No Back to School Blues This Year

Two years ago, I posted a blog about the stress that surrounds the end of summer break and going back to school – and I wasn’t even the one going to school. Still, as a parent of a then-five-year-old, I was fully responsible for getting him there on time every day and felt that pressure. I don’t even remember if I had the same feeling last year – I was probably too busy to notice.

This summer, I’ve done more summery things than probably any other summer of my life, including a two-week vacation with my family. It would seem that a summer like this would stir that familiar anticipation, that early-morning-wake-up dread. But for once, I look forward to the days ahead, when I will have a set routine (even if it means a 4:15 alarm). Funny how things change.

Although I am a little anxious about what the fall will bring, with my little guy transitioning from loosely structured days with me or other family members, I’m thrilled that he’ll finally be in the classroom his brother first entered four years ago. I’ve spent much of the summer preparing my three-year-old by teaching him the songs he’ll sing in pre-school, as well as the concept that it’s not cool to walk out of the bathroom sans pants. It’s a work in progress, but he’s actually getting it. For the past month, he’s told me almost on a daily basis that he wants to go to school – and it’s not just Peter’s school anymore but Ian’s, too. And Peter, who will be entering the second grade, is excited to meet his teacher and see what friends will be in his class.

But the kids aren’t the only ones who are excited. A couple months ago, I received the call from one of their school’s administrators, asking if I would be interested in a PreK 4 assistant position. I jumped on it, probably sounding rather giddy. It was one of those pinch-myself kinds of moments. Summer break had just begun, though, so it didn’t sink in fully for a while. Every once in a while, when thinking about the upcoming year, I would have to remind myself that this year will be different. I will have an assigned parking spot. Instead of walking the kids up, they will come with me to my classroom. No more phone calls while I’m in the shower, asking if I can sub. All welcome changes.

Toward the end of July, I did have a little bit of an overwhelmed feeling, knowing that I had a couple weeks of training and pre-planning ahead of me. Before most of my teacher friends were even back, I was at school, learning how to administer and interpret the assessment we use for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners. Then this past week, while many of my friends posted pictures of their end-of-summer vacations on social media, I’ve been hard at work. I have my badge, which makes me official, and people keep welcoming me to the faculty, but I can’t help but feel like I’m still the same old volunteer-slash-substitute mom that I’ve been since 2011. I belong here, I have to remind myself. Not only do my colleagues help cement that feeling, but my delight in my position tells me it’s true. As I confided in another teacher, I’m having more fun than I feel like I should be allowed to have – and someone’s paying me for it!

Regular readers, fear not – I’m still writing. I’m not about to give up on that dream. But now I’m able to help support my family in a way that freelancing didn’t allow, and my kids and I will be at the same place every day (although in different classrooms). I’ve die-cut, laminated, copied, stapled, cut, sorted, and painted my way through a number of projects this week, and while it sometimes felt like the room would never be finished, I’m proud of the results. I’m working with an amazing teacher, and since I subbed a lot in PreK 3 last year, I know eight of our ten kids already.

PreK 4 collage

I’m sure there are days ahead when I will be tired and irritable. There will be kids who grate on my frayed nerves. There will be days and weeks that never seem to end. I’m not deluded about what’s to come. Even so, I am very excited. So much so that I don’t have back to school blues at all. Instead, I feel like I do when a much-anticipated vacation is just around the corner. In fact, I feel much like I did over twenty years ago, when I was a girl attending this very school.

The night before the first day back will likely be a sleepless one. I’m just the kind of person who gets too excited to succumb to unconsciousness. So if you see me Tuesday, I’ll likely be carrying matching grey baggage under my eyes. But don’t worry, this is exactly the kind of thing I don’t mind losing sleep over.

Summer 2015 Writing

So far, summer 2015 has been one of the best summers in recent memory. My husband and I aren’t big summer vacation people. In fact, other than weekend trips to visit his parents, we haven’t taken a big summer vacation since our honeymoon 11 years ago.

When we decided to spend two weeks in the Pacific Northwest, I thought we were crazy. We’re not the type of people to just leave for two weeks. But aside from taking our hot Florida weather with us to Washington State, it was a great time away from home with our family.

During the first half of our trip, I was a little anti-social. (Let’s be honest, I’m anti-social anyway, but this time it was because I had a deadline to meet.) I spent most of my down time polishing my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel for submission to CreateSpace. As a NaNo winner, I was eligible to claim two free copies of my book, but I had to have it submitted and approved before midnight EDT on June 30th. On the west coast, that meant I had to be done by 9:00 P.M., and I was nervous about pushing it that late. Last year, I had my novel submitted in plenty of time, but CreateSpace’s approval process took almost 24 hours, and by then, it was too late to get two free copies.

