Archive of ‘Ultimate Blog Challenge’ category

The Write Space

When Jenna left for college, I decided to use her room as my office. Knowing she would be back for winter and spring breaks and summertime, I only took over her desk.

 

Still, her room is a prime piece of real estate in our house. And it’s been a long time since I had a quiet place all to myself. Using her room also had the added benefit of giving me a reason to go in there on a regular basis. When I spent time in her room, I felt her presence in our home while she was away at school. I didn’t like how dark and clean it was all the time. So, repurposing her room into my indoor “she shed” made sense to me.

It didn’t take long to set it up. I found a new home for her bat mitzvah centerpiece from six years ago and cleared out a drawer of her miscellany. I cleaned out my overflowing bookshelves of every writing book I own and relocated them to her shelf. Underneath her camp photos and school track ribbons, I set up my laptop, brought in my favorite pens and blank journals and got to work.

Every night, I closed her bedroom door, put on my music and let the waves of creativity drown me. And when I was cursed with writer’s block, I’d lie down on her queen-size bed and read a book or take a nap. It was the perfect office space for me.

And then the pandemic hit us all. School closed for the semester, and I had to relinquish my coveted writing space back to her. Now, my current “office” is wherever I put my laptop. My choices are sitting on my own bed with a blue Yogibo pillow chair propped up for my back or sitting on a barstool at my kitchen counter. Neither one of these spaces is ideal. There is no place to put my writing books and prompt decks. I can’t leave out my favorite pens because they will most definitely disappear. And yes, I admit that I’m a bit of a snob about what pens I use for writing. I just can’t write from my heart with a cheap promo pen from Weight Watchers in my hand.

This may sound completely crazy to many of you who read this, but I know my fellow bloggers will understand.

E.B. White once said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

He’s probably right. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter where I write. But before the pandemic, I was etching out a solid writing routine. And now, I miss being able to go to a dedicated space where my only focus is putting words on the page. The kitchen is a high traffic area and not a great place for one to concentrate.

Once we are free from quarantine, I’m sure I’ll find a nice neighborhood coffee shop to support where I can sit and create something special. And soon enough, both my kids will leave the nest, and I’ll have my choice of writing desks.

I’m not in any rush, but having that writing space was nice for a while.

 

 

 

Quarantine Food Challenge

The one thing I’ve learned about social distancing is that it is difficult to stay six feet away from the refrigerator. And I don’t know about you, but I haven’t figured out the algorithm yet for how much food to buy that last for two weeks without going bad. I’ve never been a stellar math student.

All I know is when we go food shopping, I carry a big list. And, for the amount of money we spend on groceries, one would think we’d have enough fruit, veggies, meat, dairy, and snacks to keep everyone happy.

But then, we run into a problem. It is only day five or six, and we have already run out of something. Something I desperately need in order to cook dinner. Or something one of the kids can’t live without. Last week, our daughter had an avocado emergency. That girl loves her avocado toast! I have gone without a banana in the morning for three days straight. Believe me, it is a sacrifice I have been willing to make to stay home and save lives.

Somehow, we’ve managed to survive and can wait it out until the main staples disappear – milk, bread, coffee, and chocolate chip cookies.

This is no one’s fault. It is a new normal, and our family needs to adjust. There are four people living here eating three meals a day at home all week long. So, you do the math.

Seriously, can you do the math? Because I can’t.

Even when we order out once a week. we still manage to deplete our inventory rapidly. Unless you are looking for canned green beans because we have about a month’s supply of that in stock.

So, what are your tricks to buying enough food for the week? Is it better meal planning? Is it closing down the kitchen at 8 pm every night? I’d love to figure this out.

 

A Rose and A Thorn

Until the pandemic hit us, it was quite the challenge to get our family of four to sit down together for dinner every night. Our schedules were never in sync. After-school activities typically end around 6:30-7:30 pm. Sometimes, even later. Most nights, we would fend for ourselves and then head off to do homework, answer e-mails and whatnot.

