indie coffee house review: river oaks coffee house

I did something today that I didn’t know I was going to do.  I had to get out of the house, and so I got into my car and started driving.  I had a vague notion of doing some window-shopping at IKEA.  While driving, that idea morphed into seeing a movie, and then I thought I might call a friend and set up an impromptu coffee date.  That’s what got me thinking about independent coffee shops in the Houston area.  Starbucks locations are fine for what they are, but I really wanted to give an indie a try today.  So I looked up “indie coffee shops” on yelp and got a list of places, and I settled on River Oaks Coffee House.  The only problem—it was 3pm, traffic was terrible and according to yelp, closing time was 6pm.  Still, I thought I’d give it a try. The point was to be out of the house for a while, so why not?

River Oaks Coffee House is easy enough to find.  If you’re a native Houstonian, you know Westheimer Road will take you lots of places, and this coffee house is one of them.  I am the worst at directions, so I’ll just give the address and you can plug it into your favorite GPS app—3601 Westheimer Rd., Ste. C.  Don’t be misled by the “Highland Village” designation listed in yelp.  It’s not in Highland Village, though it is closeby.  This little coffee shop has two tables that can seat about four people and then six tables that can seat two people.  There’s also a little bistro table at the front of the space as well as a small seating area with an oversized chair flanked by two wicker chairs.  I read a yelp review that said that there were plenty of wall outlets, and that is certainly true.  This coffee shop is a place where you don’t have to feel uncomfortable bringing your notebook computer, plugging in, and getting some work done.  I’m here on a Sunday, and all but two of the tables are occupied, and there are people working on their laptops, studying for school, reading a book.

The other thing I have noticed right away about the atmosphere of River Oaks Coffee House is that it’s incredibly quiet.  This makes me wonder if it is really conducive to meeting people for a coffee date.  If I had called that friend of mine and we’d met here, I would have felt really self-conscious chatting, even if it was at a whisper level.  There is some seating outside, though on a rainy day like today, that wouldn’t be the best option.  Another thing about the atmosphere is that currently, they are playing classical music at a very low volume.  As someone who finds herself in coffee shops because she needs free wi-fi access so that she can get some work done, I really really appreciate that the music is not blaring and classical is often one of my music choices when working so the selection works for me.  And speaking of wi-fi—yes, it’s free and easily accessible. When purchasing my coffee I asked if I needed a password but the network is open so no password is required.  Another win.  Finally, one of the reasons I didn’t end up in my local Starbucks today was because that location is always so cold, and I wasn’t in the mood to make sure I was wearing jeans and a hoodie.  Even then my nailbeds start to turn blue and my mind goes numb from the cold, and I end up being a lot less productive than I wanted to be.  Not the case with River Oaks Coffee House.  I’m sitting here in short-sleeved shirt, capri pants and sandals and I’m totally comfortable.  Truly, little things like this matter!

There are the usual coffee options as well as several options for the non-coffee drinker—bottled teas and waters, even Coke and IBC root beer in the glass bottles.  There’s also an array of sandwiches, small fruit bowls, sweetbreads and biscotti.  Another plus for the person looking for a place to spend a couple of hours working and might find themselves in need of a snack.  I had the regular brewed coffee.  I add a generous amount of cream or half-and-half to my coffee, but I didn’t see a canister sitting out anywhere so if you take cream or milk ask for it ahead of time.  The coffee tasted good.  It’s not the best coffee I’ve had but it’s also not the worst.  If you are like me in that you can’t drink Starbucks brewed coffee because it’s way too strong, then I think you’ll like the coffee at River Oaks Coffee House.  It’s mild, not bitter, and very drinkable.

About those hours? On Sundays, they actually close at 5pm (not 6pm).  Their regular weekday and Saturday hours are 6am to 5pm.  Now, if I wanted to come here after work, those hours wouldn’t really work for me, but since I’m only likely to visit on the weekends, the 5pm closing time is not a deal-breaker.

I will definitely come here again, even though it’s a good little drive from my current residence.  Next time I’ll just know to get an earlier start.  If you’re looking for an indie coffee shop where you can sit and hear yourself think and get some work done in a quiet, comfortable atmosphere, consider giving River Oaks Coffee House a try.

english 251 – flash fiction story starter

Hello Class!

