Dreaming in Spanish

vanveenjf-1132224-unsplashWhen I was a little girl, my Aunt Kay gave our family a series of books about different countries. I suspect it was a hand-me-down from her daughter who had outgrown them; I got a lot of things that were once my cousin’s.

Each book highlighted key facts about each country: where it was located in the world, its major cities and landmarks, what language the people spoke, how the people dressed, what the landscape looked like, what goods the country was famous for. We had one book each for Switzerland, Holland, France, Italy, and Hawaii, maybe a few others but I remember those five. You can tell the books were a little old because they treated Hawaii  like its own country, which of course it was at one time. However the color pictures and subject matter made the books timeless in a way.

My favorite part of the book was a short glossary or dictionary key words in the language of the country, such as hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. I found it fascinating that there were languages other than English but certain phrases, like those, were universal.

The fact that there were other languages was not a surprise to me, even at the youngest of age. My parents spoke another language at home, their parents’ native tongue, not really Slovak and not really Polish. Many years later, I learned that this dialect had a name, “pono shomu”, that people in the Carpatho-Rusyn region of eastern Europe would understand. I need to track down the reference but I think the literal translation of pono shomu is “what we speak”. I have no idea whether I’m even spelling the language properly. It’s the closest phonetic spelling I could muster.

Carpatho-Rusyns are a people without a country. I am only now starting to learn more about these people, their hardships, and their lack of a national identity.  Andy Warhol is its most famous descendant.

My parents didn’t teach us kids that language. They used this exclusivity to their advantage: when they didn’t want us kids to know what or who they were talking about, they would switch languages right in front of us. They did it constantly with each other and my aunts and uncles.

It had the effect of making me feel like an outsider, someone not part of the club. It’s funny to me how some immigrant families were so proud to be American citizens they completely abandoned their native culture and language to become fully Americans. Others were so proud of their roots, like the Greeks, they taught their children and their children’s children, the native language and kept alive all of the same customs.

In turn, I had no interest in the culture of my people and I still recoil whenever I hear anyone speak Slovak, which happens routinely at church. Funny how my parents, descended from a people without a country of their own, cultivated an environment where they excluded me, their own flesh and blood. They had zero clue the impact it had on me.

I always considered myself a citizen of the world, anyway. Maybe it was the influence of those books so long ago. Maybe it was the “It’s a Small World” album Aunt Kay also gave me, the album I played on endless repeat.


Learning other languages was like playing detective, cracking the code. I remember well the day I learned you could become an interpreter. People actually got paid to translate several languages? That was a dream come true!

My mom operated a beauty shop in the basement of our home. The Mel sisters, Jesse, Dina, and Daisy came weekly to get their hair done, and they were stationed in various seats in the salon. I bounced down the wooden stairs of our house, flung the door open, and proudly announced to my mother and the Mel sisters that I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was going to be an interpreter and work for the United Nations!

Mom scoffed at me immediately, “Oh, that’s too hard. You’ll never learn how to do all that!” Jesse and her sisters silently witnessed the exchange.

Defeated, smaller than moments before, I walked back upstairs and never gave it another thought. Not one. I was one obedient little girl alright, doing exactly what I was told to do. I didn’t have the wherewithal to know and value and follow what was intrinsically in my heart, nor did I have an understanding of agency to act on it.


Fast forward to high school, in the early 80s. My school offered two languages: Spanish and Latin. Being the 80s in small town Ohio, I didn’t see what benefit Spanish would ever be to me.

Isn’t that quaint? Isn’t that so stereotypical small town American?

I told myself I would study Latin, since it was the root of so many languages, and used in science, medicine, and law. Surely I would go on to study in one of those fields and it would be useful to me.

That didn’t happen either.

Latin was hard. Harder than I had hoped. Nothing clicked. The construct of the sentences was so, understandably, foreign. I learned a few words but I couldn’t speak it. I hadn’t mastered conjugation of verbs in English let alone in Latin. I have no idea how I passed the class other than Mrs. Schulenberg graded on a massive curve.


Fast forward to 10 years post high school. I was headed to France and England for the first time on vacation, by myself, because I couldn’t find a friend who was interested in making the trip and could afford it. I bought a book to learn a few phrases in French.

The book was marginally helpful to recognize some words but I had no idea if I was pronouncing them correctly. I muddled through. It helped that I spent part of my time visiting with a French woman I had befriended in college. She came to the United States for one semester to study at The Ohio State University as part of her business school program, and we were paired since I too was in the business school and volunteered to serve as a host of sorts to our foreign classmates.


