21 September 2014

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with Family Fun Days

Usually we try to do "family fun day" on Saturdays, but this week it worked out better to be on Sunday. Mostly due to the weather forecast.

So this morning after breakfast, we took the kids to a park nearby to play and let Puck drive his remote-control car on a big slab of pavement.

It was fun. There was a playground, and Puck conquered some of his fears of being up high and jumping down from being "too high"*, and the munchkins made a new friend in a boy named Vincent. It was fun.

This afternoon has been spent watching Disney movies and cartoons.** It's been a good day, and I definitely feel renewed. I'll miss the munchkins while they're at Monty's this week, but I feel ready for the new week to start.

How has your weekend been?

*With quite a bit of gentle, parental pushing from me.

**The kids are allowed to watch TV on Friday afternoons, and all day Saturday and Sunday, but not during the week.

20 September 2014

Teaching patience

Sleeping Boy (1824)
Nikifor Krylov
We've been working on teaching Puck patience lately. While he can spend hours absorbed in something he finds interesting, he can also be incredibly impatient when he's waiting for something he wants, or when he doesn't know what comes next in our schedule.*

So we're working on it.

I think some of his impatience comes when he gets bored. He wants to know what we're doing because he can't just sit and be.

So we're working on it.

Some of it comes from not getting the answer he wants when he asks a question, so he repeats the question, hoping we'll give in.

So we're working on that, too.

I've been focusing on giving him one thing to do at a time, and only telling him the very next thing we're doing (shortly before we do it).

We've also explained to him what patience is ("waiting nicely"), and that he needs to slow down and take a breath before he speaks or reacts. When he asks the same question again, we tell him we've already answered that question and we're not going to discuss it anymore.

It's helping, little by little.

*His favorite question lately is "What are we doing now?"

17 September 2014

Adventures in Puppyhood

Way back in spring, Bo and I brought home a puppy we named Clara. She's a chihuahua-pekingese mix. She was nearly seven weeks when we brought her home, and is now about seven months old.

I'd been thinking about getting a puppy, but planned to wait until I was out of the apartment I was in. But a friend of Mimi's had a litter at her house, and offered us one, so we have a Clara-dog.

It's been interesting having a puppy, especially with the munchkins. When we first brought her home, Puck wanted little to do with her and we thought Clara would connect with Tink. But as Clara has grown into her personality, she and Puck have become nearly inseparable, while she and Tink are often at odds with one another. They don't fight, but it's clear that Clara likes Puck better (and sometimes Tink couldn't care less if Clara is around).

I think part of the tension between Clara and Tink stems from their personalities being so similar. I know that one is a human and one is a dog, but so often they react to things the same way or they both get "sassy" or they both have the same look of mischief that prompts me to ask "What are you doing?" Clara and Tink clash because they are so much alike in so many ways, the way sisters clash for the same reason. They fight like sisters, too. Clara gets bite-y when she plays, so Tink responds by trying to push Clara away, which Clara interprets as playing, and bites more.

Since I work from home, Clara and I have been together a lot more than Clara and Bo have been together, and Clara has developed a bit of jealousy when it comes to anyone else having my attention. I'm hers. Sometimes it's not a big deal, while other times Clara tries to physically put herself between me and the person taking my attention. (Lilly does the same thing sometimes.)

Because she's cute and small and still so much puppy, it's sometimes tempting to let her have the attention she's seeking when that happens. But, like two-legged munchkins, we can't form bad habits, now can we?

Now that she's a little older and clearly understands quite a bit of what's going on in the world around her, we're working on training her in a more concentrated way, teaching her basic commands and the Rules of the House. With mixed results.

One of the problems we're running into is that Clara knows she's cute, and tries to use that to get out of trouble. For example, if we scold her for getting into something, she runs up for attention with a look that says, "But you love me! You're not mad!"

Having a puppy in the house has reminded me of what it was like to have a toddler and a baby at the same time, except Clara is much quicker on her feet than Puck and Tink were.

I love Clara, and she's not going anywhere. In fact, one of the first days we had her, Puck asked me if we ever had to give Clara back. When I told him no, she is part of our family, he made me promise that she would be with us, wherever our family is.

Bringing Clara home did not happen the way I thought adding a puppy to our family would. But it has worked out better than I imagined. She truly is an important part of our family, and part of the memories we're making together.

Sometime in the future (years down the road), we hope to add another furbaby to our family. But for now, our rambunctious Clara is quite enough.

16 September 2014

Nanny's birthday

Nanny reading to Puck and Bug, 2011
Today is my mom's birthday.

This is the second year in a row I haven't been able to celebrate with her because of the whole I-live-in-Florida-now thing.

I don't like that I can't celebrate with my mom. I'd love to take her out for lunch or coffee or drinks or something.

