Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Carving Meaning from the Chaos

My son received a Christmas card today – one of those that talks when you open it, which children love and moms try to inadvertently toss into the trash when said children aren’t looking. But I actually do love this one. It features Linus standing on stage at the Peanuts’ Christmas pageant, and reads, “May there be at least one moment this holiday season when you’re reminded what it’s really all about.” When you open the card, it plays the sound bite where Linus explains to Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas, one of my favorite holiday moments.
The card came from a rather unlikely source, which got me thinking. It seems that, regardless of any religious or spiritual bent, once December hits, just about everyone I know starts seeking some greater meaning, something more profound than an extra 40% off of the already low sale prices on cashmere scarves. Have you noticed this? Have you felt it yourself?
Charities abound to give us a financial outlet for this quest for meaning. Presents for Patients. Toys for Tots. Coats for Kids. Children’s hospitals, the Salvation Army, rescue missions. Even my beloved alma mater sent me an online holiday greeting reminding me what a great time of year it is to support scholarship funds at the university. Surely donating funds from our already strained budgets will help fill the void. Right?
If not, we’re bombarded with other, more active, opportunities to get involved and embrace the spirit of the season. Ice skate with Santa. Breakfast with Santa. Brunch with Santa. (Lord, when does that man find time to make any toys?) You can get your Christmas fix at the ballet, the symphony, the theater, your kids’ school or from flash mobs at the mall. Visit railroad displays, light displays, gingerbread house displays. Or partake in the complete spectacle of retail shopping. Early bird specials! Doorbuster savings! Lowest prices of the season! That will get you in the spirit. Right?
Or there’s baking. Who doesn’t melt at the aroma of fresh-baked Christmas cookies, just like mom used to make? Never fear – you have at least 40,000 awesome, delicious, super-simple yet dazzlingly elegant recipes to choose from staring at you from the cover of every magazine in the grocery aisle. Don’t even think you can get away with baking just two or three. Look at that platter of twenty different varieties! Isn’t that lovely? You should totally do that. That will put you in the spirit. Right?
Is it any wonder we have trouble digging the meaning from all this chaos?
Don’t get me wrong, my family does all of this. We give – joyfully – to Toys for Tots, Coats for Kids, and our church’s food collection which my husband and daughter help run every year. We have lunch with Santa, we head downtown to see the gingerbread and Santa displays, we ice skate around the Christmas tree, and we pop in at our beloved alma mater to see their gorgeous international holiday display (though scholarship donations are out – sorry). And I will bake. Lots.
But for me, the true meaning of the season comes not from the activity and the bustle, but from the quiet moments I carve for myself . The evenings when I sit with my cup of eggnog coffee in the soft glow of my tree with two children snuggled beside me watching favorite holiday specials. It’s then that I think about the things that matter most: my husband, children, family, friends. The nativity on my piano. That’s my meaning. What’s yours?
This season, take a few minutes each day, whether it’s in meditation, prayer, or just quiet contemplation, to focus on what’s truly important in your life. And then hold those thoughts with you day in and day out. That’s where you’ll find meaning in the season, and throughout the year.
Then take a deep breath and plunge back into the mayhem.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Savoring a Blessed Life

First of all, apologies for my lengthy absence. It seems writing a 200-page thesis has a way of forcing you to prioritize tasks, and in the grand scheme of things, blogging takes a back seat to far more critical activities like Brownie meetings and pre-school holiday parties. Particularly since I’ve been reminded recently, by multiple sources and in multiple ways, how fleeting life is and how fast children grow.
I read an article recently in Ladies Home Journal titled “The Long Good-Bye,” by Melissa T. Shultz. In it, the author details the rapid progression of her son’s life, from the newborn tucked against her chest, to the toddler cutting his first teeth, to the wobbly pre-schooler on his first two-wheeler, to the a teenager texting when he arrives at his destination. In her article, it all happens in the span of about a page and a half.  “‘They grow up too soon,’ everyone told me. Eighteen years later, I finally understand what they meant.’”
The movie Toy Story 3 brings this point crashing home to me every time I see it. Watching it the other day with my son, I literally sobbed when Andy passed on his beloved toys to young Molly on his way to college. Because it’s true, they do grow up too fast. I can’t count how many people have said this to me since I had my daughter, but I can tell you it happens almost weekly. At first when I heard those words, I would smile and nod. Then I progressed to a, “Yeah, I know what you mean,” without really meaning it. Then when my little girl got on the bus for the first time in kindergarten, I finally started to understand, at least a little.
My daughter will turn eight at the end of January. Eight. How did that happen? Didn’t we just bring her home? Didn’t we dress her in little sundresses with the ruffles on the butt and sing along with Dora the Explorer only last week? When did she stop napping? And using a sippy? The little girl who used to scribble with crayons now sketches fashion designs at the kitchen table. The cute little munchkin with tiny ponytails on each side of her head that stuck out like Pippi Longstocking’s now wears lipgloss and fingernail polish. She’s graduated from Dumbo’s Flight to Star Tours, from craft projects to math tests, from Goodnight Moon to the Rainbow Fairies chapter book series.
And she will only get bigger. Before I know it, she’ll be a “tween,” more interested in electronics than toys, in primping than playing in the bath, in boys than in her momma. Sigh.
Sometimes I think we should concentrate our efforts on our little man instead. The girl is a lost cause. With him, we may still have time to stop this mad progression of growth. With enough coffee, we could stunt him to where he’ll stay my cute little snuggly bear forever and ever, hanging finger paint crafts on my fridge, singing his ABCs, and alerting me when things are “kistusting.”
But I know it’s a fantasy. He will grow, just as she is growing. It will happen quickly, in the blink of an eye. And one day we’ll drop them off at college and look back on it all as if it happened in a day, wondering where the time went.
And so today, instead of following my daily routine of looking forward – to how much time I’ll have to write when both kids are in school, to what colleges the kids might choose to attend, to where my husband and I will retire when our home is empty and our schedules free – I’m focusing on the abundant blessings that fill our lives now: the little man sucking on a broken pacifier while he naps; his big sis playing Barbies while watching the Nightmare Before Christmas with her uncle; my amazing husband of 15 years who is living this adventure with me. I’m savoring this day, this time of my life. And I will strive to do so every day, because this time will never come again, and I know I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Scheduling Success

