What I Learned From a Maple Tree

The New Year starts and you have all of your goals in place, but just around the corner there’s a problem waiting for you.

You may twist your ankle throwing your phone practice schedule and the disarray. Lightning might strike your house and destroy your computer and all of the notes she forgot to back up.

Recently, I got a lesson about resiliency from a likely source. In March of this year, I was true several trees down goalie area of our yard. Out before I could remove the branches so they have lain there until now. The modest chore of cleaning up from that project finally made its way to the top of my “to do” list and was I in for a surprise.

First clue that always right was the fact that there were still some green leaves growing off of the branches. As I tugged on that to inch diameter branch, I noticed that several parts of it didn’t want to come off the ground. Yanking harder, I was able to get all of the side branches loose and what I discovered was that four or five of them had sprouted roots that had anchored the branch to the ground and give it new life.

What a marvelous example for those of us who are chasing long-term goals.

Whether your goal is large — writing a novel, run a marathon, we’re losing 60 pounds — you will encounter some sort of problems along the way.

The difference between those who makes their goals and those who don’t is the ability to adapt and work around these problems.

If a tree that can only follow instinct can survive, so can your dreams.

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Maybe a change will add peace to your marriage

 Tired of Fighting

If your marriage is like most marriages, you probably have settled into a familiar routine regarding who does what chores around the house.

For years, I handled all of the finances and the family from the overall budget down to the weekly spending. My wife would call me or ask me if she could spend money on certain items since she didn’t have an understanding of the budget details and because she wanted to make sure that she wasn’t spending money that we didn’t have.

While I appreciated this behavior (it sure beats being married to someone who just spends money on anything they want), it added a lot of stress to our marriage.

If I told her “no” about something, she was gracious about the decision, but that didn’t hide that disappointments that I read in her face and each “no” also poked at my emotional insecurities of being a good provider.

Other times, I would have plans in my head for spending our weekly money — the money that we used for groceries, eating out, and miscellaneous items – and Kradan would spend it.  She would find a good buy at the store and return home, excited to tell me all about it. Instead, I would be upset because I had already allocated that money in my head.  You can imagine that this did not go over well.

Time for a Change

A couple of months ago, I decided that arguing over finances wasn’t worth the hassle it created in our life. So we sat down together and divided up different parts of the budget. I still controlled the overall budget, but making this change gave her freedom to decide where the money went on a day-to-day basis.

I was nervous about giving up this control to Kradan since I enjoy control. Instead of a problem,  I found that it is a win/win situation for both of us.  Kradan has more control and I don’t have to worry about telling her “no.”

For instance, while shopping for groceries, my main focus was always to spend as little as possible regardless of the nutritional quality of the meals.  She would then be required to make with food that I had decided upon.  The lack of nutrition sapped at her feelings about herself as a mom.  Now, she is much happier about the meals that she creates for the family. Control and flexibility over where to shop and how much to spend have allowed her to create meals that feels good about.

 Giving Up Control

The problem with giving up control, of course, is that you really have to give it up. You cannot claim to turn ownership over to your spouse in a given area and then complain about their choices. To make this easier on myself, I made a point when we first changed the system to adopt a very simple mantra, “whatever is fine with me.”

The “whatever” mantra is not a way to avoid discussion, but simply a way to embrace the fact that I have turned ownership over to her. Now when she comes home excited about a bargain that she found, I don’t second-guess her and she doesn’t have to worry about what my reaction is going to be.

 How About You?

Finances may not be an issue for you in your marriage. You may have developed a system already that works without causing fraction.

However, there is bound to be some sort of issue where the above principles may apply. Think about the things that you argue over with your spouse. Somewhere in there is an issue of control or an issue of how decisions are made.

Jot a few things down and talk it over maybe you can find some common ground that will limit made some of the issues that you have.

Book Review: The Associate

The Associate by John Grisham

Summary

Kyle McAvoy is fresh out of law school lawyer who was part of a wild party that got out of control when he was an undergrad.  A woman was raped while Kyle was in the room although he may have been passed out at the time.

The problem is that a videotape of the incident has surfaced and it’s in the hands of some powerful people who want Kyle to steal some information from his firm.

That probably sounds a lot like Grisham’s earlier book, The Firm, and it is from the point of view that it’s “new lawyer” versus “crooked blackmailers.”

However, it’s significantly different than The Firm both in the aspects of the story that most of the pages cover, the character’s motivations, and the ultimate resolution.

Genre: Action / Adventure

New or Old: New (2009)

What I liked about it

The book had more of the feel of the “old” Grisham books where the plot moved along at a steady pace. 

Seeing a lawyer’s path into a new law firm and the pressure that it creates was also interesting to see worked out in the details.

The bit characters were more interesting to me in this book than in some past Grisham books.  One character tells the others that she is just fine working at the firm while looking for work outside.  Another character sits up front and tries to stump the teacher so he looks smart but struggles with things that others are easy to finish.  Those are real people who we run into and it’s nice that even the minor characters have time for a minor crisis while the hero is doing his thing.

Start to finish, I wasn’t sure how the plot would work out and the way it ended was not what I expected.  Along the way, several of Kyle’s plans don’t work out the way he would like which is also refreshing.

I had three scenarios in my head for how it would end and none of the three came to pass.

Read this book if

Read this book if you like the “old” Grisham feel, if you never got tired of Grisham, or if you’re looking for something entertaining for the weekend.

It’s also a good one for puzzlers to try to figure out the ending.  It is guessable,  just not obvious.

