Category Archives: Blethers

Things That Made 2016 Great

  1. My previously-moody kid reverting to a normal kid 😃
  2. Hamilton
  3. My “Spark” Planner (now the Volt Planner)
  4. Notability App and the JotPro
  5. The Secret Weapon, Evernote and GTD integration
  6. Easter in Boston
  7. Our new bathroom
  8. Writer Unboxed Unconference in Salem
  9. Finishing my YA Sci-Fi novel.
  10. Our trip to Scotland in June
  11. Hanging out with my nieces and nephew
  12. The Hamilton Mixtape
  13. Writer’s Digest Conference 2016
  14. Meeting LJ Cohen
  15. Meeting Kylie Quillinan
  16. Meeting Jo Eberhardt and Marta Pelrine-Bacon in real life.
  17. Texting with Linda about Deacon Blue
  18. Learning to love the Passion Cycle
  19. Using Anchor to break into podcasting during StoryADay May
  20. Taking a writing class from Mary Robinette-Kowal
  21. Interviewing Mary Robinette Kowal for an article
  22. Being approached by dream editor to write an article for her magazine
  23. Writing the article
  24. Having the article accepted
  25. Pitching my novel at WDC16 and getting 9 agents in 90 minutes to say ‘send me pages’
  26. Sending out the novel to agents
  27. Getting encouraging feedback from agents about my novel (even when they were declining to represent it)
  28. Sharing my novel with K
  29. Tracking things (time – Laura Vanderkaam, writing words, writing blocks, reading lists, workouts/weight)
  30. Rye Manhattans
  31. Port Royale (card game)
  32. Being on the DIYMFA podcast
  33. The Potties’ visit
  34. My critique group
  35. Going to Sarah’s book signing
  36. DIYMFA’s Storytelling Superpower Quiz
  37. Giving a talk at the Wilmington Writers’ Group
  38. Learning to play “Severus & Lily” on the piano
  39. Knitting preemie hats for the Kiwanis
  40. Watching the house across the street being rebuilt
  41. Connecting with Julie Jordan Scott over Periscope
  42. Doing a mini Burns Supper with Haggis towers and Atholl Brose
  43. Sending book proposal
  44. Meeting book editor at conference
  45. Interviewing Stuart Horwitz
  46. Seeing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons performed by the Pennsylvania Philharmonic at our kids’ middle school
  47. Seeing The Musical Box
  48. G’s friendship with N
  49. Hanging out with N’s mom at the pool
  50. Going to see Bad Moms with B
  51. A, being a lector at mass
  52. Remembering that Catholics not-in-Philadelphia-Archdiocese can be cool (thank you Boston!)
  53. Running my StoryADay Warm Up Bootcamp in April!
  54. The Serious Writers’ Accountability Group at StoryADay
  55. Les Miserable at the high school (wow!)
  56. K getting me tickets to see Amy Schumer and letting me take B
  57. StoryADay Live! Presentation on Dialogue at Main Line Writers
  58. Massages with Kate
  59. Jake Simubukuru concerts at the Colonial
  60. Doing a 20kg Turkish get up
  61. Doing a 24 kg Turkish get up
  62. Facebook Live! on Creativity, from Hogwarts
  63. Voting
  64. G starting Middle School
  65. G drumming (and starting individual drum lessons)
  66. G’s band concerts
  67. A’s chorus concerts
  68. G joining the Middle school chorus
  69. A going to Hershey with the chorus
  70. Going to Broadway trip with A, his friends and a Republican campaign manager the week before the election
  71. GP coming here for local presentations
  72. Finishing F’s 50th Aran sweater (and the fact that it fitted beautifully!)
  73. Apple Pay
  74. Taking control of the master card bills
  75. Using AA miles to fly to Writer Unboxed Unconference for free!
  76. Freelance gig for BD
  77. City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
  78. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  79. Going to Glasgow Science Center with L&M
  80. Going to Horrible Histories Live show with my kids and parents.
  81. Killing the landline
  82. Getting G a phone
  83. A and K building a computer together
  84. Pokemon Symphonic at the Mann Center
  85. Pokemon Go
  86. Setting up a pocket money system for the boys
  87. Levothyroxine
  88. Speaking at Just Write
  89. The Just Write Story Jam in Spring City
  90. Octavia Butler
  91. Getting a ‘wow’ from critique partner when she read the end of my novel
  92. Braving the Surf Rider at GWL
  93. Posting a make-up-free selfie after waterpark fun with kids. Looking great.
  94. Open mike reading at Main Line Writers
  95. Running StoryADay September by recycling the May prompts (totally legit!)
  96. Reading lots of short stories and logging them
  97. Singing with the PREP kids. The K-4 kids are so cute
  98. Fran Wilde & Chuck Wendig’s book signing
  99. Watching Sherlock with G
  100. Taking my parents to Chanticleer House & Gardens
  101. Meeting with LD and talking about kindle fiction
  102. Outlining a series of cozy mysteries 😃
  103. Thanksgiving in Orlando with K & the boys
Inspiration for this list came from Austin Kleon: http://austinkleon.com/2016/01/01/top-100-2015/

