Are You Feeling the Love?

By Ellen Leventhal

broken-heart-1316091

Here we are. It’s Valentine’s Day. Street corners are crowded with vendors selling roses and balloons. Throngs of last minute shoppers are mowing down each other vying for that last box of chocolates. Come on, folks! It’s just a day.  But I get it. It’s hard to resist a fluffy rabbit holding a sign that says “Some Bunny Loves You.”  But our loved ones  know we love them all year around. Or at least they should. So I decided this year that I wouldn’t feed into the hoopla.  Sure, I’d get everyone a card, but the hoopla? Not me.

But then there were puppies. Real puppies asking to be adopted for Valentine’s day. Stuffed puppies calling out for cuddles from behind a stack of bananas at the grocery store. And all those “Dog Gone It…Be My Valentine!” puppies next to the cough medicine at Walgreens. How much can a person take?

I know it’s just a Hallmark holiday. But now I’m thinking. What harm will it do to have some fun? If a yellow marshmallow Peep is ok for Easter, why not a giant pink cookie for Valentine’s Day?

However, not everyone has a Valentine. Some people dread this day. Holidays are not always easy. Society wants us to wear red and smile today. But that’s not the reality for everyone.

So here’s my suggestion. Sure, give gifts and chocolates if it makes you happy. But try to do more. Let’s make sure that today is not just about our loved ones and chocolate hearts. Let’s make this a day of kindness. Kindness to those we know and those we don’t. Reach out to everyone today. It doesn’t take a lot to smile, open a door, or say thank you.  Of course, we should do that every day, but sometimes we need a reminder. So this year, let’s celebrate “Kindness Day.”

Keeping that in mind,  I have to give props to the Space City Scribes. I thank my SCS buddies for all the help they give me. They even put up with my technical ineptitude. Thanks, guys!   And of course, this group of dynamic women  write a pretty awesome anthology! (Like that segue?)

So,  to those inclined, check out First Last Forever. It’s a group of stories about disastrous first dates. They are sweet, funny, and even a bit devilish.  We hope you like them. And if you do, we’d love a review! 🙂

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01AEDZFMK?keywords=first+last+forever&qid=1452800466&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8

FLF hands FINAL

I wish all our readers a wonderful day with or without stuffed animals. Reach out to someone new, compliment someone, and smile at a stranger. And go ahead and eat some chocolate if you’d like.

For now, I’m off to my son’s house. How can my granddaughter survive without a stuffed dinosaur telling her she is “Dino-mite”?

Happy Kindness Day!

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Imaginary friends and writing

by Mandy Broughton

friends-forever-1438818-1280x960.jpg

My daughter had an imaginary friend. My daughter treated her as a real friend. So real that it was six months before I realized she didn’t exist. Imagine my surprise when I asked the preschool teachers to point out Olivia to me and they told me, “there’s no Olivia in this class.” Turns out there wasn’t an Olivia in any classes at the school. I know, I checked.

Best friends. Olivia was quite the trouble-maker. I’d hear all about these wild parties my daughter and Olivia would throw while I slept blissfully through the night. I said more than once I was glad Olivia was good at cleaning up the house after a wild night of partying.

Olivia’s mom was quite the rebel too. I was informed one day that Olivia’s mom was thrown in jail for speeding. I found myself arguing with a three year old on whether or not her imaginary friend’s mother was thrown in jail for speeding. Sheesh!

I decided to research children and imaginary friends. I never had any. As a child, I was perfectly content to sit and read in my room all day. Friends–real or imaginary–would disturb that peace.

Imaginary friends are what we would expect from highly creative people. Active imagination. Intelligent. Creative. Verbal. What I did not expect was that many adults had imaginary friends. What?! Are these people in need of a mental health professional? Maybe, but mostly they are creative adults. And it turns out many of those creative adults are authors.

As a writer, I know I have proper characterization when I dream about my characters. I can hear what they say in certain situations. I know how they’d act when problems arise. Fictional characters should not be shooting gallery ducks forced to respond in a certain way when a crisis occurs.* Characters should be organic, growing as the story progresses. They should feel more real than some real-life celebrities we watch and follow in the news.

