In honour of Mother’s Day, the online magazine www.BooksMakeADifference.com is featuring mom bloggers in its Turn the Page column. “Our magazine appears to a wide variety of book lovers – readers, creators, and book industry folks,” says senior writer Meagan Frank. “Moms have a big voice in today’s book conversation. Some bloggers are busy writing the stories of their families while others blog about why they choose and read the books they do.  This is our way of celebrating the difference moms are making.”  In the May issue of Books Make A Difference magazine, mom bloggers will have a thing or two to say about how blogs and books have made a difference in their lives.

The following is my post supporting mom bloggers…


Blogging makes a difference to me – The Three R’s of Blogging

On the downside, blogging has prevented me from having the relationship with Don Draper that I believe the Universe intended for me. The upshot, however, is that blogging has also saved me from wasted nights with Toddlers in Tiaras. In other words, blogging keeps me from watching too much TV, and so anchors me to the important Three R’s of blogging: Reading, Riting and Remembering (maybe not the editing so much).

I discovered the blogosphere in 2009; a full 10 years after weblogs were first launched on the internet. It’s hard to believe that blogs and blogging have only been around for 14 years, considering their widespread appeal and popularity today. I became quickly addicted to my first “R”, Reading, and was absorbing more news, recipes, music, book recommendations, fashion sense, fitness tips, sports, you name it, via blogs rather than magazines or newspapers. More than anything, though, I read blogs about parenting.  The brutal honesty with which some mothers wrote about motherhood made me feel less isolated and more – well – normal about the ups and downs of parenting.  I was still, however, a mere lurker on the blogosphere.

Soon thereafter, I reconnected with a first cousin who, while exactly my age, had taken a different path high school.  Following a series of tragedies that befell her family, our paths converged again. Her daughter and my daughter also connected for the first time, and being both the same age and both hockey players, a new sisterhood was forged. My lurking evolved into contributing, as my cousin and I co-authored our first blog that was reminiscent of our old pen pal exchange of the ’70’s and 80’s. We blogged about the wins and woes of our hockey momhoods as a way to stay connected. Then friends and family became our part of readership. As the hockey lives of our youngsters took over, sadly our postings languished, but not our rekindled sisterhoods.

I was now hooked on blogging, leading to the second “R”, Riting. I created my own blog to chronicle a 40 day long project to which I was subjecting my family during Lent. This series of posts lead to my first published work and gave rise to a new love of the written word.  I may have struggled a little to find my writing voice but seem to have settled into self-deprecating humour style of writing, with the late but ever-inspiring Erma Bombeck as my muse. That’s the wonderful thing about blogging – you can experiment with your craft, your style and your genre. My family should be grateful I haven’t changed my hair colour as often as I’ve changed the focus of my writing! My blog continues to be a narrative of my journey through motherhood, books, and of course, my favourite spectator sport – minor hockey (aka, my life with stinky laundry).

Finally, blogging has made a difference to me in the final “R”, Remembering. I started using my blog a platform by which to desperately capture and preserve memories of motherhood, as those fleeting everyday moments otherwise seem to be dissolving.  Blogging has been a far better medium for me than a diary or journal which I tend to neglect and dust off only every few weeks or months. Having had three children in 4 years, the early years had sadly become but a blur. Had I caught on to blogging earlier perhaps I could now recall and retain more of those exciting and often exasperating moments of their growing up. Something that blogging has since allowed me to do.

Certainly books have made a difference in my life for their ever-presence has ensured that I maintain a relationship with the outside world, or different worlds.  Blogging on the other hand, will ensure a lasting relationship with myself, and my inner world.

Yes, blogging has made a difference to me!

Forgive me Father, it’s been 16 days since my last funny blog post.

You cannot imagine the pressure I’ve been under lately.  Mind-boggling.  When a little unexpected cash came my way recently – legally I might add – I was thinking about what I should do with it.  I could have and should have put it towards some pretty stimulating expenses like the credit card, fixing the dishwasher and getting the carpets steam cleaned, but I really wanted to spend it on myself.  So I took a leap of faith and registered for the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop in Dayton, Ohio.  I had been thinking of taking my writing to the next level by attending a writer’s workshop.  I realize that taking my writing to the next level might actually mean taking my writing to the recycle bin, but that’s ok.

So, now it’s been two weeks since I returned from the workshop and I haven’t written anything funny.  It’s causing me a great deal of stress and chardonnaiety.  The bar on Funny has been ratcheted up a few notches and I suddenly have Amuse-Anxiety.  Surely there is a support group for that?

Hi my name is Astra.  It’s been 16 days since I wrote something funny.

What if I post something and it’s not funny?  What if I get no cackles and snortles and get only a couple of ahems and smirks?  That’s simply not good enough for me anymore.  I’ve been Erma-lightened.  I’m good with Snarky but I need a little Side-Splitting Slapstick.

