Liza Rose

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Under Committed, Over Committed or Just Should be Committed

The last few months have seen some ups and downs in the lives of my friends and family. Health scares, financial woes, separations, new relationships and work issues have taken their toll on all of us.

In the past, my response to this kind of situation is to provide support where needed then retreat into a cocoon of bad TV and excessive chocolate bars, leading me into a personal spiral that mirrors that of those around me. This time though, something has changed. Indeed, I have achieved optimization of stress.

Stress has a bad press. Stress should be avoided, prevented, and otherwise shunned so the wisdom goes. However, no allowance is made for the fact that like many things that impact our lives, stress follows a "normal" distribution or "Bell" curve:

Image Credit: storyality.wordpress.com/

For those not familiar with such things, they are favoured highly by statisticians, which of course makes them suspect in some quarters, but they are in fact very simple pictorial diagrams of "random" events in populations. Random here relates to a lack of relationship between the events. An example might be the time of day that people drop litter. Man A does not drop litter at 2pm just because Man B does, nor vice versa, and Man C drops his litter at 4pm. If the total population of the city were recorded dropping litter, the resulting times would be a normal curve (and a messy street), probably centering around lunch time if observation is anything to go by. In this case, lunch is a factor, but lunch time is random.

The amount of stress you experience compared to the person next to you is also random. You may be experiencing the same event, but the stress you each experience will be an entirely personal and subjective amount. When you plot many events against total population, the result is the "normal" distribution - ok so this is a simplification, there is a lot of complex and possibly useful mathematics that could be inserted here, but that will not add to the interest factor of this blog! However, there are some pretty pictures of bell curves provided below as a demonstration.

Image Credit: https://www.etsy.com/listing/48582479/standard-normal-distribution-plushie

Similarly the effectiveness of our lives does not vary directly with the amount of stress we are subjected to (otherwise we might literally explode or melt!), but instead increases and then decreases again, once again following a normal distribution. Back to my realisation.

When over stressed (and usually over-committed as a result), which is where many of us live and/or have lived at times, we are ineffective, tired, "stressed" in the broader sense and in some cases, depressed, ill or worse. Whenever I have found myself in that situation, I have taken the advice proffered and slowed down, taken time for "me", relaxed, rested, dropped all commitments ... until I have fallen off the other end - the "no stress" zone of the bell curve. And... the result is ...from ineffective to .... ineffective and bored without realising it and just wondering where all the time is going, never getting anything done, resulting in a slow recovery to optimum.



Well this time, I stopped, and took a look at that curve properly. Finally I realised that a bit of stress is good. We all need a drive. So, this time, I dropped some of the more stressful aspects, but added back some alternatives. Not only is stress good and bad for you, but there are different types... there is physical stress, emotional stress, external stress, internal stress, personal stress and work stress. If all of those areas are in balance, and in the centre of their own respective normal distributions then the resulting peak effectiveness is optimised. You can do more in less time, without being overwhelmed. You can balance that elusive work life thing. You can be more spontaneous, by trading off from one stress curve to another and back again.

So, if life feels like a roller coaster, it probably looks like one too!



Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Writing for picture books

Some time ago, I posted about the poem that my son and I wrote together. I started to recite it two days ago out of curiosity, and found to both my delight and horror, he was word perfect, despite having really heard it only three times when we originally came up with it. He obviously liked it and it must have resonated, but I don't really see it making it into the annals of history as one of the best loved Children's Poems.

It got me to thinking - I know what the publishers are looking for, but what are the kids looking for in a book? I took a tour through his bookshelf, which admittedly I have stocked in the main and found three books by Nick Bland, three by Sandra Boynton, and three Octonauts books by meomi. Generally he has one or two books each by a large number of other authors, none of which are as dogeared and well loved as these nine. Is it that he recognizes the pattern or common elements that run through these books, is it that I read them to him in a more enthusiastic manner or is it that the publishers have a good handle on what is needed?

I have always been a great believer that any children's programming and reading that appeals to adults will provide both a better level of education, and an encouragement to parents to share their child's interest (thus promoting that education as a positive experience). On the other hand I am also a great believer that reading is just fun too and want to instill that of books and reading in my son, a task that is more difficult every day in this age of TV.

Also, what ages like picture books? And when is a picture book not a picture book! Good job I'm taking that course. When I consider the three authors named above, their styles are completely different, their vocabulary equally so, and yet for different reasons, my son loves each one of them.

