Free your brain for what you value most.

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Image for post
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

I’ve gathered these simple tips over thirty years of being a work-from-home graphic designer, educational publisher, and mother.

Some I’ve learned for myself via trial and error, others I’ve discovered and curated from people I admire.

Some of them free my brain to tackle the things I value more than the distraction that inevitably comes when I let them slip, others let me chip away at larger goals without setting aside extra time.

I hope you’ll find at least one that will make a difference for you, too.

Before we begin, remember:

You don’t have to be gifted; you just need to listen, on repeat, while doing something else.

Man wearing headphones, in the woods
Man wearing headphones, in the woods
Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

The best way to pick up the cadence of a new language and learn to think and speak like a native is to be unconsciously exposed to it every day, in context, from birth. The next best way is to consciously do the very same thing, as often as you can.

Here’s how:

1. Listen to the radio in your target language. Have it playing in the background while you go about daily chores.

2. Read and listen (preferably at the same time) to a familiar text, with both your native and target languages side by side.

What you consistently…

The busier I look, the more you’ll think I can’t see or hear you

Man in a hat gesturing as he talks on the phone
Man in a hat gesturing as he talks on the phone
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

There I was, in the middle of a shopping centre, completely invisible to the man next to me. I mean, I must have been invisible, right? Why else would he be talking so openly on the phone about personal matters, with me right there?

We were both sitting on one of a cluster of seats in the shopping centre, the stranger and I, each in our own bubble of cares. I was writing in a notebook, waiting for my daughter to finish shopping, while he was having an in-depth telephone conversation.

At first it was as if I was alone…

But she didn’t believe me, so the magic lives on

A child outside near a play tent, in golden light with glittering snow all around
A child outside near a play tent, in golden light with glittering snow all around
Photo by Adam Tarwacki on Unsplash

It was early December and night was falling when I decided that, at seven years old, my first-born daughter was ready to learn the truth. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to model for our kids? Telling the truth?

“Many, many years ago,” I began, “there lived a kindly old man named Nicholas. He had plenty of money, but he did not want to keep it all to himself. Nicholas looked around him, and when he saw people who were suffering, he would creep up to their windows and drop some money inside their homes.”

She watched me tell…

A poem about learning to listen without waiting to speak

Younger man in foreground conversing with laughing older man
Younger man in foreground conversing with laughing older man
Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

Sometimes, when I stop thinking
only of myself,
I see these thoughts
In your downcast eyes:

Stop being right all the time, even when you are.
Please listen to more than what you hear me say.
I bleed when you pick and pull at every word
until my ideas fall apart.

You spoke of wisdom from your past,
that if one doesn’t think
they’ll finish what they start
they shouldn’t attempt the thing at all.

Yes with building a house, I said,
but no with doing exercises.
Any movement is good,
even if we don’t complete the whole routine.


Focus is everything.

Golden light framing a long haired girl at the wheel of a car
Golden light framing a long haired girl at the wheel of a car
Photo by Cory Bouthillette on Unsplash.

It was the 1980s in rural Australia, and my sister was giving me my first driving lesson.

There are the controls, put your belt on, let’s go, she said. Her baby son was strapped in the back and seventeen-year-old me was in the driver’s seat for the first time.

Changing gears wasn’t hard for me. I’d watched Mum and Dad do that my entire life, taking in the fluid coordination of clutch in–gear change–clutch out, knowing with unquestioning certainty I’d be able to do it when the time came.

How easy I found it to believe, back then! I wasn’t…

What I’ve learned about Math Trauma from Kasi Allen, Ph.D.

Smiling girl with other teen students in a classroom.
Smiling girl with other teen students in a classroom.
Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

I was 15 years old, sitting in grade 10 (Sophomore) maths, feeling utterly alone in a room full of my peers.

At first I’d put up my hand to ask for help, but soon stopped when I realised that my questions sounded stupid. Everyone else got it the first time, and there I was asking the math-equivalent of “but how do you know those two musical notes are different just by listening to them?” It was an awful feeling that made a painful dent in my self-esteem.

“Ha ha! I’m in the dumb class now,” I joked the following year…

A poem

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Image for post
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Ideas slowly, tentatively
show their delicate tendrils —
soft, with a wash of palest green.

I coax them upward,
watching, hoping,
waiting to see the unfurling.

Tiny coils stretch and cling
onto the scaffold of my thoughts,
dividing to forge new branches.

My pen wants to hurry them,
push them into the light—but no.

They are easily startled
and have blight-prone skin,
these notions newly born.

It only takes a sudden noise
or a presence over my shoulder
for the ruin to begin.

Before my eyes they shrivel, dessicated in the glare of a windswept page, shown to outside…

You own your choices, not theirs.

Old fashioned orange telephone
Old fashioned orange telephone
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The phone rings — I startle. It’s probably a scammer, or a telemarketer — again. Should I finally give in to the impulse to smash the phone, or answer, and troll them?

I don’t like these feelings of destruction because I’ve learned that some shrapnel always flies backwards. These grimly fertile shards of anger and splinters of disdain fly swift and true—I do not feel them enter the place in my heart that used to be soft and kind.

And then, in an instant, one simple article changes everything.

I need this job, the author writes. If there was an…

Ellane W

Visual communicator, teacher, grandmother.

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