If you’re reading this, you might be wondering why I haven’t been blogging much. Well, aside from being kept fairly busy with my freelance writing business, I’ve also been working on a new website and blog. While I’ve enjoyed my time with my WordPress.com site here, I thought it might be advantageous to move my content over to a new site. While it’s still being worked on (I’m rehashing some of my favorite old blog posts from this site while simultaneously working on new content), you’re definitely welcome to drop by and visit and leave me your comments on what more you’d like to see.
If you’re subscribed to this blog, I would absolutely love it if you’d now subscribe to my new website. I promise you won’t receive spam or offers to give you part of some inheritance from Ethiopian royalty in exchange for your bank account info or anything. Just the occasional “Here’s what’s going on in the blog!”
Thanksgiving is coming up and I have been busy as hell these days, so you’ll forgive me that I haven’t updated as often as I’d like. Most of my writing lately is going up on Romper (the new sister site to Bustle) and Hello Giggles, though I’m working on publishing a few spec pieces elsewhere too. So is the life of the freelancer.
Anyway, I thought I would do something fun here and write up a quick piece on 7 thanksgiving day-related things that I’m thankful for because I have become something of a pro at listicles. So here goes!
If you’ve never heard this amazing song by Arlo Guthrie about how he inadvertently dodged the draft during the 1960s, do yourself a favor and listen now. It’s long (about 18 minutes, to be exact) but also entertaining as hell. A great tune to play while driving to or preparing Thanksgiving dinner.
My Mama Adilia’s Potato Salad
When I was a child, we frequently gathered for Thanksgiving (and Christmas and New Years) at my aunt’s and grandmother’s house. My Mama Adilia (which is what my grandma liked being called) always whipped up this phenomenal potato salad, the likes of which I’ve never eaten anywhere else. Potatoes, mayo, celery, and green manzanilla olives are what give this salad its unique flavor. She passed away over a decade ago but left her recipe to my mom, who recreates this dish yearly around the holidays.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
I’m a sucker for the Charlie Brown/Peanuts holiday specials, and this is one of my favorites. Miscommunication among friends and family, plus a not-so-traditional dinner consisting of buttered toast, jellybeans, pretzel sticks, and popcorn, and yet another scene with Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie just as he’s about to kick it make this one fun and memorable.
Adopt a Turkey
This used to be a yearly tradition but I haven’t been too consistent about it lately. I still love the idea of donating to Farm Sanctuary to adopt a rescued turkey. As a vegetarian, it’s pretty depressing to think of all the turkeys that get killed around this time especially. It helps to know I’ve helped out one of our bird friends in need who was able to avoid such a fate. I’d love to make this into a tradition with my son once he understands more.
Pieces of April
Not everyone is a fan of Katie Holmes, but even if you aren’t, this is one film of hers you really shouldn’t miss out on. It’s a wonderful indie flick about a girl who invites her estranged family to come have dinner with her and her new boyfriend in her apartment in New York City. Her mother has cancer and the entire film is about the girl trying desperately to make this dinner work for her family, but terrible things keep happening (her oven breaks forcing her to take her meal from neighbour’s apartment to neighbour’s apartment to cook it in increments). Meanwhile, her mother spends the entire trip complaining about all the ways her daughter disappointed her, and her boyfriend spends the whole time trying to get himself a nice suit to wear to the dinner to impress her family. It’s a really beautiful film. Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, and Derek Luke also star.
We don’t really have a set tradition for Thanksgiving lately. Some years it’s a small event, just immediate family. Other years, my folks are out of town so it’s just my and my brother’s family. Other years, we celebrate with my cousins and aunt and uncle as well. One year, we spent it with my family in Nicaragua. Last year, we celebrated with my husband’s extended family. Regardless, it’s nice to have an excuse to see people, especially when they’re likely to either a. be in a good mood or b. be so busy with meal prep and hosting/so full of good food that drama can simply take a back seat. I actually have no idea what Thanksgiving will bring this year, but I’m sure it’ll be nice regardless.
I absolutely love the versatility of stuffing. It’s one of those foods that can easily be vegan (or not), and can be as flavorful as you want it to be. I used to pride myself in making my own, but sometimes Peppridge Farm is good too. I am particularly fond of Whole Foods special rosemary and sage stuffing as well. Mmm mmm good.
