Posts tagged ‘children and family’

April 24, 2014

A social story for writers

He's just so much fun. :)

He’s just so much fun. 🙂

Nearly six months ago I contacted an early intervention team, concerned that my toddler son showed too many signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. Turns out he’s fine, but the experience held great value for me. As I visited with professionals about how to help him better understand social situations,  I learned a little bit about social stories.

According to The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding:

A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format…

…Although the goal of a Story™ should never be to change the individual’s behavior, that individual’s improved understanding of events and expectations may lead to more effective responses.

I was  already a believer in brain retraining. I’ve enjoyed learning about and using several different techniques to retrain my own brain in the quest to create a better Gwen. The idea of using social stories to help my son understand social situations better made sense to me.

Social stories work best with my little guy when we read them aloud together at least three times each week. Reading them together every day is even better, and it dovetails nicely with ordinary story time. He’s always enjoyed being read to.

Although I’m still learning about social stories and the proper way to write and use them, I thought they slightly resembled the techniques described by Ford Robbins Blair in his Instant Self Hypnosis (which I already use and have a lot of fun with).

I wondered: could writers benefit from writing and reading their own social stories?

I haven’t had a chance to experiment with this myself yet, but just for the fun of it, here’s a very short social story for writers trying to develop the habit of writing every day, written with my limited understanding and ability. Enjoy!

I love to write, and I’m good at writing. I smile when I write. I feel happy and proud of myself when I write something every day.

Because I love writing so much, I try to write something every day. It is important for me to write every day if I want to be a good writer.

Writing something every day is a great habit to develop. I am very happy when I write something every day, and being happy is good.  



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.





July 19, 2013

Writing tip: Don’t lose your timer

This is my office timer and, I suspect, home to Inspiration. (At least, she seems to come out more when I use this timer.)

This is (was) my dependable office timer.  I am currently experiencing a change in timer models, as described below.

I have this issue: I don’t want my toddler to play with my cell phone, but he loves it.

About two months ago, he wandered into my office, took the cell phone from my desk, sat down on the floor and started pushing buttons to make it beep. It was adorable, until he managed to get online. Then I had a terrific idea.

I traded the cell phone for my beloved kitchen timer, the one that gets me started on days when I need a boost.

I got back to work. I vaguely remember him standing up after a while and wandering out of the room with it, headed down the hall toward his own room.

It’s been two months now. Two months, and I can’t find it anywhere. I’ve looked all over the house, and I scoured his room. I’ve checked his toy box, his drawers, his book shelves, behind his bed and under the battered recliner in the corner of his room. I suspect I’ll find it in there someday. For now, I’m giving up.

 I finally broke down and bought a new kitchen timer. I have yet to warm up to it–and I’m amazed I feel so sentimental about my old timer–but I’m slowly getting used to the new one. Slowly. I’m making new memories. I will probably grow to love this one as much, given time and a few productive writing days that feel like successes.

Someday, I’ll look back and laugh and wonder why I was ever so dependent on a timer at all.

Meanwhile, I came across another interesting timer technique on Passive Guy. This one links back to author Ryan Casey and describes his experiences with something called the Pomodoro Technique. It allows him to write about 5,000 words a day.  I’m intrigued. I plan to try it one day early next week.

Also, if you’re interested in how Joss Whedon manages to be so prolific, you can read about it here at Fast Company.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned two important lessons: one, if I don’t want my toddler to play with my phone, I need to keep it out of reach–like on top of the filing cabinet–and two, if I want to use an office timer to stay productive, I really need to keep one around.


June 13, 2013

Chocolate windows: how loving myself frees me to write

Chocolate windows! :)

Chocolate windows! 🙂

I broke down yesterday and bought chocolate.

It was an extra-large Hershey’s Symphony bar, and as I unwrapped it to divvy it up among family members, the rectangles caught my toddler’s attention.

“Ta-cat win-now. Ta-cat win-now.” He pointed at the chocolate and said those words over and over, until I finally understood what he was seeing.

“Yes, those are chocolate windows. You can have one, two, three of them.”

He climbed into his booster seat and counted his pieces of chocolate with me. After that, he was too busy eating and smearing melted chocolate over the table top to pay much attention to me.

I ate my chocolate, too, but I saw it in a different way. An ordinary treat had become magical, simply because it was now full of windows.

It was dark glass, to be sure, and delicious…and it tossed my thoughts across the phrase “for now we see through a glass, darkly.” (Which, by the way, I first came across as a child, in a novel brought home from the bookmobile.)

I mused all afternoon on my life perceptions. The phrase still hadn’t left me this morning, but it condensed some, thickened and held when I ran my mind across the most important relationships in my life.

