Toy Drops, Accountability, and the End of Overdue Book Fines

In October and December of last year, I shared posts recapping my favorite SmartBrief stories among the briefs I edit. Here’s an update:

From ASPA (The American Society of Public Administrators) and from ICMA (the International City/County Management Association)

Cities loosen penalties for transit fare evasion (ASPA)

Utah library stops charging fines for overdue books (ICMA)   

Why it’s so interesting: When I lived in New York City (1989-1992), fare evasion was definitely seen as a “no-no.” Now it’s (to an extent) in the same category as fines for overdue books. Speaking of overdue books, some cities are choosing to forgo fines for those now. This (keeping a book past its due date and owing money for it) was seen as a “no-no” long before I was a NYC resident paying my fair share for transit services. Things are changing regarding how municipalities incentivize behaviors that contribute to the greater good. The Utah library was concerned that fines exacerbated inequity, for example, and made it hard for the people who needed the library most to use its services. Also, in both cases, there were analyses of the amount of resources spent on enforcement in comparison to the revenue generated. It makes me look at the world in a different way than I did before. 

Favorite December 2018 SmartBrief stories

From Sigma Xi Science Honor Society

Invasive wasp endangers Spain’s chestnut crops

Why it’s so interesting: It’s a problem in itself that sweet chestnut production in Spain is down 30% due to an invasive Chinese parasitic insect. It’s a bigger problem that the diminished chestnut production and parasitic attack is a) affecting a struggling economy dependent on exporting sweet chestnuts to France b) contributing to an increase in forest fire risk (because some farmers are burning their crops to kill the invader c) resulting in “urban drift” as young people have become more cynical about a future in chestnut farming and d) causing more questions as one method of combating it (the release of the parasite’s natural predator) may itself cause. This is one of many stories I read that help me understand the challenges our world faces. As one government investigator said, “If we take a wider view this is another example of the unintentional globalisation of parasites and the problems facing scientists as they search for ways of eradicating, or at least limiting the pest.”

From the National Association of Social Workers

Commentary: Seeking, finding support helps former foster child

Why it’s so interesting: This story was about Deitrick Foley, who spent time in the foster care system as a child, and says his involvement in several support groups has helped him see that it is possible to find affirmation and support from people who are not relatives by blood. I loved this quote: “I learned to never give up spreading love to the people around me, and to look at one person leaving my life as leaving the door open and making space for two people to come into it.” So wise.

From UN Wire

Female Venezuelan migrants selling hair, sexual favors for income

There is absolutely nothing uplifting about this story. Nothing. As difficult and heartbreaking as it is to read stories like this, it means a lot to me to be a part of sharing them to a broader audience. For International Women’s Day 2018, Kathy Escobar wrote, “May we remember that our freedom is all tied up together, and none of us are free unless we are all free.” I concur.  

From BoardSource

Organization, bipartisanship help nonprofits excel, Bono says

Why it’s so interesting: When I first read this article, I thought about the last time I participated in “Hill Day” for Shot at Life. On Hill Day, advocates visit the offices of their congressional representatives and share their hopes for their cause. There were so many ONE advocates it was almost comical (it was heartening and wonderful, of course, but the visual was a dramatic statement). Bono, the founder, knows what he is doing and he doesn’t mind being direct and possibly even controversial. Case in point: this line from the article: “Whatever you feel about the NRA – and I don’t like them very much – they’re a very well-organized group and we want ONE to be the NRA for the world’s poor.” I admire him for his ability to praise the organizational abilities of the NRA (while also systematically working day and night to achieve goals that are mostly diametrically opposed…).

From the Reserve Officers Association

Operation Toy Drop prep involves 260 jumpmasters

Why it’s so interesting: Operation Toy Drop (not surprisingly) doesn’t involve actually “dropping” toys. In short, it’s a cooperative, multi-national training opportunity that involves paratroopers from 14 partner nations. The participating troops also collect toys for children in the surrounding area. The event started in 1998, and I enjoyed poking around to learn its historyAt a time of so much divisiveness internationally, I loved the cooperative tone of this project. 

This video gives a brief overview of the event:

(As a side note and point of personal privilege, this story was also relevant to me because my daughter went skydiving for the first time ever last month. Thank you to Jump Jasper Skydiving for delivering her back to terra firma safely. And props to Tenley for being brave enough to do something I have no desire to do. EVER.)

From the National Emergency Number Association

Peevyhouse: Trauma among 9-1-1 professionals should be given priority

Why it’s so interesting: First, I loved the title of this commentary from Jamison Peevyhouse, President of the National Emergency Number Association, “Hell is empty, & all the devils are here.” Such an evocative use of words to introduce a piece about the stresses first responders and dispatchers face. Besides the explanation of the challenges faced by dispatchers, I loved the emphasis on being observant, of being a team, such as, “Be the one who will commit to check on each coworker after a tough shift.” We should all do the same, regardless of our industry.  

From SmartBrief on Leadership

Letting employees design workflow increases engagement

I edited SmartBrief on Leadership for six days in December. This brief is how I became acquainted with SmartBrief years ago, and it has its own significance to me for that reason. Being entrusted with editing it was mixture of enthralling and nerves (but mostly enthralling!). One article from that six-day period that stood out to me was this interview with Stephen Mumford, an executive at Baton Rouge General Medical Center. In discussing employee engagement, he said this:

Listen, listen, listen! I find that sometimes my employees just want to be heard. I make rounds in the departments as much as I can. My employees really like when I come to their areas and see them in action. I also let my team design the processes and workflows for their departments. This keeps them engaged, and they hold each other accountable to the processes they build.

People like to be involved in designing “processes and workflows.” In the medical environment, who better to be a part of designing workflows than the people who do it? I can see why they are more engaged and why they emphasize accountability if they had a hand in the way things run. 