As a parent, I always felt a twinge of guilt about this. Lots of parenting articles point to regular family dinners as the answer to raising well-rounded children who succeed academically, possess high self-esteem and are at a lower risk of alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders and teen pregnancy.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a mother trying to make dinner.

But I tried my best, and I’m proud to say that even without our crazy schedules my kids are kind, responsible, intelligent and well-rounded. They pretty much rock.

When we do eat as a family, our tradition is to go around the table and ask everyone to give a rose and a thorn. The rose represents something good that happened that day or something that made them happy. The thorn is for anything that didn’t go well or a challenge they were facing at school or with their friends. And even when we couldn’t all sit down together to eat; I’d still ask them to give a rose and a thorn on the way to swim practice or dance class.

Now that we are under quarantine, I am making up for lost time. I’m cooking up a storm every day for family dinners and the roses and thorns are flying.

Rose – “I don’t have the coronavirus”

Thorn – “I hate online learning.”

Rose – “I get to hang out with my dog all day.”

Thorn – “I can’t hang out with my friends.”

Rose – “Thank goodness for FaceTime.”

Thorn – “May is a long time away.”

While there are a lot of thorns to talk about these days, the roses are what keep me going. I have a full bouquet when I wake up every morning and I am incredibly grateful.

Raising PD Awareness for a Cure

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. It’s difficult to shed a light on a disease that resembles all the typical signs of aging like walking slow, having tremors or falling. But, Parkinson’s Disease, or PD, is so much more. It is a progressive neurological disease that has no cure. It’s a movement disorder that occurs when the brain cells that make dopamine – a chemical that controls movement – stops working. In addition to movement, people with Parkinson’s can also experience other physical and psychological issues.

More than 50,000 people are diagnosed with PD every year ane each person’s experience is unique. Some people experience minor symptoms that can remain that way for a long time, while others deal with more advanced problems. There are medications to ease the symptoms and improve quality, but again it’s not a cure.

How do I know so much about this? I have two special people in my life diagnosed with PD. I often think of my grandmom, Elsie, who swam every day at the pool in West Palm Beach, played pinochle and gin rummy with my grandfather and doted on her grandchildren while enjoying her coffee and Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. After her diagnosis, it was jarring to watch this once vibrant woman slowly and strategically maneuver her walker around her living room. Over the years, her voice became much softer, she had stiffness in her limbs, and her ability to attend family celebrations was challenging to say the least. She fought PD for a long time and experienced other complications which led to her passing.

Today, I watch my dad fight PD. For as long as I can remember, my dad has always been on the move and never one to sit still for long. As a middle school teacher, he used to sprint up and down the stairs as fast as his students—faster if he was running late. He bowled frequently, rode his bicycle and enjoyed the outdoors. At parties, he and my mom could typically be found on the dance floor. To this day, they can still cut a rug which is a joy to watch and is, coincidentally, a highly recommended form of exercise for PD patients.

His PD symptoms are completely different from my grandmother. His PD presents itself as tremors in his hands, shuffling his feet as he walks and sometimes losing balance and falling—which has happened on one too many occasions. In public places, he uses a cane as a safety net, but he doesn’t let it stop him from living life to the fullest. Recently, he and my mom went on the trip of a lifetime to Israel. They have a national parks tour scheduled for later this year.

I’ve come to recognize PD in celebrities before they announce their diagnosis to the public. I once heard former Philadelphia mayor, Ed Rendell, speak at our synagogue, and I knew what he was facing by the way he walked to the podium and his mannerisms. I hate being right about these things.

As the daughter and granddaughter of two people affected by this disease, I am doing my due diligence so that everyone can continue to make their dreams come true despite their illness. I donate to the Michael J. Fox Foundation regularly. I’m considering joining a research study since I am part of a high-risk group that may or may not develop it in my lifetime. But I am still thinking about it. I honestly don’t know how I would react to the results. But that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to raise awareness and funds to support those who are diagnosed early in life like Michael J. Fox at the age of 29, and my dad who inspires me in so many ways.

