Good News: A Birthday for the 🐕


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It’s my son’s birthday on Thursday. I wrote this story a few years ago when he was still in college and Spring Break aligned with his birthday. It was always a treat that he could be home and we’d all celebrate. 

I can’t help but get sentimental and nostalgic for when he was a young boy. He called me “sweetheart” because he thought it was my name. When we went to “Mommy and Me” at the Palm Springs Pavilion, there was a “good-bye” song at the end of each session. When his name was called, he’d toddle to the teacher and plant a kiss on her cheek. He was so sweet. Still is.

robert 1In honor of his birthday, I’m posting a story I wrote when he invited 50 kids to his second grade party. Originally published in the Los Angeles Times Kids’ Reading Room, it’s about Angus our yellow lab of 15 years, who shared my son’s birthday.

A Birthday for the Dogs

“MOM, I’m inviting 50 kids to my party.”

“What, Robert?” Mom said. “That’s too many. Do you know 50 kids?”

I sat in the back seat while Mom drove home after school. My eighth birthday was in two weeks. 

“There’s my class, plus Cub Scouts, and playgroup.”

“I can’t afford to take 50 kids skating or bowling. And I don’t want 50 kids in my house. What about the city pool? It’s heated, open year-round, and it’s only 50¢ a kid,” Mom said.

“A swim party, that’s cool!” I said.

“I’ll say yes to the party, but no to presents. Fifty presents is too much for one 8-year-old. It’s decadent.”

“What’s decadent?” I asked. Mom used words I didn’t know.

“Self-indulgent, corrupt.”

I sat silently and thought I’d be sad with no presents. Then I remembered Angus. Mom got him for me as an early birthday present. We were on a waiting list for two years with Guide Dogs of the Desert. He was being trained as a companion dog for people who couldn’t see. We got him because he had poor hips and couldn’t be a working dog. Angus was big, yellow, and I loved him. We shared the same birthday.

“I have a great idea!”

“What?” Mom asked, glancing at me in her rearview mirror.

“I’ll ask for money for Guide Dogs of the Desert.”

“Ah?” Mom made a weird swallowing noise.

“It’s Angus’s birthday, too.”

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In the rearview mirror I watched Mom dab at the corner of her eyes with a tissue, and nod her head in agreement.

Two weeks later, I had a great birthday. Fifty kids came with bathing suits, towels and money. Instead of opening presents after cake, we counted dollars they had stuffed into a large jar decorated with photos of Angus. 

Together, we raised more than $1,600 for Guide Dogs. Mom called me a “philanthropist” – whatever that is.

Angus8Happy birthday, son! We miss you, Angus!

Day One of “Shelter in Place”

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Views from my neighborhood park.

I was pretty shaken up yesterday, but I’m pleased to report that I’m doing better today. I got my full walk in around the park and neighborhood before the rain started. I got to see a favorite neighbor of mine and chat while standing six feet apart. He said, “We’ll get through this.”

I got assigned a couple magazine stories by an editor and I think that helped me the most. I have a tight deadline and had to get busy. That kept me from turning on the news, watching the DOW, and reading all the headlines on the web rather than writing.

Life is pretty much the same for me as it is most days. I walk and then work from home. It’s nice to know my daughter is in the guest room working from home, too, right down the hall. My son is in the Bay Area and he’s under the same orders to shelter in place. He’s calling everyday to let me know he’s okay. I really appreciate that.

We will get through this. We have so many uncertainties ahead of us. That’s what gets me anxious. I try work through all the possibilities of what COULD happen and it gets me scared. It’s much better to stay busy at home while we are “sheltering in place.”

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This cutie pie came home with my daughter. He and the cat are practicing social distancing.

What are you doing with your time if you’ve been asked to stay in your home?

How Needs and Wants Apply to Writing

 

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My writing expert a few years ago.

When my kids were in Catholic elementary school, a teacher explained the difference between needs and wants to them. I remember being impressed with how the teacher brought this lesson down to their age level and it was something that I hadn’t thought about explaining to my kids. Yet, it’s such a crucial life lesson. When you’re raising kids, they often have a lot of things they “need.” They want to fit in with their peers and when one friend gets the latest whatever, they feel they need it, too.

