Category Archives: Writers’ Workshop

Writer’s Workshop: Just Listen!

I’m linking up with Mama Kat again this week. As usual, the prompt pretty much jumped off the page at me as something I needed to say.

Prompt: Share something your child taught YOU about parenting.

I think I was a late bloomer when it came to understanding that my children had something to teach me about parenting and about adult relationships in general. I’ll admit it; I’m kind of a control freak. I generally feel that I have figured out the best way to do something, and I am also happy to share my opinion of YOUR problem. I know for sure that my general bossiness has sometimes been detrimental to relationships in my life — and I’m sorry about that.

My understanding of what my children had to teach me probably started about the time my daughter was sixteen and has built since then. At her ripe old age of twenty-seven, I understand fully, but I don’t always perfectly apply the concept. After all, I AM the mom, as the saying goes.

So what is the lesson I’ve so painfully learned?

The lesson is that most of the time, my kids don’t want me to solve their problems; they just want to vent their feelings.

That’s a difficult lesson for a mother to learn because we spend their childhoods fixing boo boos, protecting our precious ones from bad guys, and keeping them safe in the world. We know best, not them. The transition to allowing them to know best is difficult, but obviously is a rite of passage that we all go through in our path to adulthood.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has trouble with this; does the term helicopter parent ring a bell?

In a lifetime of teaching, I have seen too many children who were crippled by their inability to make choices and solve their own problems. Parents stepped in much too early and never allowed the children to build the skills that lead to resiliency.

I’m sure you’ve read the parenting material on this; it has been everywhere in the media. The problem starts in the elementary school and is even reported in the workplace. Parents are not allowing children to grow up and become responsible for themselves.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. It’s the job we signed up for when we became parents.

When my daughter calls in tears because she doesn’t feel well and still has to maintain her commitments, I sympathize, but I don’t generally offer to drive the 30 miles to her house to bring her cough syrup. After all, there is a store right across the street that delivers. Usually she doesn’t really want me to give her medicine; she wants me to listen.

When a relationship is rocky, she needs me to listen to her complain. Without offering a solution. I’m not the one in the relationship, she is, and she’s the one who will figure out how to fix it or how to go on. She just needs me to listen; sometimes talking through a problem will also bring about a solution.

When a situation at work is not going as planned, a story about a similar situation in my life is probably not going to help. I just need to shut up and LISTEN.

The wonderful thing about learning to just listen to one’s children rather than trying to fix things for them is that it allows an adult relationship to grow between you and your child. Hopefully, I’ve laid a groundwork for success that allows them to take control, own their own problem, and fix it themselves.

I’m not perfect at being a good listener, but I know what I SHOULD do.

I learned that lesson from the children in my life, both my own son and daughter and the thousands of sons and daughters of other parents that I’ve worked with over the years.  Just listen and let them learn to fix it themselves.

I’m eager to see what other lessons my friends at Mama Kat’s write about. I hope that you’ll check them out as well.

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Writer’s Workshop: My So-Called Garden

Writer’s Workshop Prompt: You were supposed to start a garden this summer…share the fruits of your labor.

I had big plans for the garden this summer. I really did.

I had dreams of lush shrub borders underplanted with flowering perennials that kept my flower vases full all summer.

I had visions of freshly made pesto and caprese salad direct from my organic garden.

I had in my daily planner a dip into a cool summer grass of morning while I tended my yard and pots, but that would require there to actually be dew on the grass, for the morning to actually be cool, and for me to get up early enough to see said dew. And apparently I also forgot to stake the tomatoes in recent weeks.

Reality sometimes bites.

I’m linked up with Mama Kat’s Losin’ It this week. Stop by and visit some other delicious garden stories — I’m sure SOMEONE got veggies this year.

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Writing Workshop: Lessons from Dad

I’m linking up to Mama Kat this week —

My prompt: Share a lesson you learned from your father.

On Friday, while visiting our son in Oakland, California, we also visited a salvage store. I had been struggling with this week’s prompt, since I’m also struggling with poor internet connections at the hotel, and wasn’t sure I could do my father justice this year. Then the visit to the salvage store made it all clear.

