Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Puzzling it Out

Webvilla via Pixabay
One of my guilty pleasures is a game on my iPad called Wooden Block Puzzle. It's a lot like Tetris only instead of the pieces falling, I get three at a time and I have to place them where I think they best fit. When the house is quiet, playing the game can be soothing and relaxing. Even better, when I really focus on the game, I can sometimes feel the must-dos and the should-dos slipping away, allowing my mind to wander and even brainstorm.

Last year I subscribed to a meditation app. I really liked it, but paying for a subscription didn't have the impact I'd hoped for -- using it more often simply because I'd spent money on it. It was interesting for me to discover that playing my wooden puzzle game slowly and thoughtfully could have a similarly relaxing effect.

In some ways, I like it better. Though the meditation app encouraged me to notice what I was thinking, the objective was to avoid lingering on any one thought. With the game, as I investigate options with respect to where each piece should go, my mind is free to roam, making brainstorming -- whether a blog topic, a problem that needs solving, the creation of a to do list or something else entirely -- a surprising and welcome side effect.

Thanks to technology, I can dictate those thoughts even as I'm playing the game. By the time I set my iPad aside one morning last week, I had a rough draft of several blog posts, each dictated into my phone while I was putting the puzzle pieces into place. I also managed to come up with some article ideas that had previously eluded me completely.

Skitterphoto via Pixabay
Although our devices can both add to and subtract from our productivity, it's a bit strange when they do both simultaneously. While my laptop is for both work and play, I'll admit that my iPad is more about the games. At the end of the day when I'm ready to crash, I enjoy sitting down to play Words with Friends or move puzzle pieces into place, whether in my virtual wooden puzzle or an online Jigsaw puzzle (which I love because I can't lose any of the pieces).

It's a rare thing when technology actually relaxes us and inspires creative, divergent thinking instead of stress. Recognizing this side benefit of my games not only makes me feel less guilty about playing them, but also gives me a tool to use when I need to slow down my thoughts and perhaps turn them to the kind of thinking where there are no right answers and anything is possible. Thinking of my game strategically rather than simply recreationally has actually increased my interest in playing it. 

Even better, it's decreased my guilt about taking some time to myself to do something unproductive because, as it turns out, it can be productive if I want it to be.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Manuscript Monday

webvilla via Pixabay
Hello, friends and happy Monday! As of this writing, I've completed and turned in nearly every writing project with a January deadline  and my characters are calling to me. So today, I'm going to step away from the porch swing to give them a little bit of long overdue attention. I spent a little time with Angel and Jim on Saturday, and that only served to make me hungry to catch up with the rest of the gang. So today, I'm going to spend the time I usually spend writing a blog post writing some scenes for the third and final (still untitled) Marita/Angel/Charli book.

If you've got some time on your hands, I'd love it if you'd visit my Pinterest page. I've been working on organizing my boards, especially the ones connected to my novels and my Organizing by STYLE posts. If you'd like to see what I think my characters might look like or dress like, check out Casting the First Stone and CTFS: Angel, Marita and Friends. Meanwhile, I'm going to work on writing what comes next for them.

See you Wednesday.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Features: Are You Shoulding Yourself?

Yesterday, on my Organizing by STYLE blog, I wrote about habits that can kill our motivation. At the top of the list?

The Shoulds.

You know how it goes. I should do this, I should do that....

Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don't. But those shoulds almost always make us feel bad.

The shoulds tell us we're not good enough. Motivated enough.


Enough with the shoulds. In addition to making us feel bad, they chip away at our time and energy -- the very resources we need to do the things we actually want to do.

The funny thing is, our shoulds might not even align with who we are, but rather with some expectation that lies outside of us. In an article in Psychology Today, psychotherapist and interfaith minister Nancy Colier says that, "[b]ecause so much of our behavior is driven by 'should,' we are losing our ability to distinguish what we really 'want'."

Truthfully, the shoulds often do more harm than good so this weekend, I'm packing them away. No shoulds. If I must "should" myself, I'm going to try changing the language -- "it might be a good idea if..."

Semantics? Maybe. But if it might be a good idea, it also might not be a good idea. Not only does that loophole pack less of a wallop than a should, it also gives me the opportunity to determine whether the should is something I want or some random standard I'm holding myself to.

How about you? Are you tired of shoulding yourself?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Elegy (of sorts) for a Laptop

Yesterday, I finally got frustrated enough with my MacBook to cave in and take it to the Apple Store, not-so-secretly hoping that a new MacBook was the answer. Don't get me wrong -- I love my MacBook -- but at six years old and counting, its age is showing. The lag time between typing in, say, a web address, and having it appear on screen is not as bad as the old AOL dial-up connection delay, but let's just say it's frustrating to try to do much of anything in a hurry. In addition, it was no longer possible to work for any length of time without plugging it in. Case in point: I teach from 11 - 1:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One day, when I forgot to plug my MacBook in between classes, it died partway through my second class, giving me that sad, sad, red, empty battery icon and forcing me to figure out what to do in the absence of any visuals while it powered back up.


So, when the technician at the Genius Bar referred to my laptop as vintage (better it than me), I had a feeling my dream of a new laptop -- one that responded in real time -- might actually be realistic.

In the end, the only rationalization I could come up with for replacing the battery instead of the machine itself was price. In addition to its speed challenge, the old MacBook no longer accepts the newest software updates. I could very easily end up spending over a hundred dollars on a new battery only to have the old machine outlive its usefulness.

And useful it was. I wrote two novels (almost three) on that MacBook, one of which I've already published. I wrote more blogs and articles than I can count, along with two book proposals, including the one for Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff, which is currently in my editor's hands. I learned how to use Keynote and Pages and Canva, creating course materials, promo materials and playing with presentations and graphic design just for fun. I learned how to use Twitter and refined my skills on that machine. I poured out my heart in personal emails and wrote my mom's obituary.

