A magical distraction

Despite my to-do list, calendar invites and collection of blazers, I’m very much a child.

I’ve loved musicals since I saw Beauty and the Beast as a toddler with my mom. I still go to every Disney movie opening weekend, and I find myself the most focused at work when I listen to the Pocahontas soundtrack. And the latest Beauty and the Beast movie? I saw it five times in the theatre this spring.

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But due a variety of circumstances growing up, I didn’t ever get a chance to have the typical Disney World experience. I desperately wanted to go, but it was impossible for our family. So I buried my childhood longing for the magic of Disney World in Disney movies played on repeat to make me smile on tough days.

And when I was 11, I found myself swallowed up in a world of magic again, this time with Harry Potter. The awkward discomfort of my teenage years had a bright light at Hogwarts. I would read the books over and over again. I’d win trivia contests at midnight release parties of the books, and I wept when the series ended the summer before my eighteenth birthday. I, for a moment, thought about skipping college all together to work at Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.

 

20121258_10154637415982321_842053599692766829_o.jpgAnd then I became a driven, Slytherin adult: focused on college, then a career, then a business, then a marriage. And the magic got a bit dimmer. I’d travel, but somehow, Disney World dropped further and further down my list. I’d tell myself:

I’m too old to go to Disney World for fun. I don’t have children. And children go to Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal Studios. Orlando is hot. Kevin doesn’t care about going to Disney World. It’s too much money to just live out a fantasy.

But then last January, Kevin and I were daydreaming and looking up deals for a summer vacation. I was looking at booking an Airbnb in Destin, a week on the beach. I wanted a beach vacation, with books and cocktails and sand, but Kevin wanted to do something fun. So we started looking into Orlando, and I emailed my amazing travel agent.

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Two days later on a cold day in January, we booked the trip on a whim for six days in July.

We spent three amazing days at Universal Studios. And the first time I walked into Diagon Alley, my jaw dropped. I didn’t speak for almost 20 minutes, in awe. I squeezed Kevin’s hand hard when we rode the Hogwarts Express. I slurped butter beer. I felt my eyes well up with tears when I saw the Hogwarts castle for the first time. And I cried during the wand choosing ceremony at Ollivander’s, because I felt that same magic of reading Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time.

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I had the best time wandering through Universal Studios, soaking up every bit of magic in the park. I cast spells with my wand and wore my Slytherin hat with pride. I didn’t think it could get any better.

And on a hot Tuesday, I wore a Minnie Mouse shirt and headed to Disney World for the last day of our trip. We walked through the gates at Magic Kingdom, and I was giddy when I saw Cinderella’s castle, finally, in person.

And then the crowds. And then the heat. And then the lines and the children screaming and the overpriced food.

It wasn’t that Disney World wasn’t magical. It just wasn’t perfect.

But at the end of a down pour in the afternoon, a dinner with a spilled beer and the inability to find the perfect souvenir, we did get 15 perfect minutes. The Happily Ever After Fireworks Show was everything I wanted Disney to be: music and singing and a beautiful, sparkling experience.

The tears that I cried were mixed with sweat, and I spent most of those magical moments rubbing my eyes, trying to see what I had waited my whole life to see.

But the real magic at Wizarding and Disney Worlds wasn’t in the lights and the sounds and the parks.  It was in the Mickey Mouse sugar cookie I split with my husband on the steps of Main Street. It was the smile he sent my way in the line in the Forbidden Journey ride at Islands of Adventure. It was not wearing make-up for six days — the first time I’d done that since high school.

The real magic of Orlando isn’t at the theme parks. It’s the out of office message on your email. It’s the sun on your face for days. It’s the beautiful, humid distraction from real life.

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And every child loves a good distraction.

Finding a passion for writing

I wrote my first story when I was six.

It was about two horses, and I had drawings to match. The horses had names I can’t remember, and they were (poorly) drawn on my dad’s pale yellow legal pad paper. I stapled them together, and that was my first story.

My mom laughs when she talks about the other early stories I wrote. I had a common theme of writing about my wedding, which was a tad disconcerting because I struggled to spell “husband” correctly. But one common thread from my elementary days to essays in college was that my writing was significantly better when I was passionate about a subject.

I write every day in my job for Springfield Public Schools’ communications department. I write blurbs for e-newsletters and press releases for our website; I write tweets and Instagram captions. I love putting texture into my writing with emojis and alliteration. I love including little subtle bits of slang on Twitter as a wink and a nod to our high school students. It’s fun, but I sometimes have to fake it a bit. Most days, the passion’s not there in my writing, and for those who have been reading my writing for a long time, you can tell.

