Romancing family: a surprise birthday visit to Paris underway

I kissed my hubby goodbye February 15th.  He’s on a mission to intercept his father and SURPRISE him for his 75th birthday.The kicker? His father’s in PARIS on a weekend trip with his girlfriend.  And he doesn’t know his son’s about to surprise … Continue reading

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“He asked me to be his Valentine, Mommy. What do I tell him?”

My twelve-year-old posed this question.  With the days of the sparkly Valentine’s box and confetti-decorated, pink cupcakes mostly behind us, I pondered my own questions. Who is this boy? What is he like? What does it mean to be someone’s … Continue reading

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Have you had an Accidental Speed Dial Moment? Here’s my favorite.

I accidentally hit speed dial the other day. To my grandmother.  She’s been dead now 4-5 five years. Seems impossible. You’d think I’d clean up my phone. Remove the speed dials that don’t work anymore. But I can’t. I love … Continue reading

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Just a Parenting Moment: Thoughts on Teenage Relationships

My soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old daughter is gearing up for a boyfriend upgrade. I must confess I liked version 1.0. Despite the fact that he ate only Mac-N-Cheese and Mac-without-the cheese, I was sad to see this gentlemanly scholar-athlete parked in the friend … Continue reading

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Book Talk with What Not to Wear’s Style Guru Stacy London

“Writing this book was a labor of love. Emphasis on labor,” Stacy London said in a recent book talk she gave in my town about her newly released title: The Truth About Style. “I gained 15 pounds. I adore my … Continue reading

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Presidential Encounters

  “President who?  Mommy, who are we going to see tonight?” My youngest asked. “Rich Carmona and President Clinton,” I said, trying to remember if her childhood presidents’ place mat, recently surrendered to the Goodwill—with its list of presidents and … Continue reading

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Writing Moments that Matter

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.

  -
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

The Spaghetti Trick

Have you ever done the spaghetti trick to see if your pasta is cooked?  You throw it against the wall and see what sticks, right?

Writing memoir is like that.

When things happen in life, at first it all seems to stick. Like last week’s thunderous monsoon downpours or how sweet and grownup my daughter looked as she left on a date.

But, as time passes, the keeper moments—the moments that matter—are the ones most likely found still stuck on the wall of memory. My early keeper moments include blowing bubbles with my father on our porch as a child. Or, hot-wiring my car in my teen years, so I could “steal” it from the repair shop, which was always closed.

These moments stuck, because they are part of a larger narrative about character. As you begin jotting down your memories, soon you will find ideas and themes that connect them. At first blush, the anecdote about my father and bubbles is an everyday image. But let’s dig deeper.

Digging In

My father made blowing bubbles memorable because he made humongous homemade glycerin and dish-soap bubbles, blowing them through coat hanger hoops. As a child I could almost climb inside of them.

But, more importantly, I remember the story he always told with the bubbles.

One day Renee was swept up by a giant bubble. She travelled around the world: saw the Great Wall of China, the African deserts, polar bears in Alaska…until one day she found herself floating near home and a red-tail hawk flew next to her guiding her home.

This story stuck with me. As I grew, my father took me to many amazing places and introduced me to different cultures.  Hence the bubble story becomes a pivotal childhood story that helped shape and inform my experiences and my character. Likewise, hotwiring my car shows my determination and get-it-done-ness.

Start with an Episode

Your story or memoir may not begin with a childhood memory, but these memories are great to mine for episodes that inform your larger story. My memoir involves my struggle for independence from my father. But, I did this by testing my mettle and coming of age in the harsh wilderness of Alaska.

My memoir doesn’t open with my father making bubbles. But the first drafts of my memoir did, if only because I limited myself to writing in chronology.

I later sliced and diced my chronological writings into chapters based largely on the structure of a year, organized by themes such as “The Honey Bucket,” about the physical and sometimes humorous demands of wilderness living, or a “Another North Country Malady,” a spring chapter about cabin fever and personal conflict.

According to editor Mary Holden and Literary Agent Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli, since my memoir was about me in Alaska that’s where it needed to start. After rearranging my chapters by episodes or themes, I found a place in the middle of the book where my father visits me to include the bubble story as a flashback.

Getting a Taste

Discover what life episodes shape you with the following exercises:

1.)  Consider your favorite children’s books.  What insights do they offer about life?

2.)  Think of a handful of important events that stand out in your life. Why do you remember these events? Why are they important to who you are now?

Write well,[1]

Renee

[1] well, adjective

1. in good health; sound in body and mind: Are you well? He is a well man.  2. satisfactory, pleasing, or good: All is well with us.

 


 

Writer’s Notebook: Summer Writing

A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen. -Edward deBono Some of you may have felt my summer silence.  There have been a lot of moments that matter and little time to consider how they would fall into the … Continue reading

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Family Orchard

Nothing for me, unpacks homegrown memory like apples. And my dad jogged that memory by bringing a box of apples from Western New York this May. I grew up in an apple orchard. There is a picture of me as … Continue reading

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Scorpions in the Shower

Yesterday, I had the kind of day that included:

• a 7 AM parking lot tutoring session for daughter #1

• the announcement: “Mommy, I tied a cherry stem with my tongue…” (–for the 7th time. We’re going for ten. Every talent counts.)

• early school drop-off both girls

• a gym run to attempt to squeeze an hour work out into 30 minutes

• helping 6th grade tie dye (and I didn’t get any on me!)

• chiropractic

• interviewing a state representative, who stopped our interview to ask if we could pray

• tutoring again

• the 20th reminder: “Red Vines are not a food group.”

• meeting with a doctor/state representative and group of women to understand what the legislature has done to women’s health rights (this list is too small and nice to get into this here…)

• shooing the dog off the top of the table when she thought lights out meant the pastries were fair game

• thoughts of a Margarita, rocks and ice, the whole nine yards

At least by midnight there were no more scorpions in the shower.