Here is the blog post I promised in yesterday’s class.  Your mission:  Write a piece of flash fiction that features the protagonist and antagonist you began creating in yesterday’s class.  Remember that the story takes place in a mall.  You want to try to use the conflict/crisis/resolution structure we have been talking about in class.  The flash fiction piece should be between 250 – 500 words.  Add your flash fiction story as a comment to this post.

Finally, your flash fiction story should begin with the following sentences:

Most days were the same.  But not today.  Today was different.  Today was special.

Good luck, writers! I’m looking forward to reading Stories from the Mall…

the stopping point

It’s mid-term of the fall semester.  Like the fall semester of 2011, I have elected to give my students (and myself) a day off during this week.  They deserve it, and I need it.  But to say that today has been a “day off” or that I have any expectation that tomorrow I will be at leisure to fill my time however I want, would be to tell a falsehood.  In truth, I woke up at my usual time this morning.  I had the usual two cups of coffee, checked my e-mail and spent the first ten to fifteen minutes of my day trying to get into a wakeful state.  Then, like every other weekday during the semester, I set off to work.

Let me be clear and honest–I had completely intended to work today and this isn’t a complaint about having to work.  I may not have been teaching, but I still had work to do and was completely committed to using this non-teaching day to catch up.  Read: catch up, not get ahead.  Getting ahead is an aspiration I have for Sunday (and similarly, I hope to take all of Saturday off and not have to feel guilty about not working).  Now that I’m sitting here and reflecting on the day, I feel good about all that I accomplished.  And yet…

And yet, at the beginning of the semester, I told myself that I would stop working at 6pm Monday through Thursday.  I gave myself “permission” to stop working at 6pm and actually spend my evenings doing something other than working–cooking a healthy dinner, reading a book for leisure, talking to friends and family, cleaning, etc.  All those things normal people do during their non-working hours.  Those things that make life, well, life.  For the first three or four weeks of the semester, I was good at sticking to my stopping time, but as the semester has progressed and gotten more stressful and there is more and more to be done, I find myself working past six, past seven, past eight and even on the rare occasion past nine.  So today, on this non-teaching, catch-up day, I told myself that no matter how much I felt that I still wanted to accomplish, that I would stop at six o’clock, come hell or high water.

Well, hell or high water didn’t come, and they weren’t necessary.  I settled for setting an alarm on my phone, and when it went off, I spent two more minutes finishing the chapter of the book I’m reading for one of my classes, then I closed it and turned my thoughts to non-work related stuff–dinner, playoff baseball, checking in with my online reading club.  The happy result so far is that I’ve made some delicious tomato basil soup while listening to the baseball game streamed online and enjoying a glass of one of my favorite red wines (Middle Sister Rebel Red, in case you are wondering).  Plus, I’ve also had time to hear myself think and wonder why it is that I’m not more committed and insistent upon stopping at my stated stopping time.  It’s not unreasonable to want to stop after an eleven-hour workday.  But I’m stuck with guilt–no, that’s not right.  I’m stuck with anxiety when I stop early and leave work to do the next day.  Stopping early means having to finish the next morning before teaching and worrying that I’m going to run out of time.  I have to read.  I have to prep a lecture.  I have to be ready to teach.  Those things can’t be put off for later, and I keep telling myself: “Self, stop over-prepping. Do less.”  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  And when I don’t feel prepared, I feel guilty, like I have somehow failed to fulfill my role as a teacher.

Though I usually find answers through writing, I’m not sure that there is an answer to this recurring conundrum.  Perhaps the advice I need to give myself is to just keep doing my best. I say this to my students, but I never say it to myself.   If I don’t want to remember these years of my life being spent in doing nothing other than working, then I have to make some changes. One of those changes has to be actually stopping when stopping time comes around.

a less caffeinated me

I love coffee. The sound of my coffee maker and the smell of coffee brewing, cradling the warm cup in my hands, and the first taste of the morning–these are the loveliest parts of my morning routine.  Perhaps because the act of making and drinking my morning coffee involves nearly all of my senses. It’s no wonder that I feel more cranky and out of sorts on days that do not start with this simple ritual.