Fast forward to today. It amazes me that things like iPhone apps exist, and among the offerings is one called Duolingo, where you can study other languages for free. The studying is structured like a game, one that is fun to play.

So what am I doing? About 10 days ago I started studying Spanish and French. About 15-20 minutes a day, that’s it. I can do it while I’m waiting. I can hear the pronunciation too. I tried Russian, but the words are written with the Cyrillic alphabet and that just pushed me over the edge so I am tabling it for now. Maybe I’ll have some mental bandwidth to pick it up another time and tackle Italian so I’m ready for that trip when we go in a few years.

My husband’s ancestry is Hawaiian, Japanese, and Chinese. And now he’s learning Hawaiian on Duolingo. My preteen daughter just started learning Mandarin. My teenage son is headed to France this summer as part of a school trip even though he doesn’t know a lick of French, however he’s typically dismissive of suggestions so I doubt he’ll practice before he goes despite me coaching him.


Last night before I fell asleep, I spent some time on my iPad practicing my Spanish. It’s going well. I’m pretty excited that it prompts me to translate a simple English sentence into Spanish which I can do without coaching or hints.

I love words, and it’s been fun to see which ones are similar and different across the few languages I have had exposure to.

The kicker was this: last night, I dreamt I was stuck on a boat in a Chicago with people who looked like they might speak Spanish. I didn’t have a cell phone on me, but I realized I could ask them, in Spanish, for a phone or to dial a number for me, and then I recited a phone number I knew in Spanish: “ocho cero cero,”… blah blah blah, “siete cero cero cero”. And I was surprised and utterly delighted, even in my dream, that I knew how to say it.

Maybe the whole dream wasn’t in Spanish, but it’s a start. I’m finally living out the other kind of dream of mine from long ago, one way or another.

 

Photo by VanveenJF on Unsplash

 

Just Another Typical Crazy Day

adult-alone-black-and-white-551588Two weeks back I took one of those “emergency” vacation days. Made the call at 7 am. I felt like a school superintendent calling a “snow day” except 1) I’m not a kid and 2) doing it only provided a tiny bit of relief, not the euphoria we used to get as kids with a snow day. Nothing particularly bad happened. Just everything hit the fan all at once it seems.

Honestly, I don’t know how people do it. For starters, the evening before I drove our puppy and two youngest kids home from a visit to see family, taking four hours in the nightfall, snowy slush with bad windshield wipers for what should have been a two-hour drive home max. I’m a pretty good driver in the snow, if I say so myself. Even my Utah-born husband, who knows a thing or two about snow, is amazed at my nerves of steel and skill driving in snowy weather, inclement weather of any kind, or heavy traffic, all honed from years of travel across the country for work. But still, four hours of 40 MPH, the constant sound of your tires cutting through massive amounts of slush, and skittish drivers on the road with you is enough to unnerve anyone. I collapsed in a heap once I got home.

On the way home, our daughter announces that her grade school Art Club is meeting Monday morning at 7:30 am, instead of its regular Wednesday morning, to make plaster masks they will decorate so she needs 1) a shower cap, 2) hand towel, and 3) jar of Vaseline. This is the art equivalent of hearing your kid has a science fair project due the next day. All this would be fine if we were getting home at a decent hour but I heard it in the middle of an evening snow squall and I wasn’t sure what time we’d be getting home. Then I realize that art could conflict with her orthodontic appointment at 8:30 am (which turns out was really 9 am) but being a mom who understands how FUN the whole project could be, I wanted to make it work for her. We would try to do both, and I tried not to panic or lose it.

My husband was supposed to take her to her ortho appointment, and I was counting on it for weeks, but he had missed Monday morning work at one of his three contracted schools for three or four weeks in a row, and that Monday would have been yet another incident. We’d rather he not get fired from that school contract for being a no-show (reputation and integrity matter a lot, you see….), so I sat at home late the night before and very very early the morning of the impromptu vacation, trying to figure out how I could work from home and do all I needed to.

It feels a little backward to find ways to help him with his work with me being the breadwinner, but there are days when I have flexibility at work, and that has not always been the case, so I hang my hat on that thought and try to make it work.

Our sitter, who usually takes the kids to and from school in the morning, works another job and often has appointments for her own personal life. She’s entitled to a life outside of the help she gives us. I just couldn’t ask her at the last minute to be late for her obligations to help us out. It makes me sick to my stomach to ask for help. It really does. I just couldn’t do it.

