December 28, 2017

2017 in review

I procrastinated writing this post. I've known I wanted to write a recap of the year since I wrote about my hopes and goals for the year. Yet, here I am, writing it at the last minute, well after I'd intended. Instead, I've spent the past few days binge-watching TV (a little late to the party, but Stranger Things 2! OMG!) and sorting through piles of laundry I should've washed weeks ago. In a lot of ways, that procrastination with other activities paints a pretty good picture of what my year looked like.

The year didn't start off the best. A mix of apprehension and nerves, I seemed to be in a bit of a fog. That didn't stop me from setting out large goals for myself. It did prevent me from doing much of it. I'll get to how I finished out the year with all of my goals in a minute, but first I want to talk about my word of the year: persevere. As a reminder, the definition to persevere is:

to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement

And on that front, I'll say, good. I've done pretty well on that front. While I just admitted I spent part of the year in a fog, I didn't let it get me down for long. I didn't fully capture the art of zen and learn to let everything go (let's face it, that's just not me), but I did get better at how I dealt with stress and disappointment. I kept going.

As for my other goals . . . I fell short. In the interest of full disclosure and brevity, here's a list of those goals I laid out and how I did:

Read 50 new-to-me books. Nope. Not even close. There's still a few days left in the year, so I can maybe get some reading done, but I'll still probably be closer to 25 reads than 50. That's not going to stop me from setting this very same goal for next year though.

Watch more new-to-me movies. This is super subjective, but I did okay on this front. Thanks to Netflix, and semi-frequently taking myself to movies, I saw a few. I could still do better, but I'd rather read and write more if I had to choose between the three.

Bake a load of bread each month. Sadly, I completely forgot about this one after January. And it's too bad. It was a good goal,

Try one new recipe each week. I don't think I hit a new recipe weekly, but I did try a lot of new dishes and added some favorites to my list. Going forward, I think my goal will be to continue to try new recipes and take risks, but mostly to spend time creating my own meals rather than ordering out.

Work-out for 30 minutes five times a week. Oh, boy. Nope. I did get a treadmill and I did get it out of the box and use it, but not enough. Still, this is a fantastic goal and one I should always include on my list.

Try the whole clean-as-you-go deal I keep hearing about. I totally forgot about this goal, but I kind of did it! I still had moments of allowing my laundry to pile up (see the intro to this post), but I made my better all but a few mornings before heading to work. I ran the vacuum at least once a week. I rarely left dishes in my sink, and I stayed on top of my laundry until December. Not perfect, but I'll take it!

Go on an adventure somewhere I've never been. Oh! I did this one! Even though I forgot, I did it! I went to New Hampshire for the first time ever and took an afternoon to explore a part of Massachusetts I'd always wanted to visit. Sure, it was for a business trip and I was fighting a cold most of the time, but it was still a wonderful experience.

Keep regular office hours for my writing career. vYeah, we'll go ahead and put a giant "nope" on this one. I'm going to shake up this goal for next year to hopefully come up with something more plausible, but regular office hours ran off with my goals to work-out and bake bread. Maybe they're all on vacation together.

Have a regular day of pampering each week. This didn't happen weekly, but it happened a few times each month. And it as wonderful and will be something I just aim to do always. Usually it came in the form of a facial or a bath, but it was always heaven.

So that's it. Not a total loss and still room to grow. I'll get into that growth next week, but until then, thanks for following along with me this year. I hope to do better with posting more faithfully (and with better content). Happy New Year to all!

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

December 25, 2017

meowy christmas from all of us!

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

December 14, 2017

my dream christmas album

One of my all-time favorite icebreaker questions to ask people this time of year goes like this: If you were a musician (any genre) what five Christmas songs would you cover when you cut your Christmas album?

I wish I could say I was able to pull some sort of meaningful insight into what this revealed about a person's character. That would be pretty cool, actually. Social scientists, please get on this PRONTO. But the reason I ask is because I'm curious, and because I love Christmas music. From Thanksgiving to Christmas (and sometimes for a week before the official start to the holiday season here in the U.S.) I listen to it all day every day.

As I listen, I spend a lot of time thinking about what songs I'd cover. Some stay the same from year to year, but they tend to rotate in and out. Sometimes it's just the songs that are on my heart or they might be ones that speak to me on a level. (How's that for insight.)

