Monday, December 30, 2013

2014: Toasting a Bright & Shiny New Year

Wishing you hope, love, laughter, success, understanding, clarity and perspective in 2014!
Enjoy the song, I Hope, from one of my favorite bands, the Dixie Chicks. The perfect sentiment for this bright new year.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From the Archives: Christmas 2009 - Ideal Reality Achieved

Image courtesy of gubgib/
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope that at least some of your Ideal Realities become your Real Realities in 2014. Below is from my archives. Christmas 2009 remains one of my Top 5 Christmas' ever. Enjoy!

We wrapped up an extended holiday season today, just in time to start exploring the new year. Our Christmas celebrations started December 19 and were slated to wrap up on December 26. However, a blizzard of the snowed-in for days variety forced us to postpone the final celebration until today. I enjoyed each family gathering, but it's good to be done.

For the first time in many years, I eagerly anticipated Christmas. Not only are the peeps at an age where they know what's going on, but I got to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with MY family. And by "MY family," I mean it was just me, my husband, and the peeps. No one else. We didn't have to drive anywhere, bring anything, or tolerate anybody else or their holiday rules. The days were all ours. It was my ideal reality come true. A cherished event.

While I'm sure our celebration would not light the world on fire, it was the stuff my dreams are made of. Christmas Eve night we played a pre-pre-school version of Candyland by a semi-roaring fire. Each person got to do a victory dance when they won. When we tired of playing the game, we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas." The peeps sat through the entire story and loved it. Later, the peeps and I snuggled and played on the sofa, and when bedtime arrived the little ladies climbed into bed and drifted quickly off to sleep.

Cartoons in bed and Mark's homemade cinnamon rolls (a new family tradition) sparked our Christmas Day celebration. The peeps opened their presents and oohed and awed over each packaged and the surprise it contained. Hot Wheels. Thomas the Train. A saxophone. A kitchen and shopping cart. Games. Santa was kind to them. Not a lump of coal in sight.

On Saturday, we were stilled snowed in. We romped in the snow (approx. 9 inches!) and drank hot cocoa to defrost. Correction: Mark and I drank it hot. The peeps wanted "coldy" hot cocoa. I don't recommend it, but they slurped it down and wanted more. Late in the afternoon, I snuggled with the peeps under our "magic shawl" and watched "Cars" and "Snow White."

Did we squabble? If we did, I don't remember. Did cabin fever invade our cozy habitat? Yep. By Sunday we were all looking to fly the coop. Regardless, Christmas 2009 will go down in my personal history as one of the rare times that my ideal reality jived with the true reality.

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, and I wish everyone the best in 2010.

Monday, December 23, 2013

From the Archives: Hey! Unto You a Child is Born!

Recognize that line? It's from the book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, written by Barbara Robinson in 1971. I had forgotten all about this little gem (a tidy 80 pages) until I stumbled upon it in a box of books while gearing up for a personal project I'm going to launch in 2013 (more on that later).

If you haven't read this story, or if, like me, it's been decades since you have, you owe it to yourself to grab a mug of hot cocoa and dive in. Written from a child's point of view, it's a hilarious and realistic take on the Christmas story, complete with cigar smoking, baby burping, and collection plate stealing. It made me giggle, and it sparked my Christmas spirit. It's also a charming example of Real Reality Vs. Ideal Reality.

I must confess: I also like the story because it takes me back to my childhood and my own experiences with the church Christmas play. I was always tapped to play Mary, and my friend, Kurt, suffered the role of Joseph year after year. (To this day, I do not believe this seasonal pairing was a coincidence. I highly suspect his mother had visions of the two of us hooking up in real life.)

In the 80s, the novel was made into a television special, starring Loretta Switt. You can watch it here.


Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

This post originally appeared on My Ideal Reality on December 12, 2012.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Project 2013: The Final Score. Warning: It Ain't Pretty

34 to 171. Almost 20%. 

That’s the final score of my Project 2013 adventure. Obviously, from a numbers standpoint, I blew it. But this project wasn’t purely about the numbers; it was about the experience. It was about making more time for reading, exploring books I might have never given a second glance and finding some new “old” authors to recommend.

You can read about my big idea here, access my Project 2013 Reading List, including my Top 10, here .

I’ll continue picking away at my collection in 2013, but I’m also gearing up for Project 2014. Stay tuned!

Oh! And check out my More Books! page for even more reading recs.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, keep it real.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Countdown to Christmas: The Advent Calendar Wars (Animal Jam Vs. Literacy)

Image courtesy of Feelart /
I’ve never been big on advent calendars. Opening little doors to reveal cheap candy or trinkets? Whoop. Dee. Doo. Where’s the thrill in that? But, when a Facebook friend shared an idea for a literary advent calendar, I thought I’d give this holiday staple another chance. The idea seemed easy enough: wrap 24 books, stack ‘em, open one each day. 
In my Ideal Reality, this non-traditional advent calendar was going to be the perfect new tradition for our bibliophilic (book lovin’) family. We could avoid the proliferation of plastic toys and cheap chocolate (both of which would end up in the trash), spend a few quality moments as a family and give the peeps another opportunity to show off their mad reading skills.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I scoured thrift shops and the peeps’ bedroom bookshelves for 24 gently used (or forgotten) books that I could quickly wrap and stack. Many of them sport a Christmas theme, but some I included because I knew they would interest the girls. The last book they will open is ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. (I know, very clever and totally original.) I wrapped all the books and had them ready to go by my planned Dec. 1 unveiling. Imagine my delight when the peeps bought into the idea!  

