Archive of ‘Ultimate Blog Challenge’ category

The One With All The Writers

Yesterday, I attended a writer’s workshop alone. I walked into the room of maybe 60 people hoping to see a familiar face from other events I attended. I saw no one I knew, but I also knew I wasn’t alone.

All I needed to do was pick a side of the room to sit on, and I knew I’d find my people there. I am a part of this community of writers. We all have the same dreams of being heard, being remembered, and connecting with others through our love of words. I belonged there.

I sat down around a group of women, and sure enough, we hit it off.

Irene sat to my left. She is a magazine writer and has a home office, which makes it difficult for her to separate her work from her personal writing. While sometimes I wish I worked from home more regularly, I can see the struggle. I, too, needed a new place to write. For the past few years, I’ve written blog posts in the middle of all the action–my dining room table. There was a tv blaring in the background and kids asking me to sign permission slips. As a mom, I needed to be there. As a writer, it was hurting my creativity.

Recently, I turned my daughter’s bedroom into my writing haven. I asked her permission, of course. She is away at college now, and the room sits empty. Now, I have my favorite notebooks and pens on her desk. I moved my writing books and prompt decks onto her bookshelf. If I need a place to sit away from the blank screen, her comfy bean bag chair is in the corner–although lately, it is hard to stand up from that thing. There is no tv in the room to distract me, and most importantly, there is a door to close. It’s a perfect sanctuary for writing.

I talked to Carol during one of the breaks. She is currently writing a book about her bitter divorce that she is still picking up the pieces from. She had a lot of self-doubt that anyone would ever want to read it, and maybe the act of writing it down was just cathartic. She was searching for a writer’s group that would be open to her stories. We talked about a few groups she visited that didn’t work out for her. She said they weren’t supportive enough. So, I suggested the group I attend, which she said she would check it out. She was an intense writer with something to get off her chest. I hope she is heard. I assured her someone is out there who wants to connect with someone and hear a story like hers. They want to know they aren’t alone.

I shared with her my idea for a book, but I also wasn’t sure if it had an audience. When I described the book to her, a woman in front of us turned around and said she knew someone who would love to read my book. She commented on how she had seen nothing like it before—and she had looked. This gave me new encouragement to write the book I’ve been thinking about for so long.

Encouragement. Inspiration. Friendship. These were the three things I took away from the workshop yesterday. Yes, the speakers were terrific, but because writing is a solitary activity, I go to be with the community that continues to lift me up. We have the same dreams and the same fears. We want to be heard but are riddled with self-doubt. I left the workshop feeling inspired and determined to tackle the blank page with courage, confidence, and a new commitment to writing that shitty first draft knowing someday it will turn into something special.

 

A Girl Can Dream

I recently watched Sex and the City: The Movie a few weeks ago. (Such a good movie).

My favorite part is not when Big sends her the love letters via email or when Charlotte has her baby. Nope. My favorite scene is when Carrie decides to hire a personal assistant. Imagine being in a position to do that. How could she afford it? Vogue was paying decently by the word, but she still had to buy the shoes!

Nevertheless, I think I was close to tears of envy when I watched that scene for the first time. With a full-time job and two children and a crazy busy household, what I wouldn’t give to be able to hire someone to do the things that needed to get done.

But a girl can dream. So, if I was able to hire a personal assistant, here are some things I’d love to hand off to him or her:

  1. Meal planning because I suck at it.
  2. Redecorate certain rooms in my house because I don’t have the energy, and I missed out on that part of the gene pool.
  3. Driving so I can use my hour-long commute to read my book instead of sitting in traffic.
  4. Be my personal shopper. Someone who has an excellent eye for age-appropriate but trendy clothes and knows my taste as well as I do.
  5. Help me build my personal website, set up my Twitter feed, teach me Instagram and Snapchat and why it is essential in life, and always make sure there is ink and paper in the printer.
  6. Learn how to organize my house like Marie Kondo and get rid of the clutter –except for my books. Don’t ever touch the books.

So, what would you have your imaginary personal assistant do for you?

