Sunday, December 30, 2007

A couple of upgrades

I spent a little time last night and this morning figuring out how to offer subscriptions to my blog, and I think I've done it. If you like, you can subscribe via e-mail, or subscribe in a reader via RSS.

I get the e-mail part but I really don't understand the RSS at all! If anyone subscribes in a reader, let me know if it works, OK?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Two articles

The Patriot Ledger ran two of my stories in this weekend's edition. The story about Jesuit author James Martin was in the family section, and a story about the afterlife of a Christmas tree was in the Home Living section.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas photos

Click here to see family photos from Christmas. You do not need to sign in to see the photos -- just click on the "View Slideshow" button.

We had a great day -- very relaxing and fun. Hope yours was the same.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Herding cats

There are reasons I decided not to try to get all three kids in one photo for our Christmas card this year. One of them is below.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas cheer, part 2

It's amazing what meeting deadlines and taking a little break will do for the psyche. I feel a delicious sense of freedom, knowing that I'm done teaching for a couple of weeks and I don't have anything else due, writing-wise, until January 2nd.

At 4 days before Christmas, there are a zillion things I could be doing, but I'm taking a break. I deserve it.

Here is Abby, on the night we went to see a small production of The Nutcracker a couple of weeks ago. She is hoping that Santa will bring her a fish, whom she plans on naming Splash Nemo Fay. She made her request in a letter addressed to "Santa Claus, North Powl." She also wants to leave him a note, just as a reminder, on Christmas Eve.

She asked me the other day why she doesn't have any jeans or khakis. The short answer, which I gave her, was that she outgrew them all. The real reason is that she's never been able to fasten the snaps, and has been resistant to working on it with us. Maybe if she's motivated by the desire to be fashionable, the fine motor skills will come along.

Here is Santa's Little Helper, Brian, opening an early present at his Grandma Fay's Christmas party last weekend. His biggest wish for Christmas is a train with tracks. I joke that he'd probably be even more thrilled with an atlas, a calculator and a Sudoku book, but will trust Santa's judgment on this one.

He keeps saying "I want to open a present!" He's singing all kinds of Christmas carols and is into candy canes, Hershey's kisses and gingerbread. He's helped me make cookies and fudge, and likes to help wrap presents, too.

And here is Santa, aka Timmy. He is hoping for a fire truck ("A quiet one," says Abby) for Christmas. His favorite book these days is Corduroy's Christmas, a lift-the-flap book that has taken up residence in our bathroom, where he can read it at leisure while he's in there on business. He was very excited this morning to see a snowplow clearing the intersection outside our house. He's fighting a little cold, which hopefully will be gone by Tuesday.

For the first time in 14 years, I don't have to sing at any masses on Christmas day. I'm really looking forward to lounging in my jammies and enjoying the kids' excitement without watching the clock. I may be a little groggy from singing the midnight mass, but that's what coffee is for.

Everything is just about perfect. Now, if I could only find the $75 worth of gift cards I've misplaced. I keep asking St. Anthony to help me out, but so far he hasn't answered me. They'll turn up, I know, but I hope they do so before Christmas rather than after.

A little musical Christmas cheer

Watch this video. As my sister wrote when she sent me the link -- it's Christmas caroling at its best!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Autism Speaks piece

Autism Speaks published my piece, A Different House Tour, on their website today. It will also be featured in tomorrow's e-Speaks newsletter. Complete with photos of Abby and Brian in both places!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Opera in Tinytown

Today's Tinytown Gazette contains a piece I wrote about an opera audition I sang this year, and what I took away from the experience. It's on page 11 of the PDF.

Suzette Martinez Standring's column is at the top of the same page. I'm thrilled to be page-mates; if it weren't for Suzette, I wouldn't be writing!

The backstory: I had enjoyed Suzette's columns in the Milton Times for some time, when I saw that she was offering a writing course through Milton Adult Ed last spring. I wanted to take the class, but then couldn't make it to the first one. She telephoned my house to encourage me to come to the next class, anyway. So I did.

And it was her help and encouragement in that course that set things in motion for me, writing-wise. Suzette is a terrific writer, and a wonderful teacher and a generous soul. I hope you enjoy her piece about the highlights of her 2007, on page 11 of the Tinytown Gazette.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An unlikely article

Click here to read my debut as a fashion writer, in the Womyn Zone section of today's Patriot Ledger. It's a story about holiday fashions, and I'm very grateful to the women in the article for their thoughts and expertise!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Something that works; something that doesn't

It's too late to wax poetic, but I did want to tell everyone about the new man in my life: Mr. Clean. That magic eraser thing that Sharon suggested really, really works. The blue graffiti on my walls is no longer, and it took off quite a few scratches and scuffs, too, with very little elbow grease.

Of course, this means I have no excuse whatsoever for scuffed walls anymore. What have I done?