As a writer, have you ever needed a character to act a certain way and she just wouldn’t? She’s supposed to be angry but she’s acting all quirky and sarcastic on the page. Or two characters start flirting with each other and they’re not supposed to even like each other. Happens to me all the time. My characters have taken over the pages of my manuscripts. And many of them are completely unrepentant for derailing my plot. I guess I’ve developed imaginary friends as an adult. Maybe I’m a late bloomer.

So tell me, dear writers, how do you know when you’ve achieved proper characterization? Do you hear voices in your head? Do you dream about them? Do you mock-up a fake Facebook page and imagine what they’d post? I mostly argue with mine.

Back to work on this first work week of the New Year. I hope the New Year brings plenty of good books, lots of writing, and great friendships–real and imaginary!

Oh, and I can’t forget, as a longtime, die-hard University of Houston Cougar alumni and fan… oDPuclxr.jpgCongratulations on winning the Peach Bowl. GO COOGS!

 

*My editor once told me my characters were like shooting gallery ducks, they were cardboard and went back and forth like I was shooting at them.

 

What’s On Your Backpack?

By Ellen Rothberg

Backpacks are icons of personalities. One would never consider carrying a backpack emblazoned with a picture or caricature of something or someone they were not connected to in some shape or form. The advent of the backpack is a real nineties phenomenon, one that obviously earned tons of money for an industry previously employed by Colorado hikers. Have you ever thought about what we carried our books around in before the big backpack bang? I had a red rubber book band. It had two metal doohickey things on the ends that sort of connected to each other and tried to keep the books sort of together, but didn’t actually work well in the New York winters. It didn’t help that I had a pretty long walk to and from school in those cold winter months either because the red rubber band invariably froze and disintegrated on the long, snow-laden treks home. This musing is not, however, actually about my school experience or how I managed those miles and miles of walking in the snow . . . it is about the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the apparatus chosen to, well, lighten the load that students have to bear.

Back in the nineties, my children were introduced to backpacks depicting the Transformers and Strawberry Shortcake. There might have been a Batman one school year and I think we might have done Barbie once. There were Nike bags when in middle school and cartoon characters were no longer cool. We had a Jansport era in high school, I think. I can visualize the many backpacks, but there are no photos of them. I don’t think that we record those items the way we do Halloween costumes and holiday sweaters. If I were to ask my son and daughter to name their favorite backpack, I know they would give me that look. The one that says, “Oh, she’s writing something about us” or “Oh, she’s about to remind us of the trials of growing up in an apartment with only one bathroom”. This musing is not, however, actually about my children’s school experience or how their backpacks defined or didn’t define their school success, popularity or ability to roll their eyes at things their mother says. . . it is bout the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the heavy-duty canvas surrounding their load of books.

Now tht I have a grandchild, I know that the backpack phenomenon is coming full circle. Will students really contiune to need backpacks? After all, one only needs to have a small tablet computer, right? Do kids really need a whole backpack just to carry their electronic device to school? The answer is a resounding YES! The backpack is here to stay. My precious granddaughter, age 4 1/2 has three current backpacks. The first was purchased at her birth and has the beautifully embroidered words “Aggie Class of 2033” underneath her name (courtesy of her Texas A & M parents). The second one came from Pottery Barn Kids and also has her name embroidered on it (a very Twenty-First Century thing). The third one and her favorite, was purchased at Walmart and has the cartoon character Sofia the First beautifully screen printed across it. It ranks up there with the Strawberry Shortcake and Transformer ones. This musing is not, however, actually about my granddaughter’s school experience or how the more things change the more they stay the same. . . it is about how each generation is cherished by the ones that came before and how, when you get right down to it, we will always be carrying something to school in something that is popular at the moment. Oh, and that we love grandchildren!

And . . .speaking about books, Come out and Celebrate Local Authors at the Maud Marks Library, 1815 Westgreen Blvd., Katy, Texas on Saturday, October 24, 2015 fom 12:30 PM — 5:00 PM. Mingle with local authors of children’s and adult books. Books can be purchased and autographed. The library will also host presenters reading excerpts from a variety of genres. Attendees are eligible for door prizes! Come in costume for a bonus door prize ticket!