When my kids told me they “needed” a colorful iPod mini or a deck of Pokemon cards I could answer smugly, “Is this something you need—or something you want?”

I pretty much think they still believed it was something they needed.

I had a conversation with my son two years ago about needs and wants. I was telling him how I was struggling with a rewrite of a mid-grade novel but was beginning to have a break-through. I hired an editor to review my manuscript and the main thread of advice was to add depth to my main characters. I have a “good” protagonist and an “evil” antagonist. It’s a book about friendships and growth in character, yet my characters are pretty shallow and flimsy. My son—brilliant person that he is—suggested I look at their “needs” and “wants.”

Seriously? The child who “needed” so many material things is now lecturing me on “needs and wants?” Yes, he is and in literature, he explained, needs and wants take on a subtle but different meaning. I found a good article “What your character wants versus what they need” from the Novel Factory. Here’s an excerpt:

What your character wants
We all want something. Some of us crave power, others long for heaps of cash, others want five minutes of fame. Some of us dream of having a baby, or a picture perfect wedding. Then of course there are more specific goals, like to win Countdown, to meet David Attenborough or to bake the perfect flan.

At the outset of your novel, you need to establish what it is your character wants – what it is that they are pursuing? What do they believe will give them a feeling of satisfaction?

What your character needs
However, there is something else under the surface, and that is what your character needs.

There are very few things human beings actually need, in order to be happy, and most of the things we fixate on wanting only obscure the really important things.

The things we need can usually be distilled to one thing: love.

This bit of advice from my son was eye-opening. I truly love my kids and his interest and expertise as a Lit major have helped me.

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Back when needs and wants were simple.

Have you explained to your kids about needs and wants? If you’re a writer, how do you use needs and wants to enrich your characters?

 

How do you not “overwork” from home?

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Back when I was working from home as a stay-at-home mom with my first-born child.

Working from home is something I’ve done for years. At first, I had what is now our guest room dedicated as my office for my sole proprietor public relations and marketing biz. That’s why the kids called it the “computer room” when they were little.  I had a desktop Apple IIc something computer and heavy-weight laser printer. Back then, I also had a fax machine and a separate phone line for my work.

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This looks like the very first Mac in my home office.

My downfall with that venture was not knowing when to stop. Even though I had a separate work space, I couldn’t stop working. I had a client who loved to call me after 6 p.m. and give me work that had to be done by morning — and they were my main client! Also, this was pre-email days and internet. I had to transfer files to the people who changed my files to film over a modem. Then the film had to be picked up from these mom and pop shops and I drove them to the printer. I’m talking newsletters, flyers, brochures and veloxes for newspapers. Can you imagine that?

I’d wake up throughout the night and to make sure the files transferred from my modem to the film person’s modem. Sometimes a newsletter or ad file would take six or seven hours to transfer.

How things have changed from the early 1990s! Prior to that it, was a Selectric IBM typewriter I used and hand delivered copy to a print shop who then had to retype it all into columns, lay it out with my photos or artwork, give me a rough copy and finally a blueline to proof before going to print. Things are so much easier these days.

I’m still working from home and everything is so much quicker and convenient with emails and the internet. But the question still remains, how do I guard my time and not work all the time?

What’s a blueline you might ask if you weren’t alive back in the olden days? Here’s the definition I got from googling it from Dictionary.com:

blueline

bloo-lahyn ]SHOW IPA

nounPrinting.

a print made on light-sensitive paper and used as a proof for checking the position of stripped-up negatives or positives and copy prior to platemaking.
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What are your solutions for separating a life from working hours when you work from home?

 

Did you know gratitude can make us healthier?

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I’m grateful for these two.