My father taught me to value the unlikely, to see the beauty in the ignored, to have the joy of creating something out of nothing.

Today I met another dad — one who would have loved being friends with my dad. It was hard for me to see all of his work, because it reminded me of my dad and how much I miss him. It was, however, a powerful reminder of how important it is to keep the memories of our loved ones alive through the legacies they leave behind.

Thanks to Grandpa Nick for the new memories I have of Father’s Day.

Writer’s Workshop: Book Reviews

Like all readers, I always have stacks of books laying on surfaces in my home and I’ve enjoyed writing about them on my blog. I keep a yearly tally on one of my blog pages (on the 2012 Book List tab) and link up my book reviews, so I hope you’ll take a look at what I’ve read and reviewed over the last few years.

Recently, I’ve been putting photos of the book covers on my sidebar when I start a new book. Let’s just say I have eclectic taste in what I read. There have been a few books that I’ve hidden from sight — I wasn’t prepared to tell the world everything I was reading. 🙂

So I’m going bare — here’s the full list of what I’m currently reading and may review, depending on how much I like (or hate) the book. It’s not embarrassing, thank goodness.

I always try to read the nominees for the Rebecca Caudill Award every year, which is an Illinois award conferred by student vote in grades four though eight. This year, the winner was Powerless. It’s a super-powers preteen-boys-book, but I’ve decided to read it anyway.  I doubt I’ll review it…

My eighth graders read Warriors Don’t Cry as the centerpiece of their study of Civil Rights. It’s the story of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School. I don’t think I actually read it again last year as my kids read it; it’s on my to-do list for the weekend. It’s a compelling story even as a reread.

I’m still working through An Old-Fashioned Girl on my Kindle — the Louisa Challenge seems to have stalled — and I’m looking forward to moving on to Little Men.

I just started The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on audiobook during my commute. It’s our May book club choice and I already know it’s going to be thought-provoking.

It appears that the only thing that’s slightly embarrassing is the Sophie Kinsella entry, but I’m not uncomfortable with my choice on that one. I enjoy her books and so do a lot of other people!

I’ve been lucky to connect with great readers through blogging, so let me introduce you to places you can read fabulous book reviews.

Jenners at Life With Books reads and reads and reads — and writes book reviews about intriguing books. I have three books on reserve at the library based on her recommendations!

A blogger with a different take on books is Jillian at A Room of One’s Own. She’s on a mission to catch up! Her reviews are thoughtful and full of insight about the “classics.”

I’ve enjoyed the creativity of Michele at The Great Read. If you’re looking for books for yourself or for your kids, she’s got you covered — at your library.

I can’t do this post without linking up to my niece Jessie at Vanderbilt Wife. She got me started writing again and I owe her my sanity. As both a writer and a reader, she’s got interesting reviews and commentary on books for adults and kids.

So we’re done for today. As my favorite flawed literary heroine says, “Tomorrow is another day.” Scarlett didn’t read, but her fame lives on through the genius of Margaret Mitchell. I can’t wait to read this

I’m linking up to Mama Kat again this week. Give my friends some comment love!

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Writing Workshop: My Drink(s) of Choice

Mama Kat asked me today, “How did your love affair with Coffee begin?” That’s a really good question, but ironically, a funny thing happened on the way to being sixty. I forget when I drank my first coffee, but I still remember that I pretty much can’t live without it now.

My husband is partly to blame for my addiction to coffee. We’ve become connoisseurs of the different Starbucks blends — venti, dark, and black is my order. He prefers decaf and I live for the kick of caffeine. We shop carefully for whole beans, always on the lookout for a sale. When we travel, he scouts out the Starbucks locations on his smart phone or maps them out on his computer before we leave. We plan our driving breaks around the visits to Starbucks, knowing they will have good coffee, won’t sneer because we bring in our own reusable mugs, and we can depend on clean bathrooms.

