A little more balance

A dark haired woman with glasses, wearing a blue tank dress, stands in front of a door with a curvy chalkboard sign hanging on it with some jute rope. The sign says, in cursive light blue chalk, "The Writing Studio".
Me, outside the door to my writing studio

During the course of the last month, I feel as though I’ve been on a giant learning rollercoaster that’s emblazoned with the word “Balance”. There have been some good days, so many bad days, and some in between. I’ve tried writing randomly as the mood stuck me all around the clock, just in structured time slots with one specific task at hand, doing different kinds of jobs in different parts of the house and yard, working with people in coffee shops, working without people in coffee shops, writing during writing groups, and so many other things.

Mostly, though, I didn’t get as much writing in as I had hoped for. I didn’t get as much of everything done as I wanted to, for that matter. I tried to do too much. Again.

So two weeks ago, I started keeping track of what threw me for a loop. I tracked my time throughout many days in 15 minute increments. I wrote down both what I was supposed to be doing and what I ended up doing instead. Threw all of that into a spreadsheet. Re-learned how to make a pie chart. Fascinated my kid, who wants to make one of his band director’s life now (sorry Mr. Labordus).

Last weekend I bought a little wish bracelet from a shop in the mall. It serves as a reminder of what I’m trying to do: be balanced in all things. It’s cute and designed to fall off the moment you achieve your wish, which means this baby’s going to be around forever. Hahaha.

From my pie chart, I learned that the amount of time I want to spend on things is, in fact, fairly balanced, and when things go my way, I’m good to go. Things rarely go my way, though, and most interruptions to my flow come in the form of kids needing to be picked up or dropped off outside of their regular hours, my spouse’s job scheduling his meetings over his lunch hour so he has to come home at a different time, and small explosions here and there from organizations or friends unexpectedly needing something.

So I’ve started a new plan, which is basically to schedule everything into those 15 minute blocks I talked about before. Quite a lot of my life can be arranged in 15 minute periods. It takes about 15 minutes to get to each kids school and from one school to the other. The library and building where my other group meets are about 15 minutes away. It takes about 15 minutes to do a round of dishes in the sink or the dishwasher. 15 minutes to vacuum & mop one room. 15 minutes to make an image for social media. 15 minutes to plan which updates need to be done at what times. 15 minutes to set my tasks and alarms for the week, etc.

Writing, however, can’t be tamed into 15 minutes at a go. It needs more like an hour and a half per shorter non-fiction item written. An hour and a half to edit something the same length into something usable and send it off. Same for poems. Short stories can take a solid week of those hour and a half slots just to write. Novels are nigh near endless.

So I’ve chucked my original goal to be done with this novel by the end of the year. I have too many other shorter obligations to finish in the meantime. I will finish out the year working on those items, working on the marketing class my friend Marsha and I are taking, meeting with my new brainstorming partner Debora to help me figure out the itty bitty plot details I’m trapped in, and running last years NaNoWriMo novel back through to write, since I did not manage to do more than one short chapter last year.

Here’s hoping that I achieve some balance soon.

Sick, but still kickin’

I started feeling sick last week, but I knew it was “just another sinus infection” and that I was supposed to see my doctor last Thursday, so I just kept running along and doing my thing. Well, the appointment day came and literally as I was walking out the door, the doctor’s office called to say that my doctor was out for the day and would I like to reschedule. I said sure, thinking they’d put me in within a couple days. Nope. They rescheduled me to February.

The next day my spouse was also supposed to see the doctor. Same doctor. Same walking-out-the-door phone call, but this time they said the doctor was out sick. Interesting. He got an appointment rescheduled for the day before mine.

By Monday, I was so dizzy that I felt like the world was swirling around me, which did not bode well for my speaking engagement. I called to see if I could get in to see another doctor for my antibiotics and steroids and they said yes, but not until Thursday because they were swamped with my regular doctor being out for the next month, sick. Hmm. Methinks my doctor has Covid.

