How to Plan a Summer at Home For Children

Normally when I decide to write a how to post, I have a good idea of what I am talking about.

Not today.

Today my title should probably have a question mark at the end, or a ‘PLEASE tell me,” at the beginning.  Because I really want to know, how do I plan my summer with my children to balance their needs and wants with my needs and wants?  In three and a half hours, my no longer a kindergartener will be home, excited to have her first official summer vacation away from school.  I’m almost out of time to figure this out, and I still don’t know what we are going to do.

Lets be honest.  I spend a lot of my time alone right now.  We are a one car family and that car always goes to the person who has the most need for it on that day.  Today that happens to be me, but most days, the farthest I will go from the house will be a mile and a half down the road on my morning run, something I absolutely do not need a car to do.  I go to school online, and I write, two activities that keep me in front of the computer for more time than is probably healthy.  Beyond all of this, I am introverted enough that I have honestly considered a life as a hermit after my children grow up.  As long as I can have Netflix and download new books to my ipad, I’m not sure I would miss other humans that much.

I like the large blocks of time when my children are in school, because I can get my stuff done, mostly without interruption.  Best of all, I can get things done without guilt.  I don’t have to feel bad about the time I spent completing a chapter, or the episodes of The Daily Show I watched while putting away laundry.  I can do things on my schedule, as long as I am done with certain things by 3:30 when the bus pulls up outside of my house.

I love my children, just as I am sure the rest of the stay at home or work at home parents do.  I don’t judge the dread they feel as summer vacation starts because I feel it to.  There is a loss of self coming here; my time is not going to be my own anymore and I’m not ready to give up everything I enjoyed while they were in school this last year.

But of course I have to, at least a little.  Kids are demanding, wanting entertainment and nourishment on a regular basis.  I mean, seriously.  These kids expect me to feed them EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  More than once  And they don’t stand for that whole, I feed the dog twice a day, that should be good enough for you also.

More than just food and beverages, they demand attention and love.  They want the one thing that is hardest to dole out, time.  Because I want to give them all my time, but I also want to keep it all for myself.

So, please.  Tell me.  How do I balance this?  Am I allowed to tell them to leave me alone for a few hours everyday so I can still write?  Can that time be separate from my homework time?  Is there a quality activity I have to commit to in order to pay the guilt price?  Please, tell me someone has figured it out, that they know the secret to being a good mother and a full and complete person as well.  More than that, please say they will share their knowledge with me.  How can I do it all?  Will my attempts to do it all only push my kids away?  Am I setting them up for hours of therapy where they discuss how their problems are all their mothers fault?  Is good enough REALLY good enough? 

The clock is ticking, counting down until my babies are home for the summer, and I can’t slow time down.  I can’t make things easier, or find the magical answers.  Now, all I can do is hope that I can be the mother they need for two months.  Wish me luck people.  I’m diving in, and hoping I learn to swim.

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How To Survive on Almost No Sleep


I like to sleep.

Everyone has their own personal sleep needs, separate from what is recommended by a doctor.  My husband can be quite happy and functional on as little as two hours of sleep while I am barely functional on eight hours.  It’s simply how we are.

I do not sleep well when my husband is gone.  This is not surprising after thirteen years of marriage.  I’ve become quite accustomed to his presence in my life.  It is now something that I both enjoy and count on.  On a normal basis, it is not a problem to need him home for me to sleep well.  After six weeks apart, I’m sure if I have ever been this tired before in my life.

Now I know, six weeks apart is a strange thing for some people.  Many married couples don’t spend more than a night or two apart at any given time.  As a military wife however, I am well aware of how lucky I am.  I have never dealt with the frustration and pain of a long deployment.  In the military world, six weeks is nothing.

But none of that matters, not when it doesn’t make my current sleeplessness any better.  I have gone from a regular 8-9 hour night to 3-4 hours.  There are days when I don’t feel even slightly functional.  Everyday of my life now involves a headache at some point or another.  Let’s just go ahead and be honest; I am a cranky monster right now, liable to kill anyone who gets in my way.

No matter what is happening with my sleep, I still have a life to live during the day time.  I have children, a puppy, homework, housework, and writing work.  Even if I wanted to ignore these staples of my life, some of them refuse to be ignored.  Seriously, if you have ever considered not going grocery shopping with children or animals in the house, they are quick to remind you how often they need to be fed.  For some strange reason children seem to think they need to be fed or a regular basis.  It’s strange.

Of course, there are many coping mechanisms that can help you to survive when you are barely above zombie status.

1) Get comfortable with your coffee maker.

I switched to decaf a year ago (something that may be borderline sacrilegious for a writer) after several months of severe headaches brought on by caffeine deprivation during moving and travel.  I still hit my coffee maker every morning, and occasionally in the afternoon.  Even without the caffeine, coffee provides me an almost instant pick me up.  There is just as much power in the idea that is might wake me up as there is in the reality of your body’s reaction to the caffeine.

2)Exercise.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, exercise really does wake you up.  You expend your energy, but you get back so many benefits.  Endorphins, serotonin, adrenalin; these all give you a healthy wake up call.  As an extra bonus, if you work hard enough during the day, you might be exhausted later when you want to go to sleep.

3)Natural Foods.