And then, my Real Reality barged in, front-and-center, in the form of Animal Jam. The peeps’ addiction to this kid-friendly online virtual world created by National Geographic Kids is amazing. In all honestly, it is a pretty cool game, especially for animal-loving kids with over-the-top wild imaginations. But, in a move of pure marketing genius, the Animal Jam gods totally trumped my homemade advent calendar by offering one of its own: 24 virtual gifts for the players’ characters. Log on and open one gift a day until the fat man and his reindeer show up. How can my stack of books compete with gems, diamonds, turkey hats and sweaters for fake animals? Seriously. Well played, Animal Jam, well played.

Yes, the girls’ excitement for our advent calendar has waned a bit, but they do continue to show some enthusiasm for unwrapping and reading a new book each night. I’ll take what I can get.

What’s your advent calendar tradition? Share, please
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing … Keep It Real.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

When Creating Traditions, Accidents Should Happen

When I became a parent, I developed this burning desire to create family traditions that would make my baby girls feel warm, safe, loved and special. I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. For the first few years after the peeps were born, I tried to manufacture these occasions based on what other families did. Many of these attempts failed to catch on because our hearts weren’t in them. They weren’t authentically “us.”

I became frustrated, believing we would be the only family on the planet that didn’t have traditions. (Drama much?) I think my desire to create traditions came from the fact that my childhood was, for the most part, devoid of strong family connections. I craved the closeness all of my friends seemed to have with their families, especially around the holidays. As a parent, I vowed to create that bond in my own little family.

After trying so hard, and feeling like I failed, I took a step back and reflected on what I was doing wrong. It was then that I realized our family actually followed several meaningful and fun traditions. I also realized authentic traditions, ones that stick around, can’t be purposefully planned. They just have to happen. In our family, our best traditions are created by accident. And while they may not be unique, they reflect who we are at a given point in time. Interestingly, each tradition is a perfect blend of My Ideal Reality and My Real Reality.

 Here they are:

Homemade cinnamon rolls
One year, while we were still dating, my then-boyfriend/now husband made me homemade cinnamon rolls. If you’ve ever made cinnamon rolls from scratch, you know it’s a time-consuming process. More than 10 years later, the tradition continues, and my husband still makes them. A hot pan of gooey, sweet, sticky, buttery rolls is ready and waiting either Thanksgiving morning or Christmas morning (it depends on our holiday obligations, which vary from year to year). The fact that we only indulge once a year makes them taste that much better. 

Salt dough ornaments
One winter day, when the peeps were about 3 years old, something made me think of these ornaments, which had been the standard classroom craft of school children in the 1970s. I found an easy recipe, and we spent the afternoon cutting shapes and painting them. Four years later, we take a day every winter to make a new batch for their Christmas tree. It’s been fun watching how the girls’ artistic skills have developed over the years. And we’ve named our kitchen: The Meltdown Bakery of Love.

Santa at the Kansas City Zoo
This will be our third year to visit Santa at The Kansas City Zoo. With a predicted high of 20°F on Saturday, this will be a chilly visit (last year, we didn’t need coats!). The zoo’s new penguin exhibit just opened, so we are excited to check that out as well! This tradition started because someone who shall not be named forgot one year that a trip to Santa was a necessary part of the holidays. Oops! By the time this person realized it, most of the Santa sightings had already taken place. Thankfully, we found Santa at the zoo, and he was perfect. And free. We can take our own photos and/or buy one for $5. Deal!

Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting
This was a new adventure for us this year. I don’t know if it will become a tradition, but I hope so. Our little family has had several big events occur recently (all good!), so we decided to celebrate with a Staycation. We booked at room at the Westin Crown Center, which included four tix to LegoLand, four tix to Sea Life and a $20 gift certificate. We spent the day after Thanksgiving exploring and eating. Then, we joined the crowd outside of Crown Center for the annual Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting (100 feet tall!) I’m a Kansas City native, but had never experienced this event before. It was beautiful, fun and the perfect way to start off the holiday season. Then, we camped in our hotel room with dinner, some beers (for me and the husband, NOT the peeps), and some Cartoon Network (for the peeps, NOT for me and the husband).

And there you have it! Our accidentally authentic holiday traditions!

Here is your call to action: Share one of YOUR family traditions and how it came to be (accidental or not)!

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing … Keep It Real.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Now Open For Business: The Meltdown Bakery of Love

Image courtesy of debspoons /
Happy Holidays! Have you started baking up a storm yet? ‘Tis the season, right? This time every year, visions of sugar plums start dancing in my head, egged on by the sprinkled, sugared, powdered, spiced, frosted, glazed and ganached pretties that adorn magazine covers and websites. As I salivate over these images, I find myself thinking, “I could do that! Those would be so easy and fun to make with the peeps! We are totally going to make those!” Every year, I entertain grandiose visions of spending hours in the kitchen with my peeps. Cupcakes, Christmas cookies, layer cakes. We are going to make them all. They will be lovingly – and perfectly – decorated and taste ah-MAY-zing. And we will have a blast creating both sweet goods and sweet memories.

Um … not so fast.

Baking with children (in my case, twins) takes the patience of a saint and someone with very low hygienic standards. I have neither. Hand in the flour jar? Freak out. Fingers in the batter bowl? Freak out. Utensil licking? Freak out. Sticky hands touching everything? Freak out. Yep. Like a stick of butter that’s been sitting out a tad too long, mama melts down, and my Ideal Reality crashes head on into my Real Reality. And it happens Every. Single. Time.

