listing and listening: how to boost creativity, productivity, and sanity (i hope)

As much as I don't like Facebook, sometimes it can be good for something. A post by Stephanie St. Claire about starting and growing your small business recently went viral, and as a result of someone posting it on Facebook, I saw it. The post was great, with the kind of encouragement I needed at the time and a vibe that I really liked. So I read more.

As I tumbled down the blissbombed.com rabbit hole, I came across this post about daily list-making for creativity and problem solving. Daily lists? I could totally do that! I love lists! And I can still count to ten!

I've been trying it for a few days now. Most of my lists have been pretty lame so far, but there are a couple that I like. One is titled "what would make my life work better, right now?" and I see things that I really probably need to pay attention to -- and things that are within reach. One is called "ways I can keep my toddler occupied without involving a screen." The effectiveness of these ideas will surely be determined more by his whims than by the creativity of the ideas, BUT, at the very least I have some ideas to burn through next time I plan to shower without an assistant. (I'm beginning to think I should have made numbers 1-7 "give him an empty laundry hamper," because homeboy is really digging the mesh foldy/bendy laundry hampers right now.)

Steph first got the idea from James Altucher, another blogger I read. I recently bought his book (it's at $1.99 on Amazon) but I haven't had the chance to read it yet.

All in all, I like this list idea so far. I haven't seen a whole lot of actual fruit from it yet, but the problem solving feels good, regardless of whether any actual problems have been solved just yet.

What do you think about this idea? Are you a list maker?


confessions of a christmas music purist

I have been listening to Christmas music for a week now.

There. I said it.

I used to be one of those hardcore "no Christmas music until Thanksgiving is over" people. MAYBE Christmas music could be playing while we cleaned up the meal. MAYBE. But Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it bugged me that it would get "overlooked" by Christmas hype.

Also, I can be kind of rigid.

I was sort of lacking in the Christmas cheer last year. It all kind of snuck up on me and all of a sudden it was like December 5 and I hadn't even thought about Christmas. It's fine -- I was a little busy last year. But this year, I am really getting in the mood. I am eagerly awaiting Advent at church, and all the crunchy leaves and chilly weather have me ready to celebrate something. I feel, dare I say it, festive. As festive as a humbugger can get, anyway.

So that's why I've been listening to Christmas music for a week. Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday, but I think it's ok to have it share some space with Christmas this year. It's not like I am NOT going to celebrate Thanksgiving and it's not like it means any less to me just because I am hearing Christmas tunes beforehand.


how to work at home with a toddler (or a baby!) (or a preeschooler!)

I've been a work-at-home mom since the day my self-proclaimed maternity leave ended, around the time Gabriel was 3 months old or so. I really began working for myself in earnest in June of that year, when he was about 6 months old. It's been a year and a half of solid work-at-home-mamaness.

I have done a lot of things wrong and a lot of things bootlegged, but I finally feel like I am actually getting a handle on this home-all-day-with-him situation. And what it really boils down to, for me, as a single mom who must work, who has a toddler, who has no regular childcare, is awareness. Well, awareness and priorities.

The single most effective thing I have found for working at home with my toddler (thus far) is to divide my tasks into "awake tasks" and "asleep tasks." And when I talk about "work" or "tasks," I am talking about everything that must be done. Editing jobs. Dishes. Writing. Packing and shipping for the family business. Laundry-folding. Showering. Even TV-watching. Anything that is done at home and is not "reading a book for pleasure" (as if that ever happens) or "doing whatever Gabriel wants to do" is considered work.

I have learned, the hard way, what kinds of work I can do when he's awake and what I can only do when he's asleep. These days, I get a two-hour nap and a post-bedtime block of time and that's about it, so I've really got to make the most of the time that he's asleep -- it's too limited to waste on things I can do at other times.

Examples of sleep work include most of the writing and editing jobs that I have, especially those that pay by the hour rather than the project. Jobs that don't pay by the hour are easier to fit into the 5- and 10-minute chunks of time I sometimes get throughout the day, but it's nearly impossible to keep track of my time while doing that, which is why I'm such a fan of project-based fees rather than hourly fees. Other sleep work? Folding and putting away the laundry. I have a helper who likes to remind me that laundry needs to be shaken and tossed on the floor, especially if it is stacked too neatly.

The difficult thing for me has been resigning myself to not doing the awake work that need to be done, if he's already gone to bed. That 9pm-1am (or whenever I get too tired to do quality work) stretch is my best shot at real productivity in any given day, and I just can't justify sacrificing it to unloading the dishwasher and wiping down the bathroom mirror, no matter how much I want that other stuff to get done.

Some days -- lots of days -- there's just too much to get done. There's almost never time left over to do the things that are really gratifying but not "necessary" -- like knitting, and blogging, and having my friends over as frequently as I'd like. But having this basic guideline has helped me feel like I am at least making good choices about the things I manage to do when given the opportunity.

What's one of your best productivity tips?


insoles and beyond giveaway

Insolesandbeyond.com is sponsoring a great giveaway over at Messy Wife, Blessed Life.

Mandi, who writes the Messy Wife blog, is one of my favorite voices on the internet and I for one am super stoked to partner with her on this venture.

The prizes are pretty substantial and there are two winners. One winner gets a $50 store credit, and the other gets $25. Head on over to the giveaway page to enter, and you can keep entering every day for more chances to win!

