College Essay Writing Tips Series

Since so many students are stressing about their college essays, I’ve decided to write a series of College Essay Writing Tips. The links to each post can be found below:College Essay Writing Tips - the full list

Tip # 1 Helpful Revision Techniques

Tip # 2 We Are All Beginners at Some Point

Tip # 3 The Writing Process

I will update this page as new posts are published.

Best of luck with your essay and keep writing!

College Essay Writing Tip #3 – the Writing Process

There aren’t too many people who would dare argue that writing isn’t (very) hard. Success in writing usually comes as much from persistence as it does from talent. Just like the Little Engine that Could, the writers who never give up are the ones who are the most successful.

Persistence can trump Talent, and often does

Persistence can trump Talent, and often does

The same is true for college essays. Because the task seems so daunting, it is easy to want to throw in the pencil. But those who stick with it, generally end up with an essay they are proud of.

Most writers – especially new writers – tackle all of the steps of the writing process at once. They try to brainstorm, draft, and revise all at the same time. How many times have you written a sentence and gone back and rewritten it several times in an early draft?  It’s hard to get out of the first paragraph when you do that. It’s hard to finish anything that way.

Breaking the process down into steps makes it far less overwhelming.

Consider tackling your essay in six stages. I know that sounds like a lot – but you have to remember this is an investment in your future. It’s worth the time you will be putting in.

Here are the steps:

Stage One
Brainstorm – what do you want to write about?

Stage Two
Start writing. Get the story down without correcting mistakes or rewriting anything. Write without interrupting the flow of your thoughts. If you must, you can underline words/sentences that you know you want to revisit. But no backspacing. No erasing. Just move forward and write like a Madman. (For more info on that, read this wonderful essay by Betty Flowers.)

In the writing session, don’t worry about cliches or repeating yourself. Don’t worry about the sequence of your story. Don’t worry about the “so what” of your story. Just Write.

Now let your essay sit for at least 24 hours without doing anything to it. Take a day off.

Stage Three – Read Your Essay Out Loud, then…
Look at the structure of your story. Think about your essay as if it were a fairy tale.

Does your essay include these important story elements:
Once Upon a Time – you are probably writing about some sort of change. So this part of the essay highlights how things were before the change happened so the reader can understand the impact of the change. (In Cinderella, this would be that Cinderella lived happily with her mother and father.)

Until – this is what happened that caused the change. (In Cinderella this would be her father married her wicked stepmother who wouldn’t let her do anything but clean. She wouldn’t even let Cinderella go to the ball.)

But then – this is a twist, usually an unexpected twist. You might have more than one of these. (In Cinderella, this would be Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears, Cinderella meets the prince but loses her slipper, the prince finds the slipper, and then the prince finds Cinderella.)

And Now – this is the final result. This is the “so what” of your essay. This is where the theme comes to life. The story is a set of plot points. The theme is why those plot points matter. (In Cinderella, this would be Cinderella marries the prince and no longer has to live with the stepmother.)

You’ll notice these are all plot points that lead to the “so what” that it’s better to be kind. Love wins. If you are a good person, goodness will ultimately find you. The “so what” is the reader’s take away from the story.

As you revisit the structure of your essay you can make small changes to other things along the way but don’t get distracted from the mission. Make sure your essay covers the Once Upon a Time, Until, But then, and the And Then. This makes it a complete story.

Because this is such a short piece, it will probably work best if you tell the story in chronological order.

Stage Four – Read Your Essay Out Loud, then…
Now look at each paragraph. Is each one necessary? Does each paragraph advance the story? Is each paragraph presenting new details rather than repeating information that has already been shared? Is each paragraph in its logical place in the story – does what happened first, come first?

Is each sentence doing the same things – advancing the story, not repeating details, coming in the right place in the story/paragraph?

Now look at the words – are you using strong verbs so that you don’t need as many adverbs? Is each word necessary? Don’t be afraid to cut out anything that is not absolutely necessary.

You will keep the reader’s interest when she wants to know what happens next. So make sure your story is moving forward. Each paragraph, each sentence, and each word should be working to do just that – advance the story.

Then finally, does the end of your essay make it clear what the “so what” of your story is? If you have done a good job with your plot, the “so what” should be clear. It emerges out of the story. You shouldn’t have to force it to be there.

Stage Five – Read Your Essay Out Loud, then…
Here you will get down to the nitty gritty. Make sure the sentence-level mechanics are working: grammar, complete sentences, correct punctuation, strong word choices, etc.

Stage Six
Ask someone you trust to read your essay. The first blog post in this series lists questions you should ask them when they are finished. Click here to read that post.

Good luck and happy writing!

P.S. For the full list of college essay writing tips, click here.

 

 

College Essay Writing Tip #2 – Remember We Are All Beginners at Some Point

pen and paperThis might be the most important tip that I will share with you because it speaks to confidence. Believing you can write a great essay is the very first step to writing a great essay. Measured confidence can take you pretty far because you won’t be afraid to fail. You’ll just dust yourself off and sharpen your pencil again.

The beauty of the college essay is that it remains hidden until you decide to release it into the world. If you hate what you’ve written, you don’t have to submit it. It’s that simple. So go for it!

You must remember that writing is like anything else. Baseball players don’t show up at The World Series final game without practicing (a ton). Pianist don’t show up at Carnegie Hall without practicing (a ton). Teachers don’t show up to the classroom – Doctors don’t show up for surgery – Magicians don’t show up to the stage – Preachers don’t show up to the pulpit without a ton of preparation.

When you sit down to write your essay, remember that you are very likely a beginner. This means that it might be challenging in ways you didn’t expect. Just keep writing and revising. You will get there!

Here is what Ira Glass has to say about being a beginner…

So trust your writerly instincts and get busy creating that first draft!

P.S. For the full list of college essay writing tips, click here.

College Essay Writing Tip #1 – Helpful Revision Techniques

For the next few blog posts, I’ll be writing about the dreaded college application essay. Most students not only dread it, but actually fear it.

That’s because a blank piece of paper is scary. college essay writing tips monster under the bed

No, really. It’s worse than monsters under the bed even. How do you transform nothing into the most amazing story ever (and in 500 words or less)?

Not everyone can afford to hire an essay tutor, so here are some things to think about.

Write two drafts before you show it to anyone. The first draft will never be your best work. Magical writing happens in revision.

Read your essay out loud. Trust me. This is an amazing (and very inexpensive) way to find inconsistencies, over-used words, and grammatical errors.

Have some one else read your essay. After they read it, ask them these questions:

  • Where in the essay did you stop or slow down reading?
  • Did you stop because you liked what you read and you wanted to read it again?
  • Or, did you stop because you were confused?
  • What do you remember most about my essay?
  • What did you like the least about my essay?
  • After reading this, what is one word you would use to describe me? (This will speak to the theme of your essay. Here you can see if what you were trying to get across is actually what the reader took away from your essay.)
  • Are there any questions that my essay made you wonder about but didn’t answer?
  • Did I fully address the question(s) in the prompt?

These questions will help you see the strengths and weaknesses in your essay. It’s important to remember that this is not a time to explain to the reader why things were or were not the way they seemed. It’s a time to reflect on what the reader’s take-away was and if that was your intention. Remember that you will not have the opportunity to “explain” any aspect of your essay to the review committee. It will have to stand on its own.

Then revise, revise, revise.

Happy Writing (and revising!)

P.S. For the full list of college essay writing tips, click here.

 

The hero’s journey spelled out…

heroineThere are only some many stories in the world. I think the most popular count is 7. Two of those are leaving home and coming home–the hero’s journey.

It’s obvious what the hero’s journey is as an overall story idea where the main character goes on a quest or possibly runs away from a quest. But somewhere (and I cannot remember where, sorry smart person who said it first) I heard it spelled out. Lightbulb Moment.

Here’s breakdown–you can think of it as a map for the hero’s journey:

  • Main character gets called to journey (if you like the fairy tale model of storytelling, this is where Once Upon a Time is no longer the way it is. Something has changed and the hero must find it/decide to fix it/etc.)
  • The MC goes through trials
  • The MC faces her teachers
  • The MC faces the battle
  • The MC loses her fear (and lives happily ever after – or not)

This makes me think of almost every Disney animated movie but especially Kung Fu Panda.

Happy Writing!

The Art of the Story Writing Workshop with Tom Jenks in San Francisco…..

I have not attended this workshop yet – but I will soon because I just got accepted yesterday. Yea! It promises to be amazing! Check it out…

One of my very sweet, and possibly delusional friends, mentioned that if I ever get famous enough for Mr. Jenks to admit  claim he’s worked with me, my name would appear below Kurt Vonnegut. That would not be awful! 😉

The Art of the Story with TOM JENKS

The class will meet every day for four days, with a morning workshop and an afternoon seminar focused on craft. For the seminar, there will be reading assignments and study of works by well-known writers. Each participant will have one manuscript workshopped in class and a second manuscript reviewed for an individual conference with Tom. We will study storytelling and the formal elements of fiction, including voice, point of view, characterization, imagery, plot, and theme. Attention will also be given to scene building, sentence making, and the dramatic movement of descriptive writing.

Enrollment is limited to twelve participants. (Acceptance into the class will be based on evaluation of a submitted manuscript.)

Class Dates:
San Francisco           January 15—18, 2015
San Francisco           January 29—February 1, 2015
San Francisco           February 26—March 1, 2015

Application deadline:

November 15, 2014

To apply or to receive more information:

  • Please send an email to Workshops.
  • The classes often fill quickly, well before the application deadlines, so if you’re interested in a class, we encourage you to contact us promptly.

WRITERS EDITED AND PUBLISHED BY TOM JENKS INCLUDE:

Rick Bass
Richard Bausch
Ann Beattie
T. Coraghessen Boyle
Janet Burroway
Robert Olen Butler
Michael Chabon
Frank Conroy
Don DeLillo
E. L. Doctorow
Andre Dubus
Stuart Dybek
Jennifer Egan
Gail Godwin
Donald Hall
Ron Hansen
Charles Johnson
Min Jin Lee
Bernard Malamud
Anthony Marra
Peter Matthiessen
Jill McCorkle
Arthur Miller
Susan Minot
Lorrie Moore
Alice Munro
Maud Newton
Joyce Carol Oates
Jayne Anne Phillips
Annie Proulx
Kirstin Valdez Quade
Philip Roth
James Salter
Scott Spencer
Robert Stone
John Updike
Kurt Vonnegut
John Edgar Wideman
Tom Wolfe
Tobias Wolff
Richard Yates
Alexi Zentner

If you enjoyed this post, you can read about other workshops here.

Why readings are important…

Over the past few posts, I’ve been chronicling my experiences at various writers conferences and workshops. You can check out the entire lineup here.

Many workshops offer the chance for participants to read their work aloud to a sympathetic and engaged group of readers. They will even clap loudly for you at the end, no matter how eloquently (or not) you were able to share your words.

I first realized that doing a reading was a possibility for me at the Yale Writers’ Conference a year and a half ago. Our workshop leader made the announcement as if she were adding broccoli to the lunch menu, “Oh, and by the way, you’ll all have a chance to do a reading. I suggest you try it. It’ll be good for you.”

That caught me completely off-guard. As you might have read here, insecurity ushered in my application for the Yale workshop. I mean, it’s Yale, right. And, as if submitting my novice work to be read and critiqued by others wasn’t brave enough, I was being encouraged to read it aloud. Where was that little tidbit in the application materials?

Honestly, the only reason I did it was so that, one day, when someone asks me if I have ever done a reading, I can answer, “Why yes actually, my first-ever reading was at Yale.” Hopefully, I won’t have to clarify, “Yes, the one in New Haven.”

So here’s what I learned about readings.

  • Readings are not in my wheelhouse. When I read in front of others, I sound like a hoarse frog that’s fallen off its very comfortable lily pad smack into very cold, murky water. Which is super weird because I’m quite comfortable speaking off the cuff in front of people.
  • Readings are an amazing experience. Ultimately, you’ll be glad you did it. Pinky swear.
  • Practice a few million times before you actually stand up to read.
  • Attend the readings of the other writers in the group and support them the way they supported you–clapping when they are done, not pointing out they sounded like a cold/wet frog, etc.
  • Respect the time limit. You will look like a disrespectful amateur if you don’t.
  • You must respect the time limit. (Nope, that’s not a typo. I meant to write it twice. 😉 It’s really important.)
  • Stop at a point that leaves the audience wanting to know more. This is especially true if you are selling books afterward.
  • Remember to breathe. If fact, if these were truly in order, time limit would be number one and this would be number two. Take breaths. Frequently.
  • Be familiar enough with your work that you can look up at the audience every now and then. It will make everyone more engaged. (If you’re like me, it might also make you more nervous when you look up and remember there are for real people in the audience. Just remember to breathe.)
  • And have someone take your picture.

Since Yale, I have read three other times. Once more at Yale, once at the Kenyon Review Workshop, and once at the One Story Workshop. I know. I know. I’m practically a frog professional.

Here is Yale. The first time.

2013_June_11_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_99And the second time at Yale.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 09, 2014-10I much prefer the podium.

And here is One Story…see how I am getting more comfortable? Practice makes comfort.

one story workshop-224At One Story, I read a very personal piece–a poem about a friend’s suicide. Even though I wrote it about 3 years ago, I had not read it aloud before. This is a really important thing to consider. I knew this audience provided a safe, accepting place for me to read this very private poem and I wanted to share it. But, I broke down and cried half-way through. Someone in the audience reminded me to breathe and my fellow writers were extremely supportive, waiting for me to catch my breath. I wiped my eyes, sucked in a deep breath, and made it through the piece. But it was hard. Brave and hard. I have wondered if I should have read something else. I’ll never know if it was the right choice. I do know that everyone was gracious after and I hope maybe my words touched someone in the audience. A few people cried right along with me. I will forever be grateful for that.

So, if you get a chance to do a reading, do it! And if you participate in a writing group, consider making reading aloud part of the meeting. Each writer can just read a few pages–it doesn’t have to be the whole piece. Words have a different echo when they are thrown out to grab oxygen than when they are simply lying flat on the page. Reading them aloud will make you a better writer. Pinky swear!

It’s also important to attend readings of authors you admire. It’s a chance to thank them for the many hours they spend toiling away on a story that has touched you. And it’s often a chance to meet them and get them to sign your book. Squee! It really is important to become a part of the larger writing universe. We can’t spend all of our time at our lily pads in our own little corner of the pond. Reading and attending readings is a great way to accomplish that.

Yale Writers’ Conference (part 2)…..

If you were here yesterday, you’ve already seen Part I. But if not, you can click here to read it first.

Yesterday was about the speakers and the workshops, but today is about the other stuff–the friends you will make and the fun you will have.

I’ve met some amazing writers through Yale and I’m thrilled to say that many of them have also become friends. They inspire me, encourage me, and make me laugh.

2013_June_18_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_748 2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_159 Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 15, 2014-15Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 09, 2014-36I don’t have pictures of everyone I keep in contact with but these are my girls! They are talented, kind, and super fun to be around. In fact, making writer friends is probably the biggest benefit I can see in attending writers conferences. I’d say I make at least one new friend at every writer event I go to. No one in my house really cares too much about reading or writing (I know, I have failed them all miserably), so having friends who share the same passion is amazing.

I mentioned yesterday that dinner is not included in the tuition for the Yale conference. That gives you a chance to get out and explore New Haven. There are tons of restaurants–Chinese, Indian, Burger Joints, Pubs, Mexican. Here are some of my favorite places:

Tomatillo – think Chipotle but better. It’s super casual and not too expensive. No alcohol is served there.

2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_22 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_23And then there is Oaxaca Mexican Restaurant. They have yummy guacamole and the margaritas aren’t so bad either.

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_572 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_571 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_570 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_569Then there is the Indian Vegetarian Restaurant Thali Too. Their dahl is dahlish!

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_315The Atticus Bookstore has yummy tomato soup and great salads and sandwiches.

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_420One of the places I enjoyed most was Mory’s. It’s a private club but they invite the writers from the conference to come anytime during their time in New Haven. The side patio is lovely.

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_321 2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_160 2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_157Ordinary has the most fabulous grilled cheese sandwich, but be patient, you might have to wait a while for it. 😉 I also loved the beet salad at the Heirloom Restaurant in The Study Hotel.

For the world’s most famous hamburger, go here. There is very little room to sit down, so plan on “to go”. Just fyi, they don’t offer many condiment options. Well, you can have ketchup, onions, or I think tomato. But nothing else. Think Soup Natzi. And learn from my mistake–do not, I repeat, do not ask for mayo. And, dear God, whatever you do, do not ask for french fries. It’s chips or nothing. Personally, I don’t get it. The meat was rawish and the burger is served on bread rather than a proper bun.  But, like, I said, the line was out the door.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 10, 2014-2 Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 10, 2014-4

Yale holds their conference in June. Both years that I attended New Haven was also hosting the Arts and Ideas festival at the same time. Bonus!2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_240New Haven is full of amazing libraries and museums. You could easily spend ten days just sightseeing. There is the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

 The Sterling Memorial Library:

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The Bass Library:2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_3

Yale University Art Gallery: 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_337 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_361 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_389 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_396

The Center for British Art:2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_421

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_447 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_458

The Beinecke Rare Book Library where you can see the Gutenberg Bible:

 

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_493 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_494 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_498 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_499 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_500 Some of the other fun things you will see around town:

Skull and Bones.

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It is an “ivy” league school after all. 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_8 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_9

Yummy kettle corn2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_12 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_24 2013_June_09_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_29 2013_June_10_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_55 2013_June_10_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_56 2013_June_10_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_57 2013_June_10_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_60

Some people say rubbing his foot will bring you good luck. Other people say that rubbing his foot will make you look like a dork. 2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_129 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_224 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_235 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_237 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_242 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_246 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_257 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_291 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_293 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_317 2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_326So, why are you still here? Log off and go get your submission ready! 😉

Yale Writers’ Conference (part 1)…..

When I decided that I actually am a “for-real” writer, I ordered The New Yorker because in order to be a “for-real” writer one must read The New Yorker. Right? R.I.G.H.T.

Flipping through the pages kind of felt like my 8-year-old-self wearing my mother’s high heeled shoes, mink stole, droopy pearl earrings, and possibly my grandmother’s satin opera gloves. But then I saw it–an ad for the Yale Writers’ Conference. I might have even giggled. It certainly sounded marvelous but I hesitated, thinking “Yale? Who are you kidding?”

Ultimately I thought, “Why not!”

I showed the ad to my husband. When he didn’t laugh, I took it as a sign that the universe was pushing my newly established writer-self out of the nest to test out my pencil wings.

So, I applied with the beginnings of my novel in progress “The Alligator Purse.” While I waited for a response, I reminded myself to breathe. And then I waited and waited, for what seemed like a really long time. Forever really. (That might have been a by-product of the watched in-box never boils syndrome. Maybe. Okay, probably.)