Although I love coffee and have no intention of eliminating it from my morning routine, I also have to admit that I don’t like the effects that not having my daily dose of caffeine has on me.  For a while now, my morning routine has included two cups (24oz) of coffee.  Brewed coffee–not a latte or a frappuccino or a mocha.  Just the dark liquid gold of drip coffee with a heavy-handed splash of cream.  Don’t get me wrong–mochas used to be my drink of choice and then I transitioned to lattes and have now made the final transition to brewed coffee.  What I didn’t know was that there’s actually more caffeine in brewed coffee than in the average two-shot espresso drink.  This is important because whenever I try to substitute a latte for my morning coffee, it doesn’t have the same impact.  But, I’m digressing.

Like I said, until recently, I was a two-cup-a-day person.  I had to have two cups or else.  If you’re a long-time caffeine addict like me, you know what is followed by that “or else”–feeling more tired, crankiness, short attention span and an inability to focus, impatience.  At least, this is how I perceived my response and changes in behavior when I had anything less than two cups of coffee.  So when I say that I don’t like the effects of not having my daily dose of caffeine, these are the effects I mean.  More precisely, though, I don’t like knowing that I’m in withdrawal, and I don’t like being in withdrawal (obviously).  But I can’t (read: won’t) give up coffee.  In the decade and a half since I started drinking coffee and espresso drinks, I’ve given up caffeine entirely at least twice that I can remember.  I know I could give it up again if I wanted to, but I don’t want to.

However, I do want to drink less caffeine.  I sleep much better when I take in less caffeine, and somewhere deep inside I know that I manage my stress level better when I’m not drinking two or three cups of coffee in a given day.  To this end, I’ve started stepping down my daily coffee intake.  I have to be honest–the actual start to this goal sort of happened by accident.  It was a Sunday (11 days ago to be exact) and I had a commitment early in the day.  I woke up later than planned and only had time for one cup of coffee.  After I got home I crashed and took a long nap, but when I woke up my head was pounding–classic symptom of being in caffeine withdrawal.  I figured that that day was as good a day as any to start the withdrawal that would inevitably follow stepping down from two cups to one.  I also thought that if I was going to make this change, I should do it before school started.  The beginning of a semester is stressful enough; I certainly didn’t want to add caffeine withdrawal to the mix.

So, it’s been 11 days so far with only one cup of coffee.  There was one day where I had a minor slip–I went to the coffee shop in the afternoon a few days ago and ordered a latte.  I didn’t even realize what I was doing (i.e., having a second cup) but it didn’t derail all the efforts I’ve made to not have a second cup in the mornings.  I won’t lie–I still crave a second cup, and I’m not sure how long it will be before I don’t have that craving.  This morning when I got to the bottom of my cup I was really sad and wanted more, but I managed to say no.  I’m hoping this change will stick and that I won’t relapse once school starts and the pressure of the semester begins to mount.  I have always subscribed to the conventional wisdom that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit, but I recently read an article saying that that wisdom is more anecdote than proven fact.  Looking back, when I made the transition from mochas to lattes, it took about three months for the craving for a mocha to cease, so perhaps the smart thing is to alter my expectations based on that previous experience. Either way, if I can make it through 21, 30, or even 60 days, then I’ll know that I can sustain the new normal of one cup a day.

Then maybe I’ll stop being so obsessed with my coffee drinking habits…

sunday ROW80 check-in ~ #7

Today’s check-in may be more of a reflection than an update.  It may also be a bit disjointed; if it is, apologies in advance.

It’s Day 35 of Round 3 of ROW80.  I was just entering today’s wordcount into the spreadsheet I’ve been keeping to track my progress toward my goals, and I realized that in the last 35 days, I’ve written 48K+ words.  This in and of itself is astounding to me, but then when I reflect on the fact that I wrote almost 80K words during the month of June while participating in CampNaNoWriMo, I’m further shocked at myself.  Yet the problem…well, maybe problem isn’t the right word.  The observation I can make from these reflections is that none of these words were “The End”.  In spite of writing all of these words over the course of the summer, I have yet to type those two small words that give me such a thrill of happiness and exhilaration, and I’m not sure how I feel about this.  Particularly since I had made the goal of finishing June’s CampNaNoWriMo with a complete draft of a story.  On the other hand, one of the things I wanted most out of the summer was to be creative, and I have certainly been creative.  I’ve let my imagination run wild, be inspired, be challenged, and those are all good things.  Still, I can’t deny that I wanted that thrill of happiness that comes with “The End” and I have yet to experience it this year.