At the Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse bed and breakfast in England where we stayed during the summer of 2011, we were always served coffee in a sprightly little press pot, so I decided to buy one for Christmas. I searched and searched for a coffee press large enough to satisfy our coffee habit. I wanted to make two fresh mugs for each of us, with one being decaf and the other caf. I hoped the freshly pressed coffee would satisfy our coffee hunger and that we wouldn’t just continue to drink the dregs of the big coffeemaker pot out of habit. That hasn’t worked out so well, as we are still using our big Gevalia coffeemaker and are each still sacrificing for the other — to caf or not to caf is an important question in our thirty-year marriage.

The second part of Mama Kat’s prompt is easier to remember. She continued the question by providing an alternative — “Or Diet Coke or Tea or whatever your beverage of choice might be.” My true beverage of choice is the nectar of the gods, a good wine. I blame it all on moving to California in 1974 and discovering wineries, and my love for wine has progressed from the Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, Mateus, and Lancers of our college days to the fine wines from around the world to which we have access (and can better afford) today.

One of our most recent trips to a winery was in southeast England, where some amazing wine is made. Our host at Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse is also the CEO of Chapel Downs Winery, and I blogged about our visit here.

The bookends of my day are a strong jolt of joe in the morning and slow sips of liquid terroir in the evening. What’s not to love?

I’m linked up to Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop today. Please stop by and spread some comment love around to my friends.

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Writer’s Workshop: My Children’s Bedrooms

This week Mama Kat asked me to share a favorite part of my child’s bedroom. I’m an empty nester so what could I say about a child’s bedroom? When I woke up on Saturday morning, it just hit me. My favorite part of my children’s bedrooms is that they don’t live there anymore.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss having them with me in the house and having them immediately available to share their lives. Thank goodness we live in the era of instant communication. I often think about how much I miss my mother and I really miss the last five years of almost daily phone calls with her. Before cell phones, we didn’t talk nearly as much as we did in the years before her death. I’m glad that I’ve been able to forge out new patterns with my own adult children by maintaining closer communication with them than I did with my own parents.

We don’t even live in the same house as the ones in which I raised my kids. Thank goodness we don’t still live in the one in Ravenswood Manor just down the street from our newest incarcerated governor of Illinois. I can’t imagine enduring the media circus that was going on for the last two years, but I digress.

Even though both of the rooms that would have been my children’s bedrooms in this house are decorated as guest rooms,  I still miss the boyness and girlness of the two rooms in our other houses. Bubble gum pink walls come to mind and so do bunk beds.  Barbie dolls and science experiments. And music — lots and lots of music flowing out of bedrooms. Since my kids are seven years apart, they loved different singers and different bands. But we all loved Rockapella.

The fact that my kids both live in their own homes doesn’t mean that they’ve taken their childhood worlds with them. I’m sitting on the chair that my son brought home from college with the university logo on it. My storage area still has the collection of Brio railroad tracks and accessories that my mother-in-law collected for my son (I’m saving it, by the way, for the grandchildren –when the kids are ready) We still have the pink Legos in the garage and we have a pink trunk full of American Girl dolls in storage. The guest room that our daughter uses has some of her Little Mermaid collection on the bookshelves and she still insists on using her treasured duvet from college when she visits.

When I read blog posts from young mothers, it makes my life seem very staid and predictable. I don’t have the excitement and the miracles that come with the daily discoveries in young families. No one in my house is learning to talk or walk and we don’t have to struggle with what we’ll make for dinner. I know exactly what my husband likes to eat and what he doesn’t, and he doesn’t change his mind from day-to-day like little kids do. If there’s a mess in our house, we made it and we’ll pick it up.

Do I miss my children and sometimes wish those bedrooms were once again full of children and their stuff? OMG, yes. California is a very long way away, and even the one who lives in Chicago has a busy life and I am lucky if I see her once a month. But’s that how it should be. My kids are happy, employed, and enjoying their lives. Empty bedrooms are a small price to pay for that.