When the email came inviting me to attend, I was beside myself–proud, disbelieving, believing, and more than a little nervous. I mean, it’s Yale. What were they thinking letting me in but thank you Jesus, they let me in!

So if you have any of that self-doubt, erase it now. Right now. The Yale Writers’ Conference is so welcoming. They accept 140 people each year. So that’s 140 chances for them to say yes to you. And please know that you do not have to be an established rock star writer to attend. You do have to submit a quality writing sample that is polished and then re-polished. And then polished five more times. But, there is plenty of room for those who are early in their writing career. Please understand that this doesn’t mean there isn’t talent at the conference – there is and a lot of it! People who invest in their writing generally take honing their craft very seriously. (Remember I said to polish your submission! And then polish it again. And then one five more times.)

Terence Hawkins (with his trusted sidekick Victoria Rinkerman who is nothing short of amazing herself) is the man behind the magic that is the Yale Writers’ Conference. He is a writer himself and is eager to help all of us succeed.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 08, 2014-12

Here are a few things that are good to know:

The less expensive option is to stay in the dorms. The un-air conditioned dorms. When I was in college, I lived at home so I actually loved staying in the dorms. But they aren’t fancy and if you are used to your own bathroom and A/C, you should know that the dorms do not equal the Ritz Carlton. You should also know, however, that most people stay in the dorms and that it is fun to be there. (So it’s really a positive masquerading as a negative.)

The dorms are gorgeous (from the outside 😉 ).

2013_June_15_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_255And they really aren’t terrible on the inside…

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Session I is ten days. That’s a long time to be away from work and family (possibly another positive masquerading. I guess that depends on your job and family. 😉 ). Session II is shorter if you really like your family and/or your job.

The rest is all up side.

Did I mention the conference is at Yale? Yes, “the” Yale that you’ve heard so much about. It’s magical to walk the streets of New Haven in the spring.

For ten days, you will talk and learn about writing with some very talented/committed/enthusiastic writers and instructors. You won’t wash any dishes or drive a car. If you pack enough clothes, you won’t have to do laundry. Someone will cook breakfast and lunch for you buffet-style. (Dinner is not included but New Haven has tons of fabulous places to eat.) You might not even watch tv. It’s heavenly. You’ll meet in large sessions to hear amazing guest speakers and you’ll meet in groups of ten to workshop each others writing. You’ll even get to attend one master class workshop with a guest speaker of your choosing (This is why it’s smart to apply early. The earlier you get accepted, the more choices you have.)

You will eat, sleep, and breathe writing for ten days. Ahhhhh.

In effort not to keep you reading this post for hours on end, I’m consolidating my experiences from two years into one post. (I’ve been to Yale for the past two years and the only reason I’m not applying this year is that my son is graduating from high school around the same time as the conference.) That means I won’t be able to tell you every fabulous thing about the conference, but here is some of what I learned…

From Richard Selzer (Mortal Lessons)

  • Don’t be timid: you can say in writing things you would never say aloud.
  • And don’t be afraid to tell lies: they give writing a vivid complexion.

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From Kevin Wilson (The Family Fang)

  • Writing is a muscle you have to exercise and you have to change up your routine to keep it all moving.
  • When building a story, instead of starting with a tree and adding ornaments to it, start with an ornament and build a tree to support it.
  • You might be the worst writer in the world, but if you write, at least you’ll have evidence to attest to that fact.

2013_June_11_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_79

From Deborah Treisman (Fiction Editor, The New Yorker)
She was asked “what makes a story stand out.” She answered that you just know it when you see it. She looks at the story’s ambition–what it’s trying to do–and figures out if it’s doing it.

2013_June_12_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_135From Z. Z. Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere)

  • Give the reader an image to start with. Then you can put that image into action: you can create symbolism with the image.
  • The readers want to see a journey with obstacles that add up to something. What the character wants will give them motivation–look at the “lack” behind that want. What will the want satisfy?
  • If you want to read a terrific article by Z. Z. Packer on writing short stories, click here.

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From Joe McGinniss (who sadly lost his battle with cancer this past year)

  • Especially in non-fiction, you are going to make people angry.
  • However, the worst thing is no reaction at all.

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From Tom Perotta (Nine Inches)
Get the story going before you give backstory.

2013_June_14_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_209From Susan Orlean (Orchid Thief, Rin Tin Tin)

  • People can be made to care about things that seem ordinary.
  • Ultimately we end up writing to ourselves.

2013_June_18_yale writers workshop_ellenweeren_754From Sybil Baker (Into this World)

  • Short stories are almost always based on desire and characters are often responsible for their own problems.
  • Raise the stakes for your character on her original desire, rather than adding in new desires.
  • Dialogue is more interesting when characters are disagreeing or at least not agreeing.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 09, 2014-9

From Chuck Klosterman (I Wear the Black Hat)

  • You want the reader to be engaged with the text, themselves, and the world.
  • The first chapter makes an assertion that gets carried through the book. It’s important for the reader to get to know who she’s going to spend the next 250 pages with.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 10, 2014-12From Rob Spillman (Tin House)

  • When he reads a submission, he wants to forget he’s an editor and remember that he’s a reader.
  • The writer should establish authority in the first 300 words. Writers can do that through language, forward momentum in the story, stakes for the characters, and story questions.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 10, 2014-41

From Colum McCann (TransAtlantic)

  • Write what you want to know. You do not have to write what you already know.
  • There’s no true distinction between fiction or non-fiction: it’s all story-telling.
  • Beginnings are hard because they can go in so many directions, but the ending should be the one thing that has to happen.
  • Life is deeper than Google: you might have to go to the library.
  • It’s all shit, until it isn’t.

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From Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune, McLaughlin Group)

  • Be courageous and be persistent.
  • Some stories will work: some won’t. So what.
  • There is someone out there waiting for your story.

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From Rick Moody (The Four Fingers of Death: A Novel)

  • Rethink abstraction: it’s better to be fully grounded in things and scenes and people.
  • Use all five senses–remember smell is most closely linked to memory.
  • Read all of your work out loud, to someone else and your mistakes will be more obvious.

Yale Writers Conf 2014-Jun 14, 2014-10

Okay, I don’t know about you but I’m tired. So, I’ll be back later with more. (You can read Part 2 here.) Come back soon for Yale Part II. And you missed the other workshops I’ve written about, you can read those

Tin House Winter Workshop

Woodbridge Writers Retreat

 

Fall for the Book….

Fall for the Book is not so much a writing conference but it is a kick-arse literary event hosted by George Mason University. It’s a chance to meet some amazing writers who will read from their works and talk about their writing journeys. And, by the by, it’s free. Yes, that’s fabulous!

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This year the festival will run September 11th thru 18th. Most of the events are held on George Mason’s campus, but pay careful attention to the schedule, some events are off-campus.

I really consider this more of a reader’s conference than a writer’s conference – but hey, if you are a writer, uhm, you should also be a reader.

The link to the festival’s website is here.

The schedule is here.

The list of presenters is here.

Two things you don’t want to miss:

  • Jodi Piccoult (the recipient of the Mason Award) will speak on Friday, September 12th.
  • Richard Russo (the recipient of the Fairfax Award) will speak on Wednesday, September 17th.

Just in case you aren’t really clear on what the Fall for the Book Festival is, here’s what they say (taken directly from their website):

What began as a two-day literary event in 1999, organized by George Mason University and the City of Fairfax, has expanded into a week-long, multiple-venue, regional festival that brings together people of all ages and interests, thanks to growing community interest and generous supporting partners.

Each year, the festival:

  • Advances children’s education by hosting specially tailored writing workshops or readings for students at the elementary, middle and high school levels and by publishing an annual anthology of student writing in partnership with the Northern Virginia Writing Project and Dominion.
  • Makes literature fun by showcasing literary events in an active, engaging atmosphere that includes skits, dance, storytelling and more, and by introducing young people to living authors whose work they’re reading in the classroom.
  • Connects readers and authors at all levels, offering book lovers the chance to meet and greet their favorite writers and hear behind-the-scenes stories of writing and publishing.
  • Builds community by connecting with senior centers, book clubs, special interest community groups, libraries, bookstores and many others.
  • Encourages cultural diversity by combining common points of cultural reference with forums for discussion of our shared stories.
  • Gives sponsors a chance to support regional programs, and attracts the broadest possible cross-section of families and individuals throughout the area.
  • Fall for the Book, an IRS-recognized non-profit corporation, is governed by a board of directors that meets throughout the year.

Events take place at George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus, the festival’s base, and at other locations throughout Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland.

If you are new here, welcome. This post is one in a series of entries about my experiences at various writing conferences this year. You can read about Tin House’s Winter Workshop here and the Woodbridge Writers Retreat here.

 

The Woodbridge Writers Retreat….

This is another post in my writers workshops series, where I give you the scoop on the writers workshops/conferences I attended this year. The Woodbridge Writers Retreat was hosted by Richard Bausch, Robert Bausch, and Tom Zoellner in May 2014 in Woodbridge, Virginia. If you are a reader/writer and you don’t know about these guys yet, you’ll be very glad you read this post. (Richard is on the left, Tom in the middle, Robert on the right.)

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I met Richard Bausch when I was an English Major at George Mason University a few years, ahem, okay, decades ago. He was the professor whose words stuck with me truly for a lifetime. When I was his student, he gave the class a short story assignment. I had never written a short story before and was completely intimidated. (Yes, the class was probably called “writing short stories” or something very vague like that–thank you for understanding why I was surprised by the work we were asked to do.)

Luckily it was a small class and he must have seen the look of shear dread in my eyes. He asked what was wrong. I sheepishly told him I didn’t even know where to start. (Yes, rookie mistake. Don’t ever let other people do the dirty work for you. In order for you to be invested in it, you must own every step of the process.) So he kindly created a prompt for me. I wrote a story based on that prompt and it was horrible. Absolutely horrible.

But rather than tell me to give up on writing, he told me the truth:
“You took the easy way out on this one. You can do much better than this.”

He was right. I had very much taken the easy way out. I wrote the story quickly and put it aside as if the first version of anything is ever good enough. I never edited it. I never reconsidered optional story lines. My characters were flat. It was awful. (No,  thankfully, I do not still have a copy of it. No need for such evidence.)

I was worse than a rookie. I was lazy. And embarrassed myself.

Fast forward many years later. I had joined a writing group and we decided to attend the AWP writers conference. When planning out what sessions I wanted to attend, I realized that Richard Bausch was going to be a speaker. Squeeeee.

So like a good little groupie, I excitedly waited for him to come into the session. As soon as he sat down, I rushed over to him and gushed about how he had been my professor and how he had inspired me by telling me the truth and blah, blah, blah. I even gave him a flashdrive with a copy of my work-in-progress to show him that I was no longer “taking the easy way out.” (Yep, still rocking the rookie. Thankfully I stopped short of asking him to sign my t-shirt.)

He was very sweet and said thank you. He even accepted my facebook friend request. But I didn’t really think I would get a chance to see him, much less work with him, again.

That is, until I met his brother Robert Bausch at the Algonkian Writers Workshop in Sterling, Virginia. He was a guest speaker and there were only about 8 of us at the conference, so we all got a chance to chat with him. He had us completely engaged. There is no doubt that Bob is extremely talented with many books, short stories, and even a movie under his belt. But he is also passionate. He reads like crazy, he teaches, and he writes every day. And he is funny as hell. (Just like his twin brother Robert. Yep, twinsies. Awesome.)

What I love most about Bob is that he loves writing and teacher writing, even after doing it every day for years on end. He hasn’t lost his zeal and that makes me hopeful that I won’t either. (Richard is the same way, by the by.)

As he was walking out of the conference, I asked him to please let me know if there were any workshops he was teaching and gave him my email address. When I hadn’t heard from him after a while, I went from rookie to near-stalker and googled “Bausch” plus “workshop” and found the Woodbridge Writers Workshop. His brother was going to be there too. Both Bausch Brothers at the same conference, teaching me? I might faint. Sign.Me.Up.Now.Please.and.Thank.You.

Tom Zoellner was also a workshop leader. I had not heard of him before but that was reader error on my part. He is a fabulous non-fiction writer and journalist. He takes subjects that most people don’t think too much about – speed traps in small-town Georgia or Uranium for instance – and writes engaging, almost fictionesque prose about it. He turns facts into stories and draws the reader deeply in.

The workshop was small–only ten writers. Yes, that’s right. Ten writers and three workshop leaders. That’s damn near miraculous. All three of the leaders are teachers as well as writers. Yes, that’s even better. The workshop lasted 3 days (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).

We spent most of the time workshopping the different submissions, but we also had craft talks and ate dinner together each night which allowed the workshop discussions to continue on well into the night. Each writer was allowed to submit up to 20 pages. Each participant was expected to submit something and read/critique everyone else’s submission.

Because the leaders are so entrenced in the teaching world, many of the attendees were also teachers, either creative writing or composition. I loved that.

The feedback from this workshop was invaluable. The leaders spent a lot of time reading and considering everyone’s work. The attendees were also smart readers and invested time in each story.

These are the wonderful writers who attended the conference.

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Some of the advice/things we learned were…

  • Write your way to the end – don’t tinker with details until you get your story down.
  • Peter Taylor is a master of having the narrator tell the reader important info without the narrator understanding its full impact.
  • Writing a one sentence summary of each chapter will allow you to see the entire book as a whole.
  • When writing character remember to write this character, not just a character.
  • You want your readers to feel surprised at the exact moment they realize the inevitability of what’s coming. It should be an “Oh” and an “Aw” moment.
  • Move the most imporant piece of dialogue to the end of the line so it has more impact.
  • Perfect is the enemy of good. Feel free to write without judgment of quality – but in editing be heartless with the delete key.
  • Don’t write to make a point. Theme is generally accidental.

Richard also has a “ten commandments” list on his website. You can read that here.

As always happens at writers conferences, several books/stories came up as recommendations to read…

So there you have it. If you ever get the chance to attend this conference. Do it!

The link to the workshop is here.

Oh and it turns out that all three of the workshop leaders have books out this year.

Here they are …

Robert Bausch

before during afer

tom zoellnerYes, you should buy them all. Right now.

 

The my writing process blog tour

If you saw my last post, you know that I’m sharing my experiences at the writers workshops I’ve attended over the past year. One of the many, many reasons that I love attending workshops is that I meet amazing writers who are also terrific people.

Jane Ward is one such writer/friend. I’m proud to say she is a front-row-seat-convert thanks to me. She has invited me to participate in a blog tour called the My Writing Process Blog Tour. I’m honored that she considered me worthy. Smooches Jane! You can read her writing process story here.

Jane Ward

Jane Ward

First, I’ll tell you a little bit about my talented friend. Jane Ward is the author of Hunger and the New York Book Festival award-winning novel The Mosaic Artist.  Yes, she rocks. She is currently at work on her third novel, The Welcome Home. A former baker and caterer, Jane now cooks on video for allfood.com, a recipe database cited on several online newspapers, and also regularly contributes articles to them. Her blog, Food and Fiction, is equal parts food memoir, cooking and baking discussion, and collection of food industry profiles and trends. (Jane’s friend Carla Panciera invited her to join the blog tour and you can find her entry here.)

Below I have answered the few questions required by the blog tour. By reading on, you’ll get to know a little bit more about what I do (and sometimes what I don’t do.)

1. What are you working on?

I spent the “Summer of Ellen,” as I affectionately call it, attending several writing workshops and not doing a ton of actual writing, just learning about writing.

The pieces I workshopped were:

– A 100-page excerpt from my novel in progress called The Alligator Purse. It’s a family saga, with a political backdrop, lots of secrets, and a fabulous purse.

– “In the Dust of Elephants” is a short story about a Somali man whose daughter is gravely ill. He participates in a hunt to get ivory dust from the tusk of an elephant because he believes it will cure his daughter.

– “The Dust in His Pocket” is a short story focused on a pre-teen boy who can’t find his grandfather. His only clue is a broken hourglass that contains dirt from all the places his grandfather has travelled.

And, yes, I seem to have an affinity for all things dust right now. I considered calling my novel The Dust in the Alligator Purse, but somehow that seemed a tad too much.

2.  How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Uhm, it’s not finished or published. Oh, besides that. Ah.

I think the fact that a woman is writing about a presidential run is a little unusual. Also, that the book has a strong political backdrop but the story isn’t about politics. It’s about mother-daughter relationships and the cycles–good and bad–that are repeated in families. And it’s about holding other people to higher standards than we hold ourselves–and how that can absolutely ruin us.

Also, an American woman writing from the voice of a Somali man–probably not a current trend in most literary works.

3.  Why do you write what you do?

I’m writing this novel because I won a contest. The prize was a consultation of the first 10 pages of a novel with a literary agent named Rachelle Gardner. I kind-of, sort-of raced off a smart-arse haiku and, holy crap, I won. Which would have been so fabulous if I actually had 10 pages written. Ahem. (Please don’t ask me WHY I entered the contest–that is still a mystery to even me.)

Getting 10 pages written was my obsession but I had no idea what to write about. None.What.So.Ever. That is, until I heard a story on the radio about a woman who had her purse stolen. She chased the thief down to get her purse back. And I thought, “what the hell was in that purse?” Angels sang, glitter spewed, and The Alligator Purse was born.

“In the Dust of Elephants” was inspired by another contest about hunger in the natural world. I didn’t want to have my characters hunger for food, so I needed something else, something more dire. My family spent some time living in India. While there, two of my children got sick with unidentifiable illnesses. Thankfully they were both fine but it was a scary time and I knew I would do anything I could to help them get well. I wanted to write a story in a foreign setting and Somalia seemed to make perfect sense because I needed an elephant to wander through the story.

“The Dust in His Pocket” is really a tribute my grandfather. The grandfather in the story is not at all who my grandfather was, but the special relationship he has with his grandson mimics our relationship.

4.  How does your writing process work?

Process. Hmmmmm, that sounds like a bad word. Can you tell I don’t really have a process? Ergh.

A lot of my story ideas/inspiration used to come from contests. The creative world is often too immense for me to come up with my own ideas. I’m a Pisces afterall and if I hold on too tightly to one idea, I fear losing all the others. Although, I am getting much better about it. Many of my earlier story ideas came from someone else saying “what about this” and me answering back, “Yea, but no, not that exactly. What about this instead?”

To keep the writing process blog chain going, here are some other writers you should know, and who will (I hope) let you know a bit more about themselves.

