Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dear Gifts of 2012

Dear Gifts of 2012,

Just a few short days ago, you filled the space underneath our beautiful Christmas tree.  Now that the sound of paper tearing and the staccato gasps of surprise and joy have come and gone, so are the decorated boxes and bags that once teased and excited our hearts.  As such, the barren space under the tree prompted me to think about blessings in the form of Gifts that cannot be wrapped and placed under a tree.  Here is my #TopTen list of My Best Gifts of 2012.

10. The Gift of Favorite Blogs and Writers.  2012 is the year that I made real connections with a number of bloggers--some I am proud to consider as "blogging friends."  These wonderful people whose words and photographs I read, reread, and cherish became a real part of my life.  There are also some blogs that I follow religiously but quietly, and I am still grateful to be able to admire their contents from afar.  I thank each and every one of them for allowing me to enjoy their work and learn from them.  #BlogosphereRevere

9. The Gift of Teaching.  After ten years of raising my own children, it's time to return to my old profession of teaching our children.  This is the year I am making my way back into schools, first as a Chinese School Toddler Class teacher, and more recently, as a substitute in our school district.  It's my calling, and I know it with every bone in my body.  Once a teacher, always a #LifeLongLearner.

8. The Gift of Writing.  Boy, did I write this year!  Ninety-three posts here on Letters, to be exact (not counting the seventy-nine posts over at Promptly I Write).  Many of these letters are just my own everyday musings of life as a mom, a wife, and an individual.  But a few posts this year bled from my heart.  A few of my favorites of 2012 are: Dear Field of Dreams (where I realized my dreams have come true on the real Field of Dreams in Iowa, better known as Heaven), Dear Bride-to-Be (where I wrote a letter to myself on the day of my wedding sixteen years ago), and Dear Labor and Delivery (where I witnessed the birth of my Dear Niece2--a life-changing experience that I will always hold dear to my heart).  To be able to memorialize such important events and feelings in words is a process I cannot take for granted.  #LifeLongPassion

7. The Gift of Reading.  This year, we officially have four readers in our family.  Dear Son has joined the Independently Reading Club.  We found out he's reading one day when he casually read off the computer screen as we looked at a toy he wanted: "promotion period ends [date]" and "batteries not included."  I was quite surprised at his reading ability that he so artfully hid from us when his kindergarten teacher told us his reading level.  I guess we cannot talk to each other by spelling words anymore.  #s-n-e-a-k-y

Duct tape flower
6. The Gift of Crafting/Baking.  I've always been into crafts and baking, and it seems as if Miss Mini-Me has developed a liking for them as well.  This year, Dear Daughter has gotten into such things as origami, duct tape art, baking sweets, and most recently, making cake pops and--hold on to your seats--knitting.  We've had fun doing all of them together, but I've also made the realization that teaching someone to knit is harder than growing money on a tree.  Because I have to grow buckets of Patience just for her to complete one row.  The upside of this knitting mentoring is that I know DD did not inherit my perfectionist gene, which, in the long run, is a good thing.  #OMGYouDroppedAStitch

5. The Gift of Technology.  After 5 whole generations, we have finally boarded the iPhone Train.  Better late than never.  The kiddos also got acquainted with some iThing or Another from under that tree up there, and iMessage became the hottest thing in Our Residence.  Texts and photos and requests and questions and answers have been exchanged, all under one roof and within feet of one another.  But the best part?  With DS' limited spelling capability, the rest of us received about eleventy hundred "I love yous" from him.  #iSweetHeart

4. The Gift of Profound Entertainment.  On Christmas Day, we went to see the movie Les Miserables in the theater.  Having been a life-long lover of the Broadway musical, this was like sipping a top-notch aged red wine, but better.  The music and lyrics alone made me weep like a baby, and the awesomeness of the actors just made the experience all the more exuberant.  I know that having twenty more years of life experience since the first time I watched it on stage made this viewing that much more meaningful for me.  #IDreamedADream