I also want to be honest with myself and allow myself to recognize that all of this writing that I’ve done this summer has reinforced my decision to change career directions.  This summer has made it extremely obvious to me that I don’t really want to do the kind of writing I’d have to do in order to find the kind of job I thought I wanted in my current profession.  I’m not sure I would have committed so strongly to making a career change if I hadn’t spent so much of this summer writing, and I’m not sure I would be so certain that it was the right decision for me to make at this point in my life.  I thought that the writing I had planned to do over the summer would be a way to keep my mind engaged and to keep myself entertained and busy with a project while I waited for the return of school and steady income.  It has been that, but it’s also given me time to think about what I want, what I’m willing to settle for, and what risks I’m willing to take in order to find a career that’s more fulfilling than the one I have now.  What makes that statement even more extraordinary is that that discovery was a complete accident.  I had intended for my blog posts to be the place where I made those kinds of discoveries, but instead it happened while I was writing fiction.  I certainly wasn’t expecting that.

One other thing that participating in ROW80 has taught me thus far is to make a commitment to make time for myself and the things that are important to me.  Writing has been one of my outlets for a long time, but it’s only this summer that I’ve committed to making time in my schedule on an almost daily basis to engage in one of my passions.  Before I’ve always looked at my writing as an indulgence, but I’m becoming aware of it now as a necessity.  Logically, I’ve known the importance of making time for myself, but this is the first time in a long time that I feel like I can say I have actually done that, and it’s amazing how much different life looks because of it.  Not surprisingly, the determination to commit time to activities that will not only keep me sane but also healthy has spilled over into other aspects of my life, and I’ve already seen benefits in those areas, too.  Maybe this is all to say that what I thought was the end goal of the summer–to write “The End”–wasn’t really the end goal that I needed most, but because I was in search of those words I found something else that was much more important.

End of reflection.  It’s time to talk about my goals.  Here are my current goals:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words.  My last check-in was last Sunday, so in the days since then, I met my goal on 4 of the 6 days that I was scheduled to write, and I did manage to take Saturday off from writing.  Considering that I spent the first three days of the week trying to get back into work-mode, I’m pretty happy with what I managed to get done.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  Okay, really?  I cannot seem to get back on schedule with my blogging.  The good news is that I am making today’s check-in.  Also, I want to post book reviews on Monday, and tomorrow’s review is already written and scheduled for posting. I also know the topic of my next blog post.  So, things might be looking up, but we’ll see if the plan actually gets executed.  Blogging definitely is something that seems to fall by the wayside when I get busy or distracted with other stuff.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  I still think this can happen during Round 3, and I’m still making progress.  Like I said earlier, I’ve added just over 48K+ words to my draft since the start of Round 3.  Today’s writing session revealed the identity of the individual who is threatening my heroine, but the why has yet to be revealed.  Not sure how much of the story I have left, but it’s still moving along.

With school starting in just two weeks, I’m going to go ahead and make some changes to my goals now.  Here are my new goals, which I hope will remain in place through the end of Round 3:

  • Goal #1 – Write at least three days each week.  In order to get everything in my life done, I know that I’m not going to be able to find time to write everyday.  I do think I can find time to write at least three days a week though, and my goal is to write at least 1000 words on each day that I write.  The plan now is to write on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my new blog post schedule.  I find that checking in twice a week is too frequent, though I can’t really put my finger on exactly why I feel that way.  I plan to make at least one check-in each week, likely on Sundays.  I also plan to continue posting book reviews on Mondays.  Beyond that, I want to blog on whatever topic interests me at least once each week.  I’m not going to continue to be so rigid in terms of saying these have to be posted on a particular day.  As long as I post once each week, no matter which day that is, I’ll be happy.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  This goal remains unchanged.  I find that I really like having a project that I commit to finishing by a specified deadline, and I don’t want to lose writing as my outlet once school starts.

Huh. I didn’t really intend to write all of that but I guess I just needed to get it out.  I hope everyone has a great week, and thanks for stopping by my blog!

sunday ROW80 check-in ~ #6

Hooray! I am finally ending my streak of missed Sunday check-ins!  I’m also making this check-in first thing in the morning, which is unusual but today it’s necessary.  My afternoon is blocked off for a very special friend’s bachelorette wine tasting party.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I’ll be touring a few of the local wineries this afternoon under the guise of a bachelorette party. It’s going to be a wild and fun time.