As I write this, I’m imagining the University of  Dayton scouring the blogs and books of us attendees to see if we actually learned anything.  I imagine they are slowly weeding out humour imposters in a devious plot to create a purer breed of humourist for the 2014 conference.  If  I don’t be Funny, they may stumble upon this one and I’ll be revealed.  I’ll be on the Not Funny list.  I don’t want to be on the Not Funny list.  No one who’s attended the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop wants to be on the Not Funny list.  It’s enough to make me turn a whiter shade of pinot grigio.

“So?  So? How was it?!” several friends and family members have asked me since my return.

Oh, God! Again, with the pressure?!

I’ve spent considerable amount of time these last two weeks reading all these outrageously funny blog posts of other conference attendees (now we’re talking not just the Funny list, but the Funny A-List) that had me peeing my pants … all over again.  I’m am writing every day, just like a good girl, though I’ve started at least a half dozen blog posts that have piddled out (smirk) before I find the proper finishing punch line.

And there’s Erma…

I’ve got this image of her over my desk for inspiration and yet when I look at it, all I imagine her saying is, “You really are at your wit’s end, aren’t you?”

I’m overwhelmed (you’ve probably realized that already – and the fact that I have an over-active imagination!), but I realize now that attending this conference was just part of setting my stage and I think it’s ok to have stage fright while doing that, right?  Who am I writing for anyway?  As Nancy Berk said, “Being in a room with 350 accomplished or aspiring humor writers can panic even the most confident.  Is there room for me?  The answer is – ‘Yes’ – if you use what you learn.”  I’m trying not to second guess myself too much when I recall Anna Lefler telling me to “…hone my craft, become a better writer and avoid premature e-publication.”  But most of all I am starting with Kyran Pittman‘s profoundly simple statement that I will take to heart:  “Real writers … write”.   So, I am gathering all their advice in the first of many steps in kick-starting my writing goals….

Just do it …

Of course the greatest of inspiration comes from Erma herself, “It is probably true that every person has a book in him fighting to get out.  What is crucial is that if something is going to happen, the wannabe writer has to commit by putting all those hopes and dreams on the line.  It’s time to stop talking about clever titles and get the book written.”

Thank you, Erma

and all those from whom I learned and by whom I was inspired at EBWW 2012

And now let’s move on to clever book titles…

I hope that you will indulge me by watching this one-minute YouTube video:

Change your words
Change your world.

The message is simple, really:  change your words a little; improve your message a lot.

Change your words.

But what if I don’t know how to change my words? What if the right words aren’t there?  What if the words aren’t there at all? What if the words that are there, suddenly just look and sound exaggerated and – well –  just unimpressive?

This is a writer’s struggle, constantly seeking the right combination of words to express something more impactfully, more evocatively, more visually, and somehow transform the words into a memorable and lasting experience for the reader.

A couple of days ago, while driving to and fro from somewhere this week I caught Eleanor Wachtel, host of the CBC’s Writers & Company radio show, interview writer Edward St. Aubyn about his recent novel At Last.  I was actually listening, which my last post would suggest  that I am incapable of doing while driving. Eleanor read a passage from the book which fell upon my ears with such eloquence and descriptive mastery that I just wanted to savour it.  Then Edward asked her, “Would you like me to unpackage that for you?” and I thought, no! Why would you unpackage something which must have taken so much skill and effort to package? Unpackage and paraphrase to me and the words lose all their magic. Some words are not meant to be changed. 

A recent post over at Write on Edge recently helped me put my struggle with and without words into a little more perspective.  Writers like perspective, don’t they?  Cameron wrote in her Be an Impressionist post which offered that writers would do well to use the same approach that painters of the Impressionist period used:   “the next time the words start to trip you up, give yourself some distance to see the whole.  Be an Impressionist.  It’s only when you step back that you see what is memorable, what lingers in the head and the heart after the reading is over.”

Are the words tripping you up?

Most memoirists have a strong tendency to accentuate and perhaps exaggerate the ordinary for it’s in Life’s ordinary moments that we cross boundaries and borders and connect.  Humanity loves honesty. I remember listening to writer Wade Rouse saying the best way to start in memoir writing is to remember these three words:  heartbreak, humour and honesty.

I would like to be able to ‘package’ my words as Edward did. I would like to be able to express heartbreak with the same humour and honesty as Wade.  I want to power of words to be in my head, in my hands, in my pen, and in my heart.  I just want to yank out those words lurking in my grey matter just beyond the reach of my cerebral cortex and make them magically appear onto my blank computer screen.  The truth is, sometimes neither the words nor the power are there.  But they lurk.

Hold that thought!

Sometimes, often unexpectedly, those lurking words come in such a flash that they keep me up at night – or wake me up at night – or come to me in the middle of a conversation with someone who is rightfully expecting my full attention.  The worst is when the words come and there’s nothing to be done about it… no pen, no computer, no recorder, nothing … and the words are gone.

