Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Celebrating Quiet Moments: How they helped me rekindle my love for writing

Trying to finish my ever-growing list of errands before our Fourth of July festivities, I dragged my two-year old son from the post office to the health food store to the library book drop, all before 11 am. After grabbing a Haupia Latte for me and a hot chocolate for him, at our favorite little coffee house, we pulled into the grocery store parking lot, our final stop for the day. As I parked the car, I looked back at my son in the rearview mirror. He had been so patient with me as I pulled him in and out of his car seat and carried him back and forth from the car that a twinge of guilt pierced me.

It was at this moment that I realized many of our days had been whizzing past like this; me rushing to get everything done while he tagged along, quietly and forgivingly. It made me stop and remember why I had given up my previous life as a full-time elementary school teacher in the first place, to spend as much time with him in his early years as I can. I had fought too long and too hard to even have my child and here I was, letting the business of to-do-lists take that time away.

Even though that Fourth of July morning was rushed, I decided to let him walk from the car to the store (holding my hand, of course). Once inside the store, I allowed him to continue walking, as long as he was close to me. I probably said, “Stay close to Mommy, Son” fifty or so times but he was so cute skipping around the grocery store aisles, I just let him be! We received numerous smiles and a few, “He’s so cute and happy”.

My overjoyed son continued to skip all the way to the pharmacy, over to the milk fridge and back up to the registers - skipping, skipping, skipping! It took us three times as long as it would have had he been in a shopping basket but his enthusiasm and wonder were priceless!

Back outside near our car, there was a small three-step staircase leading from one section of the parking lot to another. He wanted soooo badly to walk up those steps that I suppressed the urge to shuffle him into the car claiming, “Sorry son, we need to hurry home!” and, placing the groceries in the car, I walked him the short distance to the steps. My sweet, inquisitive son spent a good 15 minutes walking up and down those three glorious steps. At one point, he even took a little break, sitting down to ponder life’s existence.

So how does this experience with my son relate to my writing? That day that I slowed down and watched my son enjoy life, I also realized that in my quest to “become a writer” I had begun losing my love of writing. Trying to keep up with my blog and writing for my clients, I found that writing had become a chore - something I had to get done - just another check on my “to-do-list”. No longer was writing a way for me to center myself, to replenish my energy; it was actually draining my spirit.

This realization helped me to step back and spend a few days just doing nothing. One day, I lied on the front porch and did nothing but watch the clouds roll by for twenty whole minutes! Not long in the grand scheme of things but with errands to run and messes to clean, it was a magnificent twenty minutes. I had forgotten how much I enjoy sitting and just doing nothing!

Another day, I sat quietly inside our sliding glass doors and watched my son play on the back patio. He has this little toy school bus that has a movable stop sign. He would pull the stop sign out and say “Stop”, making his toy bus stop, and then push it back in, giving the bus permission to “Go”. I laughed more during this brief reprieve than I had in days.

In slowing down to appreciate my life and my son, I realized that too often I find myself telling him, “Hold on a second, son” or “Just a minute, baby. Let Mommy finish this real quick”. I don’t want my son to grow up feeling like he is second to my writing or house chores or checking emails; I want my son to know he is my number one! So, I’ve made it a priority to stop whatever I am doing, no matter how urgent it might seem, to listen when my son has something to say.  

In light of everything that had come to me over the past few days, I had to make a conscious effort to slow my days down and bring more silence into them, more appreciation and attention. Using ideas I had gleaned from the article, “60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life”, I decided to set my phone alarm to ring on the hour every hour, with the exception of my son’s naptime. These hourly alarms served me twofold. On one hand, they were a reminder for my son and me to drink water, another important routine that had fallen victim to my busy schedule. In addition, I included one of the following practices to each alarm:

·        visualization/meditation

·        breathing exercises

·         stretches

Now, every hour, I am reminded to drink water and sit quietly. And, in these quiet moments, I discovered something else that had gone missing from my days, my love and passion for writing. I realized I no longer write for the sake of writing. So, I took up writing “Morning Pages”, Julia Cameron’s suggestion to write three pages of “longhand, stream of consciousness” writing first thing in the morning. I try to get these pages done before my son wakes up but, if I’m going to be completely honest, some mornings I choose to sleep in, snuggling close to him. Even if I only get to my Morning Pages a few times each week, I am at least rekindling my romance with my first love, writing.

Now, I use my quiet moments throughout the day to remember what I love: my son, my health, my family, my dogs, and my talent for writing. In these quiet moments, I find the inspiration and the insight that had been slipping away from me in the hustle and bustle of life.