Packed for a sleepover
3. The Gift of Surviving Parenthood.  This year month marks DD's first-ever attempt at a slumber party at her friend's house.  And I survived it.  It was a birthday party that involved a trip to the outdoors that ended with a sleepover.  There were plenty of things for me to worry about, but it was a success.  Dear Husband claimed that he enjoyed the peaceful sound of silence in her absence, but we all really missed her, especially DS.  #WhenIsSheComingHome

2. The Gift of Readers/Followers.  OMGoodness, I actually have followers on this blog.  Sometimes I cannot believe it myself.  I would call it a small following, but I appreciate anyone who would want to read what silly things I have to say.  Recently, two of my friends actually told me personally that they read every single one of my posts.  I think those two statements--aside from the obvious health and happiness of my family--were the grandest gifts I received this holiday season.  I am pretty sure that they were not aware of how grateful I was of their sentiments.  #ThankYouSoSoMuch

1. The Gift of the Year.  As of this year, I am utterly and completely free from public restroom duties!  (Picture me doing the Happy Dance a la Monica Geller--I have no shame.)  Since five-year-old boys don't like to go into women's restrooms anymore, I can always eat my meals in peace, browse a store in serenity, and let DH deal with those splendid potty emergencies.  #SmilingFromEarToEar

So, Dear Gifts of 2012, since you were not visible under the tree, I felt the need to point you out and take a moment to count my blessings.  And by the looks of this list, I am truly very blessed. 

(What gifts did 2012 bring you?)


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Dear Holiday Newsletter 2012

Dear Holiday Newsletter 2012,

Following last year's new tradition, I coerced asked Dear Husband to have the honor of writing you again this year.  He must have had an inclination, since he did not fail to produce.  That he likes to write in third person, however, makes it unclear to the reader who the Smart Alec author was.

It was not I. 



Did someone press the pause button? As part of the 47%, those dependent and binder-less Americans (later turned out to be a 51% majority, a small quibble), this past year felt like a marathon on treadmills…a lot of exertion but standing in place while time whizzed by with little progress as the country continues to be plagued by prolonged economic doldrums and entrenched political grandstanding. However, on the day of this writing, the breaking news and images on TV were the sobering and tragic grade school shooting in Newtown, CT. On a day like this, all the white noise and extraneous distractions fall away, and one is left with the crystal realization that the only thing that truly matters is the health and safety of one’s family.