Moving to Florida this time around has led to a bigger change in my relationship with my parents than the last time I lived here. Sometimes it's hard to talk as much as you'd like to when you're working (more than) full-time, you have a munchkin in school full-days, and you have a girlfriend with a traditional office job who can't just pick up and go whenever you want. (So annoying!)

I don't get to talk to her as much as I want, and I definitely don't get to see her as often as I'd like. But we both know that sometimes you have to do what is necessary to take care of your family, and that's what we're doing.

I'm hoping that next year will be different. Maybe we'll be able to visit sometime next year, or Nanny will be able to spend some time here in Florida with the munchkins. Until then, I'll be wishing her a happy birthday from three states away.

15 September 2014

Helping Puck adjust

July 2014
I got a call from Monty last week that said Puck would be moving classrooms. The school had anticipated more children than were enrolled, so his teacher would be moving to second grade, and her students would be sent to other teachers. Monty did ensure that one of Puck's friends (a boy who was in his pre-K class last year) would be in the same new class, which will help Puck with the change.

When Monty asked Puck about it, all he said was that he didn't want to have a new teacher. I'm sure Puck was happy with his teacher--she seems very nice--but I know a lot of his reaction is because Puck is not a fan of change.

Once Puck gets comfortable with something (new apartment, new teacher, new routine), he wants to keep it the same. Forever. When his norm (even if it's a new norm) changes or has to be adjusted, he gets anxious and (sometimes) rather upset.

He reacts the way a kid would react. He's a bit moody, wants to go back to the way things were, and doesn't really understand why things have to change in the first place. After all, the old way was working, wasn't it?

We try to encourage change in small ways to help keep big changes from being so devastating. We want him to understand that change can be good--even better--and while it may take a little time to get used to, it is inevitable.

You can only do what you can do from where you are.

So this week will be an adjustment week. Puck will have to get used to the new routines, rules, and people in his new class with his new teacher, and we'll get through it together.

I predict that in a couple of weeks, he won't remember that he was ever unhappy about getting a new teacher in the first place, and we'll keep marching through kindergarten.

14 September 2014

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with wine and chocolate

Yesterday Bo and I went over to Dantielle's for a Dove chocolate party.* We tasted chocolate (paired with wines), then stayed for dinner and conversation. There was also talk of playing Cards Against Humanity, which I've never played, but I had to get home to meet a deadline, unfortunately.

It was a fun evening, and a good opportunity to spend time with Bo's sister and brother-in-law. I adore having family so close for support and friendship, and the more I get to know Bo's family, the more thankful I am they're in my life.

And if they ply me with wine and chocolate, well....that just means they know me.

We're going to plan a night just for games soon, and in the meantime, we have a delivery of chocolatey goodies to look forward to.

*Yeah, this is a real thing. And it's just as awesome as it sounds.

13 September 2014

Going back to "my book"

I'm a day planner person.

I'm the type of person who has to write everything down or I don't remember it. So I use task lists and my paper calendar daily to stay organized and on top of everything that needs to be done.

The day planner I've been using through most of this year (which I like) doesn't have enough room in it for my weekly and daily task lists, so I also have a spiral notebook I use for my daily task lists (usually one page per day). It gives me the room I need to stay organized, but it means I have two books to keep track of, neither of which fit in my bag, which makes it hard to add to my schedule (or check it) when I'm not in the office.

So I've decided to transition back to the refillable day planner I bought at the beginning of the year to use. Not only does the planner fit in my bag, but it has room to keep everything together in one place.

This will make me feel much more organized and on top of things, and I'll have easy access to my schedule no matter where I am. It fills my need for pen-and-paper tracking of my calendar and my task lists, and it's refillable, so I can add to or take away from the book as needed. (For example, I take out the daily pages at the end of each month to reduce the bulk of the planner.)

There will likely be a period of adjustment as I move everything over to my book and figure out the best way to keep track of my task lists, but I'm hopeful that this will be a much better solution for keeping myself and my career organized.

How do you keep track of everything?

12 September 2014

When life is good

Sorrow (Woman by the Table, Crying Woman), 1892
Jozsef Rippl-Ronai
I've gone through a lot of changes in the past few years. Between coming out, divorcing Monty, relocating to a new state, and meeting Bo, it's been a bit chaotic in my life for quite some time.

Things are settling now, but with the lack of chaos and mini-crises to focus on, I find myself once again struggling with anxiety and, to some extent, depression.

To many who know me, it's not a secret that I struggled with depression and anxiety in high school and college, and following the births of my children. It was hard, but I was able to get the help I needed to overcome the worst of it, and I now have tools I can use to cope with these feelings when they come up again. (Because it's a lifelong struggle.)

