My Writing Process

Monday, April 14, 2014

I admit, I was surprised when Tamara, my IRL friend and superblogger, asked if I wanted to participate in this blog author tour.

"She thinks I'm a writer? She thinks I'm a writer! Am I a writer?" The pressure was heavy but fleeting, thankfully. 

In her post, Tamara writes about needing permission to call herself a writer, which, of course, she doesn't. But I do! Why am I the exception? Maybe because lately it seems like I do a lot of writing in my head and not actually on paper. There's definitely an element of fear and a lack of self-confidence at play here. This is a post about my writing process and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to answer the questions but I did! 

1. What am I working on?
I am working on a series of interviews featuring mothers with physical disabilities. It is taking me a looooong time but I hope to get it up on my blog in the next few months. But I am also working on being a braver writer. So far, I am not doing great but I'll get there. I know the rewards will be great when I do. 
2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Do I have a genre?! I don't know. Is journaling and blogging a genre, like being a diarist or memoirist? I guess my work differs in that I'm very sensitive to how my writing will be perceived by the people I know and love in real life, and that holds me back a lot but hopefully, some of what I've written has substance and meaning. I have always been a writer of few words anyway, way back to high school when Dr. Benton gave me a pass on paper page minimums because I was able to say what I needed to say without hitting the required word count. No flowery language or hyperbole for me! 
3. Why do I write what I do?
I write because I can't hold it all in my head. Most of that stuff is in a notebook, not online. But the stuff that is online, I write and share it because I think people will like to read it, will find it useful, will be interested in it. I write what I do because sometimes thoughts are like demons. You have to let them out, so they won't control you. 
4. How does my writing process work?
When I have an actual assignment and topic to write about, I just sit at my computer and start typing whatever I'm ready to say about it, then I stop and do research as necessary. Sometimes, I have to write on paper and not just any paper. If I'm telling a story, I use my journal. But if I'm pulling information together, or doing a writing prompt, I use a notepad. Don't ask me why! A few months ago, I was tasked with the incredible honor of writing an obituary for a friend's mother and I had to write it on a notepad first. Nothing else would do! 

Sometimes I just start writing in my  head, then I realize that I should probably write it down, which is why I always have a notebook and pen in my bag--sometimes, I have to write at a red light and once, I pulled over!  The other day, I left my bag in the car when I went to a friend's house. I had to rip a page out of a spiral notebook sitting on her counter, when I thought a thought and needed to put it on paper before I lost it. So, head, then paper, then I decide if the thought is going anywhere, if it needs to be elaborated on, and if it needs to be shared. Then, I go from there. Usually, I have to be struck by inspiration. I'm a very undisciplined writer. I have no routine, no rhyme or reason to my writing sessions, which kind of describes my personality, now that I think about it... mmh. 


I'm passing the baton next week to my internet friend, Thien-Kim, and my IRL friend, NJ. Thien-Kim is the author of I'm Not the Nanny and the editor of my online book club, From Left to Write.  Thien-Kim writes about raising biracial children, and while her experiences are much different from mine, I do relate in some ways, since my children are Jewricans!  NJ is a friend from Western Mass who has found an online home at A Cookie Before Dinner, and has a real knack for keeping it real and not being afraid to share the stuff we never talk about, like dirty cars and droopy drawers. Look for their posts on April 21st! 

Menu Mondays: Overbooked Edition

Monday, April 7, 2014

  1. I looked at my calendar last night to see what I had on tap for the week, and I suffered a small surge of panic when I saw that I failed to take into account my daughter's THREE half-days this week. Add in softball practice that ends at dinnertime, three meetings, a classroom birthday celebration, soccer and a playdate, and my anxiety levels were creeping upwards. 
  2. Honestly, I have no idea if my kids will eat the shepard's pie but I will and Henry will, and I have potatoes to use up. 
  3. The aforementioned softball practice is on Friday, so I'll be using a pizza crust from the store, then loading it up and popping it in the oven when we get home. Takes 12 minutes, tops! 
  4. Crockpot Mexican Chicken: Chopped onions at the bottom of the crockpot, fresh or frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts on top, cover with black beans, corn, a jar of salsa, and a little water or stock. Remove chicken from crockpot at end of cooking, shred it up and stir it back in. Serve with tortillas or tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded cheese and avocado.  
  5. Next week, I'll be participating in a blogger meme called The Writing Process. I was tagged by Tamara, who published hers this morning. Take a look!

In other news, how happy are we that winter has been shown the door? The girls and I got out for a hike yesterday afternoon, while the boys chilled at home. Here's us, post-hike. 

The Stories

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I have a strong recollection of my grandmother telling me that she was a fur coat model when she met my grandfather. She said my grandfather used to come into the shop and she wouldn't give him the time of day.