Dont read this book if

Dont read this book if you have completely written off Grisham.  If  you have had some doubts but haven’t tossed him on the heep, I’d still read it.

Sometimes we just run out of steam for certain authors and if you’ve done that with Grisham then go find something else to read.

Overall

I needed a mental break over the past three days and this provided it.  Definitely something I would recommend if you need an escape in your life.

A slightly different layout

If you come around here on a regular basis, you will notice a slightly different layout than before.

Since I write on different topics, I wanted to put them on top across the banner so that you could dig into the categories that interest you more or go back and find what you were looking for.

My expectation is that I will be blogging quite a bit more here as the days go on but I wanted to get things set up in a fashion that I liked before I started to make that push forward as well.

Three Ways to Get Better Grades

The school year is upon us! For many of my friends who are students, these are the tricks that I used to help me improve my grades in college.

1) Before the first day of class read the first two chapters of each book ( if you already missed it or are a high school student then do it by the end of the first week of classes).

There are three benefits to this.

a) Most classes build concept upon concept. If you have a strong grasp of the general concepts you will do better in classes. If you get lost early in a class, you will tend to struggle.

b) Before you get to class or soon after, you will have already heard and read some of the key definitions and words that will be used at the start of the class. That way when the professor starts talking about them, you can make minor adjustments to your understanding during class instead of saying “Huh?” the first time you hear the definitions.

c) You will have a better opportunity to answer questions and impress your professors as one of the smart kids in class during the first week of school. Guess what, teachers tend to treat the “smart kids” (real or perceived) with much more mercy when they goof up.

Special note for college freshman: You will have plenty of time to play during your time in college. Even in the pre-class weeks, there is plenty of time to hang out and plenty of time to study. Don’t miss a chance to get off on the right foot.

2) Have a clear understanding of how your teacher grades.

You’re primary reason for being in class is to learn, but getting good grades is a very close second. If you don’t have a good idea of how the teacher is going to grade ( 30% of your grade is quizes or 5% ) then you may under study for important grades.

Does the teacher allow extra credit? What types of projects will the extra credit be a part of?

3) Before the end of the second week of class, ask the professor the best way to study for his exams

There are two benefits to doing this.

a) This question will convey to a teacher that you are serious about their class and they will again treat you as one of the smart kids (see 1c).

b) In some cases, the teachers will give you answers here that will completely unlock an easy grade for you. Many of them have been teaching the same course for years and they have found patterns of studying that have helped their previous students.

There are additonal things you can do but those three will get you on your way towards much better grades than you might otherwise be able to manage.

No “He He He” — Writing is not a laughing matter

All authors have strengths and weaknesses.

I’m pretty good at story.

Description and grammer, on the other hand, are not definitive strengths.  Those are the aspects of writing that I work on day in and day out.

One easy trap to fall into as a beginning writer is to overuse sentences that begin with pronouns.  “He He He” syndrome hits me when I’m so excited about getting my thoughts down on paper (or into a word document as it were) that I forget that people don’t simply want the play by play but a story.

I noticed it in the first draft of my current novel as I was doing a re-write.  Every sentence started with “He” … “He ran there.  He shot someone.  He ran back.”

He He He.

Which made me laugh, but then I remembered that I don’t want people laughing at my writing (unless it’s a funny part).

Take this before and after example:

She switched to greens and yellows and some friendly blues this time using a mop to mix and create a weave of brighter hues.  I smiled as I watched paint drops wreck her trendy clothes but nothing could stop her enjoyment of this new world . 

She finally caught me staring.

She, I, She …. (we’ll ignore the other problems).  Not quite He, He, He but still not exactly a great variation.

The next painting was a mix of greens, yellows, and friendly blues slapped on with a mop to mix and create a weave of brighter hues.  Paint drops wrecked her trendy clothes but nothing could penetrate this new world. 

She caught me staring at her.

Much better.  Maybe not Pulitzer Prize material (though the short story from above is not likely win one of those), but at least there is some variation.

So when you sit down to re-write, remember avoid the “He He He”s, writing is no laughing matter.

A win from stongscenes.com

One of the difficult parts of becoming a writer at a later age is the sound of the ticking clock when you finally decide, on your 39th birthday, that you ought to do that “writing thing” if you are ever going to do it.

Six and a half years later having written two complete novels (8 drafts each) and having submitted forty or so short stories and still not having won any contests or had anything published, you can start to question your sanity (yes I know … too late for that).

However, I am bouyed by two things — 1) My family loves my work (Don’t be turned off by this prospective agents … my point is that if the only thing that ever happens is sharing stories with my family then it would be worth it.  I’m not saying that’s how I think I write well) and 2) If we are to believe Malcom Gladwell, it takes 10 years or 10000 hours to become a real expert at something.

Still, after a while you wonder when things are going to give at least a bit.

Last week was my first contest win — something to put down on my writing resume.

My feeling coming away from it is one of great joy for a small victory as well as some well learned lessons.

1) I worked hard on that scene.  It’s actually a shortened version of the scene from my book.

2) I re-worked hard on that scene and frankly that makes me want to re-work harder than I already do.

3) Good stuff happens when you perservere.  It would have been quite easy to let that contest slip by but instead I jumped into it (much like my new full time job which I like).

4) Becoming an author is a process.

I’ve always called myself a “writer” instead of an “author” because I’ve never had anything published (not sure if that’s the official designation) and I’m not sure that a short/short contest is enough to move me from writer to author.

But who cares?!?!

I’ve got a win in my pocket and I’m more than happy to just celebrate that for now.