Blogger Behave

Over the last several posts I've been writing about priorities, and I wanted to share a book with you by an author who does just that -- manages her priorities -- with a grace that's tangible.

Meet Laura Booz:



Laura recently wrote Blogger Behave, a refreshingly smart guide on how to manage blogging so that it benefits, rather than burdens, your life.  By providing useful guidelines on how to engage readers authentically, involve your family, and allocate blogging time, Laura gives any blogger -- whether new or seasoned -- some healthy perspective on what blogging can (and ideally should) look like.

Laura teaches bloggers how to craft a mission statement for their blogs, a practice that has benefited my blogging greatly.

(Want to know the mission statement for Pink Dryer Lint?  It's to help mothers find pleasure, contentment, and encouragement in their daily parenting by sharing life moments that are underpinned with humor, characterized by transparency, and grounded in faith.)

When pondering what to write about, I'm not tossed like an anchorless ship.  I can hold my ideas up to the litmus test of my mission statement.  If my idea supports my overarching blogging goals, then it'll become a post.  If it doesn't align with my purposes, then the idea is cut.  Its brilliance is in its simplicity, really, and Laura's insight shines.

If you're a blogger -- and especially if blogging is getting the best of you -- then I highly recommend that you check out Blogger Behave.  While you're at it, visit Laura at her personal blog, 10 Million Miles and check out this post by her, which is one of my favorites.  Her writing is packed with wisdom and is so genuine that you can't help but enjoy.

Now, behave, bloggers!

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5

Sunshine

I don't remember the sun shining this past week, just dampness, just gray.  This morning when I normally would be at church, I instead lay on my family room floor as the girls play nearby.  They're nursing head colds, and we didn't want to get any other children sick.

I stretched out on the floor and noticed one thing: the sun shining through the window.  I felt the warmth on my skin, observed how my hair glowed if I squinted enough to view it from the corner of my eye, and relished the sensation that I was absorbing theraupetic Vitamin D into the center of my core.

I closed my eyes and daydreamed -- not about lying on the beach, but about lying right there on my own family room floor directly beside the box of Kleenex, the pile of blocks that were just dumped out, a stack of books, and the couch cushions that have been dragged, one by one, from the couches into a pile on the floor for jumping.

Thank God for sunshine -- and for how it's made all the more brilliant after its absence.

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3

Priorities 101 (Conclusion)

This is the fifth and final post in a series about setting priorities.  Missed any?  Get caught up with the introduction, problem one, problem two, and problem three with a simple click. 

In the last several posts I've shared how our priorities suffer when we're unclear with our goals, when we're too lofty, and when we take on too much.  Because I'm versatile this way, I've been known to mess up in all three areas simultaneously -- setting too many goals that happened to be both too lofty and unclear.  This trifecta, for the record, brews the perfect storm for burning out, fizzling out, and inevitably failing.

To counterbalance these problems, I've written that we can better adhere to our priorities by talking about them in a concrete fashion, being realistic, and finding our big pieces.

Remember our block metaphor?


There's one more thing to consider -- not about the blocks themselves, but rather the box holding those blocks.  If I imagine the blocks as the "stuff" of my life -- all of my roles, all of my responsibilities, all of my interests (being a wife, a mother, a teacher, a blogger, a writer, a friend, a member of my church, a homemaker, an exerciser, and on and on) -- then I need a place to store all of those blocks.

I need a box, one that will contain all of my pieces, whether large or small, in a secure and steady fashion.

God is my box.

He's not a piece of my life to be crammed in with all the other pieces.  He's not a part to be placed on top or shoved to the side.  He's what holds my pieces together.

His hands are capable to bring order out of chaos.  His oversight is able to draw clarity from obscurity.  His grip is large enough to hold everything at once, gently and without damage.

Without question, my best moments of prioritizing have not been when I've attempted to make God my "biggest" piece, but instead when I've surrendered all of my pieces to him for safekeeping.  This isn't a difference of semantics; it's a practice of letting God be God in our lives.

So, set clear goals, be realistic, and know your big pieces, dear readers!  Above all, find a safe place for those pieces in loving hands.

Thanks for following along with the Priorities 101 series!

