Invasion of the House Snatchers

I had no idea what I was in for when we had kids. I have a touch of OCD, and I like my home clean, neat and organized. Especially the kitchen. I know, some of you are already laughing.

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When I lived alone in an apartment, I traveled for work a lot. As in about 80% of the time. My apartment was usually immaculate. As in, company could drop by in 5 minutes or less as I tucked away the 3 pairs of shoes I’d left out. Yeah, I know, and I’m still awful about my shoes.

Then, I got married. Marriage involves compromise, and my husband has never been as compulsive about cleaning as I have. As a matter-of-fact, we sat down and made a house-cleaning list so that he would understand everything I thought that needed to happen in order for the house to be considered clean.

The end list required compromise. My mother used to spend every Saturday cleaning our house and she drilled into me what was expected. I was never as good as she was (sorry mom!), but I tried.

DH loosened those standards a bit more. And that was on Saturdays where we bothered to clean. There was so many things that we wanted to do, that we tried to clean the house once a month or when “comany” was coming over.

This worked for a long time. Well, for the seven years of our marriage that we didn’t have kids.

Then we added a child.

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That was rough. Working full-time and taking care of a child, even with my husband’s help, was hard. Especially as there was so much more work to do. I couldn’t believe the amount of mess one small child could create. Until that child grew a little older. Then she made even more of a mess.

Then we had a second child.

My house hasn’t been really, truly clean since…well, since the Christmas after our first child was born when we were hosting. We made a real effort to truly clean the house. All of it. Haven’t done it since, though I told myself things would change as the kids got a little older.

I had assumed that children could be taught to clean up after themselves, especially once they were no longer toddlers. More experienced parents are now wiping tears of laughter from their eyes.

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We grow, change and adapt. And I simply didn’t have the time or energy needed to keep my house clean anymore. So, I had to adapt.

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This didn’t quite work out for me as DD1 was terrified of the vacuum. 

Adapt I did. How much I’d changed was brought home to me hard the other morning as I was picking up toys, again, and putting them away when I found a crust of peanut butter and jelly toast tucked onto one of DD2’s bookshelves. Clearly, she was saving this for later. My pre-child self would have been utterly horrified. My post-child self sorta shruged, threw it away, and decided it was time to take a break and check my e-mail.

 

How about you? Do you keep your house super clean? Is cleaning a weekly ritual? Monthly? When you have guests? Have you found it super difficult to keep things clean with children?

10 Ways to Conquer Stress and Bring Back Your Creativity

We know stress kills creativity. And, given what most of experience in modern life, stress isn’t going anywhere.

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Me during the height of budgeting

So, what can we do about it? How do we tame the stress and let our muse come back from vacation to help inspire us once again?

First, I think it’s important to know what stress is. In a nutshell, stress is a physical response. Your body thinks it’s under attack and goes into fight or flight mode. Your body releases a whole bunch of hormones preparing you for physical action.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. During our hunter-gatherer days, this helped us escape from predators or defend ourselves and our tribes.

Where the issue comes is that our bodies haven’t adapted to modern life. A boss with an impossible deadline triggers the same fight or flight mode, instead of a focused calm so we can at least try to make the deadline.

What this means is that we don’t have the opportunity to burn off those stress hormones. This is what causes the jittery feelings and racing heartbeat.

So, how do we deal with it?

I’ve read a bit on this, and here is what the “experts” say:

  1. Get enough sleep – because it’s so easy to sleep when you’re already stressed
  2. Eat Well-Balance meals – Already doing this. It hasn’t helped, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt.
  3. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine – Gave up both when I was pregnant, never took up either since. Very liberating to not need that cup of coffee in the morning.
  4. Count to 10 (or 20) – This has helped me when dealing with my children, but not for the bigger things like when those children are ill.
  5. Take deep breaths – Okay…
  6. Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head. Because I totally have time for this!
  7. Learn what triggers your anxiety. – Impossible goals like trying to balance work, children, a spouse and writing.
  8. Maintain a positive attitude.
  9. Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress. – Which gets back to my time issue . . .
  10. Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way. – Clearly what some of these coping strategies are. For me, anyway.

