Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday!

Here are some of my favorite things from around the web:

1)  Heidi Cave is one of my favorite writers, and she has an incredible story of courage and hope. Take a look at this roundup post at Everyday Family by Galit Breen about raising good men:

Lessons for our Sons

2)  Arnebya of What Now and Why? has two daughters and a son, who is the same age as my son. The love she describes here is so beautiful and familiar:


2)  Katie of Sluiter Nation bravely faces her depression and talks about it regularly in order to help others. In this case, she throws others a kind and compassionate rope to help them heal.

Letter to the depressed

3)  Buzzfeed featured these photos on their site a couple of weeks ago and I have left it open in my browser so I can go back and look at them on a regular basis.  It's stunning that the woman who took them never got them developed.  For her, the beauty was in the capturing. 


* * * *

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a special event at the Round Rock Premium Outlets for Austin-based bloggers, and was blown away by the gorgeous Elaine Turner store. I had never been introduced to the Houston-based designer before that day, and I fell in love with everything in there. And specifically, I could not walk out without these shoes.

You can see why. It was a lucky, lucky thing for me that the outlets gifted me with a gift card and a discount, and my wallet can't complain too much.

Happy Easter weekend, everyone!  May it be filled with plenty of quality family time and egg hunts.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

With a little help from my friends

It was the last session of the conference, and I knew it was coming all day. I spent time in the earlier sessions scrawling, and then rewriting in a neater hand, my pitch. Stuffing it into the new bag provided by the conference organizers, I took out a fresh piece of paper, and tried to write another pitch; one that I thought might be more exciting. More suitable. Funnier. Less like me.

I crumpled it up and met up with my friends outside the door; I was as ready as I was going to be. I let two of my friends sitting next to me read my pitch and I said, in my junior-high-school voice, “Is it dumb?” As any friend would, they said no. They gave me a few suggestions and we chatted along with the cacophony of 150 people in the room. 

The session was called Pitchapalooza – an invitation to stand in front of a panel of four agents and professional writers and be judged, in a manner much kinder than American Idol, on a book pitch.  And there was a golden ticket at stake: an opportunity to be represented and a very real chance for a book deal.
When the time came to write my name on a small slip of paper to place it in the basket, I stalled. I felt unsure of myself and my pitch, and I chickened out.  

“I changed my mind,” I told Angie.

“No, you did not. Go get up there and put your name in,” she said. She pushed me gently.  

Leigh Ann chimed in with, “Go. You’re prepared to do this.  You can do this.”

I walked up to the judges’ desk and nervously made small talk as I waited for the person in front of me to finish filling out her slip.  Sitting down, I prayed that my name wouldn’t be called.  

And I hoped fervently that my name would be called. 

I said I would do this for the experience, even if I bombed. I’d see it through.

Others paved the way for me with their witty, prepared, and smart pitching. With each one, I learned a little more, and mentally re-crafted the minute-long speech I had prepared.  When they called my name, I heard my friends cheer through the roar in my ears.

Have I mentioned that I don’t love public speaking?

The person scheduled to speak in front of me didn’t show up, so I was invited to approach the stage quickly, mercifully.  Starting with a synopsis of my story and finishing with a brief bio, I finished before the judge could call time.  I stood there alone, on the stage, my heart threatening to beat out of my chest as the panel offered my kind and constructive criticism to improve my technique. 

I sat back down and Angie hugged my shoulders in congratulations.  Fellow conference attendees caught my eye across the aisle to give me thumbs-up signs and encouraging smiles.  And my phone buzzed with a message from a new friend, someone I had long admired but hadn’t gotten to know very well yet. I didn’t think she had taken much notice of my work until she said, “You are good and deserve this chance.” Her message brought the bright sting of tears to my eyes. 

I didn’t win the golden ticket, and I didn’t expect to. But with every risk, with every limb I scale, inch my inch, taking a chance is something I want to learn how to be better. 

I’m lucky I have friends to push me out of the nest and try to fly. 

Be that friend with every chance you get to help someone else stretch their wings, because it’s going to come back to you.  I promise.