World Mental Health Day

For me, one of the best writing prompts around is the National Day Calendar. Whenever I feel like I have nothing left to write, this calendar gives me a whole new bucket to dive into and countless ideas for future posts. For instance, National Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Day was on Monday. I could go on and on about how chocolate-covered pretzels–specifically white chocolate-covered ones–are one of my favorite things. They made the perfect gift to bring to the hospital after I had my two children. While other friends and family brought cute stuffed animals and cheerful balloons, my sister delivered the goods.

Clearly, I still appreciate the gesture.

So, what does any of this have to do with the title of my post? It turns out that today is another important day to consider–World Mental Health Day. First celebrated in 1992, this day is dedicated to raising awareness and reducing the stigma around mental health issues. Millions of Americans suffer from depression, anxiety, and other conditions that can prevent them from living their best lives. In honor of this day, I want to do what I can to reduce that stigma by sharing my story.

Several years ago, I couldn’t get through the day without crying. I thought this was some sort of post-partum syndrome, but since the baby was over a year old, my doctor told me that wasn’t likely. She prescribed me an anti-depressant, and initially, I balked at the suggestion. No way could I be depressed. Sure, I was tired, and I felt I couldn’t handle much of anything at the time. And then, I was upset at how tired I was and how I avoided daily tasks because I wasn’t feeling up to it. And after being drained and upset for so long, people started to take notice.

It took me two weeks to fill the prescription. I stared at the life-changing piece of paper every day and wondered what it would mean to take it. Was it a sign of weakness or an easy way out? Did I really need it? Wouldn’t this all eventually work itself out?

Finally, I figured it could only help, and within three days, I was thinking much more clearly. I had more energy. My appetite returned. No more crying or lashing out. I realized my doctor was right. I was suffering from clinical depression.

Since that day, I’ve come to learn that depression isn’t something you can talk yourself out of feeling and “get over it.” Once I accepted that this was a situation beyond my control, I felt much better about getting help.

So, why can’t people get past depression? Because it’s a serotonin imbalance in the brain. It’s a physical condition that, in essence, causes sadness, anger, low energy, reduced appetite, etc. I’ve gone off and then back on medication. Recently, I decided staying on a low-dose is a wise move. I’m not embarrassed. There is no stigma, especially when my life is so much better than before. In the process, I’ve learned coping strategies with the help of an excellent therapist, and the medicine keeps everything else in balance. This is what is right for me, and I have no regrets.

On this important day, if you or someone you love is struggling with any of these issues and box of white chocolate-covered pretzels doesn’t do the trick, talk to your doctor, fill the prescription, and get your life back.

 

Word Nerd

How am I a word nerd? Let me count the ways:

First, I’m an avid reader, and when I stumble upon a word I don’t know; I’ll look it up. Thanks to the last few news cycles, I’ve recently learned the definition for quid pro quo.

Also, while some people listen to the Mega Hit Mix on Spotify, I listen to Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Have you heard of it? She is amazing. Each podcast is a fascinating lesson in word choice, punctuation, and grammar.

I’m telling you it totally rocks!

(See what I mean — word nerd).

When I’m at work, I’m a total geek, but I’m also the go-to person for how to phrase something the right way. People have a lot of trouble with it, and I’m happy to trade off my linguistic skills in exchange for their budgeting expertise.

I ran into an issue the other day when scheduling a meeting. We wanted to meet bi-weekly, and after all these years, I’m still not sure if that means twice a week or every two weeks. Luckily, word nerds love to buy books that help us through these webs of miscommunication. One of my favorites at the moment is “How to Tell Fate from Destiny and Other Skillful Word Distinctions” by Charles Harrington Elster. This book is right up my alley. Elster explained that using the term “bi-weekly” is so confusing; one should consider taking the time to say that the meeting will occur twice a week.

As a writer, I believe choosing the right words is essential. Words evoke emotion. They inspire people and motivate them to take action. Taking the time to find the right word means the difference between the mundane and the extraordinary.

To sum up, word nerds should unite in the search for the perfect word, the right punctuation, and the proper grammar. If it weren’t for us, typos would rule the world. I don’t think I could live with that. 🙂

The One With Chloe

This is Chloe. Chloe is our toy poodle. Chloe needs a lot of attention today.

As if cleaning the house for company later this week, finishing four loads of laundry and completing grocery shopping/cooking for the week, Chloe needed–actually demanded–some quality time. I swear I’m not ignoring her; I have a lot to do–including an extra blog post today.