My Monday Plan

In any case, I went to my meeting and was prepared to run it…I thought. Unfortunately, there were no instructions on the computer station on how to run the sound equipment, there was no former President to walk me through it (he was out sick), and our tech guy turned out to never have used the system before. Oh bother. It was chaotic, but we got through it. We never got the speaker/microphone working. I ended up in the middle of the room, cell phone on speaker in my hand so the Zoom participants could hear, and I muddled through about half of my presentation before all the interruptions started to really kill my focus. Well, not just the interruptions, but the sinus infection.

My video – the ETWG YouTube account only has one video right now – this one

So the next morning, I made a video of the entire presentation, including the slide show, which I didn’t get to really use during the meeting. I added captions to my video, uploaded it to the writers guild’s youtube account, and sent a “thanks for putting up with the chaos” message out to the members. They seemed to like that. I got a ton of email messages thanking me and asking about the future of the guild. That part was very nice. I spent the day working on writing and attended my Spiritual Practices class. Oh, and I got a rejection of some poems I’d sent to a literary journal way back in October. They liked them, but they weren’t right for their vibe.

Wednesday I collapsed in a puddle for the most part, though I did attend both a writing group meeting and another meeting, and later went out for tacos with my long lost artist friend, the other Lisa H. See, I use my rest time well, right?

The short story contest we entered

Thursday morning, my midkid surprised me with the news that he wanted to enter into a writing contest. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was kind of expensive to enter into, but it provides professional feedback on four short stories he will send in. So I registered him and then thought about it and registered myself, too. I will talk about that in another post.

I finally made it out to see the doctor that is my eldest son’s primary care doctor, whom we affectionately refer to as Dr. Dudebro, due to some entertaining messages he sent the kid after his last appointment. In any case, Dr. Dudebro was way overbooked and everyone AND the nurse all had Covid (I love the thin walls in this office). I made it out of there mostly unscathed, I think, but I have not just a sinus infection, but an ear infection in both ears. Yay me for being a medical overachiever!

After that was another writing group, the brainstorming fantasy writers group that I just joined a few weeks ago. They are a great group for brainstorming with and really got to the center of the problem in my novels in a way that I hadn’t seen before. I got offline and spent the rest of the day shifting POVs around and making my stories more cohesively plotted in both that novel that I shared a chapter of with them and the one I’ve been working on all this year.

Linda Coats

In sad news that day, I found out that one of my favorite high school teachers had passed away earlier in the week. I will write more about that later, I’m sure, but I am just not up for it yet.

Friday I continued on my merry way, getting more stuff set up for the East Texas Writers Guild and putting more plot notes into various novels. I basically spent all day at the computer, then went to bed at 9:30pm.


This morning I got up and saw first thing that a different one of my poems had gotten accepted for publication by another anthology. Wahoo! Way to go, me! I celebrated by going to a marketing webinar about newsletters. 😉 I really know how to party, right?

Story of the anthology story

I’ve been working on a short story for an anthology on and off since mid-October. I did a ton of research up front, then wrote a way too long time travel story based on a shipwreck. A week later I came back up for air and discovered that I’d missed key ingredients needed: Fun! Summery! Not mentioned in written documents I had for the anthology, but in the group chat afterwards, it seemed emphasized.

So I started new research for a lighter version. Picked a subject to base my new story around, dug out the parts of the original story that wouldn’t work, and started re-writing. It was going slowly. My problem was that I loved my location and it was problematic. I didn’t want to use a different one, but this one was hard to make summery.

One night I had a dream about a little girl in a closet full of dresses from every era. I tried to put her out of my mind until later, but she popped up now and again.

I was super busy with other things last month, so I had very few writing days on this project. Last week I gathered up all my research, pulled out the bits of the original story, and started playing with the ideas. The little girl from my dream came back and told me exactly where she fit in.

Yesterday I sat down and wrote 7,000 words for the new story in about four hours. Today I spent another nine hours trying to whittle that back down to 5,000. Tonight it goes out to my critique group for round one of critique edits. I’m hoping the heart of the story shines through, even with the cuts. We shall see.

