Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Exploring My Truth--Writer Style

I just finished reading an article posted to the Pittsburgh Mom website titled “Know Your Truth…and Stand by It.” It was written by blogger Heather Starr Fiedler who frequently finds herself defending her views and opinions online. She must know in her heart what is true for her and stand by it.

The timing of this article is interesting to me because just yesterday I told my husband, “I need a sense of direction.” I was speaking in terms of my career, which still doesn’t feel well-defined as yet, and which I feel (as a 40+-year-old person) should be by now.

My husband, being the helpful gent he is, pointed due north, and then south, east, and west.

“You are vastly unhelpful,” I said.

“You just need to pick a direction and stick to it.” Life always seems so black-and-white simple when I talk to my husband. And yet it rarely seems that simple in my own head.

So reading this blog post about knowing your truth has made me think: What is my truth? Who do I want to be? How do I want to identify myself as a writer? A novelist (my lifelong dream)? An eco-mommy blogger (my current pastime)? An essayist (my only “officially” published genre)?

I’ve struggled for a couple of months to come up with a cohesive website for my writing, but keep coming up short. How do I reconcile these various parts of my career into a cohesive whole, the “me” who is Sue Nelko Carr, writer? What is my truth as a writer?

I’m still narrowing that field down, but here are a few items for starters:

I am a wife and a mom of two.
I care deeply about raising my children in a chemical-free, healthy environment.
I am sickened by the state of our nation’s food production system.
I am a frugal, highly budgeted shopper.
I am working to reduce, reuse, and recycle more each day.
I enjoy exploring these ideas via the written word.
I also enjoy creating new worlds and new characters via fiction and would love to be a career novelist.
Because I am a wife and mother (and also hold down three part-time, paying gigs), I struggle to find the time to write anything most days.

So where do I go from here? Good question. One I will continue to explore (though which direction I’ll face during the process is still a mystery--thanks darling!). 

In the meantime, please check out my latest blog post for Mrs. Green’s World in which I explore the environmental benefits of the increasingly popular and deliciously frugal staycation. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Two New Posts, and More Good Things Coming

It's a bright, sunny day in Pittsburgh, PA. Actually, it's rather overcast with a prediction of storms, but it's all in your outlook, right? Summer vacation is here, we're meeting up with friends this afternoon, we get to pick up fresh produce from our CSA this afternoon--life is good.

In celebration of summer, which brings out the kid in all of us, I wanted to share two new kid-related blogs with you that have posted recently, one at Mrs. Green's World and one for We Hate To Waste:

Disposable Plastic + School Lunches = Unhealthy Kids and an Unhealthy Planet

Take a New Look at Thrift Store Shopping for Kids

I know my posts here have been infrequent, but as I've said in previous blogs, I haven't been silent (hence the links). Stay tuned for updates on the big things happening and some changes here at my blog.

In the meantime, happy reading!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Springtime for Writers

It’s been a long, cold winter around here. Both literally and metaphorically.
I think most people (at least those in the Northeast) will agree that the warm weather and sunshine we’re finally getting is well deserved and long overdue. Plants are finally sprouting in my yard and in my living room, where I’ve started some seedlings with the kids in preparation for warmer days to come. It’s so refreshing to witness rebirth after so many months buried under snow and ice.

It’s been a long metaphorical winter for me as well in terms of my writing life—not that I’ve been completely silent, as you know if you’ve been following my blogs at Mrs. Green’s World. (And why wouldn’t you?) But that’s not my “real” writing life (no offense to Mrs. Green).
“But blogging is writing,” I can hear you say. Yes. And no.

I love blogging. It gets me thinking about topics in a depth I might not have otherwise. It keeps my grammatical and editorial skills honed. It gets my voice “out there” in front of an audience that might not have read my work otherwise. It allows me to be me, in my truest of true voices. All good things.
But my writing life—my “real” writing life—lies in fiction, and fiction is a completely different animal. Where blogging is all about “you,” writing fiction is all about stepping outside of yourself and embodying “the other” as fully and completely as a person can. Thinking someone else’s thoughts. Speaking someone else’s words. Feeling someone else’s feelings. Pulling the puppeteer strings of someone else’s life.

I’ve missed it.
Among the lives lying in wait for me during my several-month dry spell are a sixteen-year-old girl in Elizabethan England trying to make her way in the world by any means that doesn’t involve taking a husband and running a household; a fourteen-year-old boy who is haunted (both literally and figuratively) by the dead brother whose death he caused; a spunky eight-year-old girl who finds out that she’ll soon have to share her parents with a new baby brother; a twelve-year-old Croatian boy in 1926 who suddenly finds himself alone on a train with a ticket to America and no idea how to get there…and the list goes on.

They miss me, these characters. I can feel it. And I certainly miss them.

