Archive for ‘Children and Family’

June 13, 2014

Grateful for a momentary balance in writing

My writing routine is a bridge to personal balance.

My writing routine is a bridge to personal balance.

One week ago today, my eldest walked across a stage and received her high school diploma.

Since then, I’ve been pleasantly busy with such fun things as backyard barbecues, shopping trips with in-laws and quiet moments pulling weeds in my back yard.

I’ve been surprised to discover I still have time to write. I started and complete a 1,000 word article and finished a content edit for a friend this week. Today, I start on a copy edit for this same friend–one step closer to seeing her work in print!

It seems like my writing really picked up steam earlier this year. During the last week of May, I finally finished the first draft of a second novel. Now I’m in a routine–and it feels good to be in a writing routine. Even moving slowly, if I stick to this routine I think I can get two more book-length rough drafts finished this year and possibly get one of the three ready for publication.

Most of my days involve some personal writing and personal editing. I’m still editing for other authors (we trade work) and I’ve picked up some fun nonfiction articles again–I can never set them aside for longer than a few months at a time. Journaling my successes is just a part of my life now.

Although I’ve terribly neglected this blog, it seems like everything else in my life is in a quiet balance, rotating silently around each other, giving me the space and time I need to focus on one thing at a time for short bursts every day.

I can’t say how much I enjoy that.

I feel like I’ve finally reached a graduation moment of my own, a moment when I’ve achieved something momentous. I’ve sought balance all my life.

Who’s to say this peaceful lull will continue? My daughter’s life is already changing. She’s preparing for college, and I know my life will change along with hers.

I’m just really grateful to have things the way they are today.


September 29, 2013

Why Dad is one of my writing heroes

My dad as a young man

My dad as a young man

I’ve said several times I don’t try to impress anyone, but there are a few people in this world whose good opinion of me (and my writings) I treasure dearly. That’s been on my mind lately, and as I’ve reflected on the people that matter most to me, my thoughts keep flowing to my dad.

He and my mom are alike in important ways: they seek with all their hearts to serve other people, they make a point of befriending the friendless, they’re loyal to their families and kind to everyone they meet.

These examples have had a huge impact on my writing. I enjoy writing most when I know it’s going to cheer someone up or inspire someone or just help someone relax.

That said, there are some ways Dad has influenced my writing that I don’t think anyone else could have done.

  1. When I was young, Dad read fiction–mostly western novels by Zane Grey and Louis L’amour. Although I never really did get into western fiction, I picked up the books enough to get the feeling of the plots behind them. These are my first memories of thinking about and trying to understand plot structures. My thoughts were completely unsophisticated, but they deepened my curiosity. I learned to love learning about (and trying to create) a good story line.
  2. Similarly, my dad read a lot of nonfiction. Not because he had to–because he wanted to. For years, I didn’t understand that. Now I find myself buying and devouring more nonfiction books than fiction books (I downloaded about 20 textbooks to my Kindle for PC lately) simply for the joy of learning. I feel a deeper connection with my dad because of it.
  3. About a year ago, I took a difficult assignment that required me to compare North Dakota’s oil fields to the oil fields in another state (where, coincidentally, my dad used to work). He did something completely in character for him. In order to make my writing life easier, he spent an entire afternoon teaching me what he knew about the oil industry. That afternoon is a specially treasured memory.
  4. Most recently, Dad boosted my lagging confidence with a simple question: “What have you been writing lately?” And my heart soared; he cares about what I write, and that makes a lot of difference in how I view my own work.

It’s not that dad writes. It’s that he helped me love a variety of writing. Very occasionally, I even love my own writing now. I’ll always be grateful for his influence.


September 22, 2013

Journaling my reflections on life

Gardner Village at night

Gardner Village at night

Lately, most of my writing has been very private. I’ve focused on my journals almost exclusively, detailing such events as my daughter’s first solo drive through a big city, another daughter’s busy schedule, and my toddler son’s newest adventures–somersaults and toilet training.

