Be A Sports Blogger . . . Or Just Pretend

By Ellen Rothberg

As a starry-eyed seventh grader, back in the late 1960s, I had aspirations of being a reporter for the New York Times. Lofty goal, some might say, but I was in the IGC (Intellectually Gifted Children) class in elementary school; I made the 2 year SP class (Special Program? Special People? Stupid People? I never could remember what the acronym stood for) in Junior High; and almost, that’s right, ALMOST, received the very coveted (at least by me) English Student of the Junior High School Graduating Class of 1970 Award. I believe I was the first (ok, maybe second) runner up to this award. I think that the student who won wrote a very poignant, heart wrenching story about her pet parakeet. I, on the other hand, wrote a blazingly, far superior story about my precious pet turtle, Koo-koo-ka-choo (my brother was a huge Simon & Garfunkel fan). As usual, I am straying from the real story.

While a student in Junior High, I served as a reporter for the school paper, hence the strong desire to work for the Times. I didn’t particularly love reading the Times. I was more of a Daily News girl, especially when it came to picking a current events story and summarizing it. I was gifted, but not terrifically motivated and those Times pieces could get rather lengthy. Anyway, I wrote one story for the George Gershwin Junior High School paper about an extremely young and cool teacher, but by far, my best work was a sports story about a basketball game. I came across that story recently and, I have to say, it was really well-written, but, considering I must have been about 12 or 13 when I wrote it, I’m not sure it was all me! Apparently the teacher in charge of the paper must have been heavy handed with the editing hat! I know this to be true because while I love basketball to this day, I don’t thin k I knew all that tricky terminology back then. I don’t even know for sure if the same moves were popular in 1970. So, armed with the knowledge that I was over-edited as a student, how would I approach the idea of having my own sports blog? Hmmmmm.

I would start off by coming up with a very catchy title for my blog, like, Just Girl It! Or, how about, Pick and Roll Report. Or, maybe, And One Woman? OK, so maybe I am not going to start a career now as a basketball blogger, but surely I should be able to take credit for having written an awesome story about a junior high school basketball game? I wonder if I can find that teacher and ask him if he really did over-edit me? I wonder if he is dead? Continue reading

Flesh and Blood Angels

by Monica Shaughnessy

angel-1406127I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by angels. No, no, not the kind with wings and trumpets. The flesh and blood kind.

When a writing injury side-lined me (repetitive motion is a killer, folks!), many, many friends offered assistance. “Can I help you type? Can I help you format? Can I help you with errands? Can I help you with…anything?” they asked. I won’t embarrass them by naming them (they know who they are!), but I am grateful for their kindness. Some of the offers I humbly accepted, some I didn’t. But even the ones I didn’t made me feel like help was just an email away should I need it – a comforting thought.

My husband will most likely be canonized at some point for his role in my recovery. Without him, the house would’ve fallen apart. Then there is my doctor, the miracle worker who fixed me. I’d like to give a big THANK YOU to them all.

And since they’re angels, they don’t really expect anything in return. Well, except my doctor (cash, check or charge)! So I decided that instead of paying the help back, I would pay it forward and be someone else’s angel. But don’t let me have all the fun. You can do it, too.

Here are some small ways to start today:

  • The next time someone holds a door for you, hold a door for someone else later that day.
  • If someone lets you cut in line, give someone else a break on your next shopping trip.
  • Get a friendly smile and ‘good morning’ on the street? Give one out to someone least expecting it.

Well, you get the idea.

Really want to earn your wings? Be the FIRST person to hold the door, offer a cut, give a smile. If you’ve read this far into my post, you probably don’t need convincing. But if you do, I’ll leave you with this quote:

“We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.”

– Lucretius

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For those who want to know more about repetitive motion injuries caused by writing, read my full post here.

What Vacation Type Are You?

By Ellen Rothberg

I’m on vacation. I have been on vacation since July 1. It’s an experimental vacation, as my husband calls it, because he is working, remotely, from our vacation spot in Vail, Colorado. Working remotely, is a new phenomenon brought on by smart phones, computers and other electronic geniuses we now possess. I am not working remotely, unless you consider trying to orchestrate the movements of the people in my life that I left behind in Houston. Electronic gadgets do not work quite as well for my purposes as they do for my husband’s. His experiment has been a limited success. Mine, not so much.