Another cool component of the leadership newsletter is its Twitter feed. Check it out by visiting @SBLeaders.

About Working at SmartBrief and Our Current Openings

When I share my recaps, I also like to give an update about openings. I wrote in more detail about my experience here.

SmartBrief’s Open Position(s)

Here are SmartBrief’s currently advertised open positions:

And in the New York office:

If you apply, please list me as your referrer. 

To Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including our newest, the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on Facebook, SmartBrief Twitter, Leadership SmartBrief Twitter, LinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope to play a part in keeping you informed long into the future!

Favorite December 2018 SmartBrief stories

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

6 Sincere Ways to Say “Thanks”

Sincere Thanks

This quote by William Arthur Ward is charming and inspirational, but may be as ill-fitting as a “Best Wishes on Your Wedding” bag among all the Santas and Snowmen under the tree, especially in the work setting.

“[T]here can be serious consequences to misusing, or overusing, displays of appreciation in the office,” says Vidyard CEO and co-founder Michael Litt in Gratitude schmatitude: How too much praise devalues appreciation.

I have had my share of curmudgeonliness here on the blog this year (looking at you, gender reveals). Since I try to position myself as someone who leans toward optimism, I don’t want to close the year out on a “but think about the downside” type of note.

Litt’s article, which appeared in SmartBrief on Dec. 19, did leave me thinking, though. Does gratitude lose its effect if said too often, too insincerely, too mechanically?

With those questions in mind, six ways we can try to be more intentional and creative with our expressions of gratitude in the coming year:

Recognition

Some people find recognition extremely rewarding; others not so much.

Case in point: My son won an award at school in the spring of his senior year (April 2017). The awards were intended to be for the “non-traditional” sort of achievement and give students who might not tend to get more conventional awards a moment of gratitude. It was a lovely ceremony, and he was given a certificate, a medal and several other mementos.

His items are still sitting in the back seat of my car … a year and a half later! (And yes, I realize this says way too much about how often I clean out the back of my car!).

Sincere Thanks

Maybe the recognition meant more to him than he let on, but given his choice of what to do with the mementos, I’m inclined to think it was not, in the scheme of things, a huge deal to him.

Consider whether the person you want to thank finds public recognition fulfilling and/or motivating.

Trust

For me, one of the best ways someone can express their appreciation for my role on a team is by trusting me with the details of “the big picture.” I simply function more effectively when I understand how my contribution fits into the overall plan.

There are some facts and details pertinent to an organization’s life that need to remain confidential for logical reasons. However, there are many more elements of an organization’s plan that are better off being exposed to broad daylight.

Transparency also has the potential to help leaders do a better job and help organizations fulfill their missions. “When employees are in the loop about an organization’s challenges, they’ll likely better understand and support the tough decisions that leaders must make,” says Rebecca Hawk in 5 Benefits of More Transparency in Your Workplace.

Is there a way you can translate your gratitude for an employee’s trustworthiness and commitment to the organizational mission into a more transparent approach?

Sing Someone’s Praises — Without Them Knowing

This may seem counterintuitive. In the context of the opening quote, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” it may seem warped.

Look at it, though, as wrapping the present and then giving it … not to the recipient but to someone who can use it to the recipient’s benefit in some way.

I was involved in the freelance social media and communications world for the last four years, and trust me when I say that although its universe is broad, it’s still exceptionally common for people to know each other, or of each others’ reputations, even if they haven’t ever spoken.

If someone comes up in conversation, it never hurts to say, “[Facebook Frances] did a great job on my campaign; she made a difference for our brand. Don’t say it if it’s untrue, obviously, or if it is awkward, but if you’re talking about Facebook Frances and have an opportunity to say a kind word, go ahead and say it. That’s the kind of paying it forward that may make a difference when Facebook Frances is looking for work in the future.

Take the time to say the word of praise if it’s natural and true, even if it is not said directly to the subject of the compliment. It’s a way of giving karma a little boost.

Flexibility

Flexibility is huge. Flexibility as a reward is something many people appreciate. I would argue it also goes hand in hand with trust.

“[I]t’s becoming more common for employees to perform ‘life’ tasks during work hours and take work home during ‘off’ hours,” says the Staffing Industry Analysts group in Workplace Trends for 2019 Include Flexibility, Digital Sophistication, explaining why flexibility is gaining prominence among desired work conditions.

Although I agree that the trend SIA is discussing is happening, and employers will gain employee goodwill by accommodating it, my thoughts on flexibility are a bit different.

Now that I am a remote worker, and have a great deal of flexibility, this problem has been largely resolved for me. However, when I was in a traditional office, and still juggling the multiple balls involved when a family has active kids and both parents work, I would have had much less stress (and much higher morale) if there had been options to modify my schedule and work around everyone’s needs.

Seek ways to help people who are performing well configure their life in a way that helps them make the best use of their energy levels and helps them take care of their other obligations. They’ll be less stressed (and more productive).

A Receptive Ear

With an increasing amount of our workforce finding themselves as freelance workers, opportunities for disconnects between people engaged in mutual work grow. (Statista reports that 35% of the US workforce in 2016 were freelancers, an increase of two million over 2014.)

Throughout my four years of freelancing, I was a member of quite a few Slack groups.

Not to overdramatize, but there are times when you are a freelancer that your Slack channels are the main way you interact with other humans during the day.

I have had some pretty deep (yet brief) conversations on Slack. As my responsibilities grew in one of the organizations, and my status changed from freelancer to employee, one resolution I carried forward was a commitment to — within the bounds of professionalism and efficiency — make sure to always express my gratitude and to recognize the way personal stresses present challenges unique to freelancers.

You may not be able to see a freelancer on the other side of a Slack (or whatever system you use) exchange, but they still need to know their efforts at doing a good job matter and their stresses are acknowledged.

