Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday Feature: Does Working from Home Work?

Ever since I retired from my job as a school counselor, I've spent most of my time among the ranks of the work-from-home population. As a writer, I did some of this before as well but, since I was also employed full time, I couldn't really call myself a work-from-home employee.

Though I'm still an educator, I'm now an adjunct professor, which means that the hours I spend working from home on both/all my jobs far outnumber those spent "at the office." I know the pros and cons all too well and have a love/hate relationship with my satellite office at my local Starbucks; I love the location and the atmosphere but can't always find a parking spot and/or a table and I'm sometimes too distracted by the music or the other patrons to successfully accomplish much of anything. Then again, I sometimes have the same concentration issues at home, with a much larger number of distractions.

So, does this work-at-home thing work? If you've ever been tempted to join the ranks of the underdressed and overdistracted, take a look at what Stanford researchers have determined about how successful this proposition is.

As for me, it's time to change out of my pajamas and head to Starbucks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Peeking Behind the Blogging Curtain

rawpixel via Pixabay
On Wednesdays, I blog in two places -- here and at Organizing by STYLE -- as well as posting a "STYLE Savvy" post at While deadlines at protect me from my procrastination and tendency to overcommit, most Wednesdays I find myself scrambling to create content for both of my other blogs. I mumble and grumble and struggle to find topics, wondering whose great idea this was anyway.


I've analyzed my blogging schedule on numerous occasions and I always end up in the same place. Though I don't like the frustration that arises from my last minute-itis, I like my blogging schedule. I especially like having Tuesdays and weekends off from blogging, which means two blogs on some other day of the week, which might as well be Wednesday.

Such is the writer life. We don't punch a clock. We don't collect a paycheck in the traditional sense (or at all sometimes). We're constantly fighting the same prioritizing woes as those who go to regular jobs at regular hours and often with less success because our working hours are flexible and the work that we do is invisible for so long. If a traditionally employed person doesn't show up for work, people notice. If a writer doesn't write, no one knows it except for the writer herself.

Unless she writes blogs. Then her audience notices.

I'm not complaining (well, maybe a little) because the truth is, I can't imagine not blogging. In addition to making me feel as though I'm actually making connections with other people, it has been one of the best writing exercises ever. And, when it's going well, it's fun, too.

One of my goals when I retired was to stop making my blog a hobby and to make it a commitment. The first step? Posting on a regular basis. As a result of this relentless practice for the last five years, I'm able to create larger (paying) pieces more quickly and easily. Because I've gotten into the habit of creating short pieces with fast turnaround on a regular basis, I'm less afraid of creating work that's imperfect. When you write fast on a regular basis, some of the work is going to be imperfect. In fact, when you write at all, some of the work is going to be imperfect. It's the nature of the beast.

So here I am, early on some Wednesdays, late on others, but committed to showing up. After all, that's what writers do.

I hope you enjoy the result.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Art of the Tweet

It took me a while to become a Twitter fan. At first, I just didn't get it but, once I discovered that it was a source of interesting reading material, I was hooked.

I still struggle with creating "just right" tweets (although I can usually find a few that are just so wrong...). Instead of writing pithy tweets of my own, I find myself replying, retweeting and reposting my blogs. 

I'm learning. I'll get the hang of it.

Some days, Twitter makes me smile, but other days, it's more frustrating than inspiring. Today, I set out to stack the deck in my favor, intentionally going in search of tweets I liked. 

Here's a sampling:
  • Tweet #1: Talking to yourself can improve your mood, enhance your intelligence and boost self esteem. (Source: Psychology Living; @LivPsy) 
         Why I liked it: Isn't it obvious? This is great news for those of us who talk to ourselves!
  • Tweet #2: This morning it rained inside the New York City subway. Yes, you read that right.(Source: Wired; @Wired) 
         Why I liked it: Clever, attention-getting and prompted me to read the piece.
  • Tweet #3:  Being afraid of Friday the 13th is such a Hufflepuff thing to do. (Clearly not today's tweet from Professor Snape; @_Snape)
         Why I liked it: True to character with just the right amount of snark.
  • Tweets #4 & #5: Aim for what you want, and don't downsize your #dream.
  • Live the story you want to tell. (Source: Valorie Burton; @ValorieBurton)
         Why I liked it: I can always count on Valorie Burton for a touch of inspiration.

It took me a while, but now, Twitter is a daily habit. Although I'm still perfecting the "just right" tweet, I have discovered that being informed, amused and maybe even inspired by Twitter means knowing where to look.

Who are your social media inspirations?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday Feature: Libraries, Books and Language

On Monday, I wrote about my favorite local library and some of the many things it inspired. I'm embarrassed to admit how much long it it'd been since I'd visited my library, but my absence doesn't mean I haven't been reading. I'm fortunate enough to have reliable Internet access (most of the time anyway) and both the expendable income and transportation necessary to access the books I need in other ways and from other sources.

But what if I weren't? What if I were unable to drive or unable to afford to buy the books I wanted? What if I had small children just learning the value of books and the magical worlds between their covers? Though we have an extensive collection of books at our house, our library was still a major source of reading material for our daughter between the ages of three and sixteen. She is now a successful college sophomore.

This is not an accident.

Children in poverty have less access to language in general. They need access to books in order to close the gap between them and their peers. By the time children living in poverty are 5 years old, they've heard 30 million fewer words than their wealthy peers. This places them at a disadvantage from which many never recover.

