Monthly Archives: February 2014

When stressed find the nearest pet

I’m normally stressing about something. Most of the time my top stress factors are my daughter and my writing. I’m at a constant battle of finding balance between my family and my desire to write. While I do a pretty good job at this most of the time, it does come with its share of stressful moments.

Stress plays a common and necessary role in our lives – sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good. Stress drives me to do more and reach goals but sometimes it can be overwhelming. This is where my furry children come in. I’m blessed to have four pets: my dog Oscar, Beast the cat, and rabbits Diamond and Jedi. Yes, they are trouble. Yes, they take time away from my writing BUT they make me happy and keep me relaxed (well as relaxed as a working mommy with big dreams can be.)

Such a sweet face to take for a walk!

Such a sweet face to take for a walk!

I know and recognize the value of time. As a mom always testing my creativity out to find ways to maximize productivity, I get that. But it’s always a good idea to take a few minutes away from whatever you are doing and do something that makes you happy. I like doing things that I don’t “have” to do. Actually I consider loving on my pets or fitting in a quick stretch a “have” but in the grand scheme of things they are probably considered optional. It’s kind of like when my daughter says she “needs” something when in reality it’s a big “want.” You never need a new toy or need to hug your dog but both are nice.

Even a moment of animal affection does wonders to my mood. Whether I’m writing, planning out a weekly meal plan, creating lesson plans for my next dance class or one of a zillion other things, taking a moment to love on one of my furry babies melts away stress.

They are so cute, stress-free and loveable. It’s tempting to love on them all day but I do have that to-do list piling up. What do you do to take a moment, breath and release some stress?

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Nature vs. Nurture and Bunnies

This week my family celebrated something special. Well actually we celebrated two special little girls—our bunnies. Two years ago our dog Oscar found three bunnies in our Arkansas backyard. The day before we had a fire in the forest behind us and the morning after is when we had a new hole and three new residents in our yard. I looked for any signs of the mother. I put food out for her and the babies (not knowing at the time that that was a bad thing to do) but she never showed. The next few days and years have proven to be our family’s ultimate science experiment for the debate: Nature vs. Nurture.

After a day of checking on the small bunnies anytime we went outside I called the vet we used for Oscar. I was told that it was extremely difficult to save wild bunnies without their mom. They really were dependent on her milk. So I did nothing but looked in on them in their little nest whenever I went out with Oscar.

Three days later and still no sign of their mother I grew worried about the bunnies as a strong Arkansas storm moved in. As the rain picked up in intensity I went outside to check on them and knew instantly that I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. Their nest was quickly filling up with water. Due to the slant of the yard water and mud was rushing in on them. Two bunnies (Jedi and Artemis) had hopped out of the hole but were sitting there crying and looking into it. The third bunny (Diamond) had her hind legs stuck in the hole and was stretching her head as high as she could over the water. She was screaming so loudly. I never knew a bunny could make that sound.

Long heroic rescue made short, they survived the first week. It took a while to get Diamond to take to the replacement milk I bought for them. I had to feed her by walking her up and down the hall to classical music. Yes, she is one spoiled bunny but she is alive. Though Artemis ate very well her system didn’t take to the milk and we lost her almost two weeks after their rescue.

Two years later Diamond and Jedi (who is actually a girl) are doing great and living with us in Saudi Arabia. They are wonderful members of our family and I consider saving them to be one of my greatest accomplishments. The real interesting thing about their story is their personality.

Three weeks after Diamond and Jedi's rescue

Three weeks after Diamond and Jedi’s rescue

I’ve always loved reading about the nature vs. nurture debate and seeing these two grow up has really shed some light on the topic for me. These are two rabbits from the same litter. They both experienced a traumatic event, which led to their rescue. They have been fed the same, cared for the same. They both are exposed to the same environment factors yet they are so different.

Diamond is shy and very skittish of anyone who is not me. She tolerates my three-year-old daughter and large dog. For Jedi, life is one big party. She is happy going anywhere and spending time with anyone who will give her attention. She is my bunny who will go to my daughter’s preschool during the Easter season. Jedi is also easy to groom while Diamond acts as if the act is torture.

They are both tame and domestic rabbits who are potty trained. They stopped being “wild” just after their rescue, yet they have such different personalities. It certainly suggests that many of their traits were bred as part of nature and their non-wild attributes were developed through the nurture that I showed them. I always find these kind of topics fun to debate.

