Posts Tagged ‘LinkedIn’


November 25, 2015

My apologies for falling off the blog wagon once again. It’s been more a shortage of time than of ideas. I promise I’ll try to do better in December!

A Short Lesson from a Special Pair of Hands

November 6, 2015

As writers we often hear the advice “less is more” or “show don’t tell”. But we have so many thoughts in our brains and so many words to choose from that it can be next to impossible to understand what this is supposed to mean or how to do it well. Ernest Hemingway is usually credited with being the master of the sparse, yet powerful, writing style. His shortest story was reputedly about baby shoes and was only six words long. I have a confession to make here. I don’t really love Hemingway, though I certainly admire his writing skill and work ethic. So I was beginning to despair of ever finding an inspiration for bare bones-style prose when one arrived in the most unlikely of places, a YouTube recording.

A fellow writer told our writing group about one of his favorite songs to listen to when he’s thinking about how to say a lot with only a little. He warned us that, though it was a short piece, it packed an emotional punch. “Grandma’s Hands” was written and sung by the talented Bill Withers. In the short, yet extremely compelling verses, he paints a picture of his elderly grandmother by recalling a few specific things she said to him as a child along with his memories of how her hands looked and what they did for him. By the end of the song, you not only have a vivid picture of the elderly lady in your mind, you also have an understanding of how much she meant to young Billy and how deeply the adult Bill continues to miss her. This to me, is writing at its very best and it’s what I’ll continue to strive for.

Be Glad, Not Mad: How Rude People Can Improve Your Writing!

October 22, 2015

Last week, stiff as a board from writing and interviewing all week, I treated myself to a massage and sauna at one of our local spas. The massage was exactly what I needed, and I was just starting to close my eyes and bask in the dry sauna heat when the door flew open. In strode a women I’ve known peripherally for years. After briskly throwing a ladle of water on the hot coals, releasing a huge cloud of steam over me, she plunked herself down and began to talk. After exhausting the subjects of her health and our kids, I happened to mention that I was co-authoring a book. Naturally, she asked what it was about. When I replied that it was a guide to college transfer, her blunt response was “That sounds boring! Tell me why I would want to read it!”

I’m sure my mouth hung open in disbelief for a moment before I grimly snapped it shut. But then I rose to her challenge. “Did you know that one out of three students will transfer during their college careers?” I asked. “And that many parents today are way more involved in their children’s college careers than our parents were, primarily because the annual tuition cost of college can be as much as a new car!” She nodded and mentioned several young adults she knew who were struggling with college debt. Encouraged, I continued, “So, the first chapters of the book focus on helping families decide if transfer is really the best choice for the student. We interviewed real kids and came up with a bunch of examples, some where the school was definitely a poor fit for them and others where the student would be better off staying there and trying to work out the issues that were making it hard for them to adjust to college. There’s a quiz section too and right now I’m working on interviewing for the last chapters.” I looked at her expectantly, “So did I convince you to read it?”

“Well I don’t know any kids who are transferring so I wouldn’t buy it,” she assured me. “But I’m sure someone will!”

Part of me felt like I should be angry and upset over this encounter. However, the more practical Sue realizes that this was actually an excellent wakeup call. Writing a nonfiction book is a significant accomplishment. But an author’s job doesn’t always conclude with the final paragraph. Sometimes you need to be prepared to educate people about your topic, along with perfecting a 15 second elevator pitch as to why a book about it is guaranteed to be both timely and helpful. I’m glad I learned this lesson sooner, rather than later!

It’s not Always Sunny in Dallas

October 4, 2015

My last post praised the many attributes of Dallas. However, this week I also feel compelled to share a not-so-fond impression of the city. Today marks the last day of Banned Book Week, seven days I feel very strongly about. In my view, censorship of reading materials is wrong in any form, but this holds especially true for children’s literature. As adults, we have a myriad of ways to obtain “controversial” books that others have chosen to challenge or ban outright. Children are not always so lucky. In fact banning a book often ensures that they will never even know it exists.

