (and recovering from) the Dreaded Goal Drift

DSCN0939Drifting.  It’s something we all do, I suspect.  We start out with plans or goals, and for a while, if we’re very motivated, we implement them.  After some time, new habits start to feel kind-of normal, and we think, “This is it.  I’m a changed person.  Look at what I’m doing these days.”  We’ve turned a corner and now we’re unstoppable.

And that’s when it starts to happen:  the drift–the sliding, ever so slowly, away from our original intentions.

It may be that we’d committed to eating better, and for a while we do.  But then, after a month or so, when we’ve shed a little weight and kale is our friend, we indulge in fries once.  Then twice.  Then three times a week.

In my case, I’d been waking up well before my kids for several weeks.  When my alarm sounded each morning, it felt wonderful, if also a little painful, to know that the sun wouldn’t be up for a while, and that I had loads of time to read, write, and pray.

But then, little by little, I started to shut off my alarm a couple mornings per week.  Sleeping in felt wonderful, too.  I began to want sleep more than I wanted to observe my morning routine.  Before I knew it, I was consistently using all of my reflective, alone time in order to sleep in.  This meant that I tried to grab that time during other windows in the day when it was much harder to protect.  I grew grumpy, as if this predicament were my kids’ fault (it wasn’t).

Furthermore, even with the extra sleep, I didn’t feel more rested.  I felt irritable.  I knew I needed to revisit my original goal.

These days, I’m waking up early again, and it feels great, just like it used to.  I’m reminded why I made this decision in the first place.  Instead of beating myself up about my previous drifting, I’m simply savoring the return to this happier (more disciplined) state.  My hope is that, if I pay attention to how good it feels to wake up early, the next time I’m tempted to drift, I’ll remember why I chose to do it in the first place.

Because, in the end, joy and contentment are better motivators than guilt and fear.

A Little Yes

It’s February.  I told myself I’d introduce my 2015 goals slowly so that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and quit on them.  It’s mostly worked and I feel like I’m making progress,  except with the working out thing.  Somehow I haven’t been able (willing?) to make it happen.

I talked about getting a pedometer so that I could track my steps. As it happens, though, I feel crazy doing laps from one end of the house to the other in order to up a step count.  Then, too, I have no intention of going outside.  That left me wondering whether I needed to splurge and purchase a machine like this.  It’s always been my tried-and-true form of exercise in the past.  I even owned one in India and used it every, single day.

I finally bit the bullet and bought one.  Yesterday I got on it for the first time for ten minutes.  Ten minutes was all it took for my bronchial tube to feel as tight as one of those coffee stirrers in a hospital cafeteria.  When I finished my “workout” (I’d managed to log just over a mile), I was basically doing Lamaze to catch up on oxygen.  My daughter looked at me and said, “Good job, Mom?”  She seemed unsure whether to say more.

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Now, ten minutes is nothing, right?  Really almost not worth putting on my ancient running shoes for.  And it was ten minutes of hurt, adding insult to shortness of breath.  But the thing I’ve come to realize is this:  all worthwhile achievements start out as little yesses that look like nothing much and hurt a little (or a lot).

So today I will get back on my machine.  I will play my radio station on Pandora and set my timer for ten minutes again.  I’ll do this for a week without lengthening the amount of time I work out.  Next week, I’ll make it fifteen minutes, then twenty, until I’ve reached a length of time I think is beneficial.  I’ve learned that the key to establishing better fitness is not to despise these early ten minute sessions, not to try to speed through them to get on the other side of a goal.  They’re necessary to establish habit and endurance.

Maybe, in the end, 2015 is really about my learning to appreciate the wobbly, feeble beginnings of things, to keep saying little yesses, one day at a time. Because without beginnings there’s nowhere to go.

What about you?  Do you find yourself hating the beginnings of new habits?  Do you wish you could skip to the “this is easy” phase?  How do you keep going when you aren’t there yet?