Did I mention that my husband said to me, also late the night before, “Oh, [our oldest] has an orthodontic appointment in the afternoon to get fitted for a replacement retainer,” he lost last weekend on our trip to get the puppy, “and I don’t think I can get him there after all.”

And then I realized, OMG, I had an eye appointment that same afternoon myself.

Really? Really. Really?

I was not ready for it to be Monday. Really I wasn’t.


I have the flexibility to work from home in situations exactly like the one described above, but I feel GUILTY doing it, even with my boss’ blessing and her boss’ blessing, even though it’s perfectly acceptable to do on a periodic, as-needed basis, or even a routine basis…but nothing about the way I’ve been doing seems to fit either category. I don’t want to abuse the working from home capability, you know? And God knows I don’t need anyone at work to feel resentful about what I’m fortunate enough to be able to do, especially if their current role does not allow for the same, because believe me, not everyone’s role allows them to do this.

I mean, for heavens’ sake, I had just spent the week prior working from home to acclimate a new puppy to our house! I jokingly called it “PETernity leave” (see Puppy-Parent Pooped), which is just a play on words because honestly I was working. True, it took me longer to put in a full day’s work any given day, and then there was a point on both Wednesday and Friday where I just passed out on the sofa because: EXHAUSTED? (Seriously, we bought this sectional for our family room that is better than a Tempur-pedic mattress. I can’t sit on it even a tiny bit tired because it wraps its soft, velour upholstery around my body and lulls me to sleep.) I HAD to claim a half day of vacation just from that time I am not going to make up in any way.

Are you starting to grasp what I’m dealing with here? I mean, WHAT? How does all of this just RAIN down on us the way it does? I guess I knew about the ortho appointments, both of them. And my eye appointment. But I didn’t realize they were all the same day! And throw in Art Club….

How do people actually work with kids? My husband’s missed a ton of work lately, visiting his mom, being sick himself earlier in January (or maybe that was December…I can’t even remember because it’s just a big, giant blur), then there were snow days…

We DO have an official policy on workplace flexibility, and I am very fortunate I’m in a role where I am no longer in the back to back meetings daily like I used to be, in a job that had an unrelenting pace. That’s when I felt compelled to push-off doctor’s appointments as long as I possibly could, or even sent our sitter to take the kids to appointments I should have attended as the parent… That’s just wrong, but when you have no backup…what do you do? In the meantime, my employer has loosened its grip on a cultural norm that all meetings were to be held face-to-face. They’ve provided a number of technology tools to facilitate remote/work from home meeting, so not only is it ok, they enable it.

So my impromptu vacation day? I spent it at home, writing most of what you’re reading right now (to let off steam), and then running to appointments throughout the day. I got about two hours of effort in for work because there were some things that I absolutely had to tackle that Monday, but otherwise I took full day of vacation.

And why did I put in those couple of hours of work? The very next day, Tuesday, I would show up late for work because I had a two-hour diagnostic breast imaging/mammogram in the morning. Here we go again. For the 2nd year in a row the medical team found interesting stuff they want to explore further. I went through a needle biopsy last year (see The Biopsy Blues) and they found nothing but there I was hearing that maybe something is going on after all. I didn’t even have time to think about it. I figured I would deal with whatever that would mean for me when the time comes, but karma has a way of kicking you in the butt. More on that in a post yet to come.

I mean, I know I need to take a deep breath. Pray. Meditate. Clean the house. Something. I missed about a month of church at this point, traveling for two of those weeks, dealing with a snow storm a third, and just flat-out run-down a fourth. Gosh, run down? Imagine that.

I know I’m preaching to the choir. I know this is what having kids is like. This is what working is like. Plenty of people have it WAY worse. I have several friends who’ve lost a parent recently, friends who are dealing with illness that runs the gamut of mildly inconvenient to life-threatening, and loss of income that goes with it. That stuff is REAL. I’m just an overgrown baby, whining…

It’s just, I haven’t been working out, I’ve been eating terrible food, I’m sleep deprived, I have a headache, and I’m feeling hugely guilty about not being on-site at work when we have a tough issue I’m trying to help us solve and the answer just isn’t coming easily. And I take things WAY too seriously. I can’t wait to get back to a normal schedule.

I think I need a nap. Thanks for letting me vent. If you see yourself in me, and that makes you feel better, good. If you don’t see yourself in me and you think I’m crazy, but it makes you feel better about yourself, good!

I leave you with this thought from Dr. Brene Brown, who has so much to teach us. I heart her. And courage is my word for 2019.

