What I Did Over Summer Vacation

First, let’s start with what I didn’t do. Blog. As a work-at-home mom, summers are tricky and my little blog took a back seat this summer. Now that our schedules are getting back and track, I’m ready to play a little catch up. I thought I’d start with what I DID do over my summer vacation. So, here’s a little list:

— I packed up my family and moved them 2,000 miles to Utah from our former home state of Virginia. This move also involved selling our old house, putting contracts down on four houses and finally buying one house.

–Moving also involved lots of sorting, tossing and packing. This meant I parted with all baby things, except my babies. They were loaded into the car for a hefty road trip, which I actually enjoyed.

 

–Before the big move, we visited my parents and my in-laws. This involved sitting on the porch, blowing bubbles and eating popcicles.

–I read for fun. A lot. Every time I was reading, I told myself I should blog, but I kept on reading. There is something about summer vacations that make me want to stick my nose in a book. My favorites were Code Name Verity, Gone Girl and The Hunger Games Trilogy, which I re-read twice because, I admit, I can’t seem to get enough of Katniss Everdeen. You can’t go wrong with any of those choices.

–I wrote feature after feature, which I love. I linked to some of them here.

–We played in the water.

–We cheered Evan on at soccer.

 

–We took trips to the museum, had pirate adventures and made memories.

It was tiring, but it was worth it. As the weather turns to fall and my little guy heads off to kindergarten, we’re starting to settle into our routines and embrace a different kind of busy. One that I think will include a little more time for my little corner of the internet.

Increase Your Power of Observation with Field Trips

So far June is turning out to be the month of field trips for me, which is a good thing. In 2008, I guest blogged about how I think more reporters should venture out from behind their desks to cover stories. Everything I said still holds true, and now I see the value in other areas as well.

Field trips increase our power of observation. All too often we overlook the things we see every day because they’re routine.  This month’s field trips have included taking in the Beach Boys 50-year-reunion concert with my mom, my recent journey to New Jersey for a writing conference and covering a press conference in downtown D.C.

Henry James said, “A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost.” I agree. By observing and noticing the little things, we become better storytellers. And whether you write fiction or non fiction or newspaper articles or novels, the details are what make your story come alive.

At the Beach Boys concert, the band was great and they played all their hits, but the best part was watching how generations of families showed up together. If I were writing an article about the concert, I would have included the four-year-old little girl who danced and clapped for two hours straight and then fell asleep on her grandpa’s shoulder. He carried her out during Surfin’ Safari, and I pictured both of them snuggled in a quiet spot while the rest of the family continued to cheer and sing.

Field trips can encourage us to start up conversations and make new connections. I’m a firm believer in writing conferences. My recent trip to New Jersey gave me concrete ideas on how to improve my craft, but more importantly, I walked away with a handful of great new friends I’m continuing to connect with online. That initial conference registration fee is going to continue to pay dividends all year.

The few hours I spent covering a press conference last week gave me enough material to file a story that day and I jotted down a list of story ideas that will come in useful for several months. The conference speakers were interesting, but they were just part of the experience. Some of the best learning took place during the casual lunch that followed the event. You never know where you’re going to find your next great idea or that one thought that makes everything click.

Field trips don’t have to take us far. Even checking out a new restaurant or grocery store can exercise our observation muscles, and the more we use them, the stronger they will get.

Thank you to the Cheerleaders

My boys are my biggest cheerleaders.

All too often our cheerleaders don’t get the thanks they deserve. They are the ones who keep us going, encourage us, and take on extra responsibilities so we have the time to pursue our dreams. Their voices speak louder than all of the naysayers.

When I decided to launch my freelance writing business, I had plenty of input from well-meaning dream killers. But it was my husband’s encouragement that gave me the confidence to make it happen. Cheerleaders are important in all aspects of life, but I think they’re particularly important for those of us who are pursuing dreams where the odds are stacked against us.

I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down and thanked my hubby for all of the encouragement he has given me, but it means the world.  Whether it is a career goal of a personal interest, Bryan never laughs or rolls his eyes when I tell him about my next idea.

He dutifully ate my at-home Thai after a cooking class at the Thai embassy. He took me to the violin shop and helped me pick one out and listened (painfully) while I practiced. That scarf I intended to make him after my knitting class never came to fruition (I wasn’t very good at knit one purl two), but I know Bryan would have worn it if it had.

When I told him I wanted to hang my own shingle, he helped me plot out my business plan and worked out our personal finances so we could stay afloat while I started out. Three years later, he calculated how much we’d save in taxes by forming an LLC and did all the legwork on filing the right documents. When I told him I want to publish a children’s picture book, he told me I should. This weekend he took on all parenting duties so I could spend three days learning the ins and outs of the industry.

Throughout the weekend the other attendees and I shared stories about where our kids, spouses or significant others were, and I thought about how lucky we all were to have amazing supporters. Whether it is our parents, friends, siblings or a significant others, those cheerleaders make all the difference. Even my sweet little Evan offered a few words of encouragement as I set off for New Jersey this week. I am so grateful my boys are my biggest cheerleaders right now.