One day, as we embarked on yet another baking adventure, one of the peeps suggested we open our own bakery. “What should we call it?” I asked. She grinned mischievously, but her response was instant, “The Meltdown Bakery. Because you always meltdown.” Nice. In my defense, I highly suspect those people plot to provoke me. Case in point, they devised some sort of point system whereby they earn “points” when I meltdown.

Curiously, The Meltdown Bakery has evolved into a fun connection. When I announce that The Meltdown Bakery is open for business, both peeps go nuts and start setting up their stepstools, asking which bowls we need, pulling out measuring cups and searching for the chocolate chips (regardless of what we are baking). So, I guess on some level, my dream of happy baking with the peeps comes true. We’ve also amended the name of our bakery. We now call it The Meltdown Bakery of Love. Aw. Adorbs.

I’m also granted another chance to try my best NOT to meltdown while baking.

And in case you were wondering … creations from The Meltdown Bakery never leave our house. When I bake something for public consumption, I bake alone.
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

5-Year Recap in Which I Also Show Off a New Skill (Part 1)

 I started this blog on December 15, 2008. Holy cowza! That's almost 5 years ago! For grins, I wanted to post a recap of some of my more popular posts (those with 40+ page views). I decided to get all fancy and present the first 10 graphically.

Despite what others think about my lack of digital skills, I don't think I've done too badly. (I won't tell you how long it's taken me. LOTS of trial-and-error (and maybe some swearing), which can only mean one thing: I've learned something new!)

I wanted to post the graphic straight up on this page, but it wasn't mean to be. But, you can check it out HERE, and start clicking away! (Update: The links take a little clicking, and one link — Where's My Change — dropped below the graphic when I uploaded it to Drive. GRRR!). Still, I think I did a fabulous job for my first time out.)

I do want to give a shout out to Mike C. (aka Blog Boy) at Sugar Pine Realty. His post on creating infographics inspired me to give this a try.


As always ... wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, November 11, 2013

High Road Vs. Low Road: What's the Diff? It's Just a Road

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles @
Some of my most memorable parenting moments happen when I’m simultaneously horrified and proud of something that a peep said, did or didn’t do. Here's one of those moments:

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I had the peeps in tow. Normally, I have the luxury of shopping alone, but this day I had no choice. I was dreading the stop because I had a humongo grocery list. Here’s the equation:  

Humongo Shopping List + two 6-year-old peeps = THAT mom.
(Someone please tell me you know what I’m talking about. Lie if you have to.)

 On the drive to the store, I gave myself a mental pep talk that went something like this: “Suck it up. You are spoiled. People shop with their kids every day and handle it just fine. So can you. Let’s do this. You will not die. No one has ever died from taking their kids to the grocery store.”  

As we strolled (aka speed walked) through the aisles, things were going surprisingly well. We had our groove on, everyone was making a conscious decision to be pleasant, and I think we might have even cracked some jokes. (Those free cookies in the bakery are a godsend!)

We made it all the way to the milk aisle. I glanced away for a millisecond to peruse my choices. A millisecond was all it took.

Ruthie: “Audrey just hit me for no reason” (Man! They are SO fast! How do they do that?)

Me: Audrey, did you hit your sister?

Audrey: Yes.

Me: Why? (Why do I even ask that question? What answer do I expect to get? )

Audrey: I don’t know. (DUH)

I praised Ruthie for taking the high road and not slugging her sister back. When I asked if they knew what “taking the high road” meant, they both said yes and proceeded to tell me. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to launch into my “high road vs. low road” speech. You know the one. It’s the lecture that imparts the life lesson about always striving for the high road, despite what comes our way.

Satisfied with myself, we continued shopping. And then I heard …

“I took the low road and I don’t care because it’s just a road.”

 See? Horrified with a touch of pride. Because the kid's gotta point.

 I can't be the only parent who gets this odd feeling of accomplishment from time to time. Please share yours.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing … Keep It Real.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Ultimate Hook-Up

You know the climactic scene in romantic movies where the two leads, after a tumultuous journey, finally admit they are head over heels in love with each other and come together for one joyous, perfect moment? That’s been my life lately, with My Ideal Reality and My Real Reality cast as the romantic leads. It’s the ultimate hook-up. Warm fuzzies. Sunshine. Rainbows. Pure unadulterated contentment. Sigh.
It’s a rare but blissful blip, these two getting along. But in recent weeks, their marriage has created weekend nights filled with friends I haven’t seen for far too long, family chili festivities on a crisp fall night, and the chance to put the garden to bed while watching the peeps climb our magnolia tree and bury each other in mountainous leaf piles.
And there is romance, too. Today is my 12th wedding anniversary, and right now Mark is outside clipping 12 sweetheart roses from our bushes to make a bouquet. Sweet and simple.
I’m painfully aware that the peaceful coexistence between My Ideal Reality and My Real Reality will be short lived, and these joyous, perfect moments will fade into the sunset.
But for now, I’m just going to enjoy the brilliant colors these two realities create when they walk side-by-side.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

You Are Only As Old As Someone Else Thinks You Are

It's not often that we get to see ourselves from someone else's perspective.  When those rare instances occur, they happen in a flash, they either bolster our self-confidence or fill us with self-doubt. 

With my career, I find myself at the tipping point of the communications industry. I'm a child of print journalism, but I'm very aware that I need to grow up if I want to play with others in the Digital Age. Trying to cross that bridge is proving tougher than I realized.

