looking forward to a new year

I think of my resolutions as life goals that need improvement. I accomplished most of the goals that I set last year, with the exception of a couple that didn’t quite pan out… namely, 1) I didn’t run the three 5ks I said I would run:

  1. Because I had two major foot injuries during the summer (prime race season, apparently).
  2. Because I was broke when I could run and the races that were left were too expensive.

This year, I would still like to take part in some 5ks, but my real goal is to improve my mile time. Yes, my mile. It’s small, but now that I can actually run one without stopping or feeling like my lungs are about to burst, I think improving my time is the best goal to go for… distance will follow.

And, 2) I didn’t finish the second draft of Anúna (though I did finish the rewrite of Cassiel).

My other major goal is to get back on a limited, fixed budget. I was very good at doing this while I lived with my mom, and I managed to sustain a budget during the first few months while living on my own, but then there were those injuries and several unplanned expenses involving the move, and too much time shopping at Target, and that budget caved in. So, this year, I’m working on a fixed, tracked budget using Excel and the cash envelope system. I’m also planning on focusing on my savings again and want to consider my retirement options (I’ll be 30 this year, time to act the part.). My Pinterest is experiencing a rise in budgeting pins as a result.

Writing is a given, but I want to focus on not beating myself up every time I miss a self-imposed deadline because something happened to set me off my schedule. Life is busy and full of surprises. I need to stop sweating the small stuff and keep going. For now, I’m shelving Cassiel. It’s my pet project, but it’s a pet that needs time to grow. Anúna is my main objective and I want to focus my energy on writing the best novel I can.

Other goals include:

  • Making more things! – I miss being crafty and creative. I’ve let it go in favor of doing other things, but making is a great way for me to de-stress and produce something useful. This includes cooking, baking, DIY household and beauty products, and artses for the home. I’ve been making the stuff I pin and I’m finding it’s a great way to refresh and relax after a busy week.
  • Strengthening and toning are still top priorities for me. I want to feel stronger and more energized, and I enjoy the exercise. My main fitness plans involve yoga and pilates, running, and walking, as well as body-weight exercises such as planks and more.
  • Cutting back on my sugar consumption. In my daily meal-planning, I tend to control my sugar intake, but surprise sugar strikes when I least expect it. I need to control the urge to give in to sweets. Not good for me with my family history.

So there you have it… 6 do-able goals that I hope to turn into long-term habits.

writer’s guilt (or what happens when I’m too hard on myself)

I feel guilty when I don’t write… which only makes the whole writer’s block thing that much worse. I’m stuck. I’m berating myself because I’m stuck. I become even more entrenched… I’m not even stuck plotwise. I know where it’s going and the rewrite is making my narrative that much stronger, but I’m emotionally drained and tired. Just sooo tired all the time lately. Ugh, I hate thinking about it because then I feel even guiltier. Then there’s this sense that I should be doing what Writer X is doing and waking three hours early to write before going to work and la di da. It’s not the way I work… and I know it’s not healthy to compare, but it doesn’t mean I don’t fall into that trap.

Part of it stems from the fact that we’ve acquired a writer at work. Now, I never ever tell anyone I work with about my writing (with one exception) because I don’t want to mix work with what I do outside of work. I’m strictly about keeping these two worlds separate. I have enough nosy stalkers as it is. But this is a person who is ALWAYS writing . ALWAYS. For HOURS. ALL DAY! And I can’t do that. Whether it’s lack of drive or lack of concentration, I’ve never been able to spend all day in front of a screen or notebook working on a single task. I’m dedicated, but my body just can’t handle being that dedicated.

This person’s fervor makes me feel lesser. Like I’m not doing enough. But then I start to think about it and realize that she also doesn’t work an 8 hour job or seem to do anything other than write. As far as I can tell, she has no other obligations. She’s made this a full-time job of her own… which brings me back to the need to stop comparing and move past the guilt. I’m trying to balance too much as it is and feeling bad about not meeting some vague ideal is not helping.