Tell me, how do you celebrate your quiet moments? Please share in the comments below.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Nostalgia Inspired, my Son and I Made a Pinecone Bird Feeder

Nostalgia set in the other day and I felt an overwhelming urge to make a pinecone bird feeder with my son.

I'm not even sure where this yearning came from. Did I make a pinecone bird feeder with my mom when I was young? Or am I reminiscing something I saw on TV or read in a book?

No matter because I was going to make sure my son had his own memory of crafting a pinecone bird feeder to recall.

In my whimsical memory, I saw peanut butter and wild bird seed. But, somewhere along the way, I thought I had read that peanut butter is bad for birds. So, being the researcher I am, I googled this question. On the Massachusetts Audubon Society page, I found the go-ahead I was hoping to find. While there is concern that a large amount of straight peanut butter might cause a choking hazard to birds, mixing it with suet or seeds is perfectly acceptable.

So, my son and I went on a nature hike, to my mom's front yard, and found two perfectly imperfect dry pinecones (you'll want to find dry ones because they are open and provide many little crannies for the peanut butter and bird seed). Once I gathered all the ingredients, we set up shop on the back patio to create our pinecone bird feeders.
Ingredients for our pinecone bird feeders
First, we spread peanut butter (I thought it best to go with Trader Joe's organic peanut butter) between as many of the apophysis as possible; apophysis being the technical term for the little arm-like protrusions on a pinecone.

Spreading the peanut butter
During this first step, my son realized, "Hey, this is peanut butter!"...

...and, I lost him!

While he ate the peanut butter, I coaxed him into rolling the pinecone around in the bird seed...

Step Two: Roll the peanut butter-coated pinecone in bird seed
...but, he quickly went back to eating peanut butter...

...leaving me to finish making our second pinecone bird feeder!

Upon completing both feeders, I bribed my peanut-butter gorged son (with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch) into posing for a couple of pictures...
Our finished product
...and then I realized I had no way of hanging our beautiful creations up for the birds to perch on!


I found some bright and cheery ribbon in my mom's craft supplies and, voila...

Tie your pinecone bird feeder to a pretty ribbon
We thought hanging them from a tree would be ideal, until someone pointed out the possibility of tree rats :-(

A feast for the birds or tree rats!
After much deliberating and exploring, we settled on the perfect spot for our pinecone bird feeders...

...easy access for the birds and within view of the back patio!

Find unique ways to show-off your beautiful creation
Don't worry, this bird cage is just for looks! We aren't intending on catching any :-)
Now, we get to sit on our back patio and watch the birdies enjoy the "fruits of our labor".
And, I now have an actual memory of making a pinecone bird feeder; one that I shared with my son...

...though, I'm quite sure his recollection of this day will be of the peanut
butter :-)

Do you have any fun outdoor crafts you and your children make together? I would love to hear from you...

Friday, June 8, 2012

How Making Pizza Gave me more Quality Time with my Son

Pizza Dinner Compliments of my Son
As a single mom, with an insurmountable amount of things to do each day, I often find myself torn between spending more quality time with my son and checking chores off my “to-do-list”! Worse still, with my son’s nap time becoming increasingly shorter, I am finding more accumulation on that ever-present “to-do-list”. To put it bluntly, some days I feel like I am mothering my “to-do-list” more than my toddler.

Instinctively, I know that quality time spent with my child affords many benefits to his emotional, psychological and physical growth and development. So, one day, while sitting on the edge of our bed watching my son sleep and realizing I couldn’t recall one moment of unshared time with him that day, I decided to make that my priority! I sat up that night and brainstormed ways I could still get things done but bring in more one-on-one time with my son, and in a moment of clarity, it came to me…chores!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Educating Esme: An A-typical book review

Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year

I have often wondered if a simple, personal journal could be published as a memoir; I mean in its original state of being a journal, would there be enough interest and relativity to make people want to buy it? 
Well, my answer came in the form of one such memoir, "Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year".

Esme Raji Codell shared with the world what most of us would deem too personal, too revealing, and maybe a tad inappropriate to share beyond our tight circle of friends.  In her journalistic style memoir, "Educating Esme", Codell takes us along with her as she elegantly stumbles through hir first year of teaching in an inner-city Chicago public school. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Inspirational Quotes for the Pen

Writing has long been an isolated profession, tormenting its scribes with solitude and sorrow. Many of the world’s greatest works have been born from despair and loneliness. While this method of madness works for some, I find inspiration from splendor and companionship to call forth the written word.
From time to time, though, I find myself in the throes of despair and loneliness, too. And, on these days when I feel particularly alone and down-trodden, inspirational quotes help lift me up.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Elusive “Writer’s Voice”: How my LinkedIn colleagues helped me embrace mine

Voice: elusive, abstract, intangible.  Pretty much sums up how many of us feel about finding our writing voice!  I liken it to catching a butterfly, or defining love, or touching one’s soul; we know it’s there, we just don’t always know how to embrace it.  So, I posed the question, “How do you describe the elusive writer’s voice?” to my LinkedIn peers and what ensued were meaningful and insightful discussions.  I share a little from those conversations here…
Writer's Voice: The elusive butterfly

Why do some find “writer’s voice” so hard to define?