If you would like to help fund important research to find a cure or support organizations that offer exercise programs and support to PD patients and their caregivers, consider donating to the Michael J. Fox Foundation or your local PD charity. In the Philadelphia area, I recommend the Parkinson Council.

 

Songs and Schedules

I’m sure we all feel like every day is Groundhog Day. It’s the same thing over and over again. I’m fortunate that I can work from home and have two teenagers who can fend for themselves – for the most part. Here is how I’m currently spending my day. I could use some ideas to spice things up. Right now, I’m mixing up the songs I sing while I wash my hands.

Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.

7:15 am – Wake up

7:45 am – Get out of bed. Check my phone to see what day it is. Wash hands and sing Happy Birthday.

8:00 am – Shower

8:30 am – Coffee, breakfast and watch last night’s monologues. Wash hands and sing the Eagles fight song.

8:45 am – Walk around the kitchen island to my workspace on the other side and login to work.

9:30 am  – Let the dog out. Look up and do the Facebook list of the day. Today was 10 jobs and one is a lie. Guess which one. Silly, but it does pass the time.

9:45 am – Wash hands to The Frog Song. If you celebrate Passover, you know which song I mean. For everyone else, click here.

10:00 am – Daily team check-in and send out a few emails.

10:30 am  – Throw in a load of laundry, run the dishwasher, get yesterday’s mail and take something out for dinner.

10:45 am – Touched my face. Wash my hands to My Girl by the Temptations.

11:00 am  – Kids wake up, come downstairs and make a lot of noise just in time for my Zoom meeting. Login and walk upstairs to my bedroom and shut the door.

11:05 am  – Strategically place my laptop someplace where my colleagues can’t see my unmade bed and messy closet.

11:30 am  – Move laundry to the dryer and take recyclables out. Check voicemail, email, Slack and text messages and answer accordingly.

12 noon – Lunch and take the dog for a walk. Wash my hands to Happy Birthday because I ran out of songs.

1:00 pm – Log back into work and dive into a project I’ve been wanting to work on all day.

1:15 pm – Take a break.

1:45 pm – Answer phone call to reschedule my mammogram for the third time. No appointments until June. 🙁

2:00 pm  – Text colleagues to see if they are getting anything done. If yes, what’s their secret? If no, begin commiserating about how we never thought we’d miss being in the office.

2:30 pm – Wash hands and sing Landslide by Fleetwood Mac.

3:00 pm  – Take another deep dive into the above project that I thought I’d be done by now.

4:00 pm – Pat myself on the back for a good start and make a list of tomorrow’s next steps.

5:00 pm – Wash hands and counted to 20 this time. Put my feet up and watch a little tv

6:00 pm – SHIT! I forgot to make dinner.

6:30-7:00 pm – Hungry family members come up one at a time to inquire when dinner will be ready. Vow to order out tomorrow night.

7:00 pm – Dinner & watch Jeopardy.

7:30 pm – Wash hands – probably for 10 instead of the full 20 seconds. Fold laundry in front of the tv.

9:30 pm – Exhausted even though I didn’t do that much today. Time to get ready for bed. Wash hands.

10:00 pm – Read a chapter in my book.

10:15 pm  –   Zzz….

What Success Can Look Like

I don’t love public speaking, but I’m told that I’m better than I think. I once took a class where we were videotaped giving a speech in front of the group. I was surprised to see that while my heart was pounding on the inside, no one could see me sweat. I never let on how nervous I was and seeing it for myself was a game-changer.

This came in handy recently on the way to a job interview, I went over the presentation in my head. I was feeling confident about my slides and prepared for whatever follow up questions would come my way. My accomplishment stories were solid, and I was proud of the two writing pieces they assigned to me. Everything was just about ready to go.

