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Happy New Year!

I haven’t been writing much lately. After two solid years of working hard on my first novel (which came only after three continuous years of work on said novel), followed by the novel not selling, and then my second novel (which remains unfinished), I finally petered out. I needed a break, and I’m taking it. Now, and for the foreseeable future. And boy, does it feel good! This past fall was really, really rough. My oldest had a stressful start to kindergarten, I discovered I no longer have an agent, my entire family was sick for weeks and weeks…and I needed exactly no more things on my plate. I started cutting things left and right. So what have I been up to? For starters, I’ve discovered embroidery. When I was a kid, I did a lot of cross stitch. I mean, a LOT. My mother was very crafty–she did everything from stained glass to copper punching to drawing to quilting to basket weaving–and she did oodles of cross stitch. So naturally I did it, too. I did a little of everything she did. And even though I hadn’t done any needlework in probably 25 years, and I’ve never done embroidery…

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How to teach boys not to be rapists

I love this article. It astonishes me, especially in this current climate of Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly and Bill Cosby and Louis CK and Donald Trump and…well. I don’t need to keep going, do I? Anyway, it astonishes me that people don’t see where sexually inappropriate behavior starts. It starts in PRESCHOOL. When little boys learn that it’s okay to use their bodies to do something to the bodies of other children (girls OR boys) that other children do not want, it’s the perfect set-up for them to grow up to be sexually inappropriate. When my oldest, who is six, wants to hug his toddler brother and his brother doesn’t want it, I never, ever say to the toddler, “Oh, be nice. Your brother just wants to hug you.” Instead, it’s an opportunity for me to teach my oldest that when someone says no with their words and/or their bodies, he must back off. I can offer to hug him, or he can go hug his dad. And sometimes, the lesson is: no one wants a hug right now. You might have to wait for one later. And my toddler gets to practice already too. He has befriended a…

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What the Health

Last night, I watched What the Health, a documentary about the state of American health and the American diet. It was well worth watching. I’ve been a vegetarian for 17 years. I quit eating animals when I discovered how meat was produced in this country; back in the early aughts, the plight of factory-farm animals was still well-hidden and not part of the public conscience. I was completely shocked when I stumbled onto a book at the library and learned all about the abuse that animals suffered, and I realized it was quite hypocritical of me to be a devoted dog lover while also scarfing chicken salad for lunch. I became a vegetarian in a single day. It shouldn’t be surprising that there are serious health benefits to eliminating animal products from one’s diet (I don’t eat dairy, either…but I do occasionally bake with eggs and cook them.) Or maybe it IS surprising, given the fact that the government is in bed with every single animal-product industry, and even our “health organizations” like the American Diabetes Association promotes the consumption of dairy and meat, even though consumption of each are well-documented via studies to increase a person’s chances for getting…

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Reminiscing

I went to Italy for the first time seven years ago this month. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed. Since then, I’ve married and had two beautiful little boys (one was a twinkle in the eye of my then-boyfriend and me on that trip, where we decided that when we got home, we would move in together and get pregnant. How impossible and far away that seems now!). I’ve written a novel that, alas, did not sell, and am nearly finished with a second novel. I’ve published piles of essays and gone to Italy a second time, this time with my husband and sons. I’ve kept meeting with my writing group for all of those seven years. I’ve made new friends. Life has marched along, full of its dramas and tragedies. But…Florence will always always hold a special place in my heart. I went with friends, to a creativity conference, when I was still coming to terms with the idea of just wanting to be a writer. The air is different in Florence. It is somehow both light and intense, lemony and astringent and concentrated. It smells of dust, and of the Arno, which is an unpleasant…

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Bread Loaf in Sicily

It’s been almost a month since I arrived in Erice for Bread Loaf in Sicily. I wish my pictures could somehow encapsulate the magic that was our conference and this special place. I wasn’t terribly excited about this place before I left; the photos on the Bread Loaf site all looked very, well, brown. I love the rest of Italy, with its lush, verdant landscapes, and this seemed so unattractive. I’m glad I allowed myself to trust the Bread Loaf name; it did not disappoint. Erice is a small, medieval town almost 2500 feet above sea level. Each morning, I woke up to the stunning view above, and I felt myself unwind and go still inside every time I took in that view. It was a balm for my soul. The town is very quiet. There’s little traffic, and only the soft sound of the wind accompanied me on my walks. We were in the clouds every day–they floated past my head, and once I had the delightful experience of getting caught in the rain while in the clouds. It was completely different from any rain I’ve ever felt! The conference itself was intense and wonderful and enlightening. I felt energized to…

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Oh, the places we’ll go

I camped a lot as a kid. My parents started us off tent camping as babies (can you imagine?), but when I was ten or eleven, they bought a pop-up camper. We went everywhere with that thing bopping along behind my dad’s truck. We drove up and down the length of New England, all the way up to Maine and down to Key Largo (from Toledo) multiple times, to the Outer Banks, to northern Michigan. My mother planned all our trips, and recently told me that they often set out with only a few hundred dollars and a destination in mind. We found some of the most lovely campgrounds, and saw a good bit of the country this way. My fondest memories of my childhood all come from our camping trips. My husband and I bought an RV a couple months ago, and I am so excited that we now we get to continue that tradition with our own children. The first trip–only an hour and a half away–wasn’t easy. It was 90 degrees, a thousand percent humidity, and the campground was in a rather bare state park with nothing fun for the kids to do. The baby had a…

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Why I don’t watch TV

I read a really eye-opening statistic last night, courtesy of A.C. Nielsen: by the age of 65, the average American has spent nine years watching television. Nine years. Four hours per day adds up to two full months of TV-watching every year. Two months! I don’t know if I can adequately describe how those numbers took my breath away. At the risk of sounding extremely sanctimonious, I don’t watch television (not online and not on my regular TV). Very occasionally I will indulge in a few episodes of something, but that literally happens maybe twice a year. I also don’t let my children watch TV shows. This is not because I want to be a holier-than-thou mother who looks down her nose at the common folk who let their children rot their brains on cartoons, but because I don’t watch it myself. My oldest is almost five years old, and I’m glad that he doesn’t have any “regular shows” (they always ask this when we get his hair cut, so they can put one of his “regular shows” on to entertain him, like they do with all kids). It doesn’t even occur to me to turn on the TV or…

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Practice practice practice

I recently finished a mindfulness-based stress reduction class. I’ve been a spotty meditator for years but have never been able to commit to a daily practice because, well, meditation is hard. I also knew that the originator of MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn, requires his students to meditate for 45 minutes a day, six days a week during the class. Frankly, that scared me. I have so little time as it is–especially time when I am not being interrupted continually by children–that the thought of sacrificing nearly an hour a day to doing NOTHING just frightened me. But I also knew that when I meditated, I felt better. And I want to be able to do hard things, things my brain tells me I can’t do. So I signed up for an MBSR class as my birthday present to myself. The class, which I took through a local hospital, ran for eight weeks. We learned a variety of meditation techniques, including the body scan, mindful eating, yoga, walking meditation and traditional sitting meditation. We also learned informal practices that we could use all day in our daily lives. We started off only doing formal meditation for ten minutes a day in the first class–very…

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