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Finding Time to Read

Reading is essential for all writers. It serves as inspiration, motivation and yes – boredom-busters.

Truth is, if we’re not writing, then we should be reading, even when we don’t feel like it.

But when you have kids, this advice it a little easier said than done. If you’re anything like me, then it becomes near impossible said than done. There are days when I can barely keep my eyes open to wash the dishes, let alone read a newspaper or magazine article or the kids’ bedtime books.

But because writing is what I do, I know it’s essential for me to remain sharp – and reading is the only form of exercise that keeps me aware of what I should be – or not – doing.

So here’s how I keep my reading skills on point, and not fall asleep while I’m at it.

  1. Set Reminders. I use apps to remind me to read. Coach Me is a good one, although a simple calendar reminder would serve the same purpose.
  2. Make a Pile of Books. I’m honestly reading three books at the same time. Sure, I forget what I’m reading and I’ll reread chapters, but it keeps me disciplined – and entertained. If I’m feeling like an easy read, I’ll pick up a magazine. But if I think I can dig in deeper, then I’ll read a Spanish book. I also have classics handy for when I want to bring something creative out of me. Right now, I have the “Invisible Man” on my nightstand.
  3. Don’t Keep Track. I know this defeats the purpose, but honestly, as long as you’re reading, and finishing magazine articles and books, it doesn’t matter how many pages per day it took you to get there. I used to keep track, but then got frustrated when I would get interrupted and forgot to set a timer or whatever other “mom thing” happened to remind why I shouldn’t have a strategy to read in the first place.
  4. Keep It Fun. Always be sure to have fun when you’re reading. This shouldn’t feel like school, and if it does, then maybe take a break and just write for a few days. See where your literature brain wants to take you.
  5. You Will Fall Asleep. There will be days when you will probably put yourself to sleep. I’ve done it many, many times. Especially when I’m reading to my kids. I’m now getting into the habit of reading to them what I’m reading. The teen complains, but eventually deals with it. There’s only so much “Mom, this is boring!” she can do, before realizing I’m simply enjoying a book and there’s nothing she can do about it. My two-year-old just likes the sound of my voice and still doesn’t quite understand the difference between Arthur and the latest The Sun magazine.

The point is that what applied before, when we were in elementary, middle or high school, reading, because we had all the time in the world, applies to now – when we feel like we have none of it.

Because it’s still the same hours in the day, and although a little grayer, we should still have that passion for it.

3 Things To Do This Weekend: The Kids’ Edition

Despite the weather’s back-and-forth between snow, rain and sunshine, this weekend should be all about getting outside to play with your kids. Here three tips, books and random ideas to get you going.

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Batter Up! Baseball season started this week, which means it’s the perfect time to get a few tickets to a game or play your own ballgame at the park. Need some more inspiration? It’ll be forty-two years – on April 8 – that baseball legend, Hank Aaron, broke Babe Ruth’s record with his 175th home run. It remained untouched until 2007, when Barry Bonds hit his 756th homer.

Jurassic Park – Sort Of. The weather has been all over the place, which means local parks have been feeling it, too. Explore the wet soil, plants and local waters to see if you notice anything different. Take pictures and talk about the colors. Colors are often key in determining how nature is changing.

Show Them They’re Safe. You probably have walked around your neighborhood a million times. Maybe even have a specific route you like best. Show your kids around, regardless of their age, and point to things that will allow them to connect better to their community. An old light post, the bright pizza place or the funny colored building a few blocks down. It’s never too early to familiarize your kids with what’s around them, what makes their streets  special and how to always find their way home.

 

Easier Said Than Done #Quotes

Trees in Van Cortlandt Park #NYC, Fall 2015

There are quotes and sayings that make you want to throw a book at someone.

Just make sure it isn’t your own, or another good/favorite title.

Like the “stop thinking already” quotes, as if you could just press a button to stop the random thoughts that, that—

“Stop thinking, and end your problems.” 

Lao-Tzu

“If you try to know it, you already departed from it.”

Chuang-Tzu

Maybe there’s something else lost in translation. 

Or maybe it’s that you’re so deep and close, you really can’t see the forest for the trees.

And quotes can sometimes add that distance when you need it. Those words that we – as writers – know so well and the relationship we have to the craft.

“At the moment you are in awe of all there is about life that you don’t understand, you are closer to understanding it all than at any other time.”

Jane Wagner

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Writing During the Holidays

The holidays are a few weeks away, and whether you celebrate or not, go traditional or with a modern twist, you can’t deny that this is the holiday that requires the most writing.

1. Christmas List. Think of everything you want – from the new desk to Pulitzer. Don’t hold back! Include also why you want each of those things. 

2. Holiday Cards. Although this tradition is slowly fading away, you can try to write out letters instead and tuck a mistletoe or candy cane to make it more holiday-ish. However, you do it, get into the habit of reading and writing a few cheerful notes for the next few weeks. 

3. End-of-the-Year Review. Write yourself a letter as the end-of-the1year nears, and remind yourself of all the great things you accomplished and the best moments that come to mind. Don’t drown yourself too much into it. 

4. Write to Santa. Because you’re never really too old to believe, right? Of course not! Use crayons, too — to get more into the spirit.

What other ways do you write during the holidays that isn’t your regular type of writing?

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My Ultimate List of Things I’ve Lost

I’ve lost a lot of things—jobs, friends, first love, money, jewelry. Objects and routines deemed so necessary and essential; the brief thought of not having it could break others.

  • Growing apart from a best friend in high school.
  • The one who first took my breath away.
  • My best friend to cancer.
  • The brass ring my grandfather made himself.