Now that we have dispensed with the political hot air and reflected on heavy thoughts, here is a glimpse of what everyday life was like in our humble abode in the form of the “Top Things Overheard in Our Residence in 2012” (in no particular order):
  • Tween Tone.  At age nine, Dear Daughter is displaying early signs of tween-dom (e.g., catchy pop songs on her iPod and spirit squad participation). DD is now quick with sassy come-backs reserved solely for her parents (e.g., “I touched it” as declared by DD while poking food with a fork in response to Dear Wife’s observation that DD hardly “touched” the meal on her dinner plate) and selective hearing (momentary deafness is particularly prone when called upon to clean or do homework). DS also on occasions would chime in with his retorts (e.g., reacting to Dear Son’s incessant demands, DH would deplore “one second, please” to which DS would count off “one second”). 
  • "Can I have dessert?”  This question is code for candy (DS) and chocolate/ice cream (DD) on a daily basis after meals. In our defense, the kiddos have no cavities (knock on enamel), and it provides a few precious minutes of peace and quiet while the kiddos forage the pantry cabinet or refrigerator for savory snacks after healthy meals.  We have been accused of living vicariously through our kids and making up for perceived deprivations in our childhoods to which we unapologetically confess. 
  • “What is that?” (stage direction: innocent tone with up-down-up dialogue cadence).  DD has finely honed an extra sense in detecting things of interests that are happening around her. Whether it be those colorful and elegant macaroons that DW may be hoping to savor alone in the kitchen or a cute hair band/accessory that catches her fancy at the store, DD would ever-so-subtly deploy from her stash of passive-aggressive arsenals the question, “what is that?” while innocently batting her eyelashes like a hummingbird zooming in on a blooming flower with dripping nectar. 
  • Melodious sound of string music interspersed with high-pitched whine and stomping feet.  Unlike DD who suffers hopelessly from teacher-worship syndrome and is quiet as a mouse during lessons, DS possesses the seriousness of a coroner conducting an autopsy and would publicly display in demonstrative fashion his displeasure at any misplaced note, much to DW’s chagrin and dismay. The challenge for us is to guide DS’ innate perfectionism as a positive force; the benefit is that DS goes all-in with his chips when playing—his bowing resembles someone hacking a yule log with a high-powered Husqvarna chain saw—with full force and determination.
  • Sounds of late night keystrokes.  Every household has its distinctive and characteristic noises that can only be readily discerned during the quiet of the night. Some houses sing out staccato, creaking-floor chirps, while others reverberate with bass-like plumbing rumbles. At our house, you will hear the pitter-patter sounds of DW’s rhythmic drumming of her fingers on the laptop keyboard. On week nights, the virtuoso keystrokes will be composing (or responding to her reader comments on) DW’s personal Letters of Muse blog or creative writing Promptly I Write blog. On most weekends, the keystrokes will signify DW preparing for engaging Mandarin lessons for her Sunday Toddler Class at our local non-for-profit Chinese school.
  • “Daddy’s teams always lose.”  As the case with most truisms, this one hits the solar plexus and hurts, because it is true.  At all of five, DS possesses a keen and clever awareness which, when combined with his elephantine memory, give his parents pause in what they say in his presence. Without having to crunch disparate numbers and design elegant algorithms like Nate Silver, DS was able to discern from DH’s animated protestations and resigned groaning on most Saturdays during the pigskin season that his father’s alma mater has yet again managed to rip out DH’s heart and trample it on the ground like so many tomatoes during the La Tomatina festival. 
  • “Where/what are we eating?”  This is a common conundrum for us. It is a complicated calculus of current mood, craving, dietary considerations, driving distance and economics. DW and DH would constantly return this question back and forth like table tennis with alternating top-spin and smash. We would each in our minds drive around our neighborhood virtually like the iPhone 3D flyover feature to get inspiration. Ultimately, our kids have veto power over what we finally decide anyway.  

We sincerely wish you and your family a most joyful holiday season and a peaceful 2013!    
So, Dear Newsletter 2012, you've been replicated and sent out to our family and friends. I think one has to know DH personally to get that his humor prevails in this newsletter. However, several of my friends have just assumed that I penned it for the holiday cards since it revolves all around the kiddos (which tells you who really runs our household). So if they enjoyed the humor in you, I'll gladly let DH take all the credit. If not, I'm throwing him under the bus.

Happy Holidays to you and your family!


Friday, December 21, 2012

Dear Peace on Earth

Dear Peace on Earth,

If you truly exist, you would be like the perfect stillness of a candlelight.  As I stare at the glowing one in front of me--flickering, wavering, bending--I almost stop breathing so that it becomes perfectly still.  For a fraction of a second, I feel as if you are truly present.

It's been a week since the devastating event at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.  I have had neither the courage nor know-how to write words of it until now.  There have already been posts and articles and essays and reports written about this tragedy--with better words than I can ever muster.  Some were painstakingly beautiful; some were tragically truthful.  But none of them tried to make sense of it, because it simply isn't possible to do so.

When I first heard about the shootings, the words "children" immediately ripped me.  Why would anyone shoot to kill children?  As the facts slowly settled in my mind, my eyes became blurry and my nose stung, hard.  But I pushed them back.  I fought the tears away.  It was a place my heart didn't want to go.  I was too scared to open the floodgates.