In other news, the weight thing is not good. Up 2.5 pounds this past week. The combination of looming deadlines and cookie-and-fudge-making is deadly for me. I suppose there are worse substances to self-medicate with, but chocolate as my drug of choice isn't good for staying on the the weight-loss path.

I guess my self-control muscle just needs a better strengthening program.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Blue and white

'Twas two weeks before Christmas, really 'leven days
and most things were cranking along at the Fays'.
The tree was all shiny with tinsel and lights;
It stood in the corner and lit up the nights.

I started my baking today, it is true.
I'm tired already. It's quarter past two.
The snow that piled up in the yard overnight
Got Brian's bus stuck. It was quite a sight

To see the white van on the corner, all still.
It couldn't find traction to get up the hill.
I unbuckled Brian and got him inside,
and marveled that he hadn't sat there and cried.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But my two-year old, Timmy, a grin ear-to-ear.
With a dry-erase marker, so lively and quick
He'd colored my hallway. I thought I'd be sick.

Blue marker on doorjambs, on floors and on walls.
On steps and on carpets, and in my front hall.
With several choice words, to myself and to Tim,
I voiced my displeasure, with this and with him.

On Softscrub! On sponges! On 409 too!
But nothing, no, nothing would take out the blue!
The floors are OK now, the window and stairs.
But the walls are a mess, and I can't move the chairs

To cover them up, 'cause it's in my front hall.
And the passage too narrow, the spaces too small.
Perhaps this will have to be covered with paint.
'Twill be Earl's next project, because Julie's it ain't.

And now I'm recovered, from anger and wrath
and fatigue that came over me; the aftermath
of being so angry o'er nothing at all.
Someday I'll miss having my kids be so small.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pride smackdown!

Well, Mother Nature is putting a snowy blanket on my exuberance. Earl caught the morning weather report, came back into the bedroom and said "You're not going to Scituate tonight." That's where Fr. Martin's talk is -- you know, Mr. America? I'm so disappointed, but Earl is right. Unless the promised storm takes a detour, it would be foolish for me to be out on the roads. Driving in snow is one thing; driving in an intense storm packing 2-3 inches an hour is another.

I will wait to see exactly how things look this afternoon, but it seems unlikely that I'll be hearing Fr. Martin speak tonight. Maybe he will reschedule.

Perhaps this is God's little humility reminder for the day. I was getting pretty full of myself after talking with Fr. Martin (and before), thinking all kinds of thoughts about how great it is that I get to write about such a high-profile person.

Or maybe it's just the writing gods, telling me never to blog about an upcoming story again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Blog? What blog?

I haven't been writing much in this space, but it doesn't mean I haven't been writing! I guess one of the things I'm cutting down on, in my effort to simplify things this month, is blogging.

First, the weight update. I'm holding steady this week -- no gain, no loss. And I'm fine with that. If I can stay at this weight through New Year's, I can blast through the few remaining pounds in January.

The big story is writing. Things keep happening that lead me to believe I'm on the right path with this. I'm getting assignments, pieces are being published, and I have pretty steady work (from a part-time freelancer perspective.) This thing that started out as a creative outlet, and as a means to get to Houston to visit Kathleen (paying for the trip with my earnings), seems to be really taking off as a (gasp!) career. And I'm almost afraid to write that, for fear that I'll jinx it.

I'm having so much fun. I was working on a story yesterday morning, and editing what I had written the night before. I figured out a way to say something succinctly, and as I was making the change, this joy bubbled up inside me, with the thought: "I love the English language." Seriously.

I've described the writing situation like heading down a busy road and hitting all green lights. Or like God opening a door and saying, "Come on in, this is all yours. Have fun with it." It is a little strange, and wonderful, how quickly things are happening, and how much I'm enjoying it.

And although I generally don't blog about upcoming assignments, I am so tremendously excited about something I'm covering this week that I have to share. The Ledger asked if I were interested in going to a talk tomorrow night, given by a Jesuit priest. It's a busy week, and it took some juggling, but it sounded interesting, so I said yes.

Well. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know who he was, but the priest giving the talk is the Rev. James Martin, author of the book My Life with the Saints, a Publishers Weekly best book of 2006. He's a well-known writer, speaker, retreat leader, and the associate editor of America magazine, the Catholic weekly. And I have an interview with him today.

I'm feeling a little star-struck, like when I met my college friend Stephanie Blythe backstage at Symphony Hall last year after she sang with the BSO. But I knew Stephanie from years ago, and I've never met Fr. Martin. He was very nice on the phone yesterday, and willingly accommodated my request for a little more time to get my thoughts together before we talked. I'm sure the interview will be fine, and I've got a decent list of questions ready to go, but still.

So I'll be on the phone with Mr. America at 10:00 today, and meeting him tomorrow. Gosh, I love my job.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ledger article

Here's my story about Samantha Hamel, a Quincy girl suffering from Rasmussen's syndrome. A brother and sister from Plymouth, Jennifer and Michael Ahern, are helping Samantha's family with Christmas this year because of the financial toll Samantha's illness has taken on her family.