When life is busy and chaotic, my mind doesn't have time to think about depression and anxiety. I'm too busy doing everything that needs to be done to get through each day. It's only when things settle--when life is good--that those feelings and thoughts begin to creep back into my mind.

Now that things are significantly more settled in my life--and are unlikely to drastically change in the next few years--I find myself feeling a bit more anxious. Life is good, so my head has decided to play tricks on me.

Right now the anxiety is minor, and really only in my periphery. But it's there, and I know that if I don't use the tools and support I have to head it off now, it could be much more difficult to work through later.

So now that things are less chaotic, I'll be taking the time I need for myself to take care of myself. I'll be eating better, exercising regularly, and leaning on Bo (and the rest of my support system) to remind me that depression lies.

Life is good.

10 September 2014

Things I've learned about myself

The brilliant and funny Carmen over at Mom to the Screaming Masses* posted today about things she's learned about herself. An interesting post, and one that I've decided to steal for my own purposes thankyouverymuch.

So here you go.

  • I am a dog person. Growing up I always preferred cats, but now I am definitely a dog person. I adore Clara (our chihuahua-peke mix), and am looking forward to the opportunity to add another sweet furbaby to our family in the next few years. I never thought I would be a dog person, but now I can't imagine getting a cat (and not only because Bo is allergic).
  • I am much more confident in who I am than I once was, but I am still very self-conscious about many things.
  • I want to make quilts. I've been wanting to get into sewing and quilting for quite some time, and every once in a while I want to do it badly enough that I research how much it would cost to get a sewing machine that I would like that would suit my needs. That happened again this week.
  • The coffee house book has become part of who I am as a writer, even though it isn't finished yet. I've devoted my entire (fiction) writing career to the collection since graduating college, and I don't regret it one bit. The collection--beginning with the coffee house book--is what I'm supposed to be writing.
  • I watch too much TV. I usually have something on as background noise while I'm working (my traditional job could be loud, so I got used to working in noise). If it's too quiet, I get distracted.
  • If I don't journal semi-regularly, I start to feel very tense. My journal is where I brainstorm and vent and work things out and let things go. If I don't have the opportunity to do that, I definitely feel it.
  • I don't make enough time to read. There are a lot of books on my reading list that I haven't gotten to because things have been busy. Now that things are settling down, I'm looking forward to making more time to read for pleasure.
  • I can't imagine living anywhere except Florida. There are times I miss living in the Midwest (when the leaves are falling or when it's getting close to Christmas), but I truly feel at home here in Florida.**
  • I don't like not knowing what time it is. I lost my watch in the move to the new apartment and haven't replaced it yet. I find myself checking my phone or the time on my computer incredibly frequently.
  • I need to replace that watch.

*Just to put things in perspective, Carmen's blog has its own tag on my blog. Because I think she's awesome. Just sayin'.
**That being said, I am looking forward to buying a house and having a bit more space to spread out and garden and have a real office with a door that closes.

09 September 2014

Ten books that have stuck with me

The delightful, brilliant Chuck Wendig published an interesting post about ten books that have stuck with him.

It's an interesting list, and an interesting prompt. Lots of people are asked what books are their favorites, or what books have shifted their perspectives on the world, but books that "stick with you" is a different concept. It suggests writing or stories or characters that you connect with in a way that keeps the book in your mind long after you read it. Or perhaps it transforms the book into one that you read again and again.

Here's my list (in no particular order).

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This was the first "big girl" book I read because I wanted to. I was in middle school I think, and I checked it out of the library one Friday. I spent the entire weekend reading it, taking in the story, learning about Jane, and falling in love with this new world of stories that extended so far beyond The Babysitter's Club and R. L. Stine. Here was an "adult" book. I read it and understood it. Perhaps not on as deep a level as I would now, but it was still read and enjoyed. It was the first time I read a book and didn't feel like a kid reading a book that was beyond me. Instead, I saw value in books that weren't written specifically for my grade level. I didn't have to stick to Ramona if I didn't want to. I could go into a library and read a book because it sounded interesting, and that was good enough reason to check it out. It's been quite some time since I've read Jane Eyre, but it's a story I know and love, and will be with me for a long, long time.

2. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

I read Catcher in the Rye my sophomore year in high school. I was intrigued by the book because I had to have a permission slip signed in order to read it in class. And when I read it, I loved it. I liked the self-contradictory nature of Holden, I liked that Salinger hinted at events and moments rather than hitting the reader over the head with them, and I liked that throughout the reading, I didn't quite believe everything that Holden told me. I always felt like there was more to it. It was a book that was accessible to me, but challenged me in a new way as a reader. This was my first experience reading a book critically. I read it to understand it, and not just to read a story. After this book, I had a deeper appreciation for other stories I read. Because of that, Catcher will always have a special place in my personal library.