I didn't watch too many footage on TV.  I wouldn't read much of the news.  I tried to stay off topic on social media.  I just couldn't face it.  

Each time I thought of these children's families, I would go through the same motions: imagine, feel, and immediately extract myself from that state of mind.  Because I can't think about it while looking at my own children.  I couldn't even come near a what-if or a could've been.

Normally a sentimental schmuck that cries at anything and everything, I didn't let my tears flow for this.  I held up a dam with all the strength in my body.  To let the dam break and crumble would be too real, too raw, and I was afraid that I wouldn't only cry--I would bleed.

For a week, I pushed the tears back.  I blinked them away.  I shut them down.  I struggled between feeling selfish because I didn't want to hurt, and justifying the function of my dam as a defense mechanism.

I was too scared to open the floodgates.  Until today.  I was caught off-guard, and they opened--rather unexpectedly.

Today was the kiddos' school's Holiday Concert.  The children took turns singing a song they had been working on for weeks for their parents and families.  This year, the school hung colorful holiday lights all around the gym, dimmed the lights, and put on a lovely show.  Children were wearing their holiday best, singing with heart and smiles, and gave it their all in the performance.

Each year, the Holiday Concert ends with the same song--"Let There Be Peace on Earth"--sung by children, and then joined by the audience.  Just before the song, the principal spoke about this tradition, and how while it has always been a meaningful song to sing, it is more than ever this year. 

Suddenly, my heart ached.  I thought about all the innocent children and grownups we lost last week, their grieving loved ones, and the sadness that swept the entire nation.  I thought about twenty beautiful children's voices that could have been singing this very song.  I thought about the community of Sandy Hook that is trying to mourn, heal, and survive.  And amidst the soft glow of colorful holiday lights all around the dimmed room, the children began to sing, and my tears came gushing out like water spilling over a overfilled sink.

I had lost my strength.  The dam broke.

That was the 2 PM performance.  At the 7 PM performance, I braced myself.  But what I experienced was, again, completely unexpected.  While tears came and went, I was encompassed by a sense of total gratitude.  The warm lights reflected off the faces of smiling children; the air reverberated their tender, innocent voices; and the room was filled with love--between parents, teachers, children, and human beings.  Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.  I couldn't have felt more blessed than during that song, because for a moment, my world stood still like that candlelight, and I felt completely at peace.

Let There Be Peace on Earth

Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth,
The peace that was meant to be.
With God our Creator,
Children all are we.
Let us walk with each other,
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me,
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take,
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.

You can hear for yourself the beautiful voices of all the children singing this relevant song (via the video clip below):

So Dear Peace on Earth, you are not a figment of our imagination because I met you tonight, at our school's Holiday Concert, as did many others.  Dear Daughter, in her innocently mature ways, reassured me on our drive home by saying, "Don't worry, Mama, you weren't the only one crying."  That I found comfort through tears is the unexpected gain I reaped today.  May you continue to heal us of our sadness; the world is undeniably a beautiful place when graced with your presence.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dear Baby Steps

Dear Baby Steps,

You are a necessary transition between changes, a stepping stone to adaptation, and a path to successful transformation.  As such, you are an integral part of our lives that should not be overlooked.

As a baby takes her first steps, she moves with both excitement and trepidation.  She propels forward with an eager push that offsets her balance; her knees buckle and she collapses.  The fall may scare her, but she learns from it.  Smaller steps, less push, keep balance.  These baby steps are the bridge between her crawling and walking mobility. 

I am in the process of taking my own baby steps.  As the kiddos get older, I have been thinking about getting back into the profession of teaching, continuing where I left off just before Dear Daughter arrived nearly ten years ago.  I had always planned to do so for financial and my own professional reasons, but it seems as if the plans I had in my head were a bit more unrealistic than I had always imagined.