Since my last post (which, I realize, was several weeks ago already), a number of you have asked for an update on my “week of no solitaire” and my new highly scheduled life. I am proud to say that, since posting my last blog, I have wasted not one single moment on solitaire, mahjong, Sudoku, or any other similar time-sucking activities. (Although, you may have guessed from my recent lack of blogging that I neglected to include “write blog” to the schedule. I have since rectified that problem.)  
Since instituting this new system, I have achieved record-setting writing productivity – approximately 100 pages of writing over a two-week period. A little over 80 pages of that went into my thesis, with another 8-10 going toward other projects. Whew!
Now, granted, the thesis needed to get done. I had set a deadline with my director, and I was determined to make it, no matter what. Merely sticking to the schedule wouldn’t have cut it. I spent many consecutive late nights typing like a crazy person. But the schedule helped me stay on track during the days and accomplish all the other things that needed to get accomplished at the same time. So, overall, I’d call it a success.
I have since added a helpful element to my scheduling: the “to-do” list. Not a novel invention on my part, I know. But up until now I have only utilized to-dos at the very busiest times of my life when I have a million things to get done in a short time and forgetting something could be catastrophic: my wedding; preparing for the births of my children; Christmas; every time my neat-freak brother-in-law comes to visit.
I’ve discovered that these useful little tools, just by the fact of their existence, prompt me to accomplish things I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s as if writing a list and sticking it on the fridge makes each task mandatory, as opposed to some idea I’m just toying with. I feel obligated to cross items off, and if I don’t, I feel I owe an explanation to myself and others as to why tasks didn’t get done. What could possibly have been more important than washing the insecticide gunk off the windows? Why didn’t I get around to re-potting the fall flowers? And could anything really have been more important than mopping the floors? (Well…)
Now that the schedule is in place and my thesis is drafted, it’s time to move forward. The revision schedule starts now: 5-6 revised chapters each week for the next six weeks. At the same time, I’ll be writing personal essays, juvenile poems, and short stories for my independent study. Mix in with that trips to the pumpkin patch, Halloween parties, a quick trip to visit Nana and PopPop, plus the very real possibility that I’ll once again host Thanksgiving, and it’s shaping up to be a busy fall. But I love every minute of it. And with the help of my schedule, everything should get done on time with a relative level of sanity.
So what about you? How will you keep yourself sane and organized this fall?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Free" is Easily Wasted

I’ve been noticing lately how a remarkable amount of my “free” time gets mysteriously wasted each day. I start off with the best of intentions: exercising first thing, showering and dressing before my husband leaves the house, getting my daughter to the school bus on time with (usually) everything she needs.
Then it all falls apart.
While my little one catches his favorite Disney Junior shows, I check e-mail. Two to three hours later, I finally get off the computer, having answered e-mails, investigated several lucrative e-mail offers, checked Facebook, “liked” several posts, replied to several more, clicked on one too many YouTube links, checked CNN and the Weather Channel for major happenings, and caught up on my blogs.
Yep. Two to three hours of nothing, really.
Then I’ll get up and do a few chores before lunch. After little one has eaten and is lying down for his nap, I repeat an abbreviated version of the morning computer routine before starting to write. But wait – before I start to write, I need to play just a couple games of solitaire, you know, to get the creative juices flowing.
An hour later, I start to write. By then, I only have maybe an hour before little one wakes up, my daughter gets home from school, and the homework/dinner/bedtime routine kicks in. Many days, as I’m anticipating my darling husband’s arrival, I have to wonder, “What did I really do today?”
It’s been said a million times: we all have 24 hours in the day, and none of us knows how many of those 24-hour days we have in front of us. So why on earth would I squander a single moment of any of them? Let alone many, many, many moments?
So here’s the deal. For the next week, I have created a schedule for myself (no, I will not post the schedule as I’d like to keep that little bit of crazy to myself) on which I have blocked out every minute of every day. Some of the blocks are for things like checking e-mail and blogs, reading, and working on my Sunday crossword. But other blocks are for actual seriously productive activities, like tackling the spring cleaning list I never got to in the spring. Or working on the Christmas stocking for little one that’s been sitting in a box under my bed for three years. Or – gasp! – writing. And for the entire week, I will avoid at all costs playing solitaire.
So who’s with me? What activities are sucking the time and productivity from your life? Could you swap them for activities that are more meaningful and fulfilling?
Let’s live every day – every moment – to the fullest. I don’t expect anyone ever cried from their deathbed, “If only I’d played more solitaire!”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Grab Your Butterfly Net!

I have many teacher friends, and even more mom friends, who are buzzing about the same thing right now: back to school season.

I remember anticipating the start of school when I was a kid. I enjoyed school for the most part. (Except for junior high. I mean, no one really liked junior high, did they?) I was a high achiever, involved in activities, and had a good core group of friends. And yet, despite all the good feelings I harbored for school, the start of the year always loaded my stomach with butterflies. What if I hated my teachers? What if my classes were too hard? What if I had to sit next to someone I didn’t like? What if I didn't have any classes with any of my friends? What if this was the year I finally passed out in front of my entire class during the Presidential Fitness Exams?

I feel those same emotions now on behalf of my children. Will their homework be overwhelming? Will their teachers be understanding? Will their friends be kind and true? What if they get picked on? Teased? Bullied? What if they aren’t on the bus when it comes by our house in the afternoon?

Okay, maybe these aren’t exactly the same emotions. But the trepidation is still there. That’s always the case when we start something new.

And yet, not new. Let’s face it, after the first week or two, it will be as if they never left school, as if the past eleven weeks of no schedules, constant playing, and trips to the zoo/beach/park were a glorious dream. Everything will be back to “normal.” We’ll get back into the groove, establish our momentum, and coast through the year as if summer never happened.

Isn’t this true when we start anything new? Whether it’s a new job, a new exercise regime, moving to a new city, or starting a new project. First there are the butterflies. Will I be good enough? What if I hate it there? What if my idea is really stupid? What if I fail?

But we start anyway, because we’ve made that commitment (to our new boss, the seller of our house, ourselves). And yes, the first day can be awkward and uncertain and fraught with anxiety. But the next day is better. Better still the day after that. And before we know it, the new routine is just as routine as the old one, but at a new level. We’re improved and enlightened just for having gone through the process.