19 Things Only Scots Say

I was researching some Scottish stuff for a new story and came across this fun reminder of how people talk where I grew up.

Normally these lists are full of things that people *think* Scottish people say, rather than anything I can actually ‘hear’ anyone saying. But this one’s spot on.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-18-32-am

 

The only one I’ve never said is “Braw”, but I know people who use it.

For The Love Of Handwriting

Sometimes I see this kind of post on Facebook:

I love handwriting. I think everyone should have a good, fluid, readable handwriting style. But. I can’t subscribe to this knee-jerk ‘we must teach loopy handwriting to seven year olds so they can read the Constitution’ mindset.

I’m Pretty Smart But…

When I went to university as a joint English/History student, I couldn’t read this:

I certainly couldn’t read this:

(in cast you’re wondering, it’s the Magna Carta, one of the most important governmental documents in my country’s past, and still hugely important in the history of most modern democracies).

People Who Can’t Read Cursive

My husband, who can get by in French, can read scientific documents in German, has a PhD and did postdoctoral research at Harvard, has invented a couple of drugs, and makes the world a better place every day, didn’t understand why he could no longer read our son’s writing when the boy hit second grade.

The school had taught him cursive…which my drug-designing, guitar-playing, Latin-reading, grammar-correcting, polymath husband had never been taught.

It hasn’t exactly held him back.

And if he needed to know what the Constitution said, he would learn cursive. Or ask a trusted source.

Which brings me to Point A and Point B of this blog post.

Point A – The Love of Learning

Should we really be spending valuable time in elementary school, forcing children to learn an archaic type of handwriting that they may or may not ever need?

What better way to squash the love of learning in children who may not have the manual dexterity (from the Latin for “right-handed”, dating from a time when left-handedness was considered a sign of being in congress with the Devil) to master it? I know both my boys have HORRIBLE handwriting, in spite of their teachers’ efforts to make them write like 18th Century schoolgirls, because they lacked the interest or fine motor skills to master the form at such a young age.

I understand that it’s a good thing to be able to be able to read your country’s founding documents in the original.

But it’s not essential.

I learned to read Middle English in order to appreciate Chaucer…but I was 19 at the time, and had elected to study English Literature full-time at university.

I learned to read early moveable type fonts (think: Gutenberg. All those elongated “S”s!) so I could read explorer’s journals of their voyages to the New World…but, by that time I was 20 and thrilled to be given the opportunity to do so (white cotton gloves, no backpack, and frowning, supervisory Rare Book Librarians, and all!)