Oh, and I totally have an album title: A Cup of Good Cheer. A friend and I came up with it senior year of college (ten years ago almost to the day) and it stuck. For the sake of this post, I threw together a crappy cover, but, hey, it has some charm to it, right?

But what, oh what, is going on this year's version of the album? I'm not a stickler about the songs, either. They can be hymns, old classics, or new titles by today's big stars. All that matters is it's a song already produced by someone, somewhere, at some time. (You can save your new originals for the rest of the album!) For Christmas or the holiday season.

If I was making my Christmas album this year, the covers I'd include are:

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

This has been one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs since I discovered Judy Garland in my single digits. There's something so sweet and sad and wistful about the way she does it. While I maybe didn't appreciate that as much as an eight-year-old as I do now as a thirty-cough-cough-one-cough-cough year-old, it's a classic, and I'd belt this puppy out.

2. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

One of these things is not like the other . . . This song is making its debut on my album, but not on my heart. I remember thinking this song was silly when it came out, but by high school it grew on me. Now, it's pretty much a classic, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why other people haven't done their own takes on this little gem from *NSYNC. Okay. It's still silly, but with all the other heavy material on my record, I really need to do something to lighten the mood. Paying homage to the greatest boy band of all time just makes sense. Even if it doesn't really fit with the rest. Shrug.

3. Please Come Home for Christmas

This is another long-time favorite of mine. Probably since I heard it in Home Alone. (I just had to run a Google search to make sure I wasn't imaging that a version of this song appeared in the movie. But sure enough, it's track number eight, covered by Southside Johnny Lyon on the soundtrack.) This is one of my favorite songs to "cover" when I'm driving to and from work. And, not to brag, but I kind of slay it. (Or should I say "sleigh" it. Oh, puns!)

4. Someday At Christmas

I really came to know this song in college, when I was working at a UPS Store over the holidays and it came on the radio every few hours. It struck a chord with me then and every year, it resonates with me a little more. It was Stevie Wonder's wish back in 1967 and it's still my wish today.

5. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

This song has been a bit of an obsession of mine since I heard Zooey Deschenel and Joseph Gordon Levitt cover it a few years back. And, of course, there are amazing versions from Ella Fitzgerald and Harry Connick Jr. (two of my Christmas go-tos year after year). In my head, I'm every bit as sultry singing this as they are, so it's the perfect romantic number for my album. Maybe I'd do it duet style. My gut tells me to ask Michael Buble or Josh Groban, but I really don't want my song partner to overshadow me. So I'll have to do some talent scouting on this one.

So how about you? What songs would you include on your imaginary (or, hey, it could be real) Christmas album? 

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

December 11, 2017

my own worst frenemy

Last week, I had a dream that really threw me off my game. It was one of those dreams where something awful happens and you wake up knowing it wasn't real, but it still feels like it happened.

Without getting into the details of it, because they're just too sad for a blog post I'm sharing during the holiday season, basically I woke up at 4:30 completely gutted and devastated. Even as I told myself "it was only a dream," the pit in my stomach, the ache in my heart, seemed to grow stronger. Unable to get back to sleep, I got out of bed thinking I'd get some writing done or do something productive. Instead, my mind would wander back to the dream, bringing with it the self doubt and pain.

I carried it with me all day. The idea that I don't take good enough care of myself from a diet and exercise standpoint. That I haven't accomplished as much as I'd like. That maybe I'm all alone in this world, because of some horrible flaw with myself. I'm not fishing for compliments or validation. I'm not throwing a pity party. I know I have plenty to be happy about. I know I have good people in my life. I know I'm a work in progress, but I'm trying. But none of that mattered during the day after this dream. I knew I was okay, but I didn't feel okay.

The kicker in all this is that I've really been trying to adjust my thinking. I've been trying so hard to be positive. Towards others and myself. I'm not a negative person, but, as I've mentioned before, I deal with some anxiety and can get overwhelmed, which leads to "woe is me moments." I've been doing my best to not dwell on my mistakes or mis-steps, but instead celebrate the good part. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it until I had this dream.

Thanks, sub-conscious.

Because that's what it was. It was my sub-conscious pointing out my biggest self-image issues, my biggest fears, and really throwing them back at myself in a mean package. Ever since, I've been thinking about this a lot. And here's what it really comes down to:

No one will ever be meaner to me than I am to myself.