Happy Fall, folks. I hope the new beginnings that await you this season prove energizing and fulfilling. Just grab your butterfly net and embrace the experience.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What's Your Guilty Pleasure?

The other day, I was searching for a piece of writing I’d done a while ago. This is usually an easy task, because I’m meticulous about organizing my electronic files. I utilize folders and subfolders religiously, and have each piece of writing filed not only by subject matter, but by title and draft number. So it’s usually pretty easy to find files.
But then I noticed a folder I’d created a while back called “other writing.” I honestly had no idea what I had tucked into this folder, so I clicked it open. In it, I found several projects from an undergrad public relations writing class I took about ten years ago, and a file I titled “momlit.”
Oh, yes. My attempt at a chick lit novel.
Now, for those who aren’t familiar with it, the “chick lit” genre became popular within the last ten years or so, and incorporates the many aspects of modern womanhood. They tend to be lighthearted and humorous, and often feature career and/or relationship entanglements that get their heroines into marvelous scrapes reminiscent of a good romantic comedy. Think Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones books, Sophie Kinsella's Shopoholic series, or the Emily Giffin Something Borrowed series. They tend to be wildly popular, and yet are generally frowned upon by the literary community as commercial, sub-par fluff. A guilty pleasure, if you will.
 A subgenre of chick lit, “mommy lit,” takes a similar lighthearted look into the unlikely antics of young moms. This is what I had started in my file, “momlit.” I started working out a storyline for this book back when my 7-year-old was still attending Gymboree and my world was all about new-mommyhood.
When I peeked at the file this weekend, I was pleasantly surprised by my own diligence. As a compulsive planner and thought-organizer, I had not only sketched out the overall idea of the book, but had created a sixteen-page chapter-by-chapter outline that explored character motivations and followed the progression of various subplots. Yea, me! Why had I put aside a project on which I had already spent so much time?
And then I remembered – grad school. Once I started grad school, I not only increased my writing workload, but I also became more critical of the writing I produced. MFA students, after all, don’t write chick lit.
But why not? I enjoy reading it. In fact, when I allow myself to read it, I devour it at about twice the rate as the healthy “literary” stuff. It’s like drinking Shamrock Shakes at McDonald’s every March. I know they’re filled with all sorts of artificial ingredients, calories and fat, and yet when they come back each spring, I consume as many as possible. They make me happy, like a guilty pleasure should.
Why are we embarrassed by our guilty pleasures? Why can’t a grown woman admit to enjoying a Shamrock Shake? Or a vampire romance? Or watching people eat toilet paper on reality TV? And why shouldn’t a perfectly respectable MFA student write a humorous novel about the wacky, tumultuous life of a new mom? I say there’s no shame in guilty pleasures. We should slurp them down with our heads held high.
So what’s your guilty pleasure? Shout it out and own it. Then, you have my permission to go indulge.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Switch Off the Auto-Pilot

Did you ever have that experience where you’re driving somewhere, and you’re completely engrossed in thoughts unrelated to where you’re going or what you’re doing, and suddenly you find yourself at an intersection, and you realize you have no idea how you got there? Sometimes – hooray! – it’s the right intersection, heading in the right direction. But sometimes you find you’ve taken the turn to go to work when you were supposed to go to a doctor’s appointment, for which you’ll now be late and receive the look of death from the stuffy receptionist who would never, in a million years, allow such a thing to happen herself.
It’s because most of us, a lot of the time, are flying on auto-pilot. We go through life acting out the same routine day in and day out, never wavering – God forbid – or who knows where we might end up? Have you ever had a phone call or a question from a child disrupt your morning routine only to realize hours later that you to forget to put on deodorant? Or brush your teeth? Those routines can be powerful things.
They can also be dangerous. They can – quietly, insidiously – keep us planted in our place, never really moving forward, but only getting by. Marking time. Treading water. Revving our engines. Pick your favorite metaphor.
I’ve noticed this with my writing. I’ve been writing children’s and young-adult fiction for several years, never really wavering from that medium until a couple of months ago when I started this blog. At first, it was daunting. I spent hours upon hours planning my first post, rewriting and revising it, scrapping it and starting over. It had to be just right, a masterpiece of wit and poignancy, something my friends would tell their friends about, and they’d tell their friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. After all, these were my thoughts, not the thoughts of some character I could hide behind.
Then I posted a few entries, and a funny thing happened. I found I enjoyed it. I enjoyed thinking of topics and scribbling thoughts. I became less concerned with perfection and more interested in where my ideas would lead, what topics I could explore, and whether anyone would share my views. I broke out of my routine and enriched my experience as a writer as a result.
I took this a step further this week by writing a short story for adults, a genre I haven’t attempted since undergrad (and we won’t talk about how long ago that was). Again, I felt paralyzed at the start. I couldn’t decide on the first words, first sentences, first paragraph. But I began. Soon those first words turned into second and third words, and thirtieth and one thousandth words, and suddenly I finished. And, again, my writing was enriched because of it.
I encourage all of you this week – today, even – to break the mold of routine. Whether you do something as simple as drive to work a different way to make your brain work a little harder, or whether you do something as dramatic as sign up for those college courses you’ve always talked about but never pursued. Take up a new craft. Go someplace different of vacation. Cut your hair. Take up dancing.
Then open yourself up to the adventure that will surely follow.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Goodbye, Grandpa

