What’s in your garden?

Garden "butchart gardens", Vancouver...
Definitely not my garden. Garden “butchart gardens”, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When my husband and I decided to start landscaping our yard, we decided that we wanted to include a garden in our plans. I thought to myself how nice it would be to have rows of flower beds. My husband, having grown up in a more rural setting, wanted to plant things like corn and other vegetables.

We wanted the same thing in theory, but had completely different ideas as to how to achieve it. It was one of those times requiring compromise. He was willing to plant things other than corn, but every plant we selected for the garden had to serve a purpose beyond looking pretty.

Blackberry-flower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We selected strawberries, blackberries, grapes, tomatoes, peppers, squash, green beans, some herbs, and others. Almost all of these flower before transforming. Those that don’t at least smell wonderful before being chopped up or dried for recipes. Everything is edible.

I still love viewing other people’s flower gardens. But everything we chose had to add something to our lives we both valued. As a result, our garden feeds our stomachs as well as our senses.

One of the challenges I have faced since I began writing has been ensuring the words I select for inclusion serve a purpose beyond looking pretty. For example, flowery language is fine, but it must bear fruit. If it doesn’t, then I have to cut it out like a garden weed.

It’s a skill I am still working to improve, both in my novels as well as on my blog. This article used to be twice as long, but the only value those extra words added was as an increase to my word count.

It is the same at the day job. If the assignment or opportunity doesn’t create a value for me or the organization exceeding the resource drain then I have to ask if it should be pursued. You can still be a team player even if you turn a task down now and then. Not all business opportunities are created equal either.

Yes, you can eat dandelions if you are starving, but most people would classify those as weeds. Left unchecked, weeds will choke out better crops or rob those crops of nutrients. They will grow and spread even if you ignore them. Why help them do their damage by spreading nitrogen or other fertilizer on them?  The trick is recognizing the weeds for what they are before they have taken root.

Care to solve a puzzle?

On the very last day of our recent beach trip, a large thunderstorm forced us back into the house several hours earlier than we would have liked. The rental unit was equipped with enough bedrooms to accommodate everyone at night provided everyone doubled up in a room, but during the day it was a wee bit cramped, especially with four small children on the loose. We had to find something to do, and find it fast.

Luckily my mom and sister remembered the puzzle we had packed away for just this sort of emergency. It was brand new, and we quickly dumped all of the pieces on the table surface, eager to get started. The cover was then propped up where it could be seen by all.

English: Puzzle Svenska: Pussel
English: Puzzle Svenska: Pussel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we solve puzzles, my family tends to focus on the edges first as they are the easiest pieces to identify and match up. Once the framework has been completed, we begin tackling the interior. We each focused on a section of the puzzle. If you realized that a piece you were staring at for the last several minutes belonged in the other corner, you gave it to the person who was working on that section so that they could fit it in to its appropriate spot. None of us had every worked on this particular puzzle before, but we were focused, determined, and it was finished within the span of Disney’s Little Mermaid.

Goals are a lot like puzzles. Each goal is comprised of several smaller tasks which, if identified properly, link together until the larger goal is achieved. Prior to this trip, my most recent goal was drafting a novel. When I began writing it, I started by defining the characters and the outline. This became my puzzle framework, but also helped me to envision the puzzle’s cover image. Only then did I start filling in the individual scenes, supporting each chapter. Eventually writing got a lot easier. There weren’t that many pieces left on the table to sort through.

When you first pour the pieces of a puzzle out on the table, they seem overwhelming whether there are 1500 pieces on only 300. Once they are out of the box, you have a decision to make. You can either sweep the pile back into the box where they will sit and wait for another rainy day, or you can pick up a single piece and look for its mate. If you are lucky, friends and family might see you working hard and will pitch in. But even if they don’t, know that the puzzle isn’t going to solve itself. The choice is yours.