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2

Priorities 101 (Problem Three)

This post is part of a series about setting priorities. If you missed the introduction, problem one, or problem two, feel free to take a moment and catch up.

In the past few posts, I've shared two ways we fail when managing priorities and how we can fix them.  First, we can banish unclear goals by using concrete wording.  Second, we can eliminate overly lofty expectations by being realistic.  I've fallen prey to both of these areas, but the one that really gets me is this.

Problem Three: Taking on too much

This is a classic trap.  Women are notorious for taking on too much, saying yes too often, and putting too much on our plates.  The danger with this is that when everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized.  The essential blurs with the trivial.

When your hand is in too many things, daily tasks -- simple ones -- start to look like impossible hurdles. What?  You want me to make a grocery list?  I need to reply to an email?  Come on, now!  Do you think I'm superhuman?

It's hard not to be frazzled when there are too many irons in the fire.  Nothing is being prioritized, yet everything is vying for your attention.

Solution Three: Find your big pieces

Take time to prayerfully discern what's essential.  Those are your big pieces, and they will look different for everyone.  Don't pressure yourself to believe that someone else's big pieces need to be your big pieces.  They don't.  You're unique.  At the same time, don't project your big pieces onto someone else because they, too, are unique.

Although this is ouchy, one easy way discover your current big pieces is to pinpoint where you spend your time.  Our time reveals our priorities.  Very few of us, if pressed, would outright say that our life priorities are television, Facebook, or searching the Internet.  Yet some of us, if pressed, would realize that we devote more time to these activities than to our real priorities.

Take inventory of your big pieces, and then tweak what needs to be changed.  Cut out those pieces that add clutter instead of purpose to your life and, by all means, put the big pieces into your life first.  

Whenever I'm helping the girls to clean up their blocks, I've noticed one trend.  If we put the small pieces in the box first, we never can fit the big pieces in later.  It ends up looking like this:


Small pieces are pesky this way.  They crowd big things out.  When we have too many little things demanding our attention, we lose the ability to focus on the big ones.

Let me warn you: once you pare down, you may find it tempting to add more.  More will always be asked of you.  So repeat these two phrases as if they were your mantra: I will have to say no.  I will disappoint people.

It's liberating to know that it's okay to say no to requests that don't align with your big pieces.  (Seriously.  Do it.  Flex the no muscle!)  And when you say no, it will disappoint people.  But if you say no wisely, you'll be disappointing the right people, rather than the wrong ones.

With your big pieces in place, your life will look a bit more like this:


 And that's kind of pretty, isn't it?

Stop back for the conclusion of the Priority 101 series.

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1

Priorities 101 (Problem Two)

This is the third entry in a series on setting priorities.  Missed the two earlier posts in the series?  Simply click here and here to catch up.

On occasion, I concoct grandiose plans that differ in their specifics, yet revolve around one similar theme: be better at everything.

This always seems to contain the thought that I will morph into a master chef who shops in open-air markets at a leisurely pace and cooks all meals from scratch while humming thoughtfully and gazing at a vase of freshly cut flowers that is placed on my already-set kitchen table, instead of being a mother who serves chicken nuggets and corn on plastic plates that sit on a kitchen table with crayons, uncapped glue sticks, Lego pieces, and -- on at least one occasion -- a pair of dirty socks.

In these fantasies I never need to clean up the kitchen because I never make a mess.  I never need to change a diaper in the middle of dinner prep.  I also have a mastery of all current events, have caught up on all to-do lists, and am much more well-read.

Although these fantasies are just that -- fantasies -- they can mess with our sense of priorities.  With our eyes in the sky, we fall trap to a second issue when setting priorities.

Problem 2: Being too lofty

This one is simple: we sometimes set expectations for ourselves that aren't attainable.  But because these expectations are so wonderful -- and because it feels good to think we can meet them -- we elevate them to a prioritized status.

The problem is we can't sustain them.

Oh, we might for a few days.  We might get up at 5:00 in the morning for four days straight so we can get a jump start on our day, but soon we will hit snooze.  The next day we'll hit it twice.  We'll mess up, skip a day, get off track, and before we know it, we're lying on the couch despondently eating Oreos because we just ate potato chips and we might was well polish them off with something sweet.