Anyone else feel guilty when not writing? I often find myself wishing I had a local writer’s group to meet with (for that extra push), but most of the writers in my area are memoirists with a will of their own.

on my latest crunchy adventure

I’m a live simply sort of girl, so making the switch from dirty to clean beauty wasn’t terribly difficult. The hardest part has been finding a decent sunscreen option (still working on it, though I’ve tried some products that I do like.) and making the switch from commercial to natural deodorant. I’ve been doing a lot of research and live by the EWG’s skin deep database, but there’s nothing like actually trying something for myself. I started the switch to natural deo by weaning myself off Secret. Now, I can be a smelly girl… there are times when my cycle sets my hormones flaring and I need some serious protection, so finding something that works for my pH and won’t turn me into the office stinker is essential. I tried a few different natural brands that didn’t do much for me–the moment I started sweating, they quit. Then, I found Primal Pit Paste–which works a wonder! It seriously works (I used the lemongrass & thyme one with the regular strength) and a little goes a long way, but I wasn’t thrilled with the scent options. I wanted something less herbal. I decided to do a little experimenting and googled deodorant recipes based on the ingredients listed on the bottle… I also bought a similar, homemade deo I found on Etsy to test the strength of a home-brewed blend. The Etsy find worked.*  I was ready to give my own blend a try.

I decided to try the recipe from Wellness Mama first. It had the same ingredients as the Pit Paste and was easy enough to make. A little oily mess in the kitchen and there it is!

coco-deo! Yes, it is in my fridge...

coco-deo! Yes, it is in my fridge…

I tried it for a week and it worked just as well as the Pit Paste. Then my hormonal shift happened and I could smell myself! Ack! Not good. Involved a lot of avoiding people while I tried to freshen up, but I was determined to make it work. I left my deo out on the counter overnight** and added two extra tablespoons of arrowroot and one extra tablespoon of baking soda . The coco-shea blend was soft, so I folded in the powders. I use Bob’s Red Mill brand arrowroot and baking soda, which are both extra fine, making them very blendable. Back in the fridge and ta-da! It works just as well as the Pit Paste :) just needed to be adjusted to my needs.

Now, a caveat for anyone embarking on the natural deo journey… you WILL have an adjustment period when you first make the switch. I was a bit smellier for about 3-4 weeks when I first started, so trying something like the Primal Pit Paste or similar may be a good option until your body gets used to the natural product. Because natural deo has no chemicals, it is NOT an antiperspirant–you will notice the sweat, but unless you have overactive sweat glands, it’s not that bad. Again, your body will self-regulate after a few weeks and you’ll notice the difference.

So that’s the latest in my beauty clean-up. It’s not perfect… there are some things I haven’t given up yet–the occasional terrible terrible perfume spritz, some less than stellar lipsticks–but finding cleaner, natural alternatives for most products has been simpler than I thought when I decided to make the switch. It’s not for everyone, I know, but it works for me and most of the products are cheaper and last longer than their department store counterparts.

*For any who want to give it a go, I used the Coconut Vanilla deo from Ollie + Max Soap Co., which smells divine! I still have some left and like to use it when I want some fragrance.

**It’s hot enough in my apartment that the coconut oil will melt unless I store it in the fridge, but it’s no biggie… that’s where I keep my toner and some of my oils, just a matter of starting a new habit.

just writing to get the feelings out

What started as a lovely day has turned into a bitter disappointment. The wonderful feeling of accomplishment that I started my day with was crushed by one problem after another. I try to bounce back, but there are some days that just keep beating me down and this is one of them. I’ve had people complaining and making all sorts of demands at work, a person who blames me for something I had no control over (but was forced to serve as the messenger for) wrote a letter to the president of my institution saying that I am tarnishing the reputation of the university, and then I came home to find that two of my potted plants had fallen from the window ledge because of all the wind, and my cat’s eye was even more red and swollen than it was this morning despite improvement over the weekend. I tried to take care of what I could. I did some yoga to relax, I had dinner, I went to the pet shop for a collar to try to keep him from rubbing at his eye and making it worse, but I just feel down and depressed and burnt out. I do. I feel like everything I work for is a shambles and there’s nothing I can do about it. I know this feeling will pass, but right now I can’t see how to manage it all.

has it really been a year?