But I had one problem. I didn’t have an opening line. I’m a communications professional, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to kick things off. If I wanted this job, I needed a hook. Something that would grab their attention and hang on my word. Something that would make the senior leadership stand up, embrace me and say, “where have you been all my life?”

I went through the presentation in my head as I drove to their office. Nothing sounded right, and now my palms were sweating. I had that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. The voice inside my head was screaming at me.

“How could you be so stupid,” it said. “You worked so hard on this presentation. Why did you think that something would just come naturally? Or magically?”

I pulled into the parking lot with 20 minutes to spare. I had a few ideas floating around in my head, but I grabbed my laptop and downloaded my presentation hoping inspiration would strike.

Finally, I took a deep breath and asked myself: What am I trying to say? What do I bring to the table that they desperately need?

And then, out of the blue, it came to me. I am a storyteller, and people love to hear a good story. Stories are powerful things. They spark emotion. They inspire others to act and to give generously.

I finally had my opening line and made my way into the office.

* * *

Whenever you are ready,” the CEO said.

I stood up and even though my heart was beating a mile a minute, I remembered my public speaking class. I took a deep breath and walked to the front of the room. My hands were no longer sweaty. I was back in control.

“Thanks again for inviting me here today. Again, my name is Elisa, I’m a sucker for a great story.”

At the end of the presentation, I thought it went well. The opening line was well received, and it looked like people connected with my ideas. Of course, one can’t be too sure about these things. Maybe I did terrible, and they were just being polite.

But, here’s the best part.

During my one-to-one with the CEO, her first question was this.

“Do you train people to speak in public?”

I was floored. I guess they never saw me sweat.

Best compliment ever!

 

Reading Professionally

Whenever I head off to a conference for work, I typically leave room in my suitcase – not for souvenirs – but for books. And while I’d love to say the books I buy come from exploring and supporting the local indie bookstores, it is more likely that you will find me in the exhibit hall buying the book of a speaker who just inspired me.

Basically, the better the conference; the more books I bring home.

As a result, I have built my own library of professional development books. And I admit while a few have been read, there are a bunch more that have collected a good amount of dust.

But, not anymore.

I don’t know whether it is the quarantine or the smell of disinfectant wipes that have gone to my brain, but I gave myself another challenge this month.

In addition to the Ultimate Blog Challenge, I am selecting books I’ve purchased at these conferences to read and post articles about on LinkedIn. I might as well put my time to good use. I did pay for them with my hard-earned money after all, and honestly, I could use a little inspiration and career advice right now.

And while I’m typically a fast reader, these books come with exercises to work through in order to get the most out of their message. Therefore, I’m giving myself two weeks to read and work through each one.

If this quarantine has gifted me anything, it has been the gift of time. So, I have no excuses to meet both the UBC and my LinkedIn reading challenge.

If you are interested in these reviews, leave me a note in the comments and I will send you my LinkedIn page so we can connect.

Whatever you are reading during this crazy time, I hope it brings you joy. Happy reading!

A Sign of the Times

Welcome to Life Without A Manual. Aren’t we all living that way these days? This global pandemic has caused us to rearrange our lives and discover new and creative ways to work, parent, live and, most importantly, survive. It has affected everything from the most mundane of tasks to the milestones we want to celebrate–all at a safe social distance.

I have always felt that I’m living my life without a manual. The origin story of my blog name is the perfect example of this philosophy.

For instance, I have two teenagers and parenting them is a carefully woven combination of structure and chaos. While my kids are self-sufficient and can entertain themselves, we are working through a roller coaster of emotions for what I can only describe as a grieving process. They have to adjust to this new normal of online learning instead of enjoying the interaction of a classroom setting. They maintain friendships and relationships through the magic of texting, FaceTiming and social media instead of hanging out at the mall or in someone’s home. They are suffering a loss of certain freedoms they used to enjoy like driving and staying on campus. It would be nice to have a map to help guide them through these troubled times, but there is no map and no manual.