Solution 2: Be realistic

The fix to this is quite simple, actually.  Be honest with yourself.  Consider what you can do right now in your real life given your current circumstances and constraints.

Please note that this isn't about setting the bar low.  This isn't about living life with mediocrity.  This isn't about downplaying the big dreams in your life.  It's about being wise with your resources so you don't start off so fast that you fizzle out in a few days.  If you realistically count the costs of managing your priorities, you'll be more efficient and effective.

Check back tomorrow for the third problem and solution in our series!
 
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0

Priorities 101 (Problem One)

This is the second post in a series about setting priorities based on a talk that I recently gave to a mom's group.  If you missed the introduction, simply click the link to catch up.

If you're anything like me, you've had times when life is so full that it's hard to pinpoint what your priorities ought to be.  At times, I do know what my priorities ought to be, but I've struggled to live in a way that reflects them in a balanced fashion.  We value our health, yet run ourselves ragged with inadequate sleep and a poor diet.  We value our friends, yet find ourselves so busy that we don't regularly schedule time to connect with them.

Simply put, we get out of whack, and we tend to do so in three key areas.  For these next few posts, I'll look at those areas and explain some solutions to fix them.

Problem 1: Unclear goals

It's hard to stick with priorities that have no teeth.  "Be healthy," "be a good mother," and "be more organized" all sound wonderful.  The premise behind each of them is entirely valid.

The problem is that they're hard to measure.  How do you know when you've arrived at "healthy"?  When can you discern if you're mothering is "good" enough?  If you can't place your finger on what your goals and priorities look like -- really look like -- in day-to-day living, then it's easy for those things to slide.

Solution 1: Use concrete wording to talk about priorities

Concrete wording is precise and measurable, and perhaps the best aspect is that it adds a how to the what.  If your priority is to be healthier (which is both admirable and unclear), firm it up by framing it in concrete wording.

Bad: Be healthier.
Only remotely better: Exercise more.
Better: Do a Jillian Michaels' DVD four times each week.
Even better: Do a Jillian Michaels' DVD on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings.

A change in wording transforms unclear priorities into concrete goals.  "Be more organized" becomes "reserve twenty minutes at the end of each day to clean up and put things in order for morning."

You'll know when you're meeting your goals -- and you'll know when you're not -- because those abstract priorities will be phrased in measurable ways.

This tip alone was a driving force behind how I went from a person who exercised somewhat irregularly to a person who ran two half marathons.

Check back tomorrow for more!

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5

Priorities 101 (Introduction)

As I'm driving, peering into the oncoming snow that glows in the hazy yellow gleam of my headlights and collides into the windshield, I wonder if I have the audacity to pray for the snow to stop.

For months Reese has been hoping for snow -- whining, pleading, wishing -- and until tonight, we've had none.  Weeks back, Joel had encouraged her, "Well, Reese, if you want snow, pray for snow."

So as I plod along the road twenty miles below the speed limit and feel the car's tires slide whenever I turn, I hesitate to pray against the prayers that my six-year-old has offered.  In cartoon form, I envision my prayer clashing with hers in the sky, like a heat seeking missile, and God smiling at the irony.

I'm traveling to be the speaker at a mom's group.  The snow was unexpected, and from the way it's piling up, I know it will limit the audience.  It's disappointing; I'm ready for a crowd.  I'm prepared to be eloquent and funny and gosh, I'm even having a good hair day.

But I pray anyway -- not that the snow will stop, but that the people who need to be there will still be able to come.  I fight the urge to feel disappointed.  I remind myself that my time preparing the talk wasn't in vain and that its significance isn't lessened because only a few will hear it.

I was, after all, asked to talk about priorities.  Shouldn't my priorities be right?  This really isn't about me.

It is a small crowd when I arrive, but the talk goes well -- and I'd love to share its contents with you.  So for the next several posts, I'm going to do just that.  I'll explain some common ways that we mess up our priorities, and I'll provide some tips to fix it when we do.

So, if you've ever felt that your priorities have gotten unaligned, stop back to keep reading!

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1

How to Frame Something Meaningful

At the risk of sounding like a geeky blogger who enjoys words and letters, let me confess that I'm a geeky blogger who enjoys words and letters.  They're just so useful, you know?