One of my strongest memories of Dallas became imprinted on my mind during my first visit there. I was in a coffee shop when I opened the local newspaper to find an article about the desire of school board members to censor history textbooks by changing the one currently in use to a “more appropriate” book. This was several years ago but what I still recall (to the best of my memory) was that a number of Board members were concerned that the positive references to “non-Christians” outnumbered the references to “Christians” in the book. It seemed that someone had actually taken the time to go through the textbook underlining the offending sentences with the goal of presenting numerical proof of a subliminal attempt to negatively influence students’ fragile self-images. I found this incredibly ironic coming from a state that had approved textbooks for years which paid scanty attention to any historical reference that wasn’t highlighting the accomplishments of whites, including valuable contributions made by African-Americans and Latinos during the past centuries. I remember contemplating the number of children that would be receiving a skewed view of American and world history should this resolution pass. Closing the newspaper, I found myself hoping that this was simply an aberration, a dying gasp from an ideology slowly being replaced by a more inclusive society.

Sadly I was wrong. Just this year, my son forwarded me a piece about the latest controversy in Highland Park, an affluent town in Dallas County. This time the censorship attack came from two parents, one who opposed the use of a book about the working poor in an AP English class, saying that it undercut American values, and the other who wanted The Art of Racing in the Rain removed from the class reading list because there was profanity and sexual content in it. (Read more at )

My biggest objection to these women foisting their opinions about what is and isn’t appropriate reading on the rest of us was their assertion that these books have no place in a classroom. Isn’t that what schools are for? To teach kids  to form independent, knowledge-based opinions so as to better articulate their ideas and values? Instead of banning the books, why don’t these adults read them along with kids, and then rationally discuss them? Good literature is meant to challenge us, not to be removed and buried in a basement somewhere. One of the major tenets of America has always been diversity, and that should encompass the books available to all Americans, including the youngest ones. Our right to choose what we read is precious and inalienable and we need to protect it at all costs.

It’s okay to have mixed feelings about certain books, just like I have mixed feelings about Dallas. There is a lot of gray in the world we live in. I will continue to visit the city and enjoy all it has to offer but I can’t promise that I’ll keep silent about things I believe Dallas could do better. After all, isn’t that part of a writer’s job?


What’s in my Dallas Travel Journal in 2015?

October 2, 2015

This was our second visit to my oldest son’s new hometown of Oak Cliff, Texas. This time we decided to stay right around the corner and try out the latest trend (for us oldsters anyway!) Airbnb. As luck would have it, we found a “casita”, right within walking distance of the rapidly gentrifying Bishop Arts District. In the northern part of Oak Cliff, Bishop Arts is now home to over sixty restaurants, bars, galleries, coffee shops and galleries, along with a strong Mexican presence and influence. It’s unpretentious and lively and opportunities abound on its streets for long-time locals, newcomers, and tourists to experience Texas at its best.

The casita was amazing and we loved the whole concept of Airbnb, with its reasonably priced rooms, privacy, and friendly hosts. We had two local beers waiting for us in the mini-fridge when we arrived, a bookshelf reminiscent of my own shelf back home, and a spacious chicken coop with laying hens in the back yard. The only thing to be aware of with Airbnb is that hosts don’t provide breakfast as with a traditional B&B. There’s coffee and tea but you’re on your own for the rest. However, Annelise had left us a list of recommended restaurants, many within walking distance, so we were fine.

DSCN1442 (2)

Since you no longer get any type of food on the airplanes our first stop was at Lockhart Smoke House on Davis Street. You order a sampling of meats (smoked on Texas post oak) at a back counter and they come wrapped in white butcher paper with slices of white sandwich bread and a variety of toppings you can fill white paper cups with.

Lockhart Smok House

We got two types of brisket (amazingly tender and flavorful) and pork ribs, also delicious. On their website, Lockhart claims “No forks, no sauce needed” and I have to say it’s true. The meat stands on its own!