I had never considered substitute teaching.  I had always been very possessive of my classroom, my lesson plans, my students.  A substitute could never "claim" any of that.  I wanted to be a "real" teacher, and not someone who would be a "float-around" teacher.  I wanted to be "in control" of things, and not "be controlled by" them.  I made that part of the world out to be very black and white in my head.

I also vividly remember an incident back in sixth grade, when some boys in my class "tortured" a substitute to the point where I felt sorry for her.  She was a nice, grandmotherly woman who did not have the best classroom management skills.  Some boys were so obnoxious that they were crawling around on the floor, laughing and giggling.  The substitute was so mad that she didn't know what to do other than reprimand them by calling them--wait for it--"a bunch of piss ants."  To which the boys laughed even harder and crawled with more delight.  I never wanted to be in her shoes. 

I think we've all experienced how kids can "take advantage" of substitute teachers at one point in our lives.

In the last year, I'd quickly come to realize that having children of my own now makes being a teacher an even more difficult task.  If I wanted to continue my role as a mother of young children and maintain their academic and extracurricular needs, I would not be able to be the teacher I'd want to be.  I would not be able to fully meet my own standards of both roles and still be a sane person.  This is not to say that other people cannot do this and do it well--I just know my own limits, and I know that my children still need a lot from me at their ages.  Each time I thought about having my own classroom of kids and starting from scratch again, I shudder with uncertainty.  The thought of facing students, parents, administration, and peer teachers--after tens years off--was more daunting than facing childbirth again.  I was having a major case of cold feet even before doing anything about becoming a teacher again.

I felt like Peter Parker having to take his first giant leap off a tall building.  Except I have no superpowers.  

But I did accept a teaching job at our Chinese school earlier this year, because once a week on the weekend seemed doable.  Little did I know that about one hour of teaching meant at least four times that amount of time to prepare for the lesson.  Of course, because I have very high standards for myself and my lessons, I put in that time willingly.  But translating that to a full-time teaching position--the math just does not equate.  There would not be enough hours in the day to be a teacher and a mother at the same time, at least for now.  I soon realized that getting back into "real" teaching would not be so easy after all.  

So I reconstructed my thoughts about being a substitute.  Since I had kept my teaching certificate registered all these years, I was able to begin substitute teaching immediately, after some reconsideration.  Soon after I began, all my preconceptions of substitutes that lead to my resistance against being one began to melt away, for so many good reasons.

Right now, I need to wet my feet again, slowly, instead of diving into a pool of icy cold water.  I need to be around children and classrooms and teachers.  I need to become familiar with curriculum and learning strategies and teaching materials.  I need to revisit classroom management practices, student-teacher interactions, and wear my "teacher skin" again.  I need to network with teachers, schools, and administrators.  I need so much that this sub position can give me while I can still be mother to my children.

Enter my world of gray shades.  Small steps, less push, keep balance.  

Sounds great?  Well, there are always pros and cons.  The pros, in addition to the above, also include flexibility: I can work as much as I want to, or as little as I want to.  (And because Dear Son is still in half-day kindergarten, I can only work on days Dear Husband works from home.)  But the cons are what truly challenge me and my inflexible personality.

I like things the way I like them.  I like to know my schedule--ahead of time.  I like to know what I am doing--ahead of time.  I don't like to be outside of my comfort zone because my friend, Anxiety, likes to drop by for unannounced visits when I stray too far from home.  As a substitute, unless I schedule non-work days ahead of time, calls begin at 5:30 in the morning.  Or I wake up anticipating a call and my phone stays stubbornly silent.  I don't know where I may be in a few days, much less tomorrow.  

These things disturb my inner calm.  As such, I am taking baby steps.  I have been to a handful of schools; I have taken both full-day and half-day jobs; I have even turned down jobs when I felt that one more day of the week away from my kiddos would be unconstructive.  However, these baby steps have already made me feel that much more comfortable inside my teacher shoes.  Thus, the things that come with being a substitute teacher is inadvertently helping me become less rigid, more flexible, and more accepting to the ways of life just as they are. 

