Home Library Challenge

How many times have you looked at the books on your shelf and thought, I should really stop buying books until I read the ones I have? If you’re like me, you think this all the time. I’ve expanded it to include, “I should really stop borrowing stacks of books from the library until I read the ones I have,” because I keep those library scanners going.

We’ve got a fairly largeish built-in bookcase (thanks Dad), and I’ve limited the books to fiction, other than the highest shelf and the lowest shelf (assorted classics in matchy-match binding on top; cookbooks (shudder) and gardening and some college literature anthologies on the bottom). So, my challenge:


Do I need a timeline? It’s a big bookcase. But I have read a lot of them…at least half, I think. Well, let’s just see how far I can get by the end of the year, shall we?

I’m not going to finish each one, because frankly, there’s quite a bit of Kerouac. Each book will get a chance, though, of fifty pages (and that’s being darn generous, I think, because nowadays I’ll happily set a book down if it doesn’t hook me in the first five).

I’m also not going to re-read books which I have already read.

I’m also not reading the same books twice just because we have two different copies and/or editions (hello Bloomsbury Harry Potters, nestled next to their Scholastic kin!).

Some parenting and other nonfiction books have been lazily added to the bookcase. These do not count toward the challenge. They are only there because I don’t feel like carting them down to the basement (to the nonfiction bookcase) while holding a heavy baby in one arm. That sounds a bit dangerous.

YES, to answer your incredulous question, I HAVE SEPARATED MY READING MATERIAL BY GENRE. It comes from working in a bookstore. Or maybe it comes from being me.

les livres!

The 30 Day Shred’s Three Circles of Hell

As the mother of a two-and-a-half year old, I’ve got skills the So-Secret-Nobody’s-Heard-of-It Agency wishes they knew about. In fact, the So-Secret-Nobody’s-Heard-of-It Agency tried to recruit me. However, my skills are better put to use managing the small hostile force in my own home.

My skill set, however, does not include running faster than a toddler, or lifting more than 35 pounds over short distances when cajoling and bribes fail to get my daughter to move from Point A to Point B. My skill set is more along the lines of squatting down to play tea party, slowly jogging the two blocks to school (when Z feels like it), and half-heartedly chasing her around the playground a couple of times a week.

So I want to get buff. While there is no hope of fitting into my jeans from high school, I’d like to feel comfortable in my body.

And in Jillian Michaels’s 30-Day Shred, I am anything but comfortable in my body. My body, I discover, continues to jump even after my legs have stopped. “Yo, gut,” I say. “The jumping jacks are over.”

Despite this discomfort, every morning I join Jillian and her two minions (her “best girls,” she calls them. Like, are they really her best friends?). I watch Natalie doing the advanced version of the workout, smiling through her gritted teeth, and Anita on the beginner’s track, coolly appraising me with her don’t-you-wish-you-had-em abs. And then there’s Jillian. She acts all goofy in the beginning, like, “Hey, modest me, I’m just a dorky girl next door.” And then she starts bossing you around: “Don’t you dare turn off this DVD. If 400 pound people can do jumping jacks, then so can you!” and all sorts of verbal abuse she probably thinks is encouragement.

Amazingly, though, after a week I could get through Workout 1 without falling down on the floor. Thus encouraged, I decided to enter the second circle of hell, also known as Workout 2.

When I started workout 2, Z finally noticed what I was doing. “You’re doing the same things they’re doing,” she said. I don’t think she gets it, why I’m growling at the television while heaving my body around the living room and gasping like a scandalized southern belle. To her, this exercise thing is a strange phenomenon. She joins in occasionally, holding two stuffed animals for her “weights” and doing a few jumping jacks. Then she gets bored and sets up a tea party or picks up a book.

Natalie and Anita might be stuck in the second circle with me for awhile, repeating the same exercises over and over again, smiling their smiles, holding back their eye rolls every time Jillian says something about how she isn’t very flexible. 30 days? Yeah, right. 60 days probably won’t be enough for me to get past that cursed chair squat and V raise. I’m going to stick with it, though, for all those times my daughter does want to run to school, for the sheer joy of moving her body.

Really, though, plank pose is overrated.

Internet Blackout 2011, Part Dos

…a continuation of Wednesday’s post, plus a quick reflection.

diary + manuscript = obsession

Day 5. Only two pages of obsessing about writing, and my bad mood: But if I do feel like crap because of issues in my writing, does that make me a bad person? Can I just blame the stinkin’ wind & call it not-my-fault?

Day 6. I’ve decided my email limitation challenge thingie is sort of stupid. It’s extremely inconvenient when it comes to planning outings & events.

+ 10.5 pages of manuscript-obsession-drama.

To a critique partner & friend I wrote, “This is dumber than the No-Chocolate Challenge of 1999!” (Yes, my friend A & I both did this. It wasn’t really dumb, just kind of annoying once I realized I could get through the year without chocolate.)

