NaNo Tip #1: Know Thyself


(Book info here

In the past, I’ve had little success with NaNoWriMo. In large part, I think this was because I had the wrong attitude about it. I didn’t really think through why I was doing NaNo, so I wasn’t thoughtful about how I would do it.

Basically, I treated November like finals week in college–extreme productivity followed by near catatonic idleness, all fueled by terrible food and zero self-care. There was a sort of cool factor to it, I thought, a wanton celebration of Life as Focused Artist Utterly Engrossed in Her Work. The only trouble was, I wasn’t engrossed. I pretty much floundered from Day 1 and usually quit in self-disgust somewhere around Day 14.

Staring at a computer screen, living on ramen noodles, and not showering: apparently not an optimal lifestyle choice for me anymore.

This year, I’ve done a bit more mental prep work for NaNoWriMo. I’ve really pondered what success will look like for me this month. Oh, sure. It would be lovely to hit 50,000 words. But that’s really not my ultimate goal. I’ve got a goal cluster, actually, created from several interrelated hopes. The goals are as follows:

  1. Build a sustainable daily writing habit, which will cause me to…
  2. Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress, which should help me to…
  3. … Silence some inner doubts about my writing abilities; all part of the plan to…
  4. Reclaim my joy in writing.

Building that sustainable habit is the lynch-pin, and “sustainable” means that it has to fit within the existing structure of my life and personality. Which is why, in these last few days before November, I’ve been reviewing notes from some of my favorite self-help books. Chief among them is Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.

Rubin argues quite logically that to change our habits successfully, we must first know ourselves. After extensive study, she’s built a framework of Four Tendencies for how all people respond to both external and internal expectations. And guess what? You can take a free quiz to find out your tendency!

I’m definitely an Obliger. So if I want to build a writing habit into my daily life, I’ve got to do it with my Obliging tendencies in mind.

According to Rubin, “Obligers… work hard not to let other people down, but they often let themselves down. They may find it difficult to form a habit, because often we undertake habits for our own benefit, and Obligers do things more easily for others than for themselves. For Obligers, the key to forming habits is to create external accountability.”

NaNo gives me fabulous external accountability in the form of that November 30th deadline. It also feels like an optimal time to begin. Finally, I’ll be able to monitor myself with word count widgets and daily check-ins. Wow–so many great habit-forming strategies all rolled into this month!

I’ve got a bit more navel-gazing to do before my writing really takes off. Stay tuned for more posts along that score, and be sure to read Rubin’s book… after November, of course!

But in the mean time… what is your Tendency–an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel? How do you plan to use knowledge of your Tendency to help you achieve your goals during NaNoWriMo? 

NaNo Mama: Parenting Reflections


(Image Source)

Childhood is both fleeting and precious. I know this. And should I ever forget it, there are plenty of well-meaning strangers ready to remind me. “Enjoy it while you can, Mama,” they coo as my kids dance around the grocery cart and beg for sugary treats. “They’ll be in college before you know it.”

But hey, no pressure.

It’s these sort of everyday incidents that fill me with anxiety. Generally speaking, I can’t just get annoyed at my kids and then get over it. There’s a lengthy intermediate stage in which I loathe myself for even feeling annoyed in the first place. It’s tiring, to say the least.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to wake up years from now and think, “Wow, I really squandered those stay-at-home-mom years. If only I hadn’t been so preoccupied and sarcastic and neglectful.” But on the flipside, I’d also hate to be thinking, “Perhaps I could have enjoyed parenting more if I hadn’t been endlessly hovering over the kids while totally neglecting myself.”

That’s all well and good, Kate, you may be thinking. But what does it have to do with NaNoWriMo?

Well, I signed up this year in part to tackle my self-sabotaging tendencies, especially as they relate to my kids. Chief among them is the stifling either/or thinking that author Julia Cameron identifies in her book The Artist’s Way. Cameron posits that creative people perpetuate their blocks by internalizing our culture’s cruel false dichotomies. Example? Lately, my favorite poison seems to be “I can be a good mother or a successful writer, but I can’t do both.”

My inner embittered martyr whispers this so constantly that I’ve ceased to even be conscious of the damaging belief. It’s just there. NaNoWriMo is my attempt to transform the either/or thinking to positive also/and self-talk. Namely, “It is perfectly possible to be a good mother and also a productive writer. In fact, by writing regularly I am taking care of myself and thus better equipped to take care of others.”

That said, the kids remain my top priority. I won’t even be able to do NaNoWriMo, let alone feel good about it, if I’m constantly making parenting choices that fill me with guilt. This is especially true because (even more than reaching 50,000 words) I’m hoping to establish some long-term writing habits. Those habits have to exist in harmony with my larger life goals.