One baby step at a time. 

Consequently, this is also the reason why I have been semi-MIA here on Letters.  It seems as though children are really good at sucking the life out of me.  It's like they know just how to unplug my energy reserve stopper to let everything drain out from under me.  I haven't been this tired since I was up all night nursing my own babies.

I know.  I've got a long way to go in endurance training.

So, Dear Baby Steps, you are a great way to go slow and steady.  I'll gladly be the tortoise any day of the week as I'm in no hurry to get to that finish line.  Personally, there are very few things that I firmly believe that I am truly good at.  But I happen to think that I am a good teacher.  So we'll just go with that thought and keep moving forward.   

With baby steps.


P.S.  I began this post Thursday night, and it was very difficult to finish it given the related topic to the tragic event in CT on Friday.  My heart goes out to the families, school, and community of Sandy Hook Elementary.  There are no words to this senseless act of horror.  The world's parents, teachers, and children hurt deeply because of it.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Dear Zentangle

Dear Zentangle,

You are a beautiful art form that we had a fantastic opportunity to learn today.  I enjoyed it so much that I must share you so that more people would be able to experience all the wonderful attributes you encompass.

The kiddos' school art teacher holds Studio Saturday sessions to help families learn new ways to be creative with art forms with their children.  As a big fan of art myself, I signed us up and went to our session today.  The topic today was Zentangles.  It is a method of art that involves drawing structured patterns and promotes intuitive creativity.  In a very short period of time, the four of us created art that was so easy and exquisite that we even wowed ourselves.  I looked it up when we returned home, and not surprisingly, one of the characteristics of drawing Zentangles is internalizing artistic satisfaction with an increased sense of personal well being.  Truly, the process was a peaceful, serene, and rejuvenating feeling. 

The art teacher planned today's Zentangle drawings to revolve around scenic nature.  We began by looking at many different types of landscapes: rolling hills with trees; a moon on the bough of a tree; a winding path into the horizon; a setting sun on the hills.  We drew the basic lines of the landscape with simple pencil strokes, and then used thin Sharpie pens to trace those simple strokes.  Then we began to embellish all the white spaces with patterns.  These patterns could be practically anything--in all shapes, sizes, line densities, fills, etc.  We were given a packet that showed many examples, and we all just went to work.

Dear Son (age 5), with his perfectionistic tendencies, had a hard time with the pencil and paper part.  After he picked his favorite landscape, I helped him draw the pencil lines, and he traced them with a Sharpie pen.  Then he just started filling the spaces with patterns.  Once he got the hang of it, he just went to town with them.  His scenery was a winding path and a tree.  He started with swirlies inside the tree, and continued with triangles and zig zags in the path.  We added a sun and a cloud, and he embellished those, too.  He chose to color his picture with vertical colorful stripes.  And I think it turned out really well!  Definitely his own interpretation of his Zentangle project. 

Dear Daughter (age 9) completed her Zentangle independently.  She chose a landscape with trees and a large moon in the background.  She created squiggly lines on her hills, elongated patterns on the moon, and other filled shapes on the trees.  She was creative in the painting process in another way: she mixed colors in a gradient for the sky.  DD was not quite finished with painting, and will finish her piece at a later time at home.  I think she really captured the "rolling hills" aspect in her Zentangle. 

Dear Husband chose a waterfall scenery.  His black and white piece turned out quite spectacular just as is.  You can see the water fall into a pool that streams away.  The angular attributes in his drawing remind me of Miro's artistic style.  And what do you know?  We have two Miro paintings in our bedroom!  DH did not have time to paint his piece, but I think it stands really well on its own without colors. 

Finally, I chose a landscape with a lake, some tall trees, and a mountain in the distance.  Just like DS, I went to town with my patterning.  I filled the trees with angular shapes; I made large and small swirls in the lake to create a softer, flow-y, watery effect; I made parallel lines in the sky to show off its vast openness, and in the mountain to enhance its height.  I also made squiggly lines for grass on the field.  Lastly, I painted the scenery with atypical colors--cuz I used my artistic license (oh, the art teacher would be proud of my use of that term!)  Can you tell I enjoyed this project probably more than anyone in my own family? 