This may be a bit of a toss up, as everyone has their own opinions of what constitutes eating healthfully.  All I can say for sure is, I feel better if I eat as close to naturally as possible.  My body seems to process things better, and I feel less heavy and overfilled, making it easier to get comfortable and sleep later.

4) Power naps.

I love sleep, but I am horrible at napping.  Usually, if I take a nap of any sort it is less than intentional, and more of the result of my absolute inability to stay awake any longer.  It usually only lasts about ten to twenty minutes before either a child or dog wakes me to deal with something, but for those brief moments of rest, it is beautiful.

5)Shut off the world.

Laying down, trying to sleep, it is easy to be distracted.  There are books to read, movies to watch, games to play on my phone.  There is just too many things that can be done, since I am not sleeping anyway.  However, I also know that by doing these things, I am depriving myself of the opportunity to sleep.  One more chapter may only take five or ten minutes, but that is five or ten less minutes of sleep, and let’s face facts, it is always more than just one more chapter.  Eventually, you need to put it all away.

6)Just lay down.

I have been guilty of staying up later, insisting I don’t feel tired many times.  Usually it is true.  I know I will not be able to sleep, and there are other things to do, so I don’t feel tired enough to stop doing whatever I am doing.  However, once I lay down, I do feel more rested.  Sometimes I am laying there for much longer than I would like before I actually fall asleep, but every moment that I am not moving is one more moment where I can feel slightly relaxed.

 

How to Fake It

Writing can be a thankless job when you are starting out.
Sure, it’s nice to see your name on a byline somewhere, and even nicer to know someone is actually reading what you wrote. A large part of the time you’re not certain if anyone is really out there or if you are talking to yourself.

You keep plugging along, writing what makes sense to you, or what makes you feel good.  You hope someone else feels the same.  You publish anywhere you can, and keep trying for places you can’t.  You let a few tears fall when you are turned down again before returning to your keyboard ready to write again.

Pushing through the hard times is essential for a writer.  Each story told is a small piece of our soul, cut off and placed out for the world to judge.  Ripped bare, the writer just waits for the response as the critics circle, pointing out every flaw.  They take the insults with them, and somehow find the strength to rip off another piece to take off before they do it all again.

How do they do it?  How do they always find the confidence to try again?  Simply put, they fake it.  Even when they are dying on the inside, they fake it through, hoping that this time will be different.  Here’s how.

1)Smile

A smile can cover a multitude of sins.  No matter how bad things get, a smile tells people you are still fighting.  You might not feel it when you start, but a smile is infectious, even to yourself.

2)Put on a Costume

There is a reason why actors often have a costume piece they wear through every performance.  It’s more than a prop, it is a connection to another person, to help them feel how they feel.  If you want to be someone else, find something that makes you connect with them.  Wear bright lipstick, throw on a piece of jewelry you never wear unless you are writing, or always wear a jaunty hat at writing events.  Find something that turns you into the person you want to be, and put it on before every performance. 

3)Make it a Good Day

Perfect days rarely happen.  Even when things are going well, there is always something that could have been better.  Don’t wait for the day to be perfect, make it happen.  Can’t focus on the writing?  Take a run and try again.  Receive a new rejection letter?  File it away and try again.  Don’t let the bad outweigh the good, take control and make things better on your own.

4) Believe

The most talented people are often the least confident.  They doubt themselves, and because of that doubt they work that much harder to make every word count.  Make your fear work for you, and then make it go away.  You can’t take it on your trip to success, it will just weigh you down.  You have to believe in yourself, even when the evidence points the other way.  There is something to be said for blind faith; it allows you to see the sun even when you are buried deep below the surface.

 

How do you fake it when you aren’t feeling it?

How to Create A Villian

Creating a villain is more than a key part of the conflict in a story.

It is almost a science, mixing in actions, motivations, and pain to get a mixture of character pieces that make the villain not only believable, but also understandable. I don’t want to see mindless bad deeds, I want to know why they became the person they are.

Let’s look at a commonly loved comic book and movie villain, Loki. I think it is safe to say he has just as many fans as the heroes, if not more. It’s not just because Tom Hiddleston is incredibly good looking, or reported to be a true gentleman, which is rare in modern times. These things help, yes. But Loki is loved because you can understand how he came to be so angry. He had a rough relationship with his parents and brother. He had a desire for the power that was so close, yet still out of reach. He knows he could do so much more, have so much more, and just plain be so much more, if only someone would let him. He became a villain because he felt unloved. No one believed in him, the place in the world he thought he should have was going to someone else. His pain and anger build until he can no longer hold them in, and then, he goes to get what he feels should be his.

Loki is loved because people can see themselves in his pain. They know how it is to be the one who is overlooked. Sibling, coworkers, friends; there is always someone who seems to have something we want and can’t seem to have. We want to lash out. Maybe we don’t want to go on a murderous rampage, but we at least would like to throw a good, old fashioned tantrum.

This is how a villain should be. The villain in a story is not just some shadowy black hat, doing bad things simply because they are bad. The villain should have a backstory and motivation that is understandable. If you don’t want your hero to be a cardboard cutout of the typical good guy, don’t make your villain that way either. Think through the many elements of your character. You may have to start with the big things, such as what you need him to do, but you need to fill in the small details as well.

