Friday, February 22, 2019

Friday Feature: A Napping House

When my daughter was little, she had a book called The Napping House. I can still remember the repeated refrain:
"This is a house, a napping house, where everyone is sleeping."
When she was little, she sometimes fought her nap, determined to stay awake so she could play more and miss less. Now, as a college student, she revels in naps, recognizing them for what they are.

A luxury.

Or, perhaps, a way of life.

Our house is, indeed, a napping house. My husband, my daughter and I all recognize the value of a good nap. And we're not alone.

Hilary Thompson has a fun article in Verily that goes beyond justifying the nap and includes not only its health benefits, but its multiple varieties as well.

Perhaps if we, as a society, got more sleep, naps wouldn't be necessary. But, then again, there are plenty of countries that build an afternoon siesta into the fabric of their days.

I'm just happy I don't have to move to one of them in order to indulge my napping habit. Clearly, we've built a successful napping house right here.

P.S. Anyone want to guess one of the reasons I'm posting late today?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

In the Mood for Starbucks

A while back -- two years ago, maybe? -- a writer friend and I decided to be each other's accountability partners, meeting once a week at our local Starbucks to write. At the time we started this, she was a barista and I wasn't teaching every day, so we'd meet after her shift on a day I didn't have classes.

As our work schedules changed, so too did our meeting times. The latest schedule shift has led to us meeting in the early evening instead of sometime around the lunch hour.

My favorite Starbucks is a whole different place in the evenings. During the day -- when I am most often there -- the "regulars" fill the seats. Business people work on laptops and documents, making phone calls or strategizing in groups. Students -- usually boisterous, often high school age -- drink frappuccinos and plan events that are a cross between social and academic. Friends (often female) converse over various beverages in pairs or groups, retirees read the paper and sip their coffee and families with children stop in, perhaps between errands, loading up on hot coffee and cold juice boxes. The drive-through is busy, the mood is lively, the music is upbeat (and often loud) and customers zip in and out, picking up mobile orders.

In the evening, the mood is more mellow. The business people have packed up their laptops and the high school students have gone home, making it much easier to get a table, especially as the evening wears on. The music is different, too, although I suspect this has as much to do with who's working as what time of day it is. The students who are there are more likely to be older than high school age and working by themselves (though it depends on the evening) and the conversations are quieter. The mood is more relaxed and less frenzied, though depending on the time of day and the weather, the drive-through may still be doing a booming business.

It's interesting to take in the ebb and flow of this place where I spend so much time (and money). This particular store is only a couple years old and, when it first opened, it took me a while to figure out its rhythms. You may wonder why this matters since I'm only a customer, but that's exactly why it matters. Figuring out when I can get a parking spot, a table or my favorite food is key. If I want to meet a friend, any seat will do. If I want to get work done, a small table might work, a larger one will be even better and a seat at the community table will too distracting. If I'm meeting my writer friend for a writing session, anything smaller than the larger tables leaves us a little pressed for space.

Although it's been a bit of a shift meeting in the evenings, we seem to get more work done. I don't know if this has to do with deadlines, our own exhaustion after a full work day or the mood of the store itself, but we seem to spend less time chatting and more time on the task at hand.

From time to time, I total up how much I spend at Starbucks in a week and wag an imaginary finger at myself, considering the other things I could do with that money. But I enjoy my daily Starbucks runs, whether they're an accountability writing session, a long overdue chat with a friend, a solo work session or a quick run though the drive-through or into the cafe to pick up a mobile order. The baristas know my name (and my order) and, depending on how many new folks are behind the counter, I know most of their names as well.

There are still times when I miss the smaller Starbucks with the bigger parking lot that this store replaced, but Starbucks remains my office away from home, a place where I've written parts of novels and non-fiction books and more blog posts than I can count -- have even done book signings. I know most of the regulars by face if not by name and I know some of their stories as well. My daughter got a summer job through a connection I made with a Starbucks couple, and I met a woman last month who might help me with my professional branding.

Some people do networking. I do Starbucks.

Monday, February 18, 2019

A Changing Communication Situation
I was a college student in the days where we had telephones in our rooms. Excuse me -- ONE telephone, attached to the wall above someone's desk, for the use of all who shared the room (and sometimes neighbors whose roommates were using their phones). Freshman year, I lived in a triple. Sophomore year, junior year and the first half of senior year, I lived in a double, then finally, during my last semester, in a single.

First time in my life I ever had my own phone.

The phone attached to the dorm-room wall was an upgrade, mind you. Prior to this, phones were in the hallway (I think we might have had one of those, too) for the use of the whole floor.

The presence of this phone (what we'd now call "a landline") in the room should not be confused with 24-hour long-distance service. The service was there but, unless there was some sort of emergency, we rarely called home unless it was on the weekend or after 11 p.m. on a weeknight because that's when the rates were lowest. Quasi-emergencies warranted calls between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. but daytime calls were as rare as a single in one's freshman year. In between phone calls, we wrote letters. Actual letters, on paper, sent through the mail, which was not yet called snail mail because it was the only mail available.

Can you imagine?