This year, my goal was to submit my manuscript on June 28th. I didn’t achieve that goal, but that’s because I decided to submit more than just the 2014 novel. Since it was the sequel of my 2013 novel, I included both novels in the same volume. The 2013 novel has gone through significant revisions since last year, and my beta readers for the sequel will need to read the new version of the first novel in order for the story to make sense. So I finished editing and formatting both books, then submitted them on the evening of the 29th.

When CreateSpace sent me the book preview, it was with a note that they couldn’t publish it because there were three blank pages in the middle. After hours of frustration (because my copy didn’t have three blank pages), I figured out a way to eliminate the blank pages on their end. I submitted the new version after one in the morning, went to sleep, and woke up to see that it was perfect – except for the headers. Since there are two novels in one volume, I thought it would be helpful to have the titles listed in the headers, but after making the change that eliminated the three pages, apparently the second header was deleted. Oh well. I went with it rather than risk fixing the problem, only for it to go past the deadline. These are just beta copies, after all, and I finally got my two free copies.

NaNoWriMo 2013 2014

It was an immediate relief to have that project behind me. I spent a few days filling my free time with reading. But then it happened – the itch to write again. After giving my creative juices a few days to percolate, I started looking through my unfinished manuscripts for something I could sink my teeth into.

Then I found it – a book that I started writing years ago and that I come back to every once in a while. I’ve written a scene here, a scene there. It’s not even a skeleton of a book yet, but it’s something. I read through everything I had – about 60 pages in a Word document – and decided I wanted to dig in and really get something done with this story.

I was surprised with how easy it was to sit down and just write. It’s a great feeing – one that I’ve only been able to capture during National Novel Writing Month the past couple years. There’s a reason that I have so many unfinished manuscripts, and it’s that I’ll start with a lot of inspiration, and then my Muse will just abandon me. It’s wonderful to have the motivation back.

So wonderful that, after several days of writing and having no inclination to stop, I decided I might as well sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I have friends who sometimes participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in April or July, but I never wanted to do it before. I’m always too busy editing and revising. But this year, while I wait for my beta readers to give me their critiques, I want to be productive. There’s nothing better than writing because I want to – and having the time to do it. I might as well enjoy it because I’ll be working full-time in November and don’t know if I’ll be able to make the 50,000 word minimum.

For anyone else who’s interested, Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own goal (I think the minimum is 10,000 words). My manuscript was already at 20,000 when I started, so I set my goal for 35,000 by the end of July. As of today, I only have 10,000 words to go, and I think I have enough momentum to maybe even finish this book.

Happy writing!

Unplugging (At Least a Little Bit)

I’ve seen many an article in which the writer talks about how he or she has gotten rid of smart phones permanently, and I’ll have to say that I’m not one of those people. Believe me, I fought even getting an iPhone much longer than is normal for a so-called millennial, but I finally got one three years ago. I don’t play games on it (although I did at first), and I’m not the type of person who has to have the latest version. I like it for the convenience of being able to take snapshots and videos of my kids and check my email on the run and make phone calls and look up obscure trivia all in one device. But that also doesn’t mean that I’m glued to my phone all day. My rule is that I simply don’t use it at all if ever I wake up in the middle of the night (unless, of course, I get an emergency call or text). It’s easy for me to ignore it. In fact, there are some times when I am so busy that I’ll got 12 hours without doing more than checking the time.

But then there are those other people who can’t pull themselves away from whichever device is their vice of choice (and see how “vice” is already there in “device” – it’s like it was planned that way). These people check their email if they happen to wake up at three A.M. They play Farmville at their children’s band concerts or ballet recitals. They talk through the checkout line at the grocery store and text while driving. A lot of this comes down to a lack of common sense as well as courtesy – blog topics for another day.

The iPhone isn’t my problem, anyway. We have a semi-joke in our house about “my” MacBook. We bought this computer almost four years ago when my husband went back to school. At the time, I thought it would be great to have after he graduated, in addition to our desktop model. And for the longest time, I didn’t do much with it. He took it to class, typed term papers on it – was even typing one in the hospital room when our second son was born – but then… well, I kind of took it over after he graduated. (Don’t worry – I did get him an iPad mini to make up for stealing his tech.) By that point, our desktop computer was on it’s last legs, but I wasn’t worried about replacing it – the MacBook was more than adequate. It’s where I do everything from this blog to typing my NaNoWriMo novels to doing my freelance work to editing photos and creating photo books (for me and for clients). I’ve taken it on every vacation since we bought it, including Disney World, and I’ll even carry it in the car to work on projects if it’s a ride of 30 minutes or more (and when I’m not driving, obviously).