I’d rather not think of the words that aren’t there as writer’s block; I prefer instead to think of them as writer’s hibernation.  And since Winter is waning and Spring is aloft, perhaps the mind will soon let the words come out and play.

Spring has sprung … have your words?

A Zamboni is a truck-like vehicle that melts and mends the ice in a hockey arena. It cleans and levels the rough edges of the ice, leaving a smooth surface.

I shall not soon forget The Great Hockey Weekend of 2012:  Three hockey tournaments, three kids, three round robin games each = nine games MINIMUM in a 48-hour period.  One weekend.  One mom.  To say that I was emotionally distressed about pulling this one off is an understatement.  Its enormity was foretold months ago when my husband announced he was going golfing in Florida, the first weekend in February. “During hockey season?!” I screeched. “Who goes golfing during hockey season?!”

Well, apparently I know one such person.

And so I self-diagnosed myself with a new anxiety disorder known only to hockey moms: confero singularis formido (or fear of the solo tournament weekend).   Look it up!

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Oh God, please don’t let this be another pre-menopausal bitch ranting about how underappreciated she is …”, because it’s not;  I’m saving all that for my book!  Instead, I wish to pay tribute to those who help out in a pinch (or see a stark raving mad woman in serious need of an intervention because it’s truly a fine line).

The hockey family.

The hockey family is the one connected to me and this crazy sport who is outside my immediate family – those I can count on in a pinch. Seeing as this particular pinch was more of a circulation-inhibited, full-on head lock, I needed a hockey miracle of Paul Henderson proportions to get me through. And since my husband failed to come through with a mistress who was willing to help out with the hockey driving, I called in the Reserve.  My Reserve Unit consists of extended family and other hockey parents.

Over Christmas, my mother-in-law lamented that none of my kids had participated in a tournament near their home north of Toronto and she missed seeing them play. Ooooo, the Angel of Hockey Mercy hath rested her wing in the goal crease. “Well, have I got the weekend for you…” my plea began.  The reinforcements, aka my in-laws, were treated to rare grandkid-hockey-fest and able to catch at least one game of each grandchild. It is entirely possible that they would have preferred to do so over a slightly longer stretch of time (i.e. maybe not 5 games in 36 hours next time) but never mind that for now. It is also entirely possible that they would have preferred to eat something other than take-out pizza and copious amounts of coffee but never mind that either. I was grateful for their ‘service’ even if it meant me changing the sheets and towels.

The hockey family.

Hockey moms often refer to other hockey moms as part of their extended family.  Considering how much time you spend with them at arenas, on tournament weekends and various other social events associated with their kids’ sports schedules from August through April, they might as well be kin.  The parents on my kids’ teams come from all walks of life, many of whom have chosen paths on which I wouldn’t dare walk, who wouldn’t dream of walking in my path, and who’ll walk off in different directions after the games and practices and tournaments are over.  But all this past weekend, they walked beside me all the way.  For every single person who offered to help with pick ups and drops offs for my three kids, I am thankful.  And for every single person who asked me how I was holding up this past weekend, I am thankful!  This particular weekend, I am thankful to no less than eight people who drove, fed, or housed my three kids somewhere (or did all three).  Now, one could argue that such assistance is intentional because I am mother to three goalies and the team kinda needs a goalie, but that’s ok; they were still on my side.  God Bless ’em!

A bolt of lightening is about to strike me dead, but when only one of my three teams advanced, I felt some disappointment for them but mostly relief for me; a fact that will likely not endear me to other hockey moms. But we all know my hockey/yoga co-dependency so I was hppy for their eliminations because they permitted my Sunday morning yoga class.  The parting words of my yoga instructor on Sunday morning could not have been better scripted had she been speaking directly to me.  “I hope you will take this feeling of gratitude in having devoted time well spent on yourself and extend it to those around you. Put forth an attitude of gratitude” … and with no bolt of lightening either!  With post-yoga latte in one hand and a basket of dirty laundry in the other, I felt as relaxed as a mom with 90% of her ‘to-do’ list still to do, but feeling gratitude for those who’d help me get through. I looked at the dogs (because they were the only ones still interested in my company) and shared a happy thought, “Hey!  We made it!” which was immediately followed by a not-so-happy thought, “Oh my God, did anyone feed you guys this weekend?!” So sincere thanks to my hockey family for helping me out this weekend and for making my rough ice a little smoother – a Zamboni of my own indeed.

Did you ever look upon a task with so much dread, only to find joy in it through the grace of others?

A word cloud is a graphical representation of word frequency. The word hockey stands out in my word cloud (made courtesy of www.wordl.net ) and a lot of other words scattered around it… like mom, love, writing… (actually kind of surprised that the word chardonnay does not appear there – it’s gotta be there!). So this was the mother of all hockey weekends where hockey, mom, love, and a little writing, once again featured prominently… as they always do in my life.