Still, I am going to take a fresh look at my current project "Ant in My Wellies" (from which this blog gets its name) and am thinking a gutting and rewrite is in order. I want to produce a book that not only a publisher likes, but that becomes a favoured dogeared book by at least one child out there!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Muses and Amusings

Its been a hectic few weeks here at "keyboard headquarters", including exciting hospital visits, planned and unplanned, meltdowns, rows (some mine and some not), fireworks (literally for Canada day, and also something to do with something that no one is sure about, not even the Harbourfront Centre!) and various other life events.

Not least of which is a celebratory milestone - I managed to move my son to his own bed. Coincidentally, a writing group that I belong to, lead by the excellent and remarkable Robin Tuthill posted a particularly relevant daily writing prompt:

"Think about sleep – sleep patterns, sleepless nights, sleeping in the day, sleeping outside, sleeping alone, sleeping with someone, no sleep, sleeping on trips. Now write about sleep"
The exercise is intended to be "immediate" as in you write what ever comes into your head for the next 10 minutes or so....

My response was somewhat prophetic.... I repeat it here for your consideration....

You would think that I was a glutton for punishment. That my sleep deprivation was self inflicted. And you might be right. But let me explain.

Most people who have a baby let it sleep in their room for ...oh I don't know maybe 3 to 6 months. Then there are those of us who allow it to go on longer, until the baby is a toddler and can climb out of their crib. At that point, normally the toddler gets a room of their own. Of course in some cultures this is not the case, and indeed in some parts of the world its not possible, the entire family lives, sleeps and eats in a one room. In my case, it was a one bedroom, but there were physical restrictions, so it continued. My son, at 18 months got to stay in the room. Of course with the side off the cot, he was often to be found tucked up beside me in the morning.

When we moved to a larger place, just to get the extra bedroom, it was too late. He was two and a half with all that entails, and it just didn't seem like the right time to move him.. He does have a bed of his own, and is happy to use it for afternoon naps, but come nightfall, I invariable find him in my bed.

Let me just say at this point that the written authorities on parenting are wrong when it comes to sleep. There is no "60 minute sleep solution", and "cry it out" just wakes him up further and gives me a migraine. My parenting skills may seem strange to you, but the reality is they are just like everyone elses. Part inspiration, part perspiration and 90% flying by the seat of the pants. When I lie awake next to his still form at night, my thoughts range from "he will grown out of this" to "is this inappropriate". He is only a child and should be allowed his childhood, and the innocence that comes with it; however, my knowledge level in this area is too little to be useful but enough to be dangerous - what if he develops some kind of mother complex..., what if he never learns to sleep on his own....

Night after night the same thoughts run through my head, as I cuddle him close and smell his hair. His favorite position is to lie on top of my arm. He has had a growth spurt and so this has changed from lying with his head in the crook of my shoulder. At 2 am my sleep is interrupted when he rotates to cuddle up behind me again.

I worry that I will never get a good nights sleep again since I wake at his every movement, partly in fear that he might roll the wrong way and land head first on the hard wooden floor. He has done this twice so far.

When I start to drift off to sleep the realization comes that it is not him that needs me, but that I have become accustomed to his presence. What will I do when he is ready to be a big boy and sleep on his own. When his feet land in my face again, I think that I will in fact be ok and that perhaps he should move to that other bed sooner rather than later. I return to the fear that it will never happen.

Such thoughts saturate my dreams, arriving at work having forgotten something important because my eyes were closed, glued together, I'm blinded by tiredness. I toss and turn and wake again when a small hand slaps my face.

Last night he turned over and as usual I reached out to soothe him. He pushed my arm away, grunted and rolled off to "his" pillow. The separation gaped, and yet, I rolled the opposite way and dropped off to sleep. Waking I found that I felt refreshed. He didn't stir when I rose to make a coffee.

I think we will be ok.

So. Now he has decided to move. After several nap times in his new bed he has decided that it is more comfortable. Unfortunately, he has decided that mummy should move with him.... lying on the narrow edge of a twin bed for an hour while he settles is not my idea of fun. Of course I wouldn't lie there there if it were not for the fact that he has a large handful of my hair wrapped in his fingers. On the upside, I do manage to escape, and baring a short interval in the middle of the night he sleeps through, with one visit to retrieve me (for five minutes before he resettles) and at the end of the night to cuddle up in the morning.  Now I just lie awake all night wondering if he will fall out of bed! But to have my own bed back is like winning the lottery ...hmmm.... now we just have to tackle that potty! Eeeek!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Which Came First ?