Things I do when my spouse is traveling

My spouse and I have been together since 1997, so when he’s out of town it is deeply weird. This time he’s in Houston for a few days, then will be back for a couple, then gone again for a few more. I have lists of food I’ll make for dinner, things we will do in the evenings, but it’s never easy when 2/5 of our household is gone.

Nights like this, I tend to draw back into myself. I read a book (tonight’s is for the UU book club: Memoirs of a Geisha) and listen to my favorite female musicians (Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Indigo Girls, Jewel, Alanis Morisette, Juliana Hatfield, etc.) by candlelight while the children wander in and out, foraging for food or bidding for my attention in new and exciting ways.

Sometimes I indulge in long phone calls with old friends or family members. Tonight it was my birth family. I was trying to explain about my youngest wanting a piccolo for Christmas and how that was a wonderful thing. They said it would be so loud and off-putting, but to me, it’s music and comfort and safety because I can hear the melody and know exactly which kid it is playing and where my kid is and what they are doing. Their traumas are different than mine. I am terrified of not knowing what is happening to my children, of not being present, of moments unacknowledged. My goal as a parent is that my children never spend a moment wondering if they are loved or seen or acknowledged. I spend my days making sure that they know that they are welcomed and loved and seen for who they are, and that they know that however they may change, they are still loved. There is more about all that in the memoir I am writing, of course.

Tonight there was also a brief storm, so the youngest and I wandered outside and danced in the thunder and lightning, a tradition we’ve had since he was little. The rain drops were huge and we were quickly soaked, but it is what we do. We danced and sang and when we became too cold, we came inside and burrowed in blankets on the couch, listening to the midkid practice his French horn.

And now it is growing closer to bedtime, but I am unable to sleep. I never do when my spouse is gone. I will probably stay up and watch movies he would not enjoy, while listening to one of my kids sing his Region Band music, which is identical to music I and my friends played when we were in high school. It’s funny how things go around and come back to themselves.

Back to Writing Again

This will be short. My dad has gone home, my kids are back at school, my husband is at work, and I have three and a half hours all to myself for writing. I’m reworking Caro’s Quest Chapter Nine after a couple weeks away to let me feel not so terrible about the utter disaster that the ladies at the Pineywoods Critique Group thought it was. To be honest, it was probably not great. First draft and all that. Back to work!

Reminiscing about the MOPS Costume Closet Lecture by Cathy

One year at MOPs (mothers of preschoolers), a mentor talked about her costume chest. Every year, the day after Halloween, she’d go buy the costumes that were 80% off and save them for the next year, so over the years she always had stuff that was new or different for costumes. Her kids by that point were in their 30s and still came home at every costume-needing event to dig through the box.

So I have striven to be that mom. When the kids were in elementary school, we brought the whole costume box up to school for storybook parades, Halloween, and Living History Museums. Some of them were cheap store-bought things, but many of them were things I had sewn or crocheted. Literally hundreds of kids have dressed up out of our costume box. I would always take photos of as many of the kiddos as I could.

When the last of my kids outgrew the smallest outfits, I started donating them to the school, so over the years our at-home costume box has dwindled and theirs has gotten bigger. Our kids don’t dress up as much now that they’re in high school and college, but every year at Halloween I’ll see at least one kid wearing something out of our old box and it really makes me smile.

This week wins the CHAOS award!

This week has been super chaotic in a million bizarre ways. On Tuesday first thing, I got a text from my massage place, reminding me I’d signed up for yoga for that morning which I thought was scheduled for another day because I was supposed to have physical therapy at 10am. It was 15 minutes til class and I live 25 minutes away, so I called the place and told them that I just couldn’t make it. The owner told me I wasn’t on the schedule because the system wouldn’t let someone without a yoga subscription sign up. (True, I don’t have a yoga subscription, but I’d bought a package earlier in the year that gave me one yoga session.) She said not to worry about it and we’d get me on the schedule next time I came in.*

Just after that the husband left for church, then our eldest showed up in casual clothes, looking for his trumpet and his Bb hymnal notebook. We had the trumpet, but the hymnal hasn’t been here for two years. As he left, the husband came back in, having forgotten his suit jacket, and did a double take because the eldest was not ready for church. *sigh* They both left and I got online to meet with my daily accountability partner.