I started an evening gratitude journal, which includes an exercise known as “Three Blessings.” Every evening, I write three things I’m thankful for that happened during the day. They may be little things, like something beautiful I saw on a walk, or bigger like a new writing job referral. Then after each, I explain why the moment happened. It’s an exercise I learned about from a book called “Flourish” by Martin E.P. Seligman. He says in his book that this exercise has been proven to be just as effective as taking anti-depressants in fighting depression! I find it as a nice way to get grounded after a busy day and reflect on everything that is going well.

I try to have an attitude of gratitude. I didn’t realize how many benefits being grateful brings to your life until I read “Gratitude yields health and social benefits” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Here’s what they had to say:

Positive emotions such as gratitude open our minds.

With Thanksgiving having passed, we may want a jump start on our New Year’s resolutions. Research shows such a long list of health and social benefits that families might want to focus on cultivating an attitude of gratitude all year long.

Researchers at Northeastern University found that grateful people are more likely to be patient and make wiser decisions.

Gratitude also makes us more likely to take better care of ourselves. In one psychology journal, a study showed that a grateful attitude correlated to a greater willingness to eat healthier foods, exercise more and go to the doctor. Some research even shows that being appreciative boosts willpower.

Counting our blessings before bedtime can also translate to better sleep. One researcher said it may help soothe the nervous system. Not only can gratitude improve our quality of sleep, it can also help us fall asleep faster and sleep longer.

The health benefits of gratitude can’t be overstated. It’s been shown to decrease physical pain, reduce symptoms associated with depression, decrease blood pressure and boost energy levels. In fact, simply cultivating a lifestyle of gratitude can add an average of seven years to your lifespan.

Being grateful also makes us more resilient, less envious, more optimistic, kinder and more social. It’s no wonder that the more grateful a person is, the more likely the person is to have strong social connections, healthier marriages, larger friendship circles and improved networking skills.

Not only does gratitude have the power to transform our health, our social lives and our careers, it can transform our personalities. Research shows that gratitude contributes to a wide range of positive character traits. It makes us humble and it makes us more generous. Together, these traits combat entitlement and self-centeredness. Grateful people are more willing and able to focus on others and can therefore contribute more broadly to their communities.

We the parents have both the opportunity and the obligation to raise children who will have a positive and transformative effect on the future. As we focus on grooming an attitude of gratitude in our kids, we are not only improving their own quality of life but we are helping to change the world one child at a time.

I do believe it’s our duty as parents to instill gratitude as a trait our kids should embrace. One way is to start a gratitude journal. Another tip is to ask your children at dinner or bedtime to name three things they’re grateful for. In the book I’m reading called “Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance” by Julia Cameron, has exercises to list 10 things you cherish. Another day there I was asked to write 10 things I’m thankful for. It’s not a bad thing to do. By the way, I gave my husband a journal of gratitude and he’s enjoying writing a few things each day.

As parents, I think we need to let our kids and family know how much they mean to us. It’s that time of year!

What are you most grateful for in your life?

What does CA have against freelance writers?

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The view from my freelance writer’s life.

I am a freelance writer. Obviously, I’m not writing to get rich. I’m doing it because I love it. I don’t need the state of California to dictate who I submit articles to nor how often. But in a new bill, AB 5 that will be law in January, they are destroying the freelance writing business.

In an article by Katie Kilkenny in The Hollywood Reporter called “Everybody Is Freaking Out”: Freelance Writers Scramble to Make Sense of New California Law, she spells out some of the confusion and frustration over AB 5. The real intent of AB 5 was to get rid of the gig economy — in particular Lyft and Uber drivers — and force people to join unions. That’s the bottom line.

A new bill that caps freelance submissions may make writing financially unsustainable for many workers even though the legislator behind the law insists that the goal is “to create new good jobs and a livable, sustainable wage job.”

California-based freelance writer Arianna Jeret recently learned about Assembly Bill 5 and is now concerned she and her colleagues in CA may soon be speaking about their jobs in the past tense.

Jeret, who contributes to relationship websites YourTango.com and The Good Men Project, says freelance writing has helped support her two children and handle their different school schedules. Her current gigs — covering mental health, lifestyle and entertainment — allow her to work from home, from the office and even from her children’s various appointments. “There were just all of these benefits for my ability to still be an active parent in my kids’ lives and also support us financially that I just couldn’t find anywhere in a steady job with anybody,” she says.

