The Rockwood Files: Out of place

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It happened again. It started out as an occasional twinge of discomfort between my shoulder blades, just a little to the right of my spine.

I felt it when I turned a certain way or looked over my shoulder to back out of the garage. After a day or so, the annoyance became more insistent, like a door-to-door salesman who won’t quit knocking. After hearing me grumble about it, Tom reminded me I still had a spa gift card I’d received for Christmas last year. So I scheduled an appointment, certain a massage therapist could work out the muscle spasm.Spa-Girl-Graphic

As amazing as an hour on the massage table was, it only temporarily soothed that angry area of my back. Two days later, it was back and felt like someone was sticking a broom handle into my back and leaning into it. No matter which way I turned, I couldn’t escape it.

As I picked up the kids from school that day, I squirmed in the driver’s seat to find a more comfortable position. I arched my back and tried to stretch it, but the sticking pain made me feel like I couldn’t take a deep breath. (Ironically, the exact moment when you feel like you can’t get a deep breath is also the moment you feel like you desperately need one.) That panicky feeling was accompanied by a strong surge of déjà vu, and I finally recognized the pain in my back for what it was – a slipped rib.

I’d felt it once before about this same time last year, and it took a visit to my chiropractor to pop it back into place. I called and made an appointment for the next day. In the meantime, I Googled “how to pop a rib back into place” and found some questionable methods on the Internet that my better judgement told me not to try at home.

The next day I arrived at the chiropractor’s office, eager to get my rib and my daily routine back in place. When the doctor came in and asked if I’d had an injury that could have caused the rib to slip out of joint, I had nothing interesting to offer. There was no extreme workout to report. No rock-climbing adventure. Not even a session of brisk jogging. I had no choice but to go with the truth. “I think I may have slept on it funny.”

The doctor nodded her head sympathetically and jotted down a few words in her notes. I’m guessing it was something like “Whiny middle-aged woman injured while napping.”

She ran her hand up my spine and then went to work, turning me every which way and applying just enough pressure to snap, crackle and pop my rib back into its proper place. I stretched my back and took in a nice, deep breath that felt incredible.

I asked the doctor if she thought my wayward rib would be an ongoing problem, popping out without provocation. She said it was possible. “Sometimes we have a weak spot and this might be yours,” she explained.

I wanted to tell her I have many weaknesses – cheese dip, sweet tea, fudgy brownies – and that a rebel rib isn’t something I’d like to add to the list. But I knew there was no point grouching about something I can’t change. The rib, just like people and our life circumstances, can get out of whack from time to time.

Whether it’s a wayward rib or a bad habit or a difficult situation, perhaps the best we can do is to call it what it is, find help when we need it, and get what’s out of place put back in line.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Slightly Tilted: Becoming the Procrastinator

By Jen Adair, Blogger at Slightly Tilted, Entreprenuer, Homeschool Mom to two fab kiddos

I’m not a procrastinator. I’ll have something done before you finish asking me for it. I was always the nerd that would finish the semester-long assignment the first week it was assigned.

I don’t like projects and chores hanging over my head – I want them done! Now!

But lately…oh, lately. It’s been a whirlwind of work, school, dramatic fights with kids in retail stores, major life events, and unforeseen situations. I don’t know what’s been the air the last six months or so, but I’m ready for it to go away.

All life’s stresses seemed to hit at one time, which definitely affected my way of life. I became…dun dun dun…THE PROCRASTINATOR.

I have been surprised – both good and bad – at this turn of events. My husband is usually the one who has the procrastination market cornered. He can procrastinate about his procrastination. Never at work, oh no…he saves all of that for home. #ImSoBlessed

to-do-listWhat I’ve learned through this “forced, but necessary” procrastination era of my life is this: it’s okay to wait a bit and let the creativity fester.

Usually I’m so focused on getting the project done and off my “to do” list, that I don’t take the time to kick around several ideas.

I can be too structured, too obvious. I need to take a step back and let my mind wander. Somewhere along the way, I traded deadlines for originality. That’s not necessarily bad, but it sure as heck ain’t good either.

There is something to “smelling the roses” and, although I wasn’t ignoring a situation or project to just laze around and do nothing, focusing on another situation or project allowed me to have fresh eyes when life swung me back the other way.

Some days, I just had to give myself a mental and emotional break and watch Netflix all day and not move. Those days were good, too. Wiping your brain clean of stress allows you to slowly refocus on the people and situations that are causing you stress in the first place.

The not-so-good is that some friendships were strained, some feelings were hurt, and some projects were dropped. As bad as these things were, I really think they couldn’t be helped. Although I never intended – or wanted – that to happen, I would have destroyed my family and my sanity by trying to juggle ten or more balls in the air. I’m just a overgrown girl, not a magician.