I NEED THAT CHERRY SCENTED HIGHLIGHTER!

by Ellen Leventhal

 

BackTo-School-Kids-At-Desk-Lead-In[1]

I admit it. I’m a Back to School geek. I kind of get into all the Back to School hoopla. The ads, the sales, all of it. It may be the middle of August and 100 degrees, but it’s still Back to School Season.

Back to School time is like New Year’s. The beginning of the school year is filled with possibilities. But to be honest, that’s not the reason I like this season. The real reason lies at Office Max and teacher supply stores. My name is Ellen, and I am a school supply junkie. I started young. I began hoarding pens and pencils in elementary school. My habit got worse as I went through school. By the time I was a student teacher, I found that I couldn’t be trusted with loose supplies. They ended up in my possession, and I could never remember how they got there. As I reflect, I now wonder if I went into education just for the supplies.

At first,  pencils and blue ball point pens were my supplies of choice. When that didn’t do it for me anymore, I moved up to bigger things. Gel pens and highlighters. I couldn’t resist the colors. Now I’ve added sticky notes. Not just the yellow kind. Oh no, I have sticky notes in every color. And pens to match each note.

I’ve always had a problem. When I think back on my life, I realize what an impact the school supply aisle had on me. Cue the dreamlike music…

Elementary School: My feet really hurt in these new shoes, but I get to sharpen all those yellow number two pencils. I wonder if the president of Crayola got my fan letter. A crayon sharpener right in the box! Brilliant!

Junior High: I hope that boy will notice me. I’m sure he likes my brand new pink eraser and Beatles notebook. And those girls must be pretty jealous of my Herman’s Hermits’ pencils and note pads.

High School: I love my blue notebook and college lined paper. The separators with multi-colored tabs are the best money can buy. I think that boy is pretty impressed too. He looked at me when I clicked my Bic. I think I’ll write his name on my notebook.

College: This may be the real thing. We go school supply shopping together. We spend hours at the store enabling each other and then go back to the dorm and look at our stash. Sigh.

Post College: I’m the teacher now, and that boy is still shopping with me. He’s kicked his habit, but he still enables me. Do I really need two attendance books and highlighters of every color? Sure. You just never know. Oh, and look at those stamps I need!

Fast forward many years to a recent conversation.

Me: Honey, my house flooded, so I won’t be able to tutor you there for a while.

Student: Did all our markers and highlighters get ruined?

Me: Yes.

We both wept just a little.

Wishing everyone a wonderful school year filled with happiness, success, and cherry scented highlighters.

Unicorns, Glitter, and Green Neon Marker

By Ellen Leventhal

I’ve had better summers. My house flooded, I broke two teeth, and I gained five pounds. Did I mention my house flooded? I watched parts of my life, including manuscript upon manuscript, float away. In the aftermath, I found soaked stories and putrid smelling poems. Ideas scribbled in journals were illegible, and water oozed out of notebooks and folders. Along with all of this, my creativity seems to have drowned too.  I have to assume that it will resurface at some point, but for now, I’m focusing on the creativity of seven and eight year olds.

Every year, teaching at the Writers in the Schools/ Rice Literacy and Culture Creative Writing Camp is the highlight of my summer. This year it saved my sanity. I usually teach older kids, but this time I was assigned seven and eight year olds. I was a bit concerned about working with such young kiddos, but there are definitely some advantages to working with kids this age. Here are a few.

  1. They laugh at my jokes and don’t roll their eyes.
  2. They are silly. And they don’t care.
  3. They ask questions like, “Why does glitter glitter?”
  4. They write about unicorns and kidnappers all in the same story.
  5. They love everything they write and think that “wings” and “fins” rhyme.
  6. They know that writing is better when it’s done in neon green, and the margins are decorated with pink hearts.
  7. They totally get that if you sing while you write, you can conquer the world.
  8. They know that writing with a friend is the best. Especially when you giggle and illustrate your work.
  9. They fall over laughing when they read their work aloud.
  10. They smile. A lot. And cry. Just sometimes.