I’m a weiner!

I mean, whiner (that’s actually true).

No! Wait!

Winer (that’s actually really true)!

Actually, I am a winner!

I’d like to thank God and the Academy …. Oops … wrong speech.  Wait a minute.

I’m thrilled, and very humbled, to reveal that both Annie who is Annie Off Leash! and Kelly aka Ahimsa Mama have so kindly presented me with the Versatile Blogger award, though I’ve been a little slipshod in acknowledging them for doing so. As a relative neophyte in this writing blosphere, I consider this a tremendous honour and I thank them for this tribute, and for their ongoing readership and support!  You should visit their sites (not now, though, keep reading).

In accepting this Versatile Blogger Award, I am to thank those who bestowed the award upon me, to divulge to readers seven things that most people may not know about me, and to pass on the award to 15 other writers whose blogs I admire, and therefore so should you.

First off, now that I’ve posted a Dear 16-Year Old Me letter, some of my secrets have come out of the closet (the rest should probably stay out in there at least for a while), however, here are seven things most people don’t know about me:

  1. I am a closet BeeGees fan (it’s true; RIP dear Maurice).
  2. A friend of mine and I won a High School Spirit Week cake decorating contest by decorating banner and beanie -shaped cakes in our school colours. We got our picture in the local newspaper. I have loved cake decorating ever since and recently made this XBox Controller-shaped cake for my son.  I swear my own birthday seems to come about eight times a year so I’ve been trying to forget them of late, but I know birthdays are uber-special to kids.  And so for my kids, I want their birthdays to continue being special (until they tell me otherwise)!
  3. I almost drowned off the coast of Cape Hatteras when I was about 6 years old having been caught up in the treacherous undertow. My father saved my life. I still love Cape Hatteras but have since held a healthy respect for the power of the ocean.
  4. Of the 48 years I have slept on this earth, I have had my own bedroom for all but 45 of them.  Seriously.  Sister, roommates, boyfriends, husband, children … the string of those that have slept with me since I was born is shocking.
  5. I was diagnosed Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome a year into trying to conceive my first child. I should think that the fact that I now have 3 healthy children gives hope to those with PCOS who have been told they will never conceive, or will have great difficulty conceiving.
  6. I played the baritone and trombone in high school.  To this day, I don’t know what the song is about, but think I could still probably pull off Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” if I was drunk enough needed to.
  7. I lived in New York City… twice. While at Cornell, I did a 6-month internship for a restaurant company in 1986 and lived at the 92nd Street Y. After graduating, I returned to New York City and worked for my former boss at her new company for 6 months before joining Hilton.  It was the best of times; it was the worst of times … then the best of times once again!  Scariest and most awesome city in the world!

So either these 7 things will endear me to you, or just explain a whole lot!  Moving on …

Now for the fun part:  I want to share  15 wonderful blogs that also deserve this award and ones that I hope you will soon visit.  You might notice my list is female-dominated – that’s just the way it is.  I also know many of them (most of them, in fact) already proudly display their Versatile Blogger award, but you will certainly not be disappointed in the time and attention you spare for their prose.

  1. Bella gives us One Sister’s Rant
  2. Brenda describes to us her Passionate Pursuits
  3. KG tells all in  My Sweet Cheap Life and inspired me to dive into the writing world, blog first.
  4. Elizabeth is Yo Mama
  5. You can Find Catharsis with Laura
  6. Monica’s weaves a Tangled Web
  7. The The Gourmand Mom can cook and be a great mom
  8. June is holding The Neurosis File
  9. Meagan is Choosing to Grow
  10. Dani is The Girlfriend Mom
  11. The Mama Wolfe teaches us
  12. Amber shares with her Crappy Pictures
  13. Brianne reminds us of the Presence of Magic
  14. Tracy is Lost In Suburbia
  15. Read the writing with the Sarcasm Goddess

Thanks again, Annie and Kelly for this award, and to all of you for reading!

I love to read.  I love to talk about my reads.  I love to share my reads.  This is one of those ‘shares’.  There have been some books make me laugh, some that make me cry and some that make me wonder.   Isn’t it wonderful that books can do that to a person?  I read today, while wearing my HR professional hat, that 2 out of 5 Millenials (those born between 1981 and 1995) have not bought a single book in the last two years, besides school text books (2011 Cicso Connected World Technology Report 2011).  So sad.  Anyhoo, besides the books that make me laugh, cry and wonder, there are also those books that make me tremble andd shudder – more so because it is NOT a textbook – here’s one of them:

Dear Me is a book, an anthology of letters, written by famous present-day people to their 16-year-old selves. Compiled and edited by Joseph Galliano, the UK-based book contains the letters of such notables as Elton John, Yoko Ono, Jackie Collins, to name a few, to their younger selves.