I’m linked up this week to Mama Kat’s workshop. Please stop by a visit some of her friends — and comment, comment, comment!Enhanced by Zemanta

Writers’ Workshop: A Case of the Nervous Knees

Did you ever notice that both nervous and knees start with the same vocalization and they are spelled differently? No wonder English language learners have a problem with English. That’s my plug for why we need ELL teachers in our schools. I’d really like the people I encounter in life to know the difference between nervous and knees. And know, for what it’s worth. If you have the opportunity, vote for initiatives that allow dedicated teachers to continue to integrate non-English speakers into the mainstream of our schools and society. I’m just sayin’… it’s important, and it’s worth spending your tax dollars on it.

Commercial over. Let’s talk about nervous knees.

A little known fact among most of the people who know (there’s that pesky word again — twice) me these days is that I was a voice major in college. Now I teach English.

Music majors have to give recitals in addition to writing papers and taking tests, and from thence comes my story for today. I will never forget that recital my freshman year at Miami University; it’s indelibly etched in my brain. As music majors, we were required to perform once a term; it was just one song at 11:00 on Thursday mornings. We all had to attend the recitals, even if we were not performing ourselves, and on that fateful day, pretty much all of my friends were in attendance. I stood on the stage in my very fashionable mini-skirt and started to sing. At the same time, my knees started to quiver. Picture it — in a small auditorium, my knees were pretty much at eye level with the audience — and they were shaking as if I was having my own personal earthquake. I finished my song, and tried not to disown my classmates, who were doing the best they could not to laugh out loud. After all, this could happen to them, too. I vowed this would never happen to ME again.

Once thing I’ve learned about singing in subsequent years of performing is that the old adage of “never let them see you sweat” definitely applies. Never let them see you shake, either. After that recital, I learned to wear long dresses when I sang in public. Your face can be a serene as a calm lake while your knees are rattling under your long skirt. As I continued to sing for church and events, I also learned that the lectern, podium, or even the little fence around the choir can be your friend.

These days, I’m pretty jaded. My knees no longer shake, but my beginning-to-be-an-old-lady-voice sometimes does. It’s a new kind of fear. Will my always reliable voice do its job? Have I vocalized enough to hit the high and low notes? It’s almost as scary as it was back when I was a naive freshman in college. Unfortunately, now I know my limitations. I’m no longer invincible, as I thought I was when I was eighteen.

The good thing is, I also play the saxophone. There’s no shaking knees in saxophone playing, unless one is stupid enough to try to march at Alumni Weekend, and that’s a story for another day. I can play the saxophone until I die, or they kick me out of band, whichever comes first.

There’s a reason why there’s a maxim that talks about “shakin’ in your boots.” Been there, done that.

It’s been a while since I’ve linked up with Mama Kat. Please visit and enjoy the work of other bloggers.

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Writers’ Workshop: Guilty Pleasures and Hero(ines)

I have guilty secret from my past that I’d really love to reinstate in all its splendor.

Image via


My love of ice skaters and ice shows was probably formulated while watching the 1960 Olympics. Broadcast from Squaw Valley, California, I got to see Carol Heiss win the gold medal for the United States. Although the 1956 Olympics were also broadcast on television, I was too young to remember it, but watching the beauty of Heiss’s freestyle on youtube brings back those warm fuzzy memories.

Growing up, we had two local ice arenas where we could see touring ice show companies. Since we were not rollin’ in the dough, it must have been hard for my parents to come up with five admissions to the ice shows. I know my mother was as enamored of the flashy costumes and choreography as I was; I’m not so sure about the men in our family. Every winter we would create a frozen spot in our backyard and create a skating rink, and when I was a teenager, my girlfriends and I would go skating at the arena in big bad Dayton. Trust me when I say that skating was combined with a lot of boy watching and flirting.

By that time, I was worshipping Peggy Fleming, who won the 1968 Olympic gold in women’s ice skating. Her win was poignant, as she had lost her coach, along with the rest of the American figure skating team, in a plane crash in 1961. After strong American showings in 1952, 1956, and 1960, the devastating loss to the American figure skating program was reflected on the medal platform at the 1964 Olympics. There were no American women in the top three, and David Allen came in third among the men.

