Networking at Its Best

As a mom, I have learned that I can and should not try to do it all alone. When we aren’t focusing on our differences and how we do things differently, moms can help each other be better moms. No one can be strong all the time; we all need someone to lean on, to help us when we are feeling uncertain, overwhelmed, or even under the weather.

I consider myself fortunate to have found my own “Mommy Network,” a group of moms who have helped me through some of the tough times. Through the years, we have done some amazing (and a little crazy) things to help each other out. We have watched each others kids and pets, agreed to be co-VPs of Fundraising at the elementary school, worked together to lead Girl Scout troops, and chaperoned school and scout trips. We have wipes noses and butts of children that are not ours and have cleaned scrapes and applied band aids. We have celebrated each others’ victories and helped pick up the pieces when things went wrong.

I have benefited from being friends with other amazing moms who have taken care of my children at critical times: when one had a high fever and needed to go to the ER, when I thought I was in labor late at night and my parents (who were on call to care for the others) were well over an hour away. They have also made it easier for me to take care of me, without having to drag kids to appointments where they would be sure to be miserable.

My most recent piece to be published, “The Mommy Network,” is over at Her View From Home. Check it out and if you like it, please share. While you are there, take a look at some of the other great pieces this wonderful community has to offer.

 

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What a Difference a Year Makes

I am sitting at my desk, with thoughts spinning around in my head. This has become a frequent reality for me and I try to scribble notes as ideas come to me. I have notebooks throughout the house, and have learned to use the memo feature in my phone. Taking a break, I see how different things are toady than just a year ago.

This time last year, I was struggling to get off the couch. I had things to get done, but no motivation to do anything. My head and my heart hurt – a lot. The summer before, I had made significant progress on a novel that I strongly believe in and had planned to complete over the winter months, before spring activities set in and took up my free time. Events and emotions conspired against me and there was simply no way that was going to happen.

Last year was a big one for changes. Several people I love no longer walk among us and my daily routine came to a screeching halt. I was forced to make adjustments, in my schedule and in my attitude. I resumed work on the novel and hit a point where I needed to take a break for a bit. Then I found an online world I had previously been unaware of. Yes, I had read the occasional article that a friend posted on Facebook, but I had used the social media mostly to be, you know, social. It was a tool to keep in touch with family and friends, to share news and photos. I didn’t even consider that there were online avenues to getting my work published.

Before I knew it, I was back into the freelance game, submitting articles to publishers, only now it is all online. There has been no printing of stories, addressing envelopes, finding stamps and the worst, waiting for weeks for an answer. My first week, I submitted four pieces and within 2 weeks had answers back on them all (three of these have been accepted for publication).

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I have plenty of rejections, most of which have been very polite, even encouraging. I have been setting weekly goals, but am not beating myself up if I do not reach them. The holidays slowed me down, so I submitted fewer pieces, but I found time to get in some scribbles which will find their way into future stories. My husband, kids and dog have been patient with me as I have been rediscovering myself and embarking on this wonderful new ride. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive family as I work toward establishing a career, a concept that until recently I couldn’t see myself having (I was content with being simply Mom).

I am trying to form a strategy, to discover new markets, in the circuitous way that I work best (think of a “Family Circus” comic strip). I am realizing that writing is not enough. I need to also be a publicist. I am reminded of the great truth, the more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know. I am learning more about social media and how to use it, both the technical know-how and the practical uses. I am getting frustrated at what I don’t know and how long it sometimes takes to learn new things. This is time that could be spent writing, which is obviously what I would rather be doing. I am coming closer to answering that question – What will I do with the rest of my life?

This week, I have a few new Facebook friends; those who I assume found one of my stories and liked it. Today I am starting a writer page to make it easier for those who want to follow what I am writing to get updates, without having to open up their Facebook lives (and family photos) to me. To make it a little more interesting, I may share some of my older blog posts for those who may not have seen them. I hope to have new material to share regularly and am appreciative of those who are sharing this journey with me, providing encouragement and inspiration. I hope that in doing this, I can reciprocate. We are all in this thing called life together.