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Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

A Brief Ode to Dance Moms Everywhere

img_1086‘Twas the night before competition

and all through the house

you could tell it was stressful

with Mama’s freak-out.

All the costumes and dance shoes

and hair gel were packed.

Not a creature was stirring,

‘cept Mama who’s cracked.

 

Photo credit: Kim Lukens with Prisma Gothic filter

Puppy-Parent Pooped

I am writing a bit sleep deprived which makes me “puppy pooped”, not to be confused with our puppy, who poops (wink).

Raising a puppy is very much like having a newborn but with tons of puppy kisses and belly rubs – hers, not mine, although that sounds divine come to think of it.

We picked her up the first weekend of February. It involved an overnight trip for the five of us coming from Ohio traveling to this absolutely wonderful breeder named Pamela in Virginia. That isn’t normal, making an overnight trip to get a dog. Many people just get a puppy locally or otherwise don’t give a lot of thought to breeders unless they are looking for a classic purebred dog. There is also a big push in the United States to get a dog from a local dog shelter since there are so many abandoned dogs, but that wouldn’t work for us, for reasons I’ll describe below.


Starting about the Wednesday before pickup, I began to feel real anxiety about getting a dog. Very similar emotions coursed through me, reminding me of the night before giving birth or buying a house, this realization that you’re about to change your life in a major way and you pray that you’re doing the right thing.

Everything about it felt right leading up to that point, you see. I did my homework. I felt very good about the breed, about the breeder, about the breed’s compatibility with our family and the age our kids are right now. I felt good that our kids are old enough to handle the puppy properly and love her, to help care for her, but mostly I had to be ready to take on the responsibility myself.

This was, in my mind, my dog. I always thought if I got a dog, I would get a little one. I’ve had my eye on Yorkies for years but hearing that they weren’t necessarily wonderful with kids was a deal breaker.

My husband was against the idea of a puppy for the longest time even though he’s more of a dog person than me. It was devastating five years ago for him to put down Monk, our basset hound, after 14 beautiful years together. It tore him apart. He routinely describes it as one of the worst days of his life. But even he was ready at this point, ready and excited to welcome a new pet.

Then again, I totally expected I could get him on board after showing him endless pictures of precious Maltipoo puppies for weeks on end. He really is a big softie and it worked.

I may have shared this conundrum before too: my oldest has allergies to certain dogs, mostly big breeds, and he was understandably apprehensive about bringing a dog into our home. He was the one who remembered what it was like to have a pet in the house. However our younger two kids desperately wanted a pet as they didn’t really remember life with Monk all that well, and I didn’t want to deny them experience during childhood. Really, how do you balance the desires of all kids?

Well, we hedged our bets and decided we would become a pet family once again.

Naturally the anxiety kicked in overdrive the few days before pickup. I was having a hard time falling asleep. I could tell my breathing was shallow and I had to actively concentrate on deep breathing. My stomach felt queasy. I knew this was a Very Big Commitment, easily a 14-year one, and the thought of my oldest breaking out in hives and having to rethink the decision was nauseating. I most definitely didn’t want him to think we valued a puppy over his health. I was virtually certain he would be ok but there was a tiny little bit of doubt in my mind, and plenty of doubt in his.

All that gave away the night before pickup. I pretty much collapsed into bed and was running on adrenaline over the happy thoughts of getting her. It was a pleasant, excited drive to Pamela’s house. She greeted us with a big, warm smile and introduced us to our new pup who we named Zoe, the puppy’s litter mate, Samson, who was waiting to get picked up that same day, and the puppies’ mother. All jaw-dropping adorable.

My children melted at the sight. I will never forget how utterly charmed they were by these precious wee babies. Even my oldest smiled so broadly his dimples popped on both cheeks!

Pamela gave him Samson to hold and my daughter held Zoe. I will never forget what happened next. My oldest whispered to me, “Mom, she needs a puppy buddy. Let’s just take them both,” and as he nodded his head toward the door, he continued whispering, “Let’s just go…” It was surprisingly mischievous for him to suggest. If only Samson wasn’t already promised to someone else, we just might have done it!

Whatever anxiety I had about a dog virtually disappeared once we laid eyes on Zoe for real. She was as soft and small and sweet as we saw in the photos and video before-hand, although it is surprising to hold a puppy that small. It really is like having a newborn. You forget how small newborns are, too, until you hold one again and remember.