My grandfather died yesterday, a little less than a month shy of his 98th birthday.
I’ve been thinking about my grandfather a great deal over the past six months or so, partly because his ailing health brought his mortality vividly to my consciousness, but also because of my thesis project. What does my grandfather have to do with my thesis project? Everything. I’m re-telling his immigration story in the form of a historic middle-grade novel.
My grandfather put his stories to paper almost twenty years ago, when he came to the realization that his mind wouldn’t be sharp forever and that he should document the stories of his youth while he could still clearly remember them.  He dictated stories to his daughters and grandchildren, who typed and printed them. Then he collected the stories into paperback volumes for everyone in the family – a rare treasure for all of us. Imagine the gold mine of stories we would have if all our ancestors did this!
The book starts with stories of his father, my great-grandfather: how he left home twice, first to find a job, and later to escape a war and build a better life in America. He left when my grandfather was a newborn. (The two would not meet again until my grandfather was almost twelve.)
He goes on to tell of his childhood in Croatia, lived with his grandparents after his mother died of typhus when he was only two. He tells of village dances, where he and his friend Tom would earn tips running back and forth to town to buy additional cherry pop; of the hour-long walk to and from church with his grandmother that caused him to nap during the sermons; of his afternoons spent watching the cows so they wouldn’t get into the corn while they grazed. There were less happy remembrances, too: of the grandfather who never spoke to him; of the uncles who resented him for being too small to work; of his own father’s resentment of his ability to learn English and assimilate in the U.S. far more readily than he.
But it’s my grandfather’s immigration story that inspired my thesis. He was placed on a train by his grandfather when he was eleven, supposedly to return home after a doctor’s appointment in the city. His grandfather then left him on the train, which wasn't headed back home at all, but across the continent to a ship in Cherbourg, France. My grandfather had no idea where he was going. He carried only a small care package put together by his grandmother of bread and cheese and some spare clothing. And so he traveled across the ocean to meet his father.
In an era when we don’t like to take our eyes off our children playing in the yard for more than ten minutes at a time, it’s hard to fathom placing your only descendant on a train, alone, for a journey to another continent. Granted, his itinerary had all been pre-planned and paid, but who was to say that some other rouge traveler wouldn’t have other plans for him along the way?
Fortunately, the hand of God led him safely to Ambridge, PA, where he finally reconnected with the father he’d never met, where he put down roots, and where he ultimately fulfilled his dream of being surrounded by pretty girls and having a family. God blessed him with a wife and eight daughters, as well as three sons, over 30 grandchildren, and more great-grandchildren than I can keep track of. He was a World War II veteran, a retired bus driver and steelworker, a devoted Catholic, and one of the finest role models of honesty, humility and joy that I can think of.
You will be greatly missed, Grandpa. Thank you for the stories. Thank you for the memories. Most importantly, thank you for the love. Say hello to Grandma for us. We’ll see you on the other side.

Friday, July 29, 2011


This morning on my walk up the “really big hill,” I got to thinking about journeys.
We just returned from a trip to visit my in-laws in Florida; two weeks in the brilliant sunshine living a life of relative leisure, where we traveled frequently by golf cart, began each day with a swim, and spent our afternoons playing dominoes or visiting zoos and museums. I didn’t have to cook or clean a thing, I barely touched my hairdryer, and I wore hardly any makeup. It’s amazing how freeing life in a retirement community can be. And yet, it was not exactly the trip we had originally planned.
The trip we had been discussing for months over dinner each evening was supposed to be a cost effective road trip to Nana and Pop Pop’s. It morphed into something far greater, with multiple days at Disney World and an unexpected purchase of airfare to save my ever-temperamental back. Worth every penny, but not what we had planned.
Journeys are like that, whether they be literal trips or the more figurative life journey we all share. You begin planning with one destination in mind (a no-frills trip to Florida, a career as a lawyer, retirement in a sunny locale where the grandkids will visit often), but more often than not, the plan gets changed up multiple times, sometimes significantly, before the destination is reached. If it’s reached at all. Road trips become flights, jobs get eliminated, dreams get reshaped to fit our circumstances.
When this summer began, I set lofty personal goals. I would finish a complete draft of my thesis. I would visit key destinations for project research. I would sell that pesky novel that’s been in the works for years. I would train for a 5K. I would bike daily. In my spare time I would start a new middle-grade novel. Ah, summer.
Then a herniated disk killed any chance of running to the end of my block, let alone in any kind of race. My one attempt to swing my leg over my bike laid me up for days. The novel I thought was so thoroughly complete…well, it turns out, wasn’t. And the thesis? Turns out, writing with the kids home from school is harder than I thought.
Did I expect the derailments? Of course not (though my loving husband would tell me I should have, since I always plan to accomplish way more than is humanly possible and end up disappointed). But I’m rolling with them. I still have the month of August to work furiously on my thesis (maybe Grandma can log some serious babysitting hours). I can still squeeze in a trip to Ellis Island (if my brother agrees to put me up). The editorial comments on my novel will ultimately make it a far better piece to send out into the world. It will all be good.
And as for my back, Julius at Rehab Services assures me he’ll have me feeling better than my old self as soon as he can, with core strength like I’ve never had before. Hooray! Though I wish I could have arrived at that destination via a different route. Ah, journeys.
In the meantime, I scale the “really big hill” every morning on my journey to recovery. It’s a workout, akin to a Stairmaster; it often makes me sweat; and it’s frequently painful, because I don’t take my pain meds until after breakfast. But I have to say, the view from the top is always worth it.
Journeys are like that.

Monday, July 4, 2011


I had dinner the other night with one of my very best girlfriends (and oldest, in terms of how long I’ve known her – we met in the sixth grade). For close to three decades, she’s been a source of inspiration and motivation for me: strong, confident, bold, never afraid to take chances, always grabbing life by the throat and choking as much out of it as she can. She was my first trombone instructor, my running mate in the French Club presidential election, my co-planner of the Clue dinner theater party that our high-school friends seemed less than enthusiastic about (to this day I can’t fathom why). She was the outspoken, take-no-prisoners yang to my reserved, pacify-the-masses yin.
She is visiting from Tucson, which means that by this time next week, she’ll be thousands of miles away. I so wish she were one of my grab-coffee friends, my playdate-with-the-kids friends, my once-a-month girls’ night friends. Thank God we have Skype.
We were joined for dinner by another friend of hers – her college roommate, with whom I’m only casually acquainted. My friend described to us a “strong women” group she runs back in Tucson that brings women together once a month to bond, share, and experiment in the arts. Then she asked each of us whether we had any close girlfriends. Her college roommate looked a little wistful when she said that no, she really didn’t. She works at a pre-school, runs a farm with her husband, and frankly doesn’t have the time or energy for a social life.
My friend turned to me and asked the same question. I didn’t hesitate for a moment. “I have lots,” I said.
It amazes me to think about the incredible network of women in my life. The college friend I met my first night at Pitt when she asked if she could stick a chair in my room; my high school friend who lives a mile away and, no matter how long we go without seeing each other, makes me feel like we just talked last week; the moms I met back when my 7-year-old started Gymboree as a baby, and who still get together for girls’ nights and kids’ birthday parties; my bookclub, with whom I’ve been sharing stories and insights into life and literature for the past seven years; my writers’ group of talented authors from Chatham (two with whom I had the opportunity to travel to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island last summer); my neighbor who invites me for coffee and before we know it, three hours have flown by; my former coworker and fellow writer who splits her time between the US and Korea, and is an astute sounding board for both motherhood and writing. And that’s just skimming the surface. And I haven’t even touched on family.  
I very much believe in quality over quantity in all things, and am in no way trying to brag about the friend list I have amassed over the years. Rather, I’m writing this as a letter of thanks to all the truly great friends who have chosen to stay in my life, who have stood by me through all things, who I know I could call in a heartbeat if ever I needed a thing. And I’m so grateful to my “yang” for reminding me of this blessing.
I hope you all have at least one girlfriend (or guy friend) who falls into this category for you. For truly, one is all you need. I’m pinching myself for being blessed with so much more.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Everything I really need to know I learned from my Daisy Scout