Later that night, after a leisurely, coffee-drinking afternoon at Wild Detective Bookstore, we went to Small, a neighborhood brewpub just a few doors down from the Texas Theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was captured by police after assassinating President John F. Kennedy. One of Small’s owners, Joshua, was working behind the bar and let us sample the four beers they brewed on site (we liked the Watermelon Wheat and Black Pepper Pils). Hungry again, we ordered the Charcuterie Plate which arrived well-stocked with a wealth of meats (fresh and cured), pickles, mustard, jam, and artisan crackers. We left with a list of unique things to do once we left Dallas, provided by our handy brewmeister, a native Texan himself.

The next day, we journeyed out of Oak Cliff to visit the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. There we found a plethora of information and photographs about JFK’s presidency, cut tragically short by his assassination in Dallas, and the aftermath, including a fascinating section on the various conspiracy theories, many of which are still circulating to this day. The Museum took us several hours to browse through and gave us lots to talk about over dinner that night. Admission is a little pricey at $16.00/adult but I have to say it was worth it. There’s also an excellent bookstore with just about anything you might want to know about JFK and Jackie in particular, and the Sixties in general. The “grassy knoll” is definitely worth checking out too. Next stop Austin!


Delving Down Deep to Become a Better Writer

September 18, 2015

Memoir writing isn’t as easy as it sounds. Our minds are adept at changing, blocking, or eliminating entirely memories that haunt us or arouse strong, usually negative, feelings in our psyches. Though my friends frequently tell me that I should write a book about the adventures our family has had over the years, I’m not ready to do that quite yet. On the other hand I realize that it might not a bad idea to start exploring the many memories that are lurking below the surface of my mind, waiting for the right moment to appear (usually at 3:00 a.m.).

Like most people I have a stock of positive or quirky memories attached to each person I know. I call these “Remember the time…” and the story is usually funny or memorable in some way. I believe that all memoirs should have a certain amount of these reminisces in them to add balance to the other, less easily accessed and often more potent, recollections and emotions. For a memoir to be truly exceptional, it needs to be a little more substantial. Even family humor queen, Erma Bombeck, had the ability to touch her readers and reach them on a deeper level, even while making us laugh out loud.

How can you rediscover the things you don’t remember es, the thoughts and feelings and circumstances that combine to form the essence that is you? For me, Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away has been the key to prying open my inner door. In her introduction, she says her writing exercises are designed to “drench you in the writing process and your life of memory”. For Goldberg, writing isn’t a linear process, because our lives don’t usually follow a straight path. We are constantly getting thrown off course in our day-to-day activities, she claims, so we should approach our writing from all directions if we want to discover the connections that make us who we are.

Here’s how I use the book:

  • Every day I turn to a random page, set the timer on the phone for ten minutes and begin writing. Just start anywhere, don’t sit thinking about it or you’ll derail yourself. The other day I had to write “Tell me what you thought was ugly”. For me, it’s really hard to call something or someone ugly. It feels spiteful and petty. But I had to start somewhere so I wrote about my friend’s dog. Of course I qualified this by adding, “But he loves her so much I have to try to see her inner beauty.” Just writing about the dog seemed to unleash my good manners. I quickly moved on to the ugliness of certain fish in city aquariums, describing what characteristics made them ugly to me in vivid detail, followed by specific types of customers I see in a certain big-box store. Thank goodness the timer went off then. Who knows where my mind would have ventured next!
  • When the timer goes off, I allow myself one last sentence and then turn to a new page and repeat the process. I do this four to six times and usually end up with about seven pages of writing and all sorts of new things to ponder.
  • No skipping an exercise because it looks hard or I don’t like the topic. This is important because often the subjects I want to avoid the most are the ones that I do my best writing on.

For example:

  • What did you start over again?
  • Write about Texas
  • A time I itched
  • Tell me everything you know about Jell-O

It’s unbelievable the things I’ve learned about myself from writing about these things, none of which I ever would have thought about on my own. Buy the book. Try it out for a week.  Then let me know which exercise was the most helpful or important to you. Ten minutes. Go!