I was uncertain what to name her, which is odd because I’m pretty good at naming things. First I wanted something unusual, about me or my life, and that just became too hard to narrow down. A friend of mine suggested Lumi because she said she thinks of me as someone always trying to bring knowledge, be positive, and shine a light on matters. I have got to admit, that was an incredibly lovely sentiment! Yet the name Lumi didn’t roll off my tongue, so I didn’t run with it.

Since music is such a big part of my life, I spent time mulling musical names. I briefly considered Tempo, but it hit me that I really love both the sound of the word cello and the sound that instrument makes. I immediately thought of a woman who I worked with on a training project once, and her name was Chelo. I learned it’s a name of Spanish origin meaning “consolation or comfort”. It was another one of those aha moments since I had hoped this puppy might fill the void of loneliness that has marked much of my life.

We called her Chelo for a couple of weeks before pickup, mostly trying to get my daughter to buy into the name. Her first pre-teen reaction was, “Mom, it’s weird. I don’t like it.”. I was going to pull the Mom-veto on her since the boys liked the name, but wouldn’t you know, something about her reaction planted that tiny seed of doubt that it wasn’t quite right. I wanted all of us to be bought into the name. While Chelo sounds so lovely, we’d be spelling her name and explaining what it meant forever.

My daughter wanted to name her Athena after the Greek goddess of wisdom, but that didn’t fit 100% either. Our puppy was too tiny to be an Athena, even as I warmed up to the name. I certainly fit the unusual but beautiful criteria I had.

The week before pickup I had just listened to fantastic podcast about creating a powerful alter-ego for yourself. One woman named hers Ziva after the NCIS character Ziva David. Boom! I thought that was it. I held my breath looking up the meaning of Ziva, then sighed in relief when I learned it means “radiance, brilliance, and light”, which aligns itself nicely with the Lumi sentiment my friend suggested. Still, something continued to nag at me such that I wasn’t 100% sure. Our puppy wasn’t exactly exotic looking, and part of me felt that a dog named Ziva needed to be mysterious.

We even tried Ziva for a few days but it became pretty clear to me, as it did all of us, she’s really a Zoe. Zoe means “life” and that’s what she brings to us. Enormous waves of life in a teeny tiny body. I don’t care if it’s a common name for a dog, it fits her perfectly. We are completely charmed by Zoe Grace.

For the record, our breeder gave her a middle name of Grace upon birth, and we felt it was lovely so it stuck.


Our breeder recommended that someone stay full-time with Zoe for her first week at home, and luckily for me, I was able to arrange to work from home that week. America needs to get on board with “pet-ernity leave”, if you ask me. I work for a company that sells pet food, so one would hope my employer would be sympathetic to the demands of acclimating a new puppy to a home (and they were!)

Seriously, pet-ernity leave should be a real thing. I suppose we Americans should master maternity leave, and paternity leave first, but wouldn’t pet-ernity be incredible?

Our week together was wonderful. I got a feel for Zoe’s schedule: when she wakes, when she’s rowdy, and when she sleeps which incidentally is much of the day, again, not unlike a newborn. We bonded, and started potty training. I got a feel for her personality and she got a feel for our home, which we have slowly introduced to her one room at a time. We’re onto week three and she’s doing great.

We are too. Zoe has brought a lot of laughter and joy into our house, and dare say the kids have focused their attention on her and not as much on gaming and bickering with each other. I had my fingers crossed for this sort of outcome, but W H O A. Our oldest comes home and coos all over her, and he’s teaching her tricks and commands. She’s already figured out “sit”, and we’re now working on consistent delivery of “down” and “roll over”.

It’s rather poetic that her gotcha day was in February and she is a real-live valentine. I can hear my mother, who’s passed, singing as she often did, “How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggily tail,” and it’s almost as if my mom is celebrating the fact that we are once again a party of six with a little soul that delivers a very waggily tail.

Zoe is a little dream come true.

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It’s a Pup-date!

You may have heard we’re puppy pregnant (see Puppy Party Pooper) but not for much longer! Silonda here with a “pup-date”, get it?

We found a W O N D E R F U L breeder who, truth be told, is pretty far away from us, but hey! We’re road trip people and Saturday is the day a sweet little bundle of fluffy joy is joining our family. Fingers crossed the Polar Vortex/Arctic Blast is over so we can hit the road safely.

fullsizeoutput_2b3eThis sweet little baby is our puppy, Nora Grace, the name her breeder gave her at birth. It’s an absolutely lovely name, but not likely one we will stick with. Isn’t she a doll? I think she is seven or eight weeks old in this photo.