So I have to find inspiration outside of my 9 to 5 to fuel my creativity in the words that I type. I’ve been reading more; I’ve been writing more for fun. I’ve been taking long walks in the evenings with my husband, talking through story ideas and being much more selective in the television shows I watch. I’ve been eating better and drinking less wine. I’ve been creating spaces in my day where I take a quick mental break and separate myself from the grind to create space for innovation and quality.

As I get older, I’m finding more and more that passion is something you find, not something you have inherently. I’m passionate about the mission of the company I work for and often life-changing practices of our district. I’m passionate about a great lead sentence. I’m passionate about creating visually interesting graphics that celebrate our students’ accolades. I’m passionate about helping my team members and boss succeed.

I’m passionate about the work that I do 9 to 5 because I allow myself to have a richer, more meaningful 5 to 9.

I’m gardening. I’m trying new restaurants. I’m baking more. I’m sending more notes in the mail. I’m planning day trips and vacations. I’m taking more evenings off and spending more mornings enjoying the sun outside.

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My contained garden features 12 pots — double the number of pots from last summer’s garden.

I’ve found my passion in writing again because I am filled from my passions in life.

And that’s enough to have me love writing about anything — even horses.

3 productivity apps that save my life

On Monday, I submitted a 4,800-word feature for a city/regional magazine, 417 HomeBut this wasn’t just a feature; it was the feature. This cover story article is the flagship, annual story of this publication every year. It was a massive project broken up into so many different parts:

  • 4 home profiles (350 words each)
  • 4 resource listings (150 words each)
  • 3 Q&A pieces with builders (250 words each)
  • 2 sidebars (300 words each)
  • 50 captions (50-75 words each)

It was a massive undertaking; I had no idea what I was diving into when I took it on, but when I submitted it last Monday, I was overwhelmed with the scale of the project. How did I even get it all done in just three weeks, while working a full-time job?

Here’s how: I use three productivity apps that save my life on a daily basis and keep me on track. From freelance projects to my full-time job, these apps save my life every day.

  1. Todoist

About two months ago, I finally buckled down and wrote out a list of all the tasks I need to complete each week and month for my business and full-time job. I am required by certain contracts for my business to post X amount of pieces of content per platform each month for my clients, and I would keep forgetting to tweet from this account or post from that account each day.

So I broke up the 95 Facebook posts I’m required to post each month for every Checkmate Consulting client into weekly requirements for each client and then daily tasks. So for Client A, I post a Facebook post every Monday. That’s where Todoist comes in. Todoist is a visual To-Do list of my entire digital life, and tasks are scheduled to repeat on a set, editable schedule. Instead of trying to knock out huge amounts of content at once, this daily reminder that also syncs to my phone serves as a way for me to keep track of all my required postings all in one place.

I also use Todoist to schedule tasks for milestones on a specific project and reminders for my full-time job. From “edit the SPS homepage” to “tweet from Client X,” Todoist helps me stay on task.

2. Google Calendar

My Google Calendar is my lifeline. It helps me plan weekends with my husband and also navigate deadlines. If I have an upcoming project due, I’ll skip that opportunity or ask for an extension before taking on a new project. But one feature of Google Calendar helps to coordinate it all: separate calendars within Google Calendar.

My husband has access to our #Revin calendar, where he’ll see what family and social events we’ve committed to before saying yes to a Saturday lunch with a co-worker. Or he’ll create an event on our calendar and I’ll get a notification of the calendar’s addition. I’ll also carve out weekends for certain projects so that Kevin knows I’m unavailable for anything fun (essential when it’s crunch time).

Plus, with just a couple of taps, I can isolate my full-time work calendar to view on its own, or I’ll overlap calendars to see what events are coming up next to know when I’ll have time to work ahead. Planning free weekends for meeting deadlines is essential when you’re juggling so much.

3. Voxer

Hands-free communication with my husband and friends keeps me sane and balanced. The walky-talky style app also helps me to communicate when I’m on the go, while not neglecting relationships and social obligations. I can check it when I get a spare minute, but it gives me the ability to share some more extensive thoughts without the hassle of maintaining a long text conversation (who has time for that?).

Plus, it’s fun to get caught up at the end of a long day to hear what my girlfriends have been up to. I can’t wait to be able to do that more in person as I begin a well-deserved freelance hiatus.

What are your three must-have productivity apps?

Stay tuned for the big reveal of my big cover story in 417 Home this January.