In my mind, these journal entries are tiny reflections of the lights in my life. They ripple easily when I touch them, blur with time, but they’re beautiful.

My daughters keep their own journals. My son is still to young to write, and too young to care that I write, except when I’m engrossed at my computer and he wants me to play with him.

Most often, he wins out. I can’t say that I regret it, and I doubt I ever will–although I do try to jot down paragraphs and sentences when I can. Sometimes I have to be sneaky. He knows the particular squeak of my office door.

My newest trick: I bring my work into his room, rather than my office, and watch him play while I edit, plot books, and network with writing friends by telephone.

Luckily for me, he knows some of my writing friends, and when I’m on the telephone with them, so is he, courtesy of the button that turns on the speaker.

This is sometimes good, since they dote on him and love to hear about his adventures (although I’m usually the one doing most of the talking). I love the proud smile he wears when they congratulate him on some milestone. It’s also sometimes not so good, when we’re trying to read passages aloud to each other. He has a very competitive voice.

Little by little, words on the screen are turning into stories, and daily events are becoming stories of their own. I wonder sometimes whether these more private moments will ever amount to something he’ll want to read, something that will make him feel as proud as writing friends on the telephone do.

It occurred to me, when I wrote about him earlier this evening, he may remember events entirely differently than they way I remember him. It’s all a vision, I suppose. When water meets the light, the reflections look different depending on where you stand.

I can always hope that he’ll see these written memories as something beautiful, something that can shine when he’s grown up enough to face his own long dark nights of the soul.





May 17, 2013

Growing pains

When she was just a year old...

When she was just a year old…

Something big happened this week. Something that, even though my family talked about it, I didn’t see coming, didn’t expect, wasn’t prepared for.

Finding jobs near where we live has become next to impossible for teenagers. A downturn in the local economy means that all the jobs youth used to take are now filled by adults struggling to take care of their families. As a result, my eldest daughter started looking for work elsewhere.

On Tuesday, we traveled to my parent’s home, hours and hours away.

On Wednesday, my daughter interviewed and was offered a job with a local fast food franchise. She accepted it.

That night, I left her in the wonderful care of my parents–for the next few months. She’ll come home to visit only a handful of times. We’ve both had some tearful moments. I imagine the rest of the spring and summer will be that way, and she’ll come home completely grown up.

For a few days, I was heartbroken enough to not want to write. At all. That hardly ever happens to me.

Thankfully, she seems to be settling in pretty well. Her co-workers seem to like her, she likes her job and she loves spending time with her grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. She has school work and her job, and she plays with her dog when she’s  not busy with school or work. Most likely the time will fly by.

It’s caused me quite a bit of introspection. Have I taught her the confidence she needs to face society without me? Will she find ways to be happy when she’s homesick? What tools have I passed on that will help her reach her goals? What bad habits that she’ll have to overcome?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week about life with her when she was tiny. She is one of the reasons I started writing. I wanted to be home with her, and with her siblings when they came along. I still needed a way to connect with the outside world, and I needed a way to help with finances, even if what I brought in was meager.

I wouldn’t trade it now for anything. I took her with me on all kinds of interviews. She traveled with me to towns I visited and wrote about for ND Business Watch. She came into shops with me, sat quietly in armchairs while I visited with people in their homes, followed me everywhere. We had fun. We still talk about the towns we saw, the museums we wandered through, the parks and the libraries and the rivers and the way tiny old shops on forgotten Main Streets became treasure chests.

Writing meant we were together.

Even during the hard times, the long days I spent away from home during legislative sessions, we were sometimes sneaky enough to find ways to eat lunch together. She pampered me on deadline weeks by sorting the laundry and starting the dishes, and I spoiled her when I could.

All in all, I think I got the better end of the deal. There’s nothing like just spending time with your child, nothing as wondrous as seeing them enjoy what you do.

And nothing is as difficult as letting them grow into their own thing when it’s time.

These are just growing pains. We may not be together all the time, but we have ways to keep in touch, and we use them often. As broken-hearted as I feel, I also feel that this is right. This is how it’s supposed to be.