Today I experienced that age old dilemma of "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Otherwise known as Catch 22, the question provides circular reasoning at its best, about which many authors have written, besides Joseph Heller.

As followers of this blog may know, I am in the throes of (with very distinct air quotes) establishing my platform. Something which appears to be absolutely necessary in this age of social media. In so doing, I ventured onto LinkedIn, as I have previously mentioned. LinkedIn can best be described as the older more stately brother of Facebook, everything Facebook promises to be but isn't and without the familiarity of befriending everyone who has not yet figured out the overly complex and laborious process of privacy settings. As a result, the excellent LinkedIn requires you to effectively know the people you are trying to link to, although you cannot get to know them without first linking. Ah, you say, this is to pull you in and get you to spend money - if you subscribe, you can send "In Messages" to total strangers! I'm not sure I actually want to do that if the total stranger has in fact got their privacy settings arranged to prevent me contacting them normally, just because I have paid, doesn't mean that they suddenly will welcome my advances.

A case in point, I am a new member and my LinkedIn page is therefore not the most detailed nor does it come with a large pack of ravenous readers. I came across a writing group that allows people who wish to develop their writing skills to chat among themselves. However, apparently my profile was insufficient to tempt them, I was mistaken for a bot. I wrote to the moderator, explaining my situation. This had worked successfully with another (excellent) group, but in this case, I was still mistaken for a bot. So, not only do I have no profile, I am also apparently not human - very worrying. In order to prove I am human, I need to have an interesting profile, and in order to have an interesting profile I need to generate interest, not of the bot kind. Hmmmm...dilemma....Catch 22. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

How to get a work life balance with a two year old

Earlier in the week, I realised that my LO was feeling sadly neglected when he started tapping on my keyboard with great gusto while I was working. I decided to commit the rest of the week to his well being and entertainment, which of course comprised mainly of pretending to be a horse, or pretending he was a doggie, when we were not watching Barney the "insert own word of choice here" dinosaur.

Since my current project is a children's book, why not kill two birds with one stone, thought I. I was thinking of starting my research anyway, so why not include my LO in my endeavours? Ah haaa...evil parent say you, how can you possibly consider experimenting upon your own precious child? Well, before anyone calls child services, I would say it was more that he experimented on me. After listening to his babble during playtime for over an hour and interpreting the noise into words, I found my concentration waning, although I had a much better insight into his current passions, which mainly involves penguins, empty boxes and Thomas the tank engine!

After that I attempted to share with him some of my passion for words and poems, knowing that he has at least had some interest in this area, if only in the form of "The Very Cranky Bear". I suggested a poem based on the statement he had made when he followed me into the bedroom earlier in the day.

The resulting joint effort is titled "My tiny shark" (named for the tiny shark he was carrying at the time), and while I supplied much of the frame work, my LO supplied the punchlines, giving me further insight into just what can make a 2 yr old giggle, and just how much they understand about pushing your buttons. As you will see, he clearly thought that he was being funny (had you been there, you would have seen the look on his face which clearly indicated that not only was it funny, it was also absurd and he knew it!).

Make of it what you will...My Tiny Shark

By LizaRose and LO

I have a tiny shark, his name is shark (repeatedly)

He likes to eat chips in the park

Sometimes he eats pizza in the dark

I love love love my tiny shark


I have a little train, whose name is Henry (actually we don't, and this also took a few attempts, since LO was rooting for shark being the train's name too!)

Who likes to slide with Thomas (on the Little People Garage ramp in case you were wondering)

They ride down together with a great big wheeeeeee ( I was aiming for "ride on the tracks")

Crash on the tracks with lots of glee

Well it certainly wont win any awards, but it was far more rewarding than that, and demonstrates that market research while useful, will not tell you everything you need to know, and it probably won't normally be this much fun! I look forward to my next "research project"!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

How to study at home

..... and perhaps also, how not to!

Last night I complete Module 1 of my writing course with a reassuring pass mark. I figured that if I cant pass the introductory module, then maybe I wouldn't be cut out for this writing life. So...progress.

It has only taken me two weeks which has completely surprised me - I had to double check the date when I started! It was all down to the excellent advice of other people!