What’s in my Indiana Travel Journal?

August 29, 2015

You may have thought that, after several trips to the Hoosier State, I would have run out of things to share with you about the Midwest. Not so! On our latest trip to drop off our youngest son at Valparaiso, I still managed to find three new things to share with you!

Figure Eight Brewing (Valparaiso, IN)

We met our old friends from Chicago at this small craft brewery. The pub is high-ceilinged, with a light and airy feel and plenty of space between the tables. The waiters and waitresses had personality to spare and the beer is brewed on-site. I had the Snake Pro, a double IPA, which was not only hoppy, but had that citrusy finish that I love. Greg got adventurous and ordered the “Lost Saint”, a Belgian-style Saison with coriander, white pepper, and grains of paradise (whatever those are!) Sadly, he didn’t care for the taste; it was a little too different. Neil tried the Solar Collector, with a touch of dry-hopped Amarillo. Another plus for the brewery is that they have growlers. So be sure to check out this spot next time you’re passing through Valpo.


Splendor Boats (Silver Lake, IN)

My husband read about this family owned boat company in one of his boating magazines and was enthralled by the boat’s catamaran hull design. Splendor only makes 40-50 boats a year and I’d never seen a motor boat in the various stages of production so I agreed to tag along. It was really cool to see how a mold and some fiberglass evolve into a sleek, powerful motorboat that you would be proud to call your own. The sales manager, Brandon, was personable and answered every single question we asked (and there were lots!) He also trailered one of the boats we were interested in and took us to a local lake so we could test-drive it on the water and see how it handled. I know what I want in my stocking this year!

Bonus-The lake was located in Warsaw, IN, aka the “orthopedic capital”. Who knew?


The RV/MH Hall of Fame (Elkhart, IN)

I take full credit for this stop. Every time we pass this museum on Rt. 80, I say “I’s really like to go there someday.” This is slightly ironic because I’m a dedicated tent camper and a relentless critic of RV’s. I don’t like the way they hog up the road and the parking lots or the noise their generators make at night. But we stopped and it was well worth it. The ingenuity of the original motor home campers is really something to see. The various RV/MH’s are displayed along a highway, reinforcing the impression of Americans on the move and reminding you of how good it feels to hit the open road in whatever type of vehicle best suits your lifestyle. However, interestingly enough, it was the photo display at the end of the exhibit that made the biggest impression on me. It wasn’t about taking a vacation in a recreational vehicle, it was about the different people who call a mobile home their 24/7 abode. It turns out that people of all ages, races, and income levels choose to live in mobile homes for a variety of reasons.

One man explains that he sold a $300,000 house with a pool to move into his home on wheels. “That place was a task, this is a pleasure,” he says. A young artist claims her mobile home allows her the freedom to express herself in a way that’s both affordable and individualistic. And frequently mobile homes allow families to stay in close proximity to each other. The photos show a retired woman sharing her father’s land, while a young mother and her daughter park their home on her grandparent’s lot.

There are plenty of stories just waiting to be heard in this unusual museum so be sure to stop for an hour or so if you happen to be passing by.

Happy travels!


Living on the Edge of your Writing Life

August 21, 2015

Last week, in an attempt to read something related to my actual career, I picked up Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life at my local library. I imagined I’d slog through it and then return to my summer diet of mysteries and the latest fiction releases. But, I found myself engaged from the moment I began to read the first chapter and I thought about some of her vivid and absurd prose, long after I reluctantly closed the last page.

Dillard is quirky, engaging, and a hard and insistent worker, a combination of traits I very much identify with. She’s a writer that things happen to, whether because she has an openness that attracts the unusual, or because she is simply more attuned to the life surrounding her than most people. Two of her stories, one about the mysterious midnight chess game she played in the library without ever questioning why, and the other about her brief, but powerful experience in a single-engine Cessna with stunt pilot Dave Rahm, linger with me still. There’s something about these particular experiences that seems to capture the very essence of the writing life, that feeling of sometimes living in a universe separate from the one most people inhabit. Dillard’s world is a magical place where anything can, and often does, happen to those who dare to live at the edge and to push the limits, whenever possible, both in their writing and in their life itself.