But that’s not why you’re here so let’s get to it.  Here’s how the last few days have gone since Wednesday’s check-in:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  On Thursday I was about 180 words short of meeting my goal, but I made up for it on Friday and met the goal.  Knowing that I was probably not going to have time to write today because of my aforementioned plans, I wrote yesterday instead so that I could take today off, and I met the daily goal yesterday.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  I missed Thursday’s blog post, but I knew that I was going to so I’m okay with that.  I am making today’s post (woo-hoo!) and I think I’m going to manage to get a book review done for tomorrow.  So, this goal is definitely seeing improvement but has room for more improvement.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  Since the beginning of Round 3 I’ve added almost 39K words to my draft.  I’m almost at a total of 52K words, and I still feel like I’m about halfway through the story.  I think I can still achieve this goal, but to do that I’m going to have to be disciplined about meeting Goal #1 once school begins.

Ah, fall semester.  It’s just coming into visibility on this road I’m on.  Starting tomorrow I’m going to start practicing my new work routine so that I’ll have worked out the kinks and already have an idea of what’s going to work and what’s not going to work in terms of how I’m going to get everything done everyday.  You might have guessed that I love having a routine.  I’m just made that way, I guess, and it takes me some time to get into a regular routine, so that’s why I’m starting early.  I’m also adding an item to my routine that hasn’t been there in some time.  Some of you are very familiar with it.  It’s that thing called exercise.  Yes, I’m trying to integrate that into my routine.  Four days a week.  We’ll see how it goes.  Me and exercise are not BFFs.  We break up.  A lot.  Definitely an on again and off again kind of relationship.  I’m all set to try this program called Couch to 5K.  Heard of it?  Done it?  If so, share your thoughts below.  I do not like to run (understatement), but it’s exercise I can get without having to pay for a gym membership and then feel guilty about not using it.  I downloaded the app on my smartphone and got a new armband for my phone (definitely less than even one month of a gym membership) so I should be all set to start.  I’m also starting zumba classes on Thursday. It’s not a whole new me, just me with some new stuff happening in my life.

All right, that’s it.  Everyone have a good week! Thanks for dropping by my blog!

 

(belated) wednesday ROW80 check-in ~ #5

Yes, my post is late! Last night, as the clock rolled past midnight, I was in the middle of an epic writing session that not only yielded 6300+ words but also made my heroine’s life rather miserable.  Someone got wine thrown in his face, tears were shed, trust was betrayed, and loads of embarrassment was felt.  Unfortunately, it’s going to get a bit worse before it gets better for my heroine.  You can see now how I might have neglected to get my post in on time, right? Maybe? Just a little?  Okay, then, let me just give you what you’ve come for…

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  The second week of ROW80 yielded all kinds of writing challenges.  The third week has gone much better for me, I’m happy to report.  I met my 1000 word writing goal on Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday.  Saturday is my scheduled day off from writing and I did take the day off.  Go me!  Sunday I wrote 681 words, and Tuesday, I didn’t write anything at all.  Oddly, on Tuesday I got stuck in a place in my draft that I never thought would have caused trouble, and so nothing got written at all.  Gratefully, I’m past that little roadblock.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  While the writing has been going well over the last week, the blogging has not.  I missed my Sunday check-in, I missed my Monday book review (I ran into a problem last week–both novels that I finished were books 6 and 4, respectively, in a series; it didn’t feel right to post a review of a book in an ongoing series because what if readers hadn’t read the books that came before? They wouldn’t be able to follow my review.  It was quite the conundrum and so I elected not to post a review at all on Monday), and my Wednesday check-in, as I ‘ve already explained above, is late.  Bah!  This area of my goals definitely needs to see improvement over the next week.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  This is the little ray of happiness in my goals this week.  Since Round 3 of ROW80 began, I have added just over 33K words to my draft.  Given that goal #1 is to write 1000 words each day and to take Saturday’s off, I was only expecting that I would write 26K words during the first 30 days of the round, but I’m well ahead of that pace. I’m in the middle of chapter seven of my WIP, and I’m thinking that maybe I am now halfway through my story.  I don’t plot out how many chapters there will be before I begin writing, but I do know how the story is going to end and my drafts are usually 90K to 100K words.  Right now, I’m sitting at just over 45K. I have so much excitement about this draft right now it’s a bit ridiculous but so much fun.