After a day and a half of musing, I realized two things:

  • The most important people in my life deserve for me to see them clearly and love them completely, unconditionally, the way they are.
  • That’s a lot easier to do than extending the same courtesy toward myself.

Still. I don’t think I can show love for the people in my life as completely and fully as I want to until I am able to do the same for myself.

Here’s the reason: they at least partially define who they are because of their connections to me and to who I am. I do them no favors by hiding any greatness in me that I find. I serve them best when I let my good points show.

I suppose it’s a matter of integrity, of living up to the highest and best ideals I hold in my heart.

Yesterday’s musings led to a day and a half of reviewing my personal rules for dealing with others. I have two main rules–one, always do everything in my power to withhold judgment or criticism from everyone else, and two, always do everything in my power to lift, build and bless every other human I come across.

This naturally extends into my writing. I want very much to write and write and write, to cover nonfiction topics that make people smile and to create novels that will bring joy to children and provoke thoughtful improvement in the life of adults. In my mind, it’s the new American Dream, and I am not alone in hoping that my writing will affect the world in some positive way–even if it’s a very small way.

But when it comes to myself, I find I’m very selfish.  On one hand, half the writing I do really is for myself alone, for the simple joy of putting words together. The other half tends to get tangled up in my ego. When that happens, I sometimes forget to withhold judgment and criticism from myself. I tear myself apart when I could be saving that criticism for the editing process alone, and for my writing alone–not for me as a person.

This is perhaps the darkest glass of all. It’s impossible to see myself clearly enough to love myself when I’m zeroing in on all my faults. It impacts the people I love, but it also impacts my writing by providing writer’s block, the fear of failure and other hurdles.

The truth is, I write best and most prolifically when I feel confident and secure in myself. Loving myself frees me to write.

When I’m in my zone and I’m alright with myself, every idea becomes a window to another world that I can’t wait to explore. Like many other writers, I have lists and lists of books I want to write.  These are ideas to savor and enjoy,to share with others, to lighten dark days with the joy of creation.

Perhaps they’re all just chocolate windows, and some of them will melt in the sun…but they’re delicious to me, just the same.

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. 

May 2, 2013

Thoughts on getting to work halfway through the day

A completely random side note--I'm hungry for Spaghetti Squash and haven't been able to find any in the stores lately. Guess I'll have to plant my own this year!

A completely random side note–I’m hungry for Spaghetti Squash and haven’t been able to find any in the stores lately. Guess I’ll have to plant my own this year!

The dishwasher is running. The laundry is sorted. One daughter is studying chemistry, another practicing for her violin lesson, and my toddler is playing with his cars in his room. What about this seems unusual?

I think it’s just the I’m finally starting to catch up feeling that comes after a huge event.

Not that there’s been any huge event here…just a myriad of little things that seemed big at the time.

Yesterday was incredibly challenging that way. I woke with a knowledge that I had to start a new project, and it had to be right then. Every time I tried to work methodically, this project stared holes into the back of my head until I finally gave up. I spent the better part of the afternoon hammering out a decent outline and a first chapter of something I never intended to write–a political piece.

I promised myself I would never do such a thing. Now I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. I guess I’ll add it to my list of works-in-progress and just see where it goes.

This morning, I ran errands and did some shopping with two of my children, visited with the lovely BR Chaston about her wedding dress and nearly fell asleep on the way home. That meant I napped when we finally reached the house. Needless to say, now I’m staring at a to-do list that will refuse to be completed by nightfall, and that new project is dancing around the edges of my office, waiting for attention.

This time, it will have to wait.

Sometimes I don’t think my time management issues are all my fault. Sometimes I think my projects just don’t know how to take turns. They’re as demanding as any toddler.

I can’t help loving them.

On another note–I found poem I wrote in April but never published in my draft file. Rather than letting it sit there, I’m including it here:

e kingbird log crop

Eastern Kingbird

There’s more to majesty than thrones or crowns,

or crowds of admirers, applauding, lauding praise.

There’s more, even, than power. Freedom rises,

calls the royal heart into the air.

My throne is any place from which I sing.

Have a great day, everyone!

April 30, 2013

Last NaPoMo post: A daughter’s laughter


She is a tender age for thoughts so deep

as those that sweep across her eyes,

furrow her brows and

pinch the corners of her mouth.

It’s as if she grows flowers in her mind

that must be tended carefully,

weeded and watered,

protected above all else.

She guards her garden with such great fervor

I sometimes wonder at her grace,

the instant laughter

that crinkles her eyes and nose.

Sometimes that laughter bubbles as freely

as spring flowers on sunny days,

bobbing in the grass,

watching for my own wide smile.

It’s something that I never can resist

and I find myself laughing too,

forgetting the anst

she endures to laugh so well.

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:


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