If they could travel back in time to meet themselves when they were 16 years old, what would these Oscar winners, pop stars, best-selling authors, comedians, musicians and one Archbishop say to themselves? What advice would they give themselves? What would they warn them about and against? Well, some are short and sweet, while others are honest and heartfelt anthropological essays.  Just a few excerpts:

Liz Smith (actress):      ‘never mind if they laugh at you – hold on to your dreams to the very end’

Anne Reid (actress):   And stop thinking you’re an ugly duckling  You look great!  I wish I looked like you.

Debbie Harry (singer-songwriter):      That the most obvious is often the best choice and can lead to something wonderful and satisfying.

Alison Moyet (singer-songwriter):      You marry and have clever children and mess up just like your parents did.  Forgive them. You will soon need forgiveness.

Elton John (singer-songwriter):           Never chase love – it will find you when you least expect it

Archbishop Demond Tutu:      Don’t be infected by the cynicism of the ancients in your midst.

Roseanne Cash (singer songwwriter):            You deserve a lot better than the guy you are going to meet next year.

Adriana Trigiani (author):       16 is the new … toddler.

My oldest is about to turn 16.  If he were him 32 years from now, what would want to say to himself? What would his 16-year old self want to hear?  No, of course, he wouldn’t listen, anyway.

What would I say to myself, with now some 32 more years of experience on this earth?  Somehow reading this book (and it’s a short, quick read), I thought this might be an incredibly inspirational exercise. Then again, why would anyone subject themselves to reliving the torture of teenagehood?

If I thought for a moment that my 16 year-old(s) will take this letter to heart, I’m as delusional at age 48 as I was at age 16. But if for no other reason than it allowed me to remember and perhaps be a little more compassionate as they live through their teenage years.

Dear 16-year old me,

So you’re Sweet 16. What a birthday party you’ve had having a dinner party you planned and prepared all by yourself around the theme “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” from Billy Joel’s album which I know is your favourite album of all time, right now.

I know you like to cook. While many of your friends were drinking beer under the bleachers and ruining their parents’ knives heating them on the toaster, you put together some amazing dinner parties . Newsflash:  you will never be a chef. Sorry, I had to break it to you. But fear not, you’ll continue making messes in the kitchen for years to come and your kitchen will be the happiest place in your adult home.

Is there a reason you work so hard to be perfect? Stop now!  It’s annoying to others and bad for your self-esteem.  No matter how much pressure is put on you and how much more you put on yourself, you will never measure up to every person’s version of “perfect”. At the same time, you’re no better than the rest of them.  Stop try to be so high and mighty. It only serves to highlight your insecurity, which people will mistake for snobbiness.

YES!  FINALLY!  Contact lenses!! Not wearing those coke-bottle-glasses WILL make a difference in your life!

You’re about to take your very first airplane ride to New York City and vow that one day you’ll live there.  You will.

Later on this year, you’re going to quit ballet. You shouldn’t do that. It’s your only form of exercise. Who cares that you’re not going to end up in Les Grands Ballets Canadians. It’s fun and you like it.  Why do you want to give it up?

On that note, it wouldn’t hurt for you to put those textbooks away and get out and get some exercise. Those “Freshman 10” (oh – you might as well know now – it was more like the Freshman 20) might never happen if you embrace fitness sooner than later.

The diary you’ve been keeping?  Your daughter’s going to find it.  You should find a better hiding place or practice poor penmanship sooner than later.

It’s a few years off but don’t bother rushing sororities in university. You know it’s not “you”. The sooner you stop sucking up to people you already know are full of it, the better. On the other hand, being a “little sister” in a fraternity? Good one.  Free beer.

In a few years, your parents are going to tell you you’re making a big mistake by quitting a perfectly good job and high-tailing off to Europe for 5 months with your loser boyfriend. You’ll second-guess yourself, but don’t worry about. They’re wrong. That trip will turn out to be the best ‘mistake’ you’ve ever made. And that loser boyfriend has provided over twenty years of love and laughter, not to mention a lifelong security net.  But your wanderlust, however, will never settle down.

Friends really do come and go.  Sometimes you don’t take care of them, and this is a big mistake. You’re going to regret falling out of touch with some of those with whom you shared Life’s richest moments. Some of your friends will love you more unconditionally than even your family.

Love, Me (You)

There. I did it.  And now that I’ve done it, I think I could easily edit it another dozen or more times.

I can’t say that this was a life-altering exercise nor can I say that I relived all my life’s so-called regrets, either.  But for a moment, however brief, I do remember what “16” felt like…and I pray that sentiment helps me parent my own 16-year olds with a little more empathy.  Not ‘understanding’.  No.  There is no way they’ll believe you understand them.  No. Way.

What would you say to your 16 year-old self?