Earlier, we went for a leisurely walk around the neighborhood where I let her sniff every blade of grass for as long as she wanted. I didn’t tug at her leash. I didn’t bribe her with treats. I allowed her to take us wherever she pleased.

We’ve played tug of war with her favorite toy (pictured here). And each time, I toss her toy across the room, she fetches it and brings it right back to where I’m sitting as if to say–“we aren’t finished yet.” She even sat with me and watched Meet the Press without complaint so that she could hang out with me longer. She prefers to watch reruns of The Big Bang Theory.

When I went finally upstairs to sit down and write a much more interesting post, she and her toy followed me. And now she is at my ankles barking up at me for even more attention. I’ve decided to let her up on my bed to make herself comfortable, so I can write–which she did.

This is Chloe…not letting me write much more tonight.

I surrender.

 

 

The One With The Writer’s Block

Dear Writer’s Block,

It’s not you. It’s me. We’ve been down this road hundreds of times, and quite frankly, I’m sick of you. I’m so done.

It’s true at 9 pm on a Friday night that I don’t have a creative bone in my body–not even a whiff of an idea. I want to get in my pajamas, crawl under the covers and catch up on today’s news with Rachel Maddow than sit here in front of this blank computer screen. But, here I am, and I’m finally ready to stand up to you once and for all.

I know there are days when I can be a bit of a perfectionist. You know the drill. I do the dishes, fold the laundry, sort the mail, and wait for a solid idea to form in my brain. I can’t possibly sit down and write until I hit that eureka moment and the adrenaline pumping through my veins until the sweet release onto the keyboard.

Other times, I’m afraid. Fine, I admit it. I’m afraid what I have to say is silly or unimportant. I’m afraid people will find out I’m not a real writer or worse they will be offended at what I may want to say. Seriously though, I’m just a girl, sitting in front of a laptop, asking it to help me compose one beautiful blog post that will resonate with everyone who reads it.

But, I’m here to say it’s over. You and me. We are through. You are my easy way out. You know how to push my buttons and send me into a tailspin of self-doubt. I can’t do this anymore.

It’s time for me to be the writer I’ve always wanted to be–one that’s dedicated to her craft, dreams of becoming a published author, and fueled by passion and caffeine. Not one that throws around the oldest excuse in the book. I have a lot of things to say, and I’m going to say them. You are not going to get the best of me. My readers will get it instead. And when I’m finished, you will be a thing of the past.

I’m a better writer than that, and it’s time you see yourself out.

Goodbye, sir.

I said goodbye.

 

The One with the Yom Kippur Algorithm

It’s that time of year folks when Jews all of the world make the most stressful phone call of the year. The one to the caterer to order our Break the Fast trays.

A little background: Next week, we observe Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is a somber holiday, so we don’t wish each other a Happy Yom Kippur, but rather an easy fast. We attend services and adhere to a 25 hour fast. During this time, we ask for God’s forgiveness and pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year. The purpose of the fast is to put aside our physical needs so that we can focus on our spiritual ones through prayer. At sundown, it is tradition to gather family and friends together to eat a dairy meal. This meal is known as Breaking the Fast.

I host the Break the Fast meal every year at my house. But before the main event, I need to order a tray of food. Placing this order requires a complicated High Holy Day algorithm.

First, I use logic to determine the number of people coming to my house. Then, subtract the number of people that don’t eat the fish. Add in what foods they will eat and make sure to include that in the order.

Next, perform a brief analysis of my options to determine where to order from? Is it from the place with the tray that serves 12 people but really gives enough for 15? Probably. Should I order for fewer people than the number I actually need so we get just the right amount of food? (By the way, these trays are not cheap.) Or should I throw caution to the wind and go a la carte? Either way, I take on the added risk that we will be eating regular lox and kippered salmon for the next week or so. (Not a bad thing if you like it, which I do).

Third, what kind of bagels do I want, and how does that correlate to what people like to eat? One year, I offered a random selection that included cinnamon raisin bagels. I learned that it just isn’t congruent with the lox and whitefish salad. Another year, I ordered a “nice mix” of bagels, which included a substantial remainder of poppyseed bagels. I won’t be making that mistake again.

