27 October 2011

It's Amazing What You Can Do When You Forget That You Can't!

October is a crazy busy month at our house.  Fall field trips for school, music performances and lessons, church youth group activities, after school clubs, boy scout camp outs, and a whole host of projects around the house keep us running nearly nonstop.  For some reason, we're busier in October than in any other month of the year, and I almost wonder if I'll even have time to stop and take a breath.

Yet, every October, I volunteer to take on a massive project that makes me (and everyone around me) question my sanity by mid-month: making Hallowe'en costumes for my kids.  They have to present me with their final costume choices no later than October 1st, giving me nearly a full month to work on putting them together, and then I devote every spare moment (and some of the hours normally devoted to things like sleeping and eating) to creating the perfect Hallowe'en disguises.

Every once in a while, the kids look at the calendar, analyze the time commitments of the many appointments we have scheduled throughout the month, and take pity on me, choosing simple costumes that require a minimum amount of effort to throw together.  We've had princesses (Cinderella was easy, making a custom wig for Rapunzel with a yarn braid long enough to drag on the ground while posing for pictures, but short enough to easily carry with the trick-or-treat bag so my Dear Daughter didn't trip on it was more difficult), several Jedi Knights (basic Jedi costume: easy; creating a padawan braid out of my real hair and finding a way to attach it to my son's close-cropped haircut for an authentic look: a little more challenging).  We've also had some dinosaurs, a bride, and a mermaid or two.

Some of the costumes my kids have requested seem simple at first, but are deceptively challenging.  Like the time my son (then 4 years old) wanted to be Buzz Lightyear.  When he requested it, I readily agreed.  I thought it would be the easiest costume ever!  Toy Story was immensely popular, and there were Buzz Lightyear costumes everywhere!  But, my son didn't want to be like the other Buzz Lightyears out there.  He insisted that his costume had to be red and blue, instead of the familiar green and purple.  (The pattern I found was much more complicated than it looked in the picture!)

But my favorite costumes to make, ironically, are those that make me want to tear my hair out and scream in frustration before giving up and checking myself into the nearest mental institution.  Dear Daughter #2 is good at challenging my creativity when it comes to costume construction.  This year, after much thought and consideration, she decided that she wanted to be a Singing, Dancing Cowboy Seahorse.  No amount of searching gave me any patterns for seahorse costumes, and I wasn't convinced that I could figure it out.  I couldn't even find a pattern that I could alter. 

But she was so excited about her costume idea!  She told everyone that she was going to be a Singing, Dancing, Cowboy Seahorse, and that I was going to make the perfect costume for her.  If I couldn't pull it off, she would be disappointed, and I'd have to swallow my pride and admit defeat.  I bought lots of extra fabric, knowing that I might need it in case of failed attempts, and then I spent nearly two full weeks brainstorming ideas (I couldn't figure out the tail - how do you make that big tail that curls from behind without giving her something she's going to trip over all night long?), and I'm excited to announce that the costume was ready just in time for last night's Trunk-or-Treat activity at church!

Every October, as I'm in the midst of constructing the crazy costumes, I have well-meaning friends and family members who tell me that I need to take control of things at home.  "You need to lay down the law.  Give them a few options to choose from, if you must, but your kids need to learn to choose more traditional costumes.  It's not fair for them to expect you to create these crazy things every year.  Your time is valuable."

My friends are kind of right.  My time is valuable.  And it's important to budget that time wisely.  But I'm glad my children are willing to step out of the box once in a while.  I'm glad they're not afraid to do something different.  Wouldn't life be boring if we were afraid to take the time to figure out new ways to do things?  I've discovered that I can do so many things I never would have even tried - simply because my children, my husband, my parents, siblings, friends, and acquaintances simply assume I can figure it out.  "We really want to (insert major creative project here), but no one knows how to do it."  "Oh! Veronica can do that!  She's a creative type!" 

Sometimes, it drives me bonkers when someone asks me to do something I obviously cannot do... but it's kind of amazing when I try to do it anyway, and almost always discover that I can do more than I thought I could.

