Saturday, October 14, 2017

Storytime Saturday: Downtown

I've posted a bunch of Storytime Saturday posts before, and even a really funny Storytime post that wasn't on Saturday. Most of them were written in my usual conversational blog style - just me, talking to just you, sharing my story and my experience with someone who might relate to where I've been or understand where I hope to be going. But I love writing fiction too, and even though one of my novels is actually available for free and I've shared a little bit of my fiction writing here on the blog, I thought it might be fun to write this storytime post in a fictionalized style.


"Urrrgh!" The car jerked a little as it slid forward, inching up through the coils of the parking garage. I pressed a little harder on the gas, careful to let up from the clutch. I was giving up on second gear; there was no way we'd be going that fast anytime soon anyway, not with the slow old man in front of us driving like he'd never been in a garage before.

"What's wrong, mom?" My teen spoke quietly from the passenger seat beside me. She shifted her eyes to my hands, clenched tightly on the wheel, and the corners of her mouth tightened as she pressed her lips together.

"Nothing, I just hate this car." I loosened my grip on the wheel, reminding myself to keep perspective, and smiled over at my daughter. "It's a decent car, I guess, but I'm out of practice. It's okay, Jo."

In the backseat, her sister chattered mindlessly, an endless outpouring of cheerful but totally unfiltered thoughts about the day to come. We had been planning Trolley Day for weeks, and while both girls had been disappointed at the need to rearrange the day, both had recovered well. There was nothing we could do about the trolley system not running - but we still had a whole day ahead of us, and we were determined to make the best of it.

"So first we're going to the library?" The chatter ended on this question, the word library accented with the higher pitch of hope seeping into Eden's voice as she anticipated the pleasure of losing herself in the stacks.

I rolled my eyes and maneuvered into a parking spot, still frustrated with the car and glad to be out of it. "No, not 'til later, babe," I said. I watched the reflection of her lowered face in the rearview mirror, smiling as she pouted a little in disappointment, my pride in her love of books washing away the last of the annoyance over the car. "We'll go there last - just in case."

Her face came up quickly at that, her eyes finding mine in the mirror, lit with excitement. She smiled faintly; I smiled back, ignoring the twinge of sadness that hit me as I looked into her face. Already self-conscious of her crooked teeth and too-small mouth, she rarely smiled completely, but I loved her face. "Just in case what?" she asked. "In case we get books? But I thought we weren't getting any books because it's a hassle to keep track and that's why we always check them on the kindle so we --"

"Just in case," I said again, smiling wider. If I didn't cut in and stop her she'd talk this over for the rest of the day and we'd never get anywhere. But she was right and I knew it - we would get books despite my vehement denial of this possibility. We all knew it - because I was a mom who couldn't resist a book, proud to raise two book-loving kids.

Beside me, Joey sighed, shaking her head. She knew too. "You guys ready to go?"

"Yep," I answered. "Grab your drinks."

Armed with bottles of flavored carbonated water and a small backpack of grocery store snacks, we left the car and headed out, making our way from the garage. Out in the sun, we looked around, trying to decide on the course of action for the day. I pulled up my trusty GPS. Downtown Knoxville can be crowded at times, and if you were unfamiliar with the area, it wouldn't be that hard to get turned around - but with a glance at the map on my cell phone screen, we were off.

I lingered alone as we walked, hanging just a few steps back, watching my daughters interact together. They traded playful elbow jabs and alternated between bickering and joking together, and I marveled at the way the five year age difference between them had begun slowly growing less and less obvious as Josephine's growth slowed down and Eden's began - finally - to catch up. They reached the end of the street and I called out to stop them, holding them back with the sound of my voice, thankful that my voice was enough to command them. They waited the few beats it took for me to catch up, two girls looking up to the sun-filled sky, bottled waters held carefully close, and then, reunited, we stood together on the corner of the intersection, waiting to cross.

