Eight Week Challenge

In May of last year, one of my favorite bloggers, Queen of Blank (real name, Danielle), undertook an eight-week challenge in advance of her marriage to her sweetheart Brad and her move to Texas. She and Brad are now married, she now lives in Texas, and I know she took part in last year’s NaNoWriMo, though I haven’t seen as many posts from her this year.

Last year, to prepare for her move, Danielle set herself an eight-week challenge. And she inspired me to set up my own eight-week challenge. My goals last year were simple enough:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • walk at least 5,000 steps per day,
  • spend one day a week reading the backlog of magazines sitting on the end table, and
  • write at least 500 words per day for at least five days each week.

I succeeded in my goals last year, but wouldn’t you know it? I’m almost back where I started from. I’ve slipped up on my nutritious food goal by letting a lot of calorie-laden foods back onto my plate, and my weight and waistline show it. I have a long list of excuses for why I can’t get out the door for a brisk walk each day. The backlog of magazines I had to read last year peaked at 38. As of today, I have 45 magazines in my stack of “to read.” And I’ve been concentrating on reading books for my Goodreads challenge instead of writing much.

Bottom line: All four of my goals for last year are relevant again this year. I’m thinking it’s like spring cleaning: I need to take the time to do these things, and I know I’ll feel great once they are done. But I’ll probably have to repeat the exercise again next year.

This year, I’m not waiting for someone else to set up a challenge to follow. I’m setting my own. I don’t have a specific event to mark the end of the eight weeks. But eight weeks seems like a good length of time. And the weather outside is glorious during summer.

Because we have a trip planned at the end of May that will complicate taking the right steps, I’ve set June 4 as my start date, a week later than last year’s challenge. The eight weeks will take me almost to the end of July.

I invite anyone who wishes to challenge themselves with a little mid-year adjustment of habits to join me. Include a link back to this post so I’ll know you’re joining in the challenge. Let me know what your goals are and I’ll check in on you each week to see how you’re doing. Maybe Danielle will join us, too.

I’m ready to dive in. I hope the water’s not too cold.

IWSG-September

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge
Here we are at the first Wednesday of the Month where many of us bloggers write about our hopes and fears in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Please visit either site for more info and a list of participating bloggers, to join, or offer encouragement.

This month’s question for IWSG Wednesday is “How do you find the time to write in your busy day?”

A better question for me would be “How do you fill your day while you procrastinate on your writing?” And that’s easy for me to answer. I read. I read some more. I watch another episode of Midsomer Murders on Netflix. When I have seen all of them, I’ll find another multiple episode series. I check my three e-mail accounts, plus the account of the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild, to be sure I haven’t missed anything important. Then I check out Facebook, including my personal account, the Guild’s page, my Toastmasters club’s page, all of which I manage. And for good measure, I’ll check out the Meetup group pages for the multiple groups I administer.

Oh, and then there are meals to prepare. My husband eats meat and I rarely do, so that’s two different meals to prepare for lunch and dinner. He takes care of breakfast on his own.

And I have to find time to wash clothes at least once a week.

Oh, and I need to get in 10,000 steps each day.

And there’s that new 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that I just have to finish. Putting the pieces together helps clear away mental cobwebs I am convinced are blocking my neural pathways to better writing.

These are the activities I have filled my days with recently because I’ve reached the point where I have to decide whether to include some of the tough stuff in my memoir: events I’d rather forget than include or events I’m not sure my colleagues at that time will forgive me for mentioning. Including such subplots might add the tension all my writing instructors insist must be included, but my life has been more marked with incredibly good luck (nothing bad happens while I’m in town, though revolutions may be brewing in the background) so I feel including them as (minor) “inciting events” into the arc of my memoir is manipulative.

The question I know I need to answer at this point is just what message do I want readers to take away from what I write. I should have answered that question long ago, but I’ve been dragging it around with me for the past year as I write, edit, read for critique, and then rewrite.

Here’s what I’m going to do before October’s IWSG Wednesday: I’m going to reread Marni Freedman’s 7 Essential Writing Tools: That Will Absolutely Make Your Writing Better (And Enliven Your Soul) to focus attention on the planning steps I’ve been avoiding while I’ve been balancing my checkbook and entering all my receipts and expenditures into Quicken Essentials. Then I’ll apply the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair and get back to writing.

Readers Write-Making Ends Meet

The Sun banner

Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by March 1, 2015, for consideration for the September 2015 issue.

Is ignorance bliss? Or does a positive attitude beget positive results?

I married for the first time at 20 years old. Too young. And to the wrong man.

But the first few months felt like success. I’m still trying to figure out if it was because he and I were actually on the same page working towards the same goals or if I just didn’t know enough to recognize failure when it stared me in the face.

We were both still students, though set to graduate with our bachelor’s degrees within five months. We each had part-time jobs. His salary paid the rent. My salary paid for groceries. That’s all the expenses we had, and we had them all covered. At least for the six months our student loans were deferred and the four months of grace on our car loan. We didn’t have a plan for what we would do then. We just thought we’d figure it out when we needed to.