This past weekend, my daughter became a Brownie. She was baked in a cardboard oven as a Daisy, and popped out in her brown vest, ready to take on all the new adventures of Browniehood. I’m so proud of her for being a scout, and for all the good work these girls have done over their past two years as Daisy Scouts.
The Daisy Scouts are the kindergarten and first-grade arm of the Girl Scouts, and help initiate young girls into the world of scouting. We played games, sang songs, ate lots of snacks (some healthy, some not so much…) and learned about everything from guardian angels to the American Revolution. Our little girls made snack bags for the homeless, took Christmas gifts to dementia patients at a local senior care facility, and donated cookies to our troops overseas.

I’m amazed how many times my daughter will reference lessons from her Daisy meetings while doing everyday stuff. When she sees friends being unkind, she’ll say, "She's not being a sister to every scout!” Or she’ll pat herself on the back for turning off lights or putting her plastic bottle in the recycle bin, saying “I’m using resources wisely.” She proudly displays her Daisy vest, adorned with colorful petals, each representing a lesson learned from the Girl Scout Law.

It got me thinking: the lessons these young scouts learn are applicable to all of us, every day of our lives. They could even apply to, say, writers. Take a look at the Girl Scout Law they’ve been studying over the past two years, and you’ll see what I mean.

I will do my best to be
honest and fair – in what I write and in my critiques of others’ writing.
friendly and helpful – by offering advice and mentoring to students and colleagues who ask for it
considerate and caring – by lending support to fellow struggling writers
courageous and strong – so I can continue to hold my head high when the rejections start pouring in
responsible for what I say and do – on, say, a blog, or a work on nonfiction that could mar someone’s reputation (mine included)
and to
respect myself and others – and never get down on myself or my colleagues just because we haven’t published anything recently
respect authority – by considering the advice of agents or editors who offer it, even when I’m sure my work couldn’t possibly be improved
use resources wisely – by doing my research and only querying agents or editors who may actually have an interest in what I’ve written, rather than querying blinding and wasting everyone’s time
make the world a better place – by writing works that uplift, educate, entertain, offer insight, or otherwise make a positive impact on my readers
and be a sister to every Girl Scout [writer] – by feeling genuinely happy for my colleagues when they experience success, rather than white-hot jealousy that it wasn’t me - not that I’d ever feel that way J.

Words to live by, I think. So glad my daughter does.

Friday, June 17, 2011

To Freelance, or Not To Freelance?

Back in the day, when I first left my high-powered job in higher education marketing and public relations (chuckle, chuckle), I began freelancing, with a focus on the business sector. Brochure copy, website copy, that sort of thing. I’ve been thinking lately that I should get back to it.

And then I think maybe not.

There are definite “pros” to freelance business writing, in my experience. It’s quick, clean, and easy. You get an assignment, you’re given most (if not all) of the information you need to put the assignment together, you have a deadline, and, after a relatively brief period of time (a couple days, a week, a month) you turn in the assignment. After another brief wait (in most cases a month, but possibly longer) you get paid. Usually a tidy sum of money. Certainly more than most fiction writers are used to seeing in a single check.

But there are some “cons” as well. Resentment being one of them. Now why, you might ask, would anyone resent something as innocuous as freelancing? Especially if it pays well?

Because it ate up my writing time with projects I didn’t care about.

I posted a while back about the limited time I have each day to write. Two or three hours in the afternoon, on a good day. Often less. This is the challenge of writing with small children in the house (and being “blessed” with the super-human ability to fall asleep anywhere, any time, typically around in the evening). So each day during my freelancing career, when I’d sit down to write up a brochure on asbestos removal or prepare web content on Pennsylvania’s fresh water fisheries, I would grumble inside, “I should be working on my own stuff!”

So I stopped. I dedicated myself to my creative work. I started graduate school to fully immerse myself in the experience. And I’ve felt fulfilled ever since.

But, as anyone who writes creatively will tell you, while the personal/emotional/spiritual rewards can be great, the monetary ones are…well, not so much (typically). Take my novel, for example. I’m going on six years of uncompensated writing time. Granted, I haven’t been plugging away at it forty hours a week over those six years, but I’ve logged at least a couple hundred hours on this piece. This piece that hasn’t yet earned me a dime. And might never.

That’s the rub of creative work. It may or may not ever pay off, financially speaking. And that can be frustrating when you’re trying to keep two sprouting kids in long-enough pants, a never-ending list of school supplies, and dance/karate/soccer/scouting fees on a single income.

Hence my reason for pondering freelancing again. I’d love to hear thoughts from others walking the walk.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing is a Team Sport

Anyone who says that writing is a solitary activity is missing a huge piece of the equation. The writing group.

A few nights ago, I got together with three of my MFA girlfriends to talk craft and give feedback. I submitted pieces of two projects: the first three chapters of an early middle-grade chapter book, and the first three chapters of my ill-fated, oft submitted but never requested, 5-years-in-the-making young adult supernatural mystery novel.

Which I learned, by the way, is not a young adult novel at all. But, of course, I didn’t know this on my own. I had to be told this by my mentor and advisor who reviewed the manuscript for me only a week or so ago. How did I not know this? I mean, I was always told that the age of the main character determines the age of the readership because kids like to read about characters who are their age or older. My main character is fourteen. Ergo, young adult. Right?

Not so, people. The content and tone of the manuscript do far more to determine the readership. So even though my character is fourteen, which would place him squarely in the young adult category, the content and elements of the book are clearly middle grade, for a plethora of reasons I won’t go into here. But I couldn’t see this on my own.