Money

One of Michael Litt’s points in writing about the dangers of watering down gratitude by expressing it too often and/or too insincerely was, “Money doesn’t always buy thanks.”

Litt didn’t mean that money should never be used to express gratitude. However, he says research does not substantiate the effectiveness of “short-term or one-off financial bumps” for improving performance.

Litt’s organization gives “off-cadence options” (shares in the business) in truly “exceptional” situations to demonstrate “a direct connection between an employee’s contribution and the continued success of the company.”

Don’t rule money out to demonstrate gratitude, but be deliberate in your approach and choose something that directly correlates with the difference an employee made.

In closing

I like financial rewards as much as the next person, but I agree with Litt that there are other ways to help employees feel appreciated.

For me, the most important ways to show appreciation are trusting me with glimpses into the “big picture,” honesty about where things stand (organizationally and with my performance) and appealing to my sense of teamwork.

How could an employer best show gratitude to you?

Sincere Thanks

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Music for Editors and Writers

I have come to the conclusion that, no matter how I try to manipulate the situation, Spotify thinks I like two songs when I am seeking “music without words” as I edit. They are:

This song was lovely and conducive to my editing process … the first 1,293 times, but I need to move on!

And … multiple variations of Sheep May Safely Graze.

I need more than a river and sheep as my editing (and writing) background sounds!

The Backstory

I know we all have our preferred background music/noise situations. I prefer audiobooks when I drive, but if I must drive with music instead, it must contain words.

When I’m doing something that gives me a little “space” concentration-wise (i.e., not editing or writing), I tend toward Coffeehouse mixes (although Spotify hasn’t been setting my world on fire there either — I’ll tackle that at a different time).

When I started writing for SmartBrief as a freelancer almost two years ago, the first thing I turned to was the classical station on DirecTV. Then I moved on to WQXR through I Heart Radio. Eventually, I added Spotify to the mix.

Now, though, I’m needing more variety.

Therefore, I turned to my Facebook community for ideas.

Confession: I haven’t tried any of these yet (can you say “stuck in routine”?). In case you are looking for ideas, though, here they are!

BROADWAY!

This was just a misunderstanding on the part of the person who was responding (i.e., they missed the “no words” thing) and recommended Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen songs, but Broadway tunes are rarely wrong as far as I am concerned. As a writer, I have to give props to “Hurricane” from “Hamilton” because a song with the lyrics “I wrote my way out” is ….. me. (Sadly, so is “Words Fail” from “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

Words fail, also, when I need background noise that helps me edit (and write) better also. That’s why these suggestions may do the trick.

Classical

There is debate regarding the degree to which The Mozart Effect helps people be smarter; I know classical music is one of my go-to’s for concentration. These were some recommendations:

Beethoven Concerti (such as the Piano Concerto No. 5/Emperor Concerto).

Handel’s Water Music (such as Suite No. 1 in F Major)

Mozart (such as Requiem, K. 626: Lacrimosa)

Anything from the NY Times 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music list (such as Mother Goose Suite: The Fairy Garden)

Yiruma (sans the River Flows in You part, such as Prelude in G Minor)

Electronic

By offering a consistent, mellow-toned, and lyric-less soundscape, electronic music can actually improve performance in immersive tasks, while providing a similar boost during repetitive tasks-through increased happiness and efficiency. ~ EDM Tunes.

Dubstep (such as Dubstep Yoga: Clouds of Wonder)

Ulrich Schnauss (such as Ships Will Sail)

Indie Rock/Jazz/Pop

If vocals don’t bug you that much during work, give them a go. Jazz, hip-hop, indie rock, blues, and everything under the sun are really up for grabs here, but remember that “ambient” is the word of the day for a productive session with music playing, at least if you’re engaged in deep work. ~ Sparring Mind

John Coltrane My Favorite Things (such as But Not for Me)

Miles David Kind of Blue (such as So What)

Wade Morrissette (such as Still) (Side note — the music situation in the Morrissette home must have been fascinating (his twin sister is Alanis))

Miscellaneous Choral/Instrumental

“…music that puts you in a positive mood has a positive effect on your performance.” One hypothesis put forth in The Learning Scientists.

Alice Coltrane (such as Transcendence)

Brazilian music (such as Falsa Biana) (note: I was warned this may result in dancing while editing)

Eklipse (such as their version of The Man Who Sold the World)

Choral Music (such as If I Were a Swan)

Gregorian Chants (such as Introit Benedicta Sit)

Jim Brickman (such as Angel Eyes)

Lindsey Stirling (such as Crystallize)

Mannheim Steamroller (such as Traditions of Christmas, especially (obviously) during the holidays)

Max Richter (such as A Catalogue of Afternoons)

Ólafur Arnalds (such as Island Songs V)

Penguin Cafe Orchestra (such as Perpetuum Mobile)

Tibetan Meditation Music (such as Guided Meditation for Violin and Water)

Tosca Radio on Pandora (which the site says includes dub influences, funk influences, “a knack for catchy hooks,” “beats made for dancing,” and “straight drum beats.”

Movie Soundtracks/Film Scores

The Princess Bride Soundtrack

One friend’s general recommendation of “film scores” led me to this great Medium post, My Complete List of Instrumental Movie Scores to Study To, so thanks, Ellana Barrett, for the recommendations. One recommendation from that list, to give you a flavor: Hand Covers Bruise from the Social Network.

Readymade Playlists

My awesome friend Beth of H.O.P.E. Unlimited (Helping Overwhelmed Professionals Excel (& Exhale) has created her own! Check out Coffee Shop Cowork. Also, check Beth’s business out for your VA needs.

Hearts of Space on Spotify.