Virginia Pye – River of Dust
I met the talented Virginia Pye at a James Rivers Writers Workshop taught by Nancy Zafris. River of Dust is a fabulous story set in Northwest China in 1910 and chronicles the lives of a missionary couple whose young son, Wesley, is kidnapped by nomads right before their eyes.  During our workshop lunch, I squeezed myself in between them and soaked in every single word they said. I may have accidentally, on-purpose rubbed against them both in hopes of some of their tremendous talent falling off of them and onto me.

virginia pye2

M.M. Fink – Forget We Met
I also met M.M. at the James Rivers Writers Conference. (Yes, it’s a good conference. You should go. Find out about it here.) She is beautiful and asked a lot of smart questions and is super talented. At first, I didn’t think I could like her that much because, well, did you read the last sentence? But she is so talented and so kind that you can’t help but like her a lot. Her first novel  is Forget We Met is the story of a young woman who comes home to the Louisiana playhouse in which she was raised to claim her future in the theatre and the man she’s always loved, but ends up discovering lifelong betrayals, the father she never knew, and herself. She has an agent for it and the book should be coming out in the not so distant future. (Fun fact – she let her readers pick the title. For reals.) Her second novel is called Canary Falls and I think she just finished writing it.

 

And finally, I’d like you to meet

Tara Lindis-Corbell
She is an emerging writer (like me) who I met at the One Story Workshop in NYC. There are a couple of reasons I’d like you to meet her. She’s talented. She’s funny as hell. And it’s about time she updated her blog with a new post. (You’re welcome Tara.) She also inspired me. She has two young children and she still gets up  every.single.morning.before.they.do and writes. She said she does that because she’s grumpy if she doesn’t. Amen sister. Tara is working on a novel that deals with family dynamics, the trickle down effect of environmental shifts on our every day lives, and a missing cat. She also has a funny story about a voodoo doll on a bicycle. If she doesn’t tell that story, I will be forced to tell it for her. It’s hysterical. Fun fact – it’s a true story.

Tara reading at One Story

Tara reading at One Story

That’s it for now. Happy reading and writing!

The Tin House Winter Workshop……

Throughout the next few posts, I will share my experiences at the writing workshops I’ve attended this year. (Spoiler alert – they were all really good and if you are a writer, you’ll want to know about each one.) I started off the year at the fabulous Tin House Winter Workshop. It was held at the end of January 2014 in a small town called Sylvia Beach on the Oregon Coast.

Imagine going here…

The Sylvia Beach Hotel

The Sylvia Beach Hotel

Where each room is decorated for a different author…

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Dr. Seuss room

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Emily Dickenson room. I was worried the room might be haunted. But no ghosts appeared or disappeared.

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Mark Twain room. It had a fireplace and a terrific view. A workshop leader got this room. ;)

And this is your view every.single.day…

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And a super sweet cat roams the halls…and your room, if you let her (if cats are a no-go, you can just keep your door closed). But she is so smooshy and sweet…

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And learning the craft of writing from Whitney Otto (How to Make an American Quilt, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, Now You See Her), Vanessa Veselka (ZAZEN, The Truck Stop Killer in Best American Essays), and Jon Raymond (Rain Dragon, The Half-Life)…

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All hosted by the talented and gracious Tin House folks who also shared their insights on writing and publishing and karaoke…

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Lance welcoming us – not doing karaoke.

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You even get to see the Tin House office space where all the magic happens…

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Yes, you might just think you’ve done died and gone to writers heaven, where muses sprinkle glitter out of magic pencils and writers block has been abolished because it’s been deemed too cruel a punishment for the creative mind to endure. Ah, yes, heaven indeed.

Tin House accepted 18 writers for the workshop out of 200+ applications. (The great news is that this year there will be two workshops – one fiction, one non-fiction – so 36 spots.) Yes, lucky me. But the real message here is polish, polish, polish before you apply. And then maybe polish one more time. Then set it aside for 3 days, and polish again. Rinse, repeat. Then apply.

The workshop was three days – workshops in the morning, panels/craft lectures in the afternoon. Each workshop group had only 6 writers – yes, that is beyond fantastic! We critiqued two manuscripts in each session, so each writer got about an hour and a half of dedicated individual attention and every participant provided written feedback, as did the workshop leader. The writing was top-notch and the participants were careful readers who offered tremendous insight into each piece. (My workshop leader was Whitney Otto – she was a very wise choice.)

One of the real benefits of workshops is that you get to analyze writing that is not your own. I tend to learn at least as much from the discussion of other writers works as I do from the discussion of my own. I’m not invested in their writing the same way I am invested in my own story and can see it as it truly is, not as it was intended to be.

Because it happened to me (no one else, just me), I will share a little bitty lessons-learned with you. So, if you want, you can meet at the Tin House office (yes, please) and ride with the other workshop participants to the hotel. If I remember correctly, it’s just under 2 hours. You do not need a car while at the workshop so this is a really great option.

Unless, that is, unless, you are someone who might get a tad nauseous in a warmish van filled with excited writers journeying up a curvy mountain road.

Ahem.

Maybe that was me. Perhaps I should have sat in the front seat. Undoubtedly I should have taken dramamine or at least TUMS, before–yes before–I got nauseous.

I started feeling cruddy and rested my head on the seat in front of me and the other riders started to worry and asked repeatedly if I was ok, which was very nice but when I raised my head to answer…well, let’s just say that probably didn’t help. 😉 I thought I could make it–until I finally realized I simply.could.not.make.it.one.more.curvy.turn and asked the driver to pull over.

But he couldn’t do that immediately. What? I hear ya. Excuse me?

Well, you see, the road is narrow (and curvy) without much of a pull off shoulder because it happens to be on.the.side.of.a.mountain. and there.wasn’t.a.lot.of.room. Whatever. This is a case where poor planning on my part does happen to constitute an emergency on your part. So Sorry.

The good news is that the driver was able to pull over quickly enough and I was able to dash out to the back of the van and lighten my nauseous load. The bad news is that the editors from Tin House and the workshop coordinator were driving by us just as I got sick. So much for fabulous first impressions. Ergh.

The best part of the story is that we were about 2 miles from Sylvia Beach when I got sick. Two minutes longer and I could have totally saved face. Oh well. Luckily, we all laughed about it later. The Tin House folks are gracious people and let me live it down (relatively) quickly.

Back to the workshop. Did I mention it was fabulous? Well it was.

Here are a few tidbits from what we learned:

– Tin House is a top-tier literary magazine–wait, we knew that already–but they reinforced that belief over and over again. Even though they have every right to be literary snobs, the people who work there are approachable, talented, knowledgeable, and supportive.

– If you want to be published in a journal, get to know the magazine–support it by subscribing to it, reading it, and sharing it with your writing community. But most importantly, get to know what kind of stories they publish.

– Don’t worry about what the story is trying to mean – you’ll see that at the end. And if you are lucky it will mean different things to different people.

– Be careful that multiple POV characters aren’t just telling the same exact story over and over. Each POV must move the story forward and reveal something new.

– Writing should feel a little out of control and not too neat. You can write the life out of something and make it feel dead on the page.

– Most professional writers are very open to editing. Not being willing to edit something you’ve written might will make you look like an amateur.

– Authorative voice is what the writer takes with her from piece to piece. The story varies but the authority remains.

– Narrative voice is the charisma on the page.

– If a story feels stuck about 1/3 of the way through, the writer might be relying too heavily on voice.

– Fiction allows the writer to take something private and make it public.

– We also learned about the fabulous essay by Betty Flowers called Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process

At these types of workshops, books are always a big topic of discussion. Some of the book recommendations that came out of this workshop are (I’ve not read all of these, so I cannot testify to how good they are but these were some smart readers, so there you go)

Of course any of the books listed above by the workshop leaders
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (one of my favorite books ever)
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan (very good)
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton
Telling by Marion Winik
Old School by Tobias Wolff
The Tenth of December by George Saunders

So there you have it – the Tin House Winter Workshop. Information about the 2015 workshop will be on the Tin House site sometime in September.  Tin House also hosts a summer workshop. Awesomesauce!

 

 

 

 

‘The great workshop roundup…….

I’ve spent a good part of this year attending some of the best writing workshops in the country. I affectionately refer to this year as the “year of Ellen.” It’s been amazing!

Over the next few posts I will share where I have been and (some of) what I have learned. I would love to tell you every single little detail – but I won’t be able to capture all of it. There is nothing like being there in person – writing, reading, critiquing, breathing in words. Ahhhh.

One of the best things I learned was this….

You don’t have to be published to be a writer. You have to write to be a writer. Afterall, you can’t become published without writing first.

Ahhhh, that’s a refreshing reminder. Yes, you are in fact a writer, if you are writing. Boom.

The first workshop on the list is the Tin House Winter Workshop. What a fabulous way to start off the year! Look for those delicious details in the next post!

The rest of the posts can be found by clicking these links…

Woodbridge Writers Retreat
Yale Writers’ Conference, Part I
Yale Writers’ Conference, Part 2

The Art of the Story with Tom Jenks of Narrative

 

You don’t need more time or talent…

I have written about Glennon Melton from Momastery before here. She’s kind of full of awesomesauce. And I kind of heart her writing. She perfectly imperfect.

Well she’s done it again. She’s written this lovely article about why you don’t need more time or talent to write (or insert whatever your passion is). You should read it. Right now.

Five sentence short story…..

I mentioned a little while back that Hannah Tinti from One Story was teaching online short story class. It turned out to be awesome. No surprise there.

The first assignment was to create a five sentence short story. Here is mine…

Paul and Maribeth sat in the small church holding hands and praying that someone would find their daughter alive. Maribeth mentally retraced their morning, trying to find some clue as to where Elizabeth could be. Paul looked at their intertwined hands and said, “I only left her alone for a moment.” Shocked, Maribeth left the church and headed toward the center of town. She found Elizabeth at the corner of 5th and Maple buying an ice cream cone from a vendor Maribeth had never seen before. 

I’m sure this seems to neatly tied up at the end but it’s just meant to be the framework of the story, establishing the setting, characters, conflict, plot, a secret, and the resolution.

Keeping promises to myself…..

Here is what I wrote today. telescope

The telescope sat by the stained glass window in the attic. A pact with a young boy named Henriech lay below it, also broken.

The boy’s grandfather, Albert Einstein, had left on a journey to America. He wanted to meet with the American President Mr. Roosevelt.  His grandfather had learned of a new type of bomb created with nuclear fussion and wanted to alert the American President to its danger, encourage the Americans to also research the possibilities.

Henriech had the letter his grandfather had written, then crumpled after deciding an in-person meeting would have more impact. Henriech smoothed the letter with his small hands and folded it twice before putting it in his science book for safe-keeping. The boy’s grandfather left him with a kiss on each cheek and a promise to return. A trip to Anchorage to see the Northern Lights was all but guaranteed.

Henriech sat in the chair by the window with the newspaper folded on his lap. He watched the night sky. It was cloudless and starless, a blanket of nothing. Hitler had come into power and his grandfather did not feel safe returning to Germany so he remained in America sleeping in a comfortable bed. Henriech slept each night on the wooden floor near the telescope, hidden from the watchful eyes of the soldiers on the street.

Write.every.day. Write.something.every.day….

Writers hear this advice over and over again. Then we create excuses why we can’t–beautiful excuses filled with empty air and hyperbole and then promises to ourselves to do better.

Samuel Beckett says “fail better” but if you aren’t trying, you can’t fail. I guess you can fail to try but you’ll never get better at that.

Today is my promise to myself to fail better and then hopefully succeed.

If you are also a writer–or a person with a passion–come along, fail better with me.

A chance to write a story with One Story’s Hannah Tinti

In this week-long course, under the guidance of One Story’s own editor in chief Hannah Tinti, you’ll build a short story from scratch, learning the ins and outs of storytelling structure along the way. New lessons—in video or text—will be shared daily, but exercises can be done on your own time, and an active message board will allow you to communicate with fellow students and ask questions. For complete details and to register, visit www.one-story.com (look under “events” and then “online classes”).

This is an amazing opportunity to learn from one of the best editors in the business!

276 girls

I probably shouldn’t admit this but I am not a big follower of the news. It’s depressing and I never get the remote anyway.

But when I heard on the radio that 276 young girls were kidnapped during their final exams, the world seemed to stop spinning. I literary had to regain my balance and turn up the news. Did I really hear that correctly? When I realized it happened a few days before I heard about it, I wondered how that was possible.

How are we not all consumed with this? How can we be so focused on what the  the owner of the Clippers said and not be focused on the fact that  276 girls were ripped away from their families with the possible intent being to sell them into either slavery or the sex trade.

How are any of us sleeping at night?

A story on the news this morning was that they might have found Christopher Columbus’ boat. Who cares?

For weeks, we watched non-stop coverage of the missing Malaysia plane – not that coverage wasn’t important – but it was non-stop.

There are 276 girls missing in Nigeria and hardly anyone is talking about it.

One Story’s Debutante Ball…..

One Story is a top-tier literary journal celebrating the best in short stories, novel excepts, confettiand stories for teens (One Teen Story). Once a year, they celebrate the authors coming out with a debut novel who have appeared in their journal  – it’s a big arse Brooklyn-style party and tickets are selling fast.

Not only does this party sound super fun, but the One Story folks are some of the nicest, most accessible people I have met. This an amazing opportunity to have a blast while meeting some of the most influential people in the literary world. Wowza!

The Ball is being held on Thursday, May 22nd, at the Roulette in Brooklyn from 7p – 11p.

The authors being celebrated are….

Tickets can be purchased here – but hurry! 😎

And some pictures from past events can be seen here – just so you have an idea of what to wear. You’re welcome.

Hope to see you there!

Over at the Examiner………..

Well, hello there. It’s been a while since I’ve been here.

But that’s only because I’ve been busy writing over at the Examiner.

Writing about things like….

Writing Conferences

Passive Voice

Why Stories Matter

and

Looking for Writing Motivation

I hope your year is starting off great and that you are inspired to make your dreams come true!

 

 

 

Grammarly….

I’m back with another review. This time it’s for Grammarly – an editorial program. (Just as an FYI, I was not compensated for this review – other than being given a free two-week trial to test things out. Otherwise…ahem…no review because how would I know if it works.)

This is actually a pretty cool program. You upload or cut/paste a document into Grammarly and it analyzes it for you, giving you feedback in a number of areas, like:

  • spelling
  • passive voice
  • commonly confused words
  • split infinitives
  • vocabulary use
  • capitalization
  • verb use/tense
  • confusing modifiers
  • split infinitives
  • wordiness

This is an excellent program for reaching beyond spell check and evaluating the basics of writing. It catches those supposedly simple mistakes that we all make.

A huge bonus is that it can also evaluate your text for plagiarism. This is a terrific feature because not only does it tell you if your text matches other text, it also gives you 3 different formats for citing your sources. The text I used had a quote from the internet and Grammarly found it and formatted the MLA, APA, and Chicago Style Manual citations for me. (Seriously, where was this little gem when I was in college?)

As you might imagine, there are some limitations of the program because it is, after all, a computer program and it can’t have a sense of voice or understand creativity in sentence structure. But it is a very valuable second set of eyes to catch the mistakes we as writers/students don’t see because, when we edit ourselves, we tend to see what is supposed to be there rather than what is there.

Here is a screen shot of their sample document.

Screenshot 2013-10-25 06.30.54

It’s great to have all of these tools in one place.

So now, you are probably wondering how much it costs. Here’s the breakdown from their FAQ page…

Grammarly offers a seven-day free trial, as well as the following subscription plans:

  • Monthly – $29.95
  • Quarterly – $59.95
  • Annual – $139.95

Grammarly also offers enterprise subscriptions for bulk users in K-12, higher education, enterprises and government.

You do have to enter a credit card number for the free trial and your subscription will start automatically (and your credit card will be charged) on the 7th day, unless you cancel your subscription before then.

It’s a little pricey but would quickly prove a valuable resource for students and writers. Go check it out – www.Grammarly.com.

 

PressReader – a review

@EllenWeeren

As you might know, this blog is not a “review” blog, so you won’t see a lot of products being touted here. However, PressReader recently contacted me and asked me to review their newspaper app – in fact, it is the largest newspaper and magazine kiosk app for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows. (Just so you know, they gave me access to a free trial version but I did not receive any compensation for sharing my thoughts on the app nor will I receive anything if you sign up for their services.)

But I must say, this is a fabulous app! I really love it. Through it you have instant access to over 2,300 online newspapers and magazines.

pressreader

With it you can

  • sort publications by language or country
  • establish your own list of favorites
  • listen to articles using on-demand audio
  • zoom in/out on articles
  • determine how long it will take to read an article (good for considering ad purchases)
  • share articles on facebook or twitter

If you want to see their demo – click here.

As I said, I don’t usually (or ever) do reviews but this intrigued me – largely because I have seen the world news announced from somewhere other than the United States. When we lived in India, we saw the world news as just that – the world news. Not as the world news according to what has happened in America.

Now, I love me some United States. I do. I am her biggest fan. Quite possibly ever.

But, ahem.

We Americans tend to be pretty centric when it comes to what we really care about. Please know that I know that we rush to the aid of other countries when they experience disaster – we are some generous folks with our sweat and our dollars. But for the most part, we really aren’t that aware of what is happening around the world. Or at least, the rest of the world.

Today we are consumed with the rescue of the three young ladies in Cleveland. We are grateful they were found. We worry that they will never recover from their experience. We wonder how this could have possibly happened and continued for so long And, we tune out the reality that girls are stolen all over the world. Every day.

Please know that this is in no way meant to diminish the horror of the experience for these young women. But, in the U.S., it is thankfully uncommon to lose your daughter – in other parts of the world, it is far less uncommon.

On the day of the Boston bombings, we gathered around t.v. sets for hours praying that the terrorists would be found. Twenty-four constant hours a day, the news reporters gave us the “breaking news” updates. If an ambulance moved, we knew about it. And believe me, I was near a t.v. almost all day long waiting, hoping for good news.

However, within a few days of the Boston attacks a factory collapsed in Bangladesh with barely a mention on our nightly news. Ultimately, the death toll rose to 800 when the factory caught fire after its collapse. Those workers were busy making clothes, many of which would be sold in American stores, when they died. And most Americans are very likely unaware that it ever happened.

So beyond the obvious benefits of this app – tremendous ease of access all in one place, the ability to watch business trends in other parts of the world, and the ability to easily research an area through local eyes before planning to travel there – there is the chance to become more globally aware of what is happening in the world and to hear different perspectives on those events.

If you want to learn more, please visit their site – www.PressReader.com

Those people…..

by Ellen Weeren
@EllenWeeren

I just read this post by Seth Godin about “those people”. window washer car wash

If you aren’t familiar with the name, Seth is a guru of sorts on everything “thinking”. And that’s just what his posts do – they encourage you to think about things. And the posts are generally short, so they don’t hurt your brain too much. 😉

Seth’s latest post reminded me of a man I saw at the car wash the other day – in fact, that man has been on my mind a lot lately. I had thought about writing about him – but never took the time to do it.

Seth’s post reminded me that I should give this man his due.

A few weeks ago, I had my kids take all of their stuff out of the minivan so that I could drive it over to the car wash and pay $50 to have it cleaned, vacuumed, and spit shined.