If nothing else, my writing has introduced the opportunity for family comedy around the dinner table … at my expense.  My husband and three kids are true Family Guy fanatics (don’t judge) (On second thought – please DO judge).  Have you seen that episode where Stewie Griffin (the baby) teases Brian (the dog) about his novel?  Well lately the same scene plays itself out in similar fashion in our household:

Mom:  Did you all get your homework done today?

DS1:   How you, uh, how you comin’ on that novel you’re working on? Huh? Been on that computer for hours, huh? Anything yet?

Mom:  Pass the salt and pepper, please.

DD:  Yeah, really mom?.  Got a, got a nice little story you’re working on there? That big novel you’ve been working on for three years? Huh?

Mom:  Did anyone take out the garbage today?

DS2:  Got a, got a compelling protagonist? Yeah? Huh? Got a twist brewing there? Huh? Huh?

Mom:   Anyone feed the dogs, yet?

DH:  Nice little plot coming together?  Compelling story line?  Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl? Boy loses girl?  Then what? Yeah? Yeah? No?

Mom:  I don’t suppose the Brontës endured this at dinner.

All:   Who??

I read a posting over at WriteOnEdge which has inspired me to reflect upon one of my failures of 2011 (just one, mind you; I know you don’t have all day): 

In a flash of enthusiastic short-sightedness, I registered for NaNoWriMo 2011.  National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo as it is more commonly referred to – came in like a gush and went out with a burp.  For those not in NaNoWriMo-know, it’s an international online creative writing event which carries the tag line “Thirty days and thirty nights of literary abandon”.  The purpose is to write a 50,000 word fiction novel in the thirty days during the month of November (and not the same word 50,000 times, either).  My project was to be a work initiated on November 1st, not something previously published or previously initiated like a work-in-progress, and completed by midnight November 30th.  Quantity is stressed over quality – that’s what the editing process is for, right?  I would be declared a winner by verifying my word count on the national site and achieving the 50,000 word mark.  Lest you doubt NaNoWriMo’s popularily, the project started with about 28 participants in 1999 and grew to over 200,000 in 2010.   And while a whole lot of crap gets written in those 30 days by a lot of people, one of my favourite books, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, was initially written as a NaNoWriMo project.  So it’s impact as a useful project can also not be underestimated.  Let’s just call it a anti-procrastination project, and the intent is to write daily without inhibition, self-doubt or self-criticism. 

Well, in my case, I was unable to abandon everything else in my life in order to write without abandon.

I dutifully created my profile page on the organizations main website and quickly jotted down my novel’s plot:

Anna learns that a sapphire and diamond brooch gifted to her by her late-great-grandmother was actually once owned by a young Jewish girl from Poland. She has also learned from an aging great-aunt suffering from Alzheimer’s that the brooch may have left this girl’s hands in an unsuccessful attempt to bribe an S.S. official from deporting her family. Follow Anna as she traces the ownership of this brooch backward through time on an emotional and physical journey, during which many skeletons come to life.

I know. I suppose it sounds an awful lot like Sarah’s Key and half a dozen other Holocaust story plots these days, but I have had this idea in my head for about 5 years.  Furthermore, I was bequeathed a lovely old-fashioned but feminine brooch from my maternal great-grandmother with my paternal great-grandfather’s initials on it… which is really weird when you think about it. Anyway, I was just fantasizing about it one day and came up with this idea for a historical fiction.

I didn’t get too far with Anna’s story during NaNoWriMo.  Anna got discouraged in her search for the truth, about the same time I got discouraged with my lack of a chapter outline,my  lack of real character development, my lack of other compelling characters , and my zero research.  I naively assumed not only would the words just “flow”, but that the opportunity to let them just flow without abandon, would just “happen”.  I quickly realized that if I was to continue writing an average of 1,667 words a day (a little more than 3 single-spaced typewritten pages) for 30 days, my Anna story was indeed going to turn out complete garbage.  Lesson learned, and thankfully only after about 8,000 crappy words.

The truth is, it’s way more fun to talk about writing a book than to actually write a book – and infinitely easier.  It’s also way more fun to be the brunt of family jokes about writing a book than actually writing a book – this part’s not so easy.

Nevertheless, this now is an official work-in-progress (baby steps, right?). As I initiate another writing project near and dear to my heart in preparation for a writer’s conference in April, I take to heart what I have learned from my failed deferred NaNoWriMo experience and my renewed commitment to writing:

Step one: Secure butt to chair.

Step two: Write.

Step three: Repeat Steps One and Two.


The process of writing is not that simple, and yet … it is

So what with me and New Year’s Resolutions, anyway?




res·o·lu·tion [rez-uhloo-shuh n]


  1. a formal expression of opinion or intention made, usually after voting, by a formal organization, a legislature, a club, or other group. Compare concurrent resolution, joint resolution.
  2. a resolve or determination: to make a firm resolution to do something.
  3. the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.
  4. the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose.
  5. the act or process of resolving or separating into constituent or elementary parts.