My six-month temporary position as the managing editor at a publishing company ends next week. Having worked with the company off and on for many years, I have a solid reputation for being a leader, a problem solver and an effective project manager with mad editorial skills. Over the past few weeks, I've been talking with people in the company about possible ways to extend my employment. I really want to dig into the digital side of the business, and I interviewed for a position as a web editor. I didn't get it.

And while I'm sure there were other reasons why I wasn't selected ( their full-time vs. my part-time), I think the feedback that stuck with me the most was, "We're looking for someone who has lived in the Internet world." OUCH. That's employer code for, "She's a dinosaur in the Digital Age."

I do have some digital experience in my portfolio, but not enough yet to sell myself as a guru. I know that if given the opportunity, I can get to 4G speed in no time. But getting an employer to look past the extensive print experience I have, not to mention the dark circles and wrinkles, is going to take some work. And it's work I'm willing to do.

Did I let the comment fill me with self-doubt? Most certainly! And obviously, I haven't let it go completely because I'm writing about it here. But I also see this as an opportunity to turn my Ideal Reality into my Real Reality.

I'm got a few ideas up my sleeve, and I'm excited about creating some learning opportunities. They are going to hear this dinosaur ROAR!

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Photo Credit: The Whole Cake and Caboodle ( lisa ) via photopin cc

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Can Money Buy Happiness? It Depends on Your Perspective

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /
Currently, I'm reading All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending by Laura Vanderkam. This the second book I've read by Vanderkam. I blogged about 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. You can read that post here.

I enjoy reading Vanderkam's books because even if I don't agree with everything she writes, she makes me think and serves up a fresh platter of perspective.

All the Money takes so much of what I've read, heard or experienced about making and spending money and twists it topsy-turvy. Vanderkam confronts the popular "frugality approach" to saving (cut out all non-essentials, eat rat-lip bologna for every meal and cut coupons like a crazy person) head on, boldly suggesting (and proving with data) that in the grand scheme of fiscal responsibility, penny-pinching in the small areas really doesn't make that big of an impact to the bank account, but it can certainly drain the happiness account.

Instead of asking the traditional question, "How can I save more?" Vanderkam looks at money through the lens of "How could I make more?" She also encourages readers to step back and shine a new light on their financial choices (past, present and future)  As with 168 Hours, Vanderkam's book is well-researched and peppered with anecdotes of people and families who altered their perspective of money with some amazing results.

I'm already thinking of ways I can pull down some green while doing activities that interest me.  The book isn't an easy read, but it's not rocket science, either. And while I skipped or skimmed the sections and chapters that were irrelevant to me, the book is thought-provoking, intelligent and useful. Check it out! And I mean that both literally and figuratively (I borrowed my copy from the local library - frugality at its finest!). Cha-Ching!

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hurrying Up & Slowing Down ... Both Need Space in Our Days

  Image courtesy of [Vlado] /
A few weeks ago a friend emailed me a link to  "The Day I Stopped Saying 'Hurry Up'" by Rachel Macy Stafford. Shortly after receiving the e-mail, Stafford's blog post began popping up in the social media outlets, being shared by people everywhere. Obviously, it struck a chord. It certainly did with me. I'm always harassing my daughters to "Get a Move On," spouting "Later, We Don't Have Time Because We'll Be Late," and "Chop Chop, Lemon Drops." These phrases make up a significant portion of my communication with my peeps. Guilty.

After reading Stafford's blog, I vowed to try eliminating those time-stamped statements from my vocab. And I have gotten better. Correction. I've gotten better about not hurrying situations when it truly doesn't matter. But I continued to think about the post because something about it itched me. While the post has a message that needs to be heard, it's also grounded in mostly in Ideal Reality. Because in Real Reality, sometimes time matters. Being on time to a job, a  party, a dinner date, a meeting or a doctor's appointment matters. Being aware of time and being on time are matters of respect, and they are life skills that everyone needs to learn. Are there exceptions? Certainly.

But increasingly, it has become almost socially acceptable to be late and expect the waiting party to deal with it. And because so many adults show blatant disregard for others time,  we're raising a generation of kids who don't think its important to be on time for anything. Stafford used one phrase that really hit the nail on the head: "... over committed schedule ... ." You are the only person in control of your schedule. Your overscheduled life shouldn't become someone else's problem, and it's not a valid excuse for being late.

There has to be some balance between helping kids enjoy life and teaching them importance of being on time, regardless of who they are meeting or what they are doing.

Sometimes kids (and adults) need to hear "Hurry up!"

And on that note, I'm going to go enjoy "Cars 2" with the peeps because it's Sunday night, it's blazing hot and we are maxin' and relaxin'. No hurrying up in here tonight.

Wherever you , whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Good Thing I'm Not Doing This For Money

Good thing I'm not doing this for money because I would've been fired a loooooooooooooong time ago judging by the date of my last post.

I won't bore you with the details (and trust me, they are boring), and I won't insult you with the standard blogger apology for having been away for so long. If I were going to do that, I'd just write, "Blah blah blah blah blah and blah." Same dif.

Right now, I'm stuck somewhere in between my Ideal Reality and my Real Reality, between uninspiration and life's whirlwind craziness. For some perspective, here are my favorite two quotes theses day, courtesy of ... me.

