5 Ways to Survive Busy Times

5 Ways to Survive Busy Times

“If you are too busy to read, you are too busy.” – Richard Foster   Back to school time happens to be a very busy time. There are different sizes and styles of school shoes to buy, and the right color and thickness of highlighters, paper, folders, and binders. The school supply list lengthens every year, as well as the open house times and form filling-out, physicals paperwork, lunch money forms … back-to-school is a busy time. This year, it’s a bit busier at my house — I’m working full-time for the first time in many years, and time is at an extreme shortage. I love the Richard Foster quote, above. I haven’t had too much time to read (for those of you who know me well, this is tough for me), but I’m okay with it. The most important thing is that I’m keeping my eye on the goal and watching for ways to slow life and our schedules down. It’s coming, but I realize I rely on 5 key things to survive busy times. 5 Ways to Survive Busy Times 1) Making time to be with the people you love. This is the most essential thing, I think, to surviving a busy spell. Being with the people we love reminds us that life still moves on, and that our people care about us, and we care about them. 2) Guarding time to exercise and stay active. Exercise is the first thing that could disappear in busy spells in my life, but it’s the most important for maintaining my personal balance. Staying active improves everything. 3) Eating healthy...
A True Scary Story

A True Scary Story

“Don’t be afraid of being scared. To be afraid is a sign of common sense. Only complete idiots are not afraid of anything.” -Carlos Ruiz Zafon in The Angel’s Game   Being scared happens. It’s part of living. And, sometimes it’s what teaches us who we are, and how to be brave. I’ve had a few scary instances in my life … of being followed when I was a 16-year-old model in New York City, more than once; of failing when I’ve dared greatly; of having hard conversations when they’re necessary; of the route when all hopes fail; of being alone, left in the darkness, and all the crazy scenarios our minds can cook up when we’re tired or we feel we’ve reached the end. A Village Street Near My Home outside Prague   But there is one true happening within the last year that sticks out as scariest in my mind. My story involves Swat Teams, burglary, nighttime, and the very not-secure back door to our rental house. True Stories at JessicaVealitzek.com, and since Jess’s site is now undergoing renovation, I’m posting the piece here, as well: A True Scary Story from My Days in Prague When my writing friend, Jessica Vealitzek, asked me and some of the other ladies on the team at Great New Books to write a “The Time I Was Most Scared” essay for her blog, True Stories, I knew instantly what I should share. But I wasn’t sure I could share this story out loud. Then, this past weekend, I talked with one of my dear friends overseas whose home was just targeted...
The Expat Experience: 5 Things I Learned from 4 Years in Prague

The Expat Experience: 5 Things I Learned from 4 Years in Prague

“Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.” -David Sedaris, on the expat experience Three months ago, my life changed drastically. After packing 5 suitcases to last 2 months, I boarded an airplane with the 4 men in my family, and said Na Shledenou, Goodbye to the country we’d called home since summer of 2009. That country was Czech Republic.   I loved living as an expat. The expat experience was tough, but so rewarding. I loved getting to know Prague. Where is Czech Republic? It’s most often thought of as Czechoslovakia (it separated from Slovakia in 1993), was occupied by the Germans in WWII, taken over by the Soviets after the war, and became free from the USSR and communism after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Czech is surrounded by Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria, in Central / Eastern Europe. Czech Republic is ripe with history, horrific like at the Nazi concentration camp of Terezin, yet filled with castles and natural beauty like Cesky Krumlov, Nelahozeves, and the Prague Castle. The Old Town of Prague feels like old world Europe. Almost every detail is authentic. Prague is the only major European capitol to be unscathed by wartime bombs. I believe Prague is the most beautiful city in the world. One of my favorite parts of the expat experience was getting to become...
30 Favorite Books for Summer Reading