I have no idea now if my memory is true. I don't question whether my grandmother was confused or got the details wrong because she pretty much always had her faculties but I do wonder if I misremember our conversation because to everyone else, she was a shoe model!

Clearly, the moral here is to write everything down or get it on tape. My grandmother isn't here to back me up and quite frankly, my word doesn't count for much! I'm notorious in our family for either not remembering something at all, or for remembering it wrong. Throw in the inevitably of my not hearing something correctly and my credibility is shot when it comes to family stories. I pretty much never get the benefit of the doubt.

As infuriating and annoying as that is, I get it, I really do!

Whether or not this is you, it still pays to write the stories down and have a record. These stories, these little details are what makes each family special and give each family it's place in history. Sometimes the stories are hard. The great-grandfather I was named after, he committed suicide. I wish I knew more about the circumstances but I never felt like I could ask my grandpa about it. I don't even know how I know about it, and right now, I'm not even certain that someone won't chime in to tell me that I've got all it wrong. Hindsight is 20/20 but when you're a teenager, hindsight is not even a concept that exists. If I knew then what I know now and all that jazz!

My great uncle Al was a meticulous note taker. He was also a record keeper and a hoarder. Thanks to him, we know so much about my mother's side of the family, enough to figure out a lot of the missing pieces through research. I was not as close to this side of the family growing up, so I love discovering fascinating details like my great grandmother being a caterer and the fact that my great grandfather left behind a whole other family (wife and kids!) in Lebanon when he came here. On the surface, these are details that are unique to our family but dig a little deeper and they become artifacts of history. My great grandmother's catering business was key to surviving the Great Depression, and she was part of an era in which people did whatever they needed to do to make a living. It was also fortunate that the family lived in a factory town, with jobs available during wartime, and between wars as well. The family that my great grandfather left behind is a clue to the emigration patterns of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Emigration to the US, from certain regions, was also an escape from something--usually oppression or economic depression.

All our individual stories can be threaded together to form a "big picture" view of our collective American history in a way that complements and deepens our understanding what we learn in history class. Understand history to make sense of the present and create a vision for the future. 
All this to say, become a record keeper and story writer. Your future selves will thank you. 

Menu Mondays: Alice Edition

Monday, March 31, 2014

1. Alice made the menu this week. She even wrote it all down. Kindergarten is incredible. Also, she is making the perogies, probably. She made them last week and did a great job. 
2. The Chickn' Nuggets are from Quorn, a brand that I really like because it doesn't use soy-based protein like most vegetarian products. 
3. Friday, it'll actually just be me, Stella and Micah up to Albany because my mom's photograph is being exhibited at the 36th Annual Photography Regional at the Albany Center Gallery. Go, mom!! Alice and Henry will be staying home so she can attend her school's science fair Saturday morning. She's already requested to have a dinner date at Redding Roadhouse

It's About Nothing.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What does it mean to be a writer? How about a blogger? Does being a blogger make you a writer? Not always. A fair amount of bloggers seem to be curators of web content.  Some other bloggers are copywriters-- pushing products and writing reviews. I remember, back in the wee days of the Internet and web blogs, being a blogger meant being brave and pouring your little soul out to whoever came to visit your corner of the Internet. Some of those people are still around; a lot of them have taken their blogs private. I understand that-- it's a much bigger World Wide Web than it used to be. It's a little scary to write for an audience made up of people you know nothing about--that lurk and troll and maybe leave not-so-nice comments.
So if I call myself a writer, and I fancy myself a blogger, where do those two things intersect and at what point should they not intersect? If I'm not willing to pour my soul out, or I'm not brave enough to pour my soul out to everyone in the free world, then why do I have a blog? What's the point? I guess when I first started blogging, I wanted to share a little bit about my life living in Prague, and whatever else my precocious 20 year old self thought was so profound. (I'd give anything to find that blog again... I don't even remember what it was called, just that it was one of those website builder-things called Homestead, which is still around, unbelievably but seems to be more for enterprise users now.)
Then, my blog was about teaching, or that was the idea anyway. Then my blog was about nothing, everything and nothing.  I've had blogs on and off for the past ten years but none of them really went anywhere and I know that it's because of my own ambivalence, my existentialist blogging crisis. There's always been a why, and yet I find myself coming back again and again. For what? Am I talking just for the sake of hearing myself talk? I can do all this in a journal, and I do except that most of what I write in my journal would be too risky to share here. I mean, it would be a big risk on my part, baring my soul to who? You? No offense but who are you?

Sometimes, sharing and re-reading what I've written is like hearing my voice on makes me cringe and say, "God, that's what I sound like!?"