It's on page one (!) of today's Patriot Ledger.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Grinch story

Here's my story about the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, in today's Patriot Ledger.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A day off (sort of)

I have a conference with Brian's preschool teacher this morning, so Timmy and I are taking a day off from the gym. I love going to work out in the mornings, but there's something about a deliberate day off that makes me giddy, thinking of the possibilities. All that extra time! What shall I do with it?

I'd like to start my holiday baking and fudge-making, but that could lead to calorie overload. Better to put that off as long as possible. What I should do is clear a space in the living room for the Christmas tree. This involves moving several boxes of toys, rearranging the furniture and making sure appropriate electric outlets are available for the lights. And then it will involve reassuring Abby, in particular, that the arrangement is temporary, that the toys aren't gone forever, and that lots of people put up Christmas trees in their houses and everything is going to be OKAY.

This reassuring will go on for a couple of weeks. And then, when it's time to de-decorate in January, I'll have more reassuring to do.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Simplify, simplify

Thoreau had the right idea. So why is making things simple so darned hard?

I've been thinking about what I can do to simplify my life for the next few weeks, to give myself extra time to enjoy the holidays. So far I've come up with a few ideas:
  • lighten up on the menu planning. If the kids eat chicken nuggets more than once a week it's not the end of the world (right?)
  • cut my workouts short and/or exercise at home some days, rather than take the time to drive to the gym and back
  • stop cleaning the house and doing laundry (not really an option)
  • drink more caffeine and spend less time sleeping (already in place, but not a great idea, either)

But that's about it. Children still have to be cared for, music lessons taught, masses sung. I could stop taking on writing assignments until January, but that's not a smart move when I'm just starting to get some work. Besides, I really enjoy it. And I'm learning so much, both about freelancing in general, and about the topics I've been assigned.

So I'll just keep plugging away, until the week before Christmas when, in all likelihood, workouts will cease and we'll all eat chicken nuggets every day, in a dusty house with laundry piled in every corner.

Not really, but you knew that, right?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Weighting for good news?

I lost 3.6 pounds this past week, after more or less being stuck at the same weight for all of November. But does Weight Watchers share my excitement? No. They caution against losing weight too rapidly.

I'm not even following the plan all that strictly any more. Yes, I've been working out, but I eat more when I do that. Maybe so much weight came off this week as an effect of finally blasting through the plateau I was on.

At any rate, this brings my total weight loss to 14 pounds. Four more to my goal.

In other news, Christmas cards are signed and sealed. Later this week, they'll be delivered, too.

I think the reason the holidays make me feel so stressed is that all the associated activities are not in my normal pie plate. So some other pie pieces have to get smaller to make room. I'm going to spend some time this week thinking about where else I can simplify, and what I can let go, in order to keep the pie from bubbling over in the oven of a busy December.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

No flip-zing out

When I bought my 2007 planner in January, the first thing I did was to take a pencil and write the following sentence over every week between Thanksgiving and Christmas:

"I will not make myself crazy about Christmas."

This is because I was nearly certifiable by the time December 25th rolled around in 2006. It had been a crummy year, in general, but I didn't help my sanity by all the things I tried to do during the holiday season. So I decided right away, on New Years' Day, to write a reminder in my calendar, to save myself from decking the halls at McLean hospital this year.

And so far, so good. Once in a while I catch myself going overboard, like when I thought I'd use Kathleen's idea from last year and do chocolate-dipped pretzels and then decorate them, in addition to the normal baking I do for the kids' teachers and therapists around the holidays. What was I thinking? Let them eat flipz.

Of course, as I write, my printer is busily turning out my Christmas cards, which I then need to address and mail. But this may be the last year for that: I read an article in the Ledger about "green" gifts, and one suggestion for the environment was to create a virtual card and then send emails to everyone on your list with the link to the card. That may be my strategy next year. And I did simplify a bit, already, by deciding not to do a Christmas letter. I included the link to my blog on the back of the card instead.

Part of my motivation for trying to simplify things is that Christmas itself is always extra busy, because of the masses I sing on Christmas Eve and Day. So if I'm stressed out on the actual day, and also stressed out for weeks beforehand, the holiday season becomes more of a hassle than a special time. And frankly, that's how I've felt about it for the past few years. Not good, when the kiddos are really at the ages to enjoy the holiday and all the traditions (with the exception of spiked eggnog.)

So I'm making my own cards, but not stressing out because they're not perfect (neither am I.) I'll bake goodies for the special folks in our lives, but I won't fret that they're not packaged as nicely as Martha Stewart could do it. And if our Christmas tree isn't up for a couple of weeks, that's OK, too.

Wishing you a peaceful December. Take a deep, cleansing breath for me if you get a chance.