Do you have any similar experiences with animals? What do you think?

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The Monday Effect

We always see Facebook posts and other social media rambles about how much people dread Monday. On the flip side the phrase “Thank Goodness it’s Friday” is such a common belief that a restaurant chain is named after it. While I love the last day of the week and welcome wonderful family time I love what so many dread—Monday.TGIM

I think of Monday as a mini-version to my excitement of the first day of school. Yes, it’s been a while since I was in school but as a mom or even before that, as a member of a community, I loved the excitement emphasized on back to school. The whole “new year” helps me to embrace potential and reevaluate my goals for the upcoming months. On Mondays I love to look over the week ahead, take a breath and start doing my best to accomplish all that I need/want to.

Yes Monday marks the end to the weekend but it also marks the first day in getting to the next one. It’s the day that best sets the tone for your week and a day where you can accomplish a lot and free up some time throughout the week.

To make my Mondays better I take a little time on Sunday night to prepare. I sort out our family weekly meal plan (I always buy for the week when going to the grocery story over the weekend,) I go over the schedule to make sure it’s all included on the family calendar and select a quote for our kitchen message board to best motivate us for the week ahead. None of this preparation takes a lot of time yet it makes me feel better organized and excited about going into a new week.

Overall, Monday is my favorite day of the week. Now living in Saudi Arabia my “Monday” is actually Sunday. Our weekend is Friday and Saturday but for the purposes of this blog post (and the point I’m trying to make) we all experience a kind of “Monday Effect.” Your Monday effect may be accompanied with dread and hesitation but in truth you have the power to make Mondays become a positive effect for you and your family.

Take time to prepare. Look at it as an opportunity to create a great week. Take steps to set the right tone for the week and use that momentum to push you through to the weekend.

Do you love or hate Mondays? How do you prepare for them?

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Writing + Fitness Breaks = Better Writing

Okay, I’m the first to admit that I haven’t always followed this advice. It really is important for writers to workout. It just makes sense. We sit a lot, hunched over our keyboards so fitness of course is important to my profession. But as a writing mom I have so much to do! Taking my daughter to school and her various activities could count as a full-time job alone. On top of that I teach tap and jazz dance here in our community and serve on a few volunteer committees. Needless to say life is busy but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

So how do I squeeze in some fitness and how does it help my writing? It’s easy to skip workouts and take advantage of any free second I have but take a moment and think about how you feel when you write. This is something we typically don’t think about since we’re so focused on our settings and characters. After I’ve been writing for a while my back starts to hurt, my neck gets tense and my hands hurt from typing. Even when caught up in my story it’s hard to ignore the signs that my body is telling me to take a break.

Lucky for us there’s an app for that! There are several five-minute workout apps that help you target different parts of your body. Throughout my writing day I am sure to take a few breaks by completing various workout routines. 1. It helps me feel better. 2. It keeps me in shape 3. Doesn’t take much time 4. It makes me a better writer.

That’s right! I’ve found that when I feel better. When I’m in shape I also write better. I stay plenty busy and have not found that taking a few breaks has greatly cut into my schedule. As I’ve said, I feel it makes me a better writer and definitely helps me focus.

What do you do throughout the day for writing breaks? Do you workout? Take a break to clean house?

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A guide for the isolated writer

Let’s face it; being a writer can be very isolating. It takes persistence, endurance and incredibly long hours. Luckily writers groups can be found in most major cities. When I decided to become a novelist after years of freelance writing I was fortunate enough to live in Houston. The city brought me a wealth of knowledge and support. However, such resources are not always available and can come and go with various stages of your life. I know about this first hand. From holding jobs, to moves, to having a baby there are many situations that can keep writers from feeling the love of the great writer’s community.

I understand this very well. I’ve missed access to conferences both big and small. I’ve missed workshops and continued education. I’ve missed having coffee and chatting about plot holes and character drama. But writers don’t need to suffer from what they miss. While the personal contact is still missing for me I have found ways to overcome what I call, “the isolated writer syndrome.”

First of all, what is an isolated writer? I break this into three categories. How did I come up with these categories? Personal experience. I have personally experienced each of these points and can agree with anyone that none of these scenarios are great for the writer in you. But rather than whine, we can understand the difficulties and find a solution.