What are your favorite things about the upcoming holiday? Any special tradit
Every Fall, we try to make it out to a pumpkin patch to get into the spirit of the Halloween season. Last year, we went to the Little Farm (which was actually the first farm I ever went to as a child–we even got to milk a goat!)
This year, I thought we’d check out a different place I’d heard good thing about: Pinto’s Farm.
We went on a Sunday afternoon, closer to closing time (4 p.m. in hopes of avoiding the heavy crowds). I’d bought our tickets thanks to a Living Social deal (always check Living Social/Groupon befor attending events–never know how much you’ll save) and went to pick them up while my husband ventured to a play area just outside the entrance with our son. There was a bounce house, some random hula hoops, and a giant dirt mound my son didn’t seem to care much for.
Upon entering, you’ll walk down a path decorated with Jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows and hay bales, plus painted wooden signs giving random facts about Halloween and autumn in general.
At the end of the path, there are two covered sections from which to pick up a pumpkin (or simply take photos with pumpkins).
Turn the corner and you’ll encounter a hay bale maze. It was cute but would’ve preferred it were a bit taller and wider since people seemed to all cluster here, making it hard to get through with my toddler and the stroller.
From there, it’s up to you which activities to pursue. My ticket deal offered 2 free tickets for either the paddle boats or the hay ride (considering we had a 20-month old, we opted for the hay ride,which he loved–and my husband and I did as well).
They’ve also got a “race track” for kids to race on big wheels/trikes, a petting zoo, pony rides, and another “race track” for these mini tractors (basically big wheels in the shape of tractors that are big enough for adults to ride). We opted to buy extra tickets for the tractor race ($8 for 2 FYI so bring a little bonus cash if you want to enjoy these extras).
Our son was also happy to run around the on-site playground (though we were slightly less enthusiastic running after him to make sure none of the much larger kids knocked him over), and spent a ton of time in this sandy area with animal bouncy toys. He quickly became BFFs with this kitty.
Pinto’s is scenic, with lots of trees for shade (a must in blistering hot Miami). They also serve fruit shakes and smoothies, ice teas and coffee drinks, plus empanadas, arepas, and even alfajores (Argentine sweet treats).
It gets busy , especially on weekends, but if you go late you can avoid the mid-day rush (plus we left at around 6 p.m., an hour after their official closing and folks were still coming in). Parking is free and not too much of a hassle. We may be back for their Holiday theme days (which should include festive décor and pictures with Santa). Check them out at Pinto’s Farm or on Facebook.
I consider myself to be a fairly polite person. My mother taught me that. She taught me to respect people, no matter who they were, where they came from, what they looked like, what they believed…she instilled in me an ability to stand up for what I believe in but to also not cause arguments (especially when they aren’t necessary), and not to be rude.
However, I don’t think she ever counted on her daughter having exceptionally strong beliefs when it comes to controversial topics. When she taught me to be polite, I was still a child. I was to respect people (especially and unquestioningly, my elders), to do as I was told, to be seen and not heard (unless called upon).
I’d published a piece on losing Maggie before, where I received nothing but kind words from friends and strangers alike. This time, though, it’s been a mixed bag. Some people seem to lose sight of the fact that the piece is meant to exist to help other grieving parents with their loss and their feelings of solitude and instead only focus on feeling attacked about their religion, when I clearly don’t attack religion at all.
No where in my piece do I call people stupid or foolish or ignorant for what they believe. I don’t personally go out of my way to attack anyone or any belief. I simply suggest that while it’s wonderful for folks to be there for their friends and family who grieve, if they know this person is not religious, maybe choose a few different words of comfort when speaking with them.
Yet I am surprised at how many people have gone out of their way and taken time out of what I’m assuming is not a very busy day to Tweet me or write me lengthy e-mails and Facebook messages about how they believe I am wrong, and go on to basically do the same thing the article warns about–thus further proving my point about how people can’t accept that others don’t believe in the way they do. I won’t even get started on the highly offensive trolls in the comments section because frankly, I did not go through the 500+ comments because I am busy being a writer and a mother, and I just simply don’t give a shit.
Fortunately, most of the letters and comments have been fairly respectful (thank you to the many Jehova’s Witnesses and other Christians who have written simply to offer words of kindness. I’ve received some especially interesting and wonderful letters even from pastors and ministers who agree with my lack of belief in a “heaven”).