“Music to Write By” on YouTube

Silas Hite “Sounds for a Dinner Party” on SoundCloud

Sirius XM Chill

“Theta Music Meditation” on YouTube

Beyond being a “readymade playlist,” this article from Sparring Mind discusses a bit of the science behind music’s effect on productivity and also gives a few excellent suggestions.

Coda

I appreciate everyone’s suggestions!

I incorporated the suggestions into a playlist on Spotify (find it at BGP Editing Tunes). While you’re at Spotify anyway, check out the While You Were Working playlist here. The playlist is a compilation of the songs mentioned each day in the While You Were Working SmartBrief (I’m a contributing editor and would love for you to subscribe by clicking here).

What would you add to the list of great tunes for editors and writers?

Music for editors

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

SmartBrief: Open Positions and My Favorite Stories

I never expected events to unfurl the way they did after I left Healthy Kids in May 2014. One of the goals of leaving after working there for almost 20 years was to find a way to  earn a living that aligned more effectively with the things I loved doing.

When my father-in-law moved in with us three weeks later due to a rapid decline in his health, my options became my more limited. We either needed to get full-time care for him both Wayne and I could be working outside the home, or I had to do work from home so we could supervise and care for Dad.

Besides everything I learned about caregiving (and about myself) over that time, I also gained experience about freelance life. The most important result of that period of time is the fact that we were able (hopefully) to give Dad an end-of-life experience that was as comfortable as it could be, given his health issues. Secondly, though, in retrospect, I ended up exactly where I needed to be, as a full-time editor at SmartBrief. It’s funny how life works, right?Digital Journalism Jobs

SmartBrief’s Open Position(s)

SmartBrief now has a similar position to mine open, for a Media Editor.

If you have experience as an editor and an interest in digital journalism, as well as expertise with media news and trends, I encourage you to learn more about the position and apply. (Please use my name as your referral contact. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have questions.)

The Media Editor position is slated to be in the Washington, D.C., office, but the ideal candidate may be permitted to telecommute.

Note: There are several other open positions in the D.C. office. I assume most of my contacts will be interested in the editor position, but here are the others:

About My Experience

When I was sending an email to a few contacts, to share the open position(s), it occurred to me that some people are not aware of SmartBrief. Therefore, I wrote a bit in the email about my experience and about some of my favorite stories.

This is what I shared. Maybe I’ll come in occasionally and update the “favorite stories” part, in addition to the listings for open positions. We’ll see. For now, this is what I said:

Although I just started as a full-time editor with SmartBrief in September, I was working as a freelance searcher, writer and editor before that (since January 2017).
I know people vary in the path they take to find a job that is rewarding and enjoyable. For me, working as a freelancer because I was still taking care of my father-in-law turned out to be the best of all worlds. It showed me why I wanted to apply for a full-time position and introduced me to a product I believe in wholeheartedly, working with other people who have the same focused commitment.

Here is a link to the listing: http://bit.ly/SBMediaEditor.

If you’re not familiar with SmartBrief, I encourage you to take a look at the various daily newsletters we offer in a variety of industries. To give you a sense of the array of products we offer, here is a bit about my experience.

IBTTA
Digital Journalism Jobs

Photo credit: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Facebook Page

Sigma Xi
Digital Journalism Jobs

 

Social Work
And true to my mental health/counseling origins, I edit the Social Work SmartBrief. (Favorite story: How animals, nature can amplify social work)

That’s just a sampling (and the “favorite story” exercise is pretty tough, to be honest!). To see everything we do, visit the main site here.

 

To Recap

To follow up on the Media Editor position, click here.

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including our newest, the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on Facebook, SmartBrief Twitter, Leadership SmartBrief Twitter, LinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope to play a part in keeping you informed long into the future!

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

FMF31 2018 Day 9: INSPIRE

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2018 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: INSPIRE

I am inspired by people, especially young women, who don’t give up even though they face entrenched resistance.

I edit the Sigma Chi (Scientific Research Honor Society) SmartBrief (please take a look here and consider subscribing!). It is FULL of interesting stories; I learn something new every day.

Yesterday, one of the stories was about a parasite that takes advantage of another parasite (it’s a vine that sucks the life out of a gall on an oak tree, thereby depriving wasps of food). It was an interesting story in its own right, but I loved the fact that Linyi Zhang, the graduate student who made the discovery, did so after repeatedly being told by her advisor that she must be mistaken:

When she brought the first samples to her advisor, who had spent many years studying galls, he told her she must be mistaken. She persisted. Relenting, he examined the material under the microscope – only to be startled to discover she was likely right.

 

This is not the exact development that was discovered, but its the best free image I could find and this story just calls for an image to me!

I was in a situation this week that had much less importance to the scientific world, but it had importance to my integrity and my confidence. I didn’t win that particular battle (which was sort of hypothetical by the end — it was a language thing and was not going to affect the outcome of the publication). However, as this graduate student found out, believing in yourself and continuing to make your case matters.

Giving up can be as destructive as a parasite on another parasite.

I am inspired.

Five Minute Friday Comfort

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Squeezing Big Meaning from Small Moments

“Procrasticleaning” is not something I can recall ever experiencing:

Procrastination Rewards

However, I procrastinate in other ways. We all have the activities we turn to when avoiding life’s bigger and more intimidating projects.

A weekly prompt from the Poets & Writers site references a Philip Roth quote:

Now I can have a glass of orange juice in the morning and read the newspaper.

Apparently Roth wrote this upon his retirement as a fiction writer. The prompt directs the writers to, “Write a personal essay about the simple, everyday things you wish you had more time to do, that are often sacrificed to a busy schedule,” and asks, “How are these activities enticing in a way that is different from the excitement of grander plans?”

P&W had another prompt based on the portmanteau procrastibaking.