These children’s creativity bubbles to the top. It hasn’t been buried under concerns about state mandated tests and grades. They are filled with wonder, and they are carefree. They make me smile. So when I am with them, just for a few hours,  I am not worried about FEMA, insurance, and the fact that I need to adjust to a new normal.  I just take a neon green marker and write a story about unicorns that save the earth. And of course, I decorate the margins with pink hearts.

Mother’s Day By Ellen Rothberg

Mother’s Day has always seemed a bit superfluous to me. After all, isn’t every day Mother’s Day? The moms, more often than not, are the conductors of the daily life around the house. Aren’t we the ones who wake the children, dress the children, make sure the children have their homework tucked safely inside the blue folder in their backpacks? Oh, I know, Mother’s Day is our day off from those responsibilities, but really, do we ever have a day off? Even if dads are supervising mom’s day off, the potential for disaster is looming in the distance in the form of a missed playdate or, heaven forbid, a lost baseball uniform. So, on this Mother’s Day, I offer the top ten things we don’t want for Mother’s Day. You can call it the “Yes, I’m a Mother ________________. Don’t Mess With Me Day!” official Mother’s Day anti-gift list.

10. We don’t want flowers from 1-800-FLOWERS. They usually require us to do our own arranging which, unless we’re Martha Stewart, we can live without.
9. Don’t BBQ and call it a Mother’s Day meal because we know we will be the ones doing the dirtiest part of the clean up. You know that’s true!
8. See #9 we are not OCD about cleanliness, so we don’t need a t-shirt
proclaiming “People With OCD do it over . . . and over . . . and over”. 7. Breakfast in bed — this is really not necessary since we hardly ever eat breakfast unless you call driving by Starbucks for a Skinny Latte, breakfast. I know it looks cute and cozy on tv, but it is just messy and uncalled for in reality.
6. Bath salts in provocative fragrances. We rarely bathe because we’re too busy trying to do everything else!
5. Like #6, we don’t want perfume in a scent we’ve never worn. Do you know what we usually wear?
4. Here’s a hint — don’t say I’m not your mother and therefore you do not need to do anything special. That’s lame.
3. Anything the children made. I know, that sounds awful, but do we need another clay jewelry holder? How about some new jewelry to place in the fifteen holders we already have?
2. Time for ourselves. Well, we do like that, but it doesn’t mean that we all stay in the house and the family tries to give us some quiet space. It either means that everyone leaves (yes, the father will probably be the driver) or I leave and get a massage, pedicure, manicure or all of these indulgent things.
1. Ah! The number one thing that we don’t want for Mother’s Day is the
total absence of our beloved families. Because we work hard, we totally love hard. Being a mom is the hardest, best job anyone could have and we do it with pride, fierce protectiveness and a sense that in the end, we wouldn’t trade one minute of our family memories . . . Well . . . there was the time the kids ran through the neighbor’s sprinkler as we were leaving for their aunt’s wedding . . . that’s a story for another time.

Celebrate Local Authors!

By Ellen Leventhal

 

local business Maude Marks Library

1815 Westgreen Blvd. Katy, TX

Dec. 6 1:00- 5:00

Help Celebrate Local Authors and Help Maude Marks Library!

 

It’s crazy out there. Really crazy. It’s loud, crowded, and just a little bit scary. Now understand, this is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Space City Scribes as a whole. After all, we are individuals, but this individual is not fond of crowds and pushing and ripping things out of other people’s hands. Let’s be a little civilized, can’t we? You do see the irony of finishing Thanksgiving and then running out on Black Friday to get more stuff, don’t you? I know some people love it, but the idea of camping out overnight to get a deal on a flat screen TV is not my idea of fun. Nor is fighting crowds and knocking over little old ladies to get that must have item for your fifth cousin once removed. But let’s be realistic. We are in the gift giving season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I love giving gifts. It may sound hokey, but I really do enjoy giving more than receiving. So I say, let the shopping begin….just not the craziness. How about shopping local?
Nov. 29 was Small Business Saturday. Small businesses were celebrated, and everyone was encouraged to “Shop small.” My husband and I were in a locally owned restaurant where the owner talked with us about the importance of small businesses and the difficulties of trying to stay in business in the shadow of mega everythings. I certainly admit to an occasional foray to Costco, but normally I try to patronize small locally owned businesses. It’s important for our economy, and it’s important for our culture. There is something satisfying about knowing that the mom and pop store will still be around with Mom or Pop personally helping you find what you need.
This coming Saturday, Maude Marks Library in Katy, TX will be highlighting local. But instead of restaurants and boutiques, they will celebrate local authors. Maude Marks Library has been very supportive of local authors, and now it’s time to thank them by donating a percentage of their proceeds back to the library. Sounds like a win-win to me. Twenty eight authors will be presenting, discussing, and selling their books. If you’re in the Houston area, come on out and meet us. We’ll get to know you, shake your hand, and sign some books. And I am pretty sure, there will be no pushing, shoving, or knocking down old ladies.