The ethereal Peggy Fleming was impossibly beautiful on the ice. I know this video still looks weird, but it’s an old film that has been digitalized —  it’s worth watching to see Fleming’s medal-winning performance.

Between 1960 and 1976, only Fleming won ice skating gold for the United States until Dorothy Hamill charmed both the judges and the audience in Innsbruck, Austria.

Needless to say, I had my hair cut in the Hamill wedge.

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For those of you who grew up in the age of the Nancy Kerrigan versus Tonya Harding debacle or the flinty perfection of Michelle Kwan, it’s probably hard to imagine the innocence of these early ice skating queens. They were charming, polite, ladylike, and for a little girl from a small town, it almost seemed attainable to become a figure skating star if I practiced my jumps in the back yard enough times. I knew nothing, of course, of the pressures of the elite-class skating world.

Somehow, as an adult, I stopped going to ice shows. They were expensive and my kids weren’t really into either the skating or the pageantry. Unlike me and my mom, they weren’t transfixed by the television presentations of the Olympic ice skating events every four years, and they didn’t care who was going to emerge as the reining champions. I will have to admit that now both my daughter and I love Johnny Weir, but that’s because he’s so talented while also being so fabulously out there. He’s coming out of “retirement” to compete again in the 2014 Olympics!

Right now, Disney on Ice is in town and I want to go. I need a beard — a little girl who I can pretend to be taking to see the skating Disney princesses. Miss H___, are you available?

For my grownup friends, I wouldn’t mind going to Peggy Fleming’s winery some time (just in case she was available for an autograph for a fan.)

This post is linked up to Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop. Stop by and give some comment love to other friends.

2012 One Little Word: RENEW

While hanging around my computer last weekend looking for something to do where it wouldn’t matter if I had a coughing fit, I met a new reader who introduced me to the One Little Word family — thanks, Merrick — and I have chosen RENEW for my 2012 word. There’s a lot about my life to renew, and this is the year to do it.

One of my goals for the year is to learn how to photograph intentionally rather than haphazardly, and I’m looking forward to help from my friends Ken and Kelly as well as darling husband on this path to renew my love of photography. I’m open to suggestions, if you want to chime in.

Since one of the rules of engagement if you really want to change something is to make a stand in public, I’m going to share with you the reason why I need help with photography. I have an eye, but no craft. These photos are proof of that.

I tried tomatoes.

I love my amaryllis blooming in the window by the Christmas tree. Could I get an artful photo? Not so much.

When I went to make the coffee later in the day, I saw the amaryllis with the light from the window shining through the petals and the green stem of the next one to bloom sticking its sturdy stalk up in the air. It was so beautiful that I thought I would try again. This one’s not bad, but I have no idea how I made this happen other than just catching the light at the right time of day.

These aren’t bad either, but they don’t tell the stories that go with them. They seem static to me, and the magnolia blossom’s not actually in focus.

Ali and Merrick both scrapbook their way through the One Little Word challenge. I’m probably not going to do that, although I do have masses of scrapbooking stuff in my closet. I am going to choose some renewable resources that lie dormant in me and blog about them throughout the year. Just writing this down has made me feel better today and I hope it’s stirred up some achievable goals for 2012 for you. I’d love to hear about them and please, don’t be afraid to comment on my photography. I can take constructive criticism… if it’s delivered with love. Just remember I’m still sick. 🙂

Writer’s Workshop: 2011 in Review

I have enjoyed being a part of the Mama Kat community in 2011, and for her final link-up this year, I’m writing about number 1. No, not that number 1. THIS Number 1.

1.) This year in blog posts…choose a favorite post from each month of 2011 and share.


My favorite post from January is one that I didn’t write; my sister-in-law wrote about wearing a tiara all day in public on her December 26 birthday. She’s a very good writer and I encourage you to take a look at her post once again. Thank you, Suzanne!