"Some people just need to walk off this Earth."
"Let me get on my wheel." 
 (in reference to a gerbil wheel, which more often than not these days I feel like I'm scampering around in)

I'm actually formulating my next post in my head as I type this, but it's all jumbly and not ready to come out. I think it's going to be something about that "Stop Saying Hurry Up" blog (or whatever it was) that flew around the Internet a couple of weeks ago.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Project 2013 Update. Score: 171 to 24

Image courtesy of Marcus /
Way back when, at the end of 2012, I told you about a little reading project I had designed for 2013. You can read that post here. August is just around the corner, and I thought an update was in order.

To date, I have or listened to ... drum roll, please ... a whopping 24 Young Adult/Kid Lit books. Check out the link here. Obviously, I was overly optimistic. What was thinking, announcing I would read 171 YA books this year? Clearly, this is a case of my Ideal Reality crashing into my Real Reality. I have a life, family, part-time job. Even if I didn't have those luxuries, no one spends every waking minute of every day reading. Do they?

In addition to these 24 books, I've also tackled eight grown up books. Visit my More Books! page for that list.

But, discouraged I am not. After all, I'm reading again! And reading a lot! Which is something I love to do and something that makes me happy. At any given time, I'm reading or listening to 3 or 4 books and having a blast!

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, July 15, 2013

My List of 100 (ok ... 45) Dreams

In my last post, I wrote about the time management book, 168Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. She encourages readers to create a List of 100 Dreams to help them determine their core competencies and possibly reveal how they would like to spend more of their time. It’s a motivational tool designed to get people thinking about what they would like to do more of, less of and accomplish in their lifetime.

Have you ever done something like this? I tried it. And … I’m stuck at 45. It’s a much tougher task than I anticipated. I created an interesting concoction of dreams I could accomplish now if I put my mind to them, dreams I could knock out in the short term, and dreams require a longer span to accomplish (some people call these “pipe” dreams. I prefer ‘long-term” dreams. It’s more optimistic.).

I also created two others lists naming activities I could tackle in either 30 minutes or 10 minutes or less. It’s really amazing the tasks you can knock down by chunking them this way. The activity helped me discover ways to productively fill small pockets of time with something other than Facebook, television or fribbling.

Perhaps I’ll publish my List of 100 Dreams when it’s complete. Would anyone be interested? Here’s the other tricky thing about this quest: it’s ever-evolving. Tastes and interests change and dreams either morph, find fulfillment or fade.

I’d love to read your List of 100 Dreams. Or 10 Dreams. Even 5. Share, please?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Time IS On My Side - All 168 Hours of It

Image courtesy of digitalart /
I think it's fair to say that most people feel as if there aren't enough hours in the day to do what they have to do as well as what they want to do.

This feeling of never having enough time, of feeling harried and rushed most of my days, of feeling that all that I ever do are the things I have to do led me to the book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam.

It's a time management book about discovering how to find more time to do what you enjoy by a process of research and reflection (aka a time log). It offers advice for both home and work.

I totally geek out on schedules, research, tracking and documentation, so even if I choose to do nothing with my time log results, I get the joy of just recording my activities on a spreadsheet. Love getting my geek on!

It's been a little tough to admit that I might need some guidance in this area. I used to be the Queen of Time Management. The Prima Donna of Productivity. But for the longest while, I've been letting myself become so overwhelmed by the day-to-day stuff that I don't do anything. I hate that.

I've already charted one week, with some interesting finds about how I spend my time. I  started a second time log today. You can bet I'll be more mindful of how I spend my time over the next seven days.

Here's what I've learned so far, and I haven't even finished the book. My Ideal Reality of having more time can quickly, and fairly easily, become my Real Reality, if I choose to make some changes. While I may not always agree with her methods or advice, Vanderkam is certainly right about one thing: I do have more time than I think.

What about you? Are you in a constant time crunch? Or have you found a balance that works for you? I'd love to hear about it.

If you're looking for some good reads (or listens), be sure to check out my Project 2013 and More Books! pages.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What Do You Live By?

One of my favorite authors is Martha Gelhorn. Every so often, I pick through Selected Letters of Martha Gelhorn by Caroline Moorehead. I am simultaneously fascinated and intimidated by Gelhorn. She's one of those people with whom I'd love to have a beer (were she alive), but know that I would be tongue-tied and grossly inadequate in her presence. Reading a collection of her personal letters only drives my intrigue deeper.

In a letter to her friend, Martha wrote, "What you live by is what you believe and what you are willing to sacrifice for, what you admire and love."

Going beyond family, what do you live by? What are you willing to sacrifice for?

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep it Real.

Monday, June 3, 2013

No Sentimental Jourmey for this Mama

Friday  was the peeps' last day of kindergarten. The end of their first year of school. And I didn't shed one tear. From what I observed going on around me, I think the proper response was to get teary-eyed and lament the fact that they are growing older.

But the reality is (aside from the fact that I'm not an emotional person), I'm too enamoured with the amazing people my girls are becoming. Watching them grow their bodies and their brains, experiencing life, making connections, meeting people ... it doesn't make me sad. It fascinates me. It energizes me. It rarely crosses my mind to be sad about them growing up because I'm too busy being in awe of their sweet little lives. I truly cannot wait to see what great things life has in store for them, and I'm super excited to see who they will be as adults.

That's not to say I wont get blubbery down the road. I will. We have many humongo milestones to reach as they hurtle through life. But for now,  I'm just going to wallow in my excitement.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... keep it real.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dang! It Feels Good to be Quitter

I did it. I quit the PTA,  and I don't have a single morsel of Bad Mommy Regret. In fact, I feel pretty darn good. Why did I join in the first place? I don't know. Actually, that's not true. I joined because I wanted to be involved with the peeps'  school. But I didn't just pay my 10 bucks and call myself a PTA member. Nope. Not me. I had to join big. I volunteered to be the spirit wear lady.