 

Write This Way To A Successful School Year

by Ellen Rothberg

I can feel it. I can taste it. I can smell it. It’s the beginning of a new school year and it’s right around the corner! Unlike a New Year’s Resolution, we don’t have to make a promise to get fit, lose ten pounds or even find a new love interest. We  just have to put on our new shoes, pack up our freshly sharpened number twos and head out, with a sense of great expectation, to find our educational fortune. Ah, but what if you are, in fact, the teacher? Or the assistant principal? Or, like me, the guidance counselor? Then we have double-duty. We must find a way to reach our returning students, while garnering a bit of self-fulfillment, a sort of “cherry-on-the-top” of the sundae that has become the Back-to-School Restaurant Week!

So, in honor of Back-to-School, Houston Restaurant Week (which is really a month), and my never-ending search for the perfect beginning of the school year pair of shoes (both stylish and able to leap small children in a single bound), I offer my top ten positive goals to increase career satisfaction and keep my mind off the donuts that will undoubtedly be lining the workroom for the next few weeks.

10. I Will Climb Every Mountain. I hiked this summer in Colorado. I am not an outdoorsy type, but I accepted the challenge. This school year, I will hike the four city blocks between my office and second grade, five, no, six times per day, even if I am not looking for a second grader.

9. I Will Let A Smile Be My Umbrella. Rainy Day Dismissals? No problem! Can’t find the extra shoes I always keep on hand. No worries. This year I will realize that dry feet are highly overrated.

8. I Will Conquer  Pink Eye. Is there an app for that? I will wash my hands until they feel like sandpaper and buy all the hand sanitizer I can find on sale at Walmart.

7. Is That a Roach or a Longhorn? Roaches in Houston are so big, we can saddle them up and ride them around the playground. This year, I will rope and tie me a big one and show him off at the Livestock Show & Rodeo.

6. I Will Know That Elvis Has Left the Building. At the same Livestock Show & Rodeo, I will sit ringside for Blake Shelton, and not in the nosebleed section. I will politely decline when he asks me to sing a duet and then gradually give in after several minutes of coaxing.

5. I will Convince the Houston Texans that Manziel is Not  Too Little to Play in the NFL. I will turn back the hands of time to the point where the Texans forgot that they needed a quarterback and offer my opinion, which they will quickly acknowledge and agree with.

4. I Will Eat at Every Houston Eatery Offering a Special Three Course Meal During Restaurant Week and I Will Not Gain Even One Pound. It’s for a good cause – feeding the homeless. This is my crazy goal list – I get to say whatever I like.

3. I Will Remind Every Politician in America That Children are the World’s Most Important Asset. They will agree with me and act accordingly when it comes to legislation affecting those seeking to enter the U.S.

2. I Will Abolish School Paperwork.

1. I Will Make a Difference in at Least One Child’s Life.

Someone please rescue me from what has become a full on nightmare of positivity! I know, I know I am totally off topic. This year, I will probably not conquer my fear of the infamous Houston tree roach, especially the one who invariably shows up in my office and then hides out just waiting to scare me. I will not conquer the mountain of paperwork haunting me at school and home. I will not learn every name of every child in my school by Halloween. I will try, though, to make a difference in the lives of my students. And that is my goal for the new school year! What’s yours?

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!