It was Eden's first time crossing the Henley Street Pedestrian Bridge, and as we walked, she looked through the protective barriers, exclaiming over the height of the bridge and the relatively small size of the cars passing below us. I smiled knowingly, waiting until the girls were ready to keep moving. They would both be exclaiming soon.

Within the next fifteen minutes I stood grinning widely, one arm around my oldest daughter's waist, the other arm resting lightly on my youngest daughter's shoulders. And they were exclaiming - at the beauty of our city, the sheer height of our view from inside the Sunsphere, the minuteness of the people walking the streets and sidewalks below. We made our way slowly around the observation deck, admiring and comparing the views - did we like the World's Fair Park side, or the downtown view? Both had their perks, but we chose the park side, with it's wide expanses of bright green and the sparkling fall of the water in the park fountain.

"Is that where we're going, Mom?"

I followed the direction of Joey's arm as she pointed toward the spires of a park in the distance. It stood out from the buildings that surrounded it, painted wood tops colorful against the darker wood of the playground structure. "Fort Kid?" I asked, shaking my head. "Not this time." I took her hand, adjusting her arm so that it pointed toward the playground we were aiming for - the World's Fair Park Playground. "It's just there," I told her, aiming her wrist so that her finger pointed toward a stand of flags.

"Not a playground, mom," she answered, lowering her hand.

Beside me, Eden had spotted the largest splash pad in the city and was all but vibrating with excitement. "We're going to the fountain?"

Laughing, I shook my head, plucking at the fabric of her cotton sundress. "No, we're not dressed for that. But look there. Between the flags and the water. Those trees are blocking the playground, but there's one there."

"Does it have a tire swing?"

Josephine had fallen in love with tire swings recently, and this question from her was no surprise. Shaking my head in amusement, I steered my girls toward the elevator that would take us back to the ground below. "We'll see."

There was a tire swing, and two hours later, the girls and I broke away from the heat of the park to rest on a bench in the shade, snacking on the sweet chocolate-dotted granola bars we had carried along for the day, guzzling the rest of our waters.

"Do we have to go now? To the library?" Eden asked, talking as always with her mouth full. There wasn't much that would stop her from talking - not even a mouth full of granola.

"Chew first," I reminded her, pulling my cell phone from my pocket. I tapped the screen to wake the device, checked the clock, and sighed. The heat of the day had been wearing on me already, and while it had been a fun afternoon, I was ready for it to wind down. "Yeah," I said. "The library closes in a couple of hours, so if we want time to really look around while we're there, we need to go."

On the way back, we stopped to run our hands through the waters of the fountain pool, rode the elevator back up to the observation deck of the Sunsphere, and chatted about our day as we crossed the pedestrian bridge. But back in the downtown area, we check the map again.

"Which way is the library?" Eden asked. She had been equally as excited about the prospect of books as she had been about playing at the park, and I smiled down at her, proud to have successfully shared my love of books with her.

"It's close, right?" Joey asked, gesturing further down the street. "Like a block or two?"

"I think it's a few blocks over, actually," I answered, studying the map. "Yeah, but we're close though."

Walking into the children's section at the Lawson MgGhee branch of the Knox County Public Library was like leading a child into wonderland. Eden dropped my hand as soon as she'd entered the doors, anxious to scour the shelves for her next new read. Josephine headed for the computers, her mind already suggesting and discarding possible titles and authors to search for. And I? Well, I was in the world of printed pages, surrounded by the smell of aged paper, comforted by the heavy silence of the books and the quiet whispers of my children.

This photo was originally shared to Patreon here.

Two hours later, we left the library, weighted down with books, our hearts light and our minds already racing in preparation of the adventures we had checked out. Joey and I exchanged amused glances as we juggled books around the still-chattering Eden. It was over, and we were all ready - but it had been a great family day, downtown.