Yep, I ignored the sage advice of trusted friends and jumped right in.

And last week, I jumped back out.

I used to not be a quitter. In my younger years, I'd see pretty much everything I attempted through to its bitter end, even if it made me miserable. But now that I'm older with some life experience tucked away, I find that I have little tolerance for giving my time to activities that either do not bring me joy or whose value is not immediately evident. Or, that are mismanaged, unorganized  and dripping with fake. Or all of those things.

I have also discovered that I am comfortable with being a quitter every now and then.

Now if I could only get comfortable saying, "No" to begin with. That would save me a lot of time and trouble.

How about you? Tell me about a time when you quit something and danced a jig.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing... Keep It Real.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Are You Contagious?

photo credit: zachtrek via photopin cc
I found this gem from a fortune cookie floating around in my purse the other day.
Enthusiasm is contagious.
Not having enthusiasm is also contagious.
Pretty deep stuff, isn't it? And oh so true. It instantly brought to mind my new new friend, Alice, who projects energy and enthusiasm 24/7. Well, maybe not 24/7 (it's possible, but I really don't know) but she is always brimming with cheer and ideas and "can do" every time I see her. And it is contagious. Infectious. Alice's energy seeps into me in a way that makes me  feel like I could climb every mountain and follow every highway.
The fortune also reminded me of friends who I've started to avoid because their ever-present pessimism drains me. After an hour with these friends, I'm tired and cranky and complainy. Their lack of enthusiasm is also contagious. Infectious.
And, then I began to think about myself. What type of contagious am I? Yes, everyone has their up days and their down days. But, which type of contagious am I MOST of the time?
Which type are you?
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

True Confession Time: I Was Out to Prove Something With My Florida Vacation

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my upcoming vacation to Florida. Just me and my two peeps. We made it there and back safely, all the while sharing giggles, snuggles, annoyances and all the other things people families create when they travel together. As far as experiences and adventures go, the trip is at the top of my list.

But I must confess that I had an ulterior motive when I planned the trip. Yes, I wanted to take the peeps on a grand adventure and spend some quality time with them. But, I also had something to prove to myself. You see, I was afraid I had gone soft. And I wanted to prove to myself otherwise.

Not too terribly long ago, my Real Reality was that I was an independent woman. I owned my own home, paid all my bills, and navigated my way through the world (both literally and figuratively) without very much help. Not so much as a GPS (only because GPS hadn't been invented). And I liked it. No, I loved it.

Then, I fell in love and got married, and I discovered how awesome it can be to have some help in this world. I started living a different Real Reality. My guy takes very good care of me every single day. Over the years, I've come to rely on that care, which is both good and bad. You see, I started wondering if I still had what it took to make my way alone in the world. I started missing independent, adventurous me. I was scared that my old Real Reality had somehow become my Ideal Reality. I realize that probably makes no sense to any but me. And I'm OK with that.

So, the Florida trip was also a test. I passed with flying colors, despite the fact that I drove (very briefly) the wrong way down a one-way street. I felt independent, confident, in charge, and adventurous again. I discovered that the parts of me that I really like are still in there. They've just been tucked away. Perhaps I should pull them out a little more often.

What about you? Are you hiding parts of you that you really like? (I'm not talking body parts, folks. Keep it clean.)

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Drop Some of the Bricks: Great Advice on the Eve of My Epic Adventure

Image courtesy of zirconicusso/
As part of my Project 2013, I just began reading Missing May by Cynthia Rylant. It's a short, simple novel that packs a punch. Rylant say so much while saying so little.
Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book so far.

Drop some of them bricks you keep haulin around with you. Life just ain't that heavy. - Cletus Underwood to Summer.

Wow. Me to a big ol' capital T. So my mantra as I prepare to depart for a week in Florida with my two little peeps is DROP THE BRICKS.

What about you? Do you need to drop some bricks, or do you just go all Bob Marley, knowing that "every little thing gonna be all right."

Wherever you are, whatever you do ... Keep It Real.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Making It Count: Connecting & Experiencing

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In January, I wrote a little post about my theme for the year: Make It Count. You can read it here. I vowed to connect, pay attention, find my direction, and create extraordinary experiences from ordinary ones.

Most recently, my focus has been on connecting and experiencing. Mainly because out of the four areas I threw down, those are the easiest to wrangle.

Connecting. Over the past few months, I have made a concentrated effort to actually use my phone to ... get this ... talk to people. Real actual phone calls. I'm finding it's rather efficient for taking care of my bizness. I've also sent more snail mail birthday cards. My sis-in-law made this feat easy peasy for me when she presented me with a box of her handmade all-occasion cards for Christmas. They are totally gorge (as in gorgeous). In fact, they are so beautiful that I sort of hate letting them go.

What else? I made a lunch date with my sister for the first time in, well, ever. Not FORever. But, EVER. (Hanging my head in shame.) We had a great time, and I think we'll do it again. After school, instead of running around tackling tasks while the peeps veg out on PBS' Wild Kratts (very cool show, BTW), I started watching with them. Sometimes I'll work on my jigsaw puzzle (love those things!) of Greece (sigh), but we'll talk about the show, laugh and just be together.

I'm trying to check my calendar every few days for birthdays and events so I don't miss as much as I used to. Probably the most fun connection I've made is beta-reading novels for a couple of  my aspiring author friends. I feel so honored that they would share their writing with little ol' me! I just finished one manuscript, and it was delicious! I wish my friend all the best as she starts submitting!