Our voice in writing doesn’t follow a specific set of rules such as those associated with punctuation, and it doesn’t fall into the predictable patterns we might find in spelling; voice, in writing, is as unique and diverse as those who write, which is what makes it so difficult to define.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memoir Mechanics & Grammar: How structure in writing encourages freedom of expression

(This is the first of my series on Memoir Mechanics and Grammar)

Writing, as an act of self-expression, is fluid and flowing; for many, is it a liberating experience.  But, writing can also be restrictive when trying to impose all the rules that come with the written word.  With a little perspective on the conventions of writing, though, you can use your knowledge to manipulate these rules and break free from the confines that one normally associates with grammar and mechanics. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Four Pink Lines and a Strong, Healthy Pregnancy

This is the first in my series of blog posts celebrating my pregnancy as I journaled it through the eyes of my unborn son…

My mommy cries as she holds the second of four pink lines, proving to her that I am real.  I know they are tears of joy but I also know she is scared, terrified of losing me.  I wish I could tell her how strong I am and how ready I am to be her baby boy but I guess she’ll just have to come to realize that in her own time.  Until then, though, I can help remind her everyday just how strong I am.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Stare Down with a Two-Year Old

Last night, while in the midst of battle, I found myself staring down the beast known as “My Son”.  He didn’t want to lie down in bed but he was encroaching on my “after-Brayden’s-bedtime” time so he was going to stay in bed, at any cost. 

I had never met a more worthy opponent!  The stare down lasted for a considerable thirty-second stretch and during that time, here’s what went through my mind:

“Man, that’s a good stare down…wow, he’s really holding my gaze…how is he able to stare at me like this?...I’ve never seen him stare me down like this before!...he has to turn away soon…I don’t know how much longer I can stare down my two-year old…any minute now, he’s going to look away…oh no! I’m starting to lose it!...this is really uncomfortable!”

Just as I was about turn away, accept defeat but still maintain some dignity because “he was going to stay in bed, damn it!” I cracked!  Spreading across my son’s face was his crinkle-nosed grin that pretty much gets him out of anything because I can’t help but laugh at it! (Come on, now, you know your child has one of those looks!  The look that you just can’t help but laugh at and then all is lost!) 

So, there I was, throwing myself on to the bed next to him, laughing like we were enjoying a night at the Improv instead of waging the age-old “bedtime battle” between parent and child.

Sometimes, we just need to know when to surrender!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Be Fearless: Overcoming our Fears of Writing Memoir

I run to the bathroom choking on my tears!  How could I be reacting this way?  My best friend, who has been trying to conceive for months, has just shared her great news that she is safely into her second trimester!  I should be ecstatic for her, joining in on her celebration of the life growing inside of her; but it’s all I can do to keep from losing the avocado eggrolls we just ate. 

How do I do this?  How do I honor my dear friend’s happiness while coming to terms with the loss of my dream of becoming a mother?  Miscarriage after miscarriage, resulting in my divorce at thirty-six, has left me hopeless, fearing I will never become a mom. 

Everywhere I go, I am reminded of my failings, my inability to have a child; watching mommies play with their children at the beach, strolling past families picnicking at the park, bumping into strollers as we navigate the same, narrow grocery store aisles.  And now, my best friend, whom I have turned to for comfort time and time again, to whom I have provided comfort in return, is one of those painful reminders. 

After a short time in the stall, I wipe my eyes, splash my face with frigidly cold water, and go back out to rejoice in my friend’s pregnancy because, really, what other choice is there?”

Writing memoir is a reflection of who we are; it is the acceptance and celebration of the person we used to be, even in those darkest of moments.  When we write, we open ourselves up from the inside, sharing our inner-most feelings and emotions.  We are forced to remember the very same experiences we have tried so hard to forget!    
Because of the intimacy involved, writing memoir can be a difficult journey to embark on.  The fear of being ridiculed or rejected, that our feelings will not be validated, or that the person we were ashamed of will be exposed, paralyzes us in our writing.  But, if you can overcome these fears, writing memoir can be transformational!  Through the act of writing, you can celebrate who you are by validating who you were.