All right, that’s it.  I do actually have to bring this belated post to a quick conclusion since I have an appointment with The Dark Knight in just over an hour.  Have a great weekend, fellow ROWers and thanks for stopping by my blog!

minimalist me

I’m not a minimalist, but I want to be.

For the last few months, I’ve been a daily visitor to Wise Bread, a website devoted to frugal living.  As you might have guessed, many of the articles on Wise Bread are related to spending less money, consuming less, and saving more.  Although I find Wise Bread to be a great site, I want to make changes in my life that don’t solely revolve around money.  One article in particular, “The Tyranny of Stuff,” sparked my curiosity about minimalism and what living a minimalist lifestyle actually looks like.  Thus the search for information began.

Two sites that have been the most helpful to me are The Minimalists and The Everyday Minimalist.  Both sites have content that provide information about minimalism and minimalist lifestyles and are good starting points for anyone interested in decreasing the number of possessions they own and decluttering their living spaces.  I place the emphasis on these sites being starting points.  What I have learned while researching this topic (and admittedly, that research is still in the early days; I am in no way pretending to be an expert) is that the definition of what constitutes living a minimalist lifestyle is a highly personal one.  This has left me trying to define for myself what it would mean for me to live a minimalist lifestyle.  I think that my definition is fairly simple: I want to have less stuff, buy less stuff and consume less.  It sounds simple, but I know that in practice, this is going to be no easy task.  I live in culture that values consumption, possession and ownership.  Plus, I have spent my life accumulating stuff.  Getting rid of said stuff is not going to be easy, and that’s partially due to the value that I place on stuff.  This has led me to realize that living a minimalist lifestyle is not just about reducing my physical possessions, but it’s also about changing my mindset in terms of what I value, and why I value it.

One night while watching Criminal Minds, I heard the following quote by Peace Pilgrim: “Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age a great many of us are possessed by our possessions.”  I had never heard the quote before, but it resonated with me strongly.  For me, it conveys so well where I am mentally in terms of everything I own.  I no longer want to be possessed by my possessions, and I’m finally ready to do what is necessary to free myself.

I have thought about a first step I can make toward reducing my possessions.  I have resolved to reduce my book collection by 25% by the end of September (in case you are wondering, I counted my books this week so that I would know exactly how many I had to get rid of to meet my goal; I own 737 books which means I have to get rid of 185 books to reduce my collection by 25%).  I have to be honest.  The idea of getting rid of 25% of my books is anxiety-producing.  I know this is ridiculous, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  I’ve shared my decision with a few close friends and have gotten a variety of responses.  My best friend said “Good for you!” and a colleague said “Why would you want to do that?”.  This pretty much covers the extremes I have felt within myself after making the decision.  I’ve been thinking about why my choice causes me no little amount of stress.  One reason is that I have measured my life by the number of books I own. Books are a part of my identity.  I’m a bibliophile, and I’ve always felt that my collection will say something about me to anyone who peruses it.  Letting go of even a small part of my collection feels like I’m letting go of a part of myself.  Indeed, I may feel this way because it’s actually true.  Another reason I have chosen to begin by reducing my book collection is one of practicality–there is likely a move and a career change on the horizon, and it’s doubtful that my new career will necessitate that I own a large collection of books because I’m teaching them. Knowing the reasons that I’m doing this and reminding myself why I’m doing this won’t make selecting what books to get rid of and then actually parting with them any easier.  Ultimately, though, I think that taking this step is the right thing for me right now.

I have also thought about one change I could make and sustain that would move me toward the minimalist lifestyle I want.  While getting rid of my books is about reducing what I own, this change is about buying less and consuming less.  Specifically, my goal is to buy one item, not multiples of the same item, whenever possible.  I am the only person in my household, and yet when I buy groceries, I frequently buy more than one of something so that I’ll have it on hand and won’t have to buy it the next time, such as bottles of olive oil and vegetable stock.  Going forward, I’m going to only buy one item because in most cases, that one item is sufficient for whatever meal I’m going to make during the week.  I don’t have to stockpile.  The grocery store is five minutes away, and I doubt there’s going to be a run on olive oil anytime in the near future.