But this weekend I’m going to leave it at home.

That’s right – I’m letting go! My in-laws are taking the kids Friday after school through Monday – the longest I’ve gone childless since November 5, 2007. And this time, instead of my husband working half the nights they’re away, we’ve actually booked a room at my friend’s bed and breakfast – a first for us. My elder son was shocked to hear that we’re going to be doing fun stuff, too. And here’s something really different for me, the planner: we don’t have a plan. We’re going to go and just do nothing – or anything. And I’m not taking the laptop. I’m not going to write at all. Now, it’s only going to be for one night, but these are baby steps, folks. While I love writing, my husband can tell you that sitting down to innocently write a scene turns into balancing the budget for an hour and editing for Fiction Fix and any number of other computer-related distractions. We’ll take our phones (and probably the iPad) so we can FaceTime our kids and watch Netflix to our hearts’ content. I’ve been so busy lately that I refuse to go on a vacation only to do more of the same while paying extra for the room. (And see – I’m even posting this blog early just to make sure I’m distraction-free.)

We’ll have our books and a new-to-us area to explore. It’s going to be the perfect pair-of-introverts weekend.

Mommy’s Summer Break

Flagler Beach

Flagler Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer, I’ve been more aware of the passage of time than ever before. I think part of that is due to updating the calendar with my six-year-old every day. It’s something he did in kindergarten and will continue to do in the first grade, and I figured it was an easy way to sneak in a little learning all summer long.

So when we turned to August, and I saw that the first day of school was less than three weeks away, I felt like our summer break had evaporated without me taking much notice. Then Peter asked me how many days were left, and I turned it into a quick math lesson. We counted the days of summer break up to that point, then counted the remaining days until school started, and we added them up for the total number of days.

Eighty-one. From the day after he finished kindergarten to the day before he starts first grade are 81 days. Not even three full months. I have to admit that I feel a little cheated. When I was a kid, we were out at the beginning of June and didn’t go back until the day after Labor Day.

A little past the mid-point of July, we were invited to a play date at the beach. I was talking to another mom, whom I hadn’t seen since early June, and she asked me about our summer. I was at a bit of a loss and had to admit that standing on the beach with her and our children was the first “summery” thing I’d done. Yes, my kids had occasional play dates and day camps or classes, but I hadn’t taken them to do anything that smacked of summer.

Before I had kids, I was rarely asked the “What have you done this summer?” question. After all, if you don’t have kids, you’re not in school yourself, or you’re not a teacher, summer is merely a hotter time of year. And when you live in Florida, it’s hot about eleven-and-a-half months, anyway, so it all kind of runs together.

But this summer, I’ve encountered this question a lot, and I’ve finally resorted to the, “It’s been very busy” answer. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I have completed three big projects since the end of the school year, but for every one of these projects, I’ve picked up at least one more. So my busy-ness has just shifted into other areas.

I’m not complaining. I love freelance writing and the flexibility of being able to go to the store when I need and to be available to take my sons to their various activities. Even being busy isn’t all that bad, except that I’ve had to utilize to-do lists more than ever in my life the last couple months because, otherwise, I might forget to brush my teeth or something.

I will have to say, though, that some things have suffered. Like the house. Because of my husband’s odd work hours, it seems that the only days he’s available to mow the lawn are when it rains. Consequently, our grass grows so thick and so high that we run through lawn mowers like candy. We finally gave in and hired a lawn guy (something I’d been rooting for since last fall), and when he showed up one morning this week and did what would have taken Thomas two days to accomplish, I said that my dreams had come true. Of course, that’s a gross exaggeration. He wasn’t publishing my book, cleaning the house, potty training my toddler, and mowing the lawn, but I’ll take what I can get.

Ick – do we live like this?

Ick – do we live like this?

As for the interior of the house, it’s been the pits since before spring break, which was in March. People say that trying to clean while you have kids is like trying to shovel snow in a blizzard, which is true, but still. I have a nice little shelf with bins that will hold toys, if only the kids will use it. Then my elder son decided he wanted to sleep on the floor over eight months ago, and he’s slept there ever since. (Really – check out the picture.) So his floor is mostly taken up with a sleeping bag, which never gets picked up. Every once in a while, it gets so messed up that I straighten it, only to find a number of toys that we thought had disappeared.

Sleeping bag… and no more sleeping bag :)

Sleeping bag… and no more sleeping bag 🙂

With my summer dwindling – and although I’ve been busy, I have more free time now than I will when I start substitute teaching again – I need to take care of my house before it gets even more out of control. So this weekend is my opportunity. My in-laws are taking the kids for a couple days, and although I swore I would clean the last time they kept the kids, I didn’t. But this time, I’m tackling the mess. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like being able to vacuum at three in the morning and not bother anyone, except for maybe the cat. (And sleep late because no one’s going to yell, “Mommy!” at six A.M.) It’s also nice to be able to pack away toys that my boys will never miss and donate them to children who will actually play with them instead of leaving them in the middle of the foyer.

