Category Archives: Gratitude

15 Things About My Dad

15 Things About My Dad, for Father’s Day

He was in the year above (Sir) Billy Connelly at school, and only knew The Big Yin because his name was similar to that of one of my Dad’s best friends.

He and his friends, in the early 1960s, listened to a new Beatles song on (pirate) Radio Luxembourg, learned it, and played it for a Glasgow crowd before the single was officially released.

He met Neil Armstrong (several times) at the airport and told me his passport simply listed his occupation as “businessman”.

He remembers exactly where he was when he heard Kennedy was shot. It was that big a deal, for young folks in Scotland.

I am a better singer because he listened to me and said “That’s great, but how about…”

He taught me that phrasing is important.

He is a fabulous singer.

He is endlessly curious.

He married his first love, and still adores her.

I love Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Hoagie Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Buddy Holly, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, ELO, Mike Batt, Mike Oldfield, Jeff Lynne, Martin Taylor, Star Trek, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, because of him.

I believe I am writer because he read my stories, poems and lyrics, and told me they were good.

I am fascinated by scientific explanations for things because of him.

I believe it’s possible to have faith in things we can’t understand, because of him.

He taught me that stubbornly sticking to your values is so much more important than doing whatever will make you popular.

I believe I can do anything, because he believes it too.

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/

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

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

Perfect Day

My boys rolled out of bed on the right side this morning, cheerful and compliant and ready to go before it was even close to time to start screaming at them that they were late.

K was cheery and well-rested — shades of the dreaded morning-whistling-K I remember from our early years together (shudder).

I, instead of faffing about, showered and dressed and set out for my writing garret before the clock struck 9.

When I stepped out the front door, the sky was a lovely dull gray, the light not too bright for my weak blue eyes, not so dark as to be ominous. The temperature was hovering somewhere around a cool 52 F and, oh joy of joys, it was spitting. Not a miserable kind of drizzle that soaks you without even trying, but a sort of cheerful plinky rain that a light jacket can ward off and that serves mostly to keep you cool on your walk and to make the fallen oak leaves smell amazing.

My town is dull and cool and full of the smells of autumn. I stomped along the street with a big stupid grin on my face and arrived at my garret pink-of-cheek and crazy-of-fringe.
crazywriter.jpg
I really never should have left Scotland.

Borrowed Books

Sometimes you need to stop and look around and notice the things for which you are grateful.

These can (and probably should be) small, the things you feel grateful for RIGHTNOT, not the things you feel like you ought to say you feel grateful for.

So here goes.

The Library Is Open Again

 

I don’t actually use my local library as much as I ought to, and certainly not as much as when I was a kid. I buy a lot of books and I absolutely — fiercely — LURVE being able to download books to my Kindle on a whim.

But.

I don’t actually want to buy or own every book I want to read.

At the moment I’m researching some info for a writing project. I don’t actually want to go out and buy and then store-or-otherwise-get-rid-of a ton of books on obscure electioneering arcana. These are books I might flip through, consult the index of, skim and then cast aside. I want to pore over lots and lots of books and then put them all back on the shelf, allowing their diced-up contents to simmer into brain soup.

I want to worm my way into the .973 section, browse the titles, pull books off shelves, consult the flaps, the table of contents, the index, the bibliography, flip through a few pages, frown, put them back on the shelf and select another. I want to take a book that piques my interest and flop down with it, crosslegged, right there in the .973s and leaf through it, then put it on the stack of ‘take to a table’ books that I’m collecting.

I want to go to a table and build a fortress of borrowed books between me and the rest of the patrons. I want to leaf through them, smile, grin, nod, raise my eyebrows, make notes (page number and quotation marks in place, so that I never risk running into plagiarism problems). I want to reluctantly push a book aside when I realise I’ve started reading outside my area of stated interest, and pick up the next one. I want to move a couple of the books over to the ‘I should probably check this out’ pile.

Then I want to take them home and read them with all the urgency I learned in my weekly trips to the library as a kid: as if the words were going to evaporate if I didn’t read them as quickly as possible. I want to commit to reading these-books-right-now-and-nothing-else-until-they’re-finished because these books are temporary friends. They’re going away again, very soon. I want to treasure them and love them like a summer romance: all-or-nothing, hopelessly devoted.

I could, however, do without the part where I turn the page and find the flattened remnants of some other patron’s lunch. (Pass the hand sanitizer!)

For this, eboks are not my friend. Bough-books are not my friend. Libraries are my friend. (And no, I don’t think you should treat the bookstore as if it was a library. Bookstores sell books. They don’t lend them. If I’m buying a book I want it to be virgin, unspoiled by your coffee-scented fingers, unsullied by other eyes.

My local library has been undergoing some renovations and has been — gasp! — closed. (I might not go every week but I do like knowing it’s there — and open — when I need it). I had been worried that they might do something dire to the lovely, high-roofed, wood-clad original Carnegie reading room part, but they have merely cleaned it up. Happy sigh. The flimsy, prefab modern part up the back has had a bit of a facelift (clean carpets to flop down upon, hooray!) and they’ve totally reworked the basement children’s library. So while the adult section of the library doesn’t look terribly different, the staff look happier and all excited, so I’m assuming some too-subtle-for-me changes have improved their lives. That’s good. If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, it’s more grumpy librarians. (My one gripe, though, is that they have the person calling people about overdue books and appointments to file passport applications, making those calls from the center of the reading room. What ever happened to ‘silence in the library’? I miss that.

But I’m wandering. Basically: I’m happy that I have access to a decent if small library, walking distance from my house. And I’m grateful I have headphones. And that Crazy John, who more or less lives there, isn’t all that crazy most days.

Libraries. Awesome places.