Let the orange juice flow; here are my thoughts on the intersection of putting things off and finding alternate rewards along the way.

Procrastination Rewards

As I formally wrap up more than four years as a freelancer (more on that toward the end of this post), it would be easy to reflect on the things I could have done better or more efficiently.

The year after my father-in-law died, especially, was free of many of the distractions (logistical and emotional) that came with being part of a marriage in which both of us were primary caregivers to my father-in-law.

With different time management, I could potentially have:

-Used the roughly 52,000 words I have written in weekly Sunday blog posts and weekly Five Minute Friday posts to make progress on the book about Camp Gordon Johnston I have been saying for years I plan to write

-Helped the family bottom line more by ramping up pitches for paid freelance writing

-Helped the family bottom line even more by becoming a transcriber earlier and buckling down to accumulate more hours of paid transcription

My procrastination that got in the way of those types of things was characterized mostly by time on social media that didn’t have an immediately obvious positive effect on my pocketbook, productivity or general outlook on life. I sure didn’t (as mentioned at the top) clean house better.

However, there is a certain amount of processing involved in adjusting once a loved one is gone, and once all the responsibilities and constant vigilance of taking care of someone with short-term memory disorder (and two occurrences of cancer) involves. We also became a true empty nest when my son moved out to go to school, which also was an adjustment. I am choosing to give myself grace for that.

If Time Were No Object

Since the prompt asked, here are the small(ish) things I could make a higher priority and why they matter to me.

Cleaning

Let’s just get this one out of the way. I wish I could be one of those people who say, “I had a sponsored post due at 5 p.m. yesterday, so of course my floors were sparkling and there wasn’t a speck of dust in the house by 3:55.” I’m not that type of human, as I’ve discussed previously. It does matter, though, because I hate living in a cluttered, untidy house as much as the next person.

Social Media

Such a mixed bag here. I don’t need to make it a higher priority. If anything, it is too high now. I do wish I had time to delve deeper into some people’s shares. I know I owe people in some of my groups a thorough reading of their posts, a sharing of their content, and a thoughtful comment. They’ve certainly done that for me without much reciprocity on my end. Social media is one of my primary outlets for connecting, especially since I work from home. I think the key is using it more judiciously, not necessarily making a drastic cut in the quantity of time I spend there.

Needlework

The last counted cross stitch project I did took roughly three years to complete! However, every time I touched it, I was reminded of the comforting rhythm of doing something you can hold in your hands (that isn’t a smartphone). I also realized why my mom said “it just bothers my eyes” as she got older. The tiny work is not as much fun as it used to be for me, either. But the repetitive nature, seeing a design come together, knowing the project is a way to convey my affection for the recipient — those are all positives.

Procrastination Rewards

This doesn’t showcase the incredible job the framer did; I forgot to take a pic before it was packaged. Also: Censored for being NSFW — it’s a bit of an inside joke!

Exercise

I have finally gotten back into an exercise groove (yay), but I am still fitting in what to me is a bare minimum. I would love to find a new/different class, walk a different route, join a friend for some type of fitness experiment.

Coffee With Friends

This isn’t really that small in the long run, but I sure could happily put off some things in favor of time spent chatting with friends over coffee (or wine — I’m flexible!). I know that I have tended to say what I really mean through my writing more than my voice in recent years — and I need the real-time reactions and thoughts of people who know me well. I also need to give back to them by being a sounding board. It works differently eye to eye than it does in Facebook messenger.

Get Lost in a Project

I feel a little ridiculous admitting how much relaxation and joy I got from creating things with Smarties. I love the candy itself but I also really love gluing it together to design an image.

Procrastination Rewards

I guess Smarties Art kind of ties in to some of the other things I mentioned above — doing projects with my hands, seeing a vision come to life (even if it’s silly chickens!), spending time away from a screen, giving people conversation starters.

I think that was Philip Roth’s point: each individual would probably choose something different if time were not constrained. The prompt asks about the small things, not the big bucket list things. I’ve always felt that less monumental actions and conversations are the adhesive that binds our lives together (I especially feel that way about parenting), and this is what I would do with mine.

How about you?

Procrastination Rewards

Here’s How Things are Changing for Me

My period of time working solely as a freelancer is coming to a close, as I mentioned above. This may leave less time for needlework, Smarties Art and cleaning (um…not a worry!), but this is a welcome change and a career transition that allows me to be a bigger part of an organization that has grown in significance to me, both its product and its people, since I began as a freelancer in January 2017.

I will be a full-time editor at SmartBrief starting tomorrow, editing email newsletters such as the Social Work SmartBrief. Please visit the main site here and subscribe to any of the newsletters that appeal to you (there’s something for everyone).

Procrastination Rewards

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Needing to be Elsewhere

Sometimes, we have an overwhelming desire to be somewhere else or our life circumstances make it impossible to stay where we are. This week, three organizations/people addressed that need in ways that deserved more than a quick social media share. Therefore, I have chosen to highlight them today.

A Randy Pausch Quote

Every issue of SmartBrief ends with a quote. The featured quote  in many of the January 19 issues came from Randy Pausch.

Being elsewhere

What this quote has to do with “being elsewhere”:

The first time my husband heard “The Last Lecture,” he said “you’ve got to listen to this.” That was a good call. I wouldn’t go on to decide to leave the job I had held for well over a decade for seven more years, but Randy Pausch planted the seed. I listened to the lecture online, bought DVDs of it to share with friends, purchased the book.

As a person who has hesitated far too often to ask “why?” “how?” and “why not?” for fear of being told “no,” “that’s stupid,” or “who exactly do you think you are?,” Randy Pausch’s lecture reminded me that being reluctant to ask the hard and adventurous questions only hurts me and leads to someone else getting to go on the thrilling adventure.