 

I could go on, but the one thing that’s helped me the most is learning that it’s a hormonal response. These hormones need to burned off, and I’ve started doing that by walking. I try for at least a 30 minute walk at lunch, and this has helped tremendously. I burn off all my pent up stress hormones and come back to the afternoon more focused.

Sometimes, this isn’t enough, and I take a brisk walk through the halls. Other times I’ll walk out to the shop floor and back. Something to get me up, get me moving, and burn those stress hormones.

Now that I know stress is physiological in nature, it helps me deal with it.

My bigger issue is when I don’t have an outlet. It is dark when I get up in the morning, it is dark when I come home from work at night.

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This means walking before work or in the evenings is a no-go.

I’m still trying to figure something out, especially with the kids. I have a treadmill and an elliptical in our finished basement, but it’s an act of Congress to get down there. Including the negotiating, pleading, and filibustering.

What do you do to deal with stress? Any of these tips more helpful for you? Do you find it easier to burn off the stress hormones with physical activity?

Black Friday 2016 – Not According to Plan

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday. While many Americans are out starting their Christmas shopping, I’m not because I’m almost done.  All eight of my nieces and nephews are bought for and wrapped. My children are done, and we have them half wrapped. The family gift exchanges are purchased. We’ve bought the gifts for our extended family.

I have one gift left to get for my ninety-year-old grandmother. Yeah, she’s hard to shop for.

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Can’t even imagine the stress…

So, yes, I’m one of those people. I plan ahead. I like things to be organized and predictable. When you combine this  with my crazy work schedule from mid-November until the end of the year, I want my shopping done so I’m able to enjoy the holidays as much as I can. And, I like to have the best possible selection of gifts available so what I’ve planned to buy isn’t back-ordered.

I do, indeed, make an Excel spreadsheet of everyone I have to buy for what, I plan to get them, and whether it’s been purchased and wrapped yet. Making a list, checking it twice…

While Christmas shopping has followed my plans, the rest of the year hasn’t. From my daughter having some medical issues we’re still working through, to a more recent job loss and the potential loss of medical benefits, stress has been a constant companion.

My muse doesn’t much care for stress, and she takes a vacation to a tropical island at the first hint of trouble.

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If you look closely, you can see her in the water.

 

Of course, my response is pretty predictable. I keep looking for her, trying to get her to come and play, before the realization sinks in. She’s left me, and she’s not coming back.

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Muse?!?  Don’t leave me!

No, she’s not terribly reliable, especially when you need her. I guess I don’t blame her. When I’m that tired and anxious, I’m not much fun to be around.

But I’ve still been writing and reading. Maybe less of both than I should.Especially reading. I can be a critical reader, and have been trying to train my brain to do a better job of dissecting why a book is good or why it isn’t.

When I’m stressed, however, my ability to handle stupid characters drops to almost zero. If the characters are too stupid to breathe, I’m done with them. I don’t care if they get their happily-ever-after. I was 30% of the way through a book last week, and I just put it aside. I didn’t need to add to my stress or frustration with fictional characters.

Despite all of this, I’ve managed to finish two novels this year, and I’m working on revising them for publication. Then comes the really awful part of querying them, but that’s still a ways away.

My work isn’t as inspired as it would be if my muse would hang around more, but I am pushing through. I need to prove to myself that this endeavor is worth the time commitment, even when things aren’t going as planned.

Top 5 Reasons Science Says Why We Lack Patience

Throughout life, we’re told to be patient. It’s a virtue, after all.

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Patience is especially touted for authors when what we want to get paid to tell stories. Instead, we must be patient and:

  • Write book after book, without any promise of being published or paid. But be patient as you have to write a lot to get better, and it takes a large backlist before (read if) you can quit your day job.
  • Commit to social media to increase your presence, but be patient as you have to invest a lot of time before you see any rewards.
  • Commit to blogging to connect with other writers and potential readers, but be patient because it takes a long to time to be “found”.

 

If anyone had told me any of the above about “breaking into” my day job, I’d have laughed at them so hard I’d have had to wipe away the tears as I changed majors.

One thing I’ve learned about virtues from raising my own children is that they are not the natural state of human beings. They are something sought after, something you aspire to achieve.

The amount of self-help articles out there professing to teach patience is impressive. But one thing I’ve learned is that the more articles there are to learn how to do something, the harder that something is and the less likely those articles are to help. Google “how to tie a shoe” versus “how to lose weight” and you’ll see what I mean.