And the Singing, Dancing, Cowboy Seahorse costume turned out great :)

18 October 2011

Procrastination & the Power of Priorities

I started writing my second novel a while ago.  This one was more difficult than the first, mostly because the subject is something very close to my heart, and it felt a little too personal at times.  So, although I started working on the manuscript over a year ago, I haven't really been working on it.

I wrote a couple of pages, told some people about the project, showed my first chapter to my writing group, then shoved the whole thing in the back of a drawer and only thought about it briefly when someone asked, "So how is that story about the letters coming along?"

In the meantime, I completely rewrote, then revised and polished my first novel, wrote two picture books and started a third.  I told myself that I wasn't procrastinating.  I was simply too busy to work on that other novel right now.  I didn't want to get distracted from my work on these other, much more pressing projects.  I told myself I'd pull it out again as soon as I finished everything else, when I could devote my full attention to this very important manuscript.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, as I worked on some polishing revisions for one of my picture books, I started thinking about what I would work on when I had finished.  I found myself dreaming, plotting and planning novel number three, a story that would be so much easier to write than the half-finished work in progress I've been ignoring for months.  That's when I realized it wasn't my other projects that kept me from finding the time to work on this novel.  I was creating distractions to keep me from feeling obligated to write the novel I'd already started.

I know that sometimes, an idea simply doesn't pan out.  Sometimes, you start with a story idea, and you simply don't love it enough to ever make it into something wonderful.  And I believe that when that happens, it's totally okay to put that story aside and move onto something you do love.  But that wasn't the case here.  Truth be told, I love this story and the characters in it.  Before I put it away, the story was virtually pouring out of my pencil onto the pages of my story notebook.  And even after I shoved it aside, I kept thinking about these characters, dreaming of their daily lives, watching their stories unfold.  The story had become a part of me, and I still felt like it was an important one for me to tell.

The real issue was nothing more than good old fashioned fear.  This story had become so deeply personal to me that I started to worry about how others might receive it.  What if it didn't get the warm reception I hoped for?  What if people didn't think it was a story worth telling?  What if I got bad reviews?  I realized I was channelling George McFly (from Back to the Future): "I just don't think I can take that kind of rejection."  That's not how I want to live my life!

So I took a deep breath and pulled my manuscript out of the drawer.  I told myself, my family and all of my friends (in real life, as well as on facebook and twitter) that I was going to finish the first draft by this coming Friday (October 21st).  I turned off my Internet, silenced my phone and put my TV and DVD player off limits. 

It's amazing how much you can accomplish when you stop allowing fear of failure to keep you from trying.  Without the constant distractions and interruptions from my favorite time wasters, and armed with a newly discovered determination to keep going, I finished my first draft last night - four days ahead of schedule.  I even swallowed my terror and sent it off to my writer's group for critique.  I know it will be picked and pulled apart as they help me turn a very rough draft into a polished manuscript, but the point is that in the end, I will have a great story to share with the world - as long as I don't let fear keep me from trying.

The moral of this story?  When you're looking for an excuse to procrastinate, you will never have a shortage of other projects to fill your time and keep you too busy to work on the one you're avoiding.  You can always find something else that you "should" do first.  But when you make the important things a top priority, you can accomplish monumental tasks.

12 October 2011

Finding a Balance

I recently decided that I needed to simplify my life.  I was getting too bogged down with a million little tasks that kept me running in a hundred directions at once, getting nowhere in the process.  Though I was constantly busy, I found I was becoming less and less productive, and even when I managed to actually accomplish something, I didn't feel a true sense of accomplishment, because more often than not, I was working on projects that meant more to other people than they did to me.  When I found myself crying at the end of each day because I felt like I hadn't done anything, even though all the boxes were checked off my "to do" list, I knew I needed a change.

I'm a writer by nature, but lately I've let a host of distractions get in my way, and I haven't been writing as much as I wanted to.  So, a couple of weeks ago, I decided I needed to attend a Writer's Digest University webinar by Rochelle Melander (author of Write-A-Thon) titled "Making Time to Write." 