Sounds painful.  Note the repeated use in the above Dictionary.com definition of some form of the word “resolve”. That’s not actually very helpful.

re·solve [ri-zolv]

verb, -solved, -solv·ing, noun

  1. to come to a definite or earnest decision about; determine (to do something): I have resolved that I shall live to the full.
  2. to separate into constituent or elementary parts; break up; cause or disintegrate (usually followed by into ).
  3. to reduce or convert by, or as by, breaking up or disintegration (usually followed by to  or into ).
  4. to convert or transform by any process (often used reflexively).
  5. to reduce by mental analysis (often followed by into ).

Ah! Now we are getting somewhere!

Those who know me even just a little, can appreciate my determination:  once I’ve resolved to do something, I’ll darn well git ‘her dun.  Think, ‘want something done, ask a busy person” and that’s me.  

I have noticed this year, however, that the New Year’s Resolution scales have tipped off balance (and yeah, not just metaphorically) because the excitement and energy put forth into setting new goals, no longer compensates for that inner regret and remorse in realizing, yet again, they will remain unaccomplished.

I am finding the predictable torrent of everyone’s lists of goals and resolutions this year are just a little more intimidating than they are inspiring.  My out-loud voice is saying, “That’s an amazing Resolution!  That’s great!  You go!” and I really mean it, but the voice in my head is actually wondering, “Really?  How are you going to accomplish all that??”  I continue to be energized by everyone’s passion in their New Year Resolution-making mirth but I seem to be a little more mindful of the obligation that comes with the next step… uh … carrying them out.

See, my plate was already pretty full up in 2011, so how in the name of New Year’s Resolutions and God Almighty do I think I can accomplish more in 2012?  Especially when 2012, and the world as we know it, is going to end on December 21?  Not that those 10 extra days would help, but I think it’s best if I just sit this one out, stand on the sidelines and cheer on everyone else’s fist-slammin’, list-makin’, weight-liftin’ ,picky-swearin’, pour-the-bottle-down-the-drain,goal-making Resolution Fever. Wait a minute, you’re not really going to pour those leftovers down the drain, are you?

Yes, this might make me seem a tad pessimistic, like my glass is not half full but half empty (come to think of it…), and maybe even a touch lazy, but let’s instead call it my age of acceptance.

I lead a very busy life, and it’s pretty darn fulfilling.  If I make room for even just one New Year’s Resolution, something’s got to go to make room for its achievement.  And I’m not sure what that would be, or if I’m willing to do less of it, or not be part of it at all. 

I read somewhere that people who break resolutions are weak; those who make resolutions are fools.  Thus, my pledge for 2012 is to stop being a foolish weakling!  There are things that have to get done, and I will get them done … there are things I want to get done, and I will get most of them done.  My plan is to enjoy the road I’m on…wherever it goes…

There! I guess I did make a New Year’s Resolution after all:   More of the same, please!

 So, cheers to all you ardent Resolutionists, and cheers to the rest of us too….

Hey!  A short article of mine was recently published at YummyMummyClub.ca.  I invite you to have a read:   http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/gift-giving-for-teenagers?s=newsletter120111

I may be known as Aunty Gift Card to my nieces and nephews for their birthdays, but I am decidedly anti-gift card at Christmas. Ripping open an envelope on Christmas morning is about as exciting as ripping open a report card: they already know what’s inside.

Teenagers are a rare breed to live with on a good day… never mind to shop for. They either want everything under the sun or they don’t want anything at all; proving my long-held assertion that teenagers cause hair loss in parents. Add to the stress of selection – the cost! In addition to my own three kids (ages 15, 14, and 11), I have 11 nieces and nephews for whom I shop (read: I need to stay within my budget).

Here are some suggestions to make gift giving easier for teens and tweens.

If you still think Hello Kitty is just cute little pink lunch bags and pencils, then you and I have been living under the same rock. I recently checked out their line of totally far out make-up compacts at Sephora which include eye shadow palette and blush for $35.

The famous Coach line of handbags is far too expensive. And really? What teenager deserves be walking around their high school with a handbag nicer than mine? But they seriously want one. So, why not a little wristlet, instead for under $50. This cuties can easily hold their cell, iPod and lip gloss (but not a hair straightener, sorry).

You don’t have $999 for the MacBook Air on his list? Really? So? What now? If your teenagers has a lap top (any many of them do), why not consider getting them a cool skin (aka cover sticker). At www.Gelaskins.com you can chose from a huge array of funky designs – and not just for their lap tops but also cell phones and iPods too. You can also create one of your own buy uploading pictures or designs. While they might be a little disappointed they didn’t get that new lap top, for under $30, at least their old laptop, iPod, Blackberry or cell will look brand new!

How about a pair of really neat earphones? Sorry, epic fail on the teenage lingo. I mean, I am stocking up on some totally sick skull candy for their iPods and MP3 players. There’s usually a whole aisle of them at Best Buy or Future Shop, but you can also occasionally find them dirt cheap at Winners!