I also have a penchant for decorating, so I've merged these two interests to bring you today's How To post, which is about filling your picture frames with something meaningful besides pictures.

For example, when I was in the Christmas spirit last month, I substituted the three photos in this frame with a simple greeting.  Two pages of scrapbook paper (one for the background, and another for the letters), an exacto knife, and a steady hand were the only materials necessary.


If you think JOY is too holiday-specific beyond the month of December, you always could change up the background paper.  (Joy never goes out of season, right?)  I opted to alter the phrasing slightly.  Now, each time I walk up the stairs to do laundry, I'll be greeted with a reminder to "choose joy."


Or you could select another word to showcase.  But I'll warn you: using only three letters is limiting.  Not only does it relegate you to low Scrabble scores, but also it minimizes potential phrases worthy of framing.  "Seize the DAY"?  "I don't own a CAT"?  "EAT more ice cream"?  I'm entirely at a loss. 

Maybe you'll do better.

My favorite wall art idea, however, is depicted in this frame below where I spelled our last name with pictures of letters from places that are significant for our family.


The "K" is from a favorite building on campus, the "R" is from the restaurant where Joel and I had our first date, the "A" is from our university, the "M" is from the hospital where our daughters were born, the "E" is from a local dairy that makes the best milkshakes, and the final "R" is from our church.

Good luck to you if you have a last name like VonSunderlandcamp.  This only works for those economic last names with six letters or fewer.  (Miller's and Smith's are sighing in relief.)

Happy decorating -- make them memorable!

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11

Short and Sweet: Terms of Affection

A short and sweet (100 or fewer words) observation from today's dinner preparation:

I'm cooking dinner with the help of the girls, which means that the process is taking significantly longer than it ought to in a messy, beautiful way.

With intense concentration, Reese stirs the contents of the skillet. "Good job, baby," I announce as I watch her work before turning my attention to my prep on the island.

"Mommy, Reese is not a baby. She's bigger than me, and I'm not a baby," Brooke explains.

Before I can respond, Reese jumps to my defense. "It's okay, Brooke. Mommy can call me a baby because she's bigger than me. She told me once that it's a term of infection."

Consider my children infected.

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4

Oh, Internet, You.

Getting the children into bed tonight resembled whack-a-mole. One child went down; another reared her head.  Cries of Where's Floppy? and I can't find Brown Bear wafted down the steps.  I scrambled through the house, searching for and delivering the missing companions to children who now wanted drinks and requested another trip to the bathroom.

Finally, silence reigned.  It was beautiful.

My intentions were to relish in this uninterrupted splendor and make some progress with my book, yet I fell into a trap.  I checked email.  I scrolled on Facebook.  I Googled something.  And somehow 71 precious minutes have passed since the girls have been asleep.

Oh, Internet, you.  You have the ability like no one else to sneakily suck away time.

I have one thing going for me in terms of productivity, though.  Joel and I are working out times -- a few hours here and there -- when I can slip away to a local bookstore, plug in my laptop, unabashedly use two chairs as I prop up my feet, and write.  Write like the wind, I tell you.  Words fly when I write there.

This is because I do not know their code to access the Internet.

I will never, ever ask for it.

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5

The Winter Chill

This weekend I embarked on a brief ten-mile run with a friend who will remain unnamed because she is a woman who's crazy enough to invite me out running.  In January.  When it's 28 degrees.  Until it drops to 25 degrees.

Then again, I'm the one who said yes to the invitation, so perhaps we make a good team in a masochistic sort of way.

When we arrived back at her house at the end of our run, her fingers were so stiff that couldn't accurately punch in the code to her garage door.  I didn't mock her because my mouth was frozen into a contorted, pained expression.  At one point during the run I had tried to tell something, only to haltingly spit out several sentences that sounded like mumbled Serbo-Croatian.

What? What are you saying? she huffed.  That you want to kick that man?

At least that's what I think she said.  My ears also were malfunctioning, so I'm not positive.

It's cold here.  Today we never got above the teens.