How January’s Going (Setting and Meeting Goals One Month At a Time)

Today’s the last Monday in January.  We’re almost finished with the first month of 2015, and are about to head into the shortest month of the year that, incidentally, lasts forever.  I’m checking up on myself to see how the old goals are coming along. Mine are smallish but I still need to keep track of them if I hope to meet them.

A mini-report:

I’m still not exercising.  Not unless you count getting up from a seated position.  I do that sometimes.  To help me incorporate more movement in my day, I plan to get a pedometer in February.  Does anyone have any suggestions on which kind is the best?  I’m thinking this one might be good.

I’m getting up thirty minutes (sometimes an hour) earlier every day.  I’ve been doing this the whole month of January, except on weekends, thanks to my supportive husband, who nudges me awake when his iPhone goes off in the morning.  I plan to make getting up an hour earlier my actual habit this week and into February.

Sadly, I have not been notably nicer to the kids this month.  I keep forgetting to give them positive feedback in a calculated way (of course, when I write it like that it makes the idea seem cold and false).  If I don’t make myself a note to compliment them more often, though, it doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should.  I need (more) improvement in this area.

I’m reading my Bible almost every morning.  I have a reading plan and I’m sticking to it, though I do get derailed on the weekends.  Also, while my focus is improving with practice, I still find myself reading a chapter about the early church and wondering what we’re going to have for dinner.  Still, onward and upward.

I’m writing like crazy in the morning.  I said I would, and I am.  This category goal seems to be taking off this month.  I don’t want to look too closely at it as I’m afraid it’s like touching butterfly wings.  I’ll just say, it’s going well.  Moving on…

That’s it so far.  This month hasn’t been perfect, nor will February be.  But keeping track of my goals helps me see where I need to apply more attention and intention.

What about you?  Did you set any for this year?  If so, how are you doing as you work to meet them?

The Ten Minute Read

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Christmas break starts tonight.  Admittedly, it started a while ago for the kids and me, so when I say Christmas break, I mean my husband’s break.  Having him home with us will officially kick off a string of slow, fireplace days, and hot-chocolate-and-murder-mystery nights.  Of course, I’m looking forward to it because it’ll mean memory making and good conversations, all of us together during the best hours of the day.  But it’ll also mean that I can steal away sometimes (while, say, Dad plays dominoes with the kids) and do some serious reading. The long, focused kind. The best and rarest kind, in my humble opinion.

Then, inevitably, the New Year will roll around and schedules will tighten up around here again.  The kids will get back into the rhythm of co-op, extra-curriculars, and youth group.  The days will fill, as well they should, and my time for reading will be limited–again.  As happens at the start of every new year, I’ll be tempted to let library books pile up on my nightstand, unread and collecting dust.  And then, naturally, the longer they sit there, the guiltier I’ll feel because I’m a writer and writers read.  Just ask Stephen King.

I say I’ll be tempted to let those books pile up, but I won’t actually let them.  Instead, I know I’ll have to shift my mindset, once again, about how much time it really takes to move through a few pages of a good book every day.  I’ll have to get over my all-or-nothing tendencies and re-instate the Ten Minute Read (which is to say, reading on the fly).  And to facilitate my goal of grabbing ten minutes increments in which to read, whenever they present themselves, I’ll make sure to

  • Have a book in my purse at all times
  • Have a book (or three) on my nightstand
  • Use my ten minutes to actually read instead of checking social media
  • Rethink the time I spend standing in lines, holding the phone, or waiting in parking lots as excellent times in which to clear a few pages.

All of this doesn’t come naturally to me as I’m a girl who likes to block out large swaths of time to do things that are important to me, and then focus only on those things.  But I’ve realized that if I wait to read only when those large swaths appear, I’ll read twice a year, maybe.  So I’ve learned to embrace the reality that, right now, time comes to me in fragments, in serendipitous slivers.  I can make the most of these pockets, reading a page at a time, or fritter them away.  Sometimes I choose to fritter because it’s just easier.  Increasingly, though, I’m using my minutes to read.  And the amazing thing is that those minutes are starting to add up, and I find that I’m reading a lot after all.

What about you?  Are you all-or-nothing, or do you grab flyby moments to do things you love?