More importantly though is the fact that most of the letters and comments received have been from folks who wholeheartedly relate, many of which are grieving parents themselves. Thank you to the woman who opened up about her multiple miscarriages and the man who shared his solitude with me after the loss of his child, finding his wife going in the opposite direction and becoming more involved in the church. Thank you for your support and for letting me know that my words reached you and are helping you in some way.
I’m so proud that one piece of writing has gone such a long way. Because of my article, we’ve had dozens of new requests to join our baby loss community for agnostic/atheist mothers. It means that sometimes, writing really does affect change. It means I’m not just screaming out into the nothing any more.
Be on the look out for more outspoken, controversial articles from me in the future. Because someone’s got to say what’s on our minds.
I just found out via Twitter that today is the 7th Annual National Day on Writing. Created by the National Council of Teachers of English, this holiday is meant to “draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in.” Between updating my Contently portfolio, scheduling posts on my Facebook page, and catching up on e-mails, I thought I would take a second to share with you the reasons #WhyIWrite.
Writing has always been a part of my life (or has ever since I mastered the ability to hold my pen in my hand and scribble letters on line paper). As a child, I wrote letters to my mother almost daily (she was the one who taught me to write, after all). My first poems, written in the 1st grade, were published in a children’s anthology (and I’ve been wanting to publish my poetry ever since–maybe this year!) Sometimes I’d create fake newspapers and write my own headlines and stories about alien invasions or about Archie Comics or The Simpsons. I always loved writing stories in class as well and excelled in English for years (save for my handwriting which was always quite sloppy). I took to writing journals and poems in high school, and the occasional “article” in one of the student-run alt-papers.
Then came technology and the advent of Livejournal, and I became a regular blogger (though at the time it was simply writing to me). I had a Blogspot page for a while, then graduated to Tumblr and WordPress sites like this one. Some of my reasons for writing have evolved over time while others remain at the core of what I do.
1. I write because it feels good. Seriously, few things feel as good to me as getting down to business and knocking out an essay on gender or an article about selfies. The feeling of accomplishment when I hit send or publish is remarkable.
2. I write because I want to get my message out to the world. When I write about things like child loss or race, I do it because I know what I’m saying needs to be said. Writing can be a political act, a subversive act, a wholly important and revolutionary act. And while I do get paid to write about lighter subject, like the end of America’s Next Top Model or where to get good coffee in Miami, I also like to write pieces about preterm labor and infant loss, because I know other parents might benefit from reading about my experience.
3. I write to connect with other writers. I love meeting and networking and engaging with other writers. I’ve met so many writers thanks to Facebook groups and Twitter hashtag parties and NaNoWriMo and other writer events and I admire so many of them. There’s nothing quite like finding your writing tribe.
4. I write to record my life. Journaling is one of my favorite forms of therapy. Getting my thoughts written down on a regular basis helps me to get at the root of problems, inspires me, motivates me to push forward, shows me what I need to change in my life, and keeps me centered.
5. I write because my voice is worthwhile. So many writers second guess themselves into never writing or never publishing because they don’t believe they are “good enough” or suffer from some sort of impostor syndrome. Thanks to the encouragement I’ve found via fellow writers, I’ve learned that my voice and my writing are also important and it’s important therefore to put my writing out into the world.
6. I write to create the endings I would have preferred. This is mostly in regards to fiction, but I tend to re-write stories from my own life but change the endings or details to suit my needs. If something didn’t quite work out in real life, it may enjoy a happier ending in my fiction. It’s nice to get those moments of joy, even if just through the written word.
7. I write because it’s my favorite form of expression. At times, I struggle to say the words I want to say. And I never quite learned how to play the guitar or piano at the level I wanted, and I’m not much of a dancer or painter. Writing is how I express my thoughts and emotions. This is how I can best get the words out.
8. I write to see myself in the world. Growing up, I read books about dystopian futures, about female friendships during the Holocaust, about vampires (before Twilight or True Blood became a thing)…but I didn’t really read much about people with my particular experience. I didn’t read about growing up in Miami. I didn’t read books by Latina women (save for the occasional Sandra Cisneros story). I didn’t read about being a bisexual teen. I didn’t read tales of friendship and hooking up and booze-culture that were such a part of my early twenties. So now I write those types of stories: the stories I lived and the stories I wanted to read, to see myself reflect out there, and hopefully to show others like me that they aren’t alone.