If you have been wanting to write memoir but have found it hard to begin, here are some insights that have helped me face my fears along my memoir journey:

1.       Begin with one single line; this first step will give you the courage to continue.

2.      Writing is a craft and, like any art form, takes time to perfect; be patient with yourself as you tend to it.

3.      Create a quiet, comfortable place to write, somewhere you enjoy being; this will motivate you to want to write.

4.      Writing is much like exercising, the more you do it, the stronger you become, so exercise that muscle every single day.

5.      Set smaller, more measurable goals for yourself; aim for 200, 500, or 1,000 words per day.  These “little” successes build your confidence.

6.      Don’t begin at the beginning; weave your story like a basket, over and under and revisiting places you’ve already been.

7.      Write with all five senses; this will help you discover new perspectives.

8.      If you are having trouble starting, create a visual story board by first sketching your memories.

9.      Writing helps you remember; give yourself permission to just write and don’t worry about the correctness of what you are writing.

10.  Write fearlessly, passionately and honestly, like no one else is reading!

11.    And remember, every life has a story worthy of sharing, worthy of being preserved through writing, even if you are the only person to ever read it!

How do you face your fear of putting pencil to paper in your quest to honor your memories?  Share with us your writing successes in the comments section below!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sensory Descriptions: Writing memoir through your 5 senses

As an artist’s brush strokes begin to take shape, giving way to images, we begin to see the overall picture. Writer’s brush strokes, words carefully strung together, give way to eloquently written sentences. Written with enough detail, the writer, too, paints a picture; only, we paint with ours words

Sensory descriptions paint a picture in the reader's mind

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Toddler Kicked Me out of our “Family Bed”!

I couldn’t believe it: my son kicked ME out of our Family Bed! 

For two years, I had breastfed my son to sleep, for naps as well as bedtime.  Curled up next to him, I would often fall asleep right alongside him, which was okay because we shared our bed  You see, we’ve lived with family since he was 3 months young and, having been reduced to one little bedroom, we didn’t have room for two beds.  If I’m completely honest with myself, though, I would have had him sleep with me no matter what. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Dream I Dared to Dream

“Keep on dreamin’, even if it breaks your heart.” 

I heard these lyrics in a song on the radio today and they made me think of my son.  He is the dream that I dared to dream even though it broke my heart. 

Every time I saw a Mommy with her young child, my heart broke.  Every time a friend shared their news of pregnancy, my heart broke.  Every time I laid in bed aching for a child, my heart broke.

But, I kept dreaming that someday I, too, would be a Mommy. 

Even when I found myself pregnant, my heart broke.  When his Dad left us, leaving me to bring my child into a broken family before he was even born, my heart broke. Through the long, dark, lonely nights of my first trimester, when I feared losing him like I had lost before, my heart broke.

But, I kept dreaming that he would be healthy and know only that he is loved!

And now, because I kept dreaming, my son is a healthy toddler surrounded by so much love and life and promise that...

...my heart no longer breaks.

What do you dare to dream?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why I Chose to Write Memoir

My reason for writing memoir.
I began writing memoir without realizing I was writing memoir. 
Memoir is often mistaken for autobiographies but it is, in fact, quite different.    According to Webster, memoir is “the story of a personal experience”.  This differs from autobiographies in that a memoir tells one story from your life while an autobiography tells the entire story of your life. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

And so begins "Memoirs from the Belly"...

I began journaling to my unborn son during our second trimester, once the nausea loosened its grip around me.  I would have begun sooner but throughout the first four months of my pregnancy it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed and get through my work day.  At the end of the day, I would go home, lie on my bed in the dark and nibble on Saltine crackers, waiting for sleep to come. 

Once the nausea began to subside, I realized how much of my pregnancy I had already lost.  I wanted to remember every milestone, every single moment, no matter how small.  Knowing how memories dissipate like the early morning dew at the sun’s first rays, I began writing.  Also knowing my track record for keeping a journal, and how many lay unfinished, I decided I would be more motivated and disciplined if I were to write to my son. 

It’s amazing what we will do for those we love.  I took better care of myself while pregnant, for my son’s sake, than I had ever done before.  I attended weekly pre-natal yoga classes, ate only the healthiest of foods, walked every single day and treated us to a monthly massage (weekly during my final month of pregnancy). 

So, I knew my writing to him would guarantee a daily commitment. 

I didn’t just document the events of our days, though.  I wanted to capture my feelings of being pregnant.  I wanted to remember how he made me feel; absolute, beautiful, and transformed.  Being pregnant was exactly as I had always believed it would be and I didn’t want to lose one more single day to forgotten memories. 

I didn’t realize it at the time but I was writing memoir.  Knowing how things would change once my son was born, I was preserving who we were together, for my sake as well as his.  Who has the privilege of knowing their birth story, down to the minutest of details, before they are even born?  I wanted that for my son!

And, so began “Memoirs from the Belly”.