Yet today I bundled -- and I mean bundled -- Reese and Brooke so we could complete Reese's homework assignment to make a list of things in our neighborhood.  We walked up and down our street as I filled out Reese's worksheet because, let's face it, first-grade handwriting is slow and sketchy enough when it's not done with a little hand that's wrapped in two pairs of gloves.

Despite the recent cold, we've gotten very little snow this winter.  I know this to be true because Reese mournfully reminds us of the fact several times daily.  As we finished our neighborhood walk, the girls latched onto one brief glimmer of awesomeness in the otherwise barren-yet-snowless landscape.

It was a three-foot stretch of ice at the bottom of our driveway.


Then they did what they do best.  They improvised.



And if you think this resembles slip-and-sliding in full winter gear on pavement, that's because it pretty much is slip-and-sliding in full winter gear on pavement.

Bonus points for ingenuity, I say.

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4

CSI Polly Pockets


Title: CSI Polly Pockets

Subtitle:  I searched for the missing heads.  My husband took one look at the eerie scene and muttered, "Oh man, it's a Pollycaust."

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5

Getting My Bearings

Earlier today I sat at the kitchen table with my teaching notes while Brooke sat across from me with her coloring book and crayons.

That dear child could not stop talking.

Mommy, what happens if someone falls into a pit?  Would it be dark?  How would someone get out of a pit?  Would they climb out?

Her questions advanced from practical to philosophical.  Why are there pits, anyway?

Typical of three-year-olds, her monologue shifted directions: how she wanted to make a pinata out of napkins and Scotch tape, how she planned to convert our kitchen into a movie theater by taping pictures to the refrigerator, why she wanted to wrap all of her stuffed animals in blankets like packages.

I realized afresh how challenging it is to straddle the dual worlds of home and work simultaneously.

I'm not particularly good with change.  Given this, whenever my schedule or my family's schedule drastically changes (like the start of a new semester), I remind myself that it's okay to take a moment to get my bearings.

It's okay to push the teaching notes aside and answer a surprisingly thorough series of questions about pits.  Then it's okay to request thirty minutes of uninterrupted time to work.

Grace, I remind myself, grace, grace.

There's enough grace to navigate these full days.

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8

The Painting Adventure of 2011

When the fall semester ended in mid-December, our days opened up some.  To fill them, we decided to paint our daughters' bedroom, the family room, the kitchen, the powder room, the master bathroom, and two hallways before we reached the holidays. 

Joel secured my help when he bought several pint-sized paint samples and painted large swatches along the hallway and on prominent walls in the family room and kitchen.  That's throwing the gauntlet.  There's no turning back when this happens.

Now that the project is so last year, I'm officially titling it The Painting Adventure of 2011, which makes it sound epic, like The Blizard of '94.  Now that was a good snowstorm.

With the exception of our bedroom it's been five years since we last painted, which means that we covered over roughly 1,379 hand prints with one coat in the hallways and kitchen alone.  Things are looking fresh and clean, my friends.

Some observations on painting:

1) If you buy a sample pint of paint and think, "Oh, this container is so portable.  It fits in my hand so snugly.  I should use it to do all the trimming while my husband rolls the walls with the paint from the can," be sure to double-check if the paint from the sample pint has the same finish as the paint from the can.  If not, when you see the room in natural light you may notice that all of the trimming is edged-in with flat paint, while the rest of the walls are rolled in satin.  This is not an auspicious start.

2) When you move your refrigerator so you can paint behind it, you may be shocked.  Not only did I find $1.67 in change, but I also discovered two long-forgotten magnets, some M&M's, and several Goldfish crackers.  Although I don't know how long the Goldfish crackers had been hibernating beneath the fridge (days? months? years?), they still looked exactly like the Goldfish crackers from a freshly-opened bag.  This unnerves me a bit.

3) If you buy paint at a specific store because a friend works there and you'd like to support his business, be sure that they carry the exact color you want.  Or, you may ask the store to customize a color that you have named Natural Taupe.  When you open the five-gallon container of customized paint, you may think, "This doesn't look quite right," but you will forge ahead with six hours of intensive nighttime painting while the kids are nestled snug in their beds upstairs.

You and your husband may occasionally speak concerns to one another.  "This doesn't look like the sample we showed them, does it?"  But you will solace yourselves with the thought that it will look different in the daylight once it's dry.