My part-time job was very part time. I worked 16 hours a week at 70 cents an hour. After withholding, my take-home pay each week was $7.67 cents. So long as I had three pennies to round the amount up to $7.70, I could cash the check at the Black Hawk bar next door to the movie theatre where I was an usher. The bar wouldn’t hand out pennies, and I didn’t want to settle for $7.65. Because that was all I had to buy groceries and all the other non-grocery items, such as toilet paper and shampoo, each week.

We got our checks every Friday evening. Saturday mornings, I headed for the warehouse grocery store in town with my detailed list of necessities. In order to stretch the money, I picked up canned and packaged goods first. Each shopper was handed a grease pen on arrival with instructions to write the prices on the items as we picked them up. I am amazed now at the trust the store placed in all its customers. But it never occurred to me to write anything other than the listed price. The act of writing also helped me total up the prices as I walked up and down the aisles.

Once I had the cans, boxes, and paper products I needed, I calculated how much money I had available for meat. Ground beef was about 49 cents a pound in those days, chicken was even cheaper, but only sold as a whole bird, and a package of hotdogs was also 49 cents. So for every dollar I didn’t need for canned goods, I could buy two pounds of beef, two packages of hot dogs, or a chicken. That determined the proportion of meat to rice or noodles in the meals I could prepare for the upcoming week.

It never occurred to me to complain that I had so little money. I had what I had. And that had to be enough. So it was.

 

 

Eight-Week Challenge: Week Eight Results

Week 8

Last week of the eight-week challenge is done! Whoo-hoo! Again, thanks to Danielle for inspiring others and me to take on this challenge.

I wish I had done better, but I’m pretty darn happy with having met the first goal, at least as measured by my body-mass index, for the entire eight weeks. And for cleaning up that backlog of unread magazines.

As a reminder, here are the goals I set for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • read at least five magazines each week to clear out my backlog of unread magazines, and
  • write at least 500 words (raised to 750 words once the magazine backlog was cleared) per day for at least five days each week.

Healthy Eating

I tried one more twist on my eating habits this week, mostly to provide easy-to-prepare meals for my husband: I signed up with Blue Apron.  Our daughter-in-law signed up first, and after the first week she received three invitations for one free week of meals to share with others.

She shared one with us. The following Friday a refrigerated package arrived with everything needed for three meals-for-two: Serrano Pepper & Goat Cheese Burgers, Lemon Chicken & Green Beans, and Sweet Corn & Tinkerbell Pepper Pizza. I’ve cooked up the first two. Hubbie approved, though he did turn down most of the vegetable side dishes. More for me, so I can’t complain, though I would like him to eat more balanced meals, too.

I went ahead and had the burger the first night, though I fantasized about replacing the meat with a quinoa burger. I cooked up both chicken portions the next night, but left one for Hubbie to eat this week. I supplemented my meal with the rest of the summer squash he wouldn’t eat and the leftover veggies from the previous meal.

So now I have three invitations to send out to others interested in trying out Blue Apron. Interested? Let me know.

Exercise

The weather is getting warm here–one day was over 100 degrees by 9 a.m. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration to get sympathy. But I didn’t always get up early enough to walk while the heat could still be beaten. So I missed my goal more often than I met it. I managed to get to at least the half way point more often than not, so I count that as a half win.

Writing

My writing goal to write at least 750 words at least five days a week took a big hit this week. Too much to do again. The bright light in this area is that I was able to finalize a couple of first drafts. And I realized that one reason I haven’t reached the point of sharing my writing is that my standards are higher. A year ago, I shared anything I managed to complete that had a beginning, middle, and end. But now I know that showing, not telling, is important. And the really difficult piece, admitting how I feel or felt about the story, has been a big challenge.

But I’ll keep working.

Overall

AverageAs a wrap-up for the eight weeks, I calculated the averages for my weight/body-mass index, number of steps walked, and number of words written (for at least five days of each week), to see if the overall picture is closer to my goals than the last week’s results.

I like it! At least there is no red.

 

 

 

Eight-Week Challenge: Week Seven Results

Week 7

One week left! Each week one of my goals takes a back seat to something. This week the goal I was short on was writing.

As a reminder, here are my remaining goals for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories and
  • write at least 750 words per day for at least five days each week.

Healthy Eating

I continue to try out new vegetarian recipes–or more often just try putting vegetables together in new ways. This week I found organic strawberries and rediscovered what strawberries are supposed to taste like–so much better than the commercially grown and chemically treated bits that taste more like styrofoam than fruit.

Writing

WWIndexingEvent

My goal to write at least 750 words at least five days a week took a hit this week. Earlier in the week, the cause was too many other things on my plate–a common occurrence, according to my husband. And he’s right.