Those are my two goals to help me get started.  Once I have mastered one, I’ll add a new one.  For me, it’s all about making sustainable, meaningful changes so that I can become the person I want to be.  Someday I’ll be able to say I’m a minimalist, and reflect on how that changed my life.  Stay tuned for updates on my progress.

wednesday ROW80 check-in ~ #4

It’s been a weird week.  About this time last week, I looked at the calendar–really looked at it–and realized that fall semester begins in less than five weeks.  That realization made me turn my thoughts toward work I get paid for and away from writing, the work I currently do for sheer pleasure.  Which means I haven’t been so good at meeting my goals this last week.  Here’s my goals update:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  This goal is all about writing something–anything–daily so that writing is a habit and a part of my daily life.  I haven’t done so well this last week.  I didn’t write anything at all on Thursday, Friday, Monday or Tuesday.  I didn’t write on Saturday, either, but Saturdays are my one day off from writing.  I did, however, manage to meet my goal on Sunday and today.  More on this below.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  In the last week, I met most of this goal, but not all of it (my students would be asking for partial credit at this point).  I missed my Sunday check-in post.  However, I did manage to pull together a post for last Thursday and I also posted my weekly book review.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  There were several days when I didn’t write, but the days when I did write I made some progress toward this goal.  Since the beginning of Round 3, I have added 21,411 words to my WIP.  Still no title, though.

Looking back on the last week, I can see that one of the reasons why I didn’t write was because my mind has just been elsewhere.  I’ve recently decided to get rid of 25% of my book collection (I’m going to talk about this in greater detail in tomorrow’s scheduled blog post) and I’ve also been doing research into minimalist lifestyles and how to possess less stuff.  Work has also been on my mind, and in the last couple of days I’ve been going to the office and getting some work tasks done to prepare for fall semester.  I had some connectivity issues with my ISP that also were a distraction.  In a nutshell, it’s been a weird week that’s included a lot of self-reflection and examination of my life.  This in turn has led to some small amount of enlightenment in that I’m realizing that I have learned a lot about myself this summer, and now I’m trying to make some changes based upon what I’ve learned.  So my mind has been more focused on that than it has been on writing.

But as I said, when I have managed to write, I’ve made good progress.  On Sunday, after three days off from my WIP, I wrote just under 3,500 words.  Today, with the help and support of Lauren Garafalo and everyone at #teamsprinty on Twitter, I wrote 1,006 words in just an hour and almost at the end of a chapter that’s been hard to get down on paper.  I feel like I’m finally back on track now.  This is all good because it tells me that I’m not bored with my project, I just haven’t been mentally present enough to concentrate on it.

The other good thing that’s happened is that Dahnya Och gave me a great tip on how to come up with ideas for future blog posts.  This has resulted in four or five ideas for future Thursday blog posts that I’m actually excited about and looking forward to writing because they all focus upon prodding me to figure out more exactly the life that I want and take make some sustainable changes on how to get there.

So yeah, it’s been a weird week, but that’s not necessarily all bad.  Hope everyone else is having a good week.  Thanks for the support and dropping by my blog!

summer cleaning

Have you ever tried to clean out your life?  What do you keep? What do you leave behind? How do you decide what to hold onto and what to let go of?

Just before I sat down to write this post, I was shredding some old documents.  One of my tasks this summer has been to finally, FINALLY, go through the last remaining piles of paper I have had lying around since my move last summer.  You know how it is when you’re packing and moving—some stuff you just don’t have time to go through and so you throw it in a box, and you tell yourself that you’ll deal with it when you get to your new place.  It’s taken me a year, but I have at last gotten around to completing this task.  While shredding and sorting this morning, it occurred to me that what the shredding and the sorting of these piles of paper really represent is my continuing attempt to clean out my life.

Cleaning out your life.  What does that even mean?  I think the first time I put this process into words that held any meaning for me was at the start of my final year in graduate school.  I was teaching, writing my dissertation, searching for jobs, and looking ahead to the end of the school year when I would likely have to pack up my life and move it elsewhere.  I wanted to get a head start on that process, but it occurred to me that it wasn’t just physical things like papers, books, old clothes, broken shoes, and all the other ephemera and stuff that we accumulate in this business of life that I needed to sort through and choose what to keep and what to give away.  I also had intangible things cluttering my life—doubts, insecurities, fears, anxieties.  I had also gained a lot of weight over the course of my doctoral program and I wanted to take steps to lose those pounds.  Perhaps even more detrimental, I realized that I had a couple of toxic relationships in my life that I needed to let go of and put behind me.  It took some time, but I slowly became aware of a desire to clean out my life—to get rid of everything that was keeping me from being the person that I wanted to be, even if who I wanted to be wasn’t exactly clear to me.  What I did know was that who I was at that time in my life was not the person I wanted to be.