 

1) Determine what kind of bad guy your villain is.
Not all villains are the same, or at least they shouldn’t be. To determine what kind of villain you have, you can begin with three broad categories; those who are tough, those who are cruel, and those who are evil.

The tough guys are the strong villain. They are the bad guys who will cause you physical damage personally. They may work with their fists or with weapons, but either way they are in the middle of the fight personally. This villain is not usually the brains of the operation. They are a foot soldier, or a thug. Even when they rise to the top, there is a part of them that loves the chance to get right back in the middle of the action. You can dress them up in a nice suit, but they will always look more natural covered in dirt and blood.

The cruel villain likes to make a point. They are not just exerting their power over you, even though they love that, they are teaching you how you are supposed to be. Violence is not their preference, but they will do anything to make you understand. Power is usually not their goal. They know the world is wrong, and feel they are the only one who can fix it. They might have a soft spot for family or friends. These are the people who help to motivate them to make the world a better place. That does not make their loved ones safe; their goal comes first, and they will only give so many warnings before someone will be taken out, no matter who they are.

The evil villain is capable of almost anything. Sometimes the evil villain can do anything because they honestly don’t care who they hurt. Other times, they do things because they enjoy it. They get off on the pain they cause others. Maybe it’s the mind games they enjoy, maybe it’s the torture. This makes them unpredictable because you might not be able to see their motivation. They might not even have a master plan so much as a desire to cause a little mayhem.
Of course there are other kinds of villains. Some of them will fall into one of these three categories; others might need a slightly different classification. But the cruel villain will never torture for fun, the tough guy won’t let an insult pass without retaliation, and the evil villain will not spare someone simply because they look weak. It is not in their nature, and will undermine the character.

 

2) Give them motivation.

 

It has been said before, but it is worth saying again; everyone has a reason to fight, and everyone has a reason to live.

Your tough guy might have once been a small child, beaten by those who were bigger. Now he fights because he enjoys the feeling; he will not let anyone have that kind of power over him again.
The cruel villain may have seen the pain of war. They want to fix the world because they see the cruelty others do to each other; causing a little pain to a few hundred to save millions is a small price to pay.

There is only one clear memory from the evil villain’s childhood. The darkness of the box they were in, the smell of the urine staining their pants, and the certainty they would pay for their inability to contain their bladder when the box was opened.

The villain needs motivation to become the person who is a problem from the hero, and the motivation to keep fighting when someone tries to stop them. If your villain causes trouble only because the story needs a bad guy, they have no reason to fight and may has well walk away at the first sign of trouble.

 

3) Let them do the right thing.

 

Even a villain is a person. Once there was something they cared about, something they loved. They are not a mindless killing machine; they are a human being, capable of thinking and feeling. Let them cause pain without mercy, let them steal, cheat, and lie. And then have them let someone go. Let them release the person who reminds them of their little sister, or the woman they loved and lost. Let them save the heroes girlfriend at the last minute, even when they aren’t sure why they did it.

There are already the people who made them a villain. Let them do the right thing and let them become a real person.

 

4) Give them brains.

 

It’s easy to foil their plan when there is a large self-destruct button, well labeled, and brightly colored on the middle of the evil machine. But really, what villain outside of a Disney cartoon, is smart enough to create the evil machine, but not smart enough to know how it can be easily destroyed? Yes, creating a good evil plot will make it harder for you to find a way to let the hero defeat the villain and give a happily ever after. But that is your problem, not the villains. Don’t sell your character short in order to make your job easier. Your job is not supposed to be easy. If good writing was easy everyone would do it. Don’t go for lazy writing, make your story amazing.

 

5) Let them win.

 

I’m not saying you should let your villain achieve world domination in the end. Sure, it might be nice for them, but it’s not exactly a satisfying conclusion to a battle to have everything end evilly ever after.
Let your villain win a few small battles. Let him kick the hero down a few times. Whether the villain is a person or a conflict, the happy ending doesn’t come right away. If good wins immediately, what is the point of the rest of the book? A villain who loses every time is not a challenge; they are an annoyance. Letting the villain win makes them a more formidable opponent, and makes the final win for the hero that much more impressive.

 

What can I say, just like so many other woman in the world, I really do love the bad boy.  You know in the end they are not going to win, but you still want them to.  You want something good to happen for them, because maybe, just maybe, it will change them.

 

So tell me, Who is your favorite villain?

How to Keep Your Kids Busy Through Spring Break

We aren’t going on a trip this spring break. For many people, spring break is a chance to take a small vacation, but not us, not this year. No. Our spring break is two weeks of empty days waiting to be filled.

There are two sides to the stay at home parent cliché. On one side is the Project Parent who always has something exciting planned, and whose children are constantly involved in a project or a class of some sort. For these parents the problem is never filling time, it is finding enough time to do all of the Pintrest projects they want to do. These are the parents who are devastated when school starts, who may even choose to homeschool in order to have more time to get things done.

The other parent never knows exactly what to do with their kids. It’s not that there aren’t fun ideas, or trips to take, or things to learn. They simply don’t plan them out. They let the day take them wherever it chooses, even if it chooses to let the kids run through the sprinkler and then color outside with chalk. This parent is likely to be relieved when school starts, not out of a lack of love for their child, but to have the stress of entertaining and engaging transferred to a professional.