Today I’m going to thank my hubby for all he does. And when my mom arrives in later today for a visit, I’m going to give her a great big hug and thank her for all of her encouragement now and in the past. I wouldn’t be able to do any of the things I do without them.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders? When is the last time you told them thanks?

 

Making Projects Managable

This morning as I was getting ready, I was running through the list of things I need to do—wrap up a big writing project, prepare for an upcoming writing conference, catch up on my blog, embrace Twitter, clean the house, provide entertainment and inspiration for my kids, and on and on. I’m sure you get the idea. As I neared the end of my list, I smiled at myself in the mirror and thought, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

I know we’ve all heard the saying, but sometimes it helps to repeat it. If you’re like me, you can become paralyzed by the enormity of a project, particularly ones that are abstract. Telling myself I need to work on my blog is less effective than committing to drafting three new posts this week. Small, actionable steps make any project doable. So, this week, I’m breaking down the items on my seemingly insurmountable to-do list and tackling them head on. By changing my thought process I’ve gone from feeling overwhelmed to empowered.

The clock is ticking and I can’t wait to see how much I can do in the next seven days. I’ll report back next week and I’d love to hear more about what you plan to accomplish this week.

Five Tips for Making Mommy Hours Work

Evan, Mindy and Madelyn at the Cherry Blossom FestivalAs a freelancer, I work “mommy hours.” During my kids’ preschool hours, naptimes and after they go to bed, I am at my laptop. I love being able to work around my kids’ schedules, but it isn’t always easy. Here are five tips for making mommy hours work:

1. Protect your work time—both the daytime and the nighttime hours. I have limited daytime hours, and I have to use them wisely to ensure I can take care of client calls and interviews. I don’t meet up with friends for coffee, shop or chat on the phone with friends or family. I head straight home after dropping my kids off and as soon as I walk in the door, I head downstairs to my home office and start working. I look past dishes that may need to be done or laundry I should fold, which means my house is not nearly as tidy as I would like, but I am able to grow my business and meet my clients’ needs. I take care of my household chores in the morning before I take my kids to school, evenings as I’m prepping dinner and on the weekends.

My nighttime hours are just as valuable as my daytime hours, so I usually spend those at the laptop, too. I wrote about skipping happy hour in this post.

2. Be flexible. As a freelancer, customer service is paramount. I have to deliver on the projects I take on, so my number one goal is to get the job done. Not everyone works mommy hours and there will be times when a source or client needs to talk with you outside of your scheduled work time. There are plenty of times I need to call in a sitter or set my kids up with an activity that will keep them entertained for a half hour or more. If I know I’m going to have a heavy workload on a day my kids don’t have school, I try to tucker them out in the morning to take advantage of long naps in the afternoon. Just last week I had four interviews lined up for Friday afternoon—a time when my kids will be with me. My kiddos each had classes in the morning (Evan at preschool and Madelyn at Little Gym), then we hit the park for a picnic and a few hours of playtime. Both kids fell asleep in the car on the way home and I was able to knock out all of my calls. I also recognize that this nap time was a gift from the gods, because it doesn’t always work out this way, but I am oh-so happy when it does!

3. Be honest. When I first started freelancing, I tried to hide the fact that I work around my kids’ schedules. I would create little activities to entertain Evan if I needed to take a call after he was home from preschool and rarely asked someone if he could offer up another, more convenient time to talk. As I’ve gotten more stable (and comfortable) as a freelancer, I’ve been able to rein in some of that and tell people upfront what times I’m available. Being honest about what times work for me hasn’t hurt my career and, if anything, it can be an icebreaker when I’m talking with other working parents. I think becoming more comfortable and confident with where I am in life right now has actually helped my business. Plus, I am proud that I am able to keep “mommy hours” and build a successful freelancing business, so here is no reason to hide it. That being said, refer back to tip #2.

4. Plan ahead. To maximize my daytime hours, I spend time each evening plotting out how I’m going to structure the coming day. I review my calendar, ensure I have all of the contact information I need for reaching sources and send any emails that I need to get out. I also look a few weeks out so I keep all of my deadlines straight and can prioritize the interviews I need to get done. I do most of my actual writing in the evenings and on the weekends, so I’ll often schedule certain stories or editing projects for certain nights. Taking a broad look also lets me find time to volunteer at my kids’ school or schedule in doctor and dentist appointments that I have to take care of during preschool time.

5. Be grateful. I know that working mommy hours is a gift. Not everyone has that luxury, so even on the days that are hectic and I’m trying to figure out how to get it all in, I give thanks for ability to work around my kids’ schedules as much as I do. That helps me keep perspective and see those late nights or crazy afternoons as a gift and not a burden. Plus, I know these years are going to go by in the blink of an eye. Evan turned five this month and today we are having a meet and greet with his kindergarten teacher. Starting in the fall, my little guy will be in school all day five days a week. I’m sad he’ll be away from me so much, but I am certain I will use that time wisely.