3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I didn't read The Handmaid's Tale until a women's literature course in college. This book has stuck with me because I know people of the religious ilk that would try and overthrow the government as described in the story. These people I know would be among those who would welcome a theocracy, and would likely contribute to some of the hypocrisy that would exist within the rigid, misogynistic government and society. Additionally, this book is a chilling reminder to me of why Christianity--and religion overall--can be a destructive, scary force in this world. And, as if that isn't enough, there are moments I read headlines or watch the news and Atwood's story immediately comes to mind. How much longer until it becomes reality?

4. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

When I was a senior in high school, I took a British Literature class. During one quarter, we were asked to choose a book by a British author and do a report on it. I asked the teacher if I could choose Angela's Ashes--I argued that Ireland is, in fact, closely related to Britain and we did read The Importance of Being Earnest by Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, so could she really say no?--and was given permission. I think Angela's Ashes has stuck with me because it was the first book that evoked a real emotional response in me. I'd read books and been amused or saddened by what happened, but when I read Angela's Ashes, I wept. I had to put the book down because I couldn't read through the tears. It made me feel for the characters in a way I hadn't experienced through literature.

5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurtson

I love this book. It's among my favorites. Like Gatsby, it's one of the books that reveals something new every time I read it. I learn more about Janie and her experiences, and find myself connecting to her on a different level each time. It's a beautiful, extremely well-written book, and one that I hope continues to be read in classrooms for generations. It's very much worth reading frequently. If there is any book on this list that haunts me, it is this one. I wish I could be more descriptive and explain exactly why I feel so connected to this book, but I can't. Sometimes stories just stick with you for lots of reasons (or none at all), and this is one of them.

6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Is it a cliche to put this book on my list? As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I discovered Plath at a good time in my life. I was struggling, and Esther's story made me feel a little less alone. Plath gave voice to my own experiences, in a much more eloquent way than I ever could. The Bell Jar, to me, said it was okay to struggle, and it was okay that others didn't really understand the struggle. It is, after all, my struggle. It's been quite some time since I've read The Bell Jar, but it's one that I always include in book lists because it has been important to me since high school.

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I didn't read Gatsby until college. I know lots of people read it in high school, but I didn't. However, I'm glad for that. I think if I'd read it in high school, the obligation of reading it plus the discussions of the symbolism of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg's eyes and the green light at the end of the dock would have likely turned me off from really reading the story. And that would have been very sad. However, Gatsby gave me a very real experience of how literature rewards rereading. I've read it many times (and will continue to read it regularly), and each time I read it, I walk away from it feeling almost as if I've read it for the first time. I see the characters differently, connect with them differently, and interpret the story and its nuances differently. Every time I read The Great Gatsby, it is a new story to me. It has stuck with me since the first time I read it, and I look forward to every reread. And always will. I've heard there are two types of people in the world: those who are Gatsby people and those who are not. I am a Gatsby person.*

8. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

I discovered Jasper Fforde accidentally. I adored Jane Eyre, and saw The Eyre Affair on a bargain book rack at a bookstore, drawn to it because of the reference to Bronte's character in the title. However, when I read it, I was hooked, and Jasper Fforde became one of my favorite writers. This book, in particular, has stuck with me because of its whimsy. It's sort of a dream alternate reality for writers and readers, it has a strong female protagonist (I love Thursday's character!), and it takes what I knew about literature and fiction and sort of put it on its head. Fforde did something I'd never encountered in literature before (and haven't since), and that was enough to make me a fan. The fact that he did it so well has changed my reading life forever.

9. Wit by Margaret Edson

I read Wit in a college literature course. It's a play, and it's heartbreakingly beautiful. I love the concept of this play and its execution. I love the subtle scene shifts and the fluidity of the story as it is told. I love the complexity of Vivian's character, watching how she changes as her cancer changes her. And then when it comes to the end... Well, I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it, so I'll just say that I cry every single time I read it. I think it's that characterization that has caused this play to stick with me. There is something about Vivian that I can't let go of. I desperately want to see Wit on stage.

10. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is a short story rather than a book, but important for me to include in this list. "The Yellow Wallpaper" was not the first story I read with an unreliable narrator (Catcher in the Rye was), but it was the first story I read in which I understood that the narrator was unreliable and studied it in my analysis of the story. Unreliable narrators fascinate me. I love that a reader only really has what the narrator says to understand the story, but an unreliable narrator can't necessarily be trusted. So the reader is left to sort out the story using clues dropped by the author. I love that. And that's why I like "The Yellow Wallpaper" so much. It gives the reader a glimpse into the narrator's world, which is not necessarily her reality, and the reader is left to sort of piece it all together and figure it out.

So that's my list. What's yours?

*And the recent film? Seriously?