Both sides have their strong arguments. Project parents know their child is learning. They have the great memories, usually with great pictures, to put out for everyone to see. Their child is never bored, because there is always another project coming. This is not the child who will sit on the couch watching cartoons. Every minute of their day is filled.

Relaxed parents swear they are giving their child the freedom to have a childhood. It’s not about where they need to be or rushing to get them there on time. It’s about enjoying the journey. Sometimes the journey will take them on a trip, sometimes their project will be to marathon watch a movie series. The child might know more about SpongeBob or learn their second language from Dora, but they are learning in their own way.

I’m not going to advocate as to which one is better. I will just leave it to the parents and the children to decide how their family should work. For my house, well, I am not a great Project Mom. I did fine planning projects when I taught preschool. It was part of the job and I got things done. However, at home I don’t tend to plan often. I don’t want to write lesson plans for my house; I have enough work and homework as it is.

I take the relaxed approach to our time out of school. But there is a part of me, buried deep inside, who wants to be a Project Mom. I want to have cool ideas to do with my kids, and actually remember to buy the supplies to do them. I want our days to be filled with more than ‘I don’t know what to do’ moments. I don’t need the kids to be busy all the time, but when school breaks come, I want to be enough of a Project Mom, that I have a plan to fill our days.

This spring break, I’m trying to have a plan. It’s not a strict schedule, more of a list of ways to keep us all busy. We need something to do today? Great, here is something I already have planned. I suppose as a how to, it might have worked better before spring break started, but you can always save it for summer. I’m pretty sure I will be.

Plan 1) Find community events.

Our base is small. There aren’t many things happening in general, but the base does try to plan a few things every month. For our spring break, there is a playground opening, an Easter egg hunt, and a field day. Three small things, each only half a day, but they are something to do, with other kids, where I don’t have to plan and organize the event.

Plan 2) Take a day trip.

I don’t travel much without my husband. Partly because I hate driving, particularly in Europe. (Not to be unkind, but the roads are small, the driving is fast, there are two lane roads that hardly fit one car through, and I am terrified of the tiny parking spaces. It’s enough to give me an anxiety attack.) It used to be harder, when my children were younger. Now they are old enough I don’t need a stroller, they can carry their own stuff, and they can speak up when they need to eat or go to the bathroom. I’m not brave enough for an overnight trip just for fun, but I can handle a train ride to another city to visit the zoo and the aquarium. It’s fun for the kids, it’s fun for me, and it’s one day where the plan is set.

Plan 3) Put off big projects.

I have been warning my children for a month, their rooms are getting a deep clean. Storage spaces are starting to hold junk instead of toys and books, and their wardrobes are full of clothes they either do not wear or do not fit them. I could have started on the cleaning while they were at school, or turned it into a project to tackle one weekend. Instead I saved all of the big projects for spring break, and a two week stint of spring cleaning. Together my girls and I are cleaning their rooms, my closet, the garage, and getting the garden ready. Is it unkind to make their school break filled with cleaning? Maybe. Is it a realistic idea of something that needs to be done? Yes. Why pretend that these kinds of projects are easy? I let them join me in the fun and the hard work, to give them an appreciation for how hard I work all the time. Their parts are easier than mine of course, but I don’t want to hide the overall efforts from them.

Plan 4) Be lazy.

Yes, I know. I’m planning to entertain my children, not make them bored. This isn’t a plan to leave them laying around the house like lumps. Some days I need a break; it’s crazy to think they never need one. Take out the pool and let them swim around. Pop in a movie and have that marathon. Bake cookies, not because you need something to do, but because you want a cookie. It’s nice to have a day or two without a plan, to decide for yourself what you want to do. Last summer, my kids and I decided to try watching as many of the Disney movies we hadn’t seen before as we could. We didn’t get through them all; watching one a week meant there was never a chance we would. It was simply a thought to keep us from doing the same thing over and over, something I’m sure all of the parents who currently close their eyes and see Frozen playing on repeat can appreciate. One day a week, we made popcorn and popped in a movie they hadn’t seen before. Some they didn’t care for, others became new favorites.

In the end, the entertainment is your business, and your choice. Plan a lot, plan nothing. At the end of the break, you will know if you did it right for you.

So, how about it? What is spring break for your house?

How to Tell if Your Book Has Betrayed You

So, once again I interrupt my regularly scheduled blog post, to post something completely different. I’m sure you are already wondering why I bother scheduling my posts if I just change it whenever I feel like it. The answer is simple; it’s my blog, I do what I want.

Today I change it up a little, because (insert high pitched girlish squeal) I am a guest poster over on Lizzy Baldwin’s mylittlebookblog.wordpress.com/! I wrote a small piece and was excited to see that not only did she like it, she liked it enough to admit it in public. How exciting is that? Alright, one little guest post may not seem like much to more established writers and bloggers, but for me? I am thrilled to be published somewhere that is not a) my mother’s refrigerator, or b) my own blog, which is written, edited, and published by me, giving me the final say in everything. I was deeply touched that Lizzy was willing to put herself out there, taking a chance on me and hoping it would work out. Please help me say a big thank you, by visiting her blog and making sure all of my readers are her readers as well.

