Monday, July 22, 2019

Any Time, Any Place, Any Method
Please see photo credit at the
bottom of this post.
How do you read?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my struggle to balance reading time and writing time. Recently, I found that adding audio books to my reading methodology increased the number of books I get through, despite the fact that I have a less-than-ten-minute commute.

I'm particular about my audio books, though. I've yet to download a novel on audiobook, and haven't listened to one since we borrowed one of the Harry Potter books on CD from the library as family entertainment for a drive to the beach years ago. Instead, I choose non-fiction works because they lend themselves to short drives. I listen to a small section and have time to absorb the information before I listen to the next bit. I look for unabridged versions, preferably read by the author.

Still, as a visual person, I miss the charts and graphs that come with the actual books and I find myself trying to locate them in other places (thank you, Google images). It's possible that some of the books have already come with these things, and I simply need to do a little more research to figure out where to access them.

Despite the fact that I've been an inveterate sing-along-with-the-radio traveler since I was a teenager, I've nonetheless found that I enjoy these bite-sized book visits. Depending on the depth and intensity of the work, sometimes ten minutes is enough. Other times, the car ride whets my appetite for more of the same or just more reading once I reach my destination. Though I can't indulge in this when I arrive at work, I can easily continue playing the book when I arrive home, letting the chapter finish as I unpack my stuff, settle in and get ready for whatever I need to do next.

congerdesign via Pixabay
But audiobooks aren't my only technological reading indulgence. When I travel, I swear by my Kindle because I can load a whole library onto a small device and read in public (in a waiting room, on the beach, on a train or airplane) without needing headphones or earbuds. My Kindle, like my Audible account, allows me to sample books. Not every one makes the cut and, I must admit, I have a collection of samples that have piled up from a few binge-browsing Amazon visits.

And then there are books -- actual paper and print between two covers, glorious books. I buy far fewer than I used to because trying to find homes for them can be as challenging as balancing reading time and writing time. My usual strategy when I have a finite amount of space in which to store something is one in-one out (getting rid of an old book for every one I bring in). This works to an extent but, when I've loved a book, it's not going anywhere except on my book shelf, even it it will collect dust there. I recently joined the Next Big Idea Club, and now, each season, two hardcover books I didn't even know I wanted show up on my doorstep, tipping the acquisition side of the scale.

I've tried telling myself I can't get any new books until I read the ones I have, but then I need a book for class. Or for the beach. Or because it's Tuesday.

Hi. My name is Lisa, and I'm a bookaholic.

Clearly, it doesn't matter what form they come in and I'm not even loyal to a particular genre (although, like everyone else, I have preferences). My love of books, begun when I was a child, fed through jobs in bookstores and teaching and my own writing, means the pile of books I want to read will always be taller than I am. In human terms, that's not saying much, but a five foot stack of books is a pretty impressive tower, one that doesn't even include the ones I've downloaded to my Kindle and my phone.

How about you? How do you read?

congerdesign via Pixabay

Photo credit ("Reading Makes My Heart Dance," top of page):

And the fine print below the photo at the top of the page says: Image based on the RUBY ROSE books, written by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (HarperCollins). For educational and personal use. For more free, print-ready material, see

And Lisa says: If you don't already follow Debbie Ridpath Ohi on Twitter, you really should.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday Feature: Why We Like Lists

It's strange for me to be writing this post after 1:30 on a Friday afternoon. These Friday Feature posts are usually the first thing I tackle on Friday mornings and, sometimes, I even get them done on Thursday night. But, since I had an appointment this morning that would get me out of the house earlier than usual, I clustered a bunch of errands together and did those before settling in to write this post.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because when I got home after two hours of running from place to place, I was hot (it's 93 degrees outside, according to Siri), but not frazzled. Instead, I felt accomplished. Lighter, even. The things that had been weighing me down were done and I was free to move on to the things I wanted to do.

Which got me thinking. Why do we get such a sense of accomplishment out of checking things off our lists? I know another list is lurking in the wings, its items lining up like so many actors preparing to make an entrance, but still, revel in that neat line of check marks.

So, I looked it up, and found a nice, succinct article in The Guardian by Louise Chunn that sums it all up rather nicely. According to Dr. David Cohen, who sounds like someone I want to meet (his family thinks he's "chaotic," but he credits his lists with keeping him from being just that), the satisfaction we get from checking things off those lists begins with the lists themselves.
"Cohen puts our love of to-do lists down to three reasons: they dampen anxiety about the chaos of life; they give us a structure, a plan that we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week or month."
Sounds about right.