Mid-book, Dillard says that every writer must solve two problems before they begin a book. One is “Can it be done?” and the other “Can I do it?” Her answer, “And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he” cheered me greatly, as did her assertion that, if is just as difficult to write sentences for a recipe than it is to write them for Moby Dick, you might as well write them for Moby Dick!

The Writing Life is a book I believe I’ll read more than once, mostly because it reinforces one of my core beliefs; you must write as you live. If you can’t take risks and try new things and be bold and imaginative and colorful in your day-to-day life than both you and your writing will be only a shadow of what you could have been. And that would be the real tragedy.

Have you read any good craft books this summer? Feel free to share the titles!

What’s On My Summer Reading List?

August 12, 2015

This summer has been a great one for reading! If you’re looking for a good book to relax with in the dog days of August, here are a few suggestions:

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This book has gotten rave reviews and frankly, I couldn’t resist the cover the last time I passed it in the bookstore. The first hint that Rachel isn’t the normal commuter you might be expecting, is when she opens a can of gin and tonic on the commuter rail. “It’s Friday, so I don’t have to feel guilty about drinking on the train,” she explains, not that we were asking. But Rachel’s alcoholic tendencies turn out to be the least of her problems. When the young couple that she’s been watching avidly from the train window every day, is revealed to be less than the perfect lovers she’s created in her mind, she can’t help but throw herself into the middle of the police investigation. Rachel’s unhealthy immersion in Scott and Megan’s lives soon expands to include her ex-husband, his new wife and their baby who (oh so conveniently) live only a few doors down from the objects of her obsession.

The similarities between Rachel and her preferred mode of transportation are undeniable.  She herself is like a train wreck waiting to happen. Yet there is something in her incredibly flawed character that will appeal to most readers, a quality that makes you keep rooting for her to turn herself around and to find the inner strength to reclaim her life. This book is difficult to put down, but luckily its summer so staying up late to finish it shouldn’t be a problem!

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

This is Ms. Flournoy’s first book and I’m enjoying it to no end. I must admit that I felt somewhat alarmed when I turned to the first page, saw the Turner’s extensive family tree, and discovered that the parents had raised thirteen children in the house on Yarrow Street in Detroit. How will I ever keep them all straight? I fretted. But the author has drawn, not only the two parents, but each of the children, so skillfully that you feel like you know each of the family members intimately. And each has their own distinctive personality and role within the family.

Over a fifty year time frame, the old house has survived the gradual disintegration of Detroit’s east side, the wear and tear of all the people who call it home, and a ghost (haint). But, as the story opens, Viola, the widowed matriarch, is losing both her physical strength and her ability to live independently, the children have their own families and homes in other neighborhoods, and the old Turner dwelling is worth only a fraction of its mortgage. The adult children, spouses, and significant others have begun to gather in different combinations to try to decide the fate of the house.

The Turner House offers a tip of the hat to both the strength of African-American family bonds over the generations and to the power of a shared history. Much has been written about the parent/child bond, not so much about the lifelong connections between siblings so I really enjoyed getting to know the thirteen children through their interactions with each other. Their resilience and ingenuity, as well as a genuine love for each other, will stay with you long after you close the last page. This is the author’s first book and I’m already looking forward to the next one!

And-just for the sheer summer psychedelic fun of it!

Sixties People by Jane and Michael Stern

As I passed this book on the library shelf, I found myself wondering exactly what being a Sixties person involved. Born in 1962 myself, I didn’t think I qualified but I decided to check it out anyway. Much to my surprise, the quirky and laugh-out-loud book highlights, not just hippies and protesters, but numerous other groups that defined this constantly seeking era, including groups whose culture I had apparently absorbed as a young child without even being aware of it. Reading this book unleashed recollections from my youth that had apparently been buried years ago and were sitting dormant in my psyche, just waiting to be excavated.