I’m finally getting over the poor-me syndrome. I’m wanting to write again, and again, she’s a large part of my motivation. She’s old enough to really understand what it’s like to work, and I want to make her proud of me. It pushes me on.

I will always be grateful to her for that.

May 11, 2013

Mom taught me five strategies for balanced living

My beautiful Mom as a young woman

My beautiful Mom as a young woman

I’m a people-pleaser. This gets me into trouble sometimes, because I have this deep longing to make the world right for everyone around me.  I used to joke with my closest friends and extended family members about this.

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a fairy godmother and go around granting wishes and making people’s dreams come true,” I said.

The truth was, I half-meant it. After all this time, I still can’t think of a better way to live than to try to make other lives better and happier. I’m getting better at it, and most of the time it’s completely enjoyable.

The trouble arises when I allow my ego to get wrapped up in what I’m doing rather than in what I’m becoming. When this happens, I accidentally base my sense of self-worth on whether or not people are feeling happier because of my efforts.

Most of the time, I realize I can’t control the emotional choices others make, and I shouldn’t try to. I should just do what I can and then move on and respect the decisions they live by.  Every once in a while, I have to take a step back and re-prioritize my efforts.

This weekend has been such a time. After two weeks of doing all I could to please a variety of different people in a plethora of personal catastrophes, my life began to wobble.

It wasn’t the complete I’m-off-kilter-and-I’m-going-to-fall feeling, but I wasn’t feeling the calm balance that I seek for, either. And—because I write best when the rest of my life is balanced—this kind of living quickly becomes an issue for me.

There are a few people I trust in this world completely, enough to allow them to give me a talking to when I need it. This time around, it was my wonderful Mom who set me straight.

“You only need to worry about five things,” she said. “Say no to everything else, and the pieces of your life will fall into place.”

We stayed up well past one in the morning discussing those five things. These really aren’t new life strategies for me, but they clarify what allows me to live and write best.

  1. Physical wellness—I am physically not capable of making the world perfect, and I need to remember that. Otherwise, I get too busy fixing problems to eat, too wound up to sleep, too nervous to settle down at my desk and just write away. Because of this, I need to say no to some opportunities to help so that I can be well enough to help well when real crises occur. (Also, who wants a busybody trying to run things? Really?)
  2. Emotional/spiritual wellness—this is akin to the physical wellness, but it has more to do with how I view myself. It means extracting my ego from all the things I do, including my writing, and detaching myself from the outcome. I actually feel love better and deeper when I set my ego on a shelf in the back of my mind and just enjoy the processes of life. Writing comes more easily, too, because in this position I’m able to withhold judgment from even myself…it’s the whole hold-the-inner-critic thing that makes first-draft writing flow.
  3. Environmental wellness—Part of life’s greatest joy for me is to create a specific type of environment around me. I seek for peace and beauty, but it takes time to keep things clean and orderly, to plant and tend flowers and trees and gardens, to keep clutter at bay, to raise the living room blinds and allow sunshine to fill my home. I sometimes have to say no to other people so that I can make these things happen around me. It’s worth the effort, because this kind of environment makes my family just as happy as it makes me, and their happiness is something I will always seek for.
  4. Meaningful time with family and others—Beyond creating a happy environment, this includes reading aloud to my toddler, chatting with my teenage daughters, staying up way too late visiting with my Mom, going to see Iron Man 3 in the theaters with my sweetheart, etc. This also means prioritizing the volunteer opportunities that arise so that my energy can make the biggest impact where it’s needed most. Keeping commitments to programs I believe in, like the scouting program, is a part of that, but it too has to be kept in balance.
  5. Writing—It seems like the first four priorities feed directly into this one. I cannot write consistently and well if the rest of my life isn’t balanced. By the same token, the rest of my life feels incomplete if I’m not taking time to write every day. It’s part of the joy of my life.

I’m glad Mom was willing to stay up so late discussing things with me.  She is completely wonderful. She is the fairy godmother I’m going to be like when I grow up. 

