Thank you, LynDee, for this lovely look into your world.
Note: I wrote this post before the news of the events in Newtown broke on Friday. As a former journalist and current mother of small children, I have been both glued to the news and horrified by each new revelation. I have squeezed all my monkeys tighter this weekend, but especially my oldest, who got off the bus from her elementary school Friday afternoon surprised to find herself swept off her feet by a mommy who was bawling her eyes out. My thoughts are with the parents in Connecticut who can no longer hug their children.
Mom. Wife. Author. Event planner. I have quite the hat collection these days for a girl with a head so big normal hats don’t fit it. But I adore hats of all kinds, so I line up my mental collection and look at the pretty colors and shapes.
Keeping them all straight often requires quantities of coffee that would probably horrify my doctor. But, since I love pretty much everything about my life even when I’m having one of those days where I just want everyone to shut up for ten seconds and I take to hiding in the bathroom or my car to get a few moments of peace, I keep juggling the hats.
Lane asked me to chat today about how I do that. The simple answer is: gadgets. From my MacBook to my iPhone to my refrigerator door, I have reminders, calendars, and spreadsheets all around me to keep me (sort of) on track. But I thought it might be fun—and helpful to mommies who have dreams they’d like to chase—to have a look at these lovely hats and how I keep them in order.
My mommy hat, which looks rather like a creation of Dr. Seuss
The outside of my fridge is the magical map to how I run a household and keep five people and one tiny dog fed and happy in the midst of everything else I have going on.
First, it has all the school info: since I can’t say no to my oldest monkey’s big blue puppy-dog eyes, I also have a room mom hat (I see this one as a slick black fedora) this year. We are fortunate to live in an amazing school district and she has the very best teacher in the whole world, so that makes this one fun. But I still have to remember to do things. All the class parties and events and their various deadlines, plus when I need to make a sign up genius (calling all room moms: if you’ve not discovered this amazing free online tool, you’re really going to love me for eliminating the dreaded reply-all email from your life! Just go create a sign up form and forget about it. They even remind the folks who sign up a couple of days beforehand. Truly, genius.) to make sure everything gets there on time are on the school calendar on the side of the fridge.
Above that one hangs the preschool monthly calendar so I can keep track of when pajama day is and what letter this week’s show and tell must start with. Next to that, the monthly elementary school lunch calendar tells me which days my daughter will and won’t eat the cafeteria food for lunch, which can lead to early-morning swearing when I discover that I have thirty-five seconds to pack my pickiest eater a lunch and get her to the bus on time.
I also have these fabulous magnetic notepads from Anthropologie that make grocery lists and meals no-brainers. One allows me to check off items we need from the store as I notice we’re out, and then tear off my shopping list on the way out the door. The other has a place for weekly menus, so I don’t forget to buy anything. One trip to the store is way better than five.
My wife hat, a sexy and slightly mysterious pillbox of satin with some sort of cropped veil
I try really hard to not let my marriage get lost in the constant chaos that is my very happy life. My husband is a wonderful man and a great dad, and truly my very best friend. During the day, my MacBook helps out with that, because while I’m working, I can use Messages to keep up with how his day is going and send him little notes. He emails me photos of flowers, which I adore because it says he’s thinking about me, they don’t die, and they’re free.
My calendar keeps track of date nights and movie releases we might want to see together, and my iPhone is the lifeline to my wonderful babysitter, who always replies promptly to my texts even though she’s a busy honor student who plays competitive sports.
My author hat, which has magical powers and changes from book to book
This is definitely the one that’s been hardest to keep up with for the past few years, and now that I have a book launching in just six weeks (Eep!) it’s become a fun-with-a-hint-of-work Chanel baseball cap, instead of a jaunty little hobby beret. Just yesterday, I was chatting with the principal at my daughter’s school and I mentioned the book and she stared with wide eyes and said “Don’t you have two other little ones? How in the world do you find the time to write novels?”
The short answer is, coffee. But the longer one is a much better explanation of how I make writing a priority in my days. My MacBook has a program that cuts me off from the Internet (because we all know how many hours fun things like Facebook and Pinterest can suck away from productivity), so I try to take care of my social networking type stuff in the morning and evening, and reserve my littlest monkey’s afternoon nap time for writing. On a good day, I can get down between 1,000 and 3,000 words in a nap.
At that pace, accounting for days when it’s less or more and days when I can’t manage to fit in much at all, it takes me about three months to draft a novel. The key is making myself write every day. In the process of drafting my current manuscript, which is a sequel to Front Page Fatality, I’ve had days when I wasn’t feeling so connected to Nichelle. But I found if I just parked my rear in the chair and opened the file and started typing, the story would eventually come. And even when there’re not-so-good words in part of a scene, it’s worth it for the ones that come when I get going. A rough draft is just that: rough. I know I’m going to revise it within an inch of it’s life, anyhow. So I just have to get it down.
The further I get toward being a published author, the more guest blogs and interviews I have to write, which present new (but fun and welcome) challenges. I have a spreadsheet with the post topic, the due date, and the email address I need to return material to, which helps me keep it organized. Every morning I check that to see if there’s one I need to write, and on days like today (when there is), I set the baby up with Mickey Mouse or a bucket of blocks and start writing. Sometimes it takes a few drafts to find exactly what I want to say, but I can usually knock out a post in the time it takes for her to watch Mickey or the Little Einsteins have an adventure.
My event planning hat, which of course must be a fancy silk party hat with bright colors and long ribbons
When I not doing one of those other things I just listed, or sighing at the latest mess the monkeys have made, or trying to squeeze in a pinch of sleep, I plan central Virginia events for a well-known international weight loss company. Having been through the program and lost a touch north of 100 pounds, I know what it’s like to walk through the doors for the first time, and exactly how much having fun, motivating events to attend can help people become healthier.
This is where my iPhone calendar, my cell phone itself, and my email program keep me in line. I have a separate email account for the planning stuff, which makes it easy to click over and glance through a few times a day, whether on my laptop or my phone, to see if there’s anything that needs my attention. I like to take care of emails right away so the sender gets a prompt reply, but also so I don’t forget about them.
I also manage the social media presence of the company in central Virginia, which various apps from the folks at Facebook make it easy to do from my phone. Every once in a while, it’s necessary for me to sit down and spend a couple of hours on this, usually when I have a big event coming up in the next few weeks or have a flyer to design, but most of the time I fit it in while I wait in the carpool line, between tweets in the afternoon, or while we watch TV after dinner. Twenty minutes a few times a day makes a big difference in the lives of folks who attend the events and get inspired to lead a healthier lifestyle, and that’s rewarding in a different way than getting a hug from the monkeys or a lovely review of a book, but it’s no less important.
There are days when I think there’s not enough sleep or coffee or combination of the two to keep me upright for one more second, and my rear end would appreciate me going to the gym more often, but I wouldn’t know what to do without any one of my lovely pieces of headwear. I hope something here helped you, lovely reader, to see how to keep all your own hats in line, and I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to Lane for having me on The Outside Lane today.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to swap the ballcap for the crazy Dr. Seuss contraption (with the party hat perched on top), because Little Einsteins is over and it’s time for the preschool carpool line.