(P.S.  Look - someone at the conference drew all of the participants in Pitchapalooza.  I'm the one all the way on the right, above the woman with a cat stuffed animal on her head. Yes, a stuffed cat.) 

PHOTO CREDIT: Ronnie Walter

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Favorites

It's Friday, and I'm in Dayton for the Erma Bombeck writers' workshop, which is really an incredible opportunity. Last night, I saw Phil Donahue give the keynote speech, and it brought back a lot of memories of my childhood, watching his show with my mom.  And thriller author and columnist Lisa Scottoline and her daughter were hilarious and inspiring.

There is a lot of fantastic content out there, and I want to bring you just a few of my favorites to wrap up the week.  Happy reading.

1)  Ann Imig of Ann's Rants started as a humor blogger, and she has watched her dreams come true as the national director of Listen To Your Mother and a BlogHer Voice of the Year honoree and reader. In this post, she talks about finding some quiet in our lives and trying not to mindlessly fill the void.
Don't Fill the Void

2)  Some of my favorite stories revolve around human kindnesses. This story by Kirsten at The Kir Corner gave me hope and happiness, knowing that people like this are out there. They're all around us.

3)  This post is a beautiful list of the most interesting and beautiful and historic places around the world to visit, including some cities right here in the U.S. that you might not have considered. Last year, I visited Dubai and wrote about it at Leah Travels, one of my favorite travel sites.
52 places to travel

4) Austin native Kristin Armstrong has been through a very public and difficult divorce, and she has come through it gracefully. This essay about her journey through motherhood is insightful and compelling:
"I have spent their entire lifetime learning the most delicate art of motherhood, which is how to love children and let them go. In the most intricate and intimate ways, we simultaneously weave and untangle our heartstrings -- making them tight enough to hold our nest together and loose enough for us all to fly free."
The Dollhouse Years

Some of the talented writers I'm learning with this week:
Angie Kinghorn
Allison Slater Tate
Genie in a Blog
About 100%
Wonder, Friend
Banana Wheels
These Little Waves
Old Tweener

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How I Write

My friend Allison asked me to participate in a blog tour exploring our writing process. I said yes, because I love her, but also because it’s something I wanted to think about, myself. I first heard of Allison through her viral piece “The Mom Stays in the Picture” and we started an online friendship that grew when I met her last year at the Type-A conference in Atlanta. Now we I count her as a close friend, and I think she’s brilliant, classy, and fun. 

Onward with the questions: 

1. What am I working on?
Right now I’m working on the Listen To Your Mother Austin show, which is a month away. It’s my first year as a co-producer, and there is so much to do. It’s rewarding and wonderful, and in the meantime, I haven’t made as much time to write for fun. 

I do have a children’s book coming out sometime this year, and that is a dream come true. I can’t share too many details on the collaboration yet, but I can’t wait to reveal our work. 

Occasionally, I write for Scary Mommy and Huffington Post, and I look forward to getting back in the groove. Airport Improvement hires me to write feature stories for them, and it’s more fun than it may sound, especially if you love aviation the way I do.  I’m waiting for Jalopnik or Top Gear to ask me to write about cars for them; when I convinced a local company in Austin to let me write about driving one of their Ferraris, I nearly passed out from excitement.

I’m headed to the Erma Bombeck writers’ conference this weekend, and hoping for some inspiration and definitely camaraderie with friends. 

2. How does my writing differ from others of its genre?
It seems to me that even if 200 writers wrote about the same topic, each would be completely different, because we each have our own voice. My writing tends to be more tear-inducing than others, I’m told… for better or for worse. I am very honest, but I try to be diplomatic. I want to lift people up and give them hope; I don’t want to be the one who drags them down. 

3. Why do I write what I do?
Right now, at this point in my life, I write about what it’s like to be a mother, wife, daughter, sister, or friend, and all of the complexities within each set of relationships. I don’t offer advice on parenting; that’s not my intent. I’m no expert, and honestly, I’m not sure if there is such a person. We’re all parenting to the child or children we have, and we’re all different.  I have touched on some serious topics, such as domestic violence, eating disorders, abuse, and rape, but with the message that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. In general, I believe that to be true. My life has taken a lot of twisty turns, and it has led me to this place in time: the best part so far.

