I used to have a clean house. I did certain chores once a week, some of them on specific days, and the house was neat most of the time. In fact, when our super-shedding German Shepherd was still alive, a young family came to stay with us. The mother put her little girl on the floor and let her crawl around without any qualms. “Your house is so clean,” she said, letting me know that she wouldn’t put her baby on just any floor.

I look around and wonder what the heck happened. All my routines are gone. I’ve even forgotten what they were. I want my clean house back, but I get grumpy whenever I think about doing the work involved. I’m healthier now than I was back then. It should actually be easier to keep up. What’s gone wrong?

When something behavioral breaks, I try to remember what worked in the past. What worked before will probably work again. One thing I used to do was follow the FlyLady’s advice: Use baby steps to build routines. Do a little at a time. Don’t expect to have everything clean again overnight.

All good advice that I should follow. But I think there’s still something missing. Rewards.

When a friend asked for ideas for non-food rewards, I could relate. I no longer treat myself with recreational sugar and other “fun” foods because they make me sick. Commenting on her post reminded me of the many different ways I can reward myself without using food.

For example, I bought myself a beautiful book of fairy tales (The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar) and a Kindle Paperwhite to celebrate finishing the draft of my novel about Rapunzel. A project that took me 3 1/2 years to complete deserves a big pat on the back, so I spent some money on myself.

Obviously, I can’t go this big with my rewards for everything, or we would go broke. However, I’ve remembered something much cheaper that used to work.

They STILL make me smile!

They STILL make me smile!

When I was really ill and struggling to get anything done, I rewarded myself for the smallest accomplishments by putting stickers on my calendar. If I took the dog for a walk, I put a little dog sticker on that day’s date. Stars and flowers were for house-cleaning tasks. I also rewarded myself for time spent on sewing and knitting with a hand-print sticker to make sure I balanced work and play.

It sounds silly, but it worked like a charm. Tasks I normally avoided or complained about got done promptly, and putting the sticker on the calendar made me smile. I would eagerly look for more things to do, ways to get more stickers on my calendar. When I was having a bad day, I could look at the calendar and see how many times I had succeeded through the week. It helped me be more gentle with myself and to accept that not every day was going to be as productive as I would like.

Best of all, these tiny little non-food treats did wonders for my attitude. My calendar covered with stickers inspired me to do more.

Which brings me back to the house. Having it clean is a reward, to be sure. I adore a clean house. But I need a little extra incentive, and since I can’t promise myself an ice cream sundae when I’m done, I think it’s time to get out my stickers.

diet tombstone

Like most women in America, I have a history of hating my body. As soon as I hit puberty, the extra pounds showed up as lumpy thighs and a soft belly. I wanted to hide. As a result, I spent a lot of my teens and twenties dieting. I’d read up on the latest diet, follow it as strictly as possible, and then live or die by the number on the scale, trying to lose the ten or fifteen pounds that was making me feel like a blob.

I would deny myself my favorite foods. I was hungry all the time. I would count every calorie, write down every bite I ate. Every food decision I made had calculations behind it. How many calories? How much fat? Is there something else I can have so I can lose weight more quickly? Can I just skip this meal all together without collapsing?

I was not a happy person.

Eventually, I would reach my goal weight and I would be satisfied for a time, admiring myself in the mirror and wearing “thin” clothes. But the thing that made me happiest was that I could eat again and stop feeling hungry all the time. My thin body never lasted very long.

In my thirties, my ability to diet went away. I could no longer follow a diet of any kind. I would decide I needed to lose weight and start my diet on Monday morning. By noon, the diet was out the window and I was back to eating whatever I wanted. Eventually I gave up trying.

Forty was approaching. One day I realized the food I was eating was making me ill and moody as well as fat. It was a frightening moment. I knew I couldn’t change my eating in order to lose weight. But it wasn’t just being overweight that was upsetting me. I was exhausted all the time and yet I couldn’t sleep. I had migraines and my stomach hurt constantly. Life felt hard and simple tasks required Herculean efforts.

I needed to change what I ate because I couldn’t keep living like I was. But I couldn’t diet the way I had in the past.

I decided to focus on eating for health instead of eating to reach a specific weight. My choices would be based on fueling my body and changing my unhealthy habits. Most important of all, I promised myself I would not starve myself. I would feed my body so that I did not suffer extreme hunger like I had when I dieted.