As a 21st century parent, I'm grateful for the technology that makes contacts this infrequent a quaint, nostalgic story. I like my daughter's cell phone almost as much as she does, especially this semester when she's an ocean away. It isn't that we're in constant contact; it's that we can be if we want to be, and in so many formats. Sure, the phone on the wall promised that same luxury, but phone calls after midnight to anyone off-campus were reserved for serious emergencies and hometown boyfriends.

I'm not a helicopter parent, but I like the reassurance of knowing that I can check in on (not up on) my daughter "just because" and in real time. If I have something fun to share or if a news report hits too close to home, I can send out a quick text. Three quick exchanges and I've shared the news and we've connected, even if for just a few minutes.

It's interesting to discuss technology -- especially cell phones -- with my students, who are close to my daughter's age. The other day, in a class discussion, one student postulated that this is all so new that they're laying the groundwork for future generations. It was an interesting perspective, fascinating to contemplate. Will this cohort be more or less permissive with cell phones? Will the pendulum swing back?    

Although I'm certain we'll never go back to the now oh-so-quaint rotary phone mounted to the wall, it's interesting to consider how we'll communicate in the future. The days of waiting until after 11PM are gone, much to the relief of exhausted parents everywhere, but what will take their place?

As for me, I'm grateful to have a young adult who's a college student in the cell phone generation. I frequently think that I don't know how my parents did it -- sending two girls off to college with communication that was so limited by today's standards -- but I guess, at the time, those after-11PM and free weekends long-distance rates were as much the rage as cell phones are now.

I wonder how my daughter's (future) children will communicate with her, and how quaint today's cell phones will look by their standards. Just as we (or I, anyway) couldn't begin to imagine the changes that would take place between my college years and my daughter's, I'm sure that the changes to come are beyond any I can predict.

But, as long as mothers and daughters are still talking to one another, I suspect the method will be immaterial.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday Feature: Is Nature Part of Your Commute?

This past week, Mother Nature has sent us some pretty challenging commutes. In fact, my whole week feels off-kilter due to a self-declared snow day on Monday. It was snowing when I got up, snow was in the forecast all day and leaving the house was not at the top of my list.

So, I stayed home and told my students to do the same.

Today, Monday feels worlds away. The sun is shining, most of the snow is melted and it's forty degrees outside. But, while I had a moment of appreciation for the sun's warmth when I first stepped outside, I haven't paid much attention since.

Turns out, that's a mistake.

According to an article by Jane Burnett in Big Think, commutes though nature can improve our mental health and sense of well-being. 

A proud product of the Jersey suburbs, I'm about as far from a nature girl as you can possibly imagine, but I have to say that my personal experience supports this assertion. My first job out of graduate school was in a rural school district and I literally drove through apple orchards to get to and from work.

It was a beautiful and relaxing drive and, in the fall, boy did it smell good.

Though I no longer drive through orchards to get to work, my current, much shorter commute affords me plenty of opportunities to appreciate more than just the cars around me if I simply broaden my perspective. When I remember to do this, and couple it with a deep breath, I can feel an almost instantaneous change for the better.

If you turn your gaze to more than the back of the car in front of you, what does your commute have to offer?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Timely Decision

Pexels via Pixabay
It all started with a watch box.

Actually, I guess it started with a watch collection, but it was reignited by the watch box.

I had no idea there was such a thing until my friend Sueann mentioned hers one night at cards. I was intrigued, so she showed me hers and, by the end of the evening, I'd sent my husband a link to the one I wanted for Christmas.

I stopped wearing a watch when I retired six-and-a-half years ago. When I worked, a watch was a wardrobe staple, but when I left my full-time job behind, I left a number of things -- watches among them -- behind as well. Part of being retired meant not having punch a clock, after all. Besides, if I really needed to know the time, I could do what my daughter does -- check my phone.

Last year, I did a show for the first time in decades. One of my castmates, a friend ten years my junior, needed a watch as part of her costume. Like so many of us phone-bearing folks, she didn't own one.

But I did. In fact, I had several -- some of mine and some of my mother's.

The show last year, the first I did after my mom passed away, was the first one I ever did that my mom wouldn't attend. She had loved seeing me on stage, and I had loved knowing she was there. I couldn't think of a better use for one of her watches than as a costume piece on stage.

After the show closed, I put the watches away -- sort of. More accurately, I moved them from one spot to another as I tried to decide what to do with them. Store them? Wear them? Donate them?

And then I heard about the watch box. And got one for Christmas. The top section is like a little display case with space for five watches. Below, there are two drawers, where I can store other watches or, in my case, other jewelry.

For the last month, I've been replacing watch batteries one at a time. Today, I picked up the last accessory in this round of refurbishing -- a black watch band. As I type this, I'm wearing one of my mom's watches with a fresh, new, black band. When I told the jewelry store owner I'd made a New Year's resolution to start wearing watches again, he joked that I should buy a new one.

Clearly, he's missing the point.

This time around, I'm seeing my watches as more of a fashion statement and less of a necessity. The habit of wearing them is so new that, some days, I still reach for my phone to check the time before remembering I have it right there on my wrist.