Some of the mean, nasty thoughts I get are things I'd never say to another person. They're words I wouldn't let others say about or to my friends. Yet I'm bullying myself. Constantly.

Unfortunately, I don't have a magical answer on how to make this all better. There isn't a "but wait, the next day everything was perfect and I lived happily ever after." (Though, the next day was better than the day before, and the effects from the mean dream had lessened.)

I decided to share this story with you today, because this time of year can be really stressful and difficult. It can feel so lonely, even when you're spending so much time with friends and family. I just wanted you to know that if you're feeling bad or sad, you're not alone. I wanted to urge all of us to be better friends to ourselves. I wanted to remind myself that these bad feelings do pass, and I need to remember that.

Your feelings are valid. And if they're ever overwhelming, please speak with someone. It can be scary getting help, but even the strongest of us need it sometimes.

I'll note that it's a few days later and I'm feeling better. (Emotionally. I caught a cold that's been going around my office, but what are you going to do there? At least it wasn't during NaNoWriMo, right? :D) It's good for me to remember that.

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

December 7, 2017

one little christmas tree

My parents like to tell a story about my first Christmas. Not my first, first Christmas, when I was six months old. But the one when I was very grown-up and 18 months old. I was old enough to appreciate some of the festivities around me, but not quite able to understand it.

The story goes like this: After putting me down for a nap, my parents took advantage of the break to put up our Christmas tree, lights and other decorations. When I woke up, still a little sleepy (as you do), I stumbled out of my bedroom and into the living room. And I froze. My eyes grew big and round, my jaw fell open. Slowly I turned around in a circle to take in the magic.

It's thirty years later. Instead of being one and a half, I'm thirty-one and a half. Instead of having parents who handle the decorating like elves, it falls to me to make my house merry. But all this time later, I still find Christmas trees every bit as magical as I did then.

This year's tree went up late the evening of Thanksgiving (and early the morning after). It happened the way these things often go. With Thanksgiving dinner behind me and most of my guests gone home (or in my visiting parents' case, in bed), I figured I'd get a head start on the season and pull out the boxes. Once the boxes were out, I couldn't resist breaking out the new garland, ribbons, and lights I found out Michael's to decorate my bookshelves. Then the shelves wanted the nutcracker and ribbons and poinsettias. It overflowed to the sofa table and the walls and the kitchen. Pretty soon, I figured I might as well put up the tree. Then the lights.

By then it was well after midnight. The tree was up, the lights were on, the rest of my home was decorated. I figured there wasn't any use in waiting till the morning. So I began the trimming.

I started with my favorite ornament, the pewter ballet slippers my mom bought to commemorate the first time I went to The Nutcracker, which became a winter favorite and obsession for the next few years.

Then I added the first set of ornaments I bought when I was eighteen years old and assembling my first set of holiday decorations and feeling all kinds of grown-up.

And I added the shabby chic decorations my co-workers and I made before shabby chic became a movement. (Not to get all hipster-like and say we did it before it was cool, but we totally did.)

I was noticing a color scheme--unintentional, but still there. Everything was red and silver and gold. Even the burlap had a gold feel. With so much leftover ribbon (and always intrigued by the ribbon-covered trees in Hallmark movies) I threw some on and curled the tendrils. I let off the other colorful ornaments, deciding my red and silver and gold tree was simple and perfect the way it was.

This Christmas tree has been with me for years, through many apartments and houses. And each year it looks a little different, but it's always perfect, just like every tree seems to me. The lights. The sparkle. The memories of old ornaments. The excitement of the new. There's just something so special about a Christmas tree. It fills my heart with joy.

Do trees fill you with the spirit of the season, too? Do you decorate it the same every year or shake things up?

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

December 4, 2017

a look back at nanowrimo 2017

Last week I wrapped up my eighth consecutive year of participating in National Novel Writing Month. It also marked my eighth year of crossing the 50,000 word finish line.

Thanks to a new feature on the website, I can break down a few bits of trivia on what my NaNoWriMo career has looked like. In my eight years of participating:

  • I have written more than 435,000 words combined in Novembers.
  • My biggest word count day was in 2012 when I wrote more than 7,000 words.
  • My biggest word count year was  2015 with more than 65,000 words that month.

It's surreal to write that. As much as NaNoWriMo has become synonymous with November for me in many ways, I still feel like a newbie writer trying to figure out what the hey I'm doing. There are some tricks I've learned, but in general I'ms till always developing and honing the process.