1. The parent writer
2. The long-distance writer
3. The I have an actual paying job writer

I have always been an organized person who loves making lists and developing well thought out strategies to accomplish my goals. I thought when I was expecting my daughter that this whole writing mommy thing would be a cakewalk. I had plans and had plotted out strategies to accomplish them. Then my daughter was born and WOW was I wrong. My plans went out the window and those lists, well they were spit up on or either torn apart by playful hands.

On top of just trying to keep my professional life in order I also was feeling isolated. Of course I didn’t have time to make it to monthly writing meetings or meet fellow writers for coffee. I was just hoping to make my deadline. Having a child easily isolates writers.

When I refer to the “long-distance” writer and I’m talking about awkward long-distance relationships. By my definition, this is a writer who lives in a town, city or currently in my case, a country where there are no writing groups, workshops or conferences. After starting to write novels in Houston I moved to Arkansas. Yes, they had a writing group but it met at lunchtime at a library. Obviously I couldn’t take a baby to a library so my days of writing groups were over.

Find a writing community from the comfort of your home computer, no matter where you live or what your schedule may be like.

Find a writing community from the comfort of your home computer, no matter where you live or what your schedule may be like.

Then we moved to Saudi and need I even say it? Yep, there is nothing writing support related here.

For many writers though the feeling of isolation comes from something far less dramatic than having a baby or moving to remote or exotic places. When I started my freelance writing career I had a day job. I worked as first an advertising director and then a creative services director for a major television station. I kept long hours and worked hard to fit in my freelance writing in any available spare time.

Whether you are feeling isolated from work, family commitments, or where you live there are ways now to help combat that isolation feeling. You’re experiencing it this very moment. If you are reading my blog then you have Internet. The Internet is full of resources for you to explore and experience. You can even attend a writing conference from the comfort of your computer chair. You don’t have to stress about a conference wardrobe. Tired moms with burp rags on their shoulders are welcome and you can have as many cups of coffee you need if you need to tune in from International time zones.

One great online conference is coming up this weekend. WANA International is a great online resource for writers and they hold WANA Con a couple times a year so that writers who may struggle to make it to physical conferences can find the network and resources that they crave.

Thanks to the Internet writers are finding more ways to combat “Isolated Writer Syndrome.” You don’t need to live near a critique partner or even close. You can research and communicate with agents and experts from the publishing world no matter where you live. You can even take online workshops and the technology is making it easier for writers to “feel” the classroom spirit and get the full experience without actually attending a physical class.

I encourage you to get out there and explore your options. Don’t give in to Isolated Writer Syndrome. It can be a depressing place to be. Of course I realize getting out there and finding ways to connect is harder than it sounds. I haven’t always followed my own advice on this. When I’ve been juggling my family’s schedule, trying to get dinner going, or teaching dance (my real paying job) I count myself lucky to reach my daily word count. However, I am attending WANA Con and can’t wait to get that boost of writer’s energy that it always gives me.

I hope you’ll consider signing up for WANA Con or find someway online to take away the feeling of isolation. What do you do to combat your Isolated Writer Syndrome?

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This reader’s new Valentine’s Day tradition

In honor of Valentine’s Day my husband and I are doing something different this year. Yes, we are getting a 24-hour trip (thanks Dad for watching Baby Markey) but we’ve decided to pick a book for the other to read. My husband is not a reader. Aside from the research articles he reads for work he tries to avoid reading when he gets home except for the stuff I write. However, over the past year he’s started to return to the world of recreational reading and pick up his favorite genre from back when he did read. That genre is military fiction. My hubby loves Tom Clancy, Bob Mayer etc. While I know Bob and love his writing I’m sad to admit that I’m not a military fiction fan.

red_storm_risingI’ve tried, really I have but I often find it hard to get immersed into the plot before I lose interest. Part of this likely comes from the schedule I keep as busy mom working on her own writing while also being a dance teacher. Books don’t get a big chance with me to make an impression before I start thinking of everything else I need to do. However, hubby has selected one of his favorite books for me to read. I’m now reading Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising.” Don’t ask me yet on my opinion I’m only five pages in!

In return, I’ve selected one of my favorite books for hubby to read. After college I loved reading anything as a way to wind down after a hard day at the office. One of my girl friends who also was an avid reader recommended this book to me and I laughed. At that time I didn’t read romance. Don’t be mad at me but I use to balk at the idea of reading romance when I could be reading a real book. Hate the old me all you want but it took reading one book to show me that romance books are not just about romance. They can have action-driven plots, intricate world building and outstanding writing.

