Monday, July 21, 2014

Surviving Summer To-do Lists

Last Saturday morning, I lay in bed composing my to-do list and listening to the (metaphorical) clock ticking (I have a very quiet bedside clock). It's nearly the end of July, and although I've made a dent in my to-do list, it remains long enough that I know there's more list than summer.

This is not unusual.

Given the fact that it was Saturday, I knew other people in my house would also want my attention, at least from time to time. As my mental list grew longer and longer, it began to seem increasingly unreasonable, so I adjusted my expectations, narrowing my list to a few key things.

While this is all very reasonable and logical, it does little to shrink the actual list, which crouches like a wild animal waiting to pounce just when I'm celebrating presumed progress.
Since I can't add any days to the calendar, I've decided on my own plan of attack in order to preserve the rest of the summer with some semblance of both sanity and accomplishment.

Targeted lists. Within fifteen minutes of getting out of bed on Saturday, I knew I needed to dump the mental list onto paper. I grabbed four sheets of lined paper and wrote a heading on each: WHO, WHAT, WHERE and CP.

  • WHO: the catch-all list for the people I've been wanting to get in touch with to schedule a lunch or coffee date.
  • WHAT: the standard to-do list.
  • WHERE: my errand list.
  • CP: Class planning to-do list, perhaps the largest animal in the zoo), broken down into chapters (to read), lessons (to plan) and other miscellaneous, bite-sized tasks. 
Separating the lists by category made each one a little less daunting, allowed me to break enormous tasks (class planning) down into smaller ones and made it easier to find what I was looking for without combing a complex list for a single item. It also allowed me to put similar items together, which made things more efficient. When I'm leaving the house, for example, I need to check only the "where" list to determine the errands I need to run.

Chunked time. Years ago, a friend told me about the Fly Lady website, which advocates, among other things, tackling things in fifteen minute chunks of time. It didn't take me long to become a devotee of timer-setting, a strategy I recommended freely to my elementary students when we discussed tackling organizational tasks that seemed overwhelming.
One of Saturday's prime tasks was reclaiming my dining room table. Unfortunately, the table contained many homeless items that ended up being relocated to my office until they could be properly sorted and stored. I set a goal of spending fifteen minutes a day going through everything that got dumped in the office until it all ends up where it belongs. Last night, I discovered that what appeared to be a substantial pile on the counter was actually pretty easy to wrangle, and though my fifteen minutes became 35, the reward was well worth it.

Sampling. When the list is long, it's easy to feel as though I'm making progress in one area at the expense of others. Using the chunked time strategy above, I can make a little progress on several things in one day….and by doing "a little of this and a little of that," I get to keep some variety in my day as well. Admittedly, some days call for a dedicated approach to one task, but sampling a few undesirable tasks (and mixing them in with things I enjoy) helps me to make progress on the stuff I don't wanna do.

Flexibility. I admire people who can set a schedule and stick to it, perhaps because I am rarely one of them. I like flexibility for the same reason I like sampling: there are days I just don't wanna do the things I put on the list. When the items are time sensitive, I don't have a choice, but when they're not and a better offer presents itself, there's often no good reason not to move them to another time. And during the summer, better and more valuable offers (e.g. fun family stuff) seem to pop up often.

Armed with my strategies, I'm ready to tackle the rest of my summer. What strategies work for you?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Special -- Celebrations: You've Got to Have Friends, Part 2

When you live in Pennsylvania, launching a book at the end of January is a very "iffy" proposition. Sure, there's always a chance the weather will hold and your launch party won't get snowed out…but if the winter is anything like last winter, the chances of that happening are very, very slim.

I did, indeed, plan a launch party in the middle of February before being scared away from that idea by more snow than we've seen in our area in a long time. In the end, I celebrated with an online book launch party, so it didn't matter if the weather outside was frightful or delightful. I followed that up with a book signing at my favorite local Starbucks…and it snowed. Fortunately, that didn't keep people away.