And we aren’t done yet! What percentage of regular lox vs. nova lox should be included on the tray? I base this on the assumption of how many family members are watching their salt intake this year.

What variables should be included when it comes to the cheese tray? American, Slender American, Sweet Munchee, Lite Muenster or Swiss? At this point, I want ALL the cheeses because I’m exhausted, and I can’t make one more decision about this meal.

Once the algorithm is complete, I have to check my work to make sure I didn’t forget anything before producing my results. This is when I remember to order a loaf of black bread, a pound of turkey breast (for those who don’t eat fish), and the minimum amount of herring fillets in cream sauce that a small subset of people can’t live without.

Thankfully, my sister in law makes a plethora of delicious desserts, and others bring fruit trays, kugels, and blintzes to round out the meal.

Oy Vey! This algorithm is so much work, but I’m incredibly blessed to do it as part of our fall tradition.

Shana tova to those who celebrate. I wish you an easy fast, and may we all be written in the Book of Life.

 

 

 

 

The One Where Jenna Goes to College

I know he misses her too.

 

A little over a month ago, I moved my daughter into her freshman dorm. We packed up about two-thirds of her bedroom, bought way too many Command strips, a new bedding set complete with a comfy foam mattress top, the Keurig coffee machine, and other must-haves, and sent her off into the real world.

Nowadays, when I meet up with friends or family, they ask two questions: How’s Jenna doing? and “How are you doing?

In my head, each time they sound like Joey from Friends: How You Doin?

So, here’s how I’m doin’.

It’s a new normal in my house. In the beginning, it felt like a loss–although I would never dream of comparing myself to someone who has actually lost a child. Still, after 18 years of taking care of someone’s physical and emotional well being with all of my time and energy, heart and soul, I feel a part of me is missing.

She also picked up around the house, served as our extra driver to take our son places, gave spot-on fashion advice, and applied my makeup expertly. My version of a smoky eye looks like I’m hungover. So, from a practical standpoint, I miss all of that too.

She’s also exactly where she should be. Her school is precisely what she was looking for all along. It gives me incredible joy to see her thriving on her own. She loves to FaceTime with us and see our dog Chloe, who I think she misses most of all.

(Also part of my new normal is getting used to FaceTime. I hate how I look in that tiny camera).

Back at home, I get to spend quality time with our son, Andrew. I don’t write about him as often, and I’m not sure why. We went out to lunch the other day after Rosh Hashanah services, where he told me all about his water polo team and his favorite classes. In his spare time, he is on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, and he will learn how to drive soon. He’s such a fantastic kid–a mensch. It is an exciting time in his life, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. But, in the back of my mind, I know that soon enough, he will be going off to college too.

When that day finally comes in the fall of 2022, please ask me how I’m doin’.

The Gift

floral pillboxHow sweet! This was my first reaction when my daughter presented me with a small gift: a pretty box with a floral print. I imagined it would be perfect for my earrings, or I’d use it as a change purse, so I’m not digging around for quarters for the parking meter. Seriously, how thoughtful of her to think of me for no particular reason.

The box had something inside, so I unzipped it to investigate. What I found was not what I expected.

 

 

It was a pillbox: a convenient, plastic, divided by the days of the week box to hold my medicine.

I didn’t know what to say. Thank you??? 

I admit that wasn’t what I was thinking at the moment. My first reaction was a flashback to watching my grandfather pull out his pillbox from his pocket along with his dirty tissues. I remember him fishing out his pills multiple times during our visit. The orange box with the black letters representing the days of the week and a separate place underneath for pills he took morning, noon, and night.

Like my gray hair, the pillbox reminded me how quickly I am aging and worse how old I must look to her.

But then, I looked at her expression and could tell she felt terrible. She didn’t mean to offend me (which she didn’t). Her intention came from a kind and thoughtful place. She was looking out for my well being. She thought I would appreciate the gesture.

And I do. Honestly, I could use it. I have blood pressure and cholesterol meds to take as well as a few other pills. My doctor recently informed me I am Vitamin D-deficient, so now I need to add a vitamin to my regimen. Too often, I struggle to remember whether or not I took my morning pills, so this gift would save me the energy it would take to retrace my steps and confirm that I did (or did not) take them. All I would have to do is look in the box and problem solved.

How sweet! Thank you.

 

 

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