Children learn language through interaction -- through conversations, books, songs -- anything with words. When parents read to their children, this simple act builds connection, language skills, imagination and so much more. Public libraries provide access to this simple tool that builds both cognition and connection. 

Why not show yours a little love?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My Library and Me

geralt via Pixabay
Last week, I paid a long overdue visit to my local library. We'd sorted the books on our bookshelves at home and I had a substantial stack of books to donate. In addition, my library card needed to be renewed.

On the counter at the circulation desk, there was a stack of post cards. Our local commissioners have cut $300,000 in funding to the library system and the pre-addressed post cards were there for patrons to who wanted to let those in charge know that libraries matter.

Let that sink in for a minute. We need to tell our elected officials that libraries matter. Isn't this something they should know already?

Sure, the Internet has taken over life as we know it, and libraries have worked to keep pace with that (which costs money, by the way). But books in some format will always be part of our culture, and lack of access to them has an enormous impact on the knowledge and well-being of a culture.

As I perused the shelves looking for something to read, I was reminded of so many wonderful impacts my library has had on my life. My daughter chose that library for our bi-weekly (or more often) visits every summer from the time she was three until long after she could work the online reserve system herself. I held book signings for both Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance at that library. A nonfiction book I picked up one summer (The Happiness Project) impacted me so much that I added it to the reading list for the first year seminar I teach. Close to 75 freshmen have read this book in my class and created happiness projects of their own. That same book was one of the things that inspired me to look more deeply into the field of positive psychology, to earn a certificate in positive psychology and to create and teach a course on positive psychology.

A novel I picked up on another visit ended up being the nudge I needed to write for adults, pointing the way to the genre I wanted to write in and sparking the creation of Marita, Charli, Angel, Bets and, of course, Jim. The novel I couldn't find earlier this week (because it doesn't exist) gave me the idea for my next novel, or at least its protagonist.

In short (I know -- too late), the ripple effect my library has inspired is pretty impressive for a tiny community library.

I have a vested interest in keeping my library up and running and, if you live in York County, I hope you do, too. Throughout the month of April, York County Libraries will have post cards at their circulation desks. They're pre-addressed, and the librarians will even give you a stamp if you want one. These post cards implore those in charge to consider the impact a $300,000 funding cut will have and to restore the funding.

I'm not letting my library go down without a fight, and if you live in my area, I hope you won't either.
Meanwhile, no matter where you live, make it a point to show your library a little love and maybe even find out what they do (besides checking out books) and why they matter.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Silencing Alexa

I love having my family home. I also love having a quiet house.

Unfortunately, those two things rarely go together.

Last Saturday, my husband's Echo Dot lost connection with our Internet. This happens from time to time at our house for reasons we can't quite explain. My typical solution is to wait five minutes and try again. It usually works.

My husband, on the other hand, wanted to troubleshoot and get to the root of the problem, which was not only perfectly logical but also resulted a longer period of quiet while Alexa had nothing to say.

This did not make me sad.

I don't remember which electronic device my husband had purchased when I bought Echo Dots for my daughter and me, but I do remember he had no interest in one. My daughter was lukewarm about hers, but I really enjoy mine. There are probably millions of things I can do with it that I don't do. Some of them I won't do, for privacy reasons, but others I'm looking forward to exploring one of these days. In any event, the Echo Dot was my toy.

Then, about six months ago, my husband decided an Amazon Echo would be a great addition to his office as a way to play music. Since his desk at home is in our mudroom, within earshot of most of the house, I was less than thrilled.

I've never been someone who works well in a noisy environment. There are some tasks I can do with music or in front of the television but, when I'm grading papers or writing, I typically need uninterrupted quiet. Unfortunately, these are tasks I need to do not only during the week, but also on Saturdays when my husband is home. Since he grew up in a large, noisy family, he likes having background noise, especially music, when he works on anything. Consequently, the addition of Alexa to our mudroom did not engender any enthusiasm on my part.

To his credit, my husband is considerate about the volume of his devices when I'm working, but it is his house, too (as he likes to remind me). We've found some workable solutions, but honestly, from a work perspective, none of the choices is quite as good as being home alone (and undistracted) in my quiet house.

And so, on Saturday, when Alexa was rendered mute by temporarily uncooperative wireless service, another idea popped into my head.

I wonder if Alexa accepts hush money.

And so I asked her (when my husband wasn't at home, of course). Her response? "I didn't get that."

Clearly I have some work to do. Meanwhile, I'll ask my husband to keep his earbuds charged.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Friday Feature: Remedying Negativity Bias

Have you ever had trouble shaking a rude comment? Been offended by someone's actions, but told yourself to just let it go? Or worse yet, denied your very real feelings and told yourself to grow up?

Yeah. Me too.

As it turns out, these reactions have something to do with how we're wired. As human beings, we are predisposed, perhaps by evolution, to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. The implication of this is that it takes multiple positive comments or interactions to merely bring the playing field back to level, let alone undo the damage. This doesn't make us weak or immature or spoiled.

It makes us human.

Luckily, as humans, we're also equipped with the capability to think logically and rationally, and to decide which evaluations we accept and which we reject. Yesterday, not for the first time, but in a powerful way, I realized that it's my job to show those negative judgments the door. 

So today, I went in search of a Friday Feature on just this topic, figuring that if I felt this way, others did too. There's lots of stuff out there, ranging from TED Talks to marriage advice to articles in the popular psychology press.

In the end, I found what I was looking for in Forbes -- a helpful and optimistic article by Margie Warrell on combatting negativity bias.

Just the tips I needed for taking actions that are long overdue.