I know other bloggers might take the day off, and leave the posting as a link to what I wrote somewhere else. I could do that, but let’s go ahead and accept the truth people. I talk way to much to take a day off. If I don’t talk to my friends through the blog, it’s just me and the voices in my head. (Yes, that is a bad joke. I blame oxygen loss from the girlish squeal.) Instead, to prove that I never know when to stop talking, I decided to write a companion piece to the one posted on mylittlebookblog.wordpress.com. Technically you don’t have to read When Books Betray You for this one to make any level of sense, but really, do you want to read the sequel without reading the original?

I didn’t think so. Don’t worry. I’ll wait right here.

Are you back? If you’re not, I applaud you for being able to read this while not on my page.

Alright, now that we know how we feel when your book has betrayed you, it brings another question. How can you tell if your book has betrayed you? Sure, you’re unhappy, you are beginning to wish you had never invested your time, and desperately wanting to not still love the one who has broken your heart. But was it really a betrayal? Not all poor writing and storytelling choices are truly betrayals of the readers trust. Here are a few signs that your book has betrayed you.

Has your book somehow found it’s way out of your hands and across the room?

No, it did not sprout wings and fly away. Most likely you threw it across the room. Violent outbursts are a classic sign of betrayal. So far, it is not looking good.

Have you been caught yelling at fictional characters?

Don’t worry. You’re not any more crazy than the rest of us. If the characters would just do what they were supposed to, they wouldn’t be in trouble. It’s really their own fault.

Has your book contradicted itself, or broken it’s own rules?

If your characters live in a town where everyone falls asleep at 10 o’clock because of a genetic anomaly that makes it impossible for anyone to stay awake, don’t try to convince me your main character is just more determined to stay awake than anyone else. You better have a good reason to break a rule, or you have broken my trust.

Has your book failed to finish?

There is a small amount of leeway for series books. We didn’t need a final defeat of Voldemort in the first Harry Potter book, we just needed a conclusion to the whole stone issue. There are more books coming, so some things can be left open. However, the main point of the book should always be finished. Mystery series? You can leave open the romance issues, but you better solve that murder. If it is a single book, standing alone, I want nothing left open. I need to know who did it, how they did it, why they did and what is happening to everyone now that the book is over.

Has your book not come to a satisfying conclusion?

This is probably one of the most common betrayals. There are always the series that end in a cliffhanger, waiting for the next book. Not only do you not learn how things end, but you then have to wait for who knows how long for the next book. Beyond the cliffhanger is many other potential ending disasters.

Did your book build up to a battle that then fell flat?

If everyone acted as though there was a reason worth fighting for, let them fight for it. They should be willing to suffer the losses if the cause is right.

Did someone die who could have lived? Was there no or an unsatisfying reason for the death? Did the death come in a way that did not make sense?

These kind of go together. I can accept some deaths of main characters. These deaths act as catalysts for other things. Even if I wish it didn’t need to happen, I understand why it did. Others, seem like a gratuitous death, just to tick people off. A hero deserves a hero’s death. They should die fighting for something, in a way that makes sense. Don’t feed someone poison to save their loved ones and then kill them with a random bus driving by. Let them die for their cause.

 

Of course there are many other ways in which a book can hurt you, can break your heart, and rip your emotions to pieces. Betrayal is different for many people. Maybe what kills me, doesn’t bother you. The important thing, is that you get help. You find the support you need to recover, and get back into reading. You can’t blame every book for the hurt one has caused you.  Get back to the library, go to a bookstore, or even just read an old favorite.  Remember, if you stop reading, the book has won.

 

An extra big thank you to Lizzy Baldwin and mylittlebookblog.wordpress.com for running my guest post!  I was honored to be included in your blog! 

How to Dress Your Sweats, So You Don’t Feel Like a Bum

I don’t read a lot of blogs.  There are many things in this world I want to read, and I do not have time to read them all.  The only solution is to try to maintain a level of quality.  (I don’t think everyone should work to maintain the level I do, simply because it might mean no one reads my blog anymore.)  There are a few things I look for when I start reading a blog before I determine if I am coming back. 

The writer needs to have personality.  I want more than a picture or a how to.  I want to see clever quips, creativity, and mistakes.  I’m not reading a blog because the writer is perfect, I read because they are delightfully human.

The writer needs to be passionate.  I want to know why they do what they do.  I want them sharing because it is important to them, not simply because they will get paid by a business for talking about their stuff.  They should believe in what they say.

The writer needs to have a respect for language.  No one is perfect.  Sometimes a sentence just sounds better when it is grammatically incorrect.  However, it only takes a minute to proofread for obvious spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors.  Take the minute.  And never claim to have swag, or call your pictures selfies.  Just don’t.

I don’t think these simple rules are too much to ask from bloggers.  I’ll read on many different topics, as long as I like the writer.  I read other writers.  I read crafters.  I even read a few style blogs.  I don’t have to do everything they do to enjoy what they say.

Lately I have considered skipping the style section of my reading.  I know that must surprise you.  I am certain that as you read this, you are picturing me sitting at a neat and tidy desk, wearing a stylish and expensive suit.  Not a hair is out of place, and my make up is naturally perfect.  I know I project the image of an intelligent professional.  (Okay, fine, I can hear your laughter.)  The truth is, I am currently wearing my pajamas. 