So, why is patience so hard?

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Patience is putting off something you want right now for the promise of a bigger reward later.

Think of your dog. He doesn’t care if you promise him three treats tomorrow if he doesn’t eat the one balanced on his nose right now. He’s going to eat the one on his nose as soon as you turn your back. You see that across animal behavior, and as this study shows, humans aren’t that far off from our canine friends.

I wanted to understand more about why we aren’t patient to see if I could figure out a way to be patient. Top 10 reasons according to science of why we aren’t patient:

 

1. Evolution – Our instinct is to seize the reward now, and resisting our instincts is hard. Check out any infant or toddler. We believe survival favored those that took immediate rewards. It wasn’t like there was a grocery store a mile away that we could stop at after work and get a tub of triple chocolate ice cream whenever we wanted. You took what came your way when it did.

 

2. Uncertainty – If you’ve been taught throughout life that waiting gets you better things, you might learn to wait. But if you’ve been taught that people aren’t going to follow through, that you can’t trust them, then you’re more likely to grab for the sure thing. All those stories about “living like you’re dying”? They are a case study in lack of patience because you’re now uncertain how much of a future you have.

 

3. Age – The younger you are, the less patience you seem to have. Toddlers and impulse control, anyone? But life teaches us (most of us, anyway) to control those impulses. The more life experience you have, the more patient you become. Until you’re facing your own mortality, and then you’re back to point two above.

 

4. Conceptualization of Future Self – Ever stay up way too late knowing you were going to regret it in the morning? Being impatient has a similar root cause. The inability to connect your current self to your future self. The more you can visualize your future self either suffering (after staying up too late) or enjoying a large reward (after exhibiting patience), the more likely you are to choose the path that benefits your future self.

5. Sense of Time – You know how time flies when you’re having fun, but put you in the corporate tax class I took in college, and minutes seem like hours? This has actually been proven by scienceproven by science. What this means is you have to be even more patient to get something you’re waiting for as time will seem to go even slower than if you weren’t waiting.

 

As I look through this list, the only thing that really seems within my control is working to visualize my future self. To know that if I keep plodding away now, that future self will be happier.

Can apply this to things other than writing. Like parenting. Losing my patience with them gives me a momentary outlet for my frustration, but my future self pays for it with more intractable children and a damaged relationship. Not that I should give into them, but losing my patience is not the right choice.

 

How about you? Are you patient? Impatient? If you’re naturally impatient, anything you do to try make yourself more patient? Does it work?

Book Review: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie
Rating: 5/5
Author: Jennifer Ashley

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This story was a pleasant surprise. The hero, Ian, appears to be autistic in Victorian England. While the son of a Duke, his upbringing was marred by violence and a lack of understanding or compassion.

I know little about autism, but the author seems to have done her research, and she never deviates from the character she creates for Ian. He is not magically healed or suddenly “made right”. He does learn how to love, and the foundation is laid that he’s always had emotions but he struggles with names for them.

His father sends Ian to a private asylum at the age of 12 for reasons that are divulged later in the book. The author does satisfy this curiosity, and I appreciate that.

As a matter of fact, this romance is a combination romance and murder mystery. The author does an artful job of leaving clues throughout the book that culminate in the ending. She handles the fact the heroine is a widow extremely well, not glossing over her first marriage but also leaving room for the heroine to fall in love again.

Ian, after being freed by his eldest brother upon their father’s death, uses his amazing memory and skill with numbers to significantly increase the family’s already massive wealth, helps his brother with treaties and laws, and collects Ming bowls.

In the process of acquiring a Ming bowl, he learns of Beth Ackerly. He decides she’s worthy of saving, like the Ming bowl, and proceeds to tell her truths about her fiancée and propose to her himself.

Beth investigates his claims, finds them to be true, and dumps her fiancée. She goes to Paris and Ian follows her.

This is where the murder mystery really begins, both a current one and one from years before.

I liked the hero a lot. He’s vulnerable and yet can be very much the alpha male. This, in the hands of a lesser author, is a recipe for disaster. I thought Jennifer Ashley handled it very well.