4. How does my writing process work?
Did you say “process”? I’m not a super-organized person (as my husband will lament) and I don’t think in a linear fashion (as former bosses might lament). Mostly, my process consists of taking notes on my phone when I get a bright idea, and then letting it marinate until I come back to it. In the meantime, I might find a short stretch of time to devote to writing, and I crank out a thousand words in 20 minutes. Then, I let that sit. Later, I might put a free writing essay with another idea and come up with a cohesive piece. 

That’s what happened with one of my most-read pieces, “What Will I Know?” on HuffPost Parents in conjunction with Alexandra Rosas.  I had written the first part after seeing some teenage boys on the street and thinking about what my son might look like at their age. After a few weeks, I contacted Alexandra and pitched her with the idea to make it a view of motherhood from two angles, and she was game.  Together, our piece had more than 37,000 likes. And Alexandra has gone on to be a featured writer at HuffPost and continues to amaze me with the quality of her writing. 

Overall, my process is letting it come to me and then thinking about it and coming back to it.  It’s rare that I write and post right away – I can think of only two times that worked out for me, and they were subjects I felt very passionate about: kids and food allergies; and my relationship with my (wonderful) mother-in-law and the kind of mother-in-law I want to be. 

* * * * *

Part of the blog hop is asking two more writers to answer these questions.  First I asked Sarah Reinhart, a mother of four (and almost five) and a talented writer and photographer. I met Sarah through friends and have since connected her to a friend of mine who has moved to her neck of the woods in Kentucky. It’s incredible to be connected to so many wonderful women all over the world. Sarah has a style that makes me feel happy, warm, and relaxed when I read her words. And her photos have a soft quality that draws you in and makes you feel as though you’re right at home with her.

Next, I asked Sean Wilson, a friend I met at the Type-A conference where I met Allison. Sean and I exchanged Twitter and Instagram handles and started building our friendship even more after we went back to our separate corners of Texas. I love Sean’s brave voice; she is coming into her own with every post.  Sean asked me if she should submit a piece to the brand-new Listen To Your Mother show in Beaumont, Texas, and I said, “Yes!”  And guess what: she’s in the cast.  I couldn’t be prouder of her.
Sarah and Sean will post their own answers next Monday on their own blogs. In the meantime, take a look at my friend Katie’s answers from her blog. Katie is a fantastic teacher and writer and I think you’ll like what she has to say too.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Favorites

On any random Friday, I'm summarizing some of my favorite things from around the web to support other writers out there; I have so many encouraging and supporting me, and I think it's important to keep the wave going.

Happy weekend!

1)  For anyone who has lost a friend, Vikki at Up Popped a Fox captures the feelings perfectly and poignantly. It's difficult to sort through the pieces, especially when you're not really sure of the reasons for the breakup.

We Say Goodbye a Piece at a Time

2)  On capturing the small moments, one small memory at a time: Anna from An Inch of Gray never fails to take my breath away. You might think that you're taking too many photos; Anna says that you're not.


3)  When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time playing Barbies and hosting tea parties; I also climbed trees and raced my bike around the block  Lyz Lenz did a great job on this thought-provoking post about what it means to have a princess-loving child in your house.

Belle is Not the Problem

4)  If you have a child who is into athletics, you'll empathize with this experience by Lindsey Mead of A Design So Vast. Lindsey's love for motherhood and the observation of her two children shines through her work and her writing makes me happy.

Grit and Heart

5)  Angela Amman is one of my favorite writers; she has a way of crafting words and phrases that make you want to read more. In this post, her little girl wonders why pretty and happy have to mean the same thing, and Angela reflects the stereotypical representations in the world.

More Than Pretty

6)  Last, but not least, this video of 11-year-old Lexi Walker singing "Let it Go", accompanied by a children's choir is hauntingly gorgeous.  


Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Favorites

I am surrounded, always, by people who love and support me; I want to return the favor. On any random Friday, I'm summarizing some of my favorite things from around the web and supporting others in return.

Happy weekend!

1)  This post from Keely at Lollygag Blog describes her feelings about her daughter's first field trip.

"She was headed to the theater and impending adulthood and that critical thing called Doing Things Without Your Mom. But I was so glad that I saw her in that bus window, even for that millisecond. It was proof that things continued on as they should and it really was all okay."

Nora's First Field Trip aka Here's Why I Cried Yesterday

2)  A thought-provoking and heart-touching post from Roo of Neon Fresh about World Vision and the fallout from their policy changes.

"Adults who had pledged to support these children, had put their photos on their fridge, had written letters and sent birthday money… rushed to their computers and phones to cancel their sponsorships, to contact their banks and put a stop payment on automatic renewals, to sever a relationship and sacrifice the well-being of a child due to a policy change."

When Everyone Gets Whiplash

3)  Nancy Kho's story of moving to Munich as a new college graduate and navigating new neighbors and co-workers and culture is fascinating. Every time I read her work, I come away smiling. Especially since every post has some kind of music video attached.

"My Haidhauser Straße apartment was the first place I ever lived by myself, and became home base – in the kid’s game sense of the word, a safe haven to rest – for all the exploration I did when I lived in Germany. I found a back way to walk to the office alongside green parks and chic restaurants and never took the streetcar. I met an American girl who was my lifeline when I just needed someone to understand an American pop culture reference."

#WhereILivedWednesday: Haidhauder straße

4)  Last week, we finished casting the Austin Listen to Your Mother show. It was very difficult; we had so many great pieces that I felt as though I was carving a piece of my heart to the floor when I had to send out rejection notices. However - I know, from experience, that it's much harder being on the rejected end of that email.  

In this post, Heather of The Extraordinary-Ordinary sums up the process perfectly, and with love.

5)  If you have young children, check out children's book author Liz Garton Scanlon.  Her Caldecott-award-winning book All the World is one of my favorite picture books of all time. It's absolutely gorgeous. Her new book, The Good Pie Party, is about a child who is not happy to be moving and hosts a farewell party.  Since I have a few friends who are moving with their children, I think this is the perfect gift.

And thank you, GM, for this Tahoe loaner for a week. For this car fanatic, it is a thrill to have the opportunity to test out a new car.  It's massive, and my son loves to climb around in it; the new car smell is lovely.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Where I Lived Wednesday: Glendora Avenue

The house was three stories tall, sitting at the end of a long and curving hill on a dead-end street. The paint was blue and fading, and when I rode my mountain bike home from campus, I could see the top story of the house over the railing from the cross street. There were seven of us living there my senior year; all fellow teammates on the rowing team. We got up early and  stayed up late, each of us in different classes and different majors, riding to the dock together in the pre-dawn hours to get to practice.

I claimed the bedroom on the top floor, a cozy alcove with a slanted ceiling and decent carpeting. Our landlord, Bill, was young (and handsome, my roommates and I thought) and he took good care of his investment. College kids lived up and down that street, a relatively quiet area away from the rollicking parties of the fraternity houses on the other side of campus.

Across the hall from me, my teammate John made his home in the other room on the third floor. John was a tall, gangly rower with dark-rimmed glasses, wavy hair, and a rich, hearty laugh that I enjoyed. We got to be friends, talking across the hall and cooking dinner together in the kitchen.  He introduced me to a friend of his, Paul, who would visit often.  Before long, Paul would call the house and ask for me by his nickname for me: Peaches.

My roommates would laugh as they handed me the phone (pre-cell phone days) and rib me.

“Hey, PEACHES, it’s your boyfriend," they would call out, and I would smile and speak to Paul, flirting for the benefit of my roommates.

The only thing was… Paul was John’s boyfriend.