April 27, 2013

Wedding Dress Draft One: checking facts and more

Well. This has been a busy week. I haven’t been blogging or writing as much as I thought I would be, but with the help of some wonderful people we did make some headway on my niece’s wedding dress. Granted, there’s still a lot to do, but it’s finally starting to come together.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fact checks as I’ve worked on this dress. This is a one-of-a-kind dress for a once-in-a-lifetime day, so it has to be perfect.

The level of perfection I’m seeking makes me feel like I’m working on an intricate article on a topic I’ve never covered before.  The fact check is like pinning things on, making sure they drape accurately over the outline, fit perfectly in the seams, and are stitched together into a whole piece that–hopefully–is a masterpiece of its own.

Fact checking is hard work. For me, it involves several drafts of an article. I underline things I think I understand and ask myself whether I’ve put the ideas into words well enough that others can see the same pictures I see in my head. I write several follow-up questions, deepen my research following my initial interviews, and usually run at least a few follow-up questions once the drafts begin to shape up.

It’s exhausting, but it’s part of what makes writing my constant education and my lifetime learning project.

And that brings me back to my niece’s wedding dress. I can’t begin to say how much I’ve learned so far. Yes, I’ve used the seam ripper (more than once). It’s okay. It’s a creation process that’s making me a better person, and that makes me happy.

It also means I’ve had several opportunities for girl time with my niece, a cousin and my daughters, and that’s been great. I guess networks are needed in every area of my life.

Along with that comes another happy announcement. My niece has started a writing blog. Please fly over to the BR Chaston blog and welcome her to this new adventure.

Wishing a wonderful and exquisitely happy weekend to all! 🙂

April 21, 2013

Just for Fun

A boy and his dad...:)

A boy and his dad…:)

Posts I truly enjoyed reading today:


March 26, 2013

A smoky but happy adventure day

Smoke from a wildfire

Smoke from a wildfire here in Utah, summer 2012

I woke this morning to the piercing beep of our carbon monoxide detector. Our basement was filled with smoke–especially frightening because two of my children sleep down there, and one NEVER hears her alarm clock. Thankfully, she got up when she heard my voice and went straight outside.

There was no fire–only smoke. Cold air apparently sunk down our chimney last night and pushed the smoke from our last fire, two days ago, out through the basement. It was enough to make my eyes water and my throat burn.

I’m grateful. It could have been a lot worse.

We opened several windows, set up all the fans we could find and even turned on our swamp cooler vent. The air upstairs is breathable now, but it’s cold, so two of my children and I are camping out in my office. There’s almost no smoke in here. The heat source in this room is electric, so there are no vents for the smoke to come through, and it’s cozy warm. As long as we keep the door closed, we’ll do fine–although I think a trip to the library later today may still be in order. 🙂

In an hour or so, when the smoke has cleared a little more from the basement, I’ll heat the chimney up with a hair dryer and then light a new fire. If I warm the chimney enough first, it should draw the rest of the smoke back up the chimney, and we’ll be able to close the windows, turn off the fans, and reheat the house. We can turn on our Scentsy and cook something delicious to make the air smell better.

Surprisingly, this it turning out to be a great day. It’s close quarters in my little office, but we’re having fun hanging out together while we work on our different projects.

Lots of little things are going on today– I’m blogging, of course, and working toward a deadline for an article assignment, writing some for a work in progress and editing a chapter of the pirate book. Meanwhile, one daughter is updating software on her laptop while she reads. My toddler is busy redecorating my bookshelves and rearranging a drawer in my filing cabinet. Another daughter, who truly values her privacy, has taken her laptop outside. She’s doing her schoolwork at the picnic table, and she seems perfectly content in spite of the cold.

It reminds me just a little of a few of our camp-out-in-the-basement days we had last summer, when the wildfires in Utah got so bad that the air was gray and the swamp cooler drew smoke into the house. It wasn’t as thick as it was this morning, maybe, but it was still a wonderful way to break the routine and bring my family together in a unique and fun way.

Inconvenient. That was the first word that came to my mind this morning. Now I’m calling it a blessing. How weird is that?