So yes, my husband is now reading “Dark Lover,” book one in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward. I’ve read many Dark lover“romance” novels but this was my first and I loved it. I loved how strong the characters were (and I don’t mean physical strength) and the detailed plot that still had time for intriguing sub plots. I’m curious to see how my military fiction-loving hubby likes the book just as I’m curious how I’m going to enjoy “Red Storm Rising.”

I love that we’re recommending books to each other and it was a tough call on what I wanted him to read. This really is turning out to be a fun couples thing and I look forward to many nights of discussion as we talk about what we are reading.

Are you doing anything unique for Valentine’s Day?

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Watching the Olympics is better when you’re a parent

I’ve always loved watching the Olympics. I love the thrill of the events. I love hearing all the inspirational stories of the athletes and how they got to where they are. It’s so nice seeing the support that the athletes have for each other even as they make friends with contestants from other countries. But now as a mother watching the Olympics I have a new reason to love the events.Balance beam

For every outstanding athlete there is a parent or someone who has supported them and helped them reach their Olympic dream. I was reminded of this last night when I watched two of the three Canadian Dufour-Lapointe sisters medal in the moguls. Of course I was happy for the athletes but I couldn’t help but think of their parents. I know how proud I got of my little girl when she mastered a new trick on the balance beam in gymnastics last week. My daughter is not even four and shows great talent in a range of sports. Though I was proud of her accomplishment this week I had to fast forward in my mind to when she could be participating in an Olympic games. Wow, what a feeling that must be!

Though realistically Baby Markey will probably not be an Olympian. Few grow to such an athletic accomplishment. She may be like me and end up excelling in an event (dance for example) that isn’t seen at the Olympic games. However, that feeling of awe-inspiring amazement and pride that comes with watching your child succeed is universal whether they win a local spelling bee or a gold medal. As a parent watching the Olympic games I get that.

I seriously cried as the new gold and silver medalists for the ladies moguls ran over to hug their parents. What an accomplishment and I’m sure it’s safe to say that those girls would never have stood on the podium without the obvious support of their parents. I can’t help but think about what Baby Markey could be capable of as I take her to soccer, music, gymnastics and dance class. Could I be supporting a future gymnastics Olympic medalist? Or the next Taylor Swift? I do know that whatever Baby Markey does I’ll be proud and continue to share that amazing feeling that many parents of Olympians are now experiencing.

Are you watching the Olympics? Which is you favorite event?

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Finding inspiration in the Olympics

Today launches the start of the XXII Winter Olympic Games and I cannot express to you enough on how excited my house is. My family has always loved the Olympics, both the winter and summer events. It’s a great opportunity to see sports that you don’t see all the time and I love how countries come together to celebrate the tradition and compete to completion. Mostly though I love the inspiration that can be found in every aspect of the games. I’m a dancer (which isn’t an Olympic event) and a writer. I find inspiration and motivation in the acts of the athletes that I use to apply to my own life. But really no matter what you do you can find inspiration in these games.

The Olympics is the symbol of hard work. Whatever sport is up those athletes became Olympians through hard work, dedication and talent. Notice how I put talent last. In so many pre-Olympic articles the topics are not about talent but about mindset and the athletes preparation. That is how most things are. For example, with writing I see that it is more about persistence than anything. Each day I have to stay in my chair and write or I’ll never accomplish my goal of publishing my fiction work. Same thing with dance, I may have talent but if I don’t practice and study new trends then what kind of dance instructor would I be?

Like anything in life how you look at it can help you reach your goals. In one article I read recently it talked about how strict Scott Hamilton was going into his Olympic games. It talked about the intense pressure he felt especially with being the favorite to win gold. He said that he tried to shut out as much as he could about the games and focus on his routine. Figure skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White are seen as favorites for these games. They expressed their plan to have fun and get out and experience the games. Two different approaches but no wrong answer.

I love hearing about different athletes and how they mentally cope with the pressure. Their techniques are ideas that everyday non-Olympians can apply to daily tasks and on up to dreams. And how can you not be inspired by such great triumphs? I still remember screaming in front of my television when the U.S. men took to the pool and won the 4×100 relay. That final touch of the wall was amazing to watch over and over. Remember great Olympic performances such as Michael Johnson, USA “Dream Team” in basketball, Usain Bolt, the 1980 USA hockey team, Mary Lou Retton’s perfect score, Michael Phelps, Kerri Strug and all the other wonderful athletes and moments.