She is a maltipoo, a cross between a Maltese and miniature poodle. Maltipoos are known for being small, smart, friendly, hypoallergenic, and low shedding.

We cannot wait to meet her! Our only daughter is overjoyed that the boy-girl dynamic in our human family of five will be evened out with the addition of another girl. She has always wanted a sister.

You may have noticed our pup is not a black maltipoo like she had hoped for. We decided that the right breeder and the right pup is more important than the precise coloring.

Our daughter is a huge fan of YouTube makeup sensation James Charles, who apparently caters to his audience by calling everyone “sister”. I made the HUGE mistake of suggesting to our daughter that we could “go all James Charles and name the puppy, ‘Sister'”. Her eyes grew big and a giant grin formed on her face, which told me I screwed up big time.

No, no, we are not naming her Sister, nor are we going for Athena, Kiwi, or Smores, her other choices.


Naming a dog is a big deal.

I’m not one to go for conventional names. I like avant garde choices, so Daisy, Gracie, Lucy, and the like won’t do. Besides, I already have a great niece of the human and canine varieties named Lucy so that truly doesn’t seem like a viable choice.

Part of me wanted to shoot for Lola or LuLu but neither of those names go well or roll off the tongue all that easily with our last name of Louie.

I wanted to pick something from my life for this sweet little baby, and after much conversation as a family, I think we have name ready to go. Four out of five of us have bought into it (our daughter being the lone hold-out) but until we see our pup and get to know her, I won’t reveal it. I’m shooting for something easy to say that sounds lovely and is a reflection of my life but not too cutesy.

Have I mentioned that my husband had a basset hound named Monk who lived to be 14? I met Monk and Ryun three years into their relationship. ♥️ Monk was named after Thelonius Monk, a jazz musician, which is appropriate for my husband who is the same.

Monk lived a long and happy life, and honestly was The Best Basset Hound Ever. He lived up to his name: chill, quiet, loving. When he was four or five, we thought he was lonely and got him a brother basset who we named Cannonball, after Cannonball Adderley, my idea.

You can guess what happened. Cannonball lived up to his name, too.

There’s an old adage that children live up to our expectations of them but I’m beginning to think he same is true of pets and the name we give them, which makes choosing THIS name all the more important.

I want little “Nora Grace” to know she is loved and an important part of our family already. We’ll keep you posted shortly after February 2, our puppy’s Gotcha Day.

Stay warm!

 

The Joy of Planning

close-up-composition-data-669986I’ll admit that I am a planning geek. Who knew how much joy it would give me to organize my activities by hour, by day, by month or even to break down big goals into little, easily achievable ones?

This is a highly valuable skill at work, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the tools we use to get our personal lives in order. Let me tell you about a few that I really dig. Mine cover the gamut of online and hard copy tools, because I still get a thrill from long-hand planning.

Did I mention I’m a geek? I’ve embraced that aspect of myself, so it’s ok. Loving yourself has gotta start somewhere, right?


Online Planning

Microsoft OneNote

Oh my heavens – I don’t know how I survived before my coworker Travis showed me this little doozy. Now I open it and use it all day long like I do with email. I won’t get into a long description of how it works, but if you have it among the suite of Microsoft applications, use it.

I create a new page for each meeting I attend so I can take notes. I draft simple project plans on new pages. My front page, however, is a to-do list “dashboard”, and I’ve organized it by “Today/Immediate”, “Soon/This Week”, and “Low Urgency/Eventually”.  It’s really easy to add a task and move it around my dashboard and anything you add in is automatically saved.

I have a tab for Work and another, separate tab for Personal, with several pages underneath each. God knows as a mother, stuff just pops into my head at all moments of the day, and I take the time right then and there to write it down or else I’d forget.

For each task, there’s even a little place to put a check-mark in the box which I do to indicate that progress has started (e.g., I have a call out to someone and I’m waiting for their response). Once a task is complete, I remove it from the page altogether. Sometimes, if the item is noteworthy enough, I move it to an entirely different page where I keep track of my major accomplishments throughout the year for performance evaluation and resume-building purposes.

You name it, it’s out there on my OneNote. I keep dibs on Christmas and birthday ideas for the family, home improvement ideas, thank you cards that I should write, and vacation spots I want to visit during the year. I get a certain kick out of putting a check mark next to the places I have visited during the year once the trip has finished, because half of the joy of traveling is anticipating where I’m going and reliving the memories once it’s over.