That light bulb moment was almost two years ago, and since then I have worked steadily to cleanse my life of so many material and immaterial things that I no longer want, need, or aren’t spiritually, emotionally, or physically good for me.  These lingering piles of paper remind me that there is still progress to be made and work to be done because the truth is that two years later, I am still not the person I want to be.  Writing this post has resulted in an important revelation:  I’m still a work-in-progress, and I’m still evolving into the person that I want to be.  This is okay, but this revelation can’t be a stopping point.  I have to keep changing and evolving and striving.

A few years ago, someone posed the following question to me:  what is the theme song for your life?  My response was fairly immediate: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2.  In the years that have passed, my theme song hasn’t changed, and admitting that is somewhat disheartening.  It’s that understanding that has inspired me to try to make sense of various things going on in my life.  Enter these Thursday contemplations.   The lesson and take-away from today’s contemplations: that change—lasting change—is hard, sometimes painful, but necessary.  Also, I need to really accept the fact that it’s time to make some difficult decisions. The wait-and-see approach I have adopted in the last couple of years is no longer viable.  If I want the theme song for my life to change, I need to make it change.

wednesday ROW80 check-in ~ #3

My how time has flown since Sunday! My check-in is just going to make it in on time, and that just says so much about the power of a deadline doesn’t it?  Anyway, here’s how the last few days have gone for me in terms of my goals:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  I’ve met this goal each day since my last check-in.  I actually didn’t think I was going to get anything written yesterday but then last night, all of a sudden, I wanted to write, and it was a great writing session.  All is well here.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  So far so good in that I haven’t yet missed a blog post.  The bad news is that I have a blog post due tomorrow and I have no idea what I’m going to write about (does this happen to anyone else?).  The good news is that I have already written the book review due on Monday.  This is the most challenging of my goals.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP. I want to have a full draft of my current WIP by the end of Round 3 of ROW80.  I feel like I’m on track, and the good thing is that I am getting words down now while I have loads of time to write and I think this will help me later in the round when school begins and I have infinitely less time to write.  Since the beginning of Round 3, I have added nearly 17,000 words to my WIP.

I continue to be amazed at how much more engaged I am in this WIP than I was with my CampNaNoWriMo novel.  A part of me wants to say that this is because I don’t have the pressure of writing at least 50,000 words in 30 days, so I can take more time.  But, when I look at my daily progress, I can see that I am still writing at a NaNo pace, even though I’m not intending to do that and even though I’m trying not to write at that pace.  I keep asking myself why it is that I seem to like this WIP more than the other (and I am trying to come up with a title for this WIP but it insists on remaining elusive and playing hard to get).  Not that it matters, I suppose, but it’s still a point of interest to me. I like knowing why I do the things that I do.  My current characters are just more…alive in my imagination and I just want to tell their story more than the others.  I think this is why I have been able to meet my daily writing goal almost each day of the challenge thus far.  I’m just a lot more into this WIP.  It’s more fun.  Which is a bonus since right now, writing is my best way of entertaining myself.

The other thing I have noticed about my writing since the beginning of Round 3 is that I have been much better about plotting out the next chapter, so that I have a road map for where the chapter is going to go, what scenes will make up the chapter, how the plot needs to advance and what needs to be revealed over the course of the chapter.  I started doing this during CampNaNo and I have made a conscious effort to continue doing it now and do it a bit better while working on this WIP.  I have never been an outliner, but the rough outlines that I make for the coming chapter have helped me immensely.  This is true even when I diverge somewhat (or even significantly) from the outline.  I would say that my current WIP is a suspenseful romance, so I find that plotting ahead at least one chapter helps me work out the suspense aspect more clearly in my head.

I suppose this is all to say that these check-ins are helping to illuminate some of my tendencies as a writer that I wasn’t necessarily aware of before or hadn’t thought about. Great! I’m all about self-reflection.

Hope everyone’s writing is coming along.  Good luck to everyone who is working on FastDraft right now.  I have been following your tweets and stand in awe and amazement at your progress and daily successes.  Have a good week and thanks for dropping by my blog!