A little bit later, our midkid’s dentist appointment got rescheduled** because the dentist had a medical emergency. This will be important later. At this point I checked the schedule and my physical therapy had been put on Wednesday and Friday this week. *sigh*

Right after that I got a call to finally schedule the 504 meetings for the kids, so I went looking up info on stuff in the patient portal to get documentation for that, and found out that one of the kids had an appointment for that particular issue that very afternoon. It wasn’t in my calendar right.*** This will also become important later. So I called the school, which has that 24 hour notice thing going on, and let them know we were picking him up later than originally planned.****also important later. While looking around the portal, I saw a very tiny new notice that said that this version of the patient portal was closing this week and that we should download all our files if we wanted them because they would not be available on the new system. (I already have an account on the new system, with the other hospital, so then I wondered if I’d need a second account or if they were going to merge them or what?) I spent a very long time downloading the three sets of data files I had access to. It won’t let me get David’s and David never set up a password to his after he turned 18, so those are all gone. Nick’s, too.

Then I got a call from physical therapy saying that I was still on schedule for Wednesday, but they needed to move my Friday appointment because I had another appointment scheduled at the same time and the new system wouldn’t let them double book a patient. ***** I told them that I was calling that doctor’s office today because I needed to have finished my PT re-evaluation before I saw that doctor, but it had taken two weeks to get into PT, not one, so that appointment had to move, not PT. It was on my list to call them, only all these other people kept calling me first. I called scheduling and got put on hold for 18 minutes, then transferred to someone that was not scheduling, but she put a note through the system to that doctor’s nurse to call me back because she was the nicest human I spoke to all week.

Then I spoke to other people about various other problems going on in volunteer organizations I am a part of. I learned so many special things. I just…can’t talk about any of it. At some point during those calls, I got a text from the system at my massage/yoga place telling me that I had failed to cancel within the proper time period and they were going to charge my account for the yoga session. I checked the account online and it had one note that said I had cancelled and one that said I hadn’t cancelled and one that said I was on the schedule for next week. ???

At the midkid’s doctor’s appointment, we got the paperwork and all that, but also found out that with the new, updated system the hospital is getting, lots of things were going wrong – like the router in the office being set to GMT instead of CST for the time zone. Which was why the appointment for Greg had looked like it was set for 8:30pm. And why they kept having that problem with other patients.(see ***) CHAOS. Oh, and in the middle of the new nurse being unable to take my kids blood pressure because he seemed unsure of how to use a regular blood pressure cuff instead of the automatic one, my phone rang and it was the nurse at the ortho’s office calling back to reschedule. (See *****)

Then that night, because on band time it was Monday, not Tuesday, I had to leave my Spiritual Practices class early to pick up my band kids because it was, of course, also a high holy day for my husband’s church, so he was busy.

Wednesday morning, I sent the ADHD paperwork to the 504 lady, just as the internet teetered into nothing. Good times. Then I went to physical therapy and found out even more insanity making things that I will not recount here. In the end, as it turned out, there’s most likely no thoracic outlet syndrome because my shoulders are healed. YAY! But there’s ongoing things wrong with my neck. So I need to go back to that orthopedic doctor and have him do different scans and write a different set of orders for physical therapy so they can deal with the neck thing. I did get one knot worked out of my neck area, though, and have ordered the special tool they used to get it out because it’s over the counter and can be used by laypeople as easily as physical therapists (they showed me how and sent me a video in case I forget).

Also at PT, we discussed the ***** situation and I told them that while I had gotten the appointment changed, it wasn’t showing up as changed in my portal, but I would really like that Friday appointment, please and thank you. Since the appointment lady was scheduling in the new system and so was the ortho’s office, there was no longer a conflict, and I got my Friday appointment for PT. I asked about how to access the new portal because if my appointments were in there now, I wanted to be able to access them. The new system is vastly easier on the patients end of things. But the PT appointment lady had no idea how we were supposed to do that or when it would become available or that the old portal was being taken down so quickly.