In the interest of self-evaluation and -improvement, I wanted to take a look back at what worked, what didn't, and what I'm still on the fence about from my 2017 NaNoWriMo experience.

What Worked

Writing Adventures: I introduced the idea of writing adventures into my world in 2014. It came to me in a dream (or early morning wakefulness, but dream sounds better). This is basically how they work: I set a word count goal for the day. Then, I choose four writing locations and break down how many words I have to write at each location to reach the overall goal. As a bonus, I invite readers to submit words, phrases, or concepts for me to work into the writing as a creative challenge.

I did this twice this year and wrote more than 5,000 words on one day and 6,000 on the other. It works for me, because the change of scenery keeps me from becoming complacent or bored. The roving schedule breaks down the big, scary goal into bites I can manage. Four locations seems to be the sweet number for me, but I can't tell you why.

If you'd like to build your own writing adventure, you can download the free printable page I designed. (Get it here on my website under "Free Downloads From Me For You.)

Daily Writing: I didn't always write a lot, like on my Writing Adventure days, but I did write every day. Even if it was only 200 words. (My lowest word count day was 221 words.) This kept the work fresh in my mind and it made me shake the excuses I always make to stop writing. It also made me realize it really wouldn't ruin my life or my day to spend even 20 minutes getting something down. I kept this up after achieving the 50,000-word goal on November 27, and with any luck, I can carry it on until I finish this thing.

Advanced Meal Prep: This took some planning and a lot of work on my poor feet, but every second was worth the results. I ate well all month and never wondered what I'd have for breakfast, lunch, or dinner on any given day. It kept me from ordering too much take-out or fast food (though I did budget in some dining out). I even have a couple of meals still sitting in my freezer for consumption this month. With the exception of shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, it kept me out of the stores, which can be a time-consuming part of each week.

Perhaps I should make this a regular thing--not just for November.

What Didn't

Hotel Writing Excursion: Don't get me wrong, I wrote some words and had a lot of fun, but I wasn't nearly productive enough to justify the expense of a night at a hotel and room service. (Though room service was everything I dreamed it would be.) I didn't stick to my writing plan after the first hour, and I completely broke my no TV rule. That said, I can explain away why that might have happened, and I learned some lessons to potentially make it work better in the future. Also, I did finally figure out my outline and had great phone call/text messaging brainstorming sessions to help me pin down the story. I'll try it again, but this was not a success in my November.

Big Holiday Word Counts: Look, I still wrote, but I never reached any of my word count goals on the days I was prepping for, hosting, and cleaning up after Thanksgiving. Those were some of those 200-, 300-, and 400-word count days, which fell substantially short of my goal of reaching 1,000 words.

Scheduling Marketing in Advance: Yeah, I had the best of intentions on getting posts written and scheduled on my social media platforms, and it didn't happen. At all. My marketing ventures were minimal and unfocused, but you can't win them all.

Keeping a Positive Mental Attitude: No matter how hard I try, every now and again, at some point, I'm going to hate everything and feel like I am a hack who totally sucks. Maybe this should fall under "I'm working on it," but I probably have to concede that some days, I'm just going to be a little black rain cloud no matter what happens. In those instances, I should probably just contain myself so it doesn't spread to others.

I'm Working On It

Writing Sequentially: I really want to be one of those writers who starts with "once upon a time" and finishes with "happily ever after", but with the exception of year one, that hasn't happened. Ever again. I just can't seem to resist skipping around to where inspiration bites when I'm on that deadline. I'm probably making big, sloppy messes of my work, but someday, I'll figure out how to be good again.

Writing Before Work: I did well with this some days. Others, I barely managed 100 words in an hour of sitting at my computer. Still, thinking about my work first thing in the morning did help me keep it on my mind, which is a good thing. I need to work on going from sleep to full writing more quickly. I made progress on that this year, but I still have a ways to go.

Sprints and Speed-Writing: Like my two previous points, some days these worked and others they didn't. Maybe my writing routine is that I need to shake things up on the regular. Or maybe I just need to practice and be disciplined. There's a lot to love about both of these techniques, and I'm not ready to quit them.

So how about you, my fellow Wrimos? What did and didn't work for you this year? What are you still figuring out? 

***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my newsletter for monthly updates and new release/sales notices AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***