What do I mean by this? Take the Perky Girls, Marlo Thomas, Goldie Hawn, and Gidget. What young girl didn’t want to be like them? They were just so exuberant! Always on the go, always smiling, always finding the frisky, fun fashions and hairdos, exciting new adventures, and cute boys to have them with. Or the Playboys, who were defined by what they wore, ate, drank, smelled like and the daring bachelor pads they called home. I distinctly remember my father (who perhaps envisioned himself as one) drinking only gin and being drenched in aromatic aftershave and my mother being obsessed with flambéing anything in sight during my early childhood. Or the surfers, with their golden tans and bleached blonde hair and amazing ability to ride the waves. Don’t forget the “folkniks”, like Joan Baez, the Madonna on the half shell, who were positive that the songs they sang would eradicate social ills like commercialism, inequality, and hypocrisy.

The very tongue-in-cheek Sterns also deal adeptly with Party Animals, the English, Rebels, Mr. and Mrs. Average, and, last but not least, the Hippies. Not only do they observe society with a keen eye, but the descriptive adjectives they use are a riot. If you ever wanted to get a comprehensive view of the people and social groups that made up the constellations of cultures that were part of the historic decade, this book is for you!

Adult Coloring Channels Creativity at the Canal

August 5, 2015

This spring my friend Deb and I suffered a tremendous loss when her husband, and my good friend, passed away after a heroic battle with cancer. None of my usual coping mechanisms (like journaling) seemed to be working and I felt like I was floundering when suddenly I remembered a blog post by Ajoobacats ( about adult coloring books that had intrigued me. Though I’ve never been artistically inclined, the thought of having something positive to do, rather than just sitting there day after day thinking or trying to write, was appealing. With a coloring book Deb and I wouldn’t have to generate drawings, just color them in. How hard could that be? But before I purchased one, still somewhat skeptical, I consulted my friend Carla Schorr Rose, a Creative Arts Therapist at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, to see if she thought the books actually worked.

Carla told me that she uses them in her work, where she deals daily with loss and illness, and finds them very beneficial for her patients and their families.Here’s why she says adult coloring books have a therapeutic value:

“When you give your mind a task to do that requires focus and concentration, the usual chatter of the ‘monkey mind’ moves to the background, allowing your conscious thoughts to settle. Coloring difficult patterns does this automatically and effortlessly, causing a calming state of mind.”

This sounded exactly like what Deb and I were looking for at the moment; a way to contain racing and repetitive thoughts and bring some order to our worlds. She loved coloring as a child and was enthusiastic. I was less so, having had a traumatic experience with an elementary school art teacher. However, willing to try anything, I went to the local bookstore and purchased an adult coloring book with quotes and intricate drawings (somehow having words accompanying the art made it less scary for me!) and two boxes of colored pencils. We met in Pittsford, NY and set up our small creative station at a picnic table along the Erie Canal. It was a beautiful day and, despite myself, I felt a rush of excitement as I gazed at my pristine Crayola Twistable Colored Pencils. Though I had remembered how much I disliked drawing, I had forgotten the thrill I always got when I realized that I had a plethora of colors to choose from and to put wherever I wanted. Finally I would be in control of what was happening!


Deb and I colored by the canal for almost three hours. In that time we only finished one picture each but the longer we colored the better we felt. What Carla said was absolutely true, as you color, you find yourself beginning to think in the present tense and your various thoughts and worries gradually begin to sort themselves out. Whether you talk intermittently or color in silence, you’re left feeling calm and deeply relaxed, similar to what you’d achieve with other meditative techniques. We felt so good by the end of our artistic experiment that we celebrated with some Chenin Blanc and Herkimer Chocolate Cheese Fudge at a nearby wine bar!

I guess the moral of this story is that sometimes, especially in times of trouble, words will fail even those of us who write for a living. When this happens, don’t despair. Instead, try another artistic medium and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised!



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