More importantly, I learned to rely on translations of things that are considered the founding documents of their disciplines. I read Beowulf (arguably the first great English language epic) in translation (fabulous translation by the poet Seamus Heaney) because I can’t make heads nor tails of the Old English. I trust the scholars to have done that for me. Scholars funded by public and private funding sources. Scholars who are (ideally) free to concentrate on the work, not the politics or economics of doing their job.

I was developmentally ready, and I was excited, to learn these things. I wasn’t 7 years old. I wasn’t trying to learn to decode and to compose at the same time as I was trying to read these new forms of writing. I was mature. I could handle it.

Point B – Trust, But Verify

If we are to have any hope of living in a society, we must learn to have trusted sources, to trust each other. We must learn to allow people to be experts, and trust that their motives are no less impure than our own.

I don’t read the Bible in the original languages; I trust 2,000 years of church scholars to come to some kind of understanding of the text that represents The Truth (even in 14 years of Catholic school, the only time I really learned any Latin was in the music room!). I trust Seamus Heaney to represent the spirit and the letter of the poetry of Beowulf. I read side-by-side versions of Chaucer and used scholarship and judgment to figure out if the ‘translation’ was trustworthy.

No, we shouldn’t rely on one or two people to tell us what’s in our historical documents.

Yes, we should fund robust and independent scholarship, so that we alway have experts who can give us diverse (and probably argumentative) arguments about what they mean.

We do not ALL need to by polymaths, Renaissance Men, or Jacks of All Trades.

It’s OK to be an expert and trust other experts. (For example, I don’t want my hypothetical heart surgery to be performed by my General Practitioner/Family Doctor, and I’m fairly certain she’d be much happier to recommend whichever “nice Jewish boy” — her usual, impish referral — she respects the most.)

I Love Handwriting

I’m not against teaching handwriting. Far from it. I think it’s important.

  • Handwriting lights up parts of the brain that typing doesn’t, boosting both creativity and memory.
  • Handwriting allows you to slow down and consider what you’re saying, compose sentences before you write them down.
  • Being able to write with a pen, means putting your hands all over the paper, which you can then send to someone miles away. They can hold it, knowing that you held it. They can touch it and feel a thrilling connection to the physical reality of you.
  • When I look back at my handwritten notes and journals, I can see what mood I was in simply from the size and shape of my handwriting.
  • It’s important to be able to write fluently, fluidly and in a way that can be read by yourself and the general population, because computers and keyboards are not always practical or optimal. (For the record, I recommend learning to write in a nice, clean italic, joined-up style. If you have already learned to write, you can still teach yourself this style as a useful alternative to printing or cursive.)

And I think it probably is fine to teach cursive handwriting in schools.

But I think it’s probably much more useful to teach them a less-convoluted, more practical form of joined-up writing that lets them take notes quickly and efficiently, and then teach them cursive in the middle school History class and the art room; Latin in the music studio (andante! Edit: Thanks to Craig for gently reminding me that I also learned Italian there too!); and most importantly, let them learn enthusiasm for scholarship and expertise in every room in the school.

How I Made Some New Habits Stick, in January

Habits Update Jan 2016

Last month I was writing about habits over at StoryADay.org and trying out various ways to change my habits — not just for a day or two, but for the whole month.

I had varying degrees of success and I learned a thing or two. I thought I’d share them here.

picture of Asian Zoodle Salad Jar from FoxesLoveLemons.com

photo: FoxesLoveLemons.com

Habits I Was Trying To Develop In January

  • Taking a new medication every morning (Routine? Ugh!)
  • Writing fiction regularly, to a goal of 10K words a month.
  • Reading a spiritual meditation every day.
  • Tracking my food intake.

Things That Went Well

Anchoring

I wrote about this at the start of the month. I had taken part in a study once that used this technique to make habits stick, so I knew it ought to be powerful, but I don’t think I really believed I could make it work so well.

But I did.

Now, every morning when I wake up, I roll over and take the medicine that’s sitting next to my bed. (My incentive to remember this is actually pretty perfect: it has to be take on an empty stomach, so if I don’t stick to this, my first coffee is delayed by every minute I waste. Aargh!)

