Posts tagged ‘health’

August 25, 2013

Bruschetta for writers

Homemade Bruschetta and string cheese

Homemade Bruschetta and string cheese

I have wonderful memories of cold winter days made warm by the company of good friends.

Once a week, we met together to talk, work on projects, watch chick flics and allow our young children to run around in the immense back yard of one particularly wonderful lady.  While they wore themselves out in the snow, we rejuvenated our minds and hearts.

Here I found willing readers for my first attempts at fiction, encouragement when I accepted challenging nonfiction assignments and dedicated discussions about books. We talked about books we were reading, books we loved, books we hated, plot lines and characters and what made certain books original. I found several new favorite authors this way.

A larger group of us met once a month for lunch. In the summer, we often picnicked at parks in and around the Bismarck area. During cold weather, we met at restaurants.

One February day, we met at Olive Garden, where one of my dearest friends introduced me to Bruschetta.

I’m busy chopping fresh garden tomatoes today, content with the idea of Bruschetta for dinner.  It’s like dining with a friend.

I’m inclined to believe that all writers need friends.

Author Janet Sketchley recently put it this way:

We may do the actual writing alone, even if we do it best amid the background chatter of the local coffee hangout, but it’s the writing community that lets us thrive.

I’m nodding my head here. Writers need a strong network, for emotional health if for nothing else.

I haven’t been able to attend a slightly geographically-distant critique group for months now, but the few times I was able to attend saved my sanity during some rough times.  I’m hoping to get back to it this fall. I loved it.

Likewise, I love the local writing group that I attend more regularly. I love chatting with my daughters about their own works-in-progress, and I love that some of my writing friends I’ve left behind will call me two or three times a week just to talk writing with me.

I do, however, think that writer’s friends can—and should—extend beyond other writers.

Like my Bruschetta friend from North Dakota, and my daycare-crib-keeper friend, my German party friends, my do-it-yourself home decorator friend, my librarian friend, my running friends.

Those friends are now joined by my dessert club friends near my non-North Dakota home—the one who takes in pets for the animal shelter, the one who creates beautiful beaded hair  clips, the one who knows how to make gum paste flowers for wedding cakes and the one who enjoys Dr. Who and Monarch of the Glen.

Every person is amazingly unique, and yet it seems like any time I get together with friends, we talk about stories of some kind. I learn something from each interaction with them. Usually, I learn something about myself.

I believe that transfers directly to my writing. It makes me both a better person and a better writer.

These moments with friends are like the basil in my Bruschetta—they make something ordinary like garden tomatoes into something completely wonderful, something worth savoring and worth sharing.

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 29, 2013

Rome Goals: updating for May

Planning my mock Hawaiian Editing Adventure! :)

Planning my (somewhat) Hawaiian Editing Adventure! 🙂

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted about how I’m doing on my Rome goals. Here’s a quick update for May:

  • Health goal: I’m beginning the Couch to 5K program today, even though it’s not quite May yet. I plan to take this VERY slowly, which means I’ll probably stretch out one week’s worth of training into two weeks. I’m still pretty excited about it, though. No exercise feels quite as good to me as running does.
  • Writing goal: I’ll be taking a Hawaiian Editing Vacation mid-May in order to work on the final drafts and edits of the sequel to the Night Ones Legacy. What this really means is I’ll be eating a lot of island-based foods, listening to island music or ocean sounds and possibly, if I’m motivated enough, wearing flowers in my hair while I work, work work. Anything to make it feel like I’m relaxing when I’m actually getting something done! I know, I cheat this way sometimes…but I sure do enjoy it. 😉
  •  Volunteer goal: I plan to finish the wedding dress I’m working on for the beautiful BR Chaston. 🙂 At least, I hope to get all of the sewing done. I can take my time on the bead work. Such a happy goal!

And that, really, is all I dare commit to–although, quite probably, I’ll be doing other things in the background because I just can’t help myself. There are so many happy experiences to have this time of year.

Best wishes to all of the Rome Construction Crew and everyone else. I appreciate the kind words and motivation you provide for me more than I can say.

Along with my Rome Goals update, here’s an update on my personal Level Up program: according to my records, I now have 30 hours of serious marketing studies completed. About a third of those fall under the ‘lab’ section, where I try to put into practice the things I learn from reading and interviews.

I really love this game.