The first thing I did was stop eating between meals. It was the only thing I changed, but it proved hard enough. I was eating a lot throughout the day and didn’t even realize it. Changing that habit took a while, because it was so automatic. I’d already have a snack in my mouth before I realized I wasn’t supposed to be eating it.

I started losing weight immediately. It seemed like magic because I didn’t connect it with what I was doing. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, so I felt like I didn’t deserve any credit for it. Instead, I took the weight loss as a sign that I was making good changes and should keep going.

As soon as snacking was no longer a habit, I was ready to change something else. I stuck with baby steps, little changes I knew I could handle, and worked on them until they were routine. Once I was comfortable with what I was doing, I was ready to make another change.

I slowly cut out the things I knew were bad for me — the processed food, the soda (diet and regular), the candy, the baked goods. I saw a nutritionist and started eating fewer carbohydrates and more protein. I paid attention to how I felt when I ate my meals, always on the look out for things that could be improved.

A year after I started, I was at a healthy body weight. I had lost 30 pounds without trying. It was the not-trying that worked for me. Focusing on my health instead of my weight gave me the weight loss I had fought for over the years, without the fight or the hunger.

Changing what and when I ate wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. My health improved and I felt better. I got my life back. Losing weight was an unexpected bonus, my message from the universe that I was making good choices.

I still struggle to love my body, but taking good care of it has been a rewarding first step.

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. —Ray Bradbury

I saw the end coming. I knew the scenes that needed to be written, how long they needed to be, and how long it would take me to write that many words. I knew this first draft of my novel about Rapunzel would be done before August, and I was right. I finished yesterday, after three and a half years of writing, research, and interruptions.

My project notebooks, my research cards, and my 436-page first draft. Whew!

My project notebooks, my research cards, and my 436-page first draft. Whew!

Three and a half years. I can’t believe that I’ve worked on a writing project this long. The most amazing thing? It’s not really done. The draft is my road map, to help me discover the story I want to tell. After it rests for a few months, it will be time to revise it, keeping and adding only the things that tell the story I decide is The Story.

In the meantime, I’m terrified. Three and a half years is 42 months. I’ve been working on Rapunzel forever and I don’t know what’s next. I’ve got plenty of projects to choose from, including my more promising NaNoWriMo novels and stories I haven’t written yet.

Finishing this draft, which has been my writing goal for so long, has me full of conflicting ideas and emotions.

Part of me wants to party endlessly. I’ve earned a break. Look at how long I’ve been working on this! I should get a month to goof off, at least. (That it’s summer and I always feel like doing nothing for months doesn’t help any.) I should let myself play with other things, like sewing or drawing or painting. Or sleeping.

Part of me knows I’m not done just yet. Even though I intend to let the draft rest for at least three months before I look at it again, I have lots of little chores to do right now. I need to update my plot summary, make a list of research questions I still need to answer, and write down the ideas I have about where I want to go with this. Taking the time to do these things while I’m still thinking about them will save me time later, when I’m ready to pick this project up again.

Part of me fears that I will waste time if I don’t start in on a new project at once. At the same time, I’m terrified of picking the next project. What if I make a bad decision? Having so many choices means I have to put one of the projects ahead of the others. Should I pick up the book that I got stuck on now that I have ideas of how to fix it or will I just get stuck again? Which of the three books from my Twelve Kingdoms series should I finish first? I’m paralyzed by the thought I’ll make a big mistake about what’s next and put time and energy into something I can’t finish.

Mostly, I know that I am in trouble here because I have just crossed a finish line. I recently learned that finish line goals can keep us from developing habits. This is why it is imperative that I have a plan that keeps me writing. I haven’t been writing consistently for all this time; I’ve had to take breaks for various reasons, from vacations or illnesses to needing to focus on research for a while. But I need to pick up another project and get to work.

So I’m happy, terrified, paralyzed, annoyed, tired, and wrestling with doubt. I know my fear of making a mistake about what to work on next is going to be overpowered by my fear that I will stop writing altogether, even though that fear isn’t realistic.

I love writing. I don’t need to be afraid that I will quit. I know from experience I can’t. I have to stay drunk on writing, or I will go crazy.

I’ve confessed I am a reluctant gardener, with a very laid-back approach to everything to do with the yard. Despite the fact that “negligent” is the best description of me as a gardener, I actually have promised myself I will do better this year. (Trust me, I am even more surprised than you are.)

My gardening resolutions:

  1. I will keep up with the weeding.
  2. We will eat more of the strawberries than the birds do.
  3. I will harvest the various fruits our many shrubs produce, instead of just leaving them on the plants.
  4. I will pick the zucchini and summer squash when they are small, tender, and tasty. No more U-boat zucchini!