I can feel my anti-procrastination creeping back in, and although it’s a welcoming, comfortable feeling, I think I’m going to fight it for a bit longer. I need some mental space. I need a creative spark. I need to breathe.

But don’t tell my kids – I want their rooms cleaned. Right. Now.

jen adair3Hey. I’m Jen Adair. I’m an entrepreneur. Homeschool mom. CEO of organized chaos. Ok – it’s really not all that organized. Some days are great, some are not, some days I feel invincible, some days I can barely get out of bed. BUT…it’s my life and I’m living it. Browse my collection of random thoughts, humor (well, I think I’m funny!), images, links, whatever…at my blog Slightly Tilted. Sharing is caring, people! :)

The Rockwood Files: Seeing the lite (brite)

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I walked into a children’s museum recently and saw something that made me instantly happy. On one wall was a giant version of one of the best toys of all time – the Lite-Brite. I rushed over to pick up a giant plastic peg, put it into one of the round holes on the black wall, and watched it light up in a brilliant red. “Yes!” I said as I stood back to marvel at the sheer size of it. I was suddenly awash in every good childhood memory from the 1980s.

The Lite-Brite was invented in the late 60s, and its simplicity was also its genius – a light bulb inside a plastic box with a grid on one side. You attach black paper to the grid and use brightly-colored, plastic pegs to push through the black paper and into the small holes of the grid. The peg would instantly glow a bright color against the inky black background. And there was something inherently satisfying about pushing that peg into place. It’s a little like that rush you get when you pop a pocket of air on a sheet of bubble wrap.lite-brite-sailboat

I think my mother liked the Lite-Brite, too, because I could sit quietly in front of it for hours – methodically inserting pegs into the pre-patterned black paper which showed where to put each one. While Mom folded laundry and watched J.R. and Sue Ellen argue on the show Dallas, I’d sit in the floor with the Lite-Brite, creating pictures of flowers, sailboats or Scooby Doo.

The only time she didn’t like the Lite-Brite was when she vacuumed the carpet. Mothers are nervous creatures, by nature, and a handful of plastic pegs being sucked up through an old Electrolux vacuum cleaner makes the same sound as a machine gun attack in the living room. (Lucky for me, the store sold refills of plastic pegs.)

What I loved about the Lite Brite was the same thing I loved about another famous toy from the same decade – the Spirograph. For someone who draws barely recognizable stick figures, the Spirograph was like magic. It let even the most un-artistic kid create intricate designs. All I had to do was take the plastic ring and plastic disc with holes in it, put a pen into one of those holes, and move the serrated disc around the interior of the ring.

When I chose a random hole on the disc, I had no idea what the design would look like. But if I was patient and steady as I moved the disc around the ring over and over, the lines would eventually take shape, intersect and make something incredible.spirograph-designs

Just like the Lite-Brite, the Spirograph allows us to make something from nothing. A blank slate suddenly becomes an amazing pattern of shapes and colors, and all you have to do is keep your hand moving – or keep pushing round pegs into round holes – and have faith that the end result will make sense.

Maybe the best toys are the ones that fulfill a need we’re all born with – the need to create, to poke through the darkness and find the light, to make sense out of what often seems like a chaotic world.

With the messiness of this year’s election intensifying by the hour, I needed that visit to the museum and its giant Lite-Brite wall. I needed something to make sense again, something beautiful to give me a break from a political landscape that’s uglier than ever.

For the next few weeks (or until the madness is finally over) maybe we should put in ear plugs and drag out our old Spirograph set. Either that, or you can meet me at the giant Lite-Brite wall. I’ll save some pegs for you.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Face of Adversity

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Teenagers have it rough. Sometimes I tell our teenager that, even though I’m a couple decades past that phase of my life, I remember it well – especially the acne.

Managing the riptides of hormones during those years was brutal, and it was even tougher when all that interior chaos bubbled to the surface and onto my face. Even when I did everything right – the face washings, the zit creams, the fervent prayers for clear skin – I still often woke up with a horrifying new friend on school picture day, a performance day, or any time I wanted to feel less self-conscious.

At least I wasn’t alone. My friends and I struggled through it together, swapping tips about the best way to camouflage a pimple with make-up. We even came up with nicknames for the various types of red monsters we tried to keep at bay.

The Third Eye: third-eyeWhen a pimple sprouts up on that thin strip of skin right between your eyebrows, you have a classic “third eye” problem. It doesn’t improve your vision, but it does stare out at people, screaming for attention.

I’m convinced that bangs were invented for the sole purpose of covering Third Eye pimples. It’s probably how that unfortunate Justin Bieber haircut got its start in 2009.

The Rudolph: rudolphIn acne as in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Not only is the nose one of the most painful locations for acne, it’s also the most visible. There’s no denying a Rudolph pimple because it is, quite literally, as “plain as the nose on your face.”