So, why when I left the heat of Texas for the beautiful, coolness of Colorado, am I not considering the experimental vacation a success? Well, there are several reasons, most of them pretty reasonable. Let me share them in no particular order:

  1. I have an elderly mother, well taken care of, but still pretty dependent on me for social interaction. .Unfortunately, she often thinks that close friends and family are out to get her. This leaves me to smooth over the hard feelings and try to help her reframe the misconceptions. This feat, despite being a mental health professional, is often too much for me at home, let alone from 1000 miles away.
  2. Colorado is a young, vibrant, fitness-minded, outdoorsy place. I am not young, vibrant, fitness-minded or outdoorsy. I will not wake up one morning and say to myself, “I can’t wait to go on a five mile hike at 8200 feet above sea level”. I live the other eleven months of the year in a city at or below sea level. My lungs can’t take the altitude change and anyone who’s ever been to Houston knows there is nothing to hike up to. This is not to say that I can’t enjoy a nice walk by a babbling creek in 65-70 degree weather in July. I am just not going to dream about it.
  3. One of my children is about to be married. The wedding is two weeks after I return home. I think that anybody who has ever been even remotely involved in the planning of a wedding knows what I am thinking. Enough said!
  4. I am one of  number of education professionals who have some part of the summer off from work. I won’t get into the debate about how educators have the whole summer off or how we are paid enough for the job we do. I will only say that my school year kicks off on August 10, the week after my return from the month long experimental vacation in Colorado.
  5. Oh, did I mention that my month long vacation in Colorado took place in a fancy condo rental? Yes, it is beautiful, but I still did laundry, dishes, cooking (OK, not that much cooking), and cleaning up. The hourly rates to have the condo cleaned on a daily basis was more than I make per hour as an education professional. Oh, I forgot, I wasn’t going to talk about that.

What is my ideal vacation? One where I sit on the beach, holding my second or third frosty rum or tequila concoction of the day as natives serenade me with whatever island specialty tunes they choose to play that day. Oh, and where the trials and tribulations of my real life back home take care of themselves for the time I am gone.

 

 

Time and A Soldier’s Gift…Let’s Remember On This Day

memorial day

By Ellen Leventhal

In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to share a few memories. I post this every year, and I hope it helps you remember all who have served.

The story starts many years ago; just one moment in time. The place was Belgium on the road to Bastogne.  The soldier was brave, but had no idea what lie ahead of him. The date was New Year’s Day, 1945.  He believed in the fight, and he believed in his orders. But despite the best laid plans, war, like life, doesn’t always follow a set path. He was to lead the attack, but when he looked around, all he saw were enemy tanks and machine guns. Time stopped, but duty didn’t. Looking out through blurry eyes onto the devastated scene in the frozen distance, the soldier saw two wounded men. One was carrying another on his shoulder. Sticking out of the walking man’s shattered leg was his bone, or what was left of it. The soldier ran and carried both men to safety. He left them at the aid station, fearing that death was a certainty for these men. When he returned to his tank and had time to look, he saw that it was in ruins. All that remained was a picture of his high school sweetheart.

Time passed. The war ended, and miraculously, the soldier came home. With him he brought medals, injuries, hope, and too many memories.  But still, he knew the memories would fade, and he had his life ahead of him. As the soldier stepped off the train under smoky blue skies in his familiar New Jersey city, he took a breath and reveled in the excitement of the welcoming party.  But there were doubts, pain, and memories. But time, the gentle healer, would take care of that.  He was sure of it. And time passed.