This year as you watch the Olympics (and I hope you will) be sure to pay attention to the stories that take place off the competing areas. Listen to the stories of personal triumph, those who have conquered battles greater than a gold medal and those that can teach us about the power of will. Those are the stories I love best and the stories that will inspire me for many writing days ahead.

Though we won’t be seeing this event at the winter games, take a look and relive one of my favorite Olympic moments.

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The constant evolution of the mommy me

I say to my students in my “Writing Mommy” workshops that being a mom, no matter what you do is a process of constant evolution. Oh how this is true! The older my daughter gets the harder my working challenges become and the obstacles become greater. I’ve experienced this double time last year when we moved to the Middle East. Any major change will throw off your groove but then add an active, growing little girl to the mix and WOW I felt overwhelmed. I’m a mom, a writer, a dance teacher and thanks to my technique of journaling and studying my daily energy I was able to adjust pretty well to being a mommy working from home. I easily got work accomplished during naptimes, early mornings and late nights. However, something wonderfully fun has happened lately though it’s not been great for my writing.

This year Baby Markey has started preschool and activities. She’s in soccer, gymnastics, music, and Latin dance. We stay very busy with our active girl and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, this involves a lot of time in the car and a lot of time getting someone ready for her classes – time that is taken away from my writing. So as I say in my class, when your schedule undergoes a change you must reevaluate where you are and how to best handle the change.

A busy three-year-old!

A busy three-year-old!

This week I’m the student to my own lessons. I’ve pulled out my spiral notebooks and I’m recording my daily activity level to track what times of day I have the most energy for different tasks. For example, the after lunch slump isn’t the best time to plot a bestseller. Instead I use that time to take care of undesired tasks such as laundry. Yep, that stuff still has to get done when your busy mom! Especially when still early in the New Year it’s easy to want to dive in on my goals. However, I think it’s equally as important to have a plan and know what I’m doing.

The most important thing is that I’m Natalie. I’m more than a mommy, a wife, a writer, a dance instructor, a pet owner, etc. I’m me and I’m going to make time and find the best way to do what I’m passionate about. I love writing and sharing stories so I’m going to make sure I continue to do so just as I love to dance and enjoy sharing the skill with my students. Times change and my routine must accommodate that change. It’s difficult to accept change and I’m saying this because I’ve done it. I liked my old writing routine until it no longer worked for me. It was tempting to keep trying the same routine because it was what I was used to. However I’d rather change, take the advice from my own carefully written lessons and find what works for me. Even if finding what works sets me back a week or two.

Now after nearly a month of rediscovering “normal life” after a long vacation and studying to create my new productive writing routine I’m back on track. Sometimes I think you really have to take a few steps back in order to move forward.

Okay writing/working/busy moms (and dad’s too) out there. How have you gone about readjusting your routine to accommodate the evolution of your family’s needs?

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Hello February: It’s Time for Your Check-up

My husband and I know those catchy songs from Disney Junior just as well as our three-year-old daughter. Our daughter is especially fond of “Doc McStuffins,” a little girl with a magical stethoscope and a talent for treating sick toys. When a new toy needs Doc’s assistance the cast erupts in a catchy tune to “Time for your check up!” Though catchy and you may not get it out of your head, this song is a perfect theme for my post today.

January is gone and we’re now three days into February. How is your 2014 looking? Is it time for your resolution check up? For me I’m just where I want to be. I was realistic when planning out this year. As an American Expat living in Saudi Arabia we must be out of Kingdom a certain amount of the year. This of course throws all routine out the window and I’m still learning the best way to care for my daughter through long “vacations” and still manage to get my daily writing goal done. We were traveling all of December this year so I knew that I needed most of January to get my feet back under me and on steady ground back at home.

I think that setting unrealistic goals is a common mistake especially for the artist types. I can say this because I’ve been guilty most every year since I became a writer. I set great yet unattainable goals and then by February and definitely March I was depressed and feeling inadequate. So, how are you doing this year? Are you feeling overwhelmed, depressed? Instead of beating yourself up look at your goals. Is it possible that you overstretched yourself? It’s never too late to redefine your yearly goals. Sit down with a calendar and set realistic goals for each month. Make a plan moving forward to attain these new reachable goals.

How do you “check-up” your year? Have you seen reason to redefine your goals? How do you go about this?

And for those of you who don’t have the privilege of watching Disney Junior each morning, I present Doc McStuffins and “It’s Time for Your Check-up.”

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