The Back-to-School Balancing Act

Today I wrapped up Day 6 of my fifteenth year in education. Honeymoon period notwithstanding, I am already 99% less stressed out than I was at this time last school year.

I’m not exactly sure what’s got me feeling different. I definitely haven’t lessened my workload, having taken on some curriculum-related responsibilities at the district level that I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve slacked off on the past couple weeks.

(Word is I’m not alone in the slacking department. I think everyone’s gotten a bit behind. We’ll catch up.)

It’s certainly not due to a stress-free summer, because that has definitely not been the case. I feel like I barely had summer break this year. I had all these grand plans to relax with books, take a nap on my screened in back porch, take my daughter to the little local beach on Lake Norman. None of that happened.

So why do I feel so much better going into this school year, after a year that had me questioning my career trajectory?, I’d like to think it’s because I’ve started thinking very carefully about the level of balance in my life and the way I’m choosing to self-care.

I’ve take a few smallish steps toward ensuring that I not only keep a decent work-life balance, but that I also take care of myself and better manage my stress.

  1. No bringing school work home. One thing I’ve always sucked at, especially at the start of the school year, is bringing the school day home with me. In past years, it hasn’t been a big deal because I didn’t have a tiny person reliant on me. If I had to spend an hour or so grading papers or making presentations, whatever. No biggie.  But I need to protect my planning time at work, use my workdays to the max, and keep school work at school so I can devote my evenings and weekends to my family first, and then to my writing.
  2. Use a planner. This is a small thing. When I was in college, I was great about my planner. Assignments and tests and meetings and everything else were all written down. For a long time, I’ve valued a good desk calendar at work with upcoming important events jotted down from September to June. We have a family wall calendar that is full. But my personal planning game tanked somewhere around 2008, and I never really got it back. This year, I have vowed to turn that around. I bought a nifty 18-month calendar that not only has monthly and weekly pages – which are already filling up at an alarming rate – it has monthly goal setting pages and weekly exercises in self-reflection. And stickers! It comes with stickers, y’all!
  3. Eat better and sleep more. It’s been a struggle to step away from the soda and junk food (I type as I snack on Milk Duds), but I’m trying. I need to be more proactive in packing my lunch and making sure I eat a breakfast with enough protein to get me from 6:30am to 12:05pm (when I finally can sit down to shove my proactively packed lunch in my mouth in twelve minutes flat). Sleep is also essential to deal with, since my school day is shifted fifteen minute earlier. I’ve got to put a 10:30 bedtime in place and stick to it.
  4. Treat yo’self. Read a book that has nothing to do with work. Get a pedicure. Get my hair done. Soak in the garden tub. Play the piano. Snuggle those extra ten minutes with my child at bedtime – it’s as good for me as it is her, because we do have so little time together during the work week.
  5. Keep moving. I’d gotten into a good routine of taking a 20-minute walk right after putting Babycakes to bed, but that’s dropped by the wayside since school started. I guess I could argue that since my job isn’t sedentary that I shouldn’t stress too much. But I want to try and build in a solid time to exercise. If I can get the commute home done by 4:15 (possible most days if busses are on time and I’m in the driver’s seat by 3:50), I think I can squeak in a short workout of some sort as soon as I get home.

The work-life balance is important, and I’ve known for a long time that my balance has been way off. I feel like I can figure it out this year. I’m optimistic about my students, I’m excited for new idea and opportunities on the horizon, and I want to make these positive changes in my life.

So here goes the balancing act!

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Summer Semi-Hiatus

In case you haven’t figured it out by the relative radio silence, I’m on something of a hiatus now that summer vacation has arrived.

I’m reveling in summer vacation. Three days into it, I’d completely lost track of what day of the week we were on, let alone the actual date. (But let’s be honest – most of the time I only know the date because I write it on the board every morning.)

Time to cook and bake? Yes, please. Hanging with Babycakes in SAHM mode? Check. Finally powering through a friend’s copy of Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager because I’ve lost track of how long ago I borrowed it? Working on that.

The need for the hiatus is work-related, though. I’ve joined a cohort of history-minded colleagues in a rewrite of our district’s secondary social studies curricula, whilst also planning to present with one of those colleagues at our August curriculum days. I’ve also picked up a couple freelance jobs, one of which is a pretty big project and will take up a big chunk of my writing time.