Finally, for the rarer-than-Mother-Theresa-rare-Teenager who really, really, really doesn’t want anything for Christmas… buy them a goat. Er – rather – buy a village in need of a goat through one of the many charitable organizations offering Gifts of Hope such as Plan Canada, Unicef and Oxfam. Mango trees, baby chicks, classroom essentials, sanitary essentials, anti-malaria bed nets, among many other popular choices, are available for sale.

So I wish you every success with your holiday shopping for teenagers. I still have hair which proves these gifts have all been well received by my family – and by my wallet. Happy holidays!

Anyone with kids in afterschool sports or activities knows that there is often that dead time during which you are – well – waiting.  With three kids in hockey as well as several school sports and activities, I have done some “waiting” time bordering on excessive, even by Department of Motor Vehicles standards.  I use this time wisely by catching up on really useful information and neighbourhood gossip like who is sleeping with whom, and which neighbourhood my teenagers have decided to vandalize next (hoping those two subjects NEVER overlap).  Occasionally, I will retreat to my sanctuary – if there is a bench in the arena foyer – and just read.  And so, the category “Hammock reading…” is part of my dustbunny chronicles (even though I rarely read while lounging in a hammock… it’s just such an incredible mental image).

 Anyway, I think Hadley Richardson Hemingway is haunting me. 

 First, I wrote a  post a couple of summers ago about Ernest Hemingway’s book, A Moving Feast, written about his expatriate days in Paris in the 1920’s .  Though a great summertime read it was, inspiring me to work harder on this craft that is writing, I was haunted by the lesser character in the book, Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s wife (his first of four).  

Soon thereafter, I stumbled across the Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song called Mrs. Hemingway and wrote about it as well, thrilled that I’d encountered another artist who’d felt a deep enough connection with Hadley to write a song about her.  Perhaps Mary was haunted too.

Then, when I was in San Francisco this past summer, the SFMOMA was exhibiting The Steins Collect, a selection of siblings Leo and Gertrude Stein’s magnificent art collection from their own days in turn-of-the-century Paris as contemporaries of the Hemingways.  I went to the exhibit, expecting to find Hadley lurking, but she was nowhere to be found. 

And then Fall rolled around with back-to-school and back-to-hockey (read: back-to-waiting), and along with it, back-to-book-club for me.  I learned it was my turn to host one of our book discussions and guess which book caught my eye on the shelves of our local libary?  I picked up The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, because Hadley was pestering me once again! 

The Paris Wife is about Hadley Richardson’s relationship with Ernest Hemingway, written from Hadley’s point of view.  All the nagging questions I’d asked to myself during my reading of A Moving Feast were answered in The Paris Wife. Though it is a historical fiction, McLain takes great pains to stay as true to fact as possible.  McLain’s literary story, and the Hemingway’s love story, began with Ernest and Hadley meeting in Chicago, continuing a brief long-distance relationship when she returned to St. Louis, and them marrying a few short months later.  Though they originally intended to move to Rome, they were convinced by friends that all the great literary talent had descended upon Paris.  So began the Hemingway’s five-year residency in Paris and so continues the book.   

Hadley shared all her secrets with me in The Paris Wife, in a way that Ernest could never do in A Moving Feast.  I felt as liberated as she did ditching her protective guardians in St. Louis, her sister and her sister’s husband, and breaking with societal norms by moving to Paris with her new husband.  From Hadley, I heard all about Ernest’s frustration and exhilaration in writing In Our Time, and I could sympathize with her inability to conform to gaie Paris.  I tagged along with Hadley and Hemingway as she accompanied him on his trips to Spain, where the inspiration for The Sun Also Rises was born, and I could totally bask in Hadley’s skiing adventures in Austria.  Author McLain planted many seeds of sorrow by weaving in the occasional page or two, italizcized to catch my attention, and written in the voice of Ernest Hemingway instead of Hadley.  In this way, I knew long before Hadley that her marriage was about to unravel … a foreshadowing that troubled me as a reader because I could not warn her.

I felt like I was a character in this book rather than a mere bystander. 

I’m not sure if Hadley’s hauntings are over.  Now, thanks to Monica over at Monica’s Tangled Web, I have a growing inclination to visit Key West, if for no reason than to give the ghost of Ernest Hemingway a piece of my mind for being such a lout to poor Hadley. 

I have also since come to the conclusion though, that she and I were together as friends in The Paris Wife, Hadley and I differed greatly in that she was ultimately satisfied to be the secondary in Hemingway’s life and remained very much in love with him.  His first and only true love, however, was always his writing.  That is an understanding that I’m not sure I could reach with the love of my life.

I hope Hadley will share a hammock with you soon; I’m sure you will enjoy her company.  I just wonder where she’ll show up next?

Have you ever been haunted?

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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