And, please don’t even ask – of course, they were bothered by having to remove all of their c.r.a.p. so that I could pay someone else to clean up their mess.

Their shoes, their trash, and their basketballs (oh how I hate those basketballs clanking around in my car) … and I couldn’t reach the van-cleaning fairy … so they actually had to get off their arses and get their stuff out of the car so that I could spend an hour watching someone clean it for them.  And yes, I might have yelled out something just like that right before they leaped into action.

Maybe.

Probably.

Okay, I did.

Anywash, I got to the car wash and paid for the super clean option because that’s exactly what it needed – a super cleaning.

This option takes a while so I brought a book with me. I sat on a bench in the warmth of the sun with a cold Diet Dr. Pepper and read while my car was being cleaned. (And no, the irony is not lost on me here. I get it.)

One of the washers caught my attention and I lost all interest in the words in front of me.

He was absolutely fascinating. He cleaned my car with all the pride of ownership. As if he had saved for months for just that very car. Like it was a special car. He was even smiling while cleaning up someone else’s mess.

He’d polish a spot, lean back, and clean it again.

The window, that would have taken me all of a minute and a half, consumed a good eight minutes of his focused attention. This was not a “oh, if I take longer, I’ll have to do less” situation. It was very clearly a “this is my job and I’m going to be the very best at it I can be” situation.

He’d clean the back area of the car and then close the hatch. But, then he’d open the hatch again and double check – just to make sure everything was clean.

It seemed like he did this for every crevice he came across.

I’m sure I was sitting there like a fool with my mouth agape.

My doctor probably isn’t even that precise.

Now, I haven’t applied for a job at a car wash lately – but this guy can’t make more than say $12 an hour.

And it struck me how unfair this all really is. My kids were sitting at home on their arses with a litany of opportunities waiting before them (many that they can’t be bothered with) and this guy is busting his arse with probably not that many options.

To be fair to my kids, they do work hard too.

But not the way this guy does. They don’t have that kind of pride in the mundane things they do – heck, they don’t do too many mundane things.

I’m not really sure how all of this will change but imagine what that guy could accomplish with more responsibility and more opportunities.

It’s heart-breaking that he might not have the chance to do anything more than clean a window.

Some great writing articles…

I don’t think I’ve ever written a “best of” post, so here goes.writing pig

There have been some fabulouso writing articles on the web recently and I’m gonna share ’em – just in case you missed ’em.

A Simple Way to Create Suspense by Lee Child at the New York Times.

How to Keep a Story on Track by Lisa Cron on Writer UnBoxed.

A Simple Approach to Revisions by Cathy Yardley on Writer UnBoxed.

The Mentor/Mentee Benefit by Vaughn Roycroft also on Writer UnBoxed. (This is an older article, but a good one.)

That’s it for now. Happy Weekend!

Expat Blog Awards….

This is kind of exciting.

I’ve been nominated for the Expat Blog Awards for my writing about living in India.

If you have a second, please vote for me by leaving a comment here…
http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/466/a-reason-to-write

Thanks!

I am reminded why voting is so important…

This week I have been on my “stop calling me” bandwagon. I have been tired of answering the phone only to hear a recorded voice tell me what I should do today – who I should pick.

I honestly don’t believe it makes a ton of difference what I personally think – even if I am in a “battle ground state”. It’s cold outside and I really don’t want to leave my house. I am tired of the political ads and the promises that don’t mean squat. I am really tired of the millions of dollars that are spent on plane rides and commercials when people are hurting. That money could be used for so much good. But alas. This is our political process.

And, today, I realize, I am taking a lot for granted.

So, I will vote today. I will exercise this right to vote that others have died to protect. I will mark my ballot with a grateful heart that I can. I am educated enough to read the ballot, healthy enough to stand in line, and free enough to voice my opinion without danger. So I will.

And today, I am reminded of Khan – our former driver in India and how thrilled he was to be able to vote. You can read his story here.

So if you are able, vote today. If for no other reason than you can.

Let the writing begin – NaNoWriMo

Participant 180x180 (2)November is the month when many novelists commit to writing at least 1,667 words per day – every single day of the month. It’s called National Novel Writing Month – yes, we writers are a creative bunch coming up with such a clever title as that. The acronym is NaNoWriMo – which doesn’t make us look so clever . (Seriously – I’m not even sure how you say that.) Most people just shorten it to NaNo.

I’m taking on this challenge – so please wish me luck! If you are interested in participating, you can sign up to record your progress and connect with the other 300,000 authors doing the same thing at the website www.nanowrimo.org. If you meet the challenge of writing 1,667 words per day, at the end of the month, you will have written 50,000 words – nearly a novel.

Today my journey begins. This morning I got up, got the kids out the door, and took a shower. I even got dressed like a normal person who leaves the house every day. I figured if I got dressed as if I were going to work, I might actually work. Then I even put on makeup and proceeded to spill lipgloss on the sweet little ruffle on my fancy cream-colored shirt. Fabulous. ergh.

Then I went to the potty – and got some snacks ready – and turned off Twitter and Facebook . Now I have no excuses for getting up from this chair.

The famous “they” say that the biggest key to being successful this month is to just write – no editing – just writing. (“They” also say that December is the time for editing.) This will be a super huge challenge for me because I have a hard time leaving a chapter.

The posts here might be even more infrequent than usual – but that will be a good thing because it will mean I am writing The Alligator Purse. Yippeeee!


 

A writing contest….

The Time and Place Prize Literary Competition

The Time & Place Prize is a new international literary
award established to provide the two things every writer
requires . . .the time and the placeto write.
Join us in France!
The winner of The Time & Place Prize receives a month-long stay in an idyllic
cottage nestled among the menhirs, myths and mists of Bretagne, France.The Prize includes:
Round-trip airfare to and from Paris, France
plus ground transport to and from the cottage
Room & board for the month of July in a
private cottage in bucolic Brittany
The cottage is equipped with all the tools a
writer needs, including library, computer,
internet access, a complete OED, etc.
Time and place to work on your ideas

The Time & Place Prize

All literary genres considered.
Winner(s) selected by independent, third party judges.
Submissions limited to 5,000 words.
A $25 submission fee will be charged.

The Award TimelineSubmissions for the 2012 Prize will be accepted through November 30, 2012.  
The short list will be posted by mid-February 2013.
The winner will be announced on March 30, 2013.
The winner will visit France for the month of July, 2013.
Submissions for the 2013 Prize will be accepted beginning December 1, 2012.
Visit the website for details: http://www.timeandplaceprize.com/index.html
(And you know the drill, right – I am not endorsing this contest – just passing along the info – if you want to apply, you might want to check out the details first and decide for yourself whether or not to enter. 😎  )

There’s more to it than writing………

Platform, pictures, bios, blogging… jeez louise, writers are responsible for a lot.

Most of the time, we should be writing for sure. But there are some other things writers should be thinking about.

A mug shot is one of them. I should say – a mug shot we are happy with.

For a long time, this was the picture I was using for just about everything.

And it was fine. But it looked like I took a picture that I was happy enough with and cropped it way too small and said, “done.” Because – that is exactly what I did.

Well, it so happens that I was taking a photography class – from a real, live professional photographer. And we spent about 6 hours together.

So, I asked her to take a few “professionalish” pictures for me.

And this is what I got…

Uhmmm. Yes, that is a lot better.

So, if you think you might want to publish something, someday, take some time and have a good picture taken. I pinky swear you will be very glad you did!

How to find comparable titles for your story…..

Now that I am trying to figure out how
to capture the attention of a literary
agent for The Alligator Purse, I am learning a lot about the whole query/submission process.

One of the things I keep hearing over and over is that writers must be able to compare their story to another book that has done well in the same genre.

This proves that writers understand the market they are writing for and that they understand their genre. Kinda important stuff.

My first inclination was to pick Jeannette Wall’s wonderful story The Glass Castle. The main problem with that would be that the Glass Castle is a memoir. My story is fiction. Ahem.

Thank goodness someone explained to me that is a super huge no-no. I would have looked like a baffoon.

But then who? A friend mine suggested I look at Anna Quindlen’s work. I nearly fell over. But okay. Then I thought really, I am supposed to claim that I am as fabulous as say Anna Quindlen?

Well, probably not.

Actually…
absolutely not.

But what writers should be able to say is that “audiences who love the Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards would also be interested in The Alligator Purse.”

See how’s that’s different? I might not be as amazing as Kim Edwards but we at least appeal to the same readers.

But that’s tricky too because the Memory Keeper’s Daughter was wildly popular. Heck, they even made a movie out of the story.

So, a lot of other writers might be comparing their writing to Kim Edwards.

And, agents might be thinking, “Oh sure, your writing is just like Kim Edwards. You gotta bridge to go with that manuscript?”

I have been told (by someone who would really know) that audiences who buy Pieces of My Sister’s Life by Elizabeth Joy Arnold would very likely be interested in The Alligator Purse.

So, yea for me, someone who reads a lot knew a great example for my story.

The question I can see floating in your thought bubble right now is “Yeah, good for you, but what about me? How do I find titles to compare my story too?”

I’m so glad you asked that.

You read a lot of books in your genre.

Now your thought bubble is screaming, “How do I know what books? There are so many out there?”

Another good question dear thought bubble.

Check out the website called All Readers.

You can put in selection criteria that will narrow suggestions to a manageable number.

And now you are wondering why I am so so smart. Ha. I have an answer for that too. I am taking a class from Caitlin Alexander thru Media Bistro. She was an editor at Random House for over a decade so she knows a little somthin, somthin.

And then I can only say good luck – it ain’t easy. But it is critical.

Welcome to my new digs….

Hey there and thanks for stopping by!

I am trying to consolidate my online presence in to one spot – www.EllenWeeren.com

For some reason – it’s very likely that the reason is that I don’t know what the hell I am doing – comments are disabled right now. Ergh. I am working to fix that. If you have suggestions, please suggest away via email at ellen (dot) weeren (at) gmail.com.

Comments are working now! Yea!

Gracias!
Ellen

The new trend in soccer spectating….

@EllenWeeren

I am not sure if spectating is a word, but you know what I mean – parents on the sideline.

I know. Oy.

At the past two games my daughter has played in, the parents from the opposing team sat on our girls side of the field. In fact, it is the third time this season it has happened.

Now, this certainly isn’t a crime against humanity. But it is annoying.

Bowling and golf have understood rules of etiquette. No one has to explain that you wait until the guy next to you bowls before you head down the lane. No one has to say “shhh” when someone is putting.  (Because sports etiquette is largely common sense.)

And no one should have to invite parents from the opposing team to sit on the side where their girls are sitting. Really.

My kids all started soccer when they were four. My experience has pretty much been that parents have mostly self-regulated and sat with parents from their own team.

It just makes sense. We are like-minded in our cheering for and disappointment of referee calls. We can mumble amongst ourselves about what is working and what is not working. We can be proud together.

We get half of the field – you get half of the field – like the invisible line my dad used to draw down the backseat of the car. Even steven. No crossing over. Not even if your arse is on fire. Stay on your side and we’ll have a peaceful ride.

The soccer league my daughter plays in has even incorporated this backseat guideline into its rules – they have drawn a not-so-invisible 50-yard line – parents are to sit on the same half of the field their kids are sitting on.

But then there’s this new trend that’s emerging. And it’s problematic. It creates immediate tension. Unnecessary tension. And parents feign ignorance. They claim not to know the rule – it’s only been that way forever – they claim to not understand why it makes perfect sense.  And then they go on to prove exactly why it makes p.e.r.f.e.c.t. sense. Hmmm.

When our hearts jump out of our bodies, put cleats on, and play a game of soccer, we are never going to see the game in the same away as another parent whose heart has jumped out of her body and put cleats on to play a game of soccer against our child. We just aren’t.

And that is fine. It’s really as it should be.

However, we don’t have to sit right next to each other.

The past two games have been especially disappointing.

In the first game, the parents of the other team lined up about 15 feet behind us. They had to stand to watch the game because they couldn’t see over us. No one sat on the other half of the field. Literally, everyone was on one side of the 50-yard line. They disagreed with calls and loudly commented on nearly everything, including our girls. It was distracting and obnoxious.

In the second game, we were in a high school stadium in bleachers – plenty ‘o room to sit. However, the parents from the other team sat at the very end of the field – across from where our girls were. We sat closer to the fifty yard line on our side of the field. But it was still too close.

These parents yelled at the ref, even claiming his calls were “impossible”. They yelled when they felt something should have been called in favor of their team and wasn’t. They cheered for their own girls when they fouled our team, encouraging them to “keep it up, all day long”. They were encouraging their girls to foul our girls – and hard.

That is where I draw the line. Encouraging a child to go after another child is not okay. It’s just not.

The best moment of the game was when the ref stopped the game for a foul. They thought it was going in their favor. The other parents cheered and stomped on the metal bleachers… until the ref pulled out a yellow card and presented it to a girl on their team. Ahem.

The graduation prayer….

So, the other day  I posted this story about my experience with bullying in high school and I mentioned that I gave a prayer at graduation. A prayer about hate. 

Well, holy prayer, I found it.

(Just know that it is not my best work). But I thought I would share it.

If you read the post on my experience, you might remember that I masked my message as a global message about war. Well, apparently, I wasn’t as clever as I thought I was. Twenty-five plus years later, it doesn’t seem so focused on global events but rather what was closer to my heart at the time.

Anywho, here it is…

Dear Lord

As we gather here together for the last time as the class of 1986, we thank you for our good times and our bad times – our joys and our sorrows.

We have grown tremendously since we first walked the halls as a freshman class. We have eagerly anticipated the day we could walk down the aisle and receive our high school diplomas. But now, many of us look to the future with a great deal of uncertainty.

We pray that you will guide us in the decisions we must make, the fears we will face, and the defeats we shall bear.

Help us put any bad memories of the past behind us and to be thankful for the joyful times we have spent together.

Teach us there is no going back. We must accept the past and fight for tomorrow.

Help us to remember that the enemies we meet in life, whether they be nations or individuals, are as frightened of conflicts as we are. Read more »

She could have totally kicked my ass….

I am not really sure why I feel absolutely compelled to write this post – right now. 

But I do.

So I will.

Maybe today one of my readers needs to hear this story – I am not sure – but I am going trust my gut and share.

This isn’t particularly easy for me – but I am going for it.

If you know me, you might not imagine that I was bullied in high school. I am pretty confident (okay, most of the time) and I am not afraid to stand my ground (pretty much ever). I’m not gorgeous or particularly hideous. In those days, I fit pretty much right smack dab into the middle of just about everything. Not too tall. Not too short. Not too fat. Certainly not too skinny. Not too geeky. Certainly not too cool.

In high school, I had plenty of friends and I had dates to just about every function – most of the time I had a boyfriend. I made good grades but wasn’t a total nerd. I owned at least one pair of Tiger shoes and a pair of Guess jeans. Had me a pair of Gloria Vanderbilts too. And at least 3 shirts donning that Lacoste gator. So I wasn’t necessarily setting trends but I wasn’t a fashion abomination. Continuously falling right smack in the middle.

Because I was President of the Student Government and an officer in several other clubs, I also had fantastic relationships with quite a few teachers – okay, maybe I was more nerdy than I realized. But, the point is – I didn’t ever have to walk down the hall alone – I wasn’t invisible to teachers. I knew lots of people and got along with most of them.

Except one girl.

I won’t share her real name – but she did not like me – not one little bit. (I guess I will call her Tasha – because that’s not really her name.)

Tasha hated me.

H.a.t.e.d. M.e.

I mean really hated me. Really, really.

Honestly, I didn’t really care so much if she hated me. Her impression of me wasn’t that important to me.

Remember – I was a pretty confident kid – I completely understood that her opinion of me did not define me. Just because she called me a bitch (or worse) every. single. time. she saw me walk down the hallway did not mean I was a bitch or worse. That was clear to me.

However, she could have totally kicked my ass. I was pretty afraid that one day she would realize her words didn’t work to hurt me and that she would turn to sticks and stones to try and break my bones.

It was painfully obvious to me that the only way to survive a fight with Tasha was to never get in a fight with Tasha.

She was in my face. A lot.

And I was scared of her. A lot.

But I would just walk down a different hallway. I didn’t come back at her with words and certainly never with actions.

My worst experience with her was one night at a party at the lake.

She found out I was there and came looking for me. Running up the hill with her friends, screaming, “Where is sheeee?”

Thank God I was in the bathroom with the door locked. (Teach your children to lock the bathroom door at a party.)

She pounded on the thin wooden door for what seemed like 15 minutes, daring me to come out.

Then begging me to come out.

There I stayed – behind that locked door – probably shaking – trying to guess what my best option was. Thinking what was the worst that could happen if I came out.

That was easy. She could have totally kicked my ass.

Totally.

So I figured my best plan was to leave. Quickly.

Apparently, Tasha didn’t like that little life-preserving decision of mine. Maybe she was tired of me turning away from her. I don’t really know.

But, she positioned herself in front of me – and in front of everyone else, she threw her drink on me. Right down the front of my shirt. The funny thing was I had borrowed that cute white sweater from a friend of mine. Who was also a friend of hers.

Of course, it was a red punch drink of one sort or another.

My theory remained in tact – the surest way to not get beaten up was to not get in a fight.

I headed to my car, ever grateful that I still had my keys with me.

Tasha headed to her car. If I remember right, it was a jeep. I could be wrong on that. But I think it was.

Two girls in my class drove jeeps – the homecoming queen and Tasha. Funny little Southern irony there.

Anyjeep.

I drove on the dark hilly road along that lake scared out of my mind. Not knowing where I was going. No cell phone. No GPS. Just sheer adrenaline and prayer. Lots of prayers.

Tasha followed me very closely. And it was my distinct impression that several times she tried to run me off the road.

Yes, you’re right. She was mean as hell.

Somehow, I made it out of the woods in one piece, without wrecking my car and without getting in a fight.

That night I went to bed in that red-stained sweater, still shaking. I never told one adult what happened. In fact, I never really talked about it with my friends – even those who were there.

Tasha’s need to spew her hate at me seemed to quiet down after that night. Maybe she scared herself too. Who knows but I enjoyed a little respite.

She didn’t say much more to me until we were rehearsing for graduation. I was asked to give the prayer for the graduating class.

Tasha was my motivation.

My prayer appeared focused on the global picture of war and hate but it was meant for her.

Stop hating. Stop scaring. Now, I was begging her.

She pretended to shoot me as I walked down the stairs from the stage.

Finally, I said something.

“Oh, I think you got me this time.”

I must have looked ridiculous clutching my chest and pretending to be shot. But I finally felt it. Enough already.

Several months later, a dear friend of mine invited me to join her in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. She went to Auburn and they were playing Alabama (my favorite team).

My only reservation in going was that I knew Tasha had moved to New Orleans. Yes, I was still worried enough about her that I almost didn’t go.