I love to read, and when I find a book that transports me or energizes me, I am quick to encourage others to read it too. Jan Karon’s romantic picture of a lengthy stay at a country inn encouraged me to book what turned out to be a dream vacation at Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse.


In March, I wrote a post about the opera Carmen that I never published. I don’t know why; maybe I thought it was too personal and no one really cared about opera. Or maybe I saw Carmen in 3D so late that very few people would get a chance to see it. Whatever. I decided to post it anyway because I thought the whole process was  interesting and the Blue Ray disc is now available on Amazon. If you are an opera buff or would like to try to be, I recommend that you keep your eyes peeled for Madama Butterfly in 3D at the local theater near you that streams the Met broadcasts live. Madama Butterfly 3D will be released in movie theaters in 2012.


Apparently April was a busy Linky month for me, since three of my top posts were linked up to Vanderbilt Wife or Mama’s Losin’ It.

Why I Still Watch American Idol was a fun exercise in seeing who would comment. After watching the whole season, I think the Randy/Steven/Jennifer panel was very successful and I plan to watch it again in 2012. But I’m confused. I was watching all the X-Factor commercials (but not the actual show) and and couldn’t help notice the hugging at the end of the shows. Did Simon get nice on the new show?

If My Mom Were a Blogger and A Spring Journey were part of Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop and got a lot of traffic. Maybe you’d like to look at them again…


In celebration of the upcoming Father’s Day, I blogged about my up-and-down relationship with my dad. He wasn’t always easy to live with, but I miss him every day. This post was also linked up at Mama Kat and I thank you for reading it!


Finally, the teachers let the monkeys out and the administrators let the beleaguered teachers out. I was ready for some “teachers’ summer vacation” and some real vacation when I wrote The Tyranny of the Jean.


When we got back from vacation, I wrote about some backlogged experiences, including reading almost the entire Armistead Maupin body of work. I truly felt as though I had been living under a rock when many — and I mean a lot! — of my friends were astounded that I had never read his books.


In the midst of all the hubbub of the last days of school and beginning an exciting vacation in England, my mother passed away in June. We held her memorial service in August when all of the family could gather together and I blogged about her here.


I read at least two fabulous books in September and blogged about them here. Each has its own reason for reading it; are you intrigued?


In October I signed on to a 31 Days Challenge with The Nesting Place and wrote almost every day. I decided to do a travelogue of trips I have taken, but rarely got past our 2011 summer trip to Southeast England. My post about Vita Sackville-West’s ancestral home, Knole, got the most hits, but I would also like to share with you the glorious post written by my friend Michele about her trip to Ireland. Thank you, Michele. We were also blessed by a post from another dear friend, who took the time to write about her trip to Italy. Thank you, Kathy.


In November, I hit the jackpot again with friends from Mama Kat’s coming by to visit. My eight line post with photos was popular, as was my story about going to Burger Chef for our family night out. Given the bundle that I just spent for a fantastic family dinner in downtown Chicago, it makes me wonder which occasion meant more — or is it fair to make such comparisons?


I got all inspired by a catalog I received, and as I looked at the pages, I started writing blog posts in my head. Sick, right? It was actually fun and instead of being a bunch of posts about my boring life, it turned into 31 Days of essays about “things” and how they impact us. My huge hitter was the first day on December 1, but over the month of December I have continued to have many hits per day on most of the posts. Most popular, however, were the posts about the Radio City Rockettes and about the White House Christmas decorations. People seemed really interested in the fact that the Rockettes wear microphones in their tap shoes — I still get search engine hits on that every day!

My most frequently read post continues to be my book review of Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun, which I wrote in June 2010, but got the most hits again in 2011. People also often read my 2011 Book List, which I am currently updating for 2011, but will link up anyway.

I want to give a big THANK YOU to Mama Kat. Without her Writer’s Workshop platform, a lot of my readers would never have found me. That being said, I really wish more of you would sign up for notifications or “like” me on Facebook. Just sayin’ — it’s all about the love in blogland. I look forward to seeing you again in a new year — who woulda thunk it would ever get to be 2012?