Let’s just say, my team got a glimpse of my OneNote dashboard and they were frightened, by the number of things that I track. They got a glimpse into how my mind works! But honestly, before I found OneNote, I wasted time recreating endless lists, took notes in tablets, notepads, and Post-It notes that sometimes got lost or disorganized. That simply is no longer a problem. OneNote is far superior.

Google Calendar

In the early days of child-raising, my husband and I struggled to keep our calendars organized and in sync, so we landed on creating a Google calendar. We were able to merge his music studio calendar (online for his students and their parents to see) with our family calendar and we even gave our sitter access to it so everyone would know who needs to be where and when. This way, we can access the calendar while at work, at home, or on the road by iPad or phone. Each family member’s entries are color coded including whole-family activities. Every soccer practice and game, dance rehearsal and competition, doctor appointment, school concert, marching band rehearsal and competition, football game, basketball game, birthday, and trip are captured online for all of us to see. It’s been a challenge to get our kids to consult the calendar but at least we parents and our Godsend-of-a-sitter know it’s there. We’d be lost without it.

iPhone Reminders

Oftentimes I am driving in the car, and the flood of ideas hit me – phone calls to make, prescriptions to pick up, etc. Sometimes as I listen to podcasts on my 30-minute commute to work, I’ll learn the name of an author, book, website, or product I want to check out. Boom! I dictate these entries into my iPhone Reminders and then periodically transfer those into Google Calendar or my OneNote at work.

We’re an Apple family so we’ve created a family-shared Reminder list for needed groceries. This list doesn’t get as much use but still, it’s there if we need it.

Excel

Yes, plain old Excel. I start off every work day with three entries: 1) three contributions, big or small, that I have made to make life better for someone else, 2) three things I’m grateful for, and 3) three intentions for my day. Each one of these is on a separate tab and I like being easily able to scroll through the list as it grows over the year. I also use Excel to write down my big goals for the year. I organize them by category…health, finance, career, spirit, family, recreation, and friends.

Hard Copy Planning

Ink+Volt

This is my second year using this planner. I know there are ton of planners out in the market and maybe one day I’ll gravitate to another but let me tell you what I like about this one.

First of all the size: it is a 6″x8.5″x1″, hard cover book with a cotton texture cover. I bought one in red, my favorite color. It holds up over a year’s use. It’s small enough to pop into my purse and take with me. It’s also big enough that the pages stay open when you want to write in them. (Actually I prefer hard-wire-bound books for that reason, but Ink+Volt doesn’t offer that option.)

There are sections to plan out the year, the month, and the week with thoughtful essay prompts to guide your week. For the planner in me who still love to write out big goals in long-hand and experience the satisfaction of checking them off the list….the really important personal goals for the week…this has been my near-constant companion.

Now I do love me some happy-colored pens, but I don’t have time for stickers…and some women love Erin Condren planners with the colorful boxes and inspirational quotes…but I’m a little more straight-to-the-point. My organizationally-challenged musician husband loves his Ink+Volt planner. His is green, his favorite color and he is lost without it.

Fitlosophy’s http://www.GetFitBook.com

I ❤️ Target, so much so that I have a residential requirement to live within so many miles of that store every time I have moved. Perusing the fitness aisles at some point this past year, I picked up a journal for myself and my sisters as mother’s day gifts.

Man, I love this thing! First of all it has prompts for you to name three things you’re grateful for. There’s a section for you to articulate your health intention for the day and something that you appreciate about your body. There are fitness prompts for free-form essays, a tip of the day, and then a section to rate your movement, nourishment, and mood.

As someone who has been on health auto-pilot for too long, I began using this journal too, to get me attuned to my physical being. I found it incredibly helpful, so much so that I bought another version of this for my daughter who is growing into a health-conscious young lady, courtesy of her holistically healthy dance studio.

Now you might have noticed that I use Excel and Fitlosophy for a gratitude journal. I do both. I haven’t settled on which version I like better, plus I don’t think you can overdo gratitude.

Big Life Journal

Given I have such a love for planning, it would be a crying shame if I didn’t teach my kids how to do the same! For Christmas this year, each of my kids got one of these journals, including the teen version for the oldest, and I gave one as a gift to another child in our extended family.

Still too early to know how it’s going but I want to teach them the power of visualizing a goal and making it a reality.

Ultimate Student Planner

To help our teen son juggle the demands of his school and extracurricular activities, I found this planner on Amazon which reminded me a lot of the very first one I bought in college to help me keep track of various deadlines and obligations. He has always struggled with organization and planning, kinda like my husband has, so it has been a challenge to get him to use it consistently.