"Too awesome" was my thought after only a little over an hour's worth of time for this family art lesson.  We all came away from the class with a piece we were proud of, and are already talking about buying a frame with four windows to showcase our artwork.  DD asked if we can buy more Sharpie pens to draw more, and of course she got a big, fat, eager "yes" from me.  This project also reminded me of some of my own Sharpie artwork I drew back in college.  They are framed, but somewhere inside a box in our basement.  I hope to unearth those to show the kiddos.  

Cuz, hey--Mama used to draw a lot, once upon a time!

If this sparked your interest a little bit, please click here to find out more about Zentangles.  This website describes its characteristics as: intuitive, fun and relaxing, unexpected results, ceremonial, timeless, portable, quality, non-technical, and empowering.  Here are some sample Zentangle patterns.  Or, just Google Zentangle images and you will see the endless possibilities this art can bring onto a sheet of blank paper.  Won't you try it?  You'll see for yourself how tranquil and relaxing this project can be!

So, Dear Zentangles, am I ever glad to have tried you!  I cannot wait to see all the pictures that we will come up with once I get the supplies: watercolor paper, fine, extra fine, or ultra fine Sharpie pens, and watercolor paint.  Oh, a pencil to start, too.  Perhaps it will be a great activity on a rainy weekend to calm the cluttered and tired mind.

Zen.  It's what we seek for enlightenment and personal insight. 


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dear #NaBloPoMo2012

Dear #NaBloPoMo2012,

I took you on as a challenge in the month of November, and I lived to tell about it.


Having been blogging and being on various places in social media, I came across #NaBloPoMo--short for National Blog Posting Month, a meme where one writes a blog post everyday for the entire month of November.  This is not to be confused with #NaNoWriMo--short for National Novel Writing Month, where one writes a complete novel with a minimum of 50,000 words over the course of November.  There are distinct differences between the two, but both aim to get people to write with discipline, regularity, and a goal in mind.  (For more detailed information on both, click here). 

On November 1st, I came across both of these memes on social media.  After understanding the difference between the two, I became very interested in the exercise of writing a post a day for 30 days.  I know it seems like a very crazy thing to do, but as far as I'm concerned, I already knew I was crazy.

I just needed a meme to justify my craziness. 

I thought about it all day that day.  I wondered if I could actually do it, since I would not want to begin something where the chances of failing are high.  I wondered: is it silly to take such things so seriously when there's no grade, no real repercussions, or no real reward at the end of this--whether I make it or not?

My Promptly I Write blog had been dormant for almost the entire month of October (longer than any period since its birth).  I thought it would be a great way to give it a Pick Me Up.  It would allow me to write in a different voice than the one here on Letters of Muse.  I enjoy writing poetry and short fiction, although I'm not very good at the latter.  To make the posts interesting and meaningful, I thought about including a photo for each one, and perhaps add an editor's note at the end if necessary.  So after a day's worth of pondering, I decided to go for it.  I posted my very first #NaBloPoMo post titled All or Nothing on November 1st.

Now that #NaBloPoMo is all said and done, I am happy to report that I did complete the challenge.  And, boy, was it a challenge!  I usually wrote at nighttime after the kiddos went to bed.  Which meant I had very little time to get the post up and published.  The majority of my posts were stamped between 11:45 and 11:59 PM.  But I did get a stamp on every day of the month. 

Instead of waiting for a prompt for which to write, I came up with my own prompts--many of them from my own photographs.  I tried short fiction, I wrote lots of poems, and I even wrote a not-so-funny limerick and told a not-so-funny joke.  Some days, I was completely desperate for words.  Other days, words just came pouring out of my fingertips.