In honor of today's story, today's "Featured Favorite Product" is ... well, me. Some of you know that I recently had the opportunity to update the covers on two of my books, and I'm so excited to share them again here because I'm in love with how gorgeous they are! I mean, not that I didn't like my covers before, but wow. These are gorgeous, aren't they??

 click to purchase      click to purchase

The Selkie Trilogy is a series of sequential romantic fantasy novels. Each book in this series follows the last, with each new book continuing the story. These books are best enjoyed in order of publication, and this series contains mild/moderate sexual content. More information about this series and the books in it can be found here - or if you're one of those people who sees a gorgeous cover and just can't resist the one-click, then you can find Selkie here, and Selkie II here. There's sex, love, adventure, fighting, death, birth ... well, let's just assume you'll love it, shall we? Because you will. Because it's awesome.
What did you think of today's post? Did you like the short story format? Have you ever visited my city before, and if so, what was your favorite part of the visit? And what do you think of my new book covers? Are you as in love as I am? And if you've read the Selkie books, how do you feel about how these covers fit the story?

Make sure you take the time to look around while you're here; if you find something that really resonates with you, I'd love for you to share a link with your friends! While you're here, I'd like to invite you to hang out and follow along with my journey; if you subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar, you can rest assured you'll never miss a post! And while the darker content of this blog may not always be easy to read, I truly hope that through the light days breaking up the darkness, we'll learn from and inspire each other.

If you liked this bit of fiction, come on over to Patreon for more - you can sign up to sponsor my writing journey for as little as $1 a month, and your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content, including photos (like the one I shared in the post) and mini-blogs (that expand on the photos) from my personal life. You'll also get advance peeks at my fiction writing, which is a pretty slick deal for just over $.03 a day. But if you want a little more, for just $2 a month you'll also get to vote for upcoming content, read my upcoming poetry release as it's written, and have access to weekly L.A.F.F.S. - and the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, my PhLogs will start going up daily!! (Click that link. Most are subscriber-only, but one each month is marked public - there's even a little tribute to my favorite "person!")

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that my brand is built on the concept of what I write and who I'm writing it for. "Love Stories and Lifestyle for the Undaunted Woman." Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for our next Undaunted Woman Interview!

And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Works For Me Wednesday: Habit Stacking

Shoutout to Elizabeth A, who suggested this post

This year, I've been working pretty hard at increasing my ability to set goals - and follow through on them. In January, I set myself the goal of blogging daily, but to tell you the long hard truth of it, I wasn't really sure I could do it. I was still adjusting to single mom life, juggling PTSD, dealing with the health issues the girls have, living with various health issues of my own, and struggling through regular life stuff. Blogging daily? That was a hard undertaking!

But I did it.

I set the deadlines, and I started early. I used my good days in December to write myself a little bit ahead, preparing posts that I could keep on standby in case I needed them. And doing that allowed me to take mental health days as often as I needed to - while still staying consistent here. I set up a calendar, and I started coding it so that I could keep track of what needed to be done and when. Starred days are days when a blog post is due, party hat days are days I've committed to events or takeovers. I've got days marked for my Patreon writing days, too - otherwise, there is simply NO WAY I could ever keep track of it all.

I'm still using that same strategy, writing ahead on the good days, marking off deadlines as I hit them so I don't lose my place in the schedule. And I've continued to adjust my strategies so that I can make the best of the good days in order to allow myself the bad days I can't prevent or get rid of. Back in January, I wrote about one of my favorite productivity techniques - the Pomodoro. With blogging so much and writing like crazy for my Patreon followers, I haven't had as much focus on novel-writing in 2017, so my Pomodoro schedule has changed a bit. And as I've adjusted to dealing with my mental health with a little more self-compassion and understanding, the Pomodoro routine isn't something I use every day. But on the good days? It's how I keep everything running in a way that looks smooth for you, without me running myself into the ground. Some days, I use the Pomodoro routine to write several blog posts, or to set up several Patreon posts. Some days I use my Pomodoro schedule to seek out quotes and set up social media posts. Other days? I can't do it. I can't do any of it - and I lay in bed with a book or my journal, or I veg out completely with YouTube, or I allow myself the time to go hide in the shower for a good cry. On days when PMDD is flaring up enough to drown out even the effects of PTSD ... I'm pretty much useless, and what saves me is being able to use the Pomodoro technique to prepare ahead of time for those days.