Branching Out — On a Limb

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bird, Outer Banks, NC

Now I have done it. I caved to the pressure. I have repeatedly been told I need to expand my online presence. “Facebook is not enough,” they said. “Join us on Snapchat and Instagram,” they said. “You don’t have a Twitter account? You really must.”

Last night, I signed up for Twitter. That is all I did. Under “Your timeline” it informs me “You are now on Twitter” and the conversation begins:

“Tell your friends what’s happening.”
Well, I just got on Twitter, isn’t that obvious?
“Check your timeline.”
There is nothing there.
“Follow, Follow, Follow.”
Okay, but who do I want to follow?
“People and organizations that you are interested in.”
Easier said than done.
Then “Start now!”

Hmm, now I have an account, and a name. It seems that the first post should be something witty, something that will say something about me. Later posts can let the world know what I am doing, but don’t I need to start by giving them a reason to care? Yep, I’ve got nothing. Once I do get an idea, though, what about that limit? I do like concise writing, but that is ridiculous!

With so much out there, how do I chose who and what to follow? An obvious start for me would be authors I enjoy reading. But I will never get any work done if I follow EVERYONE I am interested in. Choosing just a few would be like picking one favorite book. And organizations? I will never have time to read everything posted!

I am not so sure I like the idea of social media bossing me around, but a valid point is made. Why bother joining if I’m not going to use it, so I guess I have to start now. Now you can find me on Twitter: @KimberlyYavo

Reading and Writing and Being Read

To be a writer, you have to be a reader. In the past two months, I have been discovering many new websites, from the mediocre to the excellent. I have read countless articles, for research purposes and for the sheer pleasure of reading (and sometimes both).

Of my recent finds, one of the really good ones is Grown and Flown, which is where my latest post has been published. Grown and Flown focuses on parenting teens through college-age. They have some great articles on their website and share relevant articles from other sources on their Facebook page.

Here is the link to my piece. http://grownandflown.com/my-empty-nest-what-surprised-me/# While you are there, you might want to check out the rest of their site.

Welcome 2016

For me, the year 2015 went out with a whimper, and 2016 arrived quietly. The past month had its challenges and we were living life, day to day, not planning too far ahead. As a result, we found ourselves with no plans for New Years and honestly, were okay with it. We spent the night in, with a nice dinner and then watching TV, switching to the busyness of New Year’s Eve in Times Square around 11:30. Midnight came and went. We listened to the neighborhood sounds and I watched fireworks from my kitchen window.

The past year had many changes. We lost several people we love. Our day to day lives changed dramatically since our youngest went off to college. I found myself without a “job” and took steps to relaunch my career. I made progress in researching my family history and (thanks to technology) found and corresponded with cousins whom I hope to meet in person this year.

Sometimes we need quiet to recharge, to get ready for what is to come. I am looking forward to 2016 and all it has to offer. This is the year I move out of my first half century and there is much I still want to accomplish.

I am happy with the start I made and excited about the idea of once again having a career. I don’t regret my choice to put it on hold; I am very happy that I was able to put all my energy into being Mommy instead of having to juggle roles. It made me a better person and gave me valuable insights (and stories to tell). I am a believer in the idea that I can have it all, just not all at the same time. If I am going to do something, I want to do it well. As I am finding myself again and redefining who I am, I am realizing that in some cases, I don’t have to choose, I can accomplish multiple goals. My plan for the year:

* Finish/fine-tune my book and find a publisher
* Continue to write and submit stories for publication
* Grow my family tree (I am back to 1800 on two lines)
* Continue to make new friends (I am meeting lots of interesting people lately)
* Reconnect with (or meet) family members and old friends
* Get outside and walk more
* Juggle my professional goals and schedule and still be accessible for my husband and kids

This all sounds manageable. I am looking forward to a good year.