The webinar was fantastic, and I walked away with renewed motivation and determination to make writing a priority in my life.  Her entire presentation was wonderful, but the absolute best advice from the webinar was to create an "Absolute Yes List" - the 5 things you will always, absolutely say yes to, no matter what.  And if something is not on that Absolute Yes List?  YOU CAN SAY NO!

Rochelle pointed out that "when we say yes to the things that matter least, we often are saying no to the things that matter most."  That's not what I want in my life, but that's exactly where I was.  I kept saying "yes" to the pet projects of friends and family members, trying to make life easier for them, but in the process, I was saying "no" to almost everything that really mattered to me.  That's why I felt so disheartened at the end of each day.  I wasn't moving forward with my goals.  I was spinning my wheels, digging myself into a deep rut as I worked hard to make sure everyone else in my life got to do and be what they wanted.

I immediately sat down and wrote up my Absolute Yes List:

    1. My family
    2. Service in church (reading scripture daily, attending church & the Temple weekly)
    3. Writing
    4. Exercise / My own physical health
    5. Friends

I'm still working on finding a balance on these priorities.  For instance, it's important to me to spend a few minutes each day with my children.  I want to hear about their dreams and wishes, and I want to know all the exciting things that they learned about in school.  But I've learned that I simply don't have time to volunteer for every class party, every field trip, every PTA committee.  And I can't always drop everything to take my child to the store because he earned some money and wants to go buy a new toy.

Serving the Lord in my church callings and responsibilities is vital.  But do I really need to spend 10 hours or more each week for 3 months planning an activity that only 25-30 women will attend? 

Friends are so important, and I can't pull myself into an isolated bubble away from the world.  But I also can't say yes to every invitation.  I don't have time to participate in book club, writer's group, girl's night out, playgroup and knitting club, still making time to visit with a friend I haven't seen in a while or call a friend who lives far away.  As much as I'd like to, I can't do it all.

So maybe I need to make that Absolute Yes List much more specific.  Which friend-related activities will I always make time for?  How much time will I set aside for my family every day?  How often do I really need to make personalized pot holders for every member of my class at church, as a reminder of the weekly lesson?

Balance is a tricky thing, but I know I can do it.  I just need to start finding the courage to say "no."

What about you?  What are your Absolute Yes priorities?

05 October 2011


With the recent anniversary of 9/11 and Veteran's Day coming up in just over a month, I've been thinking a lot lately about the men and women who serve our country, ordinary people who never asked to be heroes, but who deserve our honor and respect nonetheless.  Perhaps, I have a different perspective, as the spouse of a military member, but at this time of year, when people sometimes stop to reflect on the blessings we all receive  from those who are willing to sacrifice so much for us every day, I am especially grateful for my husband, his co-workers and the countless others who have served to give us the freedoms we so often take for granted.

Recently, I enjoyed the novel Ghost of Heroes Past by Charles Reid (2010, Ronsdale Press), about a boy who learns to appreciate these men and women of our armed forces.

                Johnny doesn’t care about history, and he thinks the Remembrance Day parade is a waste of time, but his dad insists that it’s important to go this year.  Johnny falls asleep, trying to come up with a viable plan for avoiding the parade.  He wakes to find the ghost of a soldier in his room, who leads him through time and space to witness the forgotten heroes of World War I and World War II.  As Johnny learns about these men and women, who demonstrated immense bravery and strength in terrible times, he realizes that his father is right.  It is vital that we remember the sacrifices ordinary men and women make in their military service.  Reid tells a captivating story of a young boy who learns that history is more than just faceless names and dates. 

The stories told by Reid's soldier-ghost are fascinating and leave the reader hungry for more.  He shows that war is never glorious, and that the people on both sides of the fighting are forced to make tough decisions every day, in fighting for what they believe is right.  For anyone who has ever wondered, "Why should I care about a war I had nothing to do with?" this book shows us that we all have a stake in remembering those who serve their countries.  The fascinating subject matter even makes up for the choppy storytelling and somewhat forced dialogue throughout the novel.