The fact is, if I wanted to have a blog of substance, I have so many things I could write about but it all involves other people and that's where I get wary. What are the limits of sharing, especially when it comes to my children and my family? If I can't get deep and personal out of respect for those closest to me, then my blogging is not genuine, is it? I could write about these things in general and abstract ways but who wants to read that? Not me. I hate vagueblogging! I want details! I know you want details, too! But I worry a lot about what people think. Not just any people but the people I know, IN REAL LIFE. That I see every day or most days. I'm not a touchy-feely person and attention embarrasses me, no matter how positive. Unless it's my birthday or I'm having a baby. In which case, LAVISH attention on me, please!

It's 10:40. This is the latest I've been up in a long, long while. Yes, while I've been away from blogging, I've been crawling into bed by 10, most nights by 9:30. I'm exhausted. My sleep is shot to hell thanks to Micah, who is actually not a bad sleeper but still, the interruptions are taking it's toll on me. I'm looking forward to summer vacation, and not having to be anywhere in the mornings or get anyone ready for anything.
Speaking of summer, it's not nearly here and apparently, neither is Spring but it was nice enough today for this:

I'm going to take this picture and put it in my [metaphorical] pocket and think about it later this week when we get slammed by a Nor'Easter (rumor has it). 

Slice of Life #6

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

 I know I said last week that everything is one big slice but today, I really do have a story! An adventure!
Last week, a friend posted on Facebook looking for book recommendations for her husband who had some long-distance business travel coming up; mysteries or international thrillers are his preferred genre. I had a couple of books that fit that bill and offered them to her, which she happily accepted. We decided I would swing by her place since her house is on my way to Stella's school.
Fast-forward to today! After picking up Stella and stopping for gas, I drove to her house. It was my first time there but I found her house easily and pulled into her driveway, which was fairly steep. (Maybe you see where this is going?) I handed off the books quickly since my friend was on a conference call--no time to chat! 
I started up the drive only to have my wheels spin loudly on the ice. 
No good.
I tried a different angle. 
This way, that way.
All I got was the smell of burning rubber and the loud sound of my engine exerting  itself.
My friend, hearing all the noise, came out to investigate, putting her call on hold. She sprinkled out some salt and we tried again. 
She took over the wheel and put my car in manual. She got pretty far up before losing traction on a long stretch of ice. 
We decided to give up and call Triple A but of course, I texted my sister first. Because my sister can fix everything!
My friend invited us to wait in her basement but of course, we had to make another awkward interruption while my friend was on her very important conference call because Stella had to pee. Of course she did! 

Kate showed up in due time, took my key and went to work while I fed Micah. She came back inside a few minutes later, declaring success. She'd gotten pretty far up the driveway and now needed me to move her car so she could drive up into the street. We loaded the kids into the car, I backed her car out into the street and waited for Kate to follow.


Stopping in the middle of the driveway had not been a good idea. Kate was back at Square One despite all the cardboard she'd laid down for traction. She tried over and over again but couldn't replicate her success. We called Triple A and waited, while I sent a quick email to the elementary school to have them put Alice on her cousins' bus in case I couldn't make it home in time to meet her bus. 
The tow truck came quickly and pulled my car up the driveway, and we were off. All three kids (Stella, Micah and my niece Laila) slept through this big adventure, by the way. 

My afternoon was shot, even though this whole thing only took little more than an hour, but that's something I'm saving for another post. 

Menu Mondays: Meat on Special Edition

Sunday, February 9, 2014

  1. Meat on Special? It just means that a local supermarket, a very fine one, was having a sale on ground chuck (yes, I'm aware of the recall! We were not affected by the recall, no worries) and Bell and Evans chicken. So, I bought more than I usually would and threw it in the freezer. 
  2. What is a crepesdilla? I'm still in love with those masa crepes from Deborah Madison and I've decided to make quesadillas with them, instead of buying tortillas. Cheddar cheese was on sale, so I bought two blocks--one for mac and cheese (for lunches) and the other for the quesadillas. 
  3. Pasta was also on sale, so I bought a few different kinds. I already made spaghetti and meatballs last night. I bought pork sausage for the meatballs and I have some left, so I'm thinking penne with sausage and broccoli. 
  4. The little dude is starting to eat some food, so I've been roasting up sweet potato sticks for him, and he's had some of my oatmeal a few times. Very exciting times! 
  5. My girls love granola bars and so do use grown-ups, so granola bars tend to be a pricey purchase, since a box doesn't go far. I found a recipe for Nature Valley-style granola bars and it's pretty good! The website is ugly but don't let that scare you. Mine actually didn't come out that crunchy, I think, because I made my own brown sugar, and I was out of butter so I used oil instead. I also added flax seeds and cinnamon.

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