My 30-day challenge for January was to read a spiritual meditation every morning. I anchored that habit to “the moment my son gets in the shower”.

Logging

Logging My Words

I have had a love-hate relationship with logging in the past. When I set daily goals for my writing, all it did was make me feel terrible. Partly because I was setting ‘best of all possible worlds’ numbers. And partly because I’m not built to write consistently every day.

Realizing this, I settled on 10,000 words of fiction a month, early last year, and made that my goal.

Logging the words (especially on a day when the writing is going slowly) really helps me to feel like I’m making progress.

Unexpected Bonus

My fitness trainer, sick of hearing me whine about how I can’t lose weight, made me promise to log my food intake. He promised he wouldn’t judge me: that we were just going to use what I wrote down as data. (He made me sign something because I was making such terrible faces at him).

And when I thought about it, I knew, from logging my words, that I could use the data to help me feel better. So I did. And I went from losing no weight (or gaining) to losing a pound a week two weeks in a row! (Trust me, for me, this is huge).

The simple act of recording and quantifying a thing is a powerful way to take misconception and emotion out of the equation.

  • Setting a reasonable goal (323 words a day or 1300-ish calories) and trying to meet it MOST days, is manageable.
  • Tracking it, over a month or more, lets you see that you are neither as awesome nor as awful as you suspect you are, on any given day. And that’s OK. Because “consistent” is what will win the race.

Make It Friction Free

Everything that worked to make my habits stick, was based on my lifelong pursuit of laziness efficiency.

If I have to prepare a lot of stuff before I start on The Thing, I’ll never get to The Thing. So I try my best to have a smooth entry into every task.

My medicine

…lives by my bed and my lovely husband brings me a glass of water every day when he gets his first coffee. If I had to get up and go downstairs, find my meds wherever I dumped them yesterday, find my slippers because the kitchen floor is cold, get water, then take the pill, I would not get it right every day.

Spiritual Meditation

My book of spiritual meditations is sitting next to the bed with a hairpin marking the page of the next meditation (because I always have hairpins lying around). As soon as I hear the shower turn on, I grab the book. It takes very little time to read, but having it on my bedside table, and anchored to a specific action is what makes this habit work.

If I had to search for the book every day, my son would be out of the shower and demanding breakfast before I’d even picked it up. If I tried to find a time every day to squeeze it in, I’d end up scrambling to read the meditation as I fell asleep every night, which wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

Fiction Writing

I keep all the notes for my novel in the same notebook I use as my journal and my list-maker and my ‘taking notes while on the phone’ book. This saves me from having to find the right book either when I want to make notes, or when I want to find them again.

I number all the pages and, from time to time, go through and add to the “table of contents” that I create in the back few pages of the book. This helps me scan through the ToC and find out where my latest brilliant idea is, for the next part of the novel. I also have a list of scenes that I know I want to write soon, right in Scrivener. They’re brainstormed and ready to go, which helps me figure out what to write each time I sit down.

Food

Food, ah food. How I love it. But one of the reasons I eat badly is also the reason I hate logging food: I don’t plan ahead.

If I’m scrambling for lunch when I’m already hungry, then whatever is to hand is what goes in my mouth. Lots of it. Then I have to figure out how much I ate and how to log that (I use MyFitnessPal, which is good because it has a massive database of food, but bad because you have to find the foods, then figure out how to quantify your portion, then do it again for every component of a recipe…)

In January I took my doctor’s advice (a lovely woman who struggles with all the same issues I do!), and started making up salad jars. It’s an easy portion-control method and means I always have something to grab. It almost doesn’t matter what I put in there, because of the built-in portion control aspect.