In May, I wrote out a typical school-morning for the girls and I, inviting my readers into the before-school routine of a family plagued with various mental health issues. I showed only two hours of a typical day for us, but what I didn't show is how much those mornings impact my ability to focus and cope for the rest of the day. I didn't show how hard the rest of the day is, simply because the morning has used up so much of what little energy I had. I wrote about that too, explaining "the spoon theory," which is a common way for people with invisible illness to attempt to explain the cost of illness to people who don't always have the ability to understand. This theory takes the average person's energy allotment of the day and turns it into a currency which must be spent on the tasks of the day - but also acknowledges the way things seem to "cost" more for people living with illness. This is why I write more on my good days, preparing for the bad days to come - otherwise I could never build this blog, could never write a book.

In July, I wrote an optimistic look at the summer version of my family's morning routine, acknowledging the all-day-every-day presence of the girls, and how I adjusted things to accommodate the increased demand on my Momming abilities. Part of this involves my writing schedule, too - while I did manage to blog daily in January, I knew that wasn't something I would be able to keep up with, so I adjusted by switching to (I think) every other day in February, and from there I went to every third day, which seems to be working alright for me. Granted, it was a little hectic to manage over the summer, but with thoughtful and careful planning, I kept up.

What? But how??
Here's where routine comes into play in such a huge way. Just like the Pomodoro Technique helps me focus and make the best of my writing time, Habit Stacking helps me make the best of the rest. One of the most debilitating symptoms of my PTSD is memory loss - I have trouble remembering much of anything, and if it isn't part of my routine, there's a good chance I'm going to forget to do it.

This is why I live my life by lists and calendars - otherwise, I'd be a flighty hot mess of a woman, and probably an abysmal failure as a mother. And the truth is, some days even the calendars and to-do lists aren't enough to stop me from sucking. But we get by, because I'm honest with myself about what I can do and where my limitations are, because I'm honest with my kids about those things too, and because I happen to have sweet kids who love their mom enough to step into the gap. We're a team, my girls and I, and we're always looking for better ways to work together.

So we habit stack. One of my most consistent (and consistently failed) quarterly goals this year has been to drink more water, but I've also been working on remembering to take the Prilosec that gets me through the day without crippling back pain (Because yes, you can have back pain from GERD just like you can have back pain from labor. It doesn't have to be IN your back to HURT your back.). Forgetting my meds is a huge deal to me, as it has a very literal impact on my quality of life and my ability to interact well with the people around me.

Habit-Stack Strategy - Meds #1:
I start drinking water first thing in the morning - once I've gone to pee and made my way downstairs to let the dog out, literally the first thing I do is head for the kitchen to wash and fill my water tumbler. This never changes. Ever. So instead of trying to fit my meds in when I could remember to (or even adding them to a list which required me to check it in order to succeed), I'm just making it a point to take my Prilosec right then. Fill the water up, drink some with my meds. Goal one, drink water ... in progress. Goal two, remember to take meds ... check. Now, on to the rest of the day.

Habit-Stack Strategy - Meds #2:
My girls are wild and demanding, no matter when they go to bed or when they wake up in the morning. They're emotional and energetic, opinionated and confident in who they are. So the morning hours often consist of a lot of irregularity for us. The girls both have health issues, so sometimes I'm working around those. They both have school stuff and life stuff and sometimes we're working around that. What never changes is that they're breakfast people. So it's become our habit that they take their meds immediately after breakfast. This means they don't forget, I don't forget, and we set ourselves up for the rest of the day with time-proven strategies that work for us. Without their meds ... quality of life goes down for all of us, because when you combine a PTSD/PMDD mom with an ADHD hormonal teen girl and an ADHD/OCD pretween girl, and then you stir in an overly generous helping of anxiety disorder (we all have it), abandonment issues, and regular life stress ... well, let's just say remembering necessary meds is important to us.