You'll be right.  It will look different in the daylight once it's dry.  It will look oddly purplish.

At this point you will risk the good graces of your friend at the paint store and ask him to fix the remaining paint in the five gallon container.  You will return to the store two additional times until you are dizzy with the possibilities and finally settle on a color that you will call Not-Quite-Natural-Taupe-But-It'll-Do.


4) Conversation will deteriorate as the painting continues.  During the inaugural night as we painted the first coat of what we thought was the right color, Joel and I extolled the virtues of home improvement.

Joel:  After a semester of work, this is relaxing.
Me:  I know; I love seeing immediate progress.  We are so productive!

During the second evening as we painted over the purple, we were less enthused.

Joel:  How's it going?
Me:  Pretty good.  You?
Joel:  Good.

By the time we had reached the third coat:

Me:  Hrrrrmphhh.
Joel:

5) Once you fold the drop cloths, move the furniture back, and reattach the light switch plates, things will look amazing.  You'll be so glad that you painted, even though you ruined a pair of tennis shoes by stepping in a paint tray that your husband stealthily moved into your path before he called you over to look at something.

6) The first hand print will appear on the wall in less than 24 hours.

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9

Short and Sweet: Knowing Who You Are

How I know my three-year-old has a solid sense of self in 100 or fewer words:

Each girl is entirely dolled up.  Reese prances in her leotard, pink tights, and ballet shoes.  Kerrington wears a tutu over her everyday clothes, repeatedly spinning in a circle until she falls to the floor from dizziness.  Brooke wears a bedazzled play dress, pulls high satiny gloves to her elbows, and places a jeweled crown on her head.

A visitor arrives at the door and spots Brooke.  "Why, hello little princess!"

"Hello, but I am not a princess." she corrects him.  "I am a mosquito."  She pauses for just a moment before clinching it.  "Look out. I sting."

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5

When You Were a Mother

Transcript of a conversation that I had with my mother during a recent visit:

Me:  So, Mom, when you were a mother...

Mom:  You know, I am a mother.

Me:  Good point.  Let me rephrase.  When you were a mother and we were young -- like the ages of my girls now -- did you...

Mom:  Did I feel like things were out of control?  That you two were winning and I was losing?  That everything was chaotic around me most of the time?  Yes, I felt that way.

At that point, I no longer remembered what question I actually had been planning to ask her, but I think she pretty much answered it.

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2

Resolution

Oh, it's very good to be back to blogging.  Let's see, in the past twelve days that I haven't added fresh posts, I've accomplished a few things: eating an impressive amount of chocolate covered pretzels (totally worth it), accidentally letting ten dollars worth of Kohl's cash expire (who does this?), painting several rooms in our house (more on this later), and enjoying Christmas and New Years (hope you did, too.)

Now that we're in a brand new year, I'm thinking about resolutions.  I've discovered that the key to sticking with a resolution is making it as concrete as possible.  For example, instead of setting a resolution to "eat better," which is fabulously nebulous and something I could break by noon tomorrow, a better resolution would be to eat one extra serving of vegetables at lunch each day.  Or, to limit yourself to only two chocolate covered pretzels at a sitting.  Whatever fits your needs.

I've never been one to set many resolutions in the past, but I do have a resolution for 2012.

I am going to finish writing my book. 

I've been hesitant to blog about this, fearing that it's a pipe dream.  Worrying that it's never going to come to pass.  Doubting whether I have the talent or wherewithal to complete such a task while raising three children, teaching classes each semester, and living life.  Come to think of it, folding laundry alone consumes enough time to make me question the feasibility of the goal.

But this year I'm doing it.  In fact, I have no choice because during the fall I signed a book contract with Byrne Publishing and I will be submitting my full manuscript by September 2012.  As in, I have an actual due date.

It's terribly exciting.  It's also a bit terrifying to the point that I occasionally want to curl up in the fetal position.  But mostly it's exciting.

I can't wait to tell you more, and I will.  Oh, I will tell you plenty more when the time is right.

But for now, I really would like to know one thing: what are your resolutions?  (Do they deal with chocolate covered pretzels?  Because that might be the next item on my list.)

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