But I can see saplings shooting up. Last night, I reconnected with several writer friends I haven’t seen in years. We talked about starting a writers group, something I desperately need to keep me on track, like a gasp of air when drowning. Next weekend I’m attending a writers retreat—my first in years—with fellow alums from my MFA program. Another deep gasp.
Spring is coming indeed, and I couldn’t be more excited. Now, just as with the saplings growing in my living room, it is up to me to cultivate the sprouts and help them bloom.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Guest Blogs for Mrs. Green's World

I realize that I’ve been lax in linking my guest blogs at Mrs. Green’s World to my personal blog, so I’ve included a comprehensive list-to-date here. Please check them out, and please consider joining Mrs. Green on her mission to create a greener world.
Confessions of an Eco-Evader Thursday, August 8th, 2013
The Power of the Purge – 4 Easy Baby Steps! Friday, September 6th, 2013
A Hair-raising Ordeal Friday, October 11th, 2013
Spiders Really Bug Me Thursday, October 24th, 2013
Greener Eating through Muffins Thursday, November 7th, 2013
Do the Math Friday, November 15th, 2013
A Hair-Raising Ordeal Times 2—LICE! Monday, November 25th, 2013
Sinking in a Sea of Paper Friday, December 6th, 2013
Hair Today, Grey Tomorrow Thursday, December 12th, 2013
Riding the Soda Stream Thursday, February 6th, 2014
The Sweet Life—Sans Sugar Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My So-Called Sugar-Free Life

When you last heard from me a little over two weeks ago, I was preparing to embark on a 40-day sugar fast.
“Oh, yeah, how’s that thing going?” you might ask, maybe even with a chuckle at the complete insanity of it all. I mean, really, what kind of insane person would choose to go 40 days without sugar?
Well, I’m pleased to report that I haven’t killed anyone yet and that my mood hasn’t suffered too dramatically thus far. (You may want to verify that with my family, though. Sometimes they have some pretty creative interpretations of how “moody” mom is. They can be so sensitive.)
I think it’s safe to say that no one is more surprised about this than me. I fully expected this to be a bear of a task, but in reality, it hasn’t been that bad. Yes, I have my cravings. And yes, the cake in our office kitchen that just happened to come from the bakery voted Best in Pittsburgh actively calls my name every minute I’m in the office. But this is a higher calling, and so far, I’ve been good.
So, what have I eliminated on this sugar fast?
·        Desserts and sweet treats of all kinds (cakes, cookies, ice cream, muffins, pastries, chocolate, candy, etc.)
·        Cereal (including granola)
·        Yogurt (because I refuse to eat the unsweetened stuff)
·        Granola bars (my favorite mid-morning hunger-buster)
·        Jellies and jams
·        Syrup and honey
·        Fruit juice
·        Added sweeteners of any kind—even the 0-calorie ones (they still feed the addiction!)
·        Sodas (actually, I gave this one up a while back)
·        Barista-style coffees (cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos, Frappuccinos, etc.)
·        All sweetened beverages
Basically, if an item has obvious sugar added, I don’t eat or drink it. I say “obvious” sugar because I am well aware that things like breads and pastas include sugar as essential ingredients, but I haven’t given up all carbs because if I did somebody just might get hurt.
I also say “added” sugar because I am allowing myself the naturally-occurring sugars in fruit. I’m not a big fan of eating plans that eliminate entire food groups, and I think fruit is too critical to avoid altogether due to its high antioxidant and fiber content, so I refuse to eliminate it.
Admittedly, fruit has been my saving grace. When I need a little something sweet, I open the fruit drawer. When I crave a dessert after dinner, I have a banana. When I really need a piece of chocolate, I pop a date ball in my mouth.

(OMG, these are so amazing. You must try them. I promise, you’ll love them.) I’ve also discovered the joy of figs, which I had never eaten outside of a Newton in all my life. They’re actually quite delicious. (One obvious upside to this new pattern of eating—though not a glamorous one—is my newfound regularity.)
At two weeks into this experiment, I’ve found that my cravings have already shifted from chocolate and baked goods to figs and dates—the “candy” of the ancient world, as my brother says. Even on Sundays, when we Catholics are technically allowed to forego our Lenten sacrifices, I find myself avoiding sugar—not out of any sense of pious obligation, but simply because I don’t want it. This in itself I count as a huge win.
So that’s my nickel update. I’ll check in on this topic again at the end of this journey. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy munching my clementine and sipping my pomegranate tea while my coworkers dig into the cake.
Have a sweet day!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What Are You Gaining for Lent?

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when Christians are encouraged to reflect upon Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert and prepare for his death and resurrection during Holy Week through sacrifice, almsgiving, and prayer. Even if you aren’t a Christian, you’re likely familiar with the concept. When we were kids, “What are you giving up for Lent?” was as common a question at this time of year as, “Are you buying or packing?”

Despite the solemn and deeply spiritual nature of Lent, I have to admit, I often use Lent for my own selfish purposes—a convenient vehicle for dropping a few pounds or getting a jumpstart on a manuscript with promises of daily writing and the shunning of such time sucks as TV and Facebook. Though the actions fit the basic qualifications of Lenten sacrifices, the spirit behind them wasn’t exactly deep or prayerful.