2013-Participant-Facebook-Cover

OMG! It’s almost November! Which means… NaNo time! Again! Yes! I’m exclaiming too much!

Okay. That’s enough of that.

So here’s the plan…

I’m doing NaNo… sort of. I’m really just using it as a way to stay focused on my rewriting. The idea of having a deadline, even a self-imposed one, works for me. I will only validate if I finish the entire round of rewrites that I assigned myself in September (when I really got back to working on Anúna). My rewriting process is slow and messy, so a complete draft seems a worthy goal to me. My main focus is working on plot, pacing, and characterization. Right now, I’m somewhere between chapters 9 and 10, and have cut about 5000 words from the original draft–which leaves a good 40000 words that remain untouched and untamed.

My next goal will be to work on individual scenes and get down to the sentence-level unruliness before finding a beta or CP willing to exchange ideas.

If I feel brave enough, I might attend some of my local write-ins (I’m more of an antisocial, solitary type, but I’m trying to be more open).

Want to be my writing buddy? Find me here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/emperatrix

going natural and other news

So I haven’t done any real writing in a couple of weeks… turns out that the weird tiredness and lack of concentration was probably the result of a slow-growing skin infection that had been building since my tumble down the stairs. I am now one toe-nail down and many antibiotics up. I’m not one to take too many meds if I can avoid it, but this is definitely not the time to avoid it… nightmares involving Civil War style amputations aside, the infection really was caught just in time. It could’ve been much worse. Luckily, aside from the occasional twinge, and the leftover swelling from the injection sites, I’m finally starting to feel myself again. That’s a very good thing for all involved, as I was staring to get very moody and grumpy because I was barely holding it together. Trying to stay positive.

Now, back to the part about going natural… yes, you heard that right, I’m going natural. What nonsense is this you ask? Well, I’ve been transitioning towards an all-natural (or as close to all-natural) health and wellness routine. This has meant several experiments with natural deodorants, oils, baking soda, arrowroot, vinegar, organic/minimal makeup, no more hair dying (this is a struggle, I was a long time color changer), no more hair drying (though I will do some minimal styling on special occasions and when the weather turns cold–I don’t want to have a Victorian style death by cold head/pneumonia episode), natural toothpaste, and plenty of raised brows from the mother and the boyfriend, but I’m loving it all! I’ll post some details later, but I’ve mostly been scouring the blogosphere for recipes and ideas. Some of the best have come from the following natural living blogs:

The best part is that I’ve really noticed a significant change in my skin and hair, especially the little lines and spots that were starting to show up from lack of moisture and old scarring. And it’s cheap! I’ve spent less on natural products that can be eaten as much as slathered on than I have on skincare at Sephora. I may not look like a hippie, but I’m a flower child on the inside :)

freedom, of a sort

tree

Image from We Heart It: http://weheartit.com/entry/75011548

Last week, I did something amazing. I made my final student loan payment. Yes, I managed to pay off my education before turning 30 and that feels pretty awesome. How did I do it? That’s both easy and hard to explain. It’s not a process that can work for everyone. I made several life choices that led me to this point…

First, I chose to go to a local state school and live at home. Why? I received a scholarship that would pay for 75% of my undergraduate students in-state, but only 50% if I went to a private institution. Being the logical girl I am, I chose the state school (I also had no idea what I was going to do with myself and it seemed reasonable to find my way without blowing my non-existent finances on a BA).

Secondly, I received grants. These aren’t that plentiful anymore, so it’s one of the hard things to replicate if you’re trying to go about getting an education for less today. In a way, it was luck, but I did strive to keep my grades up in order to keep my grants throughout my four years, and I saved whatever was leftover to pay for books/technology/emergencies.