But the last three days the cause was my participation in the Family Search Worldwide Indexing Event for 2016. For those three days I reviewed scanned versions of draft records, death certificates, and lots and lots of Kentucky marriage records going back to the 1850s. Nearly every record I indexed suggested story. There were the cases of much older men marrying young women, very young barely-older-than-juvenile boys and girls marrying, even one case of a note being filed to request that a marriage license not be issued to a teenage boy and an older woman.

So many of the records of marriages in the early 1940s listed the occupation of the groom as US military. No surprise there.

All in all, I felt it was a good trade. Perhaps I’ll be able to marry up the experience with my writing goals in the future.

 

Readers Write-Right and Wrong

The Sun banner

Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by May 1, 2014, for consideration for the November 2014 issue.

More than 40 years ago, I lived and worked in Tehran, Iran. While there, I met several members of a Jewish Iranian family. I dated one of the younger sons of the family, Abraham, throughout the two plus years I was there.

I never expected more from the relationship–just pleasant company and someone to explain aspects of the culture that confused me. I never expected to see anyone in the family again, though I kept up a correspondence with Abraham until the Iranian revolution disrupted most communication between Americans and Iranians.

Seven years after I left Iran, while I was working as a consular officer at the US Consulate General in Stuttgart, Germany, I learned that Abraham had been arrested by Revolutionary Guards shortly after the revolution got underway. He was executed by the ruling regime. I cried myself to sleep for days afterwards.

I learned of Abraham’s death through one of his nephews, also named Abraham, who had managed to escape Iran and settle in Los Angeles with his family. Most of his larger family, including his father, Abraham’s brother, had also settled in Los Angeles. When they learned I was trying to find Abraham, the nephew gave his phone number to the person I had asked for help along with the invitation for me to call him. When I called, he pretended to be Abraham, but I knew the voice was wrong. After a few tentative comments, he asked if I had heard that his uncle had been executed by the government. I asked him who he was, and he admitted he was the “other” Abraham.

A few days after that conversation with Abraham the nephew, he called me. It was about 2 a.m. in Germany so I wasn’t really awake when I answered the phone. So when he asked me to help his wife’s aunt get a visa to the US, I agreed and then immediately realized this was not a good idea. The aunt had previously been refused a visa in another country.

I told my boss about the telephone call that morning ,and she advised that I contact Abraham to tell him I wouldn’t be able to interview his wife’s aunt, that she should instead return to the consulate where she had applied before.

Abraham tried to change my mind, referring to my friendship with his uncle and the hospitality his family had shown me. I continued to refuse, and in the end he said he would instead tell his wife’s aunt she should apply in Madrid.

In Madrid? It didn’t make any sense to me. And that made me suspicious. What was going on in Madrid that would make Abraham think it was a place his wife’s aunt might get a visa? Should I mention this strange conversation as well to my boss? Or should I just forget about it? I didn’t really know anything. I only had suspicions.

I said nothing.

A few months later, I learned that a consular officer in Madrid was arrested for fraudulently issuing visas to Iranian citizens in exchange for money.

Was I wrong not to have said something? After all, it was likely officials in Washington had already begun to suspect the consular officer given the short time between my conversation with Abraham and the officer’s arrest.

Or was I right to have said nothing since to do so might add to the grief of a family who had meant so much to me when I lived among them?

 

 

 

 

 

Readers Write-Houses

The Sun banner

Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by February 1, 2016, for consideration for the August 2016 issue.

My grandfather made the downpayment on the house my parents moved into when they married, a one-story, two-bedroom bungalow on a quiet, two-block long street–Dudrey Court–in the county seat. The house was big enough for the first four children while we were all under ten–boys and girls shared bedrooms in those days–but my parents hoped for five children, which would be difficult to manage without a third bedroom.

Anticipating that fifth child, Dad converted the attic of the house into a third bedroom. My sister and I moved upstairs and the boys kept the downstairs room. Both rooms were now large enough for three children.

But the fifth child turned out to be twins, two boys. While the boys’ bedroom would work for a couple of years, Dad decided we needed a bigger house. I didn’t want to move. My friends lived in the neighborhood. And I really didn’t want to move to the other side of town. If we moved further south, I would have to switch schools, and that would mean not having the same orchestra teacher, Mr. Pulicicchio, I had had since fourth grade.

I don’t think my parents were eager to move from Dudrey Court either. After looking at a few houses outside the neighborhood, my dad made a decision that surprised everyone. He placed an offer on the only house on Dudrey Court that was for sale, a two-story, two-bedroom house across the street. That house was on a larger lot than our house, large enough to add two more bedrooms at the back of the house.

For another year, four of us shared a bedroom again, but this one had a walk-in closet so big my desk fit in it, giving me as much privacy as I needed. During that year, Dad added two more bedrooms, a master bedroom for Mom and Dad, a small bedroom for the twins, and once again my sister and I moved out of the shared bedroom into our own.

For more than 60 years Dad lived in one of those two houses on Dudrey Court. We kids enjoyed those houses, too, but we grew up and moved away, coming back to spend time in that second house for holidays. Grandpa made a good choice when he selected the house my parents first moved into.