Jeret is now coming to terms with how her lifestyle will change come Jan. 1, when AB 5, California legislation aimed directly at the gig economy that was signed into law Sept. 18, will go into effect.

The bill, which cracks down on companies — like ride-sharing giants Lyft and Uber — that misclassify would-be employees as independent contractors, has been percolating through the California legislative system for nearly a year. It codifies the 2018 Dynamex decision by the State Supreme Court while carving out some exemptions for specific professions.

I worked at jobs with benefits for years before deciding to stay home and work as a contract employee. I did this when I became a mother. My husband had benefits from his job, so I no longer had to worry about health insurance, etc. I had the freedom to stay home and write. I’ve written for PR firms, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and worked on non fiction and fiction manuscripts. I’ve had enormous freedom in my writing career to juggle it with motherhood and volunteering. Sometimes writing took a back seat. And that’s okay. It was all my choice. 

Freelancers have different reasons for not being full-time or part-time employees. They know what the benefits are as well as the drawbacks. Why doesn’t the state want us to decide what fits our lives best? Why do they think they know better?

AB 5 came up with a number of 35 submissions to a single publication, or you’re considered an employee. And you have to join the union, too. So how did the State of CA come up with that number?

As for how lawmakers settled on the 35-submission figure, Gonzalez says that she and her team decided that a weekly columnist sounded like a part-time worker and so halved that worker’s yearly submissions. After protest from some freelancers, the number was bumped up to 35. “Was it a little arbitrary? Yeah. Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary,” she says.

Still, labor experts and freelancers alike are skeptical that the desired outcome of AB 5 — that newsrooms will hire California-based freelancers as part-time or full-time employees — will be achieved in the short term, especially as the news media continues to face major challenges to its business (in September, Business Insider estimated that 7,200 workers have lost their media jobs so far this year). Many publications that employ California freelancers aren’t based in the state and it’s not clear how AB 5 will affect them. Still, some are choosing to opt out entirely. Indeed, several freelance writers who spoke to THR say that various out-of-state employers — some with offices in California — have already told them they’re cutting ties with California freelancers.

What’s especially disheartening about this bill is that is was written by someone who doesn’t understand the industry at all. They have no idea how their law is going to affect the media industry.

I’d love to hear from other freelancers about their thoughts on AB 5.

It’s the basic things that count — like vision

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Sunrise view on my morning walk yesterday.

I’ve spent one week at home mostly blind. If you could see me as I type on my laptop, my nose almost brushes the screen and my shoulders are hunched in a painful position. I’m going to the eye doctor tomorrow for a check up and to hopefully schedule eye surgery, if my vision has “settled down.”

I know I’m too young for cataracts. But I’ve got them and they have to go. In the meantime until my surgery, I can’t wear my contact lenses that I see so-so okay with. Instead, I’ve got on my thick glasses that are severely scratched and are an outdated Rx. You can read about my missing glasses here. Hence I’m putting my nose against the computer screen. I’m trying to work and continue to write, but it’s slow going. I’m on day nine of this, but who’s counting?

I can’t drive, but I got really adventurous one day and took Lyft to my local grocery store. Oh boy! What excitement. Of course, I couldn’t read the signs above the aisles, or see the products on shelves until I stuck my nose up against them. Thankfully, I know our store so I managed to find a few things I needed. I was excited to successfully complete the outing on my own — and not depend on my husband or friends for my daily survival!

The highlight of my day is my morning walk. I’m leaving earlier and earlier to avoid the heat and I’m treated with glorious sunrises — that even I can see. After my walk, I jump into our pool and kick several laps. It’s not a bad way to start the day. I keep confusing signs and posts in the park for people and dogs, but other than that, I can make it around the park and back home in one piece.

I can’t wait for surgery and to recover my vision. As bad as my vision was, I took it for granted.

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What are some of the basics in your life that you’ve taken for granted — and then had to do without?