April 17, 2013

Rome goals update

Although I do usually edit by computer alone, my favorite way to edit still involves paper and a highlighter :)

Although I do usually edit by computer alone, my favorite way to edit still involves paper and a highlighter 🙂

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blogging friends on my Rome Construction Crew goals. Here’s what’s been happening in my happy but somewhat hectic writing life, and life in general:

  • With the change in my schedule, I’m getting quite a bit more done on my book. Although I will only get through a solid rough draft in April, I have set a tentative release date for June 1, 2013. We’ll see if I can meet this one. If I can, it’ll be a lot of hard work, but that means fun, too.
  • Exercise has been a little bit tougher. Although I’m exercising every day, there have been a few days I haven’t met my two hour goal. I’ll just keep working on that. I still hope to be in shape enough to start the Couch to 5K program again in May.
  • As far as the volunteer editing projects go, I think I’ll be able to finish them up this week. I’ll see one author tomorrow evening, and I’ll give him my comments and suggestions then. I’ll be able to pass comments on the other manuscript to the author next Tuesday. It feels good to be able to help people who do so much for others.
  • As part of a separate project, I committed to edit the pirate book by June 1. If I’m going to meet my deadline for getting the sequel to the Night Ones Legacy out by then, I may realistically have to switch editing projects. I’ll just have to see how it goes…but more about that in May. 🙂

Thanks again to Bradley Corbet at Green Embers for setting the Rome Construction Crew up.

Writers have to rely on a network of people to get their books in the best shape they can before publishing them, and then they rely on networks of others when they start marketing and promoting them, as well. It only makes sense that we need a network to help us achieve goals in all areas of our lives. It’s part of the writing lifestyle.

This is just a  great idea, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Looking forward to running!

Looking forward to running!

April 5, 2013

Building my Rome

Silly Teenager Gwen--no matter how much I change outside, I still feel like this on the inside

Silly Teenager Gwen–no matter how much I change outside, I still feel like this on the inside

Thanks to Green Embers, I’m going to be trying something new. I’ve chosen a personal goal to work on publicly through his Rome Construction Crew.

Actually, I’ve chosen three goals–a health goal, a writing/marketing goal, and a volunteer/service goal. He’s asked that we share the stories behind these goals. If I get too personal, please forgive me. I do that sometimes.

Health goal and the story behind it:

Nearly twelve years ago now, I was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor. It’s benign, but it causes all sorts of discomfort, mostly related to rampant hormones and their effects on the rest of my body.

Since then, I’ve discovered I have an amazing ability to develop benign tumors in other places, as well, and I have a not-so-hidden talent for gaining fat.  I once thought this was life-threatening and that I was going to die an early death from it. I’ve since learned that although it’s not fun sometimes, I don’t have to be miserable over this. I have become a much more jolly soul because of it, and that’s a gift I wouldn’t trade for anything.

There are things I’d like to change, though. Because of the hormonal imbalances, it’s very easy to gain fat and very difficult to lose it. I’m currently about a hundred pounds overweight. Only a few things seem to help control this: balancing the hormones, which involves doctor visits, MRIs, blood tests and other yucky lab work, and medicine that doesn’t always fit into our budget; a low carb diet, which is very hard for me to stick to; and at least two hours of exercise a day, which is also hard to fit into my schedule.

I’d like to say I could lose five or ten pounds with combined efforts in April, but I don’t have confidence that it would happen even if I did everything right (I’ve had trouble with this before). Instead, I’m going to focus on the goals themselves. I’m hoping to be able to start the Couch to 5K program in May, and in order to work up to it, I’ve been walking two hours a day. I intend to keep doing that until the end of April.

Of course, I’ll be working on my eating habits at the same time, but my Rome Goal for April will be the two hours of daily walking.

Writing goal and the story behind it:

The Night Ones Legacy has been poking and prodding me for the past two years now, and it’s past time I do something about it. I set a goal earlier this year to get its sequel out by the end of April. I’m beginning to see that I probably won’t make that deadline, so I’m setting a different but related writing goal: I have to work on this particular book at least ten hours a week in April. If I can’t manage my time well enough to make it happen along with the walking goal, I may not take any more journalism assignments until I complete this draft.

That’s good motivation, right?

In the meantime, I’ll also be working on the edit of the pirate story–but that’s another goal for another time. 🙂

Volunteer service goal and the story behind it:

My life is always better when it includes people, and it’s even better when I’m doing something nice for them. I love to see other people smile.

However, in the offline world, I tend to be introverted, shy and awkward, and it takes some work to bring me out of my shell.

With that in mind, my Rome Goal for April is this: I will complete my comments on two manuscripts that fellow writers here in Utah have asked me to look at, and then, instead of e-mailing them, I’ll deliver them in person.

Now, a quick note (probably more like a disclaimer):

I tend to be way too optimistic about what I can get done in a day. For that reason, I’ve learned to love setting goals, but I’m not very good at following through with them. Sometimes they’re just not realistic enough to fit into my life.

These three goals are my attempts to take baby steps toward my dreams. If I reach them in April, I’ll set new goals for May. If not, these ones will be extended.

Either way, I intend to have fun with them. It’s another fun game! And maybe I can win!

I’m counting on everyone out there to cheer me on. 🙂


February 26, 2013

My fountain helps me focus

My hummingbird fountain

My hummingbird fountain

While helping clean out my grandparents’ home a few weeks ago, I came across a hummingbird fountain.

It didn’t work. The tubing connecting the pump to the actual fountain had corroded and broken. I brought it home, anyway.

Last Thursday I was pleasantly surprised when my sweetheart replaced the tubing for me and set it up on top of one of my filing cabinets in my home office.