Let’s be honest.  I stay at home.  When my children are at school, I am cleaning, exercising, or sitting in front of my computer.  After my children return home, I am helping with homework, cooking dinner, and getting kids ready for bed.  I have no reason to dress up.  I could wear a suit to do my writing, but the only person around is my dog.  Lucy doesn’t care what I wear as long as she gets to sit in my lap occasionally, and her belly rubs are on time.  There is no point in wearing a cute dress to scrub a toilet.  So I wear sweats.  A lot.  More than I should.

It’s easy to feel lazy when you are wearing sweats.  When the day is spent dressed for a nap, it’s hard to force yourself to work.  Dressing for comfort makes it tempting to spend the day doing whatever comforts you, including but not limited to, reading all day, watching full seasons on Netflix, or consuming full batches of brownies.

Instead I have developed a few simple strategies to dress my sweats so that I am comfortable, but I do not feel like a bum.

1. Shower. 

I know, this should be obvious.  Even if you are planning to stay home all day typing at your computer, get clean.  You will instantly feel more alive.

2. Sweat.

If you can’t or are choosing not to shower instantly, do some sort of workout.  Nothing makes sweats look useful more than actually breaking a sweat.  Use those yoga pants as they were intended.  Use your trainers to actually train.  Exercise will get your blood moving, give you a chance to think, clear your mind, and make your sweats look intentional.  You are no longer dressed like a bum, you are a busy person who found time for their health.

3. Make an effort.

Do your hair, put on make up (you know, if you normally would), add some perfume.  Make yourself look like you could go out, as soon as you get dressed.  If you feel a little more ready to face other humans, you won’t feel as badly sitting in a dark room hoping you don’t have to see them.

4. Accessorize.

Throw on a scarf, wear earrings.  Maybe wear the jacket that matches your pants.  Cover your unwashed hair with a cute hat.  Add a small touch that makes you feel like you tried, even if you actually got dressed in the dark.

5. Wear a nicer top. 

I might be wearing the sweats with the bleach stains and the hole in an awkward place, but when I wear a nicer sweater I feel a little more put together.  If your pants are scraggy, your top should be all the nicer to make up for it.  Nothing says grown up and serious like a cardigan.  It doesn’t seem to work as well to wear a ratty, holey shirt with slacks, but you do you.  If that is your style, go with it.

 

Of course, as I am choosing to wear sweats at home, maybe I don’t care what anyone thinks when they stop by unannounced.  But dressing up isn’t about what others think when they come by.  Making myself look a little nicer is a way to show myself I am important.  If you feel good about yourself in one way, it can spread into other areas of your life.  If I feel good as I sit, I will focus more on my writing, and have a better chance of writing something of quality.

Hmmm.  Maybe I should change from these pajamas, and try this post again.

How to Make the Most of Your Run

Beginning a new training program can be difficult.  Starting a new training program after almost four months of resting a hurt foot can be excruciating.  I’m out of shape, the old pains like to peek in at random times, and my motivation is lower as physics takes over and this object begs to remain at rest. 

To give a little backstory, last July I was training for the Dublin half marathon.  My training was going well, and I was on point for a PR.  I was starting to get little twinges In my foot at the time, but nothing anywhere near large enough to worry about, just pains at the end of the long runs.  Then the rolling hills of Ireland kicked my bum.  The land was beautiful; I’m pretty sure there is a special shade of green reserved for Ireland.  In spite of their beauty, the hills were more than I had trained for and my PR eluded me. 

Right after my disappointment in Dublin, I kept on training pushing forward for the Loch Ness marathon.  This is when my foot started bothering me.  I’d head out for a run and pain would shoot through my foot; but only when I was running, the rest of the day I was fine.  I took my vitamins, did some strength training, stretched my muscles, all of the little things I could do to help myself physically.  I also worked the psychological angle, trying to build up my distance and my confidence at the same time.  It didn’t work well. I couldn’t get my distance up, and I entered the race almost completely untrained.  While I finished, it wasn’t pretty.

I took some time off, one month with no attempts to run.  When I started back I took it slow, but the pain persisted.  Now, after four months of resting, running, and repeating, I am desperate to get back to where I used to be in spite of the psychosomatic injury that will not go away. 

Coming back is hard.  So far I have done great at making the least of my run, but to get better I need to remember how to make the most of my runs. 

1) Build mileage slowly

Distance running is training your legs to go farther, and faster, to move through the pain.  fasterPsychosomatic or not, pain should be dealt with carefully.  Push hard enough to get stronger, not hard enough to get hurt.

2) Don’t be afraid to walk

I have done many races, and most of them I have walked at least a little.  My last disastrous marathon had me walking the last 12 miles.  I could have thrown in the towel when I knew I couldn’t run any farther.  By not being afraid to walk I crossed the finish line, and I don’t feel any less for slower pace.

3) Change up your music.

My 12 year old has started to branch out in her musical tastes, choosing music she hears outside of the house.  Trying her music doesn’t always work out for me, but it’s a good time to try out her weird pop emo rock music.