What now follows is nothing new, but it IS a confirmation that these oft repeated suggestions really do work:

1. Clear the decks
  • make sure there is nothing pressing that you have to do.
  • if there is something pressing then make a decision - what is more important?
2. Make sure there are no distractions
  • Turn off the TV - studying IS multitasking (as is driving, but thats a blog for another day!)
  • Turn off the radio, or if you have to have it, make sure it is low and music only, not the kind you sing along to!
  • Make sure the kids are well occupied, understand that mummy is "working" or are tucked up safely in bed. This of course depends on the age of your child, your available time for them, when and where you work, how long a commute you have, how many activities they have etc. But you can usually squeeze in a hour after they have gone to bed (or in the case of teenagers an hour while you wait up for them to come home....)
3. Make sure you are comfortable, and in an environment that supports study
  • Not next to a pile of washing up.
  • Not in a room that blinds you with its brightness, but definitely not in a dark room either.
4. Get your self a nice cup of tea/coffee/juice/water and an apple/banana/chocolate bar/biscuit
  • Being hungry is a distraction 
  • Going looking for food is procrastination
5. If you are stuck try one or all of the following
  • Come back to it later.
  • Move past the sticking point and something else may help you understand the earlier point
  • Re-read later when you are fresh, your mind may have had time to process the information
  • Go back to the previous parts and apply them, see if that helps make sense of the gap
  • Look up the key words on Google (check multiple citations to make sure your understanding is correct)
  • Ask a friend or colleague, a chat room (if its an online course), or study leader
6. Write down the key points, to revise over them later - note that not everything is a key point. A key point is one that leads you automatically onto a group of remembered items.

7. Apply your knowledge, practice makes perfect! Use an example that has meaning for you

  • If you are studying medicine apply it to your current partner!
  • If you are studying math, apply it to your bank account (arithmetic), share scheme (imaginary numbers) or the tiles on the wall (geometry)!
  • If you are studying writing, apply it to your own novel
  • If you are studying french language, get a favorite novel and translate it.

8. Apply yourself. Make sure you put your head down and study. It wont happen by itself!

And good luck!


Thursday, 5 June 2014

Buzzwords and Jargon


The subject of today’s blog arises from the intersection of various discussions I had today on a selection of different platforms, all of which revolved around language.

The use of extraneous buzzwords, the use of plain English in report writing, the communication of ideas by different media including Twitter are to name but a few.

The office in which I work is currently in the throes of adopting the parent companies culture. Culture change is always difficult, since it involves the introduction of a whole slew of new concepts, management styles and buzzwords; Buzzwords, which we are now in the process of learning and applying in the established way via the company intranet. At the same time today, the UK BBC reported on the internet that the use of excessive buzzwords and jargon makes us less efficient although it can encourage a sense of belonging in a common language, it can also lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings with clients. The suggestion at the end of the article refers the reader to the use of Plain English where ever possible.

This brings me to the second discussion which occurred via Yammer, a similar concept to Linked In but with a closed environment so that individual companies can throw ideas around without giving away their intellectual property. This discussion was also on the use of Plain English and via a number of different topic threads happily explored what exactly is meant by Plain English and indeed Plane English. The result being that there is no such thing, since English is one of the most complicated languages around. Examples abound, through and threw, so and sew and so forth.

Meanwhile my new found “platform” has expanded to include an exploration of the Twitterverse. I have attempted to post profound, or at least new short poems, and have taken some time to look up some of my favourite writers. This latter activity has led to some disappointment. While I was not expecting great literature from every post, I had some expectations, in particular of writers who are known as some of the most eloquent people on the planet. I do realize that not every post will be a heart stopping moment of literary creation, and perhaps I’m a little old fashioned, but is it necessary to swear so much?

I was brought up to believe that there are a very few situations in which swearing is appropriate – banging your thumb with a hammer, when the driver in front cuts across you, when no one else is around, but that the rest of the time, it is mere laziness and lack of knowledge of the vastly expressive language we call English. Is it laziness though or something else. Consider the text I received from a friend “R U OK?” – Is this laziness, or is this someone making sure I’m alright, and taking a few seconds to think about me, out of their very busy schedule. Has language evolved to allow us to be more efficient? Or is it degenerating, and will our next step will be a return to grunting.

Which brings me to evolution not just of language, but of writing, and myself. We have to evolve if we are to survive. Those who deny evolution deny themselves the ability to rise to every day challenges, or to react to the changes around them. If I choose to stay in the past, and not embrace the change in language, and structure, how then can I learn and adapt, create something that is both interesting and readable, something that actually speaks to an audience whose language has evolved when mine has not?

So, since I am obviously very busy and important (to quote Bridget Jones), I will “C U L8er”!.