But That's Just The Morning, Right?
Nope. The rest of our day is a mash-up of habit-stacks, from the way we get to school on time to the way I pick the girls up from school in the afternoon. It has an impact on how we get ready if there's no school and we're going on an outing, it has an impact on how we progress through the day if we're staying home. It gets us to bed at a decent hour every night, and when it all goes smoothly, our individual habit-stacking helps make life smoother and easier for our family as a whole.

Isn't That A Little Rigid?
Not really. The magic of habit stacking means it's the same no matter when you do it. So if I come downstairs at six-thirty on a school day, or if I come downstairs at ten-thirty on a luxurious Saturday morning, it's the same - fill up my water, take my Prilosec. It's the same with our other routines too, for the most part.

So How Do You Do It?
Start with something simple. For me, I couldn't just start up and create a stack to work on. I literally have to work one goal at a time. But once it became a habit for me to start drinking water first thing in the morning (coffee is now a reward for finishing that first 26-ounce tumbler), it got easier to add my medicine to that first sip of water. From there, I've added my goal to listen to a personal development podcast every day, which I usually listen to either while I'm making breakfast for the girls, while I'm driving home from dropping them at school, or while I'm getting ready for my morning shower.

It's easy to just pick one habit to build, because it's not asking you to do too much. One little habit at a time, you build it and solidify it, like the foundation of a home. Then you add the next habit to the stack - the next layer of what makes each day turn into a life you're satisfied with living. Habit by habit, you build so much more than a "stack" of to-dos.


Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is an amazing bundle of books on productivity and time management. This Productive Habits Book Bundle is a great deal, with five books in one for just $5.99 - and what makes me most impressed with this bundle is that the included books focus on a range of issues that are common problems for me: procrastination, low energy levels, productivity, digital clutter, and goal-setting. I know that these are common problems for a lot of people too, which is why I'm so glad to be able to share this book bundle here!


And if you like what you get out of those five S.J. Scott books, then here's another - which I think is even more perfectly geared to our community. Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking looks like a phenomenal resource for helping people find and remove the parts of their lives that stress them out. This is something I've been much more actively working on for myself this year, from cleaning out and narrowing my social circle to cleaning up and lessening the noise of my social media feeds. (These ideas have both been featured here as quarterly goals.) It's good to know that while I'm not alone in struggling with these concepts and the noise of a digital world, there are ways to deal with it and turn down the noise - ways that I don't have to discover, because S.J. Scott already did that part.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
What kind of habit stacking do you practice - and did you build those stacks on purpose, or did they develop more organically? How do they impact your life and the way you do things on a day-to-day basis, and what adjustments would you like to make in order to live a happier, more productive life?

If you enjoyed or felt helped by this post, please take the time to look around; if you find something that really resonates with you, I'd love for you to share a link with your friends! While you're here, I'd like to invite you to hang out and follow along with my journey; if you subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar, you can rest assured you'll never miss a post! And while the darker content of this blog may not always be easy to read, I truly hope that through the light days breaking up the darkness, we'll learn from and inspire each other.

Come on over to Patreon too - you can sign up to sponsor my writing journey for as little as $1 a month, your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content - including photos and mini-blogs from my personal life and advance peeks at my fiction writing, which is a pretty slick deal for just over $.03 a day. Want a little more,? For $2 a month you'll also get to vote for upcoming content, read my upcoming poetry release as it's written, and have access to weekly L.A.F.F.S. - and the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, my PhLogs will start going up daily!! (Click that link. Most are subscriber-only, but one each month is marked public - there's even a little tribute to my favorite "person!")

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that my brand is built on the concept of what I write and who I'm writing it for. "Love Stories and Lifestyle for the Undaunted Woman." Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for our next Undaunted Woman Interview!

And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.