I wish I could say I’m totally living up to my plans, but my success has been rather limited.

I weed whenever I have a spare moment, but spare time is a complete myth — all the time is taken and there isn’t any to spare, so really I weed maybe once a week. It doesn’t matter how often I do it, it’s crazy to think I can keep up. It’s one of those chores that’s never done. Thanks to all the rain we’ve been having, I can hear the weeds popping out of the ground behind me even as I bend over to pull the one I’ve just found.

Our strawberry plants didn’t grow any strawberries to speak of this year, which is a puzzle, because they are well-established and seem like they should be making fruit. Sadly, the robins only needed to eat one berry to beat our intake.

The good news is that I am doing better with the other berries: I picked red currants, gooseberries, and raspberries over the weekend. The bad news is that I’ve remembered why I didn’t pick them in the past. I don’t know what to do with them! We will eat them fresh of course, but after that, I’m at a bit of a loss. Thanks to my dietary restrictions, I can’t bake with them, add them to ice cream, or put them on cereal. I will probably try adding them to everything I make for a while and see what happens.

These currants are so pretty I want to make jewelry out of them.

These currants are so pretty I want to make jewelry out of them.

Gooseberries, in case you don't know what they look like.

Gooseberries, in case you don’t know what they look like.

The most embarrassing resolution of all is the one about the zucchini. I have been checking the plants constantly, which means whenever I think of it. (Fortunately, this is more often than when I have a spare moment.) For a week, there were three finger-like squash on the plant and I swear they did not change size a bit. Every time I went into the yard thinking, “I’ll need to pick them today”, I was wrong. I was waiting for them to get just a little bigger, but they were the same tiny size. Until the morning when I found two cudgels and a baseball bat where the baby zucchini had been growing.

My super-sized sneaky zucchini

My super-sized sneaky zucchini

How does the zucchini do that? I’m thinking cloaking technology, probably learned from the Romulans*. When the squash is still small, the plant turns on its cloaking device and hides the zuke until it’s big enough to feed a family of twelve. Then the cloaking device is turned off and the poor gardener (that’s me) discovers this giant squash that wasn’t even there the day before.

This makes much more sense to me than the alternative, that I just didn’t see that honking big zucchini while it was growing.

What have I learned?

  1. Resolutions are dicey things. I’m not in control over most of the stuff that goes on in my garden (especially the zucchini), so I need to focus on the process and not worry too much about the results. Enjoy the planting, pruning and weeding. Enjoy the harvesting, if there’s something to harvest. Try not to worry so much about who is going to get to eat the fruit.
  2. Gardening doesn’t stop in the yard. When the stuff comes in the house, there is more work to do. Try to enjoy that part as well (without worrying so much about getting everything eaten before it goes bad).
  3. The fact that the Technologically Advanced Zucchini theory is the best explanation I can come up with for the Sudden Appearance of the Baseball Bat Squash says something about me. I don’t know what exactly. Probably something disturbing and odd. I will ponder this when I have a spare moment.

*Maybe it’s unfair of me to assume the zucchini are evil enough to be in league with Romulans, but how can I feel otherwise? They are just so sneaky!

I’ve been spending so much time on writing and the yard this summer that not much is getting made these days. Fortunately, we had a rainy day on the weekend and I got to sew. I’d been longing to sit quietly and make something with my hands. I picked a project from Omiyage: Handmade Gifts from Fabric in the Japanese Tradition by Kumiko Sudo, got out needle and thread, and stitched the entire thing by hand.


What a restful way to spend a few hours, making little stitches to put together pieces of fabric. Listening to the gentle patter of rain and feeling the cool, damp air on my face were part of the treat. Summer in Colorado is unusually wet this year, but most of the water has come as violent thunderstorms. The words “gentle” and “rain” rarely go together.

I was able to get this bag together in a single day. The pattern is called “Avalanche Lily”. There was a mistake in the pattern, so I had to re-draft one of the pieces to get it to fit properly, but it was worth the effort.

Avalanche Lily bag, side view.

Avalanche Lily bag, side view.

You can see the lily in the bag's name if you look down from the top.

You can see the lily in the bag’s name if you look down from the top.

The author recommends using this bag to store a string of pearls. I don’t own any pearls, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. But I look at it and feel calm and satisfied, reminded of the gift of a quiet rainy sewing day in the middle of July.



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