Experiences. Last month, I knocked an item off of my Bucket List! My friend, Dayla, and I saw the Zac Brown Band in concert. Best concert I've been to, hands down! THE BEST! The opening act, Blackberry Smoke, rocked the arena as well. Gotta get some of their tunes.

My biggest adventure to date starts next Monday. The peeps have a week-long spring break, so the three of us are trekking to Florida. We gots our plane tickets, we gots our rental car,, we gots our snackies, and we gots our navigation tools. We are good to go. My aunt graciously offered to let us stay with her for a few nights. I am excited and nervous. I really want this to be a great trip!

What about you? Did you set a theme for 2013? If so, what is it and how are you doing with living in it?

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How To Boost Your Productivity Rate In One Easy - and Somewhat Painful - Step

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Today marks Day 3 of my smartphone-less status. This was not a self-imposed hiatus. Malfunctioning technology interrupted my love affair with my phone. You see, the camera stopped working on my smartphone. Since the device is still under warranty, I felt obligated to get it fixed. Yes, I am fully aware - as my sister pointed out - that the true purpose of a phone isn't to take pictures. But having that camera sure is convenient. And besides, broken stuff ranks near the top of my list of pet peeves. Of course, getting the phone repaired is uber inconvenient. I had to mail it 550 miles to the LG repair shop in Fort Worth, Texas. With any luck, I'll have it back in two weeks.

(Having whined about all of that, if a broken phone is the worst of my problems - and right now it is - I'm doing pretty well, right?)

The first two days, I was a little lost. And kind of twitchy. And I had a headache that may or may not have been related. No Words With Friends, Candy Crush, Office Zombie, Twitter (@MariRydings) or instant access to e-mail and Facebook. No texting. While my phone addiction isn't as serious as other people's, being without my sidekick has been an adjustment.

But I have adjusted and more quickly than I expected. I'm actually excited about the prospect of losing the old ball-and-chain that technology has become. Or, that I have let it become. For two weeks, my concentration won't be broken by the beeps, vibrations, and clicks that signal new interactions that I feel must warrant my immediate attention (and they never that important). I won't be tempted to check Facebook every few minutes or play a game for just "five more minutes."

If I use my new-found free time wisely, my productivity rate should soar over the next two weeks. Painting the spare bedroom, pounding out some blogs posts, and knocking down some reading are just three things on my list. Experts say it takes two weeks to create a habit, right? Maybe when the Fed Ex dude strolls up the walk in a couple of weeks, I'll give him a blank stare and wonder briefly what he could possibly be bringing me.


Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

From Mari With An Eye to Mari Moose to Massive Head Wound Mari: Aren't Nicknames Fun?

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I don't know what got me thinking about nicknames, but the more I thought about the various monikers that have either been bestowed on me by others or earned by me through multifarious measures, each represents my Real Reality at some point in my life. Thinking about these names and their origins provided a lovely stroll down memory lane. Enjoy!

Mary Had a Little Lamb/Mary, Mary Quite Contrary: While not really nicknames, these nursery rhymes pop up randomly throughout my life at the mention of my name. It still happens on occasion, which is a bit unsettling considering the words usually ooze from the lips of grown men.

Mary Magdalene: My Uncle Merle called me by this name throughout my childhood. The way he  said it, with a twinkle in his eyes, let me know it was a good nickname.

Mari With An Eye: Way (WAY) back when, when I was young, single and carefree, my also-fresh-from-college work colleagues attached this nickname to me. Apparently, it was a way for everyone to delineate between another group member who spelled her name with a "Y" and me. The name stuck, as all nicknames worth their salt should.

Massive Head Wound Mari: This one I earned the hard and dangerous way. Luckily, it only stuck for the duration of a weekend camping/float trip full of wild and crazy single people (same group that labeled me "Mari With an Eye"). The canoe I was in tipped, and the river current pulled me underwater. As I went under, I hit my head on a low-water, concrete bridge. Um ... ow. Obviously, and thankfully, all turned out OK.

Mari Moose: This one came about because I used to collect anything moose-related. I'm over it now, but the name still sticks among a certain group of people (yep, the aforementioned singles). It's fun to watch the reactions on people's faces when one of my old buddies yells, "Hey! Moose!" and a five-foot-tall, 107 lb woman responds. Not moose material.

Corndog: My friend, Diane the Diva, calls me this. My maiden name is Cornell and, well, somehow she turned that into Corndog. Which I'm OK with because I love me a good corndog.

What about you? I'd love to hear your nicknames and how they came about! Please share in the comments!

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Art of To Do-ing

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In my Ideal Reality, I'm a go-with-the-flow kind of gal. I love spontaneity and spur-of-the moment action. But, in my Real Reality, I'm a planned adventuress. I love exploring and discovering new things, but I need a plan and some idea in my mind, no matter how vague, of what to expect. That said, it shouldn't surprise you that I LOVE lists. I love reading lists, and I love making lists. LOVE. HEARTS. STARS. KISSES.

I make a To Do list (or three or four) every day. But awhile back, I realized I was not getting much accomplished. I set out to figure out why. Here's what I came up with. Maybe this insight into my swirlicious brain will help you out, too.

Set Limits. I used to keep a running To Do manifest that I added to ad infinitum. This activity caused me much grief and anxiety. Finally, I decided that I would put a max of 12 items on my To Do list each day. Obviously, I have to prioritize (Musts, Shoulds, Would Like To). If I have a gargantuan task to kill on a given day, my list contains fewer items.