4) Unplug from everything

Unless you are in a hospital bed on life support, unplugging yourself can be vital to creating a healthy mindset.  I am one to listen to music on a run.  I don’t do well with silence, left alone with only me.  Even with music playing, I get most of my good thinking done on a nice long run.  After a short time, the music fades to background noise, and my mind is churning faster than my feet could ever hope to move.  Worries, life issues, frustrating plot points, all have been worked out before on a run.

 

5) Play road kill bingo

I live in a small town, on the edge of farm country.  There are many open roads where the traffic moves quickly.  Naturally this leads to several animals who don’t make it across the road.  Of course taking a bingo card on a run is not practical.  This is an easy version; 4 or 5 different animals on one run equals bingo.  Strange animals are worth double points, such as the 18 inch koi fish I found on the side of the road.  Find a human and get automatic bingo.  I’ve only known one person who found a person, and I wasn’t entirely certain they didn’t put the there in order to win.  When they told me the body was actually just really drunk, I knew it was a plant.  I do not accewpt his win.

6)Tweet your run

Don’t send out the ultra perky “Five miles, feeling great!  :)” tweet.  I prefer to tweet the objects found on my run.  Two 18 inch koi fish, a condom and six empty red bull cans.  A pair of boxer briefs, an open pack of deli meat and latex gloves.  I am afraid of what my neighbors do at night to leave these objects behind.

7) Sign up for a race

Working towards something can help you move.  Between virtual races, (a medal for an everyday run), theme races, (groups of excited people who may or may not be in costume), and destination races, (Athens, 2014 baby!) there are so many options.  The race itself is fun, but you need the training races to make it there.  With the pain I was in after my untrained marathon, trust me, you don’t want that.

8) Make up your own race

Last year my older brother logged 1000 miles.  I thought about meeting his challenge and aiming for 1000 miles this year, but decided on the more modest 500 miles.  I figured if I do my 500 miles, I can always do 500 more.  It might not be a race exactly, but it is a challenge that will require me to get out the door regularly.  I have to get at least 41.66 miles per month, or 9.6 miles a week.  Suddenly the tiny three mile run I was debating skipping seems a little more important.

9)Take a day off

I should be running right now, instead of sitting in my sweats writing.  However a combination of sore throat, sore foot, and headache, I’m prescribing myself a day off.  Sometimes it is okay to skip the run.   It’s not always better to get out there.  Resting is an important part of training.

10) Just move

After you finish being lazy, get back out there.  Run, walk, hop, skip, crawl; any movement is better than none. I might be taking today off, but tomorrow I will come back stronger.

 

For anyone who doesn’t know, I am not a doctor.  I am not anyone who should be giving medical advise to anyone, including myself.  I am not a running coach, and I have zero expertise in the subject of running.  This is a list of ways I try to keep myself moving.  Not all of them will work for you.  I do not guarantee results in training or happiness in your life from following or not following my advice. 

Road kill bingo and found on my run tweets are ways to make the gross things found on a run, slightly less disgusting.  I do not recommend touching, tasting, or smelling anything you see on your run.  However if you want to hear more about what I found on my run, or share what you find on yours, follow or tag me on twitter @sh_bradford.

How to Write a Blog for Beginners

When I want to start doing something, I try to make certain I am going to do it right.  Sometimes that means trial and error, but mostly it means research.  When I devoted myself to writing, I read many articles discussing writing technique.  I read books of many different styles, from many different eras and genres.  I took as much information in as possible.

When starting this blog, I tried to work in a similar manner.  I read the advice of other bloggers, and took note of what people did in other blogs.  Now that I am three weeks into having my own blog, with readers reaching into the double digits, I feel like I should share some of the wisdom I have found for others who are also wanting to start their own blog.  Of course I am still shifting through, and establishing my own style, but this is some of the information I have compiled from various sources, a simple how to create a great blog for beginners.

1) Have a strong focus.
This is one of the most frequent tips I have read.  Giving your blog a focus will help you know what to write about, and will tell your readers what they are in for.  Readers looking at your blog will always know what to expect if you have a strong focus. If your blog is about sewing, will know they are only getting sewing information.  If your blog is about motorcycles, readers can trust they will not hear anything about sewing.  If you have many focuses, you can always create more than one blog.

2) Don’t be afraid to branch out.
But what of you are a motorcycle riding seamstress?  Should you write about both?  Why not, there are probably more of you out there.  If you know about more than one topic, it’s alright to cover them.  Writing about what you know shouldn’t only mean the one topic you know best.  Multiple blogs take a lot of time, and splitting your focus might mean you never have the time to build even one quality blog.

3) Teach people something.
Since you are writing about what you know, you can teach others.  People will be coming to you because you share a love of the same topic.  It is your job to share everything you can.  If you consistently post lessons, others will soon know as much as you and be able to pursue their passions as well.

4) Don’t make all of your posts tutorials.
You are teaching, but there are only so many lessons you can put on your blog before you run out of things to teach.  If you post a new lesson everyday, you will run out of posts.  If you teach too much, your readers will outgrow you quickly.

5) Write about some thing you are passionate about.
If you are passionate about what you are saying, you will always have something interesting to say.  People may not always like what you say, but if you are speaking from your heart they will still hear you.  Maybe you can bring a few people around, or maybe you’ll just make a few people angry.  Either way, you have accomplished something.