John came out to me in one of our conversations on the third floor, revealing that Paul was more than just a friend; he was falling in love. He gave me his trust, but he wasn’t ready for the rest of the house to know, especially our other male roommate. He wasn’t ready for the rest of the rowing team to find out, with the stigma of being the only gay man on the team.

So I played the duplicitous part, acting like Paul was interested in me, and I genuinely enjoyed his company and his phone calls, prepping to come over to visit John. Paul was charming and stylish, and great fun. 

It didn’t occur to me how difficult that time of his life could have been for John.

It didn’t occur to me that he was going through some very challenging emotional changes.

It didn’t occur to me that he was confused and still immature.

One day, I picked up the mail from the floor, where it had landed after the mailman unceremoniously dumped it every day. A red stamp bearing the word “DISCONNECTION NOTICE” on the envelope from the power company caught my eye. Although it had John’s name on it, I knew that it was a notice for our house, and was alarmed enough to rip it open.

My eyes popped open when I saw on the bill that we were over $800 in arrears. How could that be? John had been collecting our money for months, and he was in charge of making the payments.
With another roommate, I confronted John and asked him for an explanation.  He broke down and admitted that he had taken our money and used it for himself, intending to pay it back, but didn’t. Angrily, my roommates and I didn’t speak to him for anything but very cursory conversation for awhile, even after he paid it back. We all felt duped. And after we all moved out at the end of the year and I graduated, I never saw John again.

Until a few months ago.

I had heard that John moved to Austin, and I ignored his Facebook friend request. Twenty years later, all I could remember was the stolen money. After all the talk about forgiveness and kindness and love, I still shut him out. I felt guilty, but couldn’t figure out how to bridge the gap.

One day, I was helping at a conference in Austin for a book signing for Glennon Melton, and I arrived early to set up. I introduced myself to the woman at the counter as Kristin Shaw, and a tall man spun around in his chair at a workstation nearby and said, “Kristin? Kristin Vander Hey?” 

It was John. 

For a moment, I was stunned and said, “Yes. Yes, it’s me.” And then I slowly turned away.  I avoided his eyes.

A month later, a message from John appeared in my inbox.

“I have been contemplating whether I should contact you after seeing you. I am sure I was visibly shocked at the time, because that's what I was feeling. After the event was over, I came across your door prize card.

Unfortunately, you did not win a door prize that night, but I randomly pulled a card from the fishbowl after I completed the door prize drawing and it was your card. After telling one of my coworkers about our connection and the story about how I ruined several friendships as a roommate. She thought it was fate that allowed your card to be randomly chosen by me.

I frequently think about the year we lived together. I was in such a personal struggle with my sexuality and feeling out of place in general. I made several very poor choices in all aspects of my life. Regret is such an uncomfortable feeling for me as it is for most people. With a lot of growth and therapy, I forgave myself for that time in my life, but I don't think I ever apologized to you or anyone else I lived with.

I am sorry Kristin. I was a jerk.

I am legally married to the guy I have spent the last 13 years with in Austin. My husband and I are in the adoption process and waiting on a baby now. My life is very good and I am happy.

I wish I had taken the opportunity to come back and talk to you after the book signing. The event kept the store busy on top of it being a Friday night so I was distracted most of the night.”

He opened the door for me to forgive him, but to also for me to ask for forgiveness for being an insensitive jerk, too.   And I responded that evening:

“It was a shock to me as well, and I'm afraid I didn't handle it very well. You see, I talk a lot about kindness and forgiveness and love in my writing on my blog and at The Huffington Post, and I surely didn't exhibit that.  Seeing you, I was instantly transported back to our house in Cincinnati with our roommates, and opening the utility bill with the overdue charges, and confronting you about it. 

But if I look again, I can see a lot of great times, and laughter, and our rooms at the top of the house where you shared your secret with me before you were ready to come out.

Thank you for the apology - it was so long ago, but it is very kind of you to reach out. I'm sorry I was not kinder to you when I saw you.”

Thank you, John.  Thank you for the chance to be a better person, too.  That house on Glendora Avenue still had lessons to teach me, even twenty-some years later.


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