I also couldn’t see, in this manuscript about which I have been querying and submitting furiously over the past six weeks, that I need a chapter prior to the first chapter to make the readers care about the main character before he’s plunged into the darkness of the spirit world. After all, if your character falls into peril before the reader gets to like him, who’s going to care? Of course, what I remembered from all my years of writing instruction is to begin in the heart of the action. Start with a bang at the moment of change. I thought I was doing the right thing. Why couldn’t I see it?

Because I needed objective eyes, which I could not possibly have after honing this manuscript for five (almost six) years. Sometimes it takes that outsider’s perspective to shed light on the dark spots that only appear gray after you’ve looked at them for so long.

Thankfully, I now have many objective eyes. I just hope I remember to never, ever send out a single piece of writing again without running it past my amazing writing group first.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

To Do Before 40: An Updated List

I celebrated a birthday last week (don't worry, I wasn't expecting a gift), and it occurred to me that I'm getting frighteningly close to that mid-life milestone: 40.

I have to admit, there are moments when I feel every bit of my age, and then some. My former bookstore job where my youthful coworkers regularly swapped stories about barroom revelries provided many of those moments. And grad school. Almost no one else in my classes has children or can relate to temper tantrums, potty training, and the fact that I had to miss John Green's apparently amazing presentation at the Carnegie because it was the same night as my 7-year-old's sleepover.

And yet there are times when I still feel like a kid myself. I mean, I have homework and writing projects. I get graded and commute to campus. The hubby and I still gear up for Pitt football games. In fact, there are fleeting moments when I look around and wonder, “Who put me in charge of these children? Don't they know I don't have a clue? And this house? Last I knew, I was living in a 7th floor apartment on the 71A line with my college sweetheart and a cat.”

Alas, here I am. And as I approach the Big 4-0, I'm reminded of a list I made back in high school of all the things I wanted to accomplish before I hit 30. I haven't been able to dig up the list amidst all my scribbled notebooks (yes, I still have many, many scribblings from high school...), but I seem to recall a few of the items:

Ride in a hot air balloon
Try hang-gliding
Travel to England
Publish my first book
Become the youngest person to win the Academy Award for best screenplay
Attempt an Everest climb

I achieved precious few of the items on my list. Perhaps it's because these lists tend toward the dramatic. I mean, hang-gliding? Who does that? And Everest? (Well, from what I understand, you can pretty much pay your way up there nowadays, but still.)

At least I made it to England.

Notably absent from the list were things like getting married, having children, buying a house and establishing myself in any kind of stable career that would actually earn an income. I suppose I figured all those things would work themselves out.

And they have. Thankfully, since those have been some of the most pivotal and meaningful developments in my life.

Still, I've decided to revamp the list for 40. Here goes:

  1. Have at least one of my manuscripts accepted for publication by a reputable publishing house.

Yeah, that's pretty much the only thing I feel is missing from my life right now. The rest is icing on an already amazingly delicious cake.

I have two years to do it. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Memory of an Eternal Optimist

I feel like I’ve lost a friend.

I had never actually met her, never shook her hand or shared a conversation with her. We were never in the same room, or really even in the same part of the country, to my knowledge. And yet I feel as if I’d known her all my life.

Her name was Bridget Zinn. She was a fellow children’s writer who I heard about through a literary agency I’ve been following on Facebook. When they released an excited message about signing this bright new talent, I checked out her website and started following her blog.

I instantly loved her.

Every post bubbled with enthusiasm, joy, energy, playfulness. She posted wacky videos about her obsessive love of shoes and cake. She seemed exactly the kind of person I’d want in my own writing group, in my own circle of friends.

And yet the entire time, through all the upbeat, perky posts, Bridget was fighting the battle of her life against cancer.

She learned of her stage IV colon cancer only two years ago at the age of 31. She had no risk factors – none. She was a young, fit, healthy vegetarian. She married her longtime boyfriend in her hospital bed.

I followed Bridget’s blog for inspiration. Knowing that she could face something so frightening with such optimism helped me push the little day-to-day stuff aside. If she could battle cancer with a smile, then heck, I could deal with a little herniated disk and a 3-year-old temper tantrum. I clicked on her site daily for that jolt of happiness, and to keep up with news on her fight. She didn’t post daily, but it didn’t matter. I’d scroll through the archives of cat pictures, posts about her adorable home in Oregon, and descriptions of amazing celebrations with friends. All good stuff. All uplifting.

Then I visited the site yesterday after being offline all Memorial Day weekend. I saw the title “Celebrating Bridget.” I knew instantly it was over. And I felt a remarkable sense of loss.

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to “get to know her.” Her ever-present brightness and bliss have taught me that life is beautiful regardless of our circumstances, and that we shouldn’t wait for perfect conditions to live life to the fullest. Here’s a quote from her November 13th blog post:

“I know I’m lucky that my ‘neutral’ is happy. It makes everything in life a whole lot easier and I realize that a lot of people have to work to get there. I don’t know if I was born that way or if it was a product of reading too many Zen Buddhism books at a young age—I remember being so blown away by the Eternal Now, but then thinking, hey, if it’s always now, I don’t have to wait until later to be happy. Because there is no later. It’s always Now, so, unless circumstances overwhelm me otherwise, I’m just going to always choose to be happy Now.”

I know Bridget will be missed by many, many friends and family. She will certainly be missed by me.

Some lovely tributes to Bridget have been posted online by author Lisa Schroeder, literary agent Michael Sterns, and the Deo Writer blog.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Time to Knock Off the Pity Party

I've been hosting a gala pity party for myself over the last week or so. Among other things, I've been dealing with congested, runny-nosed children sleeping fitfully and acting fitfully; an aggravated sciatic nerve that triggers sharp pains down my leg and has brought all spring cleaning and other household projects to a screeching halt; and fourteen manuscript queries submitted without a glimmer of interest from anyone. Granted, I've received positive feedback from the folks who took the time to respond beyond a form letter (if they responded at all):

“Great title.”
“Fast pace.”
“Creepy atmosphere.”
“Strong writing.”
“Well-thought-out story.”

But the letters all end the same way. “Unfortunately, the story just didn't grab me the way I wanted it to.”