The friend who had invited me reassured me – it’s a huge town, thousands of people are going to be there to see the game, you’ll never see her. What are the chances?

You can probably guess what the chances were – 100%.

We were walking down the street and, towards us, came Tasha.

My heart tightened and I had to catch my breath.

She walked right up to me and gave me the biggest, hardest hug.

WTF?

“I thought you hated me,” was all I could muster.

“Oh, that was high school,” she said and laughed.

Now we are facebook friends and we have joked about how much she hated me. Now she’ll know just how much she scared me, too. I couldn’t bring myself to laugh about that.

To be fair to Tasha, she has since shared with me that she thought I was mean to her friend – I thought Tasha hated me because of a boy who called me when he was “going with” her. Tasha said that she was defending her friend and was furious when her friend stopped being mad at me. I guess Tasha just couldn’t let go. To be fair to me, I don’t ever remember not liking this other friend or being mean to her. If I was, I am sorry for that.

As I said, I am not sure why I am supposed to share this story but I feel that I am.

Maybe there are some important things here. I will share what I think they might be…

  • Being nice is always the best option.
  • If someone comes to you with a bulling story, please do not tell them that they simply need to toughen up. Help them. It is really hard to share these things – if they thought they could handle it on their own, they would have.
  • There are books that can help you talk to kids about bullying. If you aren’t sure where to start, look here at Dinner A Love Story.
  • If your child is a bully – it’s not cool – he’s not tough, stop him now. Or her. (Boys aren’t the only bullies.)
  • If you are modeling bullying behavior for your child, stop it now. You are not cool and you are not tough. But I think you know that.
  • If you are bullying your own children, you might be creating bullies. Get help so you can stop the cycle. And get them help too.
  • Scaring someone is not entertainment. Buy a movie ticket.
  • It’s not always obvious who will be bullied. Even those who appear strong can be victims because weakness is in the eye of the beholder. And the beholder can be a vulture waiting to strike when no one is looking.
  • Those who are bullied will not always tell that they are being bullied.
  • Even if they have multiple safety nets.
  • If you are being bullied, tell someone. Someone you trust, especially if you are scared.
  • Red drink stains will come out of a white sweater with 409 and it’s good to lock the bathroom door at a party.

Photography Class – Take One…..And Two…

Two weeks ago, I took a photography class with a good friend of mine (we’ll call her Sally – because that’s her name) at the Washington School of Photography (WSP). In fact, it was this class – the Digital SLR Camera Primer with Sam D’Amico. The class’s tag line is “how to get your camera off manual mode”.

It was a marvelouso introduction to the terms aperture, shutter speed, ISO, metering, and manual mode. The only thing you really need to know before you take this class is whether or not your camera is a DSLR camera (that and maybe how to turn it on). Sam shared a lot of information and broke it all down into layman’s terms so that even I understood (most of) it. I learned so much in those three hours that I felt incredibly smart and incredibly incompetent all at the same time. I learned just enough to screw up my pictures really good. 😉 Seriously though, I took the camera off manual mode and practiced with different settings. And felt comfortable doing that.

Sally and I were inspired to learn more. We felt like we kinda, sorta knew what we were doing but we didn’t always understand why.

So, we contacted Sam for some private lessons. We liked the idea of taking the class together but, after a lady thanked me in the first class for asking so many questions, we figured we I might dominate the session too much.

Very honestly, Sam was expensive. Please know that it’s not that we doubted that Sam would be amazing – it’s just that, short of a contract with National Geographic, we thought maybe we weren’t quite ready to invest so heavily in our training.

I found Kim Seidl. Her workshop info is here.

Amazing.

And yes, I did take that fabulous picture. tee hee

Kim reinforced all that Sam taught us. Sally and I both agreed that we were soooo glad we had taken an intro class first. Apparently, we both learn best by repetition. And that’s not to say we’re slow, mind you – there is just a boat load of info to learn.

And then I came home and took these pictures…in manual mode….with either lots of light

or not so much light….

and of course one of the pooch…

I am especially proud of the one of Pepper because the room was dark and she was moving. Up until yesterday, I would never have even bothered trying to get a picture of her playing. (And just in case you are wondering, that is my son’s arm. He wasn’t willing to donate his face to the Science of my photography.)

Before our session with Kim, part of me was still asking WHY I needed take ever take my camera off of program mode – if the camera is smart enough to figure out what the settings should be, then why not just let it?

Now I understand the answer to that question. In the picture of my daughter in front of the window – the camera would naturally gravitate toward the lightest part of the photo and make her face darker – now my settings certainly are not perfect – but they are focused on her face. Aperture allowed me to make the background blurry and focus on her. In automatic mode, my camera wanted to use the flash and that put too much light on her face.

Kim kept asking us – what is the most important thing in the picture you are about to take? (detail, stopping motion, blurring the background, etc)

Then she would say – now, tell the camera that.

When we were relying on program mode – we allowed the camera to determine what the most important thing is.

The other thing that I will enjoy learning about doing (correctly) is stopping motion.

Now – remember I am an amateur, but here is an example of what I mean. These two pictures were taken within seconds of each other. See how one captures the drops and the other captures the flow? By using manual mode, I was able to tell the camera what was important to me. If I had used program/auto mode, the camera would have decided.


Now, you can see that the lighting is different in both pictures – that was based on settings. The available light did not change.

And if you are still wondering why you should ever take your camera out of its bag, nevermind out of program mode, consider hiring Kim to take pictures for you. She is truly amazing!

Anypic, if you see me with my camera, run the other way. I’ll be taking lots of pictures! 😎

Places to hear authors speak in the DC Area….

by Ellen Weeren
@EllenWeeren/@AReasonToWrite

I just recently discovered these two things and I want to share them with you so we can all come out into the light.

Authors are speaking all over DC, and we’re invited.

Mark Athitakis

This well-known book critic publishes a calendar/guide of speakers throughout the DC area on his blog called American Fiction Notes.

Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
(This excerpt was taken directly from www.expressnightout.com)

Since Sixth & I was rededicated in 2004 (the building started out as a synagogue in 1908, then was an African Methodist Episcopal church for several decades, and is now a working synagogue again), it’s become one of D.C.’s hippest venues for indie rock concerts and big-name author appearances. Tina Fey’s sold-out reading and Q&A in April was the see-and-be-seen nerd event of spring, and the calendar promises an equally compelling fall. Some of Sixth & I’s programs are co-hosted by Politics and Prose, which doesn’t have nearly as much room. Expect a swarm when novelist Jeffrey Eugenides reads on Oct. 31. S.M.

Sixth and I Synagogue, 600 I St. NW,  202-408-3100 . (Gallery Place)

Connecting with Authors….

by Ellen Weeren
@EllenWeeren/@AReasonToWrite

In just the past few days, I have spoken with 4 well known authors. Shaken their hands, asked them questions. Gotten super inspired. And I now have signed books from all of them. Yea!

And just how did I do that, you might wonder. (If you don’t wonder that, stop reading now. 😎  )

Well, I attended a panel discussion at Fall for the Book at George Mason. The discussion was focused on the definition of literary fiction v. genre fiction and if it’s even important to make the distinction between two any longer. The answer was basically that it’s nearly impossible to define literary fiction or appropriately capture its essence. Outstanding writing will be discussed without prompting from scholars and its words will be devoured – no matter what you call it.

My own definition/measuring stick will be that if a college professor picks up The Alligator Purse and discusses it in her classroom or if a book club can’t stop talking about it, then I will consider it Literary Fiction. (She says crossing fingers that one day that will happen.)

These three fantastico authors were at Fall for the Book…

Alma Katsu  – Alma inspired me because she was first published after the age of 50. There’s still hope for me! 😎 And her writing has gripped me – here is the start of her novel The Taker:

“Luke Findley’s breath hangs in the air, nearly a solid thing shaped like a frozen wasp’s nest, wrung of all its oxygen.”

That is some fabulous prose.

Louis Bayard is very simply a tremendous writer and a professor at George Washington Univ.

I also love the opening of The School of Night:

“Against all odds, against my own wishes, this is a love story. And, it began, of all places, at Alonzo Wax’s funeral.”

Now, I am curious as to what is going on.

and then there was Julianna Baggott. The movie rights to her latest novel Pure have already been purchased. She writes across genres and audiences. And, she speaks in poetry. The way she expressed her thoughts was beautiful. I can only imagine the prose in her stories will be scrumptious.

This is what Julianne said on her own blog about the panel discussion. She asked if it was worth her time – she sold fewer than ten books and her child was sick while she was gone. To that I say, “Thank you for coming. When you signed my book, you wrote Best of Luck With Your Writing, Imagine Wildly.” I don’t know if inspiring me was worth missing her sick child. But I was inspired and so were many others.

Mark Athitakis was also on the panel. He is a book critic and manages a guide to DC area readings. You can find that here. I hope one day that he will review my book.

Yes, you are right. That is only three authors. The fourth was one of my absolute faves – John Shors. He wrote the magical historical fiction about the Taj Mahal called  Beneath a Marble Sky. And, if you’ve been following for a while here, you might remember this review. His new book is called Temple of a Thousand Faces and you can preorder it here.

John was kind enough to call our writers group and share his insights on writing. Why did he do that? Because he is awesomesauce – that, and we asked him to.

It is amazing to me just how approachable some authors are. They share a unique understanding of how challenging this writing journey is. And they are eager to see other authors succeed. They want to encourage and enlighten them/us/me.

So, if you are thinking that you really missed out on some great opportunities – have no fear – American University is hosting a visiting writers series and you can get inspiration from some amazing authors. You’ll find the calendar here.

Shorten that url……

by Ellen Weeren/@EllenWeeren

I just read a great article about twitter handles by Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson). Of course, I wanted to share it on Twitter. But the flippin’ url was a katrillion characters long. As you might know, Twitter only allows 140 characters. Even the new fuzzy math won’t allow you to squish a katrillion characters in to 140.

So …. I went to Google and they have this tool. It will shorted your url. Maybe that new fuzzy math will work after all. 😎

And, even though Facebook doesn’t require you to use shorter url’s, it is a nice thing to do there as well.

A Book Review – Drinking Diaries….

It’s over here at A Reason To Read…

 

Book Review – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot…..

It’s over at A Reason To Read.……..

www.amazon.com

 

Force to Fly 2………

You may (not) remember that I told you one of my essays about living in India was going to be published in an anthology called Forced to Fly 2. Jo Parfitt is the editor and she asked for submissions.

I read through some of my blog posts and submitted one about the time I went to the Post Office in Delhi all.by.my.lonesome. (Which doesn’t really sound very brave, but it felt very brave.) Then I stood on my keyboard with my hands in the air and screamed, “Pick mine, pick mine. Oh. Oh. Oh. Please pick mine.” And then Jo did just that!

This is very exciting for me because this is the first time my writing will be published in an actual book – well, minus the literary magazine in high school. But that doesn’t seem to count as much as this does. This is very exciting.

The book contains humorous accounts of living abroad and will launch on Oct. 5th – don’t worry, you’ll hear (lots) more about it then. And it will be available on Amazon. Yahoo. Amazon will be selling something I wrote – seriously?

But Jo sent out the cover design. So, I thought I would share it with you!

Write/Blog what you know – or not……….

There is a ton of fabulous writing and blogging advice out there. One of the most familiar refrains is “write what you know”. I call BS on that  one. If you write fiction, you kinda sorta gotta write what you don’t know or it’s not really fiction. Hmmmm, right?

Another blogging mantra is “write what other people want to read”. That one frustrates the hell out of me. How are we supposed to know that, right?

The proverbial answer is to look at your stats and see what draws people to your blog. Then give them more of whatever that is.

Yikes. My most popular post ever is this one. It got nearly one thousand hits in one day. The key word that people used to find it was “writing”. Which would all be awesome if this post was anything more than an announcement of a writing contest being hosted somewhere else by someone else. Alas.

The post that consistently gets the most traffic on my blog is this one. It gets hundreds of hits every week and it is well over 3 years old.

Go ahead.

Ask me if it’s about writing….

Or the tremendous individual growth I experienced while living in India…..

Or about parenting….

Or anything else that I really care about….

Or even a tiny little book review…..

Ahem. The answer to any of those would not be yes.

It is simply a post of pictures of flowers I took while traveling throughout India. Most of the plants weren’t even really unique to India.

But.

This blog isn’t about flowers

or gardening

or writing contests

hosted by someone else.

And, you really don’t want my gardening advice. I pinky swear it!

In fact, this is what my very own plant looks like right now. 😎

There are delish but there are lots of brown spots. So I am really, really sorry if you came here for gardening advice.

But if you came here for pictures of flowers, I have been taking some pictures recently. I hope you will enjoy these.

So those are some of the flowers that I have seen along the way. I hope you enjoyed them! 😉

Fall for the Book at George Mason University

Every fall, George Mason University hosts Fall for the Book and gives readers an opportunity to connect with authors.

This year’s festival will run from September 26 thru 30, 2012.

The schedule of events can be found here. The list of speakers can be found here.

Some of the events require tickets, such as Alice Walker, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Chabon. Reservations for those authors can be made by emailing reservations@fallforthebook.org. Most of the other events are open to the public.

Many of the events are held at George Mason’s main campus in Fairfax, but some are not. So be sure to check the schedule for locations as well as times.

When I’m not writing…..

artwork from clipart.com

Which should be never. But, alas, when I’m not writing, I am usually reading something.

As for books, I write book reviews over at A Reason To Read. So many of my book choices are not my own.

But I am a big ole lover of magazines. And I have subscriptions to several. They are…

Readers Digest – I love how quickly I can read through this magazine and I love the jokes!

Writers Digest – author interviews, prompts, advice, contests – really just a little bit of everything.

Obscura Journal – this only comes out twice a year – but it couples beautiful photography with storytelling.

Poets & Writers – lots of info on contests, grants, and seminars.

The Writer – they tout themselves as having “advice and inspiration” for writers – that’s pretty much sums it up. Oh and some pretty wonderful author interviews and articles by top notch editors/agents.

The Sun – this is a lovely mix of interviews, non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. Truly something for everyone – except the advertisers. This fun little gem has no ads.

The New Yorker – because there is something very old school in me that believes if you want to be a writer worth your weight in ink, you must at least know what’s on the front cover of this magazine.

And, yes, I have them all come to me in hard copy right to my mailbox. That way I am getting something besides bills. And, I can stick it in my purse in case I am stuck waiting somewhere, which almost always never happens. 😎

Did I leave anything off the list? What are you reading when you aren’t writing?

Suzy’s Case by Andrew Siegel – a book review……

Over at A Reason To Read.….

photo from Amazon
www.Amazon.com

Not exactly “Thriller”……..

So my family went to see Cirque De Soleil’s Michael Jackson performance last night.

Ahem.

It was not at all what we expected.

We are lovers of Cirque De Soleil and of Michael Jackson’s music. Separately.

Together – Not. So. Much.

First of all, it is not a circus. It is a tribute concert. Yes, I would have loved to have known that several months ago when I decided family time was more important than college savings.

And to make it worse, it is a tribute concert with other people singing Michael Jackson’s music.

Ahem.

No one will ever sing his music as well as he did. It was a rookie mistake to even try. And their interpretations of many of his songs gave them a hard rock tilt. Ick.

Second of all, the show was minus the trademark “performance” aspect that has made Cirque De Soleil famous and, ahem, worth the money.

Speaking of money. This show is not cheap. At all.

The other things I did not like….

The bright stage light that shone directly in my eyes for about 5 minutes.

The fact that one of the men portraying the members of the Jackson 5 was Asian. Nope. Not kidding.

The pole dancer. (She was skilled but I have now paid – a lot of money – for my son’s first pole dance performance and have shown both of my daughters that you can in fact make a career out of that type of entertainment. Nope. Not fabulous.)

The gates to Neverland that took center stage for most of the first half of the show. Why even go there? It seemed in poor taste.

The very loud music.

The very large screens that constantly played videos that completely distracted from the human performers.

Just about everything else.

To quote the guy sitting next to us, “I could have paid $35 and seen that caliber of a show at Kings Dominion.” Ouch.

It wasn’t all horrible. There was an amazing disabled dancer. And a contortionist who contorted beautifully.

But that’s it.

We left at intermission and since it was 20 minutes long, we had plenty of time to skedaddle.

Another contest I didn’t win……….

Obscura Journal hosts a short-story contest where they provide two pictures and you bridge the gap between those photos.

I entered once before and did not win.

Well, I am nothing if not consistent. I didn’t win again. 😎

But I don’t want my short little story to go to waste. So, I will share it with you.

Click here first to see the pictures (oh and I guess you can read the actual winner’s story if you must) …. then read on for my  interpretation of how those pictures make sense together.

Help Me

Thomas stumbled toward Ryan’s bed, leaned down, and shook his brother to wake him in the wee hours of a misty September morning. He raised his pointer finger toward his mouth and slowly uncurled it. Ryan started to speak but Thomas stopped him with his other hand, which reeked of marijuana smoke and cough medicine.

Ryan stretched his arms above his head and looked toward the retired milk crate next to his bed.  The hands on his grandfather’s watch revealed it was only 3:00 am. Ryan tilted his head, listening for the familiar sounds of sirens that often filled the night air. But this night was absent the common warning screech and Thomas’ urgency lost its logic. Ryan rubbed his eyes as Thomas searched for his brother’s shoes.  On the way out the front door, Thomas grabbed their sweatshirts and a crumpled brown grocery bag. Ryan grabbed his Rubik’s cube.

They marched through the hazy mist with Ryan leaning back into Thomas’ left-handed push. The older brother was agitated and frantic. As keys jangled in his free hand, he mumbled to himself something about “money, a lot of money” and “how was he going to get it”. He stopped twice under streetlights to look more closely at the keys on the large brass ring, refusing to answer questions or even look at Ryan.

Thomas only let go of his brother’s shoulder when they reached the doors to the library. After a quick scan of the area, Thomas unlocked the glass doors. He returned his grip on Ryan and ushered him over to the olive green couch in the empty reading room. Then he motioned for Ryan to sit down and threw the brown bag onto Ryan’s lap. Thomas immediately started pacing and Ryan nervously worked to solve the puzzle in his hands and in his thoughts.

He knew too well that nothing good ever came from Thomas’ pacing.

Behind them, a man in a striped suit with his jacket tightly buttoned flung the doors open and rushed toward Thomas. But Thomas stopped him just inside the threshold and whispered, “Not yet. Let me leave first.”

“Hey Ryan, I’ll be right back,” Thomas yelled over his left shoulder, as the man escorted him out with the same pushing motion that landed Ryan in the library’s lobby.

Ryan set aside his cube and squinted at the books on the wall. They were all so thick with lots of letters in their titles. Without his glasses he couldn’t be sure but he imagined there wouldn’t be a single picture among their dense pages. He wished he had brought his comic book. Curious, he turned his focus to the bag’s contents – a piece of charcoal, a sketch pad, and a soft green apple.