Airplanes and Cake Paper

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Earlier this month, I lost a dear friend, one of those for whom the term “friend” is truly inadequate, one who feels like family, but with whom we share no blood or family ties. It was a friendship that built over time, and some people might be surprised at its depth. Elizabeth was 30 years my senior and we had little in common, yet over time, we formed a close bond.

We met Elizabeth and her husband Mike, 20 years ago when we purchased the house next door to theirs. From the start, we got along well, Mike helped Steve with some house projects (he worked with masonry) and taught me when and how to prune some of the plants in our yard. Elizabeth was more reserved. She did not speak English quite as well (they were from Italy) and at the time worked full time, so we had less interaction with her.

When Mike had a fatal heart attack, we grieved his loss. He was a good, kind man, with a ready smile. Despite not knowing how to drive, Elizabeth managed quite well for years, sometimes accepting a ride home from the grocery store if I ran into her there. She asked for the occasional ride to visit her family who lived nearby, and sometimes needed help filling out forms in English, but she was very independent. We were the happy recipients of baked goods at holidays, or when the whim struck her, and we had occasional chats over the fence if we both happened to be outside at the same time.

I don’t remember at what point it happened, but we became frequent “shopping buddies.” After the grocery store in town closed, she needed a ride to get food, so we would go together. She was also starting to have a difficult time walking distances, especially when the weather was bad, so this expanded to other stores when necessary, and we became very familiar with each other’s habits.

I got to know her usual list. My daughter is still amused at one trip, a couple years ago, where Elizabeth picked up a box of cereal and I told her, “No, that’s not the one you like,” and picked up the correct box (flakes, not O’s). I helped read expiration dates and labels (she did not care for anything spiced and when given a choice, chose the low-salt version). I got items from the upper shelves and helped to translate at the deli counter: ham, sliced thin and provolone or Swiss cheese, “the reglar one.”

It was not unusual for people to make the assumption that I was her daughter. It seemed to amuse her. She would chuckle and explain who I was, or sometimes not. When people who knew us saw us out shopping, it would often result in a comment expressing how kind I was. Although I usually smiled and responded something to the effect that I was going shopping anyway, these comments irritated me. I was not making any great sacrifice, plus, I genuinely enjoyed her company. On some of the occasions I went alone, I actually missed her. (This irritation carried over to recent months, when I brought her list with me and asked the cashier to make two separate orders. I stopped explaining why.)

Over the years, she has had several health issues. On more than one occasion, she called me over to her house when she was not feeling well. Once, she asked me to call and make an appointment with a new doctor. I then accompanied her on this visit and helped her complete the necessary forms, which of course were in English. The trust she had in me was complete. I felt honored. Her being of a generation who usually is close-lipped about such things, I was caught off guard, but if anything, it made me even more protective of her.

I became much more aware of what it must be like to move to another place. She had lived in the U.S. for most of her life, but still had a thick accent, so there was a language barrier (the other neighbors didn’t understand most of what she said). Living in a small town, she had developed relationships with some local businesses, which helped, but there were still times that her frustration grew when she was not understood. Many people don’t even try, which angered me, sometimes more than it did her. I found myself increasingly worrying about her safety and about being taken advantage of.

We would talk in the car, about our families, what was going on in the world and I learned a great deal about her. She was the oldest child. She had a sister still in Italy whom she loved and missed dearly. She liked to visit her sister, but had no interest in moving back to Italy. I already knew she had two brothers who live nearby (I have driven her to visit them at their barber shop, which is where my husband goes to get his hair cut). I heard about her nieces and nephews and their kids and holiday gatherings and vacations. She was fond of my dog, but Mike didn’t like dogs, so she would never get one. She gave me some recipes (fortunately they were easy enough to remember as I could not write them down while driving).

On occasion, she would call, just to see if we were all okay. When we were waiting to see what Hurricane Sandy was going to do, she was nervous and asked to come over. She brought a recipe and ingredients and we made a delicious apple cake (this recipe I wrote down, as she carefully dictated). That night, the power went out, and stayed out, for several days. With no light, television, or heat, we all gathered in front of our fireplace the next couple days.