(I also realized while re-watching the video today that Randy is wearing a Disney nametag and (I think) an Imagineering shirt. Now that I have seen the Disney experience as the parent of a participant in the Disney College Program, I love that touch.)

Watch it here. It will be an hour well-spent.

(If you don’t have more than an hour to watch the video, there’s a great ten-minute version here, the last one Randy delivered before his death in 2008.)

Princess Pigtails’ Diary

My friend Shannon recently served as a foster parent for the first time. The Tampa Bay Times published Princess Pigtails’ diary: the first 97 days of a foster mom and the little girl in her care on January 19.

Being elsewhere

Photo Credit: Katie Reeves/KT Creative

What this story has to do with “being elsewhere”:

“Princess Pigtails (PP)” was three when placed into Shannon’s care as a foster child, and almost four when she was placed back with her biological grandmother. Because I have been so absent from working out at the fitness student Shannon owns, I never met PP, but I felt like I knew her through the stories Shannon shared on social media (many of which comprise the Tampa Bay piece).

For her own protection, PP needed to “be elsewhere,” at least temporarily. As you’ll see from the story, our state’s laws, system and philosophy about what is best for foster children are imperfect at best. The placement may have been temporary, but PP made a permanent difference on many hearts (and I believe the experience may lead to positive changes for other children in foster care). Thank you, Shannon, for taking the risk to love this child even though it split your heart open when she moved on, and thank you PP for being a gift to so many of us.

Editor’s Note: Click here for a Tallahassee Democrat account of Shannon’s time with Princess Pigtails and foster care in general. 

Steve Schale’s Ode to Shitholes

My friend Steve Schale published Ode to Shitholes on January 13. Following the President’s apparent reference to countries including Africa as being “shitholes,” this is the best rebuttal I have read. Being elsewhere

What this post has to do with “being elsewhere”:

The people who are “elsewhere” (elsewhere from the United States, or from elsewhere and living in the United States but on the verge of being forcibly returned to “elsewhere”) often deal with the life inequities that come with what Steve (and many others) refer to as “the birth draw.”

I am so grateful to have spent time in Guatemala and El Salvador (that’s Guatemala City in the image I shared). It wasn’t long enough (two weeks in total) and it didn’t go deep enough (although I am grateful to have gone, for sure!). Both times, because I was traveling with Unbound, we were treated as royalty (literally …… flower-petal paths, extravagant (for the area) meals, and deference). They were beautiful, educational trips, but we didn’t deserve the deference — if anyone did, it was the people who work so hard to support their families in the face of indescribable difficulties, violence and educational deficits.

What can you do this week to find your own “elsewhere” (if that’s what you need) or to help another person whose “elsewhere” has become untenable? 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Five Takeaways from a Daily Writing Challenge

The “31 days of 5-minute free writes” October challenge has come and gone. Among other things, I never really got consistent about “31” or “Thirty-one,” “5-minute, “five-minute,” or “five minute,” but at least I was consistent about my writing commitment.

This is what occurs to me after 155 accumulated minutes of writing:

I like pondering a concept in advance of writing about it.

I got involved in the October challenge due to my affiliation with the Five Minute Friday community. Typically, there is not much time between learning the FMF prompt and writing to it. With this challenge, I had all 31 prompts from Day One.

Writing Challenge Survival

Although I like spontaneously responding to a prompt, it also shaped my month to be reflecting on concepts like truth, brave, and connect in advance.

I like changing things up.

It didn’t take long after the challenge began for me to start thinking of novel approaches. There was the day I handwrote my response, for example. Then the day I spent the five minutes verbally presenting my contribution via Facebook live (and then transcribing it — I speak much more rapidly than I type — that day’s entry was roughly double the length of any other).

I also found I needed (wanted?) to have a fresh, novel image for each day. Although I had created an image that I planned to be the “hallmark” image of the series, I hardly  used it. For one thing, I wanted something different to populate every day when I posted the piece of the day to social media.

Writing Challenge Survival

I may have gotten dependent on images.

This is truly a concern of mine — one that the challenge didn’t dispel.

I can think of very few posts I have written in the past several years that I didn’t somehow anchor with an image. Now, there’s nothing wrong with images, but I believe one of the goals of a writer should be to paint a picture with words.

Have I become more of a “look at this pink flower — isn’t it pretty?” writer than an “I could almost see the cotton candy fibers spinning into place as I pondered the pink hue of that blossom — even though we were nowhere near a fairground” kind of author?

Obviously the only way to improve my ability to describe with words instead of pictures is to practice. And learn. And have people critique my writing. But writing daily for five minutes at a time made me hyperaware as I scrambled over to Pablo many of the days to whip up a quick image, even if it only distantly related to my topic.

This image for my “follow” prompt, for example, is pretty but what does that leaf have to do with a conversation I had with a former Executive Director of an agency I volunteered at/worked for?

Writing Challenge Survival

People who comment are the best!

Commenting seems to be a dying practice. I read so many great blogs that have very few responses, if any at all. It does take time to comment, but as a writer, I know I appreciate each and every one. Tara of Praying on the Prairie commented on most, if not all, of my posts. It was like a little tiny pat on the back each time I read one of  her affirming notes. Thanks, Tara.

I love writing.

When I took on the challenge, I shared in the introductory post about how I have a goal of cutting down on writing for others for free and trying to secure more paid writing assignments. I couldn’t resist this challenge, though!

I am at a time in my life that I love waking up to start my morning part-time job (thanks, SmartBrief), but waking up to write for five minutes (BEFORE CAFFEINE EVEN) made waking up even better.

Before doing the challenge, I would possibly have argued with you if you had suggested I could put together coherent thought at 5:45 am without the aid of caffeine. But I’m here to tell you I apparently can!