However, score one for the win column: I helped my son with cleaning his room just the other day, and it meant purging a lot of kid stuff now that he’s a full-fledged high school teen. I’m proud to say his mama’s organization genes are starting to rub off on him! He tidied up his desk, reorganized all of the drawers, and pointed to his planner on the desk corner. He told me on Sunday night, he logs into the school’s communication system and finds that all of his teachers have the assignments and expectations for the upcoming week posted online. He makes entries in his planner as needed and showed me some examples.

I nearly fell over. There may be hope for him!


Now, I will admit it might be time-consuming to juggle the various tools I use but this process works for me and it really doesn’t take me much time at all because I enjoy it. It’s not to say that some items don’t fall through the cracks as they most certainly do.

These various methods and tools help me stay organized but more importantly, they serve as a kind of mindfulness meditation. Call it prayer in writing, if you want. Call it planning with purpose. It’s become a daily routine and I feel harried when I haven’t referenced any of these tools.

What’s your favorite life planning hack? Care to share?

 

Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels

 

 

How Full is Your Love Bucket?

johnny-brown-498577-unsplashA few years ago I encountered a book entitled How Full is Your Bucket by Tom Rath. It was a fairly quick read but it revealed the story of how powerful words are to a person’s spirit.

He started the book by explaining tactics of the North Koreans during the Korean War. The most effective technique North Koreans used on their prisoners was not physical torture but psychological, achieved by withholding letters from home and telling the prisoners they were forgotten by their family. Unloved. Worthless. As I recall, prisoners who were otherwise untouched and well-fed died of broken hearts and spirit.

Something about this insight shook me to the core.

The author wondered if negative words could have such a drastic effect on people, what sort of impact would the opposite have? He said to imagine that each of us walks around with a bucket, and to scoop from our own and pour it into the bucket of those around us. Our serving is a kind or encouraging word but even as you do this, your bucket never empties. It remains full.

The imagery of this resonated strongly with me. Now, I have always tried to be a person to say a kind word to those around me. Maybe it’s a function of age, but as I get older, I am fearless approaching complete strangers to compliment their hair or smile and I take the time to look them in the eyes when I say it. I don’t flatter. I don’t lie about the things I say. My words are deliberate and genuine, and I honestly try to work at it every chance I get because God knows people need a lift.

At home here with the kids, we’ve got this thing in the mornings. Our kids are a little like me when they wake up. They aren’t completely awake. They don’t bounce out of bed completely conscious, totally happy, with their full “morning strength”. Morning, daresay, is when they are feeling most vulnerable.

Like a thousand parents before us, we stir as the kids crawl wordlessly into bed in the wee hours of the morning. Some days I can just sense it, and I quietly ask,”Do you need your love bucket filled?” and they silently, gently nod with their little heads.

And this is when we spoon and I curl up around my child with my arms tucked across their belly and I start to whisper words of love and encouragement into their ears. I tell them how much I love their smile or spunk or laugh. How grateful I am that they are part of our family. How much they were wanted. How proud I am of their effort. How beautiful I think they are in body and soul. How very much I love them and always will.

And sometimes, even after the words have stopped, we hug just a little bit longer while the full effect slowly drips, drips, drips into their love bucket, kinda like a coffee machine. And the hearts of my children are full until the next time.


At the suggestion of my friend Carol, I finally read the The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman a few years ago and learned I am a “words of affirmation” kind of chick who appreciates some “acts of service” on the side. I probably could have guessed my primary love language sooner than my late 40s but it was validating to understand myself and others around me much better than before.

It explains why I fell incredibly hard decades ago for someone who wrote songs about me. They were among the first words of affirmation I had ever received. Those words were so potent, they linger with me even today. And I’m still a complete, total sucker for a kind, personal word. I wish I didn’t need it but it’s like I was born with a hole in my bucket. Or maybe a hole got punched in my bucket…I don’t know.

Over the years, I realized that it isn’t normal or psychologically healthy for outsiders to be the primary ones to fill your love bucket. This should come from your family of origin. I vowed I wouldn’t let that be an issue for my own kids. Ever.

So when it comes to my kids, it’s entirely possible I am doing this more for me than for them. I don’t know if it’s the hugging and sense of warmth and safety they crave more or the words, but they get both from me. Actually, my husband and I used the Chapman book to understand what our kids need and I do know, and I have adapted my style accordingly as Chief Administrator of Louie Love.

How full is your love bucket? What are you doing to fill those around you? Got your ladle?

Photo by Johnny Brown on Unsplash