Thomas knew Ryan loved to draw. He even complimented his work when he wasn’t too busy pacing. Just as Ryan opened the pad and positioned the charcoal, an older man came in through the doors. He walked slowly over and joined Ryan on the couch. As the man started talking about the big wall of books, his dusty scent distracted Ryan and tickled his nose.

Just after Ryan sneezed, the old man pulled out a handkerchief. He covered Ryan’s face with it and Ryan fell asleep gripping the piece of charcoal. His sketchpad dropped easily to the floor.

When Ryan woke up, he found himself on at least the second floor of an abandoned building. He noticed the charcoal was beginning to stain his sweaty palms. In his imagination, the air smelled like home and he hoped it was close by. He scanned the opening to the room below hoping for Thomas but heard only mumbling from beneath the rickety staircase. Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan saw a rat scatter away with his apple. He dropped the charcoal as he screeched.

Instantly, heavy footsteps pounded on the staircase until a shadow appeared over Ryan. His shoulders curled as he scooted into the corner.

The man in the striped suit fanned a stack of money at Ryan’s face.

“Your brother’s a real hero. He owes us cash and he gives us you instead. Turns out you might be worth more anyhow.”

Ryan could barely breathe as the man crushed the charcoal with the toe of his black shoe. Then, chuckling, the man lowered his pudgy finger into the dust and mockingly wrote “Help Me” on the wall and turned to go back downstairs.

Laughter erupted when he returned to the older man below. Smoke rose through the holes in the stairs and Ryan grew increasingly nauseous. The morning sun shone through the slits in the dilapidated walls and shed light on the true horror of his situation.

The rusty hinges on the front door groaned and Ryan heard Thomas’ shaky voice declare, “I have the money. Give me back my brother.”

“Oh thank God,” Ryan thought, grateful that the worst possible truth might not be real and that his older brother could still be his hero.

And then he heard a crack, as the man in the striped suit bent Thomas’ arm backwards to prevent him from reaching the stairs, “No, actually the boy is better. We’re keeping him. Someone’s coming over in a few to check him out.”

Thomas stammered, “No. A deal’s a deal. I have the money.”

“That’s right,” the man agreed, “but you have a lot to learn about the rules. When you’re late, there’s hell to pay.”

The jovial tone of the men shifted when Thomas clicked the hammer on his freshly polished 45.

“Whoa, there. We outnumber you. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“This will fix the stupid that’s already been done.”

Ryan fainted when the third gunshot echoed up the stairs. He collapsed just a second too soon to hear his brother’s footsteps on the stairs and the man in the striped suit pleading, “Don’t just leave me here, man. Help me.”

Focus on the writing……..

This is a classic case of “do what I say, not what I do.” 

Those who have been following along on my writing journey know that I have been busy with the work of becoming an author.

I have already talked with two literary agents about my novel. This one gave me tons of advice.

My title is decided – The Alligator Purse.

I have artwork.

I have fabulous beta readers.

My synopsis is done – the long and short version.

And I have all of three and a half chapters written. Yes, I agree. That is not enough to call it a “book” yet.

Unfortunately, all of the other stuff has just been putting the pencil before the eraser. Because even after my story is “done”, I will need to edit and edit and edit some more.

But right now I still have tons of basic stuff to do. Like, I dunno, write the rest of the story. 😉

If you aren’t writing your work in progress (known as WIP), you don’t really need a fabulous title, cover art, agents, or even an audience.

I have been struggling with building a platform and making connections and have forgotten why I started all of this in the first place.

So back to the grind. Arse in Seat here I come….

And then there was artwork………….

My mother-in-law is an artist – although, she would never tell you that.

She has always liked to draw, but it wasn’t until the past decade that she started taking her artwork seriously. She has taken classes and paints whenever she has the chance.

So, who better than to create artwork for The Alligator Purse?

My mother-in-law, right? I completely agree.

And this is why………….

Oh my, I didn’t expect that I needed a disclaimer…….

When I started telling people I am trying to write a novel, most people were very excited for me. They ask the story line. They congratulate me on being brave enough to tackle writing a book. Some even offer to read chapters for me.

It’s all very fun.

But then, just the other day, a neighbor asked me, “soooooo, are the characters based on anyone I know?”

I was actually startled by the question. The Alligator Purse is most assuredly fiction. Neighbors, friends, and relatives need not worry.

But I guess this is something that all writers should consider when working on their books. People will start to get nervous that you might uncover some deep dark secret about them and reveal it to the world. Or that you will exaggerate their quirks for a laugh.

I personally cannot imagine writing a “tell-all” type book. That tabloid mentality does not appeal to me.

But that doesn’t make this t-shirt any less funny. 😎 You can get it on Amazon.

So, if you know me, don’t worry. You won’t be in my book. At least not on purpose. 😉

The scarlet T revisited………….

UPDATE: After hearing much discussion from my neighbors about the letters they have gotten re: their trash not being appropriately located – well, I jumped to assumptions on this one – it turns out that the person who was on my property is not on the HOA board and is apparently not employed by the HOA board either. (That might lead to another blog about why he was here, but probably not.) So, I apologize for making assumptions and I pledge to better place my trash can – I cannot promise anything on the Halloween decorations though. I do my best.  Really, I do. I am sure to get a scarlet letter of one sort or the other but it will not be an A (ever) and it apparently won’t be a T either.

You know I am always trying to look at the bright side – so I will say this – our HOA is attentive – they read my blog after all – they may not be fans – but they read it – at least once.

I THiNK My PRiNTeR JuST GeSTuReD uNKiNDLy aT Me…………

If you read my post “things I learned today”, you know that my printer and I have been having some problems. In fact, right now we are barely printerspeaking. Well, I am speaking – begging, pleading, offering high quality card stock – all to no avail.
The printer is just sitting there.
Very smugly. Not printing.

I sent several jobs to my printer today and it just decided all by itself not to print them. It did not even send me a little error message letting me know of this boycott. No smiling faces telling me to take a hike. No ding suggesting I should check out my screen to find out what is happening. Apparently, my printer is on strike and is much too rude to tell me so. Hmph.

All the jams are unjammed, all the latches are latched, and all the plugs are plugged – both into the wall AND into my laptop – what else could be wrong?

It turns out that my printer is hungry and needs ink. Duh. And, for just the cost of one cup of coffee a day (which I don’t drink), I should be able to feed my printer. Yes, Sally Struthers is channeling my printer. And it’s not that adorable little united nations ink cartridge that has all the colors mixed nicely into one box that my printer needs (you know the one, the inexpensive kind that is already in my closet) – oh no, it’s the separate cyan AND magenta individual cartridges kind of ink (I must not print much involving yellow because that cartridge is still half full). FYI, Cyan and Magenta are really blue and pink – seriously, do even our printers have to be pretentious? It’s not even a laser. Hmph again.ink-w-person

This means a trip to Costco – it’s the week before Christmas and all through the town, everyone and their brother are probably at Costco. And I am still in my pjs all snuggly warm right now. And there is supposed to be some sort of wintery mix outside involving (possibly) ice. No, my printer and I are clearly not destined to become BFFs. It will be lucky if we are even still living together at the end of the day.

I just sent another job to the printer – now full of some of the fanciest ink on the planet – caviar ink if you will – and it made some noises and then N.O.T.H.I.N.G. Augh. Now it is just being mean. I don’t have to stand for that, right?

So I sat down. And I deleted the printer from my control panel and reinstalled it – turned it off and turned it on. Wah lah – success. I am printing once again. I am sure that we can print and make up.

Update – this morning I turned on my printer and it spit out all the pages I had been trying to print yesterday – whatever.

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens………

Ever since I starting writing this blog, I have begun reading blogs. Some people find me and lead me to theirs – which is tres cool. And, sometimes I stumble onto a blog. I am not sure how the great universe of blog finding works and I wish I had all day to read, read, read. But, alas, life is busy with facebook and all, so I have to limit myself.

But I wanted to share some of the blogs I am following with you. Many of these blogs are written by adults for adults and it turns out if you use some bad (or at least interesting) words every now and then, you generate more traffic. So for my Sandy Duncan readers (translation – anyone who might be easily offended), put your seat belts on – some of the titles and their content might surprise you. (And, nope, I don’t agree with everything they say.)

My blogging BFF is Lola at Sassy Mama Says. She leaves me (a lot of) comments, so how can I not love her. And she is true to her name – SASSY! In fact, she is the recipient of my first ever blog award. Which is only fair, because she gave me my first and only (sniff sniff) award. Lola gets the “I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid award.” She promises not to run it over with her jeep. We’ll just have to wait and see if she can really keep that promise.

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Next is Loco. He is a black American living in Japan teaching English. His blogs are long – but there is always a point. He has had a rough life and sometimes he comes across as pretty angry. But he is definitely worth reading. Especially as an American who is about to travel to distant lands. Since he is in Japan and is learning a lot, he gets the “ah, grasshopper” award.

ah-grasshopper

There are several Americans living in Delhi who write blogs. Mrs. Smith is one of them. She home schools her 7 kids – who, by the way, provide her with a lot of material. She inspires me because she can find the time to write. I have no (legitimate) excuses! She does not write as frequently as she used to, but her blogs make me very excited for our new adventure.

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BadAssGeek gets my vote for a great blog title. It’s pretty BadAss. And he starts every post with “in which”. So, in Which I like his blog name, here is his award.

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There are some other blogs I really like too. I don’t know them well enough to award them yet, but I am definitely a fan.

Miss Disgrace – a young single parent with a great way of writing things

Black Hockey Jesus – As far as I can tell, he is neither black nor is he Jesus and his blog is really titled “Wind in Your Vagina” which is a quote from his 4-year-old daughter – it’s not meant to be vulgar (at least that’s the impression I get) – although I am sure his title attracts more traffic. If the title offends you, you should probably also know that he uses his imagination a lot – so if you are a literal reader – enter with care.

There are a few other blogs I check in on but they aren’t too busy posting  a lot – so when they start sharing more, I will tell you how to get a looksy at those too.

But for now, these are a few of my favorites things. And, no, I do not like it when the dog bites or the bee stings.

The Scarlet “T”………

UPDATE: After hearing much discussion from my neighbors about the letters they have gotten re: their trash not being appropriately located – well, I jumped to assumptions on this one – it turns out that the person who was on my property is not on the HOA board and is apparently not employed by the HOA board either. (That might lead to another blog about why he was here, but probably not.) So, I apologize for making assumptions and I pledge to better place my trash can – I cannot promise anything on the Halloween decorations though. I do my best.  Really, I do. I am sure to get a scarlet letter of one sort or the other but it will not be an A (ever) and it apparently won’t be a T either.

You know I am always trying to look at the bright side – so I will say this – our HOA is attentive – they read my blog after all – they may not be fans – but they read it – at least once.

belated boo……..

This blog is late – I do know that Halloween was well over a month ago, and I am just now posting about it. Sorry ’bout that – but I was not yet blogging at Halloween-time and these pictures are too fun to not share. And there is no way on God’s green earth that I will remember to share these at the appropriate time next year. Especially since I will be blogging from God’s brown earth in India where I am not even sure they celebrate Halloween.

I have also decided that blogging might be my new scrapbooking (I am too far behind on that to even dream about catching up – but blogging starts now – well, okay maybe a month before now – but I am already caught up – and I don’t want to not scrapbook blog these. I wouldn’t put all your boo’s in one basket – but lucky you. 😎 )

Anyboo –

This is Flower at Halloween.  A headless Flower nonetheless.

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She made her own costume.

This is Bear on Halloween. He just got glasses. He is in 6th grade and is confident enough to turn his new eyes into a complete costume. Nerd bear. He also made his own costume. (and I want to add that he also has contacts – he did not have to wear his glasses on Halloween.)

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This is Angel the hip hop dancer on Halloween. She also made her own costume by putting on a hat and acting like a lunatic. Not too much of a stretch really.

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These were the best costumes my kids have ever had. They cost me a total of about $7.35. (And, don’t be surprised if I tell you that includes the bottle of wine I bought for myself. I made my own costume too – I went as the mother who got to stay home and pass out – I mean pass out candy – because she had three very generous parents shower her with temporary single-parent sympathy.)

Just so you know, I am never spending money on Halloween costumes again. (As for the wine, well it’s a consumable – it must be replaced. I am pretty sure that there is some diwine law of the universal that will confirm this.)

Things I learned today……

If you miss the white elephant gift exchange at your book club because your son is throwing up and you have to leave early, your friends will not pick the best gift for you out of sympathy. They will take it as an opportunity to get rid of share the gift that nobody wanted with you. Even if they pretend they are really sad when you leave early and promise to take care of you and your white elephant needs. At least I didn’t get my own gift back. Whew. (thanks Jill)

You could get a pretty nice set of ornaments though. And your daughter will steal them to put on the kids tree. There is no justice in this world sometimes.

Michele makes delicious Christmas candy and I can apparently eat an entire bag in one sitting all by my lonesome. Some things are better left unshared. Yum!

When my son is sick, he likes to be waited on hand and foot.

I do not miss being a waitress. Not even a little.

You should never open a bottle of Sprite that your seven-year-old hands you. No matter how cute her smile is. Never ever.

Sprite is sticky when it dries.

There are a lot of great writers out there in the world of blog.

I would like to visit Japan.

Envelopes with silver foil on the inside don’t feed through the printer so well  – at least not my printer – and I just happen to know my way around printing envelopes. And it did not matter how many different ways I tried it. Really.

My printer has a printer cartridge latch – I did not know that – now I do – and it must be shut. I am going to have to devote some time to figuring out what this is, where it is, and how to close it. I might be breaking up with my printer.

I am glad I did not try to make my Christmas cards this year. I can barely handle printing the envelopes. You’ll see.

Costco only gave me half the envelopes I ordered – even including the ones I totally demolished. That kind of stinks.

I really miss the people who are not on my list this year. I was very sad to delete the addresses for my Grandmother and my Great Aunt. RIP.

They both passed away before Christmas last year – but apparently I did not have it in me to delete them from the list just yet. I was not super close to either one of them but I miss the possibility of getting to know them better. My grandmother was very funny and I miss that  sense of humor of hers. A lot. She was funny, sometimes cranky, and always old. It’s a great combination (especially if you don’t live too close).

A lot of my friends moved this year.

I send out way too many Christmas cards.

My family really likes staying at home in our pjs on a very cold and very windy day with nothing to do but being waited on hand and foot.

Apparently my children have no problem whatsoever sitting in front of the tv for several hours – hours upon hours – that is, as long as food and drink are brought to them at regular intervals and placed directly in line with their peripheral vision – within reaching distance.

My cats do not like to go outside on very cold and very windy days. They are purrfectly intelligent little furballs.

The cats use the litter box more when they don’t go outside. Oh goody.

A nap would have been nice today. It did not happen.

I am no where near done with my Christmas shopping, but I do have a good handle on it.

My son’s stomach still hurts. Do you think it had anything to do with the chips and dip I let him have for dinner? Maybe that wasn’t a good idea. Hmmmmmm.

I think I really am going to have to reschedule that MothER of the Year ceremony. Bummer.

Oh yes, you know what happened next…..

Yep, I went to book club last night because Bear felt fine. All day long – he felt just fine. And I don’t get out much – so off I went. Thank you very much!

He made it through the whole day of school. No issues at all. He felt fine when he got home. He ate tacos for dinner with a nice big glass of milk. Yummy. (Note to self – I might need to rethink that meal selection whenever someone says they have a tummy ache. Hugs and Kisses honeybun. Sorry for that.)

I was there about an hour, eating very yummy scalloped potatoes and even better green beans and I got the call from my mother-in-law.

Bear just threw up. Twice.
I think he wants his mother. Now.
In fact, my mother-in-law wanted Bear’s mother home.
And now would be good for her too. Right Now.

Exit stage left.

So I sent number one hubby an email saying that I anticipated a long night – Bear was sick. Very sick. And I will call him in the morning when WE wake up. So, HE called us at 7am. Yeah. Thanks. Brilliant. I think I might have hung up on him. Ooops.

Bear feels better – well, Bear is very tired and his tummy muscles are sore. They got quite the work out last night. But he feels well enough to eat goldfish crackers and drink apple juice. He did not ask for tacos for breakfast. Shocking. He also feels well enough to play absolutely every Wii game we own – which isn’t many – but he is trying them all out.

As for me, well, I have a busy day ahead of me. I need to reschedule my MothER of the Year ceremony. Lots of details to coordinate.

My tummy hurts……………

That is what Bear said to me this morning.

And, just by the way and fyi, this is the morning that I am going to get all of my Christmas shopping done. Yep – all of it. I even have a list and coupons.

If you are a parent or ever had a parent, you might already know that these are words that most parents dread – really all parents dread these words whether they are working for a pay check or just working for the love of the job – especially on a school day – and even more so on a school day right before Christmas.

Now, Flower had her appendix out at 7 – it was an emergency – it was scary. So, I tend not to ignore tummy aches. They make me an intsy bit NERVOUS. Beyond my family’s history with tummy aches – there’s the whole throwing up thing – which isn’t so bad for the person who is just doing the hand holding – but then it has to be cleaned up – I know – GROSS! And the other option really isn’t any better.

But – TODAY – honey, really? How bad does it hurt? I dunno.

Bear crawled in bed with me – now, I have to say that was nice. He let me rub his back and his tummy and he actually snuggled – isn’t he good to me! Don’t forget he is a 6th grader so these moments are rare – and I will take them absolutely any way I can get them – even if he has to suffer a little.

We tried all the tricks – go to the bathroom – a glass of water – go to the bathroom – take some medicine – go back to the bathroom. Then he asked if he could turn on the t.v. – progress. He feels well enough to hold his head up to watch t.v. This could be okay.

Yep – then he asked if he could take a shower – he felt well enough to walk. Yippee. (Totally unrelated – It was funny that while he was in the shower he asked me if he should wash his hair. Kids ask the funniest questions – well, let’s see – it’s already wet, the shampoo is right there, you could have washed it in the time you asked if you should wash it – I’d go with yes, go ahead and wash your hair.) Then he was able to get dressed and he asked for breakfast – watch out school bus, here we come.

He never had a fever and never got sick. He just woke up on the wrong side of feeling good. But a shower, a bagel, and a couple little trips to the bathroom made everything better. He knows my cell number – I will never be more than 10 minutes away from his school – he can call me anytime and he knows that. So, later spater – I am off to play Santa.

And, one more by the way, it’s raining like crazy today – this should be fun.

The pen is not always mightier…….

NASA, knowing that astronauts would need to write in space, spent millions of dollars inventing a pen that would write in zero gravity. And invent it they did.pencil-fat-with-squiggle

Russia – well, they used a pencil.