(What I can’t/won’t do, though, is the next frontier: NaNoWriMo — a challenge to write a book in the month of November. The pending house listing, the lack of a clear idea of what I want to write, and a smidgen of fear topped off with a dash of insecurity are all barriers. It won’t happen this November, but that book will happen.)

I found this quote/image when looking for a quote with which to close, and although it is not as overt about writing as some other quotes I saw, this gets most directly at the reason I write and the reason I loved this challenge.

The act of writing (and sharing the writing) keeps me thinking. I suppose I would have “thought” whether I wrote or not, but writing makes me nudge the thinking into the world.

And when the thinking is out in the world, fading away is much less likely.

Writing Challenge Survival

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

2017 Goals: Announcements and Moves

I still believe that, to paraphrase Brian Tracy, “Only 3% of people have written goals and the other 97% work for them.” While I am not dying to have lots of people working for me, I think the principle applies to success in general. We are more likely to succeed when we document our goals (and seek accountability).

Somewhere along the way, I stopped writing my goals down. Six years ago apparently. SIX. YEARS. AGO. My last “here are my goals” post was in 2011.

Now it is 2017, and a couple of catalysts are calling me out of the goal-less quagmire:

My friend Laura Petrolino wrote this post that outlines the four reasons we fail to reach our goals (hey! I’m 4 for 4!).

My friend (and Laura’s boss) Gini shared a motivational recording with the PR Dream Team that gave me a kick in the butt.

My personal aspirations the last three years have become increasingly hemmed in by my father-in-law’s caregiving needs. As his time with us is finite, I am going to wake up in the not-too-distant future and ……be free of the obligations/excuses/responsibilities that come with caregiving.

It’s long past time to write down some goals

Number One: Improve my Spanish

The “become fluent in Spanish” goal began long, long ago when our family was stationed in Puerto Rico. As a kindergartner, I took Spanish. The seed was planted.

Even though I took Spanish in high school, and minored in Spanish in college, I am nowhere near fluent. I joined a bilingual Toastmasters club to improve. Although the club is great, and my speakings skills improved significantly, it wasn’t the best choice to improve my Spanish specifically (we were allowed to give speeches in English and frankly I defaulted to that 90% of the time — it takes a long time to put together a speech in Spanish.)

The plan: I’m going to do Berlitz’s online self-paced program, partially because I can get an initial assessment that will give me some type of objective bar for improvement. I’m still going to seek some local (and less costly) option for conversation practice.

Number Two: Improve my nutrition

I am heavier than I have ever been. Heavier than during either pregnancy. I haven’t made peace with my inability to run due to multifocal atrial tachycardia but it’s time for the excuses to stop. Maybe the issue is I have been running to the refrigerator instead of around the block!

I’ve tried to explain emotional/stress eating to a couple of significant people in my life, and a not uncommon response is “just stop eating.” I wish it were that easy!

The plan: For now, I’m starting with a very small, but hopefully beneficial step. I’m increasing the amount of fruit I eat per day. This involves (gasp!) buying healthy food in advance at the grocery store. Publix, here I come.

Number Three: Reinvigorate my exercise routine

Numbers two and three are closely related, Exercise should probably precede nutrition, but they are connected.  Running is out for now and I can finally say that without crying, But the list of things that are not out is much longer than I have been willing to acknowledge: walking (duh), yoga, indoor cycling, most boot camp/rowing activities as long as I take my beta blocker in advance and swallow my pride when I have to sit out a running drill.

The plan: For now, walk a mile every day.

Goal Setting

Goals in the Wings

If you are reading this, I would love your involvement in keeping me accountable for the three above! Hablo español conmigo, eat healthy things with me, or let’s go for a walk.

But the three-goal trio is not all. Here are two other goals.

More Learning!

I am always up for more learning. Always. But to be specific. I am considering getting a Pharmacy Tech certificate so there is something flexible and easily accessible I can do once Dad passes away.

Secondly, I love my freelance work for Smartbrief and want to position myself to do similar/more responsible work with them or another similar organization. I mean, I managed to break up with the Oxford comma (painfully) so why not keep drinking the AP Style koolaid?

Book

Ironically, my freelance job at Weaving Influence revolves around helping authors expand their digital presence. I love helping authors promote their books, but in the back of my head, always is a little writerly voice asking, “when are you going to be promoting your own work?”

I have kind of evolved from considering writing about Camp Gordon Johnson to writing about caregiving, with an emphasis on the ironic humor of the whole caregiving situation but a healthy dose of useful advice too.

What now?

I scrolled through Pinterest (What? You go elsewhere for inspiration?!) and this quote from The.Success.Club struck me:

Goal Setting

Let’s call this blog the “announcements part.”

Now it’s time for the moves.

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Raindrops on Roses and Music from Elders

Is it possible to discuss “favorite things” without having visions of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens?

It’s a challenge but I’m going to try to branch out from those whiskers on kittens, thanks to a Mama’s Losin’ It writing prompt: list your five most recent favorite things.

Favorite Things

Here are mine:

Music Therapy

Specifically, the music therapist from Big Bend Hospice who has visited my father-in-law twice. Although I am grateful for the many services provided by Big Bend Hospice, I have jokingly referred to this process as “the revolving door of people who are ‘here to help you,'” inferring that it is an additional chore for me to coordinate them all.

I had put the music therapist pretty far down the “necessary” list, under the nurse (definitely, for health reasons), shower aide (definitely, because Wayne and I can’t do it at this point), social worker ( sanity, please), and incredible volunteer Jim who told him, “yeah, I have a DNR (do not resuscitate) form too,” a perfect response to divert my FIL’s attention from the always-present reminder that this is a very final process.