The heroine I also liked, but a bit less so. She was feisty and beautiful. While she came from the gutters, she’s cconfident, smart and now very rich. She is actually the one that solves the murder mystery.

I also appreciate that while there was love-at-first-sight, the heroine also considers the issue of lust. Rather than giving in, she takes some time away. Of course more hijinks ensue, but I liked that she didn’t just fall into the hero’s arms.

All in, I was engaged throughout the story. I liked the mystery elements. They kept things going and kept the romance interesting.

The characters all stayed true to themselves throughout the book, and I appreciate that most of all

Loving a Mage Lord: Part 5

Continued from Part 1Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 should you wish to catch up on the story. Or just jump right in.

Not sure if you all are enjoying this. Let me know in the comments below. I can either keep posting pieces of the story, or go back to my regular writer ramblings on Friday.

 

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Post 5

Aenwyn studied the deep red blooms, thinking through the spells she knew and how she could repurpose them.

Reaching for her magic, she teased off a strand and wrapped it around the blossom, coaxing it to change color.

The flower stayed red.

She tried again, taking a different approach and modifying a different spell.

“Closer,” Dryden said.

He linked his fingers with hers so her bare palm pressed against his, and she felt the rush of his magic. Strong. Powerful. Controlled. He could overwhelm her if he chose, sweep her away with the sheer intensity of his magic.

Instead, he guided her, nudging her closer to the correct answer without showing her how to do it. The touch of his magic and the quiet gentleness of his guidance revealed more about him than words ever could.

Her wards offered only a whisper of protection, and she felt as if he could see all she was, all she’d ever been.

Tamping down the fear and vulnerability, she started to pull back.

He allowed her to ease away, but he also lowered his wards for her, wards that were far stronger than any she could hope to breach. By letting her through, Dryden gave her a glimpse of the man who shared her magic.

With both of their wards cast aside, the magic mingled more freely between them. A deeper and more intimate joining that both terrified and delighted her.

Swallowing hard, she forced herself to focus on the flower. She wove the spell, accepting his guidance, and watched the bloom turn yellow.

Excitement swelled through her. She touched another flower and turned it yellow. This time without his help.

“Yes, just like that,” he said. He reached up and caught an escaped strand of her flame-red hair, then trailed his fingers over the exposed flesh of her shoulder.

She closed her eyes as a delicious shiver of pleasure coursed through her.

She felt him strong and powerful beside her, felt his magic flowing through the gardens and around her. The heady fragrance of flowers filled the air, but she barely noticed them over the rich almost electrical scent of him. Like the air after a storm.

He leaned closer, the planes of his chest brushing against her, teasing over the skin her dress left exposed.

Her breath hitched as desire snaked through her. Tightening her hold on his hand, she pressed closer to him, enjoying the sensual contrast of his heavy mage robes against her bare flesh.

Dryden’s hand slid down her back and held her tightly against him as he touched his lips to hers.

Change: Unwelcome and Unwanted

Change is never easy, especially big changes you didn’t choose for yourself that have no real bright side. Changes like you or your spouse being told that your job is being eliminated.

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It’s not something you ever want to hear, but it’s even harder when it’s unexpected. When you thought the position was solid and stable. When you had almost 20 years there, so you actually had a few weeks of vacation and some sick-leave when the kids are ill. When you relied on it for the family’s healthcare.

See, here’s the thing. There is no safety net unless you make one yourself. Unemployment benefits are meager and last six months. There’s no healthcare included, and our other employer’s health insurance is the very minimum required for them to not pay fines.

We’ve been blessed by good fortune and made good choices, so we’ve been able to set-up our life so we can “make-it” without dipping into savings on just one of our salaries. And that same good fortune and good choices have made it possible for us to have savings.

Yes, there will be some belt-tightening, and I’ll be putting off that purchase of a new computer. But we’ll be okay. Our kids will be okay. The biggest thing we’re facing is if anyone gets hurt or sick. But we’ll figure that out if it happens.

And, of course, it’ll mean starting all over and having little-to-no paid time off.

Still, here’s hoping a new position is found quickly.

In the meantime, writing, editing and blogging might become more sporadic, especially as we work through all changes needed in our day-to-day endeavors. I need time to cope, process and plan.  I couldn’t even look at the screen after learning the news. I did, however, escape into a book or three. Ah, escapism!