I have not verified this story because I am not even sure how I could. I know NASA does not have a blog marked “Oops” or a top ten list of things they learned not to do while spending tax payer money. It ain’t gonna happen.

But, I also have not even tried to verify it because I want it to be true. It is a great story of lessons learned – and forget Aesop’s fables – we can learn so many lessons right in the here and now – and all without even trying to convince ourselves that a fox would actually want grapes in the first place – with all due respect Mr. Aesop – that one was a stretch.

I can even imagine the planning sessions where the scientists were all taking notes in pencil and writing on the chalk board. I am quite sure someone even suggested that the answer must be right there in front of them. It can’t be that hard. Really, I can hear them saying it. Scratching their head with the end of the pencils. Sharpening them while thinking of new ideas. Erasing the ideas that did not work so well. They might have even said – well, that didn’t work, back to the drawing board. I wonder if they drew and colored space ships with their kids at the end of the day – with crayons. Hmmmmm. Maybe little Johnny is on to something.

And I do not see this at all as a criticism of Americans – I think it highlights our strengths. We are a smart, determined, well-resourced group that can solve just about anything. But I think sometimes we need to remember we don’t have to invent a new pen when a pencil will do.

Note: It turns out that regular pencils proved to be dangerous in space because they could catch on fire (details) and that the space pens (after the initial investment of a lot of money to invent them) were actually cheaper to purchase than the mechanical pencils NASA was using instead of regular pencils. Whatever – that is not the point. (get it – not the point?? I crack myself up – really – that was a good one.)

We interrupt this blog for an important bulletin…..

For a number of reasons, the kids and I will now be leaving for India right around February 1.

As I sit watching…..

As I sit watching……they swim….

Some people think that we are crazy for participating in year-round swimming. (No, we aren’t the get up at 4:30am and practice before school kind of crazy – but we swim year-round in addition to soccer, basketball, dance – and, oh yeah, this little thing called school.) I can see why they think we are insane – it’s one more thing that we add to a list of many other things to do. But it’s one more thing we love!

Swimming is fabulous for a million different reasons and we loved it before we ever heard of Michael Phelps. Yes, my friend, we were country when country wasn’t cool. (Although, I have to admit, Mr. Phelps does make us love it even more.)

I love swimming because just about anyone can do it! When we go to practice, we see all kinds of people swimming in the exercise (aka lap) lanes. There is a man that I swear weighs 600 pounds – at least – and he swims ( yep, “swims”, not floats) for a solid hour. He is not fast – but let me just say, he is faster than I would be – and a lot faster than the bench is that I sit on as I watch him swim. There are women that just might be older than 100 (not really, but close). There are little babies splashing around. It is a universal sport. And, yes, it is a sport. And, a sport, that if you learn how to do it, just might save your life one day – how can you argue with that?

I have no delusion that my kids will be going to college on swimming scholarships – frankly, that is not the point for us. I hope that they love swimming enough to continue doing it at some level for the rest of their lives.

I love the team aspect of swimming. Being on a team with kids of all ages is a wonderful experience. There are relays and practices with kids of all abilities and ages. You can cheer for your teammates and swim with them. But you also swim in races against them. This is a unique aspect of swimming – you are teammates and competitors. You can be happy for your opponent and inspired by them to do better.  The team part of it is what keeps Bear most interested in swimming. He loves the relays. And if he earns himself a spot on a relay team – all is right with the world.

Swimming is also the only sport in which all three of my children can be on the same team and participate in the same meets and practices. Swimming is great like that. Their practices are at nearly the same time and are at the same place. It’s a 3-fer! Bonus.

Next, swimming is a black and white sport. The coach does not have to like you for you to swim or for you to qualify for a meet. No one has to pass you the ball in order for you to score. This is a beautiful thing. It is about you and the wall – and how fast you can get yourself to that wall. Even if you are the slowest, most awkward swimmer on the team, you can realize your own improvement in a measured way. If your time drops, you have gotten better – wah lah!!!!!!! Be proud, be very proud.

And it is about rules and procedures – a gentleman’s game if you will – you wait in the water until everyone is done swimming – no matter how long you have to wait – you wait. You shake hands at the end of your heat. You have to swim the strokes technically correct or your times don’t count – except freestyle – even I might be able to squeak that one out without disqualifying. But nothing is given – it is all earned. What a concept.

If you improve your time – excellent. If you keep your time consistent – very good for you (for that can be hard to do). If you add a lot of time – well, reality bites – you have to sort that one out for yourself. The how and the why of it and if it really matters to you at all. No hand holding here.

And if you want to get better – guess what YOU have to do – work harder. No one can do it for you – not even your mom – no matter how much she wants to. Awesome.  (And a note to parents, myself included, the kids are submerged in water with a cap over their ears. They can’t hear us screaming at them cheering for them. And for those of you who whistle – stop it. No seriously, I mean it. Stop it.)

And, of course, it is great exercise. Swim for an hour – you are tired. Benadryl beware – you are about to be knocked out of contention as the number one sleep aid for tired parents who need their kids to sleep  just a little.

Another fabulous thing is that swimming is a two-year sport. You are in it for the long haul. Swimmers swim in age groups – 8 and under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, and then finally 15-18 (yes, that must become a real test of commitment). You get a year at the top of the age bracket – and then – humble pie – a year at the bottom. It is not sprint – but a marathon. Stick with it and you’ll be very, very glad you did.

Let’s not forget that it is also wonderful cross training for any other sport. And it is a low impact sport – not too many injuries. Bonus. Bonus.

So, call me crazy – but I am off to the pool – and yes, in the winter, it is an indoor pool. Outdoor anything in the winter is a deal breaker for this taxi driver/ cheerleader they call mom.

Note: If you live near Washington, D.C. and have any interest in trying year-round swimming, the Potomac Marlins are great. You can check them out at www.potomacmarlins.com. Tell them I sent you!

And the stockings were hung…..

This year, when I think of the gifts I want to give my kids, I don’t think of what I can wrap and put under the tree. I think of confidence…laughter (not to be confused with happiness, they have to find that for themselves)…integrity…love… security…determination. Gifts I can wrap around their hearts – gifts that can seep into their personalities. Gifts that can help them understand their potential (not realize their potential, but understand that they have it, – again, realizing it is up to them) – gifts that will shape who they are going to become.christmas-sprig-with-cranberries

I am realizing that as they get older, I have a chance to mature and focus.

That is their gift to me – perspective.

This year, it’s going to be hard for us to give them tangible (translation – material) gifts. Which is a gift in and of itself. So, Number One Hubby and I decided to give them the gift of family, amazement, memories, and laughter. It is a gift we are re-gifting – a gift our families have given to us.

We took them to see Cirque De Soleil.

We went to dinner first and just simply caught up with each other. It was lovely. We had lots of time – no rushing. Then off to the circus. We were dazzled, amused, amazed, and very much entertained. We laughed the whole way home as we recounted our favorite parts and marveled at how the artists managed to do any of what they did – right before our eyes.

The circus was fabulous and we would highly, highly recommend it. But that wasn’t the gift. It was the time together. The memories and the laughter. We created wonderful memories that I know will last at least a lifetime. Maybe memories that will even last thru generations, I can hear them now…….remember when we all went to the circus…. and then, prayerfully, later to their own children, when I was your age………………………..Now those are gifts worth giving.

More reason I miss Mr. W………….

6th grade math.
(Yes, this is a repeat, but not because I am lazy, but because it’s not getting any easier.)

Mr. W lets me sleep in.
(I had completely forgotten about this one – but it is a big one.)

Number One Hubby let me sleep in while he was home for Thanksgiving. And, while I slept all nestled in my bed, he and the kids decorated the house for Christmas and hug the stockings by the chimney with (out) care. He is good like that. That is why you might see mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe.

On the other mornings that he would let me sleep in, Mr. W would make the lunches for school, get the kids breakfast and then take them to the bus stop. Have you been to a bus stop in the morning lately? Baby, it’s cold outside. Today I learned that 2 degrees Celsius equals about 36 degrees Fahrenheit. (I also learned how to spell Celsius and Fahrenheit.)

Maybe I am not so big on spelling either.

Have a mentioned that I am not a morning person?

Our dishwasher has this unique (translation…..unnecessary) feature that allows you to actually turn it off. Not just have it not running – but truly turn it off – like a light. Mr. W feels that it saves on our electricity bill to turn off the power (what about the over 100 recessed lights you had installed, honey – oh, I forgot, that’s different -never mind). So, every time I filled the dishwasher (no, he didn’t do that – he didn’t want me to miss him too much) I would have to wait for the dishwasher to “initiate” before I could start it. It was annoying. Now, I miss that part of my day and I think of him every time I run the dishwasher.

I bought 2 white t-shirts and 1 off-white t-shirt yesterday. Mr. W would laugh at that. More white shirts? He would laugh. I miss sharing the tiny details of the day with him that never quite make it into our phone conversations.

He does know I bought Christmas dishes. He also knows I did not need Christmas dishes. But he does not care because he knows I really love Christmas dishes – even if we might not use them for the next two years. He is probably laughing at me for that too. Or maybe I should say laughing with me. 😉 (And, yes they are also white.)

My prayer list has gotten so long that it’s hard to remember it all. And now I find it necessary to pray every night.

Sleeping alone still stinks.
(Also a repeat – but a self-explanatory repeat, I believe.)

Cool Rider……..

Grease was a great movie – but Grease 2 now that is a classic. Michelle Pfieffer probably does not brag about playing Stephanie Zinone but she was great and I love, love, loved the song “Cool Rider”. We even played it at our last birthday party. Cooooool Rider, cool, cool, cool, rider…………………..

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Number One Hubby used to own a motorcycle. It was pretty cool – as far as motorcycles go. And I know he would admit that I did not give him a hard time about owning, or for that matter, riding it. He actually spent more time working on it than riding it. He’s a smart guy – he took the whole thing apart – sent parts out to be chromed, painted, and jazzed up in one way or another. Then, by his lonesome, put the whole thing back together. Amazing. Very impressive.

Oh yeah – there was the one little issue with the brakes – but he got that fixed. Apparently, he didn’t quite put those together exactly right. Details.

I even rode on it ONCE (before he took it apart). However, I am not a big fan of my kids parents both being on a motorcycle at the same time. Call me boring – but it’s just not worth it. So you can imagine how I feel about moving to India right at this moment.

Still no decisions…

No more -ER………….

I am going to distract myself from making quite possibly the biggest decision I have ever made and vent a little.

You all know someone pERfect like the lady I ran into on Monday – they are pERfect, their husbands are pERfect, their kids are pERfect, their house is pERfect, their life is pERfect, even the plaque in their teeth is pERfect (oh nevermind – they don’t get plaque) and they make us craziER than anyone else. I have a “friend” like this. And I had the good fortune to see her earlier this week. Oh lucky, lucky me. That will remind me not to stray too far from home again.

She honestly told me how much bettER her kids were than mine at, well, simply evERything. She did not exactly say it – she is a mastER at trying to be subtle while bragging, but I am very good at reading between the lines – thank you vERy much. And, I know when you say that it’s too bad my daughter did not receive the Nobel Prize for litERature at the young age of 9 (oh honey, she still has plenty of time), but you must be off to buy a new outfit for your own child’s cERemony – I get it – I am pERfectly insulted.

And, FYI, I happen to think my own kids are pretty great – it’s my job –  so hER sitting next to me and telling me that hER kids were bettER at evERything on the planet than my frumpy little ragdolls – well it might be a little tough to keep my new year’s resolution of not hating the people who drive me pERfectly insane. And it made it even hardER to keep my good sense about me and not push hER down and take hER lunch money to give to some poor child who was less pERfect but hungriER than her own lovely offspring.  ERRRRRRRRRR is right!

And, don’t worry, she is not from my neighborhood. She doesn’t have time to read my blog – well, between the MENSA classes for her two-year-old and the upcoming space flight for her other little blob of pERfection and hER own vERy important job of telling absolutely evERyone how wondERful her children are, she simply does not have time for my silly little blog. Oh, believe you me, the world would stop spinning if she stopped talking about hER own children long enough to actually read about someone else’s kids – yeah – it is not going to happen. No one will be able to figure out who she is. (And no detective, she is not one of my Facebook friends.)

So anyway, I was watching Oprah not too long ago and Oprah was talking with women who have read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. These were woman who actually chose this book to read because they realize they are far from pERfect and they wanted to find ways to bettER themselves. I liked them already.

And, there was a woman who read the book and decided to stop trying to be any more “ER” than anyone else. She was not going to try to be prettiER, richER, skinniER, smartER or anything else more than anyone. She lost some weight because she stopped obsessing about what she looked like compared to other people, she enjoyed spending time more with her kids because she wasn’t worried about how they compared to other kids, and, in general, life just got easiER.

So I am going to try it – I am not going to be more ER than anyone else. Well, except maybe nicER than my sweet, misguided friend mentioned above. Dang, have I lost my focus already? ERRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A Message from the Director….

When all the recent excitement in India began, I immediately started logging on every day to the American Embassy School website – hoping for guidance, looking for an enhanced security plan, and really just stumbling in the dark for security assurances. Well, their website was under construction – perfect! But I kept checking and today I found this message from the Director…

Dear Parents and Colleagues,

Recently I had the privilege of hearing former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair speak on the condition of the world.  He emphasized that the battle against terr*rism cannot be won with better security alone; that more important is the teaching of tolerance through an education that values cultural diversity.  This is why our mission of  “enabling responsible global citizens” is so important.  Someone once said that the last person to know why humans kill one another died a long time ago, leaving us without an answer.  AES exists to prepare young people to create a better world.  Each day we see that possibility here at school and in our community.  These children, being educated with children from around the world, truly represent hope for a better tomorrow.  Perhaps they will learn the “language of sleep.”

When They Sleep ~ by Rolf Jacobsen

All people are children when they sleep.
There’s no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.

They pucker their lips like small children
and open  their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when  no one will do anybody harm.

If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.
—- God, teach me the language of sleep.

Thank you for your continued support through these troubling times. It is a privilege to serve this wonderful community.

Sincerely,
Bob Hetzel
Director

Note from me –  There was another b*mbing today in India – on a train – so far, 3 people are dead and about 30 injured – if you are interested in more details – follow this link. Number One Hubby is not in India this week. This b*mbing occurred far to the west of Delhi on the other side of Bangladesh. It does not appear related to the events in Mumbai. Apparently, these terr*rists were not sleeping. It’s really too bad – a little nap would do us all some good.

One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four…

Remember when decisions were that easy? When you had to make choices, you just had to know how many pieces of bubble gum someone wished. And “olly olly oxen free” meant everyone was safe. It was that simple. We’re done playing, it’s getting dark, time for dinner – olly olly oxen free. And if that didn’t work, there was the famous 8 ball – it knew everything. (And, the best part was, if you didn’t like the answer – just shake it again.)

Okay – I just went on Wikipedia to make sure I was spelling Olly Olly Oxen Free right and found this out…

The exact origin of the phrase is unknown, but etymologists suspect it is a childish corruption of the German “Alle, alle auch sind frei!”, (literally, “Everyone, everyone also is free!”), which is purported to have been a cruel joke often played upon Holocaust victims by their jailers. At any particular time, a prisoner might be released, immediately upon which the phrase would be shouted. Any other prisoners who also left would be killed further down the road by Nazi soldiers.

Again, I just don’t know what to say.

Back to my dilemma. Number One Hubby and I have had a few discussions. We didn’t make any real progress. I am more aware of geography, politics, religion, and conflict than I ever imagined I would be. I am actually reading the newspaper now. I learned how to share the evil of the world with my sweet children without scaring the beejesus out of them. And I still do not know what to do.

P.S. and, yes, I tried the 8 ball – it just keeps getting stuck on an edge – no help whatsoever.

Dan Quayle watch out…

Recent world events have given me reason to consider stop writing this blog. But it’s been a lot of fun and I am not ready to throw in the pen just yet. So, you will begin to notice that there will be some things misspelled or spelled in strange ways. Forgive me. And Dan Quayle – watch out. I am going to put that whole potato”e” controversy to shame!

And names will never be accurate. Locations are likely to be misleading.

In future posts, you’ll see what I mean – and I have corrected my naivete in some earlier posts. I get to put my creativity to use in a whole new way. Poetic license just got a whole new meaning. I hope you will continue to enjoy following my blog – and if you have questions, just ask! /me

if it walks like an ostrich, talks like an ostrich…

And sticks her head in the sand like an ostrich – Yep, I am going to keep my head in the sand for one more day. So this post has absolutely nothing to do with India.

Rock on Angel…

Yes, that is a picture of Angel with the brand new pink ELECTRIC guitar my mother-in-law just gave her for her birthday. They went out for Chinese food and then shopping together to pick out her present. I can hear the collective sigh from all of you weighing heavy in the air. What was she thinking? And yes, there was even momentary talk of including an amplifier but Bear figured out the guitar took batteries – no amplifier needed.

But please, no pity here.

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Our house has a basement – she can play it there. 😎 Seriously though, she LOVES it. She has already written at least 6 songs. They are all about Pooh Bear and the lyrics – well, they’re pretty much the same. (I get it – he is really cute. But she found 6 different ways to say it.) Tracy Chapman need not worry. No grammies will be stolen away this year.

Last night, after Thanksgiving dinner, the kids all performed a concert of sorts. Our little twin nieces banged on handmade tambourines, Flower played her recorder and her viola, Bear and our nephew banged the top of a plastic laundry basket (hey, a drum by any other name would sound as loud), and Angel rocked on with her pink electric guitar. And we all sang jingle bells together. It was a beautiful thing. So thank you Oma and Angel – Rock On!

I hardly know what to say…

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. And today I am most thankful that number one hubby is here safe and sound on American soil. We enjoyed Cirque De Soleil last night with a new appreciation for the safety of the good old USA. It was a nice distraction – we enjoyed a very slow dinner without watching the news. We disappeared in to the laughter of the crowds. It was magical and it took us completely away from our worries.

Right now our children are blissfully unaware of what happened yesterday in India. We are enjoying cooking with them and are looking forward to having our family here to hold hands and say a Thanksgiving blessing before dinner. We are especially grateful that number one hubby’s brother will be joining us after serving in Iraq for 15 long months. We are more appreciative of that service now than ever.

We are thankful for your prayers and well wishes. And, we are going to enjoy the luxury of putting the madness of yesterday to the side to bask in the best America has to offer – family, too much food, football, and the peace and quiet of our little street.

Surely, we have decisions to make – but thankfully, they can wait until tomorrow.

Now I lay me down to sleep….

Many nights, I will be honest, not every night, but many nights I say a prayer before I go to sleep. It’s always silently and it’s always while I am laying down with my eyes closed. And it usually while I am trying to get warm.

Somewhere along the way, I must have been taught that prayer time was really meant to be a time to be thankful.  I remember when I was younger (even up until high school, and probably even college), I would thank God for all the animals I ever owned. I could still recite you the list. I won’t bore you with it – but I could.