9. I write because I just can’t stop.
Why do you write? Join the hashtag now on Twitter as writers from all over share why they write (make sure to Tweet at me, too!). Plus you might connect with a new writer or two, maybe even start your own group. And if you’re not sure what to write about, check out my piece on advice for all writers, where I give tips on how to get started.
Lately, I’ve been trying to educate myself more on social media strategy. In the past, I did a bit of social media managing for a co-working space, but most of my social media success has been via managing my own personal accounts.
Sometime in late Spring, I challenged myself to increase my followers on both Twitter and Instagram. Back in April, I had 822 followers on Twitter and today, I have nearly 1600 followers (1597 to be specific so if you want to follow and get me to my goal, Tweet me here)! For a part-time freelance writer and occasional blogger, I’d say that’s a good jump for 6 months of somewhat active Twitter strategy.
Between Twitter and IG, I have to say it’s been much easier to increase engagement on the former. I’ll be writing more about increasing IG followers in a separate post soon, including new strategies I’ll be implementing soon, but today I want to chat about Twitter.
There are several ways to boost your engagement using 140 characters or less. Most of these I just picked up by observing my own Twitter feed (what got more favorites and RT’s and replies, who was tweeting me more, etc.) while other tips I picked up from various blogs and websites.
Tweet regularly. This is probably a no-brainer but if you barely tweet, whatever you do send out will likely get lost in the shuffle. If you don’t think you’ll have the time to send out a quick message at least once a day (or at the very least once every other day), you can always set aside a few minutes and use an app like HootSuite or Buffer to schedule future tweets. You can also schedule replies and RTs as well as view your Twitter lists to sift through your own feed for the accounts you want to target more specifically.
Quality versus Quantity. Unless you’re a big celeb, chance are you aren’t going to get followed as easily for your personally insightful tweets about burritos or afternoon traffic. Make your Twitter account interesting by posting about things other folks want to read about. Write a tweet in response to a news story or a trending Twitter topic. If you’re funny, use it. If you know a lot about a specific topic, tweet about it, and use the appropriate hashtags to reach a larger audience. Feel free to have an opinion, but make it an interesting one.
Find a niche. While people enjoy following someone with varied interests, it seems that most folks who are following someone who tweets about, say, running, don’t always want to also read about that person’s knitting hobby AND their obsession with Christmas AND their dayjob as a data processor. At least, not when they have a small following. Try to hone in on 3 major topics (preferably ones that relate to one another) to make the bulk of your tweets. For example, I tweet a lot about writing, about feminism (and under this branch, feminist parenting and reproductive rights), and occasionally about travel (due to my travel-related freelance jobs). I save many of my other interests for things like Facebook or Instagram or simply keep them off social media altogether.
Use images as often as possible. It’s well-known that tweets with images almost always get more notice. Who doesn’t love a good photo? Try to add an image (hit up imgur if you don’t have original pics) to your tweets every so often (or try a gif–find a ton of those on giphy) and there’s an excellent change others will favorite and even RT these posts more.
Mix-up your tweets so you have equal numbers of original tweets, replies, and RTs. Now that you’ve fine tuned your own tweets, you’ll want to make sure you’re tweeting at others, replying to those who have tweeted you, and re-tweeting interesting content. Don’t make the mistake of simply RT’ing 12 different accounts back to back as it looks spammy to others and some might even unfollow for this. Schedule these posts so they send out throughout the day so you are constantly coming up on people’s feeds.
Participate in Twitter parties. This one has helped me out a ton. As a blogger, I tend to frequent hashtag parties like #MondayBlogs, #WWWBlogs (that’s Women Writer Wednesday Blogs), and #writesprint among others. I’ll post new and old blog content as well as RT and favorite and reply to content I liked. This has probably gotten me the most new followers.
Use #hashtags when appropriate. You don’t need to ALWAYS use hashtags or use 15 hashtags and get spammy, but you should always use at least 1-2 whenever you feel the tweet would do well with a wider audience. Because I often Tweet and write and blog about feminism, I frequently use hashtags like #feminism, #feminist, and #latinafeminist. When I tweet about writing, I use many of the popular hashtags like #amwriting, #writertips, #writersproblems, #writing, and #writer. A quick Google search will give you more insight into what the best hashtags are for your niche/tweet (or simply search the hashtag on twitter and see what comes up!)