I pick one recipe a week, shop for the small quantities you need to fill four 16 oz mason jars, then spend a little while on Sunday or Monday, making up lunches for the week ahead. (I like this Spicy Peanut Zoodle Recipe and her Chicken and Spinach salad jars with grapes and a mustard-thyme dressing. I know I’m a year or two behind on the Mason Jar Salad trend, but I’m here now. Let’s party!) Even making up your own dressing and chopping veg doesn’t seem so bad when you do it once and feed yourself four times. And I LOVE all the freshness and crunch. I especially love being able to open the fridge and eat instantly (mmm, fooooooood).

The other thing (and why I went off on this rant in the first place) is that if I eat the same thing every day (or rotate a few receipes over a few weeks) I can log the ‘meal’ in MyFitnessPal once and I never have to enter in all those individual ingredients again. I just select “Asian Zoodle Jar” from the “My Recipes” tab, and it’s done.

See? Friction Free.

It doesn’t work for every meal or every situation, but batch-cooking makes it easier to prepare healthy meals and log them. (I know, rocket science, right? Reinventing the wheel, sure. Discovering things for yourself: sometimes essential!)

What I’m Still Working On

Weekends

Our routine goes way out of whack at the weekends. I need to develop different anchors for the some of the habits at weekends.

Also, I get embarrassed about logging my food. I don’t know why, but I do. Any suggestions for getting over that?

This Month’s 30-day Challenge

This month I’m trying to relax for 15 minutes a day, with something unrelated to housework or reading/writing (I’m mostly doing meditation, exercise, knitting, and musical things so far).

I don’t have a good way to trigger this. I’m thinking maybe ‘after lunch’, but that’s kind of nebulous. I do need to take a little sanity break midday, but I haven’t found a good way to anchor it yet. Do you have any ideas for me?

Next month I’ll be back to talk about my Relaxation Challenge and about the Permission To Write theme I’m writing about all month long at the StoryADay blog.

Things I Miss From My Childhood

Blotting Paper

The smell of a Spirit Duplicator

Pressing ‘record’, ‘play’ and ‘pause’ at the same time

A fresh packet of Plasticine

Jumping off the swing

Hanging upside down from a railing by my knees

Swinging my feet

My English accent

My Scottish accent

Netball

The monkey puzzle tree

Conkers

Bonfires on the 5th of November

Indoor shoes

Red squirrels

Concorde

The lucky dip at the Christmas fete

The Sealed Knot society

My red spangly roller boots

Douglas Adams

Facebook Fast

I had a little crisis this week.
And in the midst of it, I realised that spending time on Facebook was a, sucking hours of my life away in a fashion that would make Count Rugen proud; b, not making me happy; c, often making me actively unhappy.

So I mothballed my account.

But then I remembered I have a page that supports StoryADay.org. In order to have that running, I had to create a new FB profile associated with that email address. So now I still kind of have a FB account but people are trying to friend it and I’m ignoring them, not because I don’t like them, but because I’m not using FB. (My mailing list software auto-posts to the page).

Oh, technology. How I love thee, and how you tie me in knots.

So if you’re looking for me on Facebook and I’m not responding, that’s why. Sorry.

SuperHero

I’ve cooked three different breakfasts (none for me); got medicine into two boys; packed a lunch; dealt with The Mystery Of The Missing Sheet Music (outcome: it’s missing); prodded a boy to do last minute homework we didn’t get to last night because of Prep and dinner and other homework; and been one half of a team that got two boys up, showered, dressed, fed and out of the door with bags, lunches, percussion kit and smiles on their faces; filled in a form and an SAE for dental records for the school; finished a half cup of cold coffee…and it’s 7:35 AM!

And we live within a mile and a half of both schools.

Now I have to get the dishes done, shower, and start my day.

There’s an 8 AM mass I might go to. I know that sounds like I’m adding things to a crowded morning, but I suspect it might actually get me back on course.

P.S. How does a sheet of music evaporate overnight?!

Time And Focus

Sometimes I beat myself up about not writing more. And I should be writing more, don’t get me wrong.

But I sat down to write today and it was 3:58 pm.