I'm less keen to meet another of Chunn's sources, "time management expert David Allen." (Not a fan of experts who write off a whole population as "wrong"). Allen says our lists need to be specific, too, in order for us to be productive. I disagree -- a key word is often all I need as a line item on my lists -- but I guess that would make me wrong.

Regardless of how I should make my lists or why checking things off them makes me happy, I am pleased to have tackled them this morning. Not only are those things off my mind (and my list), I can now sit in my air-conditioned house and write instead of running around during the hottest part of the day.

Rewarding indeed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Be the Change

stevepb via Pixabay
I was powering through my to-do list this morning, watching the clock so I'd be on time for my afternoon appointments. As I skimmed my email to delete the junk, this Morning Offering quote stopped me cold.
"Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace in the world." (St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta)
It's not that I haven't noticed this on my own. In fact, in my development classes, we discuss the importance of one-on-one time in child development and most of my students are as bothered as I am by the hand-them-a-cell-phone-to-keep-them-occupied style of parenting.

But this morning, the fact that I was rushing myself -- even as I read the quote -- brought me to a screeching halt.

Every day, we pay it forward. When the start to our day is quiet and relaxing, we feel ready to go about our day in a civilized fashion and, I believe, we're more likely to be considerate in our interactions with others. But when the start to our day is rough, we often pay that stress forward in every interaction that follows.

Mahatma Gandhi said,“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Perhaps the first change we need to make is to slow down -- to curtail the terrible rush and replace it, as much as we can, with a more mindful approach to our world. It's a lot to ask, especially some days, but for every moment that we succeed, we're offered a moment to connect with the world and the people around us in a more meaningful way. 

It can be hard to put aside the thing we're doing to focus on the person in front of us -- I struggle with this every day. My heart knows the value of the person, but my work has personal value to me as well, setting up a real struggle over where I want/need to be in that particular moment. Still, I can't imagine I'll ever regret stopping what I was doing to focus on another person. 

When I worked as a school counselor and the nagging piles on my desk reminded me of my ever-burgeoning to-do list, I tried to live by the motto "people before paper." It's a start. And, if I couple that motto with a reminder to myself to slow down, perhaps I can move in the right direction at a more human pace.

I'd like very much to be a part of the peace in the world, no matter how small my contribution may be.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Nothing Trivial About It

ErikaWittlieb via Pixabay
Last week, I wrote a blog about tackling closets and drawers one step at a time. This past weekend, I started digging in.

I won't bore you with the details of my closet escapades -- just one in particular. While my daughter was out shopping with a friend last weekend, she found a trivia card game she thought would be fun for our family to play. Last night, after dinner, she launched into the questions on the cards. This led to a desire to play Trivial Pursuit, and a search for the game I was sure I'd designated a keeper when we were packing up my parents' condo.

We started with the games in the mudroom closet -- a towering stack of neglected playthings that had,  over time, been nudged deeper into the corner of the top shelf, making it increasingly more challenging for a five-foot-tall person to access any of them. We sorted them, designated about half of them giveaways and moved on to the games in the family room. Once finished, we separated the games we'd still play (Yahtzee, Clue, etc.) from the classics we wanted to keep (Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Hi! Ho! Cherry-O) and stored them accordingly. The classic keepers went back on the top shelf of the mudroom closet while the game night contenders got prime space in the family room.

I loved so many things about this activity. Sure, the new-and-improved closet shelf was nice (yes, I tackled the rest of the shelf after we'd finished sorting games) as was the thought that these games would go to other kids who might enjoy them (via a donation facilitated by a student of mine who works at a summer camp). The feeling of accomplishment was pretty nice, too.
But the best parts involved my daughter. I loved that the girl who will be 22 on her next birthday still wants to pick out games we can play -- still wants to play a game with us at all. I loved that the childhood classics -- or most of them, anyway -- survived the cut. And I loved that she wanted to play Trivial Pursuit, a game we played mostly when we visited my parents and, my dad, King of All Games, presided over the game as everyone but my mom (the least competitive of us) fought to emerge victorious.

We never did find Trivial Pursuit, and so the search continues. But I think we did manage to uncover a desire to haul out the games and have some family time.

And that's even better than a cleared-off shelf.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday Feature: 4 Day Work Weeks

About 25 years ago, I moved from a full-time job to a four-day-a-week position. At the time, I was engaged and my soon-to-be-husband was gainfully employed. We had no children and all of the jobs in question (his, my old one and my new one) included health insurance, so the pay cut seemed a small price to pay for a job I really wanted. Since we were combining our salaries and our living expenses, it all seemed do-able.

And it was. For me, a four day work week yielded an opportunity to start a freelance writing career (a fantastic suggestion that came from my sister). Later, it gave me an extra day to spend at home with my newborn daughter, a perk I enjoyed almost until she entered elementary school. In retrospect, fully grasping what this time meant probably played a role in my taking an early retirement from that same job, which had turned into a five-day-a-week position.