I’m not going to fool you into thinking that I’ve had some great epiphany this year that has led me to do a daily Bible study or fast on only bread and water for the entire 40 days, but I have given a bit more thought to the season of Lent and how I might mark it in a more meaningful way. And while my choices in part do have something of a self-serving nature, I think they will ultimately help make me a better person and strengthen me spiritually.
So what did I decide to “give up?”

First, let me start with two things I’ve decided to add. First, I plan to begin each day with the practice of yoga and prayerful meditation. This will help bring my mind, body, and spirit into alignment, which will ultimately help me set my daily priorities, cast off my daily worries, and begin each day refreshed and renewed.

Second, I’ve decided to give more selflessly of my time. Specifically, I plan to volunteer both at my home parish and at the kids’ school parish at their weekly fish fries. It’s something I’ve often considered but vetoed because “we’re just too busy.” But in reality, there’s no reason I can’t give a few hours on a Friday. The kids have no activities, we have no place else we need to be. And so I’ll wait tables or wash dishes or do whatever they need, supporting their efforts and being more selfless with my most precious gift—time.

Finally, I am, indeed, giving something up. Sugar. This is as enormous a fast as I can imagine for myself, as I am a sugar junkie. I crave it constantly. I eat it for breakfast in my yogurt and granola parfaits, I drink it between meals in my lattes and fruit juice spritzers, I munch it for my evening dessert and my between-meal snacks. No more. I plan to detox my body of this drug to make room for more healthful choices in order to preserve my second most precious gift—my health.

While I know this will be an incredible challenge for me, I’m not focusing so much on what I’m giving up as what I’ll be gaining this Lent. Health. Balance. Spiritual well-being. 

So, do you observe Lent? If so, how do you plan to mark this solemn season? 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Winter's Last Hurrah

I might be one of the few Pittsburghers not embracing the impending thaw with wistful thoughts of spring. I know I’m freakish in this respect.
It has been a long, cold winter, peppered with snow days, two-hour delays, and polar vortices marching down from the Arctic in an unending parade of Jetstream mayhem. We haven’t seen the boxwoods lining our driveway in weeks, piled over with mound upon mound of dirty, slushy snow, now a couple feet deep. My husband drove into a snowbank the other day to avoid a multi-car collision on his way to work and only got going again due to a determined Good Samaritan. We’re running out of salt, running out of clear parking places, and running out of patience for the cold—and all the fluffy white stuff that goes with it.
I get it. It hasn’t been fun.
But whoever coined the phrase “the lazy days of summer” obviously didn’t own a home in the suburbs.
Weeding. Cutting. Fertilizing. Planting. Mulching.
It seems once the warm weather breaks, all hopes of a lazy weekend curled up with a book and a cup of coffee break with it, replaced by a sort of implied obligation to beautify the yard, or at least keep it from looking like the overgrown, rundown drug hovels you see on the evening news.
In the winter, you can neglect the mess outside. When it’s not hidden by the snow, it’s at least brown and dormant, not causing any real trouble, not looking any worse than anyone else’s brown, dormant patch of the world. No one notices the stray weeds around the edges of the beds that you didn’t pluck last fall or the sparse mulch coverage around the new trees you planted last spring. They’re too busy grumbling about the ice and snow you haven’t removed from the sidewalk (okay, so you do have to do a little something in winter).
But once spring hits, it’s as if a veil is lifted. Suddenly our homes and yards reveal themselves in all their shabby, neglected glory, and we feel a sort of collective urge to roll up our sleeves and get to work, to make our yards look like something akin to the Biltmore grounds (or, at the very least, better than the yards on either side of us). I blame this in no small measure on the barrage of ads we’ll all start to see in a few short weeks showing enthusiastic young couples piling sacks of fertilizer and mounds of colorful flowers onto carts at various home improvement warehouses in an effort to cultivate the most enviable yard on the block.
A yard, I might add, that they will then spend the entire spring, summer, and fall mowing down and throwing away. But I digress.
I do enjoy getting out in the warmth and the sunshine, don’t get me wrong. I love biking, taking walks through my neighborhood, or just watching my kids run around the yard creating kingdoms and performing quests using only their imaginations and their friends. I love riding with the car windows down, blaring Rusted Root and smelling the grass and flowers and freshly-tilled soil of the farm up the street. I love trips to the zoo, Rita’s frozen custard, hikes at McConnell’s Mill, and our annual church festival. I’m looking forward to it all.
But when the spring thaw hits, I can’t help but think of its accompanying workload, and the backaches that come with it. And so, rather than rush to embrace the spring, I plan to curl my hands around another hot cup of coffee, relishing the fact that we still have another good month before the yard work begins in earnest. In the meantime, I plan to tackle at least a couple more crocheting projects, and maybe a novel or two, before my lazy weekends vanish in the sun.