What I Learned on Summer Vacation

One of the benefits of having children is I still get summer vacation. I know that in a few short years, these teenagers of mine will be grown and off on their own. Then, I will have to adjust to a life I have never known: one without a major break in a year’s cycle called Summer.

In an article he wrote for our church, my minister George Mason said “Summertime is a good time to take account of what counts. Vacation vacates the mind long enough to fill it with thoughts we had no room for before.”

But typically, my summers as an adult are much different than the vacation summers of my childhood. Those times were carefree, mostly unstructured, and never came with to-do lists. As an adult, my summer mind is full of thoughts of accomplishing big projects and completing tasks.

In those terms, this summer was a bust for me. I didn’t write. I didn’t blog. I didn’t paint my kitchen. I didn’t organize the garage. I didn’t attack the growing pile of filing in my office.  I didn’t unpack the boxes still remaining from our move. I checked few things off my list.

Focusing just on that list is depressing and overwhelming. So, this morning I made up a checklist of what I did do. And it is much more in line with vacating my mind long enough to fill it with thoughts.

So, here is what I did do: I read. I took a vacation. I spent time with my best friend. I studied my craft. I read. I knit a sock and started its match. I joined a new Sunday school class with my hubby. I visited family. I read some more. I took a vacation with my family. I spent time with my kids. I let laundry pile up. I let housework go undone. I took naps. I lived a bit more stress-free. And in doing so, I gave grace more freely to others and to myself.

Now that I look back on my summer, the list of what I accomplished far outweighs the list of unfinished tasks and projects. Both in terms of quantity and quality. And as I look to the weeks ahead, already full with their own tasks and schedules, I do it with a mind full of new thoughts and renewed spirit. And because of that, I just may be able to take a bit of what I learned this summer and spread it throughout the rest of the year.

So what about you? What was your summer like? How was your vacation? What new thing do you have to take away from it?

Performance Napping

This week’s post is brief as I am busy preparing for our annual party celebrating the most exciting two minutes in sports that takes place Saturday.

I pulled this little gem out of my blog ideas folder and thought you might enjoy it. It is an intriguing article from PsyBlog on the connection between mind and body. Specifically, how certain postures can enhance performance.

Among the 10 recommended activities were smiling to boost happiness (really, they studied this stuff), gesturing to enhance learning, and mimicking to increase empathy.

However, I had three favorites….

The first is crossing arms for persistence. Apparently, if you are stuck on a problem and persistence is required, crossing your arms will help. I’ll have to add that to my list of tips when I’m stuck in the middle of my next project. Of course, I find that crossing my arms (and raising my eyebrows) provides my husband and children the persistence they need to finish their chores. Amazing how this stuff works, isn’t it?

If crossing your arms fails, you can lie down. Test subjects trying to solve anagrams were able to solve them faster in a prone position. That’s because lying down increases insight and creative problem solving. Maybe that is why all my best ideas are when I’m asleep. Which leads me to my favorite…napping.

Yes, if lying down doesn’t work, taking a brief nap should. According to the article, “for increased cognitive performance, vigour and wakefulness, the best naps were 10 minutes long.” This is golden information for me. I LOVE naps and would take one every day if I could. And now that I know they boost performance, I can move them out of the “guilty pleasure” category to “work process”.

Now, for a brief nap while the sausage balls bake and then back to party prep.

Stuck in the Middle

When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a vintage MG Midget as my graduation gift. The bright red convertible with knock-off wire spoke wheels, dual carbs and a much-after-market killer cassette stereo system was a dream. Except for when it wasn’t.

An early 1970s British car with Lucas electrical system did not score high on the reliability chart. And even though my pre-drivers license requirement from my father was to rebuild a car engine, there was only so much a girl could do with the rubber mallet I always carried in the car (to unstick the points on the fuel pump  and to remove the wheels to change a tire). So, I got stuck more than once.

Usually, I knew what had happened and I would be up and running again in the time it took to get the parts and get dad to work on it with me. But once, I got stuck and had no idea what had happened.

I was in the middle of an intersection and my car stopped moving. Not stopped running. Just stopped moving. I knew it wasn’t the clutch, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. It was dark. I wasn’t near home and had no idea what was happening. I pushed the car to the side of the road and then walked back to the friend’s house I had left earlier. It wasn’t a short walk and I was distraught by the time I got there. When I called dad and explained the situation he said, “Oh, you broke your axle.” And, that was the answer. So easy.

But, identifying the problem is only half the solution. You must do what it takes to fix the problem to move forward.

With my car, we had to tow it to dad’s shop, search for and buy an axle and then spend the time fixing it. Even if we hadn’t done it ourselves, we would have needed to call a shop, get it to them and pay the cost for the fix. Some form of initiative and follow-through was required.

Now, here I am years later in the middle of a couple of big projects in my life. One is writing a novel. The other is a remodel/reconstruction project on my house. And I am stuck in the middle of both of them. Fortunately for my house project, I have a general contractor who can keep the project moving along even while I am mired in the daily decisions that need to be made whenever you tear into an 80-year-old home.

I’m not so lucky to have a contractor for my novel. I have spent time analyzing how I got stuck. Where I am stuck and possibly why. I know, or at least think I know, what I need to do to move the story forward, but I haven’t done it. I’ve  been stalling. It seems that the longer I am away from writing, the harder it is to go back to it. I just know that the thorny issues of plot and character I need to untangle are growing in my absence and I fear returning to the page.

So, I do the next best thing. I read about writing. I read through my favorite blogs, pick up tips and study the craft. In my search for answers last week, I stumbled upon a gem of a book that has inspired me to get back into the muck and pull myself out of the middle. It’s called Do The Work and is by Steven Pressfield. You can find it on his website.

He describes his book as “an action guide that gets down and dirty in the trenches. Say you’ve got a book, a screenplay or a startup in your head but you’re stuck or scared or just don’t know how to begin, how to break through or how to finish. Do The Work takes you step-by-step from the project’s inception to its ship date, hitting each predictable “Resistance point” along the way and giving techniques and drills for overcoming each obstacle.”

And it does. After reading it, I put the first chink in the wall of Resistance and went back to the page. I used an old technique where I set a timer for 10 minutes and write. As soon as it goes off, I set it for two minutes and do something completely different, not related to writing, like watering the plants. Then, back to 10 minutes, then two and so on. I do this for about four cycles, at which time I’m usually fed up with having to break from my writing and I ditch the timer and spend as much time as I need focused on my task. By doing this, I wrote out a new scene that I think will help me find my way out of the middle. And even it it doesn’t, I’m still writing my way through.

In the end, the only way to get unstuck is to do the work.

Have you been stuck? What tips or tricks do you have for getting in there and doing the work?