So my life has come to this: it makes my day to pay someone to mow the lawn and to get rid of my kids long enough to clean up after them. Am I nuts, or what? My mommy-cation is not glamorous, nothing to write home about (although it does make for a convenient blog topic). And after all, my six-year-old gave Thomas and me his blessing to go out and have ice cream, see a movie, and have a romantic dinner. So, who knows? We may take him up on it… and come home to a house that looks like it belongs to civilized people.

The Happy Ending

The Happy Ending

Quit Worrying! (Advice from a Veteran Worrier)

I am branching out and doing something new today: typing this blog in my WordPress app in my phone. It’s not something I ever thought I would do; in fact, when I first got the app, I wondered who in the world would choose to use it for that purpose.

Now, I’m not spontaneous and blogging on the fly. The blog I planned to post this weekend is sitting useless on my computer while my wifi access is down.

If you know me, you know I’m a planner, and this was not a part of my plan. We’re on vacation over 3000 miles from home, and wifi access wasn’t a problem until last night.

I could flip out, but I’m trying to embrace challenges. And after all, we are on vacation. So why not try out my app to post a blog?

I got thinking this morning that our vacation has worked out much better than I imagined. For a week or more before we left, I worried about flying with a two-year-old and that my kids not adjust to the time change. I didn’t work myself up to a nervous breakdown, but the worry was there, nevertheless.

Then my toddler slept for almost half of our longer flight. And he and my older son have slept like champs the whole time. My little one has even conquered the steep flight of stairs where we’re staying, another thing I could have worried myself sick over.

Is it the Bible that says that you won’t add a second to your life by worrying? Well, whoever says it, I can embrace that idea right now. There are so many details I could be stressing out about, but I’ve done my best to prepare the best I can and just come to peace with whatever may happen. And I’ve really been able to enjoy myself by pushing those worries to the background.

Really, all I’m worried about right now is if the cloud cover will clear up enough to let us see Mount Rainier before we go. My sister-in-law assures me it’s there, but I think it might have taken a vacation, too.

Are you a worrier like me? Don’t let them take over and ruin your day or vacation or life. Make what preparations you can, and then tell your worries to take a long hike.


Why Can’t I Take a Vacation from Writing?

I love my vacations. I love the flurry of packing and cleaning and setting everything in order to be gone for a while… and then leaving. Then, while on vacation, people look at me like I’m crazy while I type away on my laptop. No, I’m not getting caught up on a client’s work. In fact, I’m not guaranteed to ever make one penny on what I’m writing. So why in the world am I doing it?


Typing Away (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For non-writers, understand that it’s not as simple as putting away the typewriter or laptop or fountain pen – whatever your writing implement of choice.

Remember when Stephen King said he was going to retire? This was well over ten years ago. I wondered how serious he was at the time: I certainly couldn’t imagine having a successful novel-publishing career and just giving it up.

In fact, King didn’t say he was going to quit writing at all, just that he thought he was almost done publishing. If you’ve read any Stephen King novels published since 2002, you’ll see that he’s apparently still not done. But even if he were to never publish another novel, I can’t imagine that he would quit writing. How many other professionals could do the same?

Consider people who have careers in the military or law enforcement, medical practitioners or pharmacists, teachers or professors – really, I could go on all day. Most professions are finis at retirement. You walk out the door, and you don’t come back. And until then, you take vacations, leaving all work behind for abbreviated periods of time.

But as with Stephen King, we writers have a somewhat different situation. While it’s absolutely appropriate to take a vacation from client work for a week or two, maybe even “retire” from the public scene, I never just leave my laptop at home or put my stories on the back burner.

My stories aren’t just going to take a vacation because I’m out of town. In fact, my NaNoWriMo novel, which I’m currently editing, woke me up early this morning, filling my head with new ideas. Sure, I could ignore them, try to recall them all in a couple weeks, but I’d likely forget them before then, not to mention that it would make me miserable to not work on my novel. In fact, I don’t even know if “work” is the appropriate word. Sure, I’ve spent a lot of time on it, but writing is a vacation in itself.

That’s not to say that I’m going to write to the exclusion of my family and our vacation plans. I’ll soak up the new experiences, laugh a lot, and sleep too little. But I will also take advantage of the time away to squeeze in as much extra writing as I can because I love it.

And, God willing, I hope to type away past retirement age and die with my fingers poised over the keyboard.

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