This past spring, health concerns stopped her from any shopping trips at all. This concerned me, and I worried that her days were passing faster than I was prepared for. For the latter half of the year, my weekly trip had two lists, mine and hers. All those earlier shopping trips together paid off. When she told me what she needed, I knew (mostly) what she wanted. There was occasionally some confusion. Over the summer, there was one item she wanted me to pick up which I could not decipher. It sounded like she wanted “airplanes” to slice thin and bake, like lasagna. It took me a couple weeks, then it hit me, she wanted eggplant! One two occasions, she asked for “cake paper.” I erroneously interpreted this as parchment paper, which is what she got the firs time. She never told me I had gotten it wrong (perhaps she didn’t know what I had bought) and the next time, after much talking through it, I realized she wanted cupcake liners. We continued this verbal “charades” on a weekly basis, with me sometimes having to ask not quite 20 questions (What color is it? Is it a fruit? How do you cook it?) to get the shopping list correct.

Around Thanksgiving, there was marked improvement in her health and she and I talked about how, in the not so distant future, we would be able to resume our weekly outings. We were away Thanksgiving week, so the week following was filled with laundry, catching up errands and Christmas prep. By the end of the week, I hadn’t heard from her and was getting concerned. When I noticed no lights on at her house, I contacted her niece to see if everything was okay. On occasion, she would go stay with her family, but something seemed off this time. The news I got back was not good. She was in the hospital, and Monday, I went to go visit. The prognosis was not good, but she was awake and aware and we were able to talk a little bit. I left with the promise to come back in a couple days. The next morning, her niece called to tell me she had taken a turn for the worse. My husband and I went to visit that night and she passed quietly several hours later.

I miss her. I have not yet gone into our local grocery store, mostly in fear that I will break down crying in the jelly aisle (where I would check to make sure the one she picked up was blueberry and not mixed berry) or at the sight of the eggplants in the produce section. I have been shopping in different stores (where we live there are a lot to choose from) and know I will be back to that one, just not yet.

A few days later, I woke from a dream. She and Mike were both there and she was telling me how she was going to miss me. It was one of those particularly vivid dreams and I awoke crying. It is some comfort knowing that she is once again with him. Each year, around the anniversary of his death, she would sit on her porch or on her back steps, looking sad. It was heartbreaking to see her this way and I felt helpless, wanting to comfort her, but knowing there was no way to take away her pain. She was in a great deal of pain when I last saw her. I am thankful that I made it to the hospital, to say goodbye and tell her I love her. I know that she is now in a better place and am honored to know that she called me family.

I recently submitted a piece to Bonbon Break in answer to a call for writing about “Giving.” I considered the season and the very commercialized circus it has become, with holiday displays showing up even before school starts and the frantic, not-always-pleasant exchanges brought on by the pursuit of happiness in the form of excess. This year, more than most, I am focusing on the simple and looking forward to a peaceful, joyful Christmas. With this in mind, I put this simple piece together. I was very happy to get the news that the editor liked it, and just this morning, it was published in Bonbon Break’s “Family Room.”

This month’s posts are sponsored by Water Aid, an organization dedicated to helping poor communities gain access to safe water and sanitation. Here in the US, we take many things for granted, among those is having fresh water, with minimal walking or effort required to use it. Many other places in the world are not so fortunate and this lack of clean, safe water contributes to the sickness and death of millions of people each year (most of these are children). This is the first time I have heard of Water Aid, which has been working to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene since 1981. I like that their approach is akin to “teaching a man to fish,” working with communities using various technologies, specific to their needs. You can learn more about them at http://www.wateraid.org.

Please click on over to Bonbon Break and take a look. While you are there, you might want to check out the rest of the site. There are some great holiday recipes and ideas for making the holiday season special.

http://www.bonbonbreak.com/take-down-notch-christmas/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork