Monthly Archives: March 2014

When it rains in the desert

It must be easy to be a weatherman in Saudi Arabia. With no training in the area I could give the daily forecast: Sunny, hot with some sand in the air. That is what we have most of the year. In the “winter” it does get cold at night but the coldest I’ve ever felt it during the day was a whopping 60 degrees.

Typically during the change of seasons we get a sandstorm and these can vary in intensity but are typically just a mess to deal with. I’d take a yucky sandstorm over tornadoes and hurricanes any day! And very rarely it rains. It’s even more rare to have any sound of thunder with that rain. Today has been one of those rare days where we have seen rain and thunder!

Little Miss Markey has been saying, “wow!” a lot and I’ve been feeling particularly sluggish like the bed is calling to me on a high frequency. It’s rare days like today that I get the most energy from my daughter by seeing her excitement over something so simple and basic as a rain storm. It’s moments like this that I understand that my writing can wait and I can enjoy the moment with my daughter. I may not get many rainy days but I know I can never have too much time with my wonderful three-year-old.

Rain in the desert is rare. We're embracing it!

Rain in the desert is rare. We’re embracing it!

I’m taking today as an opportunity to talk about weather and other topics related to the rain. You don’t have to look far to turn something into a learning moment and for us living in Saudi anytime it rains is a MAJOR learning moment for kids.

Luckily for me my daughter also felt the call to nap. Unfortunately I used that time to catch up on some writing. Though the day wasn’t as productive as I had wanted it to be it was productive in making wonderful moments with my daughter. To this writing mom that is important and it was a great day!

What little moments in life have caused you to change your plans and focus all attention on your child? When I’ve had days like this in the past I’ve always found that the next day I’m very productive in work. Hopefully this will be the case tomorrow. ☺

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Balancing Work Vs. Fun with Kids this Spring Break

It’s that time of year again. Spring Break is among us and writers with kids will have their routines thrown off kilter. But this can be a good thing! My preschooler’s Spring Break is next week and though we don’t have any exciting plans I’m looking forward to the one-on-one time I’ll have with her. It will be our special “staycation.”

The fact though still remains that this mommy has work to do. So how do I keep an active preschooler happy and still allow some writing time for me? Well, here’s my Spring Break strategy:

Be realistic of goals– Obviously Spring Break will cut into my typical daily work goal. This year I’m really focusing on staying realistic. I have a bad habit of taking on too much or planning to do more than I can realistically do. This only disappoints me so I’m going to be realistic with my daily goals this Spring Break.

Plan joint projects– I’m planning activities with my daughter. Many of these are easy, at home craft projects that we can both enjoy. During this time she will have my FULL attention.

Due to the increasing Saudi heat we're stocking up on craft supplies!

Due to the increasing Saudi heat we’re stocking up on craft supplies!

Plan independent projects- I’m also planning out some projects that my daughter will hopefully be interested in doing by herself. For example, one day after we complete our mommy/daughter craft I’m going to tell her to prepare a puppet show that she can perform for us that evening. Each one of these projects is centered around something that she can show us later or perform. This will help her with the need to be independent but will also allow me sometime to work while overseeing her.

Join a Spring Break camp– I’ve also signed Little Miss Markey up for Vacation Bible School. This will take place from 9-11:30 each day. However, this won’t help me get work done as I’ve volunteered to help at the event each day. There are normally many Spring Break activities where working parents can be happy that their kids are happy while learning something. However, I love spending time with my daughter and never want my desperation to get work done to force me to sign her up for things just to free up my time. When I sign her up for things it’s because I feel she will like them and that we can both benefit from it.

Schedule play groups- I’m planning a few play groups where Little Miss Markey will have some friends over. While my daughter is past the idea of a nap she will sometimes sleep if I wear her out! These play groups will hopefully do that so she’ll take a brief nap allowing me some great writing time.

Have fun– Sticking to the fun of what every Spring Break should be I’m planning fun evening activities for the family (trips to the park, pool, etc.). As our evenings will not be dictated by our usual routine this is the time to get outside and have some fun family time. With this being said I’m getting my daughter involved in planning what she wants to do for family evening fun. If it’s something she really wants to do, like go to the pool then I can use this to my advantage. “If I’m going to the pool later then mommy needs to get some work done. Can you play with your dolls while I do this?” It’s never a bad idea to ask your kids for help no matter what their age is!

Spring Break should be fun for the whole family. Keep this in mind when you are feeling that pull to write. Maybe you can benefit from a break. Taking time off for some family time may actually increase you productivity when you return to your usual schedule.

How are you planning out writing vs. fun time with Spring Break?

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My Psychology of Productiveness

I’m a big believer in state of mind. Starting in junior high I would always dress up in a cute casual dress, etc whenever it was a testing day. When I felt pretty and put together is also when I did my best work. So do I like to feel pretty? Well, yeah but I believe there is more to it than that. I like to feel prepared, put together and productive. Essentially I like to dress for success.

And to be clear I still wear normal clothes! Here I am with hubby out for a night listening to a jazz band.

And to be clear I still wear normal clothes! Here I am with hubby out for a night listening to a jazz band.

Now I must admit I don’t wear pretty dresses around my house as I’m always bouncing from being a mom and wife to my writing career or my job as a dance teacher. Even when I wake up at 3am to discuss topics related to my The Mortal Instruments Examiner column on a popular podcast show I’m not perfectly dressed. Since the show switched to a video format I still manage to wear my pajama bottoms though I do put on a professional top, throw in my contacts and fluff my hair.

Like many writing and professional moms I too live a busy and hectic life. However, I still know how to find my sense of “dressing up for success.” While it might no longer involve cute clothes my new secret is getting an early start. This accomplishes my need to feel prepared, put together and productive.

Each morning I wake up really early. Like 4:30am early! No, I am not insane. I start each morning out writing and working on a dream I believe in. It may be tiring but it’s amazingly uplifting. When my day goes off its path (and with a three and a half year old that happens a lot) I still feel a sense of productiveness that I did something. If I get frustrated I take a deep breath and remember the work I accomplished. This sense of accomplishment makes me happy and pushes me through everything my day throws at me until a time when I can sit in front of my computer again.

A Bruce mug with coffee is my fuel for early morning writing sessions.

A Bruce mug with coffee is my fuel for early morning writing sessions.

Do you have a special “ritual” that is linked to your personal psychology of productiveness? How do you help your sense of accomplishment when you have many things pulling at your time?

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May #WriteMom’s unite!

I still can’t get over the power of the writing community that all writers can benefit from wherever they live. When I moved to Saudi Arabia I greatly missed the support of my local RWA chapter and just being around writing friends. While I still miss physically being with fellow writers I’m not completely isolated from the community due to social media. I love Kristen Lamb’s founded #MyWANA (My We Are Not Alone.) This is a fantastic “hangout” for writers and if you haven’t visited Wana International then you’re missing out on all kinds of writer awesomeness.

You don’t have to live out of the country to really, truly appreciate the online writing community. I felt isolated after having my daughter. Being a writing mom is very challenging as you are not always in control of your schedule.

So this week when talking about my writing life or just general life stuff I started using the Twitter hastag #WriteMom and instantly connected with other writing moms who understand the challenges I face. Add being a working, writing mom to that and life is crazy!!

Say #WriteMom when you’ve reached your writing goals, when you haven’t reached those goals, when your child hurls a bowl of cereal at your laptop, when the cat decides to take over your manuscript (oh yes, I count furry children) or whenever you feel like connecting with moms who truly GET YOU! I love tweeting about those epic moments when I feel I really have done something right. And this could be writing or parenting. This weekend when on the way to the grocery store Little Miss Markey (she used to be called Baby Markey until she announced she was all grown up) said, “I have to go to the library!” Guess where we went and I was nearly in tears because I must be doing something right. My precious three-year-old daughter wanted to go to the library and it was entirely her idea! We had a long chat with the librarian about dinosaur books and spent two hours exploring the library. Though I did encourage her to check out three children’s books rather than the nuclear physics book she really wanted.

My point is that no matter what we write. No matter how old our kids are or what are various life situations are all writing moms can relate to one another. We can support each other just as #MyWANA supports writers and artists. The Internet gives everyone the power of knowledge and community. No one needs to feel isolated anymore.

So share your #WriteMom story. Hop on Twitter and tell other moms about you. Do you include your child in your writing ideas? Do you read them your stories? Do you try desperately to leach off their endless energy? What tips have you learned from your #WriteMom experience? Share your experiences, triumphs, struggles, etc. Connect and become the beginning of a great community. A community of many that just needs to come together.

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The Recipe for Luck

“I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

That is one of my favorite quotes and in my office I have a print of it framed where the text is printed on a sea of three-leaf clovers. While Saint Patrick’s Day isn’t necessarily associated with luck the three-leaf clover that is associated with the holiday is. Three-leaf clovers remind me of this quote. It tells a truth that everyone can be inspired by.

We can all do our best to create luck but at the end of the day, Jefferson’s theory that hard work generates luck is true. No one became a bestseller by not busting their butts writing the best novel that they could write. No one got a promotion at work without working hard, no one reached a goal without taking steps towards it, and the list could go on and on. I’m sure there are some rare instances where the work didn’t seem too hard to justify the reward but I’m willing to bet they are rare or that an individual’s hard work simply went unnoticed but indeed took place.

Just this morning I worked for hours on deep edits on my young adult novel. It’s my goal to see that book on shelves and eventually on bestseller lists. Taking the time on those tedious edits is just one example of the hard work I’m putting into my writing career. I’m making it possible for me to experience “luck.”

Finding available space at the compound I live on is like finding water in the vast Saudi desert. It’s very difficult. I am a trained dancer and when I saw a giant hole in children programming over here I knew that I wanted to teach again. I had a talent to offer even though I shifted my art focus to storytelling these past few years. I love to dance and help others and when I was initially told that I had no space to teach I kept working to find a solution. It took me a year of meetings and actually going to see different facilities and different times of days to check availability. I just returned from teaching a tap and jazz class to some wonderfully talented and happy girls. Without my dedication and hard work my dance classes would not be happening.

No one really likes hard work, if we could skip to the end and live the dream that would be so much easier. That is not an option. I honestly find my success so much more rewarding when I look back at what I did to achieve it. “Luck” comes with a price and Thomas Jefferson was right, it is hard work.

So when you’re wearing your green and drinking a Guinness take a moment and think about luck. Have you found that your “lucky” moments stemmed from hard work? How can you work harder to find the luck you seek? Lately I’ve been asking myself, “Am I working hard enough? How can I work harder and more efficiently?” I know what I need to do to accomplish my dreams. Do you?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I challenge you to go create some luck through hard work but take a break to make some yummy cookies ☺

We all know I’m a sucker for a good recipe. These “All Recipes Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies” are divine! Enjoy!

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Spring Cleaning: Permission to be messy

This week I’ve been tackling the dreaded chore of spring-cleaning. March 20th is officially the kick off to spring but this year I’m taking my chores in smaller doses. Though any major house cleaning/organizing is daunting it begs the question (at least for me,) how can we make such cleaning sprees easier? And how can we do this when many of us have demanding schedules? My favorite tool? The catch-all tray, junk drawer, junk room/closet, etc.

Our catch-all tray with an anxiously waiting window decal.

Our catch-all tray with an anxiously waiting window decal.

If you’re a writer then I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to allow yourself to write badly. Get your first draft done and then go back and revise, edit and fine-tune to your heart’s content. I think this is the same for home organization. Whether you use a catch-all tray, junk drawer, etc or all the above you are doing the same thing for your home that you do for your writing.

When rushing through your daily tasks it’s easy to put things down, create a mess or misplace things. When I’m in a hurry I toss things in the catch-all tray on the server in my dining room. Some things reside there such as my car keys, important community numbers, etc. Often though other items find their way there until I take time to relocate them to their proper destination later in the day or let’s be honest in a few days to a week. The same policy applies to our junk drawer in the kitchen. By doing this, stuff does not pile up on my dining table, coffee table or other places. Instead my house stays somewhat in order.

My daughter applies the same concept to her playroom. Toys and clutter can be abundant in that room. The hope is that by doing this Little Miss Markey won’t string her toys all around the house. That’s a good theory and it helps sometimes. Fingers still crossed that she’ll grasp this concept soon!

It is still hard for me to write badly. I’m always tempted to stay with a chapter or scene until I’m happy with it. I know it’s important to move on and keep writing forward but I still sometimes fall back into such temptation. My mom is extremely neat and the idea of a catch-tray would drive her nuts. However, when you’re a working mom with a very active three-year-old the idea is most appealing.

Like in all things, you need to do what’s best for you. Try things out. Test them. Do you grant yourself permission to be messy in a given area? How has this idea helped you or has it driven you mad? Share your experience in the comments below.

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Spring Cleaning: Strategic Tactics to the Dreaded Chore

There is nothing fun about it. Yet, it’s almost here. March 20th marks the official start of spring this year and therefore the dreaded…spring-cleaning. We’ve been known to put it off sometimes for as long as a year but the results cannot be argued with. A good spring-cleaning is always smart despite the misery. While I’m the master of avoiding such tasks I do enjoy the end result. So this year I’m vowing to tackle spring cleaning in a new way. Hopefully this will aid me in keeping my sanity and still allow me to reach daily writing goals and these edits piling up on my desk.

So what is my strategy this year? I’m tackling spring-cleaning one room, one day at a time. Yep, it will take longer in terms of how many days I’m in spring-cleaning mode, however I won’t be cleaning all the time.

First stop, my office. Just last week my husband asked, “how do you know where anything is?” Well, I do. I like to think of myself as working from an organized mess. Or maybe I’m just hiding my notes to keep people from knowing what I’m working on? No, it’s not that it’s just I’d rather write than clean or organize. From there I’ll move to the living room and other family shared spaces before tackling the bedrooms. This year I plan to include Little Miss Markey AKA our three-year-old daughter in the process. Our community is holding a drive for toys to help Syrian refugees and we’re going to have her organize her toys and donate any outgrown ones. This is a great life lesson and it’s never too young to start.

Project #1

Project #1

As part of spring-cleaning I also take time to do a pantry overhaul. Each year I always find stuff that I’ve actually been buying extras of at the store. See, spring-cleaning can save you money! That’s motivation! It’s also a good time to tidy up file cabinets, closets and other places that seem to be exempt from the normal weekly clean. Yep, I plan to tackle my closet so if I stop blogging you will know the truth of my disappearance.

It’s also fitting that I’m embarking on a spring clean as I’m deep in the middle of extensive edits of my young adult novel. At least the cleaning will give me a break from sitting in a chair.

How do you prefer to “celebrate” spring-cleaning? Do you ignore and just never partake? Do you spread it out over several days like I’m doing? Or is it a sprint to the finish over a day or weekend?

Good luck to those planning to clean and exercise caution in closets, pantries and watch for dust bunnies!

Not a dust bunny!

Not a dust bunny!

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Life lessons from a Middle Eastern compound resident

This past year and a half has been an interesting one to say the least. My family moved to Saudi Arabia and in many ways we’re just now feeling settled in our new home. Life is very different here but I’m of the opinion that it is better in many ways.

We live on a compound where I am able to drive, wear what I want and life is how I imagine life in the States would have been in the 50’s. There is no traffic and everyone knows everybody. Where I find this extremely helpful is when I don’t have to spend valuable time out of my day stuck in traffic while shuffling Little Miss Markey to her many activities. The grocery store lacks the long lines and crowded aisles and everyone looks after each other’s kiddos.

Our evenings begin at 4pm where everyone can be found playing outside (until the hot season comes) and family time is actually honored. I often found that that was what gave when we were in the States. Life was busier and what we really wanted to do seemed harder to reach. Thanks to an easier life I’m able to get done for my family what I want and have time for my writing and dance instruction without feeling even the hint of guilt.

The best part is the sense of community. We actually know our neighbors! I have somewhere to go if I need that extra cup of sugar and my daughter has instant playmates waiting to see her after preschool. Being part of a small community we are very proactive about making things we want happen. A great example of this is children programming. Since moving here I’ve sat in countless community meetings organizing and making programs happen so that the children of this community can participate in the same wide range of programs they’d expect to find in the States or UK. We make change happen and it makes our community better.

Another interesting thing to note is how my writing seems to be affected by the creativity and supporting community around me. Working with creative people to arrange such activities for children (as I have done with my dance program) has made me feel more creative. I’ve experienced this feeling before when I was active in my Houston RWA chapter but it’s fun to feel such creative energy from a variety of fields outside of writing. This energy helps me to stay motivated when I often feel isolated from the writing community.