I earned a BA without paying a dime.

I then went to grad school… again, I wasn’t sure where it would take me, but I chose to go with the program that offered me an assistantship that covered nearly all of my expenses and provided me with a stipend (which helped pay for whatever wasn’t covered). Again, there were a few grants to see me through the rest, and I saved and scrimped in order to make ends meet and come out with a 0 balance.

Then, I went in for the second round… earning my MLIS. Again, I had a choice to make–all the programs were distance programs (I couldn’t afford to leave home for personal reasons), so I had to choose between an in-state or out of state program. I went with in-state (again, avoiding those out of state tuition fees), and chose the school that had the lower tuition rates. Hello, loans. My MLIS was fully funded by Stafford loans. I only took what I needed and I started saving so that I could start paying as soon as I graduated (I paid my way through the loan grace period to avoid higher interest rates). I started paying my 22k as soon as I graduated in the summer of 2011. That’s two years. What did I do? I made another decision: to move out or pay my loans. I calculated average rent in my area (about $1000 on average) and decided to pretend that I was paying for rent and just send that money straight to the loan providers. I stayed at home for another year and a half, until I felt that my payments had reached a point where I could switch over and pay the thousand for rent and the difference for my loans. I learned to live within my means, a lesson I hope to take with me for life, and I learned to balance my earnings.

The hard part is that I know this isn’t something everyone can do, and I don’t profess to be an expert on finances. It’s hard to make ends meet, especially if you don’t have a job that can help you get on your feet. I lucked out/was blessed/worked really really hard/whatever you want to call it, and I managed to get ahead.

To those of you struggling with your student loans, it can be done. Your path may not be mine, but it can happen.

in which I flirt with total madness – a (re)writing update

It’s almost October, which means… dun dun dun… NaNoWriMo is right around the corner! Which REALLY means, I’ve been working on Anúna for a year (I also may have hit on a potential title, but that’s a story for another day).

A YEAR.

Just let that sink in.

Though, in all honesty, I shelved it for well over 6 months while working on Cassiel, but a year is a year. That’s a lot of time spent in front of a screen/in my head developing this project. And it’s still in a fairly rough, messy, first draft state. There are days when opening my printed copy just makes my chest hurt… there’s a little twinge every time I think about having to rewrite/rethink/redraft another chapter. Writing is hard, lonely work, but re-writing just feels ten times more soul-crushing. This is when I see what I’ve written and think Gah! What was I thinking? (Though there are some moments when I’m skipping along going Tra-la-la, I’m a literary genius. Admittedly, these are few and far between–there is a lot more anguish than happy skipping.)

I love writing. There are stories inside me that need telling. But there are some days when I really question my sanity. Days when I come home from work and the last thing I want to do is open my laptop and stare at a screen for another 2-3 hours before going to bed.

It’s hard.

It’s hard to write and even harder when I don’t.

I really am my own worst enemy in this. No one can make me feel as guilty as I can when I don’t write because, when all is said and done, I’m the only person who really cares whether or not I meet my goal. I’m the only one who can own this thing.

What I’m really having a hard time with is balancing writing and everything else. I can’t write for hours at a time. I physically can’t do it. There are only so many hours I can take in front of a screen, cramped up into whatever position I curl myself into, trying to make my fingers go as fast as my thoughts, before I feel mentally and physically exhausted. It just doesn’t work for me. There are too many demands on me–from work, family, Didymus (the cat rules all)–and no matter how well I manage my time, there just isn’t enough. I would love to be able to shell out more than a couple thousand words a day (and those are the good days), but I’m more of a write-in-bursts sort of person. I guess it works for me right now, but there I still have this uncomfortable feeling that I should be doing more… it’s a terribly cycle of trying too hard and tearing myself apart because I didn’t try as hard as I should.

So what I’m saying is… I have no answers… but I don’t think anyone really has it all figured out. It’s a messy business. I’ll just keep shuffling along.

For now, I’m off to do some more research on Celtic mythology. Research counts as writing, right?