So in addition to the usual attempts to squeeze in writing time, I’ll also be looking to implement bonding breaks.  I’m hoping by the end of week one to have some practical feedback on how to accomplish both!

In the mean time, good luck to all my fellow NaNo participants!

November Meal Plan: NaNo With Me!


Confession: I’ve been known to over-complicate things. Give me a molehill, and I can turn it into a volcanic mountain range. Seriously. And meal planning is no different.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some good food. In fact, Mr. M and I would both rank eating as one of our greatest pleasures in life. Yep, according to the Dante’s Inferno Test (because who doesn’t love a pop culture homage to medieval literature?) we’d both spend our purgation on the terrace of Gluttony.

However, lately the burden of menu planning, grocery shopping, and food prepping has overshadowed so many pleasures in life… eating included. There’s no way I’m going to complete my NaNoWriMo goals if I treat November like I’ve been treating the past few months. And so I’m planning all the month’s meals in advance. Download the plan if you’d like to cook along–hyperlinks to recipes embedded in the PDF!

Bonus: I’ll also be shopping for all my non-perishables in advance and then supplementing week by week with fresh items. Get each list, below, and get yourself organized for NaNo!

Oh, I’m feeling so prepared! This should be easy, right? (Famous last words…)

Here are some corners I’m planning to cut. Some of these changes are for November only, and some ideas I hope to implement permanently:

Simplified Supper: I’ve been adamantly against anything remotely prepackaged because it’s “not healthy.” But I’ve also been rather cranky and awful lately, and this is without contending with NaNo. So I’m getting over my irrational issues with frozen vegetables. I’m taking advantage of store-bought bread. And yes, I’ll be judiciously deploying jars of sauce and the occasional box mix. Additionally, I’m only planning five nights of meals per week. What about unplanned nights? See below (*) for my thoughts.

Sensible Snacking: The kids will get to nosh on cheese sticks, crackers in various animal shapes, Pirate’s Booty, fruit, and veggies with dip. Mr. M will get to indulge his love for ice cream. And I will have plenty of popcorn on hand for myself. (This has been my preferred buttery, salty writing snack since college.)

Lunchtime Laziness: For me and the kids, I’ll be doing homemade Lunchables (crackers + cheese + cured meat = so flipping easy!) and maybe something along the lines of this cool snack tackle box. Mr. M loves to eat our leftovers, but he may be taking more sandwiches to work. In fact, he may be making his own lunch in November. (The horror! The horror!)

Breakfast Busters: I’m stocking plenty of bread, bagels, granola, yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal. We’ll have plenty of fruit and toppings/spreads, too. Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t need to be fancy!

* * * * *

*What About Unplanned Nights? Okay, it’s tough for this Planny McPlan-Plan Pants to admit, but sometimes I… over-plan. Sigh. It’s true. This is true in many areas of my life, but perhaps nowhere more obvious than in the kitchen. Often, I buy too much at the grocery store.

So I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the leftovers from five meals a week feed us for seven days. And if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, I plan to do breakfast for dinner (pancakes! Sausage links!) The other option is something Big Sister lovingly refers to as “picnic tea party.” This is when I arrange all of our random odds and ends on pretty serving ware, and it suddenly becomes a super fancy celebration. A typical “tea party” includes cured meats, cheeses, bread, crackers, veggies, dip, fruit, honey, hummus, and some sort of sweet treat (chocolate or store-bought tea cookies).  

October Meal Plan #4: Squash-Tastic

(Ugly amateur photo forthcoming once I actually make one of these meals!)

It’s the last week before Halloween and, for the second year in a row, one of my kiddos is passionately advocating for a different costume at the 11th hour. For the record, there’s a reason I don’t get crafty on my blog. I only sew under great protest. I don’t even own a sewing machine. And my mother’s sewing machine has been known to drive us to drink, even when we’re just trying to make a textbook curtain panel.

Which is why creating wings and an accompanying dragon sweatsuit may just break me. Can I really do this the same week I’m prepping for NaNoWriMo? Stay tuned, folks!

Meals have, of a necessity, been scaled to ease my sanity. I’m also using up some of my CSA squash before November hits and I get really lazy about cooking.

* * * * *

Breakfast for Dinner – eggs, sausage, and hash browns

Vegetarian Mealdelicata squash and black bean tacos

The Big Easychili con carne

CSA meal #1spaghetti squash with spinach and bacon

The Randomkielbasa cabbage skillet

Buckle Up for NaNoWriMo!


So… I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo again. And yes, the impulse has me wondering if I’m totally crazy.