March 21, 2013

The Sneetches: a book that helped shape my life


Last week I bought two more books by Dr. Suess for my toddler. They’ll go into his Easter basket. I’m sure we’ll all have them memorized by April Fool’s Day–and I’ll probably regret this, but…I came home and ordered The Sneetches on Amazon. It should be here in time for his second birthday.

I have fond memories of The Sneetches. I remember checking it out from my grade school library. Mrs. Hansen, the school librarian, was the best storyteller I’ve ever known. I was only ever afraid of her on Halloween. She always dressed up like a witch and walked up and down the lunch line, talking to children about how tasty they probably were.

When I was sixteen, I was whisked away for a leadership retreat. A video of The Sneetches was a focal point for a great discussion on elitism and compassion and the importance of treating other people with respect and love. The best leaders, I learned, were the leaders who saw everyone as equals. They devoted their time and energy to serve the people around them, constantly, not caring about class or status of any kind.

When my first daughter was a toddler herself, we bought a bunch of Dr. Suess videos (they were musicals, even). I got soooooo tired of them. And now, today, I found myself with my son on my lap, looking up those same videos on YouTube.

These are happy memories. I can’t help but feel grateful–all that learning, all that fun came first from one book, from one writer.

March 20, 2013

Merging my writing time with the needs of a growing family

A random photo from my daughter's photo blog

A random photo from my daughters’ photo blog

Last Saturday my teenage daughters and I had our first-ever, all-sit-down-together Creative Project Planning Meeting.

I’ve mentioned before that one of my daughters likes to write. We sometimes talk about our books, daydream together about what they’ll turn out like, have fun laughing at ourselves and generally enjoy the process together.

Saturday’s meeting was something different. As part of our claiming day, it allowed us all to get an inside picture of the progress we’re making and the challenges we face as we pursue the goals we set for ourselves.

We took turns, starting with the youngest. We talked about all the different projects she has in the works, and I was surprised to discover she’s planned almost as many books as I have. She’s got a lofty goal of getting one story completed by the end of the school year.

While my other daughter likes to write, she’s much more interested in visual arts. She’s got a talent for manga and other drawing styles, but her real gift and interests are all wrapped up in photography right now. She has her own photo blog, which she started as a school project, and she’s involved in the online photography club for her high school. I like her work so well that I’ve asked her to take lots of stock photos I can use when I commission book covers (The Night Ones Legacy will be getting a new book cover soon, by the way). She’s planned some photo shoots and has some really great ideas.

From a time management perspective, this type of meeting was valuable in several ways:

  1. I realized that, tempting as it is, I can’t write all the time. My girls need me to come out of my office and encourage them in their own projects. This means I’ll be doing a little more work in the living room while they finish school projects. My productivity might suffer a little, but their happiness and their successes feel like personal successes to me. I can always come back to ambitious writing projects later. They’re only going to be here in my home for a short time, and I need to make the most of it while I can.
  2. The planning meeting helped us schedule around each other–I knew, for example, that I couldn’t ask one daughter to babysit my toddler son on one particular day. Rather than asking her and making her cranky, I made arrangements with the other daughter to babysit while I conducted a telephone interview.
  3. It’s also allowed me to see that I need to have a backup babysitter outside the home for times when neither daughter is available. I’ve known they were growing into young adults, but it really hit home during that meeting. They have their own distinct interests, which is beginning to translate into personal time tables that deserve courtesy and respect. I can ask them to help, I can even expect it at times, but I should never demand it. With my girls, polite requests seem to result in more help–and definitely more pleasant help–than a strict demand ever would.
  4. Following that meeting, I also knew what kind of help my daughters were looking for. That knowledge was freeing–I realized how easy it would be to squeeze a few minutes in with them and their projects at least a few times a week. It’s been four days since that meeting, but I can see progress already. Overall, it’s been a great week so far–productive and happy for us all. 

We had so much fun we decided to try it again this coming Saturday. I’m secretly hoping it will become a tradition for us.

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