Then in June, five months after the official launch of my book, I had a Bookiversary Party. Since a picture paints a thousand words, I'm going to stop here and let the photos tell the rest of the story.

Thanks to everyone who attended anything. As I plan more events, I hope you'll keep stopping by, just to say hi, when I'm in your area because no matter where the event is, fun and friends are necessary ingredients.

"Cake" and decadent cupcakes were created by Rise,
a barista at the Randolph Park Starbucks in York.
I'm not the only writer at my local Starbucks.
Rosey, one of the baristas, has a degree
in creative writing, and I got to read a sample
of her novel last summer….
…and Cerella is a Harlequin
Heartwarming author. Her
latest title is The Paris Connection.

I was excited to celebrate with members of my
critique group who knew my story when….
Maggie (left), Judy….
…and Anne.

My sister (and fellow writer), Lori
and brother-in-law, Paul made sure
my family was represented….
Though I've retired from public education, I'm blessed to still
count former colleagues among my friends.
Wendy and Missy were not only among the
first to arrive, but they "tested" my book
club questions (and the edible stones around
the bottom of the cake) as well….

...along with my
sister-in-law, Sue.

…and Dorene & Rick even offered their house
as a location for the party.

Okay, I really thought I was going to get them all in today….but I think maybe I need one more post to get all the pictures in.  Stop back next weekend for the final installment of my party series!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less

I was oh-so-grateful to Nathan Bransford for writing a round-up post today filled with great links. In order to keep my reading to ten minutes or less, I could click on only one link. Anyone want to guess which one? Comment below and if you're right, I'll enter your name in a drawing for a $5 gift card from Starbucks or Amazon (your choice).

Now I'm off to do a writing sprint. Buoyed by good feedback from my critique group last Wednesday night, I'm going to add a few pages (I hope) to my novel. And thanks to Bransford's fantastic blog post, I know just how I'm going to reward myself when I'm finished.

Happy clicking!

Yeah, that's not me.
But that's how I felt when I found Bransford's post.
Image courtesy of classroom

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lawn Chair Catechism & Word Count Wednesday

When I finished reading this week's chapter of A Well-Built Faith, an old song from the days of folk Masses started running through my head: "They'll Know We Are Christians (By Our Love)." And it got me thinking: how will people know I'm Catholic? Is it obvious, or is it a mystery? 

The church has its signs and sacraments. Are there things about me that make my beliefs evident to those around me? 

Am I a good representative of my faith?

I have long struggled with personal faith vs. public faith. I don't want to hide who I am or what I believe, but I also don't want to come across as holier-than-thou. I've been around believers who shove their faith down the throats of anyone within earshot, and the picture they present isn't pretty. If someone asks me about my faith or my church, I'm more than happy to share. But my faith is just that -- mine -- regardless of how much I have in common with those who share it, my faith will never be identical to someone else's. In that sense, it's like the mystery that Paprocki describes on page 58: "something that is revealed and yet remains hidden."

On a day-to-day basis, the signs and trappings of my faith do not surround me in obvious ways. They are revealed by the cross and/or the WWJD ring I often wear, but aside from that, I don't think I "look" Catholic. The depths and nuances of my beliefs -- my private faith -- remain hidden despite the small revelations present to those who are looking for them. 

But whether or not I "act" Catholic is something else entirely. This is the part of my faith that must not remain hidden. What I hope is that Christ's love shines through me and through my actions, whether I'm discussing my religious beliefs or my beliefs on any other topic. Some days, I know I'm a poor example -- my human frailties show through in expressions of anger and even bitterness -- but I hope those days are the exception, not the rule. 

Today is one of those days. Frustration and worry have won out and my good intentions have been buried under sarcasm and harsh tones. The truth is, I feel somewhat hypocritical writing about exhibitions of faithfulness today.

But because of the mysteries of my chosen faith -- the ones that defy human understanding -- I know that God hasn't given up on me. I also know that today won't be the last day that I stumble, though that is hard for me to accept.