If you are so inclined, I'd also love it if you liked our Facebook page (despite my feelings toward Facebook) and if you followed us on Twitter. (No hard feelings toward Twitter yet, but there's still plenty of time.) We're also taking signups on the homepage for our Insoles and Beyond Newsletter, which yours truly will be speerheading so I wouldn't be sad if you signed up for that, too.

I've been wearing insoles since I was about 16, and I really believe in the product. If you have any questions about what we sell, please feel free to ask me!


bah humbug! or, all these daily thanks on facebook are getting on my nerves

I am maybe a cynic or maybe a scrooge or maybe a bitter old woman or maybe I just really need a nap. No matter what it is, I am going to come right out and say that all of these daily thanks posts all over my Facebook feed are really super annoying.*

If it's not rhapsodies about wonderful husbands and perfect kids, it's hooray minivans and yay takeout. Seriously? I don't know. Some people -- lots of people -- really get a kick out of everybody being overtly thankful for all the wonderful things in their lives. You have a perfectly behaved dog? Hey, me too! And your $70-a-cut hair stylist is the best? I SO love my cut-and-colors with highlights and lowlights every six weeks on the nose, afforded to me by my previously mentioned perfect husband the huge paychecks! Hey, while we're celebrating our collective awesomeness, which Chinese restaurant delivery service are you most grateful for?

Me, I am exceedingly grateful for the days that I'm able to finish washing my week-old dishes in a rush before my sick, cranky, runny-nosed toddler starts throwing rocks at the dog again.

But because it's the season for gratitude and I am all about lists, I thought I'd mention a few of the things I'm grateful for right here, instead of clogging up everyone's rainbows-and-sparkles-athon.

- I'm thankful that all my lipsticks were recently deemed old enough to throw out without hesitation, before the aforementioned toddler found them and decided to make permanent art on the walls.
- I'm thankful that there's no room in my budget for Starbucks, which means I never have to deal with lines of caffeine-addicted people and baristas who either won't look you in the eye or won't stop singing (or both).
- I'm thankful that two of my closest friends are non-dairy and vegetarian, respectively, because that means I don't have to be careful about how much cheese I pile on when one comes over and I get all the taco meat when the other one does.
- I'm thankful that my Ikea couch slipcover is washable, because when everything is covered in pee, I at least have the amusement of seeing a naked toddler atop a naked sofa.
- I'm thankful that you and I are still friends, despite the fact that I am a terrible person who is complaining about people being happy.

What's on your list, besides the obvious?

*I want to be really super clear right up front that I am not actually talking about any specific friend or collection of friends here. There are so many of these posts flooding my news feed that my eyes glaze over and I don't even pay attention to the content or the post-er. So really, none of this is about you, person-I-probably-just-offended. 


all saints, sick babies, and finding a thin place in your own home

This past Sunday, my church celebrated All Saints Day. To be more specific, we held a Solemn Holy Eucharist for the Feast of All Saints. It was a very "high church" service -- possibly the most I've ever experienced. There was incense, pretty much the whole service was chanted, and it was really, really beautiful all the way around. Of course, I'm into that stuff -- worship that feels like worship of the God of the universe.

On my way home, I got a call saying that a certain 6-month-old loved one was being taken to the pediatric ER at UNC Hospitals. The baby was diagnosed with an easily treated pneumonia and (a long wait later) she was admitted to the hospital for an anticipated couple of overnights for observation. As we talked through logistics, it became obvious that I needed to stay the first night with the mom and baby. We settled in, another family member brought some provisions, and we proceeded to do the best we could to take care of ourselves and the miserable but still feisty little one.

After a long night came a bright morning with good news, and I came back home to my own little one. I was exhausted, and he is still recovering from the time change, meaning nap time wasn't too far away. We piled onto my bed and had a transcendent time of giggling, tickling, dancing, and generally enjoying each other's company to the likes of Abba, Boston, and other music I'd loaded on my recently rediscovered college ipod. After having a tough, very full day of trying not to ask myself what I would do if it were Gabriel being hospitalized, it was restorative to have that kind of connection time with my boy. As we goofed off, I kept getting whiffs of something musky and sweet.

It took a while for me to figure out what was going on. But it turns out that in my haste to get to the hospital, I had just tossed my church clothes onto the (unmade) bed, and these clothes still smelled of the church incense. Every time we moved the covers, a new bit of fragrance rose up.

The sermon yesterday talked about thin places, and how sometimes people can be thin places for each other: when we do something that brings someone face to face with God, we can become a thin place. I'm not really on board with this concept -- I think a thin place is a place, after all, and one that offers a consistent and repeated experience of closeness to the divine (as opposed to a one-time event). But there are very real moments when God, maybe through the Holy Spirit, finds us. Maybe it's in a place. Maybe it's through a memory. Maybe it's a conversation with or an act by someone else. And in those moments, we are within arm's reach of God, being touched and ministered to and reached, maybe even healed.

I don't know the theological reasons for having incense at church when there's something death-related to be reminded of, but it seems to be a theme. But there's something about a solemn remembrance of those who have gone before that, of course, reminds me of my own mortality. And thanks to a full year at this church with its reverence its tradition and its deeply moving prayers, my sensory links between and among remembrance and incense and worship are now well-formed.

So as I sat there on my bed with my happy toddler, after a long hospital night caring for a sick baby and her very tired mama, getting lost in my own fight against some very vivid "what if" fears of my own, I kept catching this fragrance -- of hope, of death, of worship, maybe even of God. And in those moments, God found me.