Monday, December 19, 2016

Chanukah Miracles

The sunlight is reflecting off of the metallic Chanukah decorations hanging from my windows, creating jewel-toned prisms on my walls. Every dreidel we’ve ever owned is piled into the ceramic dreidel bowl, waiting to be spun. The electric menorah, which I hate, sits in the window ready to be lit, where it will compete with the blue and white Jewish star lights our neighbor down the street has already lit. Chanukah snow globes and music boxes and candles—who decided we needed decorative candles for this holiday and why do I have them—are placed on display strategically around the house. Decorative plates are stacked, waiting for the homemade gelt, latkes and fried Oreos to be made. The only thing left to do is to put out our personal menorahs and candles when Chanukah actually arrives.

There is a fine line between decorating for this holiday and making my house look like the Chanukah fairy threw up in it. No, there’s no Chanukah fairy. Chanukah’s miracle is the oil that lasted eight days, rather than one. It’s the victory of the Maccabeas over the Greeks. And for me, it’s the fact that no matter how much people have inflated the holiday in an attempt to compete with Christmas, it still remains a non-commercialized fairly minor holiday.

That’s not to say I won’t insist on celebrating it with my family. This year, it falls over winter break and we’ve already had the discussion about whether or not the Princess can go out with her friends at night during Chanukah. My response? Of course, as long as you’re home to light the candles first. Because there’s a difference between a minor holiday and an unimportant holiday. And if we let the celebration slide, the miracles disappear.

I think we’ve taught that lesson well. It was the Princess who asked me last week when we were going to decorate for Chanukah. Sure, the “we” really meant “Mom,” but even she wants the decorations up. The wish lists were made, but it’s the traditions we’ve established that the kids talk about: making latkes from scratch, making fried Oreos, decorating, inviting friends over to celebrate with us—this year, the Princess even wants to invite her non-Jewish friends.

So I’m going to add to that list of Chanukah miracles. I’m going to add my children’s desire to celebrate the holiday, when so many other things have fallen by the wayside. That even though there aren’t a lot of gifts being opened, they’ve separated out the gift-giving from the holiday-celebrating, and they still want to participate. They’re growing up, but not out-growing, this holiday. And that’s what I will be thankful for these upcoming eight days of Chanukah.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Amazing Critique Partners

As a writer, I tend to live in my own private bubble. It’s a lovely bubble, where chocolate and coffee and tea flow freely, the people I create in my head are as close to perfect as I can get (even when they are completely imperfect with flaws), and there are no negative influences from the outside world.

But in order to make sure my books are readable (and sellable), at some point in the process, I have to step out of my bubble and show people what I’ve written.


That means letting people into the scary world that exists inside my head and hoping they come out unscathed.

Luckily for me, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several amazing critique partners along the way. And from what I understand, that’s not a normal thing.

My first critique partners, Jan and Paula, were absolutely amazing. They pointed out errors in timing, showed me where things didn’t make sense and most importantly, taught me that opening myself up to others and allowing them to read what I’ve written wasn’t nearly as horrible as I thought it would be. Beyond the benefits of being able to improve my writing, I learned that there is community to be found when sharing with other writers. I will forever be grateful to them.

My critique partner, Laurie, is a plotting genius. I tend to have a vision for one character—since I write romance, I need at least two, though. I usually have some idea of what psychological motivation the character has, but she helps me flesh out the rest of it, as well as external motivation as well. I’m geographically challenged, which apparently also carries over to writing, so I depend on her to help me get my characters from Point A to Point B, without getting lost in the weeds or forgetting about something I mentioned in chapter five. Usually a discussion over a strong cup of coffee or a thirty-minute phone conversation solves all my problems. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

Then there is my critique group. When I received a call from Miriam to join her, Lisa and Nancy as a member of her critique group, I looked at the phone, convinced she’d dialed the wrong number. These women are GOOD and I couldn’t figure out what I could possibly bring to the table. But all four of us have unique ways of looking at the same story and our critiques add dimension. Additionally, being part of a group that meets in person helps me develop a thick skin. Trust me, there is NOTHING more embarrassing than hearing parts of your sex scene read out loud and realizing they rhyme (if you can think of something more embarrassing, PLEASE tell me). Or worse, you’ve created a Gumby-like contortionist.

I still like living in my bubble and disappearing into my world that I create. But there’s nothing like writer friends who take our craft seriously, who lift each other up and who truly understand how crazy this whole process is.

Thank you to all!

Monday, December 5, 2016


I love Thanksgiving, but I’m not a big fan of going around the table and announcing what you’re thankful for. It seems a bit contrived to me, and I hate having the spotlight on me. No matter how grateful for things and people I might be, when it’s my turn, my mind goes blank.

I tried for a while to make it into a group craft project—everyone got a turkey feather and a pen, they wrote what they were grateful for, we tried to guess who said what and afterwards, I put the feathers on the turkey and had a holiday keepsake (thank you, Donna, for the idea). But this year we didn’t do it and the holiday passed without any gratefulness ritual.

However, now that Thanksgiving is past, I’d like to say what I’m grateful for (in no particular order, other than the first, I swear!)—blogging it is so much easier because no one is staring me down. J

  • I’m grateful for my husband and kids—for driving me crazy in all the best ways and never failing to make me laugh.
  • I’m grateful for a stainless-steel teapot I can’t melt (yet) and a Keurig the Princess thinks she bought for herself—both of these items keep me caffeinated, calm, warm and functioning.
  • I’m grateful for family and friends (and friends who are like family)—for the support and love they provide, even when I don’t expect it.
  • I’m grateful for beautiful sunsets—for giving me something to be grateful for when I’m convinced (temporarily) there’s nothing else.
  • I’m grateful for my writer buddies and critique partners—for never letting me give up and for completely understanding why hearing voices in my head does not necessarily mean I’m insane.
  • I’m grateful for moments of silence in the car and Monday mornings—for allowing me to rejuvenate temporarily so I can be personable and back “on” when needed.
  • I’m grateful for Twitter—for keeping me entertained during the political ruckus.
  • I’m grateful for the words of Maya Angelou, Cory Booker and Madeleine L’Engle—for always seeming to say the exact right thing at the right time.

Here’s hoping we remember to be grateful now and always, not just around the Thanksgiving table.