He and his sweetheart married, set up house, went to work, and raised two children. And the soldier told stories. Sometimes the stories were told between bites of steaming buttermilk pancakes in New Jersey diners.  Other times, on family trips, discussions of historical monuments and natural grandeur were peppered with casual comments about how this café or that group of young men reminded the soldier of his war days. The stories were familiar to the family. They were woven into the tapestry of their lives. At first, these stories were about buddies and a loud, blustery fellow named Patton. But when they were old enough, the children heard about that New Year’s Day. And slowly, very slowly, the soldier shared the horrors of the concentration camp he helped liberate. Even time wouldn’t allow him to forget that. The images stayed with him, surrounding him as much as the air itself. They were not just stories. They were part of him and a part of history. But they were in a different time.  Life went on. But still, there were the memories. While others planned their New Year’s celebrations, the soldier’s thoughts were filled with the memories of a bloody New Year’s Day. He thought of the dead soldiers and the soldiers he carried to a brief safety .He knew in his heart, those men didn’t survive. Each New Year’s Day he made a toast to those who fought with him that day and to those two strangers who surely did not make it home.

But time went on. The soldier tried to find some meaning in the deaths and injuries. He himself did not escape unscathed, either physically or emotionally, but life and time would go on. He counted on time. So much can change in one brief moment.

And then it happened. Another moment in time changed the soldier’s life once again. Forty years had passed and the soldier was busy working at a popular publishing house. The phone rang and grudgingly he answered it. It was a ghost. It had to be. “Do you remember New Years Day, 1945?” said the phantom on the other side of the phone line. “You carried me to safety.”

The color drained out of the soldier’s face, and another point in time appeared as if no time had passed at all. It was a reunion of soldiers and a blending of time. Each man thought the other was dead, but through a series of unlikely events, time was tying things together. They talked and found out they had many things in common, not the least being that they survived when so many others didn’t. They also found that they lived near each other, and they soon became close friends, as did their wives. Several years after the reunion, the man died, and the soldier helped look after his widow. He knew that he was still saving the man in some way.

The soldier has since passed away, and with him he took many memories and much pain. But time does have a way of healing and tying things together. The wives stayed friends and speak every day.  They talk about the miracles of their husbands finding each other, and in turn, the miracle of their friendship. The story continues, and yet each day is just like that day so long ago, just one moment in time.

The Thanksgiving Hold-Out

by Monica Shaughnessy

pumpkin-pie-1372787-mI love Thanksgiving. It’s the pause between sugar-fueled Halloween and credit card-fueled Christmas. But if retailers got their way, I think we’d skip right over it. The local radio station is already playing carols, half my neighbors have their trees up, and you can’t turn on the TV without seeing old St. Nick. As one of the last of the Thanksgiving Hold-Outs, I REFUSE to rush my seasons simply because retailers are in a hurry for us to buy, buy, BUY!

I get it. This year, Thanksgiving falls at the end of the month. This gives people less time to shop, decorate, etc. if they wait until the last gobble-gobble of Turkey Day. But as Americans, we don’t just rush through holidays, we rush through life. We’re always in a hurry to get to the Next Thing.

It starts when you’re a kid. You want to grow up and be a teenager. When you’re a teenager, you just want to go to college. When you’re in college, you long to graduate. Then you’re in a hurry to “settle down” (or avoid the altar!) and get a career. When your kids are born, you tell yourself, if I can just make it past their potty training or get them into kindergarten or junior high, then things will be grand. When they leave home, you’re just hoping and praying for retirement. In fact, the only stage of life or “thing” people don’t want to rush is death.

All we really have is a single moment on earth, this one right HERE. Your last one doesn’t exist anymore and your next one isn’t guaranteed. So why waste it? (And by the way, thanks for spending part of that moment on this blog!!!!)

As you’re heading into this holiday weekend, slow down a little. Enjoy your friends and family. Delight in the last few days of fall. Tell a story, say a prayer, make a connection. Take a deep, deeeeeeeep breath before Christmas and renew your energy. Thanksgiving comes but once a year.

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I am thankful for many things, including you, dear readers. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Bird by Bird

 By Ellen Leventhal

Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.

What a simple and brilliant statement. Anne Lamott (my new pretend BFF whom I have never met) tells a story of a time when her brother was overwhelmed with the enormity of a task before him. He had to write a report on birds that was due the next day, and he was far from ready to tackle that task. This young man was surrounded with books and paper, but had no idea how to get started. The task was huge, but his wise father put his arms around the boy and gave him some sage advice. “Bird by bird, buddy,” he said. “Just take it bird by bird.” So simple. So brilliant.