Travel to visit family is in there somewhere, as is working on, you know, my newest novel.

So if there’s a lot of radio silence from me over the next couple months, fear not. I’m just being productive.

Other Fun Information

No specific word yet on the print release of HE TAKES THE CAKE, but I do know it’s visible in the pipeline. Once I know, you’ll know, and there will be a chance at a BIG GIVEAWAY once everything is set in stone.

I’ve entered my post-Civil War historical romance in a handful of contests this spring, and have a couple others pegged for possible entry. This leads to the second coolest thing that’s ever happened to me, after landing my first book contract.

Final round results are supposed to be announced soon. This is a huge accolade, even if I don’t even make honorable mention. Good luck to all the other finalists in The Sheila!

The Obligatory New Year’s Goal Setting Post (Happy 2018)

It’s been a while since my last post – holidays, you know how it is. This December seemed to fly by, and I swear lost a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas break. As for the holidays themselves – a whirlwind. To sum it up, we drove to Western PA and Upstate NY to visit family, and the following shenanigans occurred:

  1. Power went out on Christmas day, requiring my uncle to dig his grill out of over a foot of snow. He and my cousin proceeded to finish cooking Christmas dinner – a ham, a pot of sauce and meatballs, and a pot of homemade macaroni – on said grill. Neither snow nor lack of electricity will keep hungry Italians from their food. (Of course, the power came back on literally ten minutes before everything was done cooking.)
  2. It was freaking cold. Like single digits. And we just barely missed a huge lake effect storm in my hometown that dumped about 3 feet of snow overnight.
  3. Babycakes caught a 24-hour bug at the tail end of everything while we were at my in-laws’, which of course hit at 3am. So we were doing a bath and hair washing and bed-linen changing in the middle of the night. The only bright spot is that I happened to decide to sleep on the air mattress with the hubs, rather in the bed with Babycakes. Otherwise I would have gotten a face-full.
  4. We drove 10 hours (give or take) from PA to NC praying Babycakes wouldn’t puke in the car. Fortunately the worst that happened was that we ran out of windshield washer fluid just north of Beckley, WV, and had to go to THREE different gas stations before finally finding a place that wasn’t sold out.
  5. Every adult in the house has subsequently gone through some version of that same 24 hour bug. It’s been rough around here the past few days.

So I was very ready for 2017 to end.

Now that 2018 is here, it’s time to set some goals. Remember, if you’ve read past New Year’s goal-setting posts, I don’t really do resolutions so much as make a plan for things to accomplish. This year, I’m keeping it simple.

  1. Implement Operation Self-Care. I blogged a couple months ago about how I’ve been struggling with stress management, wellness, and so on. I have a general plan in mind and have been chipping away at a few small steps. Now it’s time to put things fully into motion. Improve my nutrition (or at least start taking vitamins regularly again). Fit in exercise. Sleep better. Soak in the garden tub while burning candles that smell like the beach. Read more books. Breathe.
  2. Survive the school year. This sounds more doom and gloom than it is. I’m involved in a couple very cool initiatives with the district Social Studies department, in preparation for a coaching role I’ll be undertaking next year that I’m very excited about. But it’s busy and a lot of work. And then there’s the actual teaching part of my job. Guess who realized this morning, thanks to a coworker’s Facebook post, that she didn’t actually write any plans for January 3rd-5th?
  3. Secure at least one new book contract. I’ve been a bit between projects since HE TAKES THE CAKE came out in June (and the print edition should be out later this spring or early summer, FYI). I submitted a historical romance to Avon Impulse at the beginning of September, but don’t expect to hear back until March. If March comes and goes with no word, I’ll start shopping it around elsewhere. In the meantime, I’ve just finished plotting a trilogy that spins-off THE ONE I’M WITH. Now to write it.

And that’s it! Three pretty simple goals that I think are manageable.

Bonus points if I figure out how to clone myself so I can still teach history but also stay at home with Babycakes and write.

Operation Self-Care is Go

Earlier this year, I posted about how close I’d been getting to burnout. I promised myself I would figure out how to reestablish the balance in my life. So I’ve decided to launch an initiative I call Operation Self-Care.