Because this type of pimple is so front and center, its victims tend to work overtime trying to get rid of it. All that extra attention inflames the situation which, in turn, leads to the tell-tale redness of The Rudolph. Nobody wants to join in reindeer games when they’re stuck with a Rudolph.

The Iceberg:iceberg Unlike the Third Eye and The Rudolph, an Iceberg pimple is all about what lies beneath the surface. It’s a painful knot deep under the skin that no amount of coaxing will bring out.

This beast can land anywhere on your face but is especially common on the chin and cheeks. When I was in high school and battling an Iceberg, I’d sit in class and prop my face in my hand so as to shield The Iceberg from view. (Sadly, touching your face with your hands tends to exacerbate an Iceberg, so I don’t recommend this coping strategy.)

The worst part about The Iceberg is its stubborn refusal to move. What it lacks in surface redness, it more than makes up for in longevity, soreness, and its unique ability to sink a kid’s confidence.

Regardless of which type of acne adversary a teen faces, there’s no denying that the timing seems especially cruel. It happens during one of the most emotional phases of life. And teens want, almost more than anything, to avoid embarrassment – which is hard to do when a Third Eye is staring down at a Rudolph sitting next to an Iceberg.

But perhaps there’s also some wisdom in the timing. Maybe the struggle teaches us to have compassion for others who have burdens of their own. Maybe it makes us realize that, even when we think we know everything as teenagers, there are still plenty of things beyond our control and understanding. And most importantly, maybe it teaches us to care more about what’s in our heart versus what’s on our face and to keep looking up – even in the face of adversity.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: How to Procrastinate in 3 Easy Yet Excruciating Steps

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Let’s just call it what it is. You’re putting it off. Avoiding. Dodging. Hiding. Running. It has many names, but the most popular one – procrastination – makes it sound fancier than it deserves.

A writer probably came up with the term because that’s the kind of thing we do when we’re avoiding the blank page. We find other things that need doing instead of the “it” that needs doing the most. We writers are so skilled at procrastination that we’ve turned it into something that sounds more like a dread disease – writer’s block.

But writers certainly don’t have the market cornered on procrastination. There’s plenty to go around, and it doesn’t matter what the “it” is that you’re avoiding. It could be a work project, an overdue apology, a junky garage, a tense conversation or even that box of family photos you promised yourself you’d organize one day. We’re all avoiding something, so here are three steps for learning how to procrastinate like a pro.

Step 1: Fritter and putter.

Don’t just dive right in to full-on procrastination mode. You could pull a muscle that way. I like to start with a nice warm-up like frittering and puttering. For example, if the polish on one of your fingernails is chipped, go ahead and pick at it until you chip away all the polish on that nail. We all know it’s going to bug you to stare at that chipped polish all day, so you might as well pick it off. It’s just one nail, right?

Half an hour later, when you’ve neurotically picked all the polish off all the nails, tell yourself that at least it can’t distract you anymore. You’re ready for Step Two.

Step 2: Do other stuff.

Once you’ve wasted enough time to feel bad about it, ramp up your efforts into “productive procrastination.” But don’t let the “productive” part of the name fool you. You’ll still be avoiding the task at hand, but you can use all that avoidance energy to do other stuff.vacuum-145027_640-2

When I’m on a deadline and staring into the black abyss of nothingness, I’m at my most productive on other, less pressing tasks. You can tell I’m in Phase Two when there are fresh vacuum cleaner tracks in the living room, or the refrigerator has been cleaned and organized. I sort through emails and rewrite my to-do list so it’s nice and neat, as if better penmanship will somehow meet my deadline.

The only thing I don’t do and urge you to also avoid is opening Facebook or attempting to “Google something really quick.” Nope. You can’t do it. If you’re foolhardy enough to think you can, you’ll be dragging yourself out of a digital rabbit hole two hours later feeling worse than ever.

Step 3: Hello pain. Meet pleasure.

The great, trail-blazing columnist Erma Bombeck once said that procrastination and writer’s block are a luxury a serious writer can’t afford. She said her editors never cared that a funny thing didn’t happen to her on the way to the bank. She said you had to “train yourself to shut out the world and write.”

What I’ve learned over two decades as a professional procrastinator is that sometimes the struggle is part of the process. It’s almost like you’re circling the problem, glancing at it from different angles, looking for the best point of attack.

But just like a plane running out of fuel, you can’t keep circling the airport forever. Eventually the pleasure of putting something off morphs into the pain of avoiding what must be done. The scales tip in favor of action, and we settle down to do the work.

When you’ve finally done the thing you were running from, pain gives way to the pleasure of accomplishment. It feels so good you wonder why you avoided it for so long. You promise yourself you’ll never procrastinate again.

(But if you do, at least now you’ll know how to do it like a pro.)

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.