6) Don’t get too preachy.
Speak with conviction, but don’t shove it down their throats.  If you get too preachy, you will lose your audience.  As you are trying to build your blog it is very important not to alienate readers.  Try to stick to a middle ground and keep an open mind to other opinions.

It didn’t take too much research for me to realize no one seems to know what they are talking about.  Many of the obvious tips have been overlooked, such as proofread your work and avoid repetitive writing, and the other tips contradict each other.  In the end, I only found one tip I felt was worth listening to.

7) Write whatever makes you happy. 
It really doesn’t matter what you do. No one can tell you who to be unless you let them.  The same goes for your blog.  Be who you are, write what you want and other people like you will find you.

How to Make the Least Out of Your Run

Running has been a part of my life for the last decade or so.  At first it was something I did in the middle of the night to try to take off baby weight.  Later it was something I did to try to improve my health.  Around seven years ago, I started running in 5k races at the gym on our base.  Every month they would hold a race, usually completely free.  If you ran three you would get a water bottle, five a shirt, and ten a gym bag.  Over the years I ran dozens, not always making it every month, but most months I was there ready to waddle away with the crowd.  Due to horrible record keeping, I didn’t get my shirt for several years, but I still enjoyed the feeling of the race.  I was never anywhere close to winning, but I was a part of the race and that was all that mattered.  Eventually I moved onto longer distances, distances that required me to actually train. 

Unfortunately I am horrible at training.  I love the race, but I hate the buildup.  It’s the only area where foreplay is a bad thing.

It’s not just the anticipation, or extreme hours of training required to prepare for a marathon.  It’s also the many mistakes I tend to make along the way.  From my mediocre amount of experience (dozens of 5k’s, two 10k’s, a 13k, four half marathons, and two marathons) here are a few things I’ve learned can help to make the least out of your running experience.  While many of them are things I went through personally, many are not my personal mistakes.  To save my dignity, I refuse to tell which is which.

1)      Wear ill-fitting clothing

Make certain nothing fits right.  Your shoes should be too small, your pants too big, and your shirt too short.  Bonus points are given for improper underwear.  Try the scraggy old ones with the elastic going out, or maybe the thong that is a little small and was only purchased to be taken off.  Make sure to stop to adjust your clothing often, especially when a nun happens to be riding silently behind you on her bike.  It won’t be at all embarrassing.

2)      Forget to hydrate

Water really isn’t that essential to a bad run.  In fact water can make a run better.  Hydration means no relaxing rests where you pass out along the road.  Try a nice carbonated soda instead.  The bubbles in your stomach can only be a good thing.

3)      Run long distances on an empty stomach

Exercise on an empty stomach means more fat to burn, and running longer distances means more calories burned.  I read it in a fashion magazine, so it must be true, right?

4)      Use Cheetos as mid-run fuel

Of course you start the long run on an empty stomach, but you might need a pick me up part way through.  The combination of salt, fat and cheese powder will likely combine to become some sort of rocket fuel in your stomach.

5)      Plan your runs with zero regard for neighborhood patterns

So the elderly neighbor checks his mail every day, rain or shine at 6 am wearing nothing but a trench coat.  So the number of buttons closed has varied greatly each morning.  So he recently started bringing his large, unleashed, and aggressive dog out to check the mail with him.  That is no reason to change your run schedule.  I’m sure this morning will be different.

6)      Disregard training schedules

Maybe you have never run a full mile.  That doesn’t mean today isn’t the day to try a marathon.  It’s just running.  No big deal.

7)      Carefully plan your running time allotted in your schedule-then exceed it

Your job interview is at 1 o’clock and it is 12:30.  There is still time for a 30 minute run, right?  You don’t really need to shower first, it’s alright.  If they are runners, they will understand.

8)      Grab a family member’s ipod instead of your own

Not everyone runs with music, but for those who do, it is an essential part of their routine.  But any old music will be fine.  It doesn’t have to be the carefully planned running playlist you worked for months to perfect.  Accidently grabbing your daughter’s boy band filled ipod, or spouses death metal will work just as well.  Music is music.

9)      Run injured or sick

Running through an injury or illness is a way to your body who is boss.  It is not a matter of safety that requires rest like that quack of a doctor says.  Run through the pain.  Vomit in your neighbors begonias and then finish your miles.  Any run is better than no run.

10)   Stay on the couch

You know what?  Just forget the whole running thing.  Those cute running clothes look better without the sweat.  Plop down on the couch and have a Netflix marathon instead.  A marathon is a marathon.  No one needs to know yours was with the television.

 

For anyone who to the bottom of this list and was still not aware, this is a joke.  I do not actually recommend any of these as a way to achieve health, wellness, or happiness.  (Well, maybe a family member’s music.  They might have better taste than you do.)  If you are going to run, consult a doctor, run safely, and listen to your own body.  Everyone is different and has different needs for their body.  Follow your own needs.  Don’t blame me if you missed the joke.  And above all, don’t try to sue me.  I warned you it was a joke, and I don’t have anything worth suing for anyway.

I also do not technically have a personal issue with Cheetos.  I have probably said more rude things about them over the years than they have said about me.  Again, I have nothing worth suing for.  If you have read this list you know my dignity is long gone.