Even though actually achieving a reaffirmed life balance has proven exceptionally hard, by recognizing the signs that my body, my mind, and really the whole universe has been sending me for a very long time, I believe I’m moving in the right direction.

Operation Self-Care will – sort of – happen in phases. This is partly because a) there’s something to be said for taking baby steps, and b) I admit that I kind of have no idea what the hell I’m doing. There are probably people out there who would take my money to create a self-care plan for me. But since I’m winging it, here’s what I’ve come up with.

Areas of Focus

To begin, I’ve identified five specific areas that, if targeted, should put me on a path to my end game, which is that life-work-motherhood-writerly balance.

  • Nutrition. I’ve never been that good at eating a “perfect” diet. I have an incredibly strong sweet tooth that I swear was genetically inherited from both my grandfathers, who could smell sweets a mile away. But while I was pregnant and breastfeeding, I became hyper-aware of what I was putting in my body, since all of it would be passed on to Babycakes in one way or another. I’m still very conscientious about what I feed her, though it seems that she, too, has inherited the sweet tooth gene. Since going back to work in the fall of 2015, however, I have started to eat my feelings. Plus, I cannot seem to get through a day of work without a can of Coke at lunchtime. This school year, I have already started making some minor headway in better food choices. But it’s hard. Really, really hard.
  • Fitness. Normally fitness and nutrition go hand in hand, but I’ve separated them because, at present, I can’t think of them as a whole. I’ve never been particularly athletic, and I honestly hate working out. But from the time I was in pre-wedding shape-up mode in 2009 until I got pregnant, I was pretty committed to working out. I made my way through several Beachbody programs, though admittedly never actually followed one to completion before either restarting or trying something new. But fear of miscarriage kept me from doing more than walking during my pregnancy, and I just never got back on the bandwagon.
  • Sleep. I don’t get enough sleep. Sleep is so important. It’s when both your brain and your body heal from the day. People who sleep well, and get enough sleep, find it easier to lose weight, have energy to actually make it through the day, and are generally more pleasant to be around.
  • Stress Management. This is commonly referred to as finding “me time”. I used to have this in spades. Now I kind of suck at it. Somewhere along the past two and a half years, I convinced myself that I didn’t need to take time to myself – or maybe that I didn’t deserve it or wasn’t supposed to take it anymore. The things I always did that helped me recenter – reading a book, playing piano for a couple of hours, vegging out with a favorite movie – have gone away. I still find time to read, but it’s sporadic. Ask the stack of two months’ worth of magazines on the end table beside me.
  • Mental Health. I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety in the spring of 2016. Technically, I was diagnosed with currently having generalized anxiety, but because it came on during the second half of Babycakes’s first year of life (postpartum depression and anxiety disorders can manifest any time during the first year after you give birth), it started off as undiagnosed PPA. I only went to one counselling session, where I got confirmation that I was not actually losing my mind, and my anxiety is fortunately not severe enough to require medication. There are other interventions I can and do use, and I’ve learned to recognize flare ups. But I don’t always manage it well. This, I think is an ongoing thing, but maybe if I can figure out the other areas of focus, this will better fall into place.

So what will this look like? I’m going to try tackling one area at a time. Baby steps are important, I think, to making this work.

It’s time I do this for me.

The Perils of Ignoring Self-Care

So it turns out burning the candle at both ends is really, really, REALLY bad for your well-being. We’re talking physical, mental, emotional burnout.

I thought summer break would be a chance to recharge, as it always has in the past, but it’s turning out not to be the case. You see, I recognized around mid-March that I was dangerously close to hitting the proverbial wall. At some point shortly thereafter, I apparently decided to haul myself and the metaphorical 50-pound pack-of-everything over that wall, instead of admitting to myself that it was time to take a true break.

In years past, I always made a point of doing little things for myself. Having a mini-spa day. Sleeping in. Watching a movie or seven that I’ve seen a billion times over. Reading a book in close to one sitting. Playing the piano. Wandering around the house singing at the top of my lungs. Exercising, even if I hated every second of it and only kept going because, yes, there is that euphoria when you finish.

Now, working full time and having a small child, I realize that a lot of that stuff isn’t going to happen much anymore, and I have an amazing support system. But the problem is that, in the past couple years, it’s not even so much that I don’t do the things that replenish me, it’s that I, somewhere along the line, apparently convinced myself that it wasn’t necessary for me to do them anymore.