Digital or Old School? I tried keeping my To Do list on the Cozi app for a long time. I love Cozi and use it every day, but keeping a daily task list on it just wasn't for me. I went Old School with pencil and paper. Believe it or not, it allows me more flexibility and instant access (see below). You have to decide what works best for you.

Create a List for Each Day of the Week. Like I mentioned before, at one point I had a running To Do list that I added to at will. the never-ending list tricked me into thinking I wasn't being productive enough. So when I decided to limit my list each day, I went in search of a weekly To Do list template. I found the perfect template at A Pair of And they said I could just have it! (You can, too, just click on the link). I printed it out, slid it into a pocket protector, paired it with a bright blue dry erase marker and Voila! I had a Weekly To Do list that I could easily add to or subtract from with the flick of a marker or a swipe of a paper towel. Simple and flexible. I keep it on a clipboard on my kitchen counter for instant access.

Create Separate Projects Lists. This is where Cozi comes in handy. I generated four separate To Do lists on it: Ongoing Projects, Home Improvement Projects, Ongoing Research and Kids. Since the items on these lists aren't pressing, I can keep a running list, check them from time-to-time and not have a freak out. When something does become a pressing issue, it's moved to my Daily/Weeky To Do sheet.

There you have it! How about you? How do you keep yourself organized? Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Make It Count: The Theme For Living My Life in 2013

A few weeks ago, a video of Maurice Sendak's final interview circulated around Facebook. It was heartbreaking yet inspirational. The above video features the last five minutes of that interview, put to illustrations and music by Christoph Niemann. The interview ends with Sendak repeating,  "Live your life, live your life, live your life." A beautiful theme, is it not? It got me thinking about life and themes, and I decided to try one out (a theme, not a life ... I have one of those ... kinda) for 2013. I think I'm going with MAKE IT COUNT. Here's what I'm thinking ...

Connect. As much as I love social media, I miss real conversation. For those of you who know me well, you will find this strange because you know conversating can give me the willies. Especially small talk. But I'm realizing that I miss meaningful phone calls and snail mail letters. I have one friend I talk with for about an hour a month on the phone, and I cherish that hour. I have two friends with whom I still exchange snail mail. Real letters. I love opening my mailbox and finding that little surprise! So, this year I want to connect with people in more meaningful ways. I want to take time to make phone calls, schedule meet ups, and write letters/notes/birthday cards.

Pay Attention. I'm not tuned in. People mention important events in e-mails and social media quips, and I just let them glide by. I want to be present. To listen. To be mindful of and more appreciative of the people in my world and to acknowledge more of the events that make up their lives.

Direction. I love that I have varying interests. I hate that I have varying interests. Because I never know which direction I want to go. I feel like I have to choose a path and stay on it. But that's no good because I get bored too easily. I want to find my one true thing. Is that possible? 

Experiences. I want more adventure. I used to go, do, risk. Now, it seems like I hermit more than anything. Although, I did zipline for the first time last year. You can read about how that went here. How do I take the ordinary to the extraordinary? How do I say YES more and be excited about it? The adventures don't have to be exotic or dangerous. Just new. Explore. Find. Discover. Marvel.

That's it. I should probably print this out or write this down and paste it front and center in my life. Otherwise, I'll just go dripping about the same way I always do.

What about you? What is your theme for the year? What do you want to accomplish?

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing  ... Keep It Real.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Behavior Charts Aren't Just For Kids ... At Least Not at My House

Several months ago, we created behavior charts for the peeps. We wanted to make them more mindful of their behavior and instill an element of personal responsibility and accountability to their sweet little lives. We use a rudimentary system of stars and X's. Attaining a certain goal means earning some sort of extrinsic reward. Sometimes they choose a toy from a dollar store; other times they get to play on one of our phones. We'll still working on transitioning them from extrinsic to intrinsic rewards as well as getting them to take care of chores without us telling them to do them. It's a process. Apparently, it's a long process.

For all these months, I've walked around in my Ideal Reality, the one in which I am model of perfect behavior. But last month, I checked into my Real Reality, where I realized that I, in fact, do not exhibit some of the positivie behaviors that I expect my peeps to demonstrate. Hello, hypocrite. Worse yet, I think the peeps pegged me as a hypocrite. They never called me out, but I could sense it in their expressions when I gave them an X for some negative behavior that I myself had displayed just  moments before. So, I put myself on a behavior chart.

I chose Junie B. Jones because that is who  my peeps are into right now. I would post a pic, but the "Choose File' button is missing from my Blogger photo upload screen. GRRRR. My categories are: Using Kind Words, Keeping My Temper, Using My Patientce, and Not Biting My Nails. For the week, I got X's in every category on almost every day. (This week, I've started off with all stars!!) And while I fail, and fail, and fail, I do notice that  my chart is making me more aware of  my behavior. When I hear myself speaking harshly, I change my voice. When I feel steam about to pour from my ears, I start breathing. When I realize I'm about to lose my patience to the point that I'll never find it, I walk away.

Putting myself on a behavior chart may seem odd to some, but it's working for me because I'm a visual person who likes to physically see her progress. The chart motivates me, and it constantly reminds me of my goals. It works for my family because it shows the peeps that everyone has areas in which they need to improve. And, they love it when we talk about our day and who earned stars! Although, I think they get a bigger kick out of me getting X's!

How about you? What are your areas in need of improvement and what strategies do you use to tackle them?

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real!