Execution is equal parts dream, deadline, and determination

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” — Napoleo...
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” — Napoleon Hill (Photo credit: QuotesEverlasting)

Nine months ago, I was finalizing my debut novel, An Uncertain Faith. It was a story that I had toyed with in my mind for several years. I was fortunate enough to have a sabbatical from the day job during which time I wrote until my fingers hurt.  My youngest hadn’t started walking yet and was content to sit in a corner of the room playing with his toys.

I had dreamed of being an author and now I had a book to my name, but I wanted more. I didn’t want to be considered a one and done writer. I self published. I didn’t vanity publish. I was going to have to follow-up my first book with a second.

My next book idea hit me in a few months later. I eagerly fired up my computer and began plotting the outline and character notes. I had to record the dream while it was still fresh in my mind.

The problem is outlines don’t exactly fly off bookshelves. You have to actually add content. I knew how many words had gone into An Uncertain Faith. I was going to meet or exceed that quantity before I could say the work was complete. Unfortunately, if finding time to continue writing outside of the demands of the day job wasn’t difficult enough, I was also going to have to fit in time to promote the first book. Additionally I now had to keep up with two very mobile, and very active young boys.

I expect that no one would have faulted me if book two never made it past the outline stage, or if I continued to work on it as the mood hit until I was gray and the kids were out of school. My dream of being a multi-credited novelist would remain that. An unrealized dream.

I had to transform my dream into a goal.

I set myself a deadline. Combined with my word count total, I was able to determine how many words I needed to write per writing day. I will admit that the juices flowed better some days than others, but I kept writing anyway until I hit my daily quota, otherwise I feared writer’s block might set in.

My deadline for the first draft is June 1st, and I am pleased to say that while it is definitely still a rough draft and lacks a sticking title, my manuscript has a beginning, middle, and end.

Now I am ready for my next challenges. I need to polish this draft up, re-writing whole sections. Then I need find another batch of readers willing to see past the grammatical errors and run on sentences, but just as willing to tell me exactly where the story needs more work. I will have to remember that just because I spent the last six months living with these characters, others might not see them quite the way I do. This last step is never easy, but typing the first chapter wasn’t either.

It’s time to reset the clock.

Determination (Photo credit: Dana Lookadoo – Yo! Yo! SEO)


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Adventures in goal setting

Hong Kong at nightBefore I had children, my work sent me to Hong Kong for a period of eight weeks. During this time I was housed in hotel room only a few train stops from the office. I couldn’t speak the language. I couldn’t even read it. My days were my friends and family’s nights back home and vice versa. I was surrounded by millions of people, and yet was alone.

I arrived in early summer, and it rained almost daily over the first several weeks. My hotel only offered three English-speaking television channels. I was barely over my jet lag and already I could tell that this was going to be a long trip.

Then things began to happen. First my younger sister, who was working second shift at the time, discovered that she and I could fit in a virtual game of cribbage before I went to sleep and before she went into the office. We would set up a private table and chat about nothing while pegs moved across the screen. She usually won, but then again she usually wins when we play in real life. That’s always been her game. To me it was like we were living back at home with our parents and every night was game night. The routine combined with regular Skype calls to the hubby helped keep my spirits up.

Then I received an email from my grandfather and responded back. He marveled that his message could reach the other side of the world within minutes of sending. He wanted to know all sorts of mundane details about life in the eastern hemisphere. He would ask questions like, how much is a gallon of gas?

I didn’t drive. I only took the subway or the bus and had no reason to know the answer to his question, but it was my grandpa asking. He didn’t really expect an instantaneous answer. I could have searched the internet for a quick reply, but I had more than a little time to myself and decided to explore and find out the answer first hand.

Hong Kong
The urban jungle and the jungle jungle

It turns out that gas stations are not exactly easy to find in a land dominated by effective public transit. I was only able to find one through determination and willingness to get a slightly lost. Once located, the sign advertised the price in terms of Hong Kong dollars per liter instead of dollars per gallon. Ah math… The entire exercise reminded me of the word problems we had to solve in school.