And although I don't understand it completely, I know that God loves me anyway, even when I am an imperfect parent, wife, friend...or Catholic.

Word Count Wednesday: 3048 + 1 1/2 hours of revisions

Monday, July 14, 2014

Celebrations: You've Got to Have Friends

Last Friday, I had a great conversation with a fellow writer about the publishing industry, promotion, social media and, of course, writing. We talked for over two hours about our projects, our trials and tribulations and the expectation that writers will donate a substantial portion of their writing time to the promotion of their own work, something that makes most writers uncomfortable. But we agreed that we're among the lucky ones.

We actually enjoy the promotion aspect -- provided it's done the way we want to do it.

Jenna, manager of the Gettysburg Starbucks 
It should come as no surprise that a Jersey girl wants to do things her own way, but when it comes to promotion, I think this is true of most writers. We're excited about our work, and we can talk about it endlessly, but there's a line between organic discussion and obnoxious pressure, one that most writers try very hard not to cross. If you ask me about my book, I'll tell you anything you want to know, but that doesn't mean I expect you to buy it. Sure, I'd love it if you did, but if you're my friend, I'll still love you even if you don't.

Brenda Newman

So today, I'm sharing celebration pictures. My rule of thumb for promotion is that it has to be fun, so it should (once again) come as no surprise that I began my celebrations at Starbucks, my writing home away from home. I've done three Starbucks signings to date and every single one of them has been a blast. I've also done a signing at the Village Library in Jacobus signing, as well as a Bookiversary party and I'm looking forward to some upcoming signings at the beach at the end of this month.
Becky, Steve, John, Vicki & Bill at my
first (snowy) Starbucks event

But the fun at these events doesn't come from book sales. Admittedly, sales are nice, but the real fun comes from sitting and talking to the people who've been kind enough to give up a chunk of their day to come see me. Every single event has brought laughter, joy and conversations that have brightened my day and reminded me of how very, very fortunate I am to have such wonderful people in my life.

To all of you who have been to an event, read the book, liked my Facebook posts, sent me messages, signed up for my newsletter, asked me about the book….thank you. For a writer, very little rivals seeing her name in print, but even that pales in comparison to the blessing of family and friends.

Pat Walters
Tammy Deardorff and Pam Mikesell

So when I have an event, and I invite you to stop by and say hi, please understand that there are no strings attached. I really mean it when I say "no purchase necessary" because while I surely appreciate the purchases, the pleasure they bring is secondary to the pleasure of your company.

Family - Linda, Steph and a shy Josh

Shawn & Vann

And if you've been part of an event, but aren't part of today's photo archive, stay tuned. Still getting all the photos in order.

Hey, I'm a writer, not a photographer :-)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less
I'm trying something new with my Friday Freebie this week. One of the things I like about Twitter is running across posts and news articles that I might not otherwise find, and so I've been toying with ways to share them. Since I don't have an author interview to feature this week, I'm sharing a post from an author whose work I've found edifying.

I'm not sure how I first came across Michael Hyatt's blog, but I read it pretty voraciously when I was studying up on platform-building, and when his book came out, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Though I don't read his blog as often as I once did, I find that his posts still resonate for me me.

This particular post ("3 Reasons to Keep Your Laptop Closed this Weekend") was especially relevant for me this week after I spent a day at play, visiting places that had been significant to me years ago and continue to hold a special place in my heart. And while I'm not sure I'll be able to keep my laptop shut all weekend, I'm sure that after reading Michael's blog, I'll hear his advice in the back of my mind whenever I open it up.

Enjoy your weekend! And if you successfully stepped away from your computer all weekend long (or even for a portion of it), tell me about it in the comments!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Word Count Wednesday

Thought I'd give it its own spot today since it kind of disrupts the mood of today's other posts :-)
This week's total: 3753…plus an hour and a half of…revising!