Here is a list of my #NaBloPoMo experience's pros and cons.  First, the cons:
  • I was stressed.  Talk about a stressful month.  I had to write something every day for 30 days.  Usually, the writing part wasn't hard; coming up with a topic was.  And coming up with a topic every day for 30 days in a row was very challenging.  
  • I lost sleep.  Precious, needed, and coveted sleep.  I never went to bed before midnight the entire month of November.  I was barely functional on some days.  
  • I didn't read.  I lost time to read the blogs I regularly follow, not to mention a few fellow bloggers' who were also participating in #NaBloPoMo.  There's just not enough hours in the day!  I was lucky if I actually published my daily posts, much less be able to read others' daily posts.  I still had to, you know, do all those things I do everyday, like wiping poopy bottoms.  
  • Expected hiatus.   Like I said, I'm an All-or-Nothing kind of person.  I knew that coming off the 30 days' writing challenge my "all" would turn into "nothing" for a short period.  Only that the short period carried over to this blog, too, which brings me to the next bullet point. 
  • Letters of Muse suffered.  A little bit.  I didn't get to write as many posts as I normally would for the month of November.  I was just written out.  I even complained of painful knuckles lately, and Dear Husband is convinced--while I totally disagree--that they are the result of #NaBloPoMo.  But I'm back, after a few days of rest, since my fingers just itched to exercise their knuckles again.

Now here are the pros:
  •  I did it!  I did it!  Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!  No writing here tonight, woo!  No writing here tonight!  No, no, no writing here tonight!  I'm such a riot!  Um, yeah--that's me, channeling my inner Dory on the night of November 30.
  • I wrote.  And wrote, and wrote.  None of them were long pieces--in fact, I specifically wanted to practice writing short poetry, fiction, and song lyrics.  Some of them were silly, some were meh, and a few were written from the heart where I even surprised myself. 
  • I featured my photographs.  Whenever I ran out of ideas, I went to my photo collection.  I looked for a picture that could "take words places."  Sometimes pictures would take me places I never thought I'd go.  They were almost like magic carpet rides that took me to faraway places for a glimpse and a glance. 
  • I made connections.  I truly appreciated a few followers who cheered me on along the way.  I am forever grateful for bloggy friends who took time to follow, read, and comment on some of the posts.  And I promise I'll be back to your blogs now that #NaBloPoMo is over!
  • I did what I really loved to do.  Which is to write.  To spill words onto a screen, ornate and associate them with a picture, and present a piece of my heart that perhaps others can relate to.  

This post is intended as my reflection upon #NaBloPoMo, and I am really not here to promote my own writing and urge you to read all those posts.  But if you are interested in seeing some, here are a few I recommend--or not:
A few silly ones: Cleaning Woes; Germ Fest.
A few not-so-funny ones: Sucker; Orange.
A few short and to-the-point ones: November; Viva Violin; Origami; Chores.
The one and only semi-fiction I mustered: Shadow People.
And finally, a few of my own favorites: The Music Box; Breaking Silence; I Say Nothing.
For all the #NaBloPoMo posts, you can see them on the right side bar under the month, November, over at Promptly I Write.  

Finally, I want to give a shoutout to my bloggy friend Cassie from Our Foto Friendly Family, who went along with me on this roller coaster ride.  So I might have a crazy friend or two, too.  Thank you for keeping me company throughout the past month.  We did it!  And like you said, we can now take a deep breath and smile!

So, Dear #NaBloPoMo2012, I'm very glad to have met your acquaintance this year, even despite the few gray hairs you probably cost me.  I reached and stretched (sometimes not-so-gracefully) and went places where I didn't know I could go.  The fact that "2012" was in your name up there in the title of this post means a very good chance that I will participate again next year.  But for now, DH will be glad to have me back on most nights of the week again.  And, who says there's no real prize at the end?  I have 30 spanking new posts to show for November.  That's what I call reward, baby!