Then there are those other things I don’t really think about or want to think about: youth, time, dreams of becoming a famous singer, the white in my teeth, dark of my hair, and bounce in my step (also called aging). My hairstylist telling me she found a big patch of white, with two to three strands of hair. Then my daughter discovering the same whites while play-combing my hair, and crying because she “didn’t want Mami to get old.”

And along with age, there are also really bad losses worthy of recapping because the lessons learned, and the ones I thought were bad—but were indeed a blessing. Like the, “I must have lost my mind” moment when I started dating a guy in a shelter (even though he lied about where he lived and whereabouts, there were clues). Also, my dignity and pride were scratched with that one.

  • Losing my way around Austria, while there during my High School trip abroad, and finding my way back always by simply asking, “To Jakominiplatz!”
  • Losing a dad in my childhood, and getting to have my amazing stepfather instead, only to then have a relationship with my father again when he was in a better place.
  • My first, extremely awkward and neck-stifling kiss, where I choked and coughed inside the guy’s mouth.

But I think most important is the loss I don’t want to lose. What I hang on to for dear life, because I just know, losing it will quite frankly finish me—my memory.

  • When they first plopped my daughter on my chest—butt first.
  • Crying after seeing my son for the first time.
  • My mother.

Despite these losses, there were gains, and a lot of them. Probably way more than what I’ve mourned and lost. But I’ll leave that for another ultimate list.

What are some of the things you’ve lost? Is there a way—somehow—for you to find it again?

5 Ways to Always Feel Young

Although I’m not old, having a teen has a way of making you feel old—and worn out. It’s what happens when you’re parenting a person who’s pretty sure you’re from the President Lincoln-era. And we sort of are… My daughter was born a few years before the iPhone. Think about that.

  

But to them, their concept of time, you just can’t hang. You can’t quite dance right, or talk about anything remotely entertainment-based, and heaven forbid you find the same leading guy attractive. Ew! You got with her dad, remember?

Yeah, it has a way to kill a few metaphorical years off your lifeline. But fortunately, I’ve found ways to remain youthful, rise from the ashes that she’s burned down with her eye-rolls, teeth-sucking and other teen-nuisance ways.

1. Listen to music all the time. Music is your ally and best support. Never, ever stop listening to your favorite tunes and your teens’ music, too. You’ll be surprised to find the similarities.

2. Love completely and profoundly. It seems that as we get older, and reality settles in, we lose a lot of the magic that’s simply about love. Loving life, the new day, sun and stars. We start to restrain our days with work, bills and the weight of the material in our lives. Forgetting how much less we had when younger, and how much happier we were for it.

3. Throw out the crap. Speaking of less, throw out anything that wears you down. I had a suit in my closet that made me feel old. It’s the reason I got it. When I was a young mom, looking for career opportunities, and still a part-time college student, I needed to wear something that’ll let me play the part of a working adult. My, how I hated that suit. Years later, as I got older and gained more confidence, I realized it was best to be myself—colors and all—to interviews. The suit slowly settled to the back of my closet, and when I got rid of it, made way for fashion that really defined the joyful, still-young me.

4. Laughing—all the time, and as much as possible and for no reason. This is my favorite, because it requires nothing, yet its effects are huge. The comedy category on Netflix is your friend for this one, and so are amazing friends and family, and most importantly—your kids. Download a few apps with knock-knock and “Your Momma” jokes, and let the good times roll.

5. Do silly, goofy things. Yes, sometimes being silly has benefits. I once had a writing deadline and was completely stuck. My daughter left her crayons nearby, and I was inspired to start scribbling notes on a blank piece of paper. Before, I knew it, I had written my piece! Did I look ridiculous? Of course, I wrote an outline with a red crayon for goodness’ sake. But I did the work, which was a win in my book.

These are just a few ideas, but if you have kids around, there’s your source of inspiration right there. If you don’t however, remember you once were actually one of them. They say it’s never too late to have a happy childhood, so I say we all go ahead and dance wrong, talk about Taylor Swifts and One Direction, because married or not or old—we all still got it.

Back to School Tips for Adult Learners

Although I didn’t drop out of school or college to later go back, it did take me over ten years to complete my degree. It was years of back-and-forth, skipping semesters and taking leave of absences to make sure I was still registered as a “student.” On top of this, I completed a few certifications here and there to keep my learning palate—fresh. 

Despite the many years, it wasn’t easy to go back each semester. Between organizing childcare, reassessing how much more I had to go (and spend), and whether it was still worth it… It wasn’t easy.

When a friend called earlier this week for advice on how to launch her school path, I didn’t realize how much I had to say until I started yapping—about the inportance of a school culture, being assertive, discussing your financial aid options, and so on—all things I learned through my own experience. Thank you, young parenting (sort of)!

Pay attention to the other students. A school’s culture and students are what will make or break your academic career. This is the first network of peers you’re going to encounter. Measure your future and success in the field by that group. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you were the kid who never asked questions in school, now is not the time to be shy. Visit the school. Don’t call or email to ask for information—just visit the school. 

Your financial aid office is your friend. They might shut you down if you’re already enrolled and/or in a bind. You’re best bet is to schedule time to discuss your financial obligations before enrolling. Just be careful. Research different loans, ask others in your program how they finance their education, talk to your professors also. 

When it comes to what you want to study, I say—go for it. Go for anything your heart is telling you to pursue, because at this point you have nothing to lose and so much more to gain. 

When I first started my degree, I was young + fresh out of high school, so the dreams were stellar-big. As I got older, after having my daughter (it took me over 10 years to graduate), I saw the evolution of my industry (media and communication) and the evolution of me. 

That evolution is what you need to be mindful about; just because you wanted to be a write many years ago when you first applied for school doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the career for you now. Or more importantly, the you you envision in the future.