I’ve turned it on every day since then while I work, and it’s been extremely pleasant.

There’s something to be said for the sound of running water. This is especially true on deadline week. It completely soothes me and reminds me to ‘go with the flow.’ When my fountain is on, my creativity seems to stream from my mind to my fingertips, where I can write it or type it out.

Perhaps I think too much about these things. I tend to look at the objects in my life as symbols, things I can learn from, lessons to treasure. Still. Where’s the wonder in the world, if you can’t feel awe over something as simple as clean water?

It’s food (or water) for thought.

Anyway, I’ve noticed a strange correlation between having my fountain on and how focused I am at work. In a world full of distractions, this makes my little fountain a valuable asset to my home office.

What helps other writers focus on their writing work? I’d love to know.

December 23, 2012

Biking down Imagination Lane

This is how I bike down Imagination Lane

This is how I bike down Imagination Lane

Of all the things that take up space on my office floor, the compact stationary bicycle I borrowed from my sister is the most inspiring.

I can’t type while I’m using it. Even though I keep it under my desk, my knees hit the table when I use it there. I have to pull it out and turn my chair slightly to get any good spin of the pedals.

This doesn’t mean it’s a nuisance. On the contrary, it gives me more reasons to enjoy my thinking time as well as work on my health as I work at home.

I assume that every writer has a thinking time. For me, this is the time when I hit writer’s block, and I desperately want to DO SOMETHING, but I know if I leave my desk I won’t come back for a very long time–or, if I do come back soon, I’ll come back with an open bag of chocolate chips. Not a good thing.

This little bike has already had several impacts on my writing.

First, it keeps me active. Even if it’s a half a minute at a time while I wait for something to print or a half hour, off and on, while I sketch out a plot, movement is movement.  It means more oxygen for my brain, which I believe translates into better thinking and hence, better writing.

Second, it uses up nervous energy. When I’m overloaded with work, I mentally chain myself to my desk. I become so absorbed in my work that when night comes, I can’t unwind to sleep. If I use my bike more on those days, my life seems less hectic, somewhat balanced and manageable. Because that movement allows me to unwind, I sleep better and then work better the next day. That makes it a time-saver.

Thirdly, it seems to stimulate my imagination. If I sit on my chair, close my eyes and cycle, I can muse on possible plots or character development in my fiction projects, wording and organization and even who to contact and what to ask with my nonfiction ones.

Overall, that’s what makes this little bike so inspiring. I love thinking, but I especially love seeing efforts for my thinking. If I’m thinking and holding still, it’s too easy to fall asleep.

Staying active while trying to work full-time at home means I have to put a little extra effort into my down time. The bike comes in really handy for this. It’s become the guardian of my feet (I can’t get away from my desk without noticing it’s there) as well as my ride through Imagination Lane.

December 13, 2012

Building a better office snack

Several years ago, a writing instructor told me writers should do all they can to stay healthy. He ran every day. Me, I run around every day. That’s not the same thing at all.

Snacking is where I have the most trouble. I seem to manage my stress best when I have something to munch on. The problem is, I don’t often choose snacks that energize me and help me feel healthy.

Chocolate chips and I get along too well. If I don’t watch myself, I can eat them by the handful–and that’s not good when I spend so much time at my desk.

I’m trying to build a set of better office snacks, things I can grab quickly out of the pantry that don’t cost much and that aren’t harmful to me. I’ll be adding to this list over the next few weeks, but here are the first things I’ve tried:

  • Almost any kind of nut–Almonds and cashews tend to be my favorite.
  • Dried cranberries–They just taste better than raisins. Also it’s almost Christmas, and they look beautiful and merry. They’re even better when mixed with almonds. I also recently discovered dried pineapple, and that may make it into the mix later this week.
  • Bitter chocolate–I love bitter baking bars. I keep a few of them in my pantry. When I’m feeling sorry for myself because I have no chocolate, I can break a square off and let bits of it melt slowly in my mouth. It curbs my chocolate craving completely for a few hours.

Here are the things I’ve been thinking about but have yet to try:

  • Celery chips–I imagine these would taste great with dried cranberries, too, and they wouldn’t be so water-heavy that I couldn’t set them by my computer.
  • Cabbage wedges–I especially want to try tiny slices of purple cabbage. It’s just so pretty.
  • Cherry tomatoes–I love tomatoes. This couldn’t be a bad choice, ever.
  • Kale leaves–This is something I want to eat more of anyway.

Somehow, I’d love to sneak in navy beans, pinto beans and black beans, but I’m not sure yet how to do it.

Of course I could opt for not snacking at all, but I’ve done that before. I don’t like the feeling of deprivation. The jittery feeling I get when I know I”m trying not to snack isn’t much fun, either. For the time being, I’ll stick with snacks, but I’ll try to make healthy choices that will keep me thinking  and writing better and longer.

I have a lot of work ahead of me if I’m going to build a better office snack system–but I love the opportunities I have to keep trying.

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