Which makes me want to reach out and grab them and demand, “But what does that MEAN?” How do you fix a story that doesn't grab someone? Are the characters at fault? Is there too much description? Not enough action? I set up teenage angst, introduce ghosts, and reveal a murder within the first twenty pages. What doesn't grab?

“Couldn't you go back to some of these folks and ask them for more specific details?” a friend asked. I smiled at the sweetness of her suggestion. Then I explained that most agents state in their submission guidelines that they’re too busy to respond to everyone, and a non-response should be interpreted as non-interest, so I didn't think any of them would take kindly to providing additional feedback on a manuscript they didn't want in the first place. I don't want to get blackballed from the literary community before I've even entered it. And so I must struggle with this question alone.

And with back pain.

And frequently interrupted sleep cycles courtesy of little congested noses.

Thus my pity party.

But, as all parties must come to an end, so shall mine. I attended a thesis reading last night spotlighting all of the new graduates from my MFA program. I watched a dear friend and amazing writer win the best thesis award while combating her intense fear of reading in public. My heart swelled for her. She wrote a magical thesis and deserved the honor without question. And she made it through without a stumble.

I also spoke with my advisor and mentor about my submission dilemma. “At what point do I need to step back and reevaluate the manuscript?” I asked her. I hoped against hope she'd tell me I just hadn't submitted to the right person yet.

“I think you've reached that point,” she said. My heart sank to the floor. Then she asked, “Would you like me to read it for you?”

And suddenly, a light at the end of the tunnel. Others have read the manuscript for me – other writers like me, who are struggling to pave their own paths into the world of publishing. But here was an actual published author – not to mention incredible woman and dear friend – offering to take time out of her summer break to read my manuscript and make suggestions.

What a gift! Naturally I'm taking her up on the offer.

The colds are clearing up. I'm icing and stretching my back regularly. And I'm using this past “down” week to remind myself that, in the big scheme of things, these problems are minuscule and temporary, and if they are my biggest problems, I am truly blessed.

And I am.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Learning to Fly: The joys of air travel with small children

With the summer travel season approaching, and our plans materializing for a marathon road-trip to Florida to visit my in-laws, I thought I’d share a piece I wrote for my Travel Writing class last year about the joys of air travel with small children. Enjoy!

9:30 AM
Takeoff in 9 hours and 27 minutes
On my bureau sit two piles of clothes: one for my 6-year-old daughter Olivia consisting of mostly pink and blue, and the other for 2-year-old Josh consisting of twice as many clothes as his sister because he tends to soil himself multiple times per day on vacation. Dave’s clothes sit in a tidy pile on the floor, ready to be transferred to a suitcase at a moment’s notice. My clothes are all still in the closet because I spent all morning getting the kids’ stuff together.

We’re determined not to check bags as a protest to the extra fees. So we need to fit six days’ worth of clothing and supplies into carry-ons. Not a problem if we just packed clothes and toiletries; but we also need favorite stuffed animals, blankets, storybooks, a laptop, two ipods loaded with movies and lullabies, coloring books and crayons – all essentials if we want happy children.

And trust me, we want happy children.

Takeoff in 6 hours, 57 minutes
Spent the last two hours gathering all the kids’ miscellaneous stuff, during which time Olivia switched outfits approximately twelve times and changed her mind about her storybook selections at least four times. Thankfully Josh isn’t saying much beyond “milk” and “oh no,” so he can’t share his opinions. I cross-check all Josh’s toiletries with my list from our last trip when I had to buy emergency diaper rash cream at the hotel for $15.95. I have dye-free fragrance-free soap for his sensitive skin, petroleum jelly for his sensitive behind, and extra pacifiers for our fellow travelers when things don’t go his way.

Dave enters the room briefly, stacks his clothes into a bag, throws in his deodorant and toothbrush, and announces he's finished packing. He asks what’s taking me so long.

My clothes are still in the closet.

3:30 PM
Takeoff in 3 hours, 27 minutes
Packed. My dad should arrive in 33 minutes. We don’t want to pay for parking, either.

4:50 PM
Takeoff in 2 hours, 7 minutes
We tumble out of the car at Departures. As my dad pulls away, we assess our pile: two pullmans, one shoulder suitcase, one tote bag, one diaper bag, Olivia’s Dora the Explorer backpack, a stroller and a car seat. After a bit of whining, Olivia consents to carry her Dora backpack. We consider strapping some bags onto Josh, but decide it’s easier to have him sit in the stroller than wander the airport like a pinball. So we stuff the diaper bag under his seat, hang as many bags on ourselves as we can, and pull the rest. For the record, pushing a stroller through an airport with one hand is akin to trying to steer a cat. But twice as dangerous.

5:17 PM
Takeoff in 1 hour, 40 minutes
The kind security agent tells us to take our time and not let anyone rush us. I wish he would pass this message on to the guy behind us, who rolls his eyes as we unload our shoes, jackets, bags and children at the checkpoint. Our stuff stretches the entire length of the conveyor. We stand shoeless on the other side waiting for our belongings. The guy behind us gives us the stink eye as the conveyor stops. Two security personnel study the screen. They call for backup.

I know I didn’t pack anything illegal. I triple-checked the TSA website. I even remembered to pull out both quart-size zip-top bags of toiletries.

More security personnel show up. An older mustached gentleman in a snazzy blue uniform takes something from one of the bags. He approaches us with a smirk.

He is holding Josh’s blue sippy cup. “We’re going to have to test this, ma’am.”   

5:40 PM
Takeoff in 1 hour, 17 minutes
Dave and I drop our bags and collapse into seats at the gate. We’re too exhausted to stop the children from spreading their chicken nuggets on the floor in front of the picture window like a picnic. Josh regularly stands to look out, leaving perfect, greasy handprints on the window. I’m sure the window washers will appreciate having something tangible to wipe away in the morning. 

6:30 PM
akeoff in 27 minutes
They announce boarding for our flight. They start with group one. We are group five. Olivia asks approximately twenty-seven times when it will be our turn.
When they finally announce us, Dave and I hoist our bags. It takes a certain level of skill to collapse a stroller while holding a diaper bag, a thirty-pound tote bag and a squirming 2-year-old who would sprint given the opportunity. But at least we didn’t have to check anything. Take that, airline industry!

6:57 PM
The kids are strapped in. We are seated in pairs across the aisle from each other, Dave with Olivia and me with Josh. Two lucky souls separate us. As we taxi, Josh begins looking for Daddy.