I got home and made a discovery that meant I had to cancel my Breast MRI the next day. If you know, you know. If you don’t, well, I’m not telling. After that, I was going to write, but I got embroiled in some other organizations insanity and ended up doing something else until it was time to pick up kids, but I hadn’t made it to the donation center and there was no room for everyone and all the stuff. I missed my van for the second time this month. So I guess that’s not too bad.

On the way home, we had the much discussed “how to make our home a better place for all who live there” conversation again and we all agreed that the china cabinet must go. So I spent my evening emptying that and finding new homes for everything. That was all my own chaos, but it was easy to solve chaos and I liked it.

Today we reached peak chaos. First thing this morning, I got an email from the 504 coordinator that my message had come through without a file attached. My Wi-Fi had gone flakey yesterday at one point and that was probably when I sent that message. So I re-sent it and she sent some other stuff back that I needed to fill out and send back. I had time to do that, finish some PTA stuff, and write and all that.

Then the texts began. My midkid had a substitute for the permanent substitute and she had him on the “No FLEX Day access” list. He has all A’s. He should not have had to go to tutorials. He goes anyways because he didn’t have the nifty bracelet that let him into FLEX Day fun. There’s a different sub there now. She won’t look at the grades portal and won’t let him go to FLEX. So he texts me to see if I can do something. I call the school a few times and once got put on speaker phone by accident and listened to the chaos up there myself for a while. They couldn’t hear me saying hello, so I eventually called back. Meanwhile, I emailed the counselor to see if we’d missed something on the progress report thing. It had been confusing because they didn’t send out paper progress reports and the links they sent just lead to the generic parent portal. While I was digging though the parent portal, I noticed my midkids appointments on Tuesday (** and ***) had been mislogged, so I called and left a message for attendance about getting that fixed. I got an actual human on the line and she told me that everyone was in their FLEX positions and there was no one to answer my questions, but try again tomorrow. I pointed out that FLEX was my question and tomorrow would be too late, so she transferred me to someone else. I left a voicemail, but got called back immediately. I explained the kids All A’s status and she looked him up and saw that he was in a class that had had a lot of upheaval and in fact had a brand new substitute teacher who’d never taught before. She said she’d get my kid a note to let him out for FLEX and not to worry any more, mama.

But that, of course, wasn’t the end of that. Kid texted me that the sub had gotten a phone call and told him that his mom was there to pick him up and he should get all his stuff together and go to the front office. So he did. The counselors were there, teased him about his hair and his three ginormous instruments, and sent him outside to wait for me. After about 15 minutes he called me and asked where I was. “At home because you’re at FLEX?” “No, mom, I’m waiting outside the school. The sub said you were coming to pick me up.” Well, by the time I got there, it was 10 minutes til the bell would ring, my kid was incandescent with rage, and I was angry enough to not want to talk to anyone, either, so we left and got him a drink and then came back for his brother.

His brother had a decent time at FLEX, but was unable to buy coffee because the coffee place didn’t bring enough change. He was unbothered. I love him. He is just like his daddy sometimes. You know what else didn’t end up chaotic? Panda Express for the band fundraiser. Everyone got the right food. It was nice.

So, any bets on tomorrow’s chaos? I am going to bet that my PT didn’t get scheduled or that my ortho appointment didn’t get moved or that I totally forget about my kids 504 meeting. Or that the meals I ordered on Tuesday for the pre-football game band kids go astray somehow. Or something else to do with it being middle school band sit-along night at the football game. Who knows. I am so tired.