Not familiar with NaNoWriMo? Here’s a description from the sponsoring nonprofit’s webpage: “National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”

50,000 words in November breaks down to 1,667 words a day. That’s assuming you’re able to write on weekends and holidays (Thanksgiving and Veteran’s Day) without any interference from your family. I’ve got a toddler and a kindergartner constantly underfoot. What could possibly go wrong?

Oy, vey.

I haven’t attempted NaNoWriMo since spawning offspring. In years past, my success was thwarted by (a) my teaching obligations and (b) a very strong inner critic who insisted that I rewrite and obsess and pick and agonize and go in circles over and over and over again. I could never just crunch on a chill pill and get out of my own way.

Yet every time that I attempted NaNo, I just blithely assumed that I could change my ways. “This year will be different!” I’d enthuse, without making any efforts to even figure out what I needed to overcome, let alone how I could go about doing so. Shocking but true: this wasn’t the smartest method for setting out to achieve a goal.

This year is going to be different. No, really. In the next few days I’ll be pondering my inevitable obstacles and doing some if-then planning on how to address them. I’m reading relevant blog posts. I’m pondering what I can let slide. And I’m even trying to do some advance meal planning and prepping!

Whatever tools I create, I’ll post. Hopefully that will help me stay on track… and maybe provide inspiration for my fellow Wrimos. With that in mind: any other blog readers out there who also happen to be NaNo participants? Any tips and tricks you’d care to share? 



October Meal Plan #3: Work Week

Good morning, Internet! I’m sitting in a hotel room, wrapping up this plan (and a cup of coffee) before I head off to work. Yes! I’m an education consultant and generally travel once a month. I’ll be home later tonight, but in the mean time I get to sit by myself for a bit and dream up some plans for my lettuce. Then it’s time to talk teaching strategies with a bunch of awesome and appreciative professionals. Life is pretty good!

This is my last week for CSA, but you haven’t heard the last of my produce. Next week, I’ll start in on recipes for all the squashes I’ve been hoarding.

On another note: I want to start taking my own food photos, but I’m a beginning photographer. Very beginning. As in, haven’t had the courage yet to move away from auto-shoot on my fancy Nikon. Any tips for taking that first baby step?

Vegetarian meal – yard-long beans and potato curry

The Big Easy – sloppy joes, tater tots, and carrot sticks

Slow Cooker Mealroasted chicken with root veggies (the spice mix on that roasted chicken recipe is SO GOOD!) I will use the leftover chicken to make chicken noodle soup (posting that recipe later) and also…

CSA Meal #1apples and cheddar chicken salad 

CSA Meal #2grilled cheese with spinach, feta, and avocado

October Meal Plan #2: Leafy Priorities


Image and recipe from Food and Wine

There’s no way I’m going to cook through our CSA goodies before I have to leave on a business trip Sunday morning. And so I’m prioritizing the food that will spoil quickly: Thai basil, lettuce, yard-long beans, plus some spinach and kale. I’ve got some celery root, too, from last week that I’m planning to use up in the rabbit dish.

Extra planning challenge: I’ve got two evening meetings this week, so I need an easier meal for myself and a super easy one for Mr. M. (Disclaimer: he’s got awesome cooking skills… but hates prepping anything complicated while simultaneously running herd on two small children and a nibbling puppy.)

Lettucy Lunches –harvest Cobb salad

CSA meal #1 – chorizo and chickpea stew

CSA meal #2 – rabbit braised in Belgian ale 

CSA meal #3Pad Kee Mao with sauteed beet greens on the side

The Big Easy – sloppy joes, tater tots, and carrot sticks

Breakfast for Dinner parsnip hash browns with eggs and sausage

October Meal Plan #1: CSA bounty

Long time, no meal plan… but rest assured, we have been eating. Eating well, in fact, as there’s a veritable bounty of produce in our fridge. It’s the last few weeks of our CSA and consequently I’m scrambling to get all those fresh veggies either frozen or cooked. In all likelihood, I won’t make it through this list and some of the meals will shift to next week… when I have a whole fresh box of goodies to ponder and plan around.

CSA meal #1 – spaghetti squash with green salad

CSA meal #2 – fall salad with box-mix biscuits

Vegetariantomato tart with green salad (note: I use puff pastry for the crust because it’s both easy and tasty.)

Big Sister’s Pick – macaroni and cheese with beet roesti (I do not mess around with a single large beet cake… too much effort. Instead, I treat this like a latke recipe and fry little pancakes.)

The Big Easy – sausage and peppers served on hoagie rolls with melted mozzarella.

Pantry Challenge – chicken pot pie with green salad (My chicken pot pie filler is cream of chicken soup mixed with cooked diced chicken and a bag of frozen stew veggies. This is my preferred pie crust.)