7:16 PM
Josh continues his search for Daddy, escalating to a screaming fit while Dave and Olivia calmly watch a movie on their iPod across the aisle. Josh has no interest in his pacifier, his stuffed bear, his fuzzy blanket, the in-flight magazine, or the window. I am out of ideas.

7:20 PM
The flight attendant passes out pretzels. Salvation! Josh loves pretzels. He quietly munches for about ten minutes while I try to pull up anything of interest to a 2-year-old on my obsolete laptop.

7:30 PM
More screaming, now accompanied by seat kicking. The woman in front of Josh drops her wine bottle. It rolls under our seats. I hand it back to her. “You may need this,” I say.

The gentleman next to me put in his ear buds a half hour ago. I’ve noticed him raise the volume on his iPod several times.

I make a mental note never to fly at bedtime again.

9:20 PM 
Josh finally cries himself to sleep.

9:30 PM
We land. I wonder if they’ll let us leave Josh until morning. It seems a shame to wake him.

9:40 PM
I drag Olivia to the bathroom despite her protests and force her to sit on the toilet, explaining that the hour-long ride to Nana and PopPop’s is too long to hold the five cups of apple juice the attendant gave her on the flight. She pees while still insisting she doesn’t have to go.

9:55 PM
We step off the tram. Olivia runs into her grandmother’s arms. Josh struggles to get out of his stroller for a hug. I wonder where these happy children were fifteen minutes ago.

10:10 PM
Bags loaded, car seat installed, children strapped in, I sink into the seat of my in-law’s minivan and say a silent prayer that the vacation will be more relaxing than the journey.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day

In addition to the many writing blogs I follow, I check in regularly with several motherhood blogs. I try not to do this too frequently because, though they can be uplifting, I find they often tend to foster deep feelings of inadequacy. If you’ve read some, you’ll know what I’m talking about: glowing posts about amazing holiday craft projects, details of outings to educational locales, photos of family bike treks through the national parks of America.

I love my children, and as an at-home mom I have oodles of time to dedicate to them. But where others seem to pack their days with activities straight off the pages of Family Fun magazine, my days tend to be loaded with things like grocery shopping, scrubbing toilets and doing endless loads of laundry thanks to the repeated failed attempts at potty training my three-year-old. (Which, by the way, I have not managed to tackle with the loads of positive energy advised by the complimentary potty-training DVD I received in a package of disposable training pants.)

Am I a bad mother because I don't scrapbook or take the kids to the museum regularly? Am I failing at my job because I snap at my kid when I have to change his wet bedding for the second time that day? Am I scarring my daughter because I don't sit with her at the table to color with her, but instead glance over periodically as I dry the dishes or make dinner?

I hope not. Because when a morning like yesterday comes along, with two rosy-cheeked little kids crawling into my bed with gifts, cards, hugs, and giggles, it reminds me of what really matters, and that there's nothing I'd rather be doing, even with all the daily trials and challenges.

I’m not alone, as a friend reminded me today. She passed on this link to a 2005 article from Newsweek written by Anna Quindlen about the overly high bar set for mothers today, and how we should all keep in perspective what is truly important. Cheers, Anna!

How does this relate to writing? Because writing is one of the activities that “steals” time from my kids. In the afternoons, from lunchtime until about four in the afternoon, when I could be crafting castles out of popsicle sticks with my daughter or drilling my son on alphabet flashcards, I write. I put my son for a nap and instruct my daughter to find some way to amuse herself and stay out of my hair. Mean mommy? Maybe. But, honestly, like Anna Quindlen, I can remember only rare occasions when my mom sat down to play with us, and those occasions usually happened over a board game after homework and dinner. In the afternoons, we were on our own – outside, if the weather at all permitted.

So no, not a mean mommy. In fact, in many ways, a better mommy, because I could never be a happy mommy if I felt I was sacrificing my dreams.

Luckily, my daughter understands. Many days she spends her quiet time making up stories, too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On the Hunt

I have written my first novel.

I have a friend who tells me I should revel in this fact, soak it in, glow a happy glow. After all, as someone who shares a home with a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old, I’m lucky most days just to finish a sentence, let alone a novel.

And yet I have this pesky dream that’s been nagging at me for, oh, a few decades now. I want to be a published children's author. Preferably a world-famous, award-winning, beloved-by-children-everywhere author. But for the moment I’d settle for the simple publishing contract.

“But, you’ve written a book,” my friend says to me. “That’s the hard part. That’s the part so many people talk about doing but never do. And you’ve DONE it. That’s a big deal!”

While I appreciate his enthusiasm, I can’t resist pointing out one simple fact: that until I put my work out into the world where people can read it, it’s simply a really huge Word file on my computer.

So why not put it out there? Why not self-publish, or e-publish?

I’m going to defer this question to Amanda Hocking, the teen fantasy e-publishing sensation who has gotten a good deal of press lately for the large sums of cash she has raked in by self-publishing her own e-books. To paraphrase her blog entry from March 3rd (which I highly recommend you read to get a good, solid handle on this topic), the marketing and promotion of her work takes so much time that she has little left for anything else. Including writing.

Remember those two young people I mentioned who live with me? They’d like to get at least some of my attention. And that husband guy – him, too. So self-publishing isn’t a route I choose to take, for my own sanity and the avoidance of a mutiny when no one has eaten for a week because the groceries really don’t magically restock themselves.

Thus I’ve begun the process of seeking an agent or an editor (preferably both) for my first novel: a young-adult supernatural mystery about a fourteen-year-old boy haunted by the recent death of his brother, and by ghosts long dead from his town who have a dark mystery to reveal – and whose secret history closely intertwines with his own present life.

I’ve been honing this novel for a little over five years. Granted, I didn’t write non-stop for five years. I took large chunks of time off for things like moving houses, birthing babies, earning a master's (still in process) and starting a travel business (which I have since left – what was I thinking?). I was told once by a fellow writer that the first book is the most difficult. I guess he was right, since I finished a draft for my second book in only 3 ½ months – younger audience, shorter book, and only a first draft, but still very promising.

So I’m on the hunt. Eleven queries sent so far. I’ll use this blog to keep you all posted on my progress, as well as to toss out other tales of life in general. I hope you’ll enjoy!