I proudly worked out the conversions and hit the reply button. Within a day Grandpa sent me follow-up questions. I felt that I had somehow entered the world’s widest spanning scavenger hunt.

I managed to get my work done throughout my stay, but in addition, I must have crossed the length of the island on foot at least twice. I was able to see temples and markets. I watched as dragon boats raced across the water. I biked along the shore of the new territories. I enjoyed the Hong Kongese take on barbecue at the home of one of my local colleagues. I even managed to win a few games of cribbage.

Lion Statue in Hong Kong

The internet has made the world smaller.  It allowed me to maintain connections on the other side of the planet, and may have even strengthened those connections. But at the same time, my time over there would have been sorely limited had I remained isolated in my hotel room.

My grandfather taught me a lot in those few weeks about effective goal setting, whether the goal be for personal or professional development.

Goals should be SMART

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Specific – All I had to do was send an email with the cost of gas. Measurable – I sent the email or I didn’t. Attainable, but not necessarily easy – Goals should force a stretch or other small change in behavior, but not so large a stretch that a person becomes immediately discouraged. In order to complete my goal I had to leave my hotel.  Relevant – The goal’s completion should be worthwhile. It should be valued by person who created it and by the person doing the work. Learning how to operate a computer was a major accomplishment for my grandfather. If he wanted to know the cost of gas, well then, I was going to find it out for him.  Time-Bound – I couldn’t leave him waiting by his machine for an unanswered email. I had to find out the answer before I departed.

Grandpa, whether you find this on your own or mom reads it to you, thanks again for the adventure.

The promises we make to ourselves are often the hardest to keep

Easter Eggs
Easter Eggs (Photo credit: .imelda)

We celebrated Easter over the weekend. My older sister came to visit with her family and we all celebrated with good food, conversation, and bags and bags of candy. I will be honest with you, I wanted to give myself a vacation from writing. What is the good of setting your own schedule if you don’t get to take some time off now and then. I rationalized that I could take a holiday off and no one would notice.

I announced this to my husband. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I felt my skin begin to crawl. I’ve been writing about execution, accountability, and leadership and here I was talking about shirking from my responsibilities just because it wasn’t convenient. I felt dirty. But the words were out there, all my husband would have to do is say something like “sounds good,” or “you’ve been working hard, a break would do you good,” and the conversation would be over.

He didn’t say either. Instead he just looked at me with a frown and said “you have to. It doesn’t have to be long, but you have to.” He kept me from making one of the worst mistakes – assuming that everyone’s lives were just like my own.

I follow several other blogs. After reading a series of good news stories on one of them, I reached out to the blog’s author. I wanted to know how she had been fortunate enough to find her publisher. She nicely wrote me back that her publisher found her after coming across her blog. Now she has a deal on a trilogy. What if the agent, publisher, bulk book buyer, kindred spirit looking for inspiration, or media mogul of my dreams was surfing the internet and found someone else all because I just didn’t feel like writing today.

English: A milk chocolate Easter Bunny.
English: A milk chocolate Easter Bunny. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Sure I might not know that I had missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime, but it still wouldn’t change the fact that I missed the opportunity to be noticed. And for what? Sixty to ninety minutes and a chocolate bunny?

I’ve read that it is a good idea to detail your posting schedule is on your ABOUT page. I’ve not embraced this idea to date because once you put something in writing, you’ve made a commitment. I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep. But perhaps it is time to do just that.

Over the last six months, I’ve kept promises made to myself. I’ve written on my writing days and spent time with my family on my off days, but perhaps it is now time to make promises to you the reader. Isn’t keeping the promises we rather avoid a major part of Easter?

If you are visiting my blog for the first time, Welcome. I blog mostly about parenthood, entrepreneurship, my inspiration, and writing, and I blog Mondays and Thursdays.


Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)
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