So how can you learn from my experiences of living in a compound? Well, how well do you know your community? When was the last time you’ve attended a neighborhood block party? Have you thought about organizing one? I think you’d be surprised at how freeing it feels to actually know those living around you. Especially if you live in the States life is faster than it is here. Wouldn’t it help to have somewhere to go at night for a cup of sugar versus changing your dinner recipe or worse, hopping in the car for a bumper-to-bumper trip?

Take time for family. Sure life gets crazy but having time for family has made me see just how important it is. Yes, we should all know that but I feel more energized to work after family game night than anything else I could do to stimulate my creative self.

Think like a compound resident and try to dial life back a bit. I remember easily feeling sucked into life when I lived in the States. Yes, I miss it greatly but when we move back there are many things that I would do differently in an effort to maintain a compound-like life.

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The Power of Puppet Shows

The other day my daughter interrupted my writing. Honestly her timing was perfect because I was about to rip my hair out due to a troublesome scene. She wanted to show me her latest puppet show creation (she calls it Muppet because aren’t all puppets Muppets?)Puppet Show

Little Miss Markey’s show was about a little tiger named Stripes who wanted to sing a song but couldn’t remember the words. He had to talk to many animal puppets to help him remember the words to “The Alphabet Song.” What I loved most about this show was that at one point a dog puppet told Stripes the tiger, “you can do anything as long as you try.” First of all I officially feel accomplished as a good parent that my daughter fit this message into her puppet show. Secondly it was the perfect reminder on that particular writing day for me. And lastly, wow my three-year-old is so creative to be able to come up with such shows all on her own!

Okay, putting my proud-mommy-self-aside, this is a great opportunity to talk about how I get great creative energy from playing with my daughter. Yes, being a mom is tiring; there is no way around that. However, you can use parenting to fuel creative energy. Nothing beats seeing my daughter’s creativity. Her playroom is a center of creative play complete with dolls, doll houses, play sets and the “Muppet” stage show center. To see what she comes up with inspires me. Sometimes I think we adults are so focused on what needs to get done that it’s easy to stop playing. Having a kid forces you to play again and be creative for no better reason than to just have fun.

After Little Miss Markey’s puppet show and some playtime I felt renewed. Not really “spa day” renewed since my back hurt from crouching over a dollhouse but I felt emotionally renewed and my creative self was alive. I went back to my computer and that scene no longer seemed so troublesome.

Don’t be afraid to look to your kids for creative inspiration. Child play is powerful and takes us back to the beginning of our creative journeys. Embrace it as a parent who loves spending time with their child and as an artist in need of a pick-me-up.

How are you inspired by your child?

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On Lent and Writing

Hello Wednesday and hello Lent. This past Tuesday marked the start of Lent – “a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations that begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Day (as defined by Wikipedia.”) While most people associate Lent with the act of giving something up, my family has always done the opposite. We add something to our daily routine that will hopefully better us in someway. There is no reason why writers can’t capitalize on the meaning of Lent and use it to benefit their writing.

My new Lent workout

My new Lent workout

This year I’m adding a 10-minute workout routine (on top of my normal fitness schedule) AND I’m vowing to write 500 words towards my new project before my daughter wakes up. See? Lent cannot only be a spiritual exercise but also a time to focus on what you’ve wanted to do and make it become reality.

When I wake up the first work I do is check my social media sites, follow up on any emails, and currently edit a few pages in what I’m revising. In addition to that I need to get the household ready for the day- feed pets, make sure any meat that needs to be thawed is out, take trash out, make my daughter’s breakfast, etc. All of this gets done (or at least I try) before Baby Markey gets up. I love being productive during this time but I always wish I could have written something new. I yearn to flex my creativity muscles. Now by pledging to write 500 new words in the morning I’m hoping to feel a great sense of creative accomplishment and all before the sun comes up! Of course this might mean that some of my normal tasks could fall to the back burner. I’m willing to work it out and stick to this goal.

What are doing for Lent? I believe that Lent is a great way to look at your goals and wants and make them happen. To me, it is religious and I find it spiritual when I meet a goal set.

Important Markey House Announcement: Baby Markey no longer wishes to be referred to as a baby. She says that she is a big girl. I’m actually proud of our big-girl-minded 3-year-old voicing her opinion to us. Therefore, she will now be referred to as “Little Miss Markey.”

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