First Church Service Back in Person

So my dad did not go home yesterday and decided to stay and go to church with me and the kids today, which was awkward because a) it was our first service back in person, b) the sanctuary is so small that with social distancing and our regulars there was no room for visitors, c) we tried to do a hybrid service for people that wanted to stay online and it failed, d) there was a lot of joyful crying because EVERYONE CAME BACK and we were really concerned they wouldn’t, e) I had to stop and fill out visitor forms on the way in for my dad because he couldn’t figure out what they were asking him to do, f) I needed to officially join the church before I could become a trustee (something they discovered after they asked me to become a trustee), and my peeps could not figure out how to people while I was away, g) and also I officially have An Abundance of Catherine’s (however they happen to spell it, which varies so much), h) back to the weirdness, Ree decided to walk home, Greg went to hide in the car, and the retired pastor who sometimes leads us asked where my kids went and when I shrugged she just laughed and said “oh yeah, you have an older child, too, so you’ve reached the resigned stage of parenthood” and my dad laughed so hard I thought he might die, so we left right after that, i) that was awkward because I hadn’t said goodbye to everyone yet, but a certain older gentleman really wanted a hug, so I hugged him and my dad was all “Is that old man bothering you?!” and I laughed hysterically because I’ve probably talked to that gentleman more than I’ve talked to my dad this year and they would have really liked each other because they are the same age and both like stamps. j) after all that I hyper focused on cleaning the house and 1/4 of the garage is spectacularly clean now and the laundry is done, and the kitchen was spotless, but then Nick used ALL THE THINGS cooking dinner and now it’s a wreck again.

Low Energy Chore list

Things you can do when you don’t have a lot of energy, but do have some time you need to get work done during:

Organize digital stuff.
Tag old photos, or make albums.
Organize your printed recipes.

Write draft replies for unanswered emails.
Create to-do lists per life/work/cleaning category.
Do short-medium-long term planning.
Work on time-consuming important, yet not urgent projects.

Make an inspiration board for the future – shopping lists, lists of movies to watch, books to read, places to visit.
Make a list of friends + plan when to call/interact with each one.
Crochet or cross stitch something small, yet meaningful.

Inventory stuff you have at home and/or plan on how to reorganize it.
Update your resume or explore jobs.
Do inventory of your health issues and make notes for future appointments.

My Daily Schedule as a Writer with Chronic Illnesses

I have a lot of chronic pain related illnesses, as well as a disconnect between my brain and my heart. I work from home, with a husband that works elsewhere and 2 kids and 2 cats in and out. It was hard to find friends in this city at first, but I eventually found some. I still don’t see the friends that often because we all work and have young teenagers that we are still driving around.

A typical work week day looks like this:
5:30-7:30 am get up, dressed, stretch/yoga, and make breakfast for self and kids
7:30-8 drop off kids
8am back from dropping kids at school, study a bit for lessons I teach other days
8:30-10:00 work
10-10:30 break for accountability time with another work from home friend
10:30-12 more work
12-1 husband comes home for lunch and we eat leftovers together
1-2:30more work/teaching
2:30-4 workout at gym, shower, change clothes
4-4:30 pick up kids
4:30-5 collapse in a heap or run errands
5-6 prep for evening meetings
6-8 some nights meetings, some nights house cleaning, dinner usually at 7pm regardless (husband cooks)
8-10 TV or movie or reading
10p-6a sleep, hopefully

6am get up, stretch/yoga, drink tea, read silly things to spouse off the internet
8am start breakfast
9am wake kids, eat breakfast
10am clean kitchen, get showered & dressed
11am church (Sundays) or reading/crafting time (Saturday)
Noon light lunch(usually leftovers)
1-3 board games or other fun with kids or shopping
3-5 writing or laundry
5-7 hang out in kitchen with spouse while he cooks (I usually help)
7 dinner
8-10 TV or movie or reading
10p-6a sleep, hopefully

Once a week activities:
Lunch with friend*
Coffeehouse Work time with co-worker*
Writer’s Guild
Author’s Greenhouse
Critique Group
Spiritual Discussions class
Fun afternoon with kids*
Once a month activities
Girls Night Out*
Date Night*
Board Game afternoon with friends*
Visit Dad/Be visited by Dad
Dinner with in-laws *

*not since Covid-19