I had definitely put our music therapist, Marisa (sp?) into the “nice but not necessary” bucket …….. until I heard my FIL, always a man of few words and subdued emotions, SINGING ALONG WITH HER. It really is true about music … it can unlock a person’s heart in a way nothing else can. (Music therapy is especially effective because it doesn’t demand cognitive functioning to succeed. More here via the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.)

Side note: the music therapist uses a little tripod stool like hunters use in the woods (sample here) … and says she can only find ones with camo designs. Anyone know someone who makes little stool covers with music notes (or other non-camo designs)? There has to be a way.

My New Part-Time Job

When I wrote about trying to sharpen my memory recently by using Lumosity, I didn’t know that something else was going to come along that would challenge my brain and shape up my life in other ways.

While I love my contractor work for Weaving Influence, I am also happy to have taken on additional work that adds to our family bottom line, provides needed structure to my days, and challenges me every single time (even though I have had to part ways with my beloved Oxford comma in the process).

In my independent contractor work for a digital B2B company, my duties so far include searching for news items related to certain terms, summarizing news stories into concise (yet informative!) two-sentence summaries, and contributing to the curation of industry-specific newsletters.

Observations along the way:

  • It’s humbling for an editor to be edited
  • Having to be “on duty” at a specific time (7 am) is the best thing in the world to keep me from a slow, easily-distracted slide into the work of the day. Having to report in to someone, and knowing others down the line are waiting on me, is BIG
  • I should have gone to AP Style boot camp at some point in the past; I definitely feel l like I’m doing catch-up on that front
  • It’s humbling to be at square one with a job again. ALL THE QUESTIONS
  • This arrangement was the kick in the butt I needed to file for my LLC
  • It’s so funny to me to be full-circle back at supporting myself by summarizing the news (one of the ways I supported myself during my New York years was by working at a place where we typed summaries of the news FROM VHS TAPES (yes, I’m that old))
  • I’ve been sufficiently a part of the gig economy long enough now that this doesn’t surprise me anymore, but it’s still so interesting to be working for and with people who you aren’t going to run into at the water cooler or trade funny quips with (yet)

All that said, I’m so fortunate to have the challenge of being an independent contractor for Smartbrief. Check out their website and choose a newsletter that fits for you — here has to be something among all the options, ranging from leadership (my fave!) to supply chain. For career opportunities, click here (but leave your oxford comma at the door.)

Writing

Maybe writing isn’t a “thing” like a smartphone, key chain, or cronut, but it’s a perennial favorite with me. Since I’m not running (for now), it has taken on even more of a role as my outlet.

When I write for myself, I process my thoughts. When I write to try to convey a message to others, I am forced to see multiple sides of the issue, and that is not a bad thing.

People Who Give Me Tools to Advocate Effectively

When I wrote my #One20Today-inspired post in advance of Inauguration Day, I committed to various acts of advocacy in the face of an administration headed by someone who did not receive my vote, and whose administration’s choices threaten the rights and peace of mind of many of my fellow Americans (and me).

The challenge is: the craziness, threats, and insults to the integrity of our democracy are coming so fast and furious, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and get paralyzed by indecision (and, frankly, fear of speaking out).

One incredibly bright and insightful friend I met via Shot at Life has created a periodic (at least weekly, sometimes more) list of 4 action items (something to read, a concept to understand, an action to do, a donation to consider) that can help us break out of the paralysis and do something.

As she said, “We don’t get to reimagine history to make ourselves better. We get to be loud right now or we’re not better.”

Here are four of my favorite examples, taken from the action emails:

Read every executive order President Trump has signed so far

Understand why the United States’ signature on the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol impacted (prior to the stay of the Executive Order) choices by government entities to try to revoke peoples’ ability to board planes and to keep them from setting foot in the US

Do pick something you care deeply about and write a letter to the editor (LTE) of your local newspaper. Here’s a guide and here’s an example. Side note: it’s always a good idea to be aware of your newspaper’s guidelines for an LTE. Increase your chances of getting published by adhering to those rules to the extent possible (i.e., if the limit is 200 words, don’t send 325 and make it harder for them to use your piece). Also, it is a good idea to have civil and friendly relationships with your local journalists. No one likes always being asked for something — it’s totally acceptable to chat with them about the weather or praise their cute puppy pictures if you happen to be involved in their social media streams. AND — not everything you submit will get accepted. Don’t take it personally. (Sometimes if I don’t get something accepted, I run it on my blog. Medium is another choice. Your thoughts/opinions still matter.)

Donate to the International Refugee Assistance Project

If you would like to be on the list, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with my friend!

Naps

When our incredible hospice volunteer, Jim, arrived recently,  I said, “I’ll be working on something in the bedroom.” Do you think every hospice volunteer knows “working on something in the bedroom” means “napping”?

One of the huge benefits of working from home is that it is so much easier to customize my life around my energy needs and fit in a 15-minute power nap around 3 pm. As this article states, power naps are beneficial for alertness and motor learning skills. I am not sure if “and making Paula a lot less irritable” is documented anywhere but I tell you, it’s a thing.

If/when I ever return to the traditional office-based workforce, I can only hope I find someplace with nap pods.Google says “no workplace is complete without a nap pod.” That’s what I’m talking about! Maybe Google will open a Tallahassee branch in the future!

FOR FUN

I asked my Facebook friends what they thought I would say. Although they didn’t hit on the five things I listed above, they were all spot-on (good job, friends!). Here are their answers:

  • Green pens (yes!)
  • Audiobooks (oh yes yes yes)
  • Hidden Figures (yes!)
  • Global vaccinations (for sure)
  • Exchanging pleasant conversation over a good meal (the best thing ever)
  • Disney
  • Wine (for sure)

Good job, friends — you get me, you really get me.

Several people also shared THEIR favorite things, which was fun to see! Also a great segue to the end of this post.

What are your current faves?

Favorite Things

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.