I knew roughly what I needed to write (because I’ve outlined this thing). I knew the characters I was writing about (because I’ve sketched them out). I knew that I was only really writing about one transaction and then throwing in a ‘wha—?’ at the end of the scene.

And I wrote it, pretty much that easily.

And now it’s 5:56. Just like that. Boom…two hours later. Time-travel!

It worked because I had no other responsibilities. No one interrupted me. I didn’t have to stop for anything, pick anyone up, make food for anyone, fill in any forms, or answer any phone calls.

Theoretically, I could do this every day, while my kids are out at school and my husband’s out at work. And that’s certainly the aim.

But I just wanted to capture this here. Because that was two solid hours of bum-in-chair, tippety-tapping away at the keyboard on a story that I’d already done most of the planning for. 1935 words. Two hours.

Writing takes time. And focus.

I can still write when I don’t have both, and when the stars don’t align, but it’ll be harder. And I’ll have to try harder. And I should be kind to myself if every day doesn’t go like this (which it won’t). Which is not to say, ‘make excuses for myself’. This was a good writing day. One to shoot for.

Bum-in-chair, lassie. Every day.

What Happens When You Give Up On Facebook

Flower alone

I gave up Facebook for Lent when I discovered that I was frantically checking it to see who would wish my son a happy birthday, and getting upset when there weren’t enough ‘likes’ for my birthday-related post.

That was when I realized I was losing my mind. My FB use was unhealthy. It was Ash Wednesday. So FB had to go.

At first it was…weird not to know what was going on with all my neighbors and friends.

Then, people started sending me personal emails when they needed me. That was glorious.

Next, I discovered that pushing towards a hard deadline without the distraction of FB was a joy and a privilege.

Now that my deadline has passed along with four weeks of Lent, I’ll admit I’m feeling a little isolated.

The phrase I hear most often these days (from people who don’t live in my house), is “Oh, that’s right! You’re not on Facebook” before they fill me in on something that happened that everyone else knows about.

Yes, we’ve become so reliant of FB that no-one hardly anyone contacts friends directly to talk about stuff anymore.

I’ll admit it’s partly my own fault. I’ve come to loathe the telephone. But one nice friend did text me directly to ask if I’d heard the news about Terry Pratchett. The fact that she texted me (just me, not a random blast of friends on her wall) told me that she had thought about me and conversations we’ve had in the past. It meant a lot, and highlighted just how little we (I?) do this kind of thing anymore.

I have another friend who sends me things she thinks I’ll like *through the mail*. Not expensive things. Articles, fliers, books-she’s-finished-with. But things she knows I’ll like. Me, not some random subset of her audience of social media.

It seems very odd to be saying all this, given that I am the queen of the blog/social media network/text message. But I think my Lenten sacrifice is teaching me something. One-to-one interactions are meaningful. I shouldn’t assume that ‘putting something out there’ is enough. Sometimes a tailored, personal contact is exactly what someone needs.

I will stay strong. I will stay off FB. I will try to be better at taking the narrower path.

A Love Letter To My Library

Posted as part of The Guardian‘s Love Letters To Libraries campaign

Dear Troon Library,

Troon Library

I’ll be honest: I’ve been in a lot of libraries that are prettier than you.

But you were my library.

Your ugly, low-ceilinged children’s room was inviting, on my scale and stuffed with books for me to devour. I have no idea what happened to my parents whenever we visited, because all I remember is hunkering down with my new friends: Flicka, Ann Shirley, Emily of New Moon Farm, the folks in Narnia…and when I discovered your audio book section? Well, that was the start of a love affair I’ve now been able to pass on to my own children.

Now that I can afford to buy books, I still use the library. Otherwise my reading would become an echo-chamber of careful investments chosen because the reviewers made them sound like something I’d agree with. There would be no casual stumblings-upon, no cost-free I’ll-give-it-a-trys, no delightful discoveries.

Thank you for giving me companions, new worlds and all my best dreams.

Love,

Julie