For the past two summers, I've enjoyed a four day schedule as well. Since I was teaching only one class, I went into work for two to three hours Monday through Thursday. Fridays were once again a writing day, with out-of-school teaching responsibilities (planning, grading) done primarily on work days as well.

As someone who has lived this schedule, I wasn't at all surprised to read that a New Zealand study found a connection between a shorter work week and an increase in productivity. The company's founder didn't put this change into effect merely to be a nice guy -- he'd read about the benefits of shorter work weeks and decided to see if they held true.

And he wasn't disappointed. Employees wasted less time (and spent less time in meetings, which underwent some changes as well) and reported a better work-life balance. In addition, the company also saved itself some overhead costs.

Oh, did I mention the employees got paid the same salary to work 32 hours a week they'd been paid to work 40?

Think your boss would go for it? The article and its links provide some valid information on the benefits of this from both sides of the table.

Who knows? Maybe it's worth sharing with your boss.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Celebrating Summer

I must confess. I have no idea what any
of the stuff on the board means.
(Photo: Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay)
My summer class is coming to a close. I taught my last lesson today and, tomorrow, my students take an exam and we wrap up our book discussion. Then, it's all over but the grading.

In other words, vacation begins.

For the second summer in a row, I've had a great group of students. A part of me will miss seeing them every day, but I'm also ready to click into vacation mode.

All week, I could feel it coming. My motivation to get class things done was high, and so was my motivation to tackle the things that had piled up around the house while I was teaching and grading. Last night was especially productive, as I checked myriad small items off my list, clearing the clutter of tasks that stood between me and time to write, rest and organize.

It felt good.

If you're thinking that vacation means binge-watching Netflix and lounging by the pool, clearly we haven't met. For me, vacation means writing projects and organizing my house, both of which sound like work but give me immense enjoyment. While others find solace and enjoyment in the garden or on the tennis court, I'm happiest sorting through the stacks in my office and rearranging my closet. (There's a reason I'm the indoor parent).

But it isn't the activities themselves that are most alluring. It's the sense of possibility. When full, unscheduled weeks stretch out before me, I have the sense that I can do everything from revising my novel to redecorating my house. And, even better, if I don't want to do a particular project on a particular day, I don't have to.

Myriams-Fotos via Pixabay
There's always tomorrow.

What does vacation mean to you? A tropical getaway? Sleeping in? Tackling a project? Doing absolutely nothing? Curling up with a good book?

What possibilities will you realize this summer?

Monday, July 8, 2019

Reading and Writing and Wringing my Hands

To read, or to write? That is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare).

As a writer, educator, wife and mom, there never seem to be enough hours in the day, despite the fact that everyone in my family is officially old enough to take care of him/herself. Because I know that reading feeds writing I also know I should do both. And I want to. I really do.

Every week, that annoying Screen Time feature on my iPad reminds me that I managed to find plenty of time to play silly games and engage in social media, seemingly contradicting my stated desire to find more time to read and/or write. (Luckily it doesn't also track TV and Netflix time. Yet).

Bad habits? Maybe. But the games do make me think (more than TV and Netflix) and, besides, I'm often playing them when I'm too tired to actually engage my brain. As for social media, much (but not all) of it is an offshoot of work.

Still, I could be reading instead.

I've read a few articles with tips on how to read more (silly, perhaps) and I've been reminded of the fact that I do read -- I read a lot. But, since I'm reading lots of things besides books, the other reading I'm doing interferes with my ability to finish books quickly. As I result, I don't have the wonderful satisfaction that comes with arriving at the end of a book and closing it for the last time, secure in the knowledge that I've lapped up every word.

Last summer, I downloaded Audible so I could listen to books on the beach. Once home, I started listening to books in the car, even though I don't have a very long commute. That resulted in my dipping into even more books and -- triumphantly! -- getting to the end of books even when I wasn't at the beach. I was being read to instead of reading myself, but I was still reveling in a good book.

GDJ via Pixabay
Lately, I've taken my audiobooks out of the car and begun pairing my audiobooks with my iPad games. I can listen to a book while I do a jigsaw puzzle (yes, on my iPad) or play one of the games I like, doubling my enjoyment and feeling more productive (and maybe even a little virtuous) at the same time.

Slowly, I'm adding more reading (and listening) of books to the equation but, as even an algebra
novice knows, equations have to balance. Finding time to read that's not also prime writing time...well, that remains a challenge, leading me right back to where I started.

To read or to write? That is the question. Either way, I win.

So maybe it's not such a dilemma after all.