PlushDesignStudio via Pixabay
Most of the time, our things drive our need for organizers, whether they're watch boxes, file bins or three-ring binders. But sometimes, feeling the need to organize something brings to light its significance. I didn't want to just put those watches away, something I probably should have figured out as I moved them from one spot to another for quite literally months. I wanted them to be functional, fashionable and, especially in the case of my mom's watches, well-cared for, but it wasn't until the watch box that I figured all of that out.

Is this a phase? I don't think so. The other day, I canceled my class due to snow and, when I got dressed for a leisurely day at home, I made it a point to put on a watch. I had no pressing engagements, no need to accessorize and no dearth of electronics on hand to tell me the time.

I just wanted to wear a watch.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Setting the Scene

EME via Pixabay
Today, I gave myself (and my students) a snow day. It started snowing last night -- thin, wispy flakes, just enough to cover the grass by bedtime. When it was still snowing this morning and the street and cars were covered, I activated the alternate assignment I'd set up last night and told my students (via email) to stay safe and warm (and do their homework).

Though it's out of print now,
Acting Assertively is still available
And then I pulled out my laptop.

I spent some time with Marita and friends and some time with an old friend -- my first book, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year -- as I put together an upcoming article on assertiveness.

And, before I knew it, it was evening and I hadn't written a blog post.

So, I thought perhaps I'd try something different and let some pictures do the talking. With the exception of my book cover, all of the photos in this post represent scenes and settings that play a role in Marita, Charli and Angel's next set of adventures.

What do you think they mean?

stevepb via Pixabay

wokandapix via Pixabay


musiklena64 via Pixabay

succo via Pixabay

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Embracing My Options

congerdesign via Pixabay
I'm a hybrid author -- part traditional, part indie. Both of my non-fiction books were published through a contract with a publisher and a third will be released via a different publisher this summer. I self-published one of my novels and the other, originally published through a small independent publisher, is now back in my hands.

Being published through a traditional house or via contract is like being an employee and, as such, it has many benefits. Someone else takes care of the little details I might not want to be bothered with and, as the book sells, I get a paycheck. Perhaps the best part of working within the employer-employee set-up that is traditional publishing is that it gives me access to professionals – professional cover designers, professional editors, professional marketing people, a professional sales team. These knowledgeable people make sure my book looks its best and that it's introduced to the world by a team, not just little old me.

But, as with any paycheck, deductions are part of the deal. In this case, the employer (publisher), who assumes all of the risk, takes a chunk of my paycheck as reimbursement for dealing with all of those details. And, as you'd imagine, the employer has a say in how just about everything is done. This process frees me up to write and, while I have input on how things go, final decisions are sometimes out of my hands.

The other side of the hybrid author coin is the indie publishing side. Working as an independent author (self-publishing), means that I get to make all of the decisions (even the ones I'd prefer someone else take charge of) and I have to find all of those previously mentioned resources on my own. In return, no one gets a cut of my paycheck (unless you count paying the professional editor, cover designer, marketing people and sales resources), but no one is double-checking the details either. Both the money and the headaches are mine, all mine.

This is, as you can imagine, a double-edged sword. 

Once upon a time, I dreamed of getting published and, by that, I meant traditionally published. Agent, editor, advance, royalties -- the whole package. Along the way, I've had all of those, just not all in the same book deal. 

And, as it turns out, that's not such a bad thing.

I like being a hybrid author. Some projects lend themselves to a traditional publishing model, others don't. For those that do, I like working as part of a team to make my book the best it can be. And, whether I'm putting my book in someone else's hands or hanging onto my project page by page, it's wise for me to educate myself about the elements of the publishing process. I believe that every author needs to know as much as possible about the behind-the-scenes aspects of publishing a book, if only to be a better participant in the process. 

Which brings me back to the novel that is now back in my hands. My first novel, Casting the First Stone was initially published by a small independent publisher. In January, I had an opportunity to take back my book and either let it languish or republish it independently.

I'm pretty sure I don't need to tell you which choice I'm making.

Currently, Casting the First Stone is unavailable as I consider what I want its re-release to look like. I've considered what I've learned as a hybrid author, and talked about it with trusted friends and fellow authors. I've decided that I want to add a fresh cover to the project before I send it back into the world again, and am thrilled that my talented friend Laurie J. Edwards, who created the cover for Chasing a Second Chance, is helping me make that happen.

At the same time that I'm making these decisions and planning to turn my previously small press-published novel into an indie project, I'm working with a team at Our Sunday Visitor to bring Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff into the world. For me, having one foot in each camp increases my knowledge, my experience and even my creativity, making
me better at this whole hybrid author role.

I'm grateful to be writing (and publishing) in a time where indie publishing is no longer seen as a last resort but, rather, as a viable option. I'm grateful to have friends on the journey -- readers, writers, and publishing professionals -- who make the trip more fun and make all the effort worthwhile. And, I'm very excited to see not only where this road takes me, but what it means for books in all the seasons to come.

I don't know if my next project will be indie or traditional, but I like that my journey has led me to a place where I feel I can make an informed decision.