As for me, it’s been difficult to set boundaries between working from home and living here. I’ve had to set up shop at my kitchen island which is the highest traffic area in my home. There are constant distractions, and I find it difficult to ignore the dishes and the laundry. Doesn’t this give new meaning to the term work/life balance?

The only one who seems to be thrilled with this new arrangement is our dog, and she demands constant attention. But, so does my boss. It would help to have a company handbook to show us the rules of the road. But there is no handbook and no manual.

There are so many aspects of life that have changed and who knows how it will be when this is all over. While I don’t want every post this month to be about this pandemic, I also can’t ignore it. We are living a part of world history, and it should be documented – even in this small way. And if this isn’t living life without a manual, I don’t know what is.

So I’m here to support you, and let you know you aren’t alone. I’ll share my experiences with you – the good, the bad, and the anxiety. And so I know you are with me, I hope you will comment on these posts to let me know how you are and what you are doing to get by in these crazy times.

We are all in this together. This is the Ultimate Blog Challenge – 30 days, 30 posts.  Let’s do this!

Showing Up

For me, the hardest part about fulfilling a personal goal has always been starting. When I want to start an exercise routine, getting myself to the gym is the most challenging. Once I’m there, I hop on the treadmill or the elliptical and thirty minutes later, I feel amazing. I wonder why I don’t do this more often. I could be 25 pounds lighter right now if I just showed up.

The same goes for writing. For the last 31 days, I woke up, got dressed, poured myself a cup of ambition and sat down at my computer screen. Sometimes, I would type the words “I don’t know what to write” until something came to mind. Other times, I’d shut off the computer and pray an idea comes would magically appear on my way to work. And there were a few days when I had to give myself a much-needed break.

But guess what? I DID IT! I put myself first and showed up. And here I am 31 days later with a new writing routine. I carved out the time for it. I made it a priority. I succeeded.

Why don’t I do this more often? I feel amazing! I could have had my first book written if only I did this sooner. 😉

There is no stopping me now! I may not get to 29 posts for February, but I promise to show up when I have something to say.

Thank you for reading my posts and supporting me all month long. Stay tuned!

A Writer’s Fairy Tale

Do you remember this scene from Pretty Woman? Richard and Vivian are lying in bed together, having some serious pillow talk.

“When people put you down enough, you start to believe it,” Vivian whispers.

“I think you are a very bright, very special woman,” Edward assures her.

Vivian looks into his eyes and answers, “The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?”

This is so true, and there is science to back this up. According to an article at livingincognito.com, we are all pre-programmed to think this way. The author writes, “We are predisposed to pay attention to the negative stuff because when we were cave-dwelling, our ancestors had to be on high alert for danger—a.k.a. the bad stuff.” And now, even though we don’t have those dangers to face, our brain never rewired itself. We pay attention to the negative because our brains are overprotective and want to protect us from harm. We form a permanent memory of this feeling and therefore find it difficult to move forward.

This Ultimate Blog Challenge (UBC) has started to rewire my brain. I’ve already broken up with my 12th-grade journalism teacher, who told me I’d never be good enough. I’m putting out of my mind the rejections I’ve received from a few contests. When I asked one contest leader if I could get a critique of my piece, she had nothing but constructive feedback and words of encouragement. Even when I feel like I wrote a shitty first draft in the writer’s workshop I attend, people find something that resonates with them.

Hey guys – I just wrote a blog post a day for 30 straight days! For me, this is a big accomplishment. This experience has given me a much more positive attitude toward my writing career. Even on the days when I thought I had nothing more to write about, I realize my brain just needed to rest and recharge. I skipped two days but caught up and jumped right back on the horse.

Yes, the bad stuff is easier to believe, but I’m choosing to embrace the positive signs flashing brightly in front of me. And when someone has something negative and unhelpful to say, I’ll listen and then reply –

“BIG MISTAKE. HUGE! I HAVE TO GO AND WRITE NOW.”

 

 

 

 

 

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