A Frosting Hangover

My little guy turned five this weekend. Now I am in a cupcake-frosting-and-multiple-celebration-induced hangover. I just took two Advil. I hope they help. I don’t know if I can keep up with all the partying that goes on in the five-year-old circuit, but I love every minute of it. Today we are going to do our best to recover, and I’m also going to come to terms with the fact that I am now the mom of a five year old. They say the days are long but the years are short and that certainly is the case in our house. Is it the same for you?

Five Tips for Traveling Without Kids

Tomorrow my friend Sarah heads off to the blogging conference BlissDom child free. Last year I had my first opportunity in four years to travel sans kids, so I thought I’d share a few of the things I learned with Sarah and any other mommas who are heading off without their kiddos this week.

1) When you step onto an elevator, you don’t have to ask in a high-pitched voice, “Who wants to push the button?!?”

2) Going to the restroom will be faster and easier than you could ever imagine. That is especially true if you have ever tried to fit yourself, an infant and a toddler into an airplane lavatory. Enjoy it!

3) While flipping through the channels at night, you might catch yourself stopping on Sesame Street, Super Why or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. You do not have to watch. Quickly move on to something more worthwhile, i.e. Law and Order, Ellen or Chelsea Lately.

4) Food tastes totally different when its hot—in a good way. Savor every bite, but don’t get too used to it.

5) Taking off in an airplane is loads more fun when you have a wide-eyed toddler sitting on your lap (I mean that). In honor of your little ones (and Orville and Wilbur Wright), take a moment to soak in the wonder of taking flight. Then ask the flight attendant for a pair of wings or two for you to take home for your kiddos.

While I’ve never been to a blogging conference, I am a big fan of writing conferences. I know I always come away inspired and bursting with new ideas. I’m also a fan of spending a day or two away from your little ones. You’ll realize how much you miss them and appreciate those sweet hugs and kisses even more.

To all of you who are off on an exciting adventure this week, enjoy!

My Mantra

When the day (or even the hour or minute) is particularly hectic and I am at my wits end, I repeat a few little words that bring back a sense of calm: God, give me the grace for this day. It is the first line Marjorie Holmes’s prayer Just for Today. Those few little words are my form of meditation. They remind me that the moment is temporary. Whether the kids or screaming or I am crashing on deadline, it helps. Here’s the poem, in case it helps you, too!

Just for Today

Oh, God, give me grace for this day.
Not for a lifetime, nor for next week, not for tomorrow, just for this day.
Direct my thoughts and bless them,
Direct my work and bless it.
Direct the things I say and give them blessing, too.
Direct and bless everything that I think and speak and do.
So that for this one day, just this one day, I have the gift of grace that comes from your presence.

Photo by J-Stuart courtesy of Stock Exchange.

Friday Favorites

Here are a few of my favorite reads from this week:

This list of top blogs for writers by My Name is Not Bob is a great resource.

The Writer’s Digest blog post Six Tips to Resuscitate a Dying Author Blog has some good ideas.

Love this video from Freshly Picked about getting clear about what you want and then going after it (thanks Amy for sharing!).

I can’t wait to see this documentary about Harper Lee that will be out in May.  I read my older brother’s ratty old copy of To Kill a Mockingbird every year (think high school English circa 1985). Not only do I love the book, I love seeing my brother’s notes in the margins.

This video about the effect of t.v. on the minds of young children made me rethink what I let my kids watch. It also made me happy we spend a lot of time reading in our house.

And, if you’re looking for something to do with the kiddos, try out these beads made out of newspaper. They’re on our agenda for this weekend.

Goings On

Wow. The last few weeks have felt pretty hectic at our house. There are only so many hours in the day, and when something in my little world has to drop, I usually let the blog take the fall. Thank you for sticking around and checking back in with me!

While I haven’t been posting regularly, I have been giving the blog some attention offline. I have a handful of half-written posts and I’m putting some plans into action to breathe new life into this little outlet of mine. Be sure to tune in on Wednesday when I offer some how-to advice based on readers’ questions about becoming a freelancer.

Thank you to all of you who have expressed your sweet condolences about Granny. My web hosting company had some technical issues and lost my original post, which also means I lost the nice comments many of you left. I re-posted it, but for some reason comments weren’t working, so your kind emails are very much appreciated.

My little guy has needed some extra attention over the past few weeks. Sometimes I think he doesn’t understand Granny is gone for good, then he’ll say something that makes me realize his little heart is hurting. Motherhood is a new and exciting journey, and I always feel like I should know what to do, but more often than not, I don’t. Plus, as the mom of two, I’m finding that what worked with one child doesn’t necessarily work with the other. That means I feel like I’m constantly starting at ground zero. Can anyone relate? Do you know a secret that I don’t?

On the paid-work front, life has been good! I have several features in the works and I am working on a fun speech for a client. I’m always grateful that I get to earn a living as a writer.

And, speaking of being a writer, on Friday night I took part in the Writer’s Center Leesburg First Friday event with an awesome blogging-turned-real-life friend. It is the first time in about two years that I’ve met up with a group of other writers and it was so much fun to be in a room with all of that creative energy. It was also a great reminder that there are so many ways to be a writer (i.e. you don’t have to have a day job as a writer to be a writer). If you’re a writer looking to add some energy to your writing routine, I definitely recommend seeking out a writing group in your area.