Day 7. I have some hours to myself! Yay! I keep getting stuck, though [again, sigh, I am writing about writing TBC]. Right now is when my email & blog ban really helps – otherwise I’d be emailing & blogging right now.


Earth's Crammed...with obsessing over my manuscript.

Why are you doing this?! people wanted to know. I couldn’t really tell them. Before the challenge began, I hypothesized and dreamed that it would magically make me prettier, make me happier, and make me lose me ten pounds.

None of the above. Well, maybe I was a little prettier. My eyes weren’t as red from staring at a glowing screen for so many hours each day. And maybe I was even a little happier, as I was spending more time with friends and family, and got oodles of work done on my manuscript. But the weight loss? No way. Because with some of my newly-freed-up free time, I baked. We eat what we bake, in this house.

Overall, limiting email to an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday freed up some time. Not writing blog posts freed up even more time. I got tons of work (and obsessing) done for TBC and felt really good about that. The other side of the story is that not checking email on certain days was kind of pointless, especially with my being so strict about it. I should have broken my email ban to confirm my meeting with the preschool director, for example.

Will I change anything as a result of this experiment? I’m thinking rather than give myself a LAW about when I can and can’t work online, I could try to limit my visits to a couple of times a day during the week. That way I can take care of basic planning with friends and colleagues, and on weekends I’ll still  get that family time I so enjoyed. And in the future when I really need those extra hours for writing, I can always take a little vacation from my blog.

ETA: Just read a great blog post featured on Freshly Pressed about another writer reflecting on technology’s impact on her writing time management.

Internet Blackout 2011, Part 1

What did I learn from severely limiting my time online? I’m still unsure. Perhaps on Friday, when I finish this post, I’ll have some answers for myself. I mean, really, I haven’t had much time to reflect, what with all the email checking I’ve been doing lately.

Here are some notes from my diary (diary quotes in purple, my witty and amazing comments the usual gray/black):

Day 1. As soon as I fired up my laptop, the mouse hovered over the Firefox icon, but with a great push of willpower I moved it over to the Microsoft Word icon. So proud of myself.

Right now I’m thinking, yes, I can totally do this. I’m a little worried that there could be urgent emails waiting in my inbox, but really, I’m not the president. I’m not in charge of anything. So I’m a little itchy-twitchy about not getting to check, but at least I’m rational about it (so far).

Besides: I used Z’s entire two-hour nap to work on TBC (The Black City…the title of my, ahem, manuscript). Got the ward thing all figured out, made some little edits. It feels good. And today felt more like a family day. We didn’t do anything special, since Z has a cold, but we hung out all together on the couch after her nap, instead of me rushing off to check email.

Email. Email & my website – those are the two time-sucking culprits. Facebook can take time, but I don’t honestly enjoy it, especially not posting about myself – isn’t that what my blog is for? It’s fun to check up on other people, but I’m usually not on for longer than twenty minutes, & only every couple of days. My Twitter visits are much shorter. If I’m honest I’ll admit that Twitter’s a little intimidating. Intwitteridating?

Anyway, loved my day offline. But I’ve already got a list of email priorities, so I don’t waste time once I finally sign on.

Day 2. Printed out manuscript. Nothing in my diary about internet black-out because I was too busy making manic predictions of how this is the novel that will hit it big. (I am embarrassed to admit this here, which is why you get only summary.)

Day 3. A dream I had – I accidentally checked my email, breaking my hiatus. I was really upset about it in the dream. Then in real life, I had to email a note to P about the potluck, asking her what to bring! I didn’t have her phone number! Husband said it was okay. In my defense, I started drafting a message on paper and was going to make him sign into my email and type it up.

Signing in and seeing all those emails waiting for me (yes, most of them Freecycle) – and then not clicking on them! Difficult. There were two that looked especially interesting. Damn.

Day 4. Here I gripe about the wind (I REALLY HATE THE WIND). I wrote a random poem:

Very few things
disgust me more
than a stuffed animal fallen
on our bathroom floor.

MOVE OVER, W. S. MERWIN. I also complain about how sucky my manuscript is. Honestly, my feelings about it change constantly. What’s the Hamlet quote? I think it goes, “I am but in love with my manuscript north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a piece of crap when I see one.”

I checked email yesterday! Yes! I was supposed to do only one session – at least, that had been my aim, but with the schmooze at P’s & uploading files for the Writer’s Group, I needed both a morning & an afternoon session. Each was about 20 minutes.

It felt pretty good. Lots of support from people emailing me to tell me how they liked that I’m not checking email (and they noted this irony). Some business stuff. Kinda liberating to jot off quick responses & not dilly-dally while writing them.

The diary entry goes on for NINE pages, nearly all of it obsessing about TBC. The lack of emailing and blogging redirects me to the paper diary, I suppose. Also, I talked with another internet-addicted friend on the phone and warned her she might have to check my email for me if things got desperate.

On Friday I’ll post the rest of the wrap-up.