Even the goldfish that I won at the fair – who sadly did not live to see his first birthday – was included in that list for decades. You probably know that game that you play by tossing the ping pong ball into the field of glass bowls – if yours landed in a bowl with a fish – wah lah – you have a new pet. It is the stuff that Dr. Suess books are made of  – one fish, two fish. Anyway, I named mine Fred. And, I thanked God for him for many, many years.

Now, when I pray, I am not so worried about the pets. But I do pray for anyone traveling, anyone alone, anyone scared, anyone ill, and anyone who is not with us anymore. It is a weird combination of things. But it is my little mix of concerns for the world. A reminder to myself that I am not the only one with issues and that, really, my issues ain’t so bad.

This mantra of mine started when my husband started traveling more for work. I am not a big fan of flying (yeah – good thing I am moving to India) but I am even less of a fan of Number One Hubby flying. So when he started flying pretty frequently, I started praying more.

I am not Catholic – so I am not sure why I felt guilty about praying just for him – but it felt selfish. So, I started including anyone who was traveling – not just my hubby. Then my father-in-law got cancer and I started including anyone who was sick, not just my father-in-law. You can see my neurosis at work.

So, this Thanksgiving my night-time prayer will once again include many well wishes for those with concerns in this world and an extra thanks for all of my blessings.

Yesterday, my clever little Bear came home and showed me something he learned at school. He held up a glass with slurpee in it and said, “is this glass half-full or half-empty.” Bear, my dear, it is very much half-full – and it tastes yummy too – see how lucky I am.

I am off to count my blessings and to say a prayer that you have many blessings too. Happy Turkey Day – gobble gobble.

On the way to DMV…

Several years ago, not too terribly long after I quit working (translation – still worked my butt off but quit receiving a paycheck for said work) and shortly after Sept. 11th, I lost my drivers license. If there ever was a time to not lose your drivers license, I can assure you this was pretty much it.

juniper images

juniper images

I am guessing that it is likely a universal truth that at every DMV you need two forms of identification to replace your drivers license – and at least one should have your picture and the President’s signature notarized in triplicate – thank you very much. Let’s see – I lost my id with a picture (that’s why went to the DMV) – and I used to have a badge for work, but I turned in my employment badge with a picture – yep – when I quit receiving a paycheck. So, up to the line I go. I had my social security card, which I knew would not count, and my birth certificate, which even if it had a picture, it would not have been a recent one. And, apparently foot prints don’t count either. Who knew?

The clerk, as I will politely refer to him, was not impressed with the baby stroller and my tale of woe. But he was willing to help – or so he pretended. “Let’s see ma’am, maybe you have a pay statement with your social security number in addition to your birth certificate.” Yeah – not so much – remember I quit getting paid for my work. “How about a tax return?” Yeah – also not so much – my husband’s pay information is on that – remember – I don’t get paid anymore. And not for nothing – those are not documents that I normally just happen to have on me. If you need a Cheerio or a goldfish cracker – I can help you with that.

“Oh, I see.” I confused this pause with empathy. He quickly corrected my misinterpretation by saying, “well, ma’am (which made me feel old – great – this just keeps getting better) why did you quit work in the first place? You know those kids aren’t going to appreciate it anyway. You would have been better off staying at work. And, you know, we have to be very careful THESE days. You never know who is plotting what.”

Okay, I know stereotyping is bad – but look if you know me, you know I don’t exactly fit the profile of a terr*rist.  Seriously, if I was a terr*rist, I would not be in the DMV line in the mall with a baby and a stroller. I would have my underlings make me any id I wanted and I would have gladly denied myself the two hours of sheer pleasure I got that day.

I turned around and looked at the sign behind me. It still said DMV – but apparently our DMV now provided career and parental counseling. Well, isn’t this my lucky day?

My former working self would have demanded to speak to the manager. I would have explained that this is no way for me to be treated. I would have been furious – and, of course, if I had still been working, I probably would not have been insulted in the first place. But, I needed a drivers license and I could tell he was considering giving me one. Bastard. He was cracking. And I left with drivers license in hand.

Fast forward to this week at the bus. Flower had left her viola at home. She realized it at the last minute at the bus stop. She got on the bus and then she had the bus driver stop – she actually got off the bus with tears in her eyes and pleaded with me to bring her instrument to school. I did. (Usually I would say “too bad” but they were practicing on a different day that week than they normally did.)

That afternoon, she got off the bus and ran up and hugged me – really hard. And said, “Mommy, thank you so much for bringing my viola to school.” Huge smile on her face – and then mine. First of all, it melts my heart when my kids say Mommy. And, then she thanked me totally unprompted. Take that, Mr. DMV clerk – and to hell with a paycheck – there are some things money really cannot buy.

Sugarplum fairies danced in my head…

This weekend Flower and Angel danced in the Nutcracker. It was called “Nutcracker in a Nutshell – All Jazzed Up.” If you ever get a chance to see this version – do – it’s shorter – it’s sassier (translation – not too heavy on the ballet) – it’s a win all around.

Flower was a Hip Hopper (I told you, it’s not your grandmother’s Nutcracker)

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and a Mirliton (ribbon dancer – don’t worry, I had to look it up when they announced her part – you’re not alone on this one).

Angel was a Bon Bon and a Chinese (some things are still recognizable).

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And of course, they were great – and blah blah blah. I will not bore you with every little detail of their performance – I have the DVD if you insist on seeing just how great they were. However, …

My girls are similar in a lot of ways. But, this weekend I was privy to another one of their differences.

Apparently at the end of each performance, all of the dancers line up at the bottom of the stage to sign autographs. And, many of the people there knew just what they were doing. (Something about tradition – after every show – shhhhh, don’t tell the newbies) Clearly, I did not know about this little “after show” arrangement. DANG! Bear and I just sort of sat in our seats as the crowds dispersed and wondered what in the heck Angel was still doing up on stage. Angel was standing near the row of dancers in the front who were signing autographs – she stood there very patiently waiting for someone, anyone to ask her to sign their program.

Bueller, Bueller.

Not realizing what was happening, I hurried her to get moving.

Now, it’s not that I don’t love the Nutcracker and it’s certainly not that I did not love absolutely every second of them being on stage – I did! But, I also sat in the parking lot for hours with a very bored Bear while they practiced every Saturday afternoon for the past 3 months and then I sat through the 4+ hour dress rehearsal. I even arrived an hour and a half early for both performances to make sure I had great seats with my general admission ticket (those of you who know me can stopped laughing now).

And then I sat through performance number one – knowing full well that performance number two was on the horizon. I clapped until my hands hurt – I took a million pictures – my heart swelled with pride – and when it was done, well, I was sort of ready to go home. We’re doing this all again tomorrow, right? Let’s go.

Angel cried. OMG she cried. “No one even got the chance to get my autograph.” Huh? Really? Sweetie, you were the best Bon Bon ever on this planet and a great Chinese dancer, but, honey, most people want to get autographs from Clara and the Nutcracker and the Snow Fairy – you know, the leads – aka, the stars of the show.

“No, mommy, they would have wanted mine too if I had just been there long enough.” Okay then.

Forget the 529 for college savings – it’s all going to the therapy fund as of now.

She cried again going to bed. A lot. I felt terrible and a little amazed by her insistence that the world had been cheated. Note to self – cancel self-esteem classes. Instead, sign Angel up as the instructor.

Now, Flower, she came down right after the performance and did not even try to sign autographs. She didn’t see the point. She did not want to get or give any signatures on her program – thank you very much. It was very fun – but I am done here and there is a Burger King cheeseburger with my name on it somewhere close by. Let’s go. That’s my girl!

Lucky for me, Sunday’s performance was attended by grandparents. Now, I know why they are called “grand”. I shared my little story with them and they stepped up to the plate stage! When the show was over, Flower and Angel came down to thank them for coming and they, with pen in hand, asked for their autographs. They both complied with big smiles on their faces. It was kind of magical. Definitely worth the price of admission and the hour and a half wait in line and the practices on Saturday and learning how to put their hair in an “official” Nutcracker-worthy bun and, and, and …..

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Afterwards, Flower went to change. Apparently she felt sufficiently famous.

Angel – well, she marched her little Bon Bon self right back up on that stage – and wouldn’t you know it, two people (without any prodding from me whatsoever) asked her for her autograph. Little ole Angel with her little ole Bon Bon part. No more tears were shed. By her or me.

Skype, Skype, baby…

Do you know about this service – first of all – it’s free – yippee – and second of all, it basically lets you talk via the computer with anyone else with a computer (think conference call) – yep, no matter where they are. Even in India. And, if both parties have a camera on their computer (and are willing to turn it on), you can see who you are talking to (think video conference call). It’s very cool. And it is why I can still remember what number one hubby looks like. 😉

Anywho, you can subscribe to the service (did I mention, it’s free) at www.skype.com. If you decide to sign up, please let me know your contacts login – we can keep up!

On another note – I added a subscription link to my blog – it’s on the top of the column on the left-hand side (it’s under the heading “subscribe to this blog” – yes, I am very clever). If you click on the link and enter your email address – you will get an email when I add a post. You will have to confirm your subscription in your email – it’s easy, schmeasy to do. And, that way, you won’t miss a thing!

Her job is to hug…

There is a woman in India whose life’s work it is to hug people – that is it – that is what she does. Simply to hug. Wow. And it is estimated that she has hugged over 30 million people in 30 years. Seriously – Wow. Her name is Mata Amritanandamayi Math and, thankfully, they call her Amma.

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She doesn’t ask for a thing for a hug – and yet, people donate money to her causes willingly. She is said to have donated over 23 million dollars to tsunami relief, one million dollars to Hurricane Katrina relief, and funds so that over 100,000 homes could be built. Dang! (source Wikipedia)

I love hugs too – but, if Mr. W has just mowed the lawn and comes in all sweaty looking for affection – not so much. And I love him – a lot. But ick. But not that Amma, she just hugs, anyone, everyone. God love her!

bee-with-flower1Once a press reporter asked Amma how was it possible for her to embrace each and every one in the same loving way, even if they were diseased or unpleasant. Amma replied, “ When a bee hovers over a garden of varied flowers, what it beholds is not the difference between the flowers, but the honey within them. Similarly Amma sees the same Supreme Self in each and every one.”  (This was quoted from www.Amma.org.)

That is really a beautiful thing. And it would never happen in America. We might have come far enough to elect a black President  – but we are not likely to celebrate someone who just walks around hugging complete strangers. Lock her up – she’s a nut – doesn’t she know I just ironed this shirt – would be our battle cry. She would not stand a chance.

I am looking forward to living in a country that puts a “hugger” on an equal playing field with celebrities. She is famous and people flock to her. This fascinates me and I hope to meet hug her very soon.

(P.S. Thanks Mary P. for enlightening me!)

Precisely, my dear…

Bear is black and white. Very practical and logical. Enter Mr. Spock. Me – not so much. Enter everyone else all mixed together.

So, we were in the car not so long ago and he asks me what time it is. And, it goes a little something like this…

juniper images

juniper images

Bear: What time is it?

Mom: 9:30
Bear: but the clock says 9:28
Mom: Well, honey that’s the same thing
Bear: I don’t get it
Mom: Well, 9:28 and 9:30 are about the same time –
sometimes people round off the time
Bear: I still don’t get it
Mom: Wait a minute, if you can see the clock, why are you asking me what time it is? And, FYI, now it really is 9:30.

Clearly, Bear is from Mars and Mom is from Venus. And, no, I did not bother explaining that the clock probably really isn’t set to the exact time anyway – can you imagine the fallout from that one?

NoISok

NoISok

If you went to high school in the mid- to late 80’s you might recall this clever little catch phrase. If not, I’ll break it down for you – No is Okay. It was meant to give high schoolers the permission to say no to whatever pressure peers were laying on them. Drugs, Sex, Smoking, Cussing, Skipping School, Studying too much (okay, maybe it did not exactly give you permission to say no to studying – that was parental pressure, a whole different story, but hey, I am entitled to my own interpretation).

Certainly, I spent some time in those meetings (yes, my picture is even the yearbook front and center – I might have even been an officer, gulp) and I chanted No is Okay with the best of them – oh yes, I signed the contract…

I, state your name, will follow the straight and narrow path and be a good little high schooler who does not party, does not smoke, and aspires to be the President one day so that I can bring about world peace. And I will do it while helping old ladies across the street, babysitting for free, organizing canned food drives, and studying for my Calculus exam (which I most certainly get an A on, by the way)…

Put your cigarette out, your drink down, and Sign in Blood here. XXXXXX

Only, I spent more time saying “no” to NoIsOk than I spent helping old ladies across the street. I was by no means a horrible kid (SHHHH – remember, my parents/husband and maybe, one day, my children read this blog) – but I was busy enough that I did not exactly accomplish world peace or necessarily an A in Calculus.

Where am I going with this, you ask? What could this possibly have to do with moving to India, you say?

Well, I realized today that, in fact, No really is OKAY. Very recently, I have been daunted by some pending invitation orders, which appear to be in direct conflict with moving me and my family to the other side of the planet – in 5 weeks. Holy smokes. Translation – not enough hours in the day.

And, yes, I do realize that I could have said no in the first place. But, I honestly thought I could do it and they are orders from very good customers and really nice people. And I so much wanted to make their holiday invitations – I love making invitations – it’s super, super fun. Unless you are moving to India – then it is simply STRESSFUL. And I don’t care if “stressed” backwards spells desserts – stress by any other name is still STRESS, even if it is covered in chocolate and dripping with whip cream. Then it’s just stress that will also make you fat.

So, I took a deep breath and I emailed all of my customers with pending invitation orders and explained that I am overwhelmed, because I am moving to the other side of the planet – in 5 weeks, and I just simply cannot create invites for them. They were all so understanding and supportive and it made me feel horrible. And, frankly, a little sad. But it also made me feel better. Much, much better.

Enter – deep cleansing breath.

So, over-busy people of the world UNITE. It is okay to say no every now and then. In fact, maybe this is the solution to world peace – less stress. Gotta go – Obama needs to know that NoIsOK. Maybe there is a cabinet position in it for me – the Secretary of NoIsOK – I’d even be willing to sign the contract – the position will be located in …. India? Okay, he might say “no” to that.

tick tick tick – DING

Did you see that little number over there on the left? Blog stats – it just changed to 1,000. That means 1,000 times someone checked in to see what I was writing – that is very cool! Thank you for caring! And, believe me, I have tried to see if I can boost the number by logging in and out of the site. WordPress must have a stealth detector – it knows it’s me everytime and does not increase my stats when I log in. So thank you for following my journey – McDonalds better watch out – I am creeping up on their schmancy fancy  “over 1 billion served”. How do you like me now??? By tomorrow, I am sure to be able to say “over 1,000 served”.

Hugs and kisses to you all. Maybe I will give out a prize from India when I hit 10,000 served. Hmmmmm.

For every cloud, there is a silver lining…

from juniper images

from juniper images

Apparently I have given some of you the wrong impression. I have gotten quite a few comments about how unexcited I am for our new adventure. I blog to differ. Just in case you don’t know me, I am a smarty pants. Most of this is sarcasm. Oh sure, and there is a bridge for sale in Brooklyn. I know. But seriously, I have found the silver lining around some of the clouds that I thought were pretty dark and I wanted to share them with you…

For example…

Cloud:
I have had to pretty much give up my handmade card business – A Reason To Write – pretty hard to do craft shows on weekends with 3 kids playing two sports and a husband out of the country.

Silver Lining:
But now I have started blogging and am LOVING it – I have not put pen to paper in a long, long time – this is definitely a silver lining. My parents might actually see some return on their investment in my college education after all. Maybe I’ll go for my masters – yeah, probably not. No need to get carried away.

Cloud:
I am that mom that will cook chicken nuggets, mac n cheese, and pasta for every meal. Life is short and I don’t have the energy to fight over food. And, just to spice it up a little – sometimes I will throw in a happy meal. I aim to please.

Silver Lining:
Now, I have decided to expose my children and their tastebuds to new adventures too – just in case they don’t exactly cater to the spoiled conservative American 11/9/7-year-old palate in India. My kids have now tried lasagna, stroganoff, apricot chicken, and homemade cheeseburgers. And, the best part, therapy will not be needed at a later date – these new flavors did not cause any traumas. They survived. I did take it slow –  I have not exactly delved in to the vegetable world – but give me time. (As a bonus, I learned how to spell stroganoff.)

Cloud:
I joined Facebook and I think I might have run out of friends to add. At least I have not discovered any new ones lately.

Silver Lining:
Hey, wait just one minute, I am moving to a country with a billion people. I can out-friend my American friends in no time. Oh the possibilities. Surely, somewhere in a country with a billion people I can find a few new friends. Easy now – remember there are some rhetorical statements here. No comments necessary on this one. 😎

Cloud:
About a week after hubby left, my entire computer system crashed. Remember, I own a stationery company and make everything myself – oh yeah, and I use the computer every now and then (translation – ALL THE TIME) to do it- AUGH! Cloud – big cloud. At the time, it felt like a full-blown nuclear explosion cloud.

Silver Lining:
But now, I have laptop that I can take with me every where I go – even to India. And, I updated a lot of my software – apparently a lot happens in the software world in seven years. Apparently, they fixed all the things that had been frustrating me – who knew? Big Fat Silver Lining.

Cloud:
I am going to miss my friends terribly.

Silver Lining:
But, now I am making plans for lunch, dinner, and shopping with most of them. I am seeing them more than I probably would have normally. I have even reconnected some people who weren’t my biggest fans.

Cloud:
No Target and Costco or even Walmart.

Silver Lining:
No Target and Costco or even Walmart. Think about packing up a house full of junk from Target, Walmart, and Costco and you realize you don’t need a lot of junk from Target, Costco, and Walmart.

Cloud:
I am not a big fan of 6th grade math and I have had to spend a lot of time with 6th grade math because Number One Hubby AND his mathematical mind/accounting degree are out of the country.

Silver Lining:
Bear and I have gotten to spend some time together figuring out 6th grade math and he still has a good grade in it (Mr. Beasley would be so proud). Whew. Thank God we are moving before Bear moves on to 7th grade math. I will not be downsized just yet – outsourced, yes, downsized, not so much.

Things are looking up…

I just found out that there is a city in India called Hyderabad. AKA – the City of Pearls. Now we are talking. I don’t know what I have been so worried about. What could be wrong with a country that has a city named after pearls. And I was a Chi Omega – our stone is a pearl  – this was meant to be.

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Please don’t bring me down by reminding me of the Yellow Brick Road – it looked so shiny and bright – but really not so much – there was that whole crazy wizard at the end and the flying monkeys. That didn’t go so well. Yeah, I know, we’re not in Kansas any more. But Dorothy took care of the witch so I shouldn’t need the ruby slippers – but pearls. Hmmm. That’s another story.