There’s a lot of research out there on the importance of self-care.  Self-care is, in fact, so important and so often ignored that Ted-Ed actually has a whole series of TedTalks about it! I need to start figuring out a way to build it back into my life. Without it, I’m finding myself short-tempered, easily irritated, overly sensitive, constantly exhausted, and continually struggling to remain focused and effective in my work (both the teaching and the writing).

Ignoring self-care has affected my relationships, how I behave as a wife and a mother. It has affected me physically, as I haven’t managed to get myself back into an effective workout routine to maintain my weight and fitness. I’ve become a stress eater for the first time EVER, when stress used to make me lose my appetite. My skin has gone crazy in ways it hasn’t since I was a teenager, and even then I’m not sure it went this crazy. I continue to have flare ups of postpartum anxiety (something I struggled to identify at all for months before finally seeing a therapist).

And I’ll be perfectly honest – the current events we’ve seen since the start of 2017 have not helped. It’s been a real challenge to not only maintain a sense of sanity as I try to keep up with those current events – being a world history teacher to students who also see this stuff and constantly ask “WHY?”, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring them or even just perusing a shortlist of what’s happening around our planet. I actually ended up taking an unintentional media fast during the last couple weeks of school, and when I finally resurfaced I felt like I’d missed a boatload of imperative information that just stressed me out more. The kicker with keeping up with those current events is that needing to know, and the inundation of constant “what NOW?” moments, almost kept me from completing the first draft of HE TAKES THE CAKE.

It’s incredibly hard to write lighthearted romantic comedy when you feel like the country and the world is falling down around your ears, and your anxiety is on overdrive because of stuff you have absolutely no control over.

I digress – a little – but the point in this ever-lengthening venting session is that one day, I looked in the mirror and realized how ignoring my own self-care has slowly whittled me down. My willpower, my self-image, my confidence, my energy level, my ability to be present to the people who need me to be present.

Now to come up with a plan…

Holiday Hiatus (sorta)

So this has been me lately:

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Which is why I haven’t posted anything in almost a month.

I wouldn’t say I’m approaching burnout levels, but given everything going on nationwide, statewide, city-wide, and just right here in my little sphere of existence… It’s time to take a little break and focus on my family.

You know, the things that mean most to me.

That said, I’ve decided the next month or so will be spent baking:

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Reading:

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Enjoying Christmas with my family:

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And, of course, writing Sweet Somethings Book 4:

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I’ll still be popping in on my social media accounts here and there, and of course, if you’re receiving my email newsletter, you’ll still get some updates about upcoming fun stuff and announcements in mid- to late December.

Everyone, please enjoy your holidays, whatever it is that you celebrate, and I’ll see you all in 2017!

School’s Out For Summer!

Friday was my last day of work for the school year, which, weekend not withstanding, means today is the first official day of summer vacation.

Ahhhh….

Of course, though our neighborhood does have a community pool, I don’t exactly envision myself spending the next two months relaxing by or in it. Wading around the kiddie pool trying to keep my toddler from falling and smashing her head into the concrete edge of said kiddie pool? Maybe that’s a bit more realistic.

(I jest. The kiddie pool is actually pretty sweet, and Babycakes totally loves it.)

In any case, it’s been quite a whirlwind of a year. Starting a new teaching job, putting Babycakes in daycare, taking Babycakes out of daycare and into Gramma-care, moving to our permanent home, releasing two novels (remember that Better Than Chocolate and When In Rome are both available for Kindle, and Better Than Chocolate is now in print!), and of course surviving my first year teaching fourth grade.

So what does the summer hold? Some training for work. Getting ready to change schools and grade levels. Writing Sweet Somethings Book #3, of course (and hopefully Book #4 as well). And a trip back to my old stomping grounds in July to visit friends and family.

And my first book signing! Details on that for those local to my old stomping grounds will be forthcoming once everything is completely finalized. Stay tuned to my Facebook page for the event announcement.

And the best is spending lots of time with Babycakes, who is now almost 2 and entering the “I won’t eat anything in the fruit or vegetable groups except carrots and asparagus and maybe some apple if you’re lucky” stage.

She also wants soup every day for lunch.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another, right? 🙂