30 Favorite Books for Summer Reading

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.  ~Henry Ward Beecher The best way to summer read is to start with a stack of great books, the kind that will keep you reading all hours of day and night. The hard part is finding the great books … On Memorial Day, I finished a great book, Kate Atkinson’s new novel, Life After Life. As with all books I absolutely love, I couldn’t seem to put it down toward the end. My husband took this photo of me, trying to squeeze in a few minutes more reading. Apparently, Morris and Poppy like it when I read, too. I started following one of my friends, Nina Badzin, in her annual reading challenge a couple of years ago, to read 50 books per year. It’s been one of the things that has stretched me as a writer, a human being, and an online citizen. It’s also driven me to search for ways of finding great books. With 4 other writing / blogging / reading friends, I founded and help run GreatNewBooks.org, a book recommendation site. We often have giveaways and always feature great books, every Wednesday, all year long. If you haven’t plugged in there yet, please stop by and join in the reading love. The more I read, the better I write. I know it. I’m still hard at work on my novel, The Golden Willow, and I’m excited about it — it’s set in New Orleans and Cinque Terre,...
On Trying to Be Brave

On Trying to Be Brave

“Some say fate is beyond our command, but I know better. Our destiny is within us. You just have to be brave enough to see it.” – Merida, from the recent (excellent) animated movie, Brave Sometimes life calls us to do big things. Most of the time, all we want to do, naturally, is curl up and be comfortable, to settle and do the norm. I know recently I’ve felt that way, and many times in the past. I’d love to pull up a comfy chair, sink back into the cushions with a cup of great coffee and a book, and stay there, for a long time. But that won’t work for me, especially right now. My family and I are in the midst of moving back to the US from a four-year assignment abroad in Czech Republic for my husband’s job. Physically, I wouldn’t be able to pull up a chair to sit in because our furniture is in transit in a container on a ship plowing across the Atlantic right now. We’re becoming experts at reading, sleeping, and eating on the floor. Ask any intercontinental expat and they’ll tell you a similar story. It’s how it works … the adjustment to a foreign country, and then back again, takes months. Things are going well, smoothly at times, even, but the whole experience is tough and terrifying. I was listening to a favorite music artist, Nichole Nordeman, in the car and her song Brave struck me. She wrote it when her son was born, which means something to me. Don’t we all, as parents, strive to be someone...
The Importance of Home, Especially in Times of Transition

The Importance of Home, Especially in Times of Transition

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than any magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.  -Charles Dickens Countless acquaintances and many friends have asked how the past month has been, and how my family is handling the huge changes we’re facing moving from Europe back to Ohio in the United States. We lived in Prague, Czech Republic, for nearly four years for my husband’s job. During that time, we grew in so many ways as individuals and as a family. We traveled extensively by car (25 countries), we saw as much and absorbed as much and enjoyed as much as we possibly could. It was a unique phase of life, one of opportunity for which we all are grateful. But now that we are back in the States, I find myself thinking on matters of the heart. I thought I’d share about the transition here … Growing up, my family moved all over the US, from the deep south to the northeast and back and around again. I have mixed memories, but try to index back to the positive and consistent things I had: my brother and our dog. My mother coped by yelling; the more we moved, the more frequent the outbursts, unfortunately. My father coped by working; the more we moved, the more he worked, unfortunately. I always vowed I wouldn’t move when I was an adult. I wouldn’t do that to my children. But the longer I’ve lived the more I’ve come to realize a more important factor above whether or not a moving van...
Walking Toward the Sunshine: On Choosing Beauty

Walking Toward the Sunshine: On Choosing Beauty

“Walk towards the sunshine, and the shadows will fall behind you.”  ― Mary Engelbreit Winter is a bleak time, especially in former Soviet Bloc countries. I know this well, from these four winters of living in Prague, where the absence of color and light seems to be magnified. All around Prague, Communist housing projects scathe the skyline. Square buildings about 20 stories tall stand like trees making up forests of dense housing blocks. Laundry hangs from balconies in every type of weather. It’s about February every year when I really start to feel it. For me, the colorlessness comes not only from the snow and mud that covers the landscape, but also the barrenness of the season. No matter where we live, though, or what kind of housing we live in, finding beauty is not easy. One of the hardest things in life is finding the good and positive in circumstances that are beyond our control. It is so hard to … Find the color amidst the gray See the positive inside the difficult Search for the good despite challenging circumstances Dig in our heels and stay despite the urge to run and flee Cling to a wisp of internal peace, share a smile, and cling to what we value despite the grind of life Be ourselves, unwavering, when others want us to be someone else Shine and bloom wherever we find ourselves planted But it is possible. We can choose to find the good and the positive. Life will be much brighter because of that simple choice.   Now, as my family and I prepare to return to...
On Seeing Beauty: A Daily Challenge