That statement is the basis for Anne Lamott’s bestseller, Bird by Bird; Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Ms. Lamott (Oh, since she’s my pretend BFF, I’m going to call her Anne).. Anne starts her book on writing talking about reading. She came from a family where reading was a priority and going to the library was a weekly event. Her father was both a reader and a writer. Makes sense to me. In my world, reading and writing are two sides of the same coin. I read about writing, and I write about reading. And writing.  They can’t really be split. In fact, according to Anne, “Becoming a better writer is going to help you become a better reader, and that is the real payoff.” She’s really smart, that imaginary pal of mine.

As a teacher, I encourage my kids to mark up their books. Read, think, and write. I want to see notes and highlighting and question marks all over their books. Of course, there is the question of the ownership of said books, so I hand out scads of sticky notes in the beginning of the school year. I wouldn’t want the kids to deface someone else’s property. I admit that I’ve seen my share of body parts drawn on these notes, but I have also seen lots of great notes. One of my favorite things is when a sticky note (or a margin) has a comment relating a passage to another book. One of my favorite notes was “Like when Leslie dies in Bridge to Terabithia, but this guy didn’t do something stupid.” This was a real sticky note comment. To be honest, that remark took about five sticky notes, but still, I like it. The next thing that happened almost brought tears to my eyes. Not because I was still mourning Leslie Burke (although every time I read that book I keep hoping for a different ending), but because this child then said, “Look at the poem I wrote about it.” Reading and writing intertwined again.

Bird by Bird has great advice for life in general, but I started reading it to get me through some sticky patches in my writing life. Anne’s insight has gotten me unstuck when writer’s block was my constant companion. Her small assignments helped me find focus in my manuscripts. And her tip of looking at first drafts as Polaroid pictures has validated my writing.  She says that writing a first draft is like a watching a Polaroid picture develop. You’re not really supposed to know what it will look like until it finishes developing. Since I’m not always sure where my characters will take me, this is comforting. Sometimes once the Polaroid is developed, I find a minor character lurking behind a major one and decide his life story is the one begging to be told.

Reading, writing, and life in general can be difficult at times. Anne Lamott talks about “Sh*&^y first drafts.” (Only she spells the whole word out. This is a G rated blog.) Let’s think about writing as life. Just like first drafts, we should be allowed do overs in life. And if we take life challenges one step at a time, bird by bird, maybe they won’t seem insurmountable.

Thanks, pretend BFF. Whereas some “self-help” books, tell the reader to get up off her chair and just do something, this book, filled with humor and insight has encouraged me to get back in my chair and write. And just take it bird by bird.

 

 

 

 

Collaboration, Craziness, and Completion: Steps to an Awesome Anthology

 

MASTER Cover

 

by Ellen Leventhal

Introducing Space City 6: Houston Stories from the Weird to the Wonderful

According to Merriam-Webster, to collaborate means to work together with another person or group in order to achieve or do something. People have asked me how I can stand such a solitary endeavor as writing. The answer is that writing, and more specifically the production of a book, is not always solitary. It’s often collaborative.

Collaboration in writing takes many forms. It can mean actually writing a piece with someone else, it can mean working with an illustrator, or it can even mean taking part in critique groups where members help each other hone their stories. I’ve done it all.

But wait, there’s more! (Cue announcer on late night infomercial.) My newest collaboration has been one of the most difficult, yet rewarding ones for me. As part of the Space City Scribes, I had the opportunity to work with five other women in order to achieve something of which we’d be proud. Although we wrote individually, it was still a team effort. Working towards producing the best anthology possible, we read, critiqued, and re-read each other’s pieces. We doled out advice that we felt would strengthen the stories without diluting the writer’s unique voice. We were each other’s cheerleaders, pushing towards a common goal. All summer long emails flew through cyberspace to places as varied as Texas, Vermont, and Vienna, Austria. Yes, it definitely got a little crazy. However, often the craziness of collaboration is the magic. People throwing out ideas, other people piggy backing on those ideas, and lots of discussion…that’s collaboration. After much revision, the stories were done. Whew. And then it got really hard. And crazier. It was time for us, as a writing collaborative, to decide on a cover, a title, and a way to sell the book. Every decision was made as a group. More emails, more discussion, more hard work, and ok, a little more crazy thrown in for good measure. But the good kind of crazy! The kind that makes you proud. The kind that you look back on and say, “We did it.”

So now here we are. We’ve reached the final C…COMPLETION. We are proud to announce that our collaborative effort, Space City 6: Houston Stories from the Weird to the Wonderful is now available on Amazon. We hope you check us out and let us know what you think. Feel free to do it alone or get a friend to look at it with you. After all, sometimes collaborations yield the best results.

 

 

 

Mother’s Day

by Ellen Rothberg

It’s Saturday morning and tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I have been thinking about Mother’s Day all week and this morning I had some free time which is a rare occurrence. I was tooling around the internet and came upon an excerpt from Rob Lowe’s memoir, Love Life, which was recently published by Simon & Schuster. The selection was about taking his eldest child to college. More pointedly, it was about the heartache of separating from your child as they go off to start a life that, essentially, does not include you.

As a mother, I have twice been through the trauma of separating from my children in this way. It’s awful! It’s thrilling! It’s horrible! It’s exhilarating! It’s terrifying! It’s the single most depressing event(s) of my life. Yes, I may be overstating, but when faced with that moment, disconnecting from the people I spent 18 years nurturing, consoling, guiding, arguing with (yes, we are a pretty normal family), I broke down. I remember thinking that we would never be the same. And, the fact is, we are not the same. So, at the risk of being one of those people who bore others with incessant chatter about their kids, I am going to list the ten most outstanding memories about mine. It’s Mother’s Day – cut me some slack!

  1. My son had some pretty cute pronunciations as a toddler. His very favorite book (and I can still quote it almost verbatim) was Don’t Forget the Oatmeal, a Sesame Street Bert & Ernie saga that involved listing almost every item you could purchase at the grocery store. One such item was hamburger meat, which came out as “hamburger eat”. My husband and I still call it that to this day!
  2. First trip to Disneyworld. This has to be one of the more popular parent memories. We actually witnessed our child’s first glimpse of magic.
  3. Same son – with a freshly earned driver’s license – taking his grandmother to cancer treatments when his parents could not get away from work.
  4. Still going with child number one – graduating from college after nearly 8 years, defying the odds (according to experts who compile statistics about teens who drop out of college), and dispelling the previous notion that he didn’t have to earn a college degree for his parents.
  5. The years of watching him play basketball. And helping him through the disappointment when he no longer played.
  6. Little sister arrives and basically follows her brother around for years. She was pretty cute although big brother would probably disagree.
  7. My daughter didn’t mispronounce words much, but when she started speaking, she had some pretty funny things to say. During one visit with her maternal grandmother, she hurriedly found me to state, “I like your mother”. She was two at the time.
  8. Observing my daughter’s ability to deal with her first major “real life” disappointment and her subsequent comeback. While it was awful at the time, it turned out to be a defining moment for me. Pride does not come any stronger  unless it involves . . .
  9. Watching said daughter not only graduate from college with honors, graduate from law school and finally be admitted into the State Bar to practice law . . .
  10. Having the unbelievable experience of witnessing the birth of my first grandchild. I have no words that can describe this miracle and the privilege I felt to be a part of it.

Oh – motherhood! It’s a roller coaster of firsts. And just when you think the ride is done, you become a grandparent and it starts all over again! I am lucky. I am a Guidance Counselor by profession and I always try to teach positive self-talk strategies to my students. On this Mother’s Day, I will wake up in the morning and say to myself, “Happy Mother’s Day to me. I have a beautiful family and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to raise two adults who are successful and true to themselves.” And, if I am really lucky, perhaps one day, my granddaughter will go to her mother and say, “I like your mother!” Ah, exhilaration!