It was a very good MacBook.

And so I did the only thing I could. I retired it while I still have fond memories of it and before its power is gone completely. Like any outgoing expert, it can train its replacement, sharing files and wisdom (okay, maybe not wisdom) and serving in a limited capacity while being allowed more rest than a full-time laptop can manage.

I wasn't thrilled by all the bells and whistles on the newest MacBooks, so my new MacBook looks exactly like my old one. Over time, it will earn its own place in my heart, (its shiny, clean screen and increased power are an excellent start) as I finish old works and start new ones I haven't even dreamed of yet.

But I'm not counting the old one out just yet. After all, a Jersey girl's laptop is bound to have had some stubborn determination transferred to it after six years of tapping away at its keys. Battle-scarred (you should see the keyboard) or not, it's tough and I suspect it has more life in it than it lets on.

Twin MacBooks, six years apart. What more could a Jersey writer wish for?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Letting Go

Stux via Pixabay
Today, my daughter begins a new adventure — a semester abroad. Even before I developed an aversion to flying, I never had a desire to embark on this type of an excursion. When I was in college, two of my roommates spent a semester in England and, while I enjoyed hearing about their travels, I was uninterested in taking a trip of my own.

My daughter is different. She still harbors a bit of a grudge because I vetoed a trip to China when she was 11, and has been making plans ever since. I am both impressed and nervous, and am working hard to express only enthusiasm for a trip that begins with a plane ride over a vast expanse of water.

As I type this, we are en route to the airport. Except for the knot in the pit of my stomach, it feels like any other family excursion. My husband is driving, I’m in the passenger’s seat, a bag of travel goodies (magazines, Sudokus, my Kindle) at my feet and my daughter is in the back seat, attached to her phone via earbuds. A part of me wants to soak up every last drop of time, engaging in conversation or maybe even the car games that got us through trips so many years ago, but my attempts are consistently rebuffed. I suspect she finds the familiarity as reassuring as I do, a buffer against any nerves that threaten to dull the luster of this great adventure.

Even now, the thought of the trip home, as she flies in one direction and we drive in another without her, brings big, drippy tears to my eyes, so I can’t think about it. Not yet. Not while she is still in the back seat and my job is to be reassuring and enthusiastic. It reminds me a little of dropping her off at day care when she was little, careful to be all smiles and promises of play, before climbing back in the car and bursting into tears as I drove off without her.

I will be fine once I know she is safely at her destination. These past two-and-a-half years of sending her off to college have given me plenty of practice at saying goodbye then resuming my new normal, empty nest mom life. The truth is, it isn’t all bad; in fact, it has many things to recommend it. It’s just that I now understand what my mom said for so many years — that she was fine when we weren’t there, until we came back. Then, when we left after a visit, she missed us more than ever.

As usual, Mom was right. This departure is one of the more challenging ones we have to face, but that will only make the reunion all that sweeter.

Or perhaps I might just have to make an excursion of my own.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Friday Feature: Saving Some Clams

I eat out way more than I should, and, as a result, takeout containers are a staple in my refrigerator. I'm always appreciative of eco-friendly containers. I cringe when I ask for a container for my leftovers and am handed some polystyrene clam shell contraption which leaves me the option of either wasting perfectly good food or contributing to the ongoing damage to our environment.

Consequently, I was excited to read that New York City is banning these containers.

From my perspective, Manhattan is a nice place to visit, but I don't want to live there, so while this change will have little impact on me personally, it's nevertheless a big consideration. I'm concerned by the fact that many of those with the power to protect our planet are pretty blasé about doing so; some are blatantly unconcerned about the ramifications of business as usual and others even want to turn back time when it comes to protecting our environment. So, when I see a story with a happy ending for Planet Earth, it want to applaud -- and share it.

Like the containers themselves, this issue has two sides. Polystyrene containers are cheap and they do a good job of keeping food and beverages at a desirable temperature. On the other side of the clamshell are, well, the clams and their fellow inhabitants of the ocean. These containers can't be easily recycled, so they pose a danger to sea creatures who ingest them and, potentially, to the humans who go on to eat these sea creatures.

New York City had to fight to make this proposed ban a reality, but fight they did. Establishments have until June 30 to use up their stock of polystyrene and some exceptions will be made for containers that bring food into the city.

I'm not naive enough to think that the already high prices in New York won't go up as a result of this change, but personally, I think the change is a good one. To me, saving money at the expense of our planet seems penny wise and pound foolish and I can only hope that similar changes are coming soon to a restaurant near me.

Would I be willing to pay a little more for my food if the establishment adopted an eco-friendly policy? I would.

And I do.

Would you?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A New Book is Coming!

The new year keeps bringing me new things to share! (No complaints!!) I didn't intend to have two new pretty things to showcase this week, but this morning, I got the official go-ahead to share the cover of my latest book!

Due out this spring from Our Sunday Visitor, Know Thyself: The (Im)Perfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff takes a laid back, gentle approach to getting organized. Long-time readers may remember that I used to post on this topic here before moving the organizing posts to a home of their own. My philosophy is that anyone can get organized, but that one-size-fits-all organizational strategies are counterproductive (and frustrating). The path to sustainable systems is created by putting the things we already do -- the very things that might seem like obstacles -- to work and developing strategies that work with those habits and styles.

So, for any of you who've been wondering what's taking me so long to get the next Marita/Angel/Charli book out into the world, the answer is that I seem to have taken a non-fiction detour. Now that the writing part of Know Thyself is finished, I'm anxious to get back to my characters, and determined that 2019 will be the year that their next installment makes it into your hands.

Until then, I hope you'll join me in celebrating my newest book, due out in just a few months!