On Seeing Beauty: A Daily Challenge

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting – a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson For the past three months, I’ve been working on an experiment. It’s been a simple experiment, involving only my iPhone and an app called Instagram. The challenge has been to see if I can find one beautiful thing about each day and take a photograph of it. The result? An improved daily perspective. This summer, I’ve seen beauty in unexpected places: a shell tree on the beach, a tangerine sunset, a fleeting rainbow, a used palette, a skyline, and a family game night Monopoly board. And now, once I’ve started looking for something beautiful in each day, I find I notice it more and more … a child’s smile, a held hand, a delicate flower. What do you think? Do you want to join in on the challenge? It’s easy to participate on Instagram (if you have an iPhone), or just take photos for your own pleasure and challenge. I promise it makes the day brighter — the discipline of seeking and seeing beauty. One added bonus: Instagram has a fun sliding menu of filters to apply to your photos, so you can see them, enhance them, and share them in different lights. I’d love to hear from you and see your photos if you take up the challenge. If you’re on twitter, post them with the hashtag #beauty (that way we...
The Essentials for Surviving Life’s Tough Spots

The Essentials for Surviving Life’s Tough Spots

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. -Anne Lamott Being human means that life won’t always go smoothly. Last week for me was a very bumpy road made rough by a medical emergency, my severly suffering child, a rusting post-Communist hospital, and a wide language gap. Yep, it was a tough spot in the grand scheme of life. It’s hard to know how to handle an emergency when it happens, but as it’s often said, the only way is through it. But moving through problems to get past a tough time is not easy. This is what I’ve come up with: 8 must-dos for moving through life’s tough spots with grace: 1) Pray. 2) Rest. 3) Eat and drink well. 4) Exercise. 5) Spend time with family and close friends. 6) Surround self with beauty. 7) Repeat  1-6 until you can breathe. Return to repeat when needed. 8) Get back to work doing what you love. For me, that’s writing. I’m loving getting back to work on a new novel work-in-progress. Here, from my last week of moving through 1-8, the results of #6: A huge thank you to friends and family for all of your support during difficult times. Life would not be nearly as rich and full without you. For you: (I’ve changed my comments software to be an easier version. Thanks for the suggestions, friends!) What do you do to pull through one of life’s tough spots? Advice to share? Thanks!   PS. Over at...
Synchronized Swimming, the Olympics, and Me

Synchronized Swimming, the Olympics, and Me

“We want the girls to meld together. This sport helps train you for life that way.” -Betty Hess, synchronized swimming coach, Pennsbury Falconettes   Many years ago, there was a girl who loved to swim. One day at her swim team practice, she saw legs rocketing up out of her school’s pool water. Loud music blared from a speaker nearby. As the girl watched, she was entranced. How could these swimmers with pinched noses and gravity-defying legs swim like that? The girl asked the gray-haired coach nearby about the music: “Does it play underwater?” The coach answered with a twinkle in her eye. “Go ahead. Try it.” After one listen underwater, the girl was hooked. How did that coach know she loved music and swimming? The next question that came from her mouth was, “Can I do this kind of swimming, too?” For the next four years, the girl practiced with that synchronized swimming team, for a few hours per day, four times a week. Soon, she held her legs out of the water like the more experienced girls, and she could compete in the synchro competitions against other teams on the weekends. And soon, the girl qualified with her team to compete in the 1988 Synchronized Swimming Olympic Trials, the first for the sport, that year in Indianapolis. The hard work paid off. At age 14, the girl was the youngest on the team, and was also the tallest. The coach had her work extra hard to get her legs back underwater at the same time as her teammates, because her legs were (too) long. And her team...