Engage with popular accounts. Try to get yourself noticed by some of the more popular Twitter accounts. Celebrities are difficult to get a hold of, but popular brands and popular writers have been fairly easy to get replies, faves, and RTs from. And some will even follow you back if you follow them.
Follow, follow, follow! Unless you’re Beyonce, you probably won’t get thousands of folks following you “just cause.” Find people with similar interests to follow. If someone new follows you, sift through their followers and follow some of them. Find someone popular whose tweets you love and follow their followers. Out of every 10 people you follow, almost always, you’ll get at least 5 new followers outright.
Use a follower app like CrowdFire to keep track of who follows and unfollows you. I love CrowdFire because it tells me who is following, unfollowing, and who has been inactive for 1 months, 3 months, or even 6 months. If someone unfollowed me and I wasn’t really engaging much with them, I will usually unfollow them. I don’t automatically follow everyone that follows me, although I may add them to a Twitter List if I think they fit into one of those categories (I have Twitter lists that vary from funny accounts to friends to feminists to people in writing and publishing). I also unfollow most accounts who have stopped tweeting beyond 3 months because chances are they won’t come back. When I go through a serial following, though (following 10+ people at a time and seeing who bites back), I’ll check CrowdFire after a week or so and see which folks haven’t followed back yet. If I don’t think they will, I’ll simply unfollow. This strategy bleeds into my last tip…
Try to keep your follower/following counts equal or maintain more follower than those you follow. Did you get that? It seems kind of juvenile but let’s face it, you’re often more likely to follow a highly popular account than one where the person following about 3k people but only has 300 people following back. I’m not sure about the psychology behind it, but I’ve noticed a major jump in followers since these numbers evened out for me (I currently follow about 200 or so less that those who follow me). Try and see if it works for you.
Using all of these tips, I was able to double my following and significantly boost my engagement on Twitter! Since April, I’ve averaged about 100 new followers per month without even trying (because let’s face it, these tips are easy peasy). In the past 2 months, I’ve earned a bit over 200 followers per month. Still working on boosting my mentions, which I’ll write more about in a future post once I develop a secret sauce for that.
What strategies have worked for you? Feel free to let me know in the comments and share this info with anyone who’s struggling to get their feed noticed.
This image is being passed around with a long message from Facebook user Shannon Scopa, and in it, she denounces the racist platform of Donald Trump as well as tying together the hypocrisy of folks who are both anti-abortion and who constantly rant against immigrants in this country. Scopa goes on:
Don’t talk to me about the sanctity of life if in the next breath you can start foaming at the mouth about “illegals” and the horrors they bring with them.
It is completely bewildering to me that the statistics and the first-person accounts of people coming in from Latin America (El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, etc.) simply aren’t enough.
It also saddens me when an image of a Syrian family arriving in Greece (and experiencing their own personal pain) is used in a discussion about how we in the States feel about immigration into our own country, mainly because there are already countless images of people arriving from Latin America which would better fit the conversation.
But maybe these images aren’t dramatic enough since we don’t see anyone crying.
I’m glad the original post was made and is gaining traction, but I hope that more compassion can be raised for those immigrating into our own country.
Lyrics to Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s The Waiting, with additional commentary in red to reflect the life of a freelance writer:
Oh baby don’t it feel like heaven right now [when you’re contacted for a steady gig]
Don’t it feel like somethin’ from a dream [because you can finally sleep, sort of!]
Yeah I’ve never known nothing quite like this [what is a salary, anyway?]
Don’t it feel like tonight might never be again [panic sets in…where’s the contract?]
We know better than to try and pretend [shit, I didn’t get scope and pay finalized!]
Baby no one could have ever told me ’bout this [where is that contract…]
The waiting is the hardest part [SIGH]
Every day you see one more card [checking inbox 5039842798469x a day]
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart [they’ll send it soon, right?]
The waiting is the hardest part [maybe I should bake some cookies for now…]
Well yeah I might have chased a couple of women around [hey, I’m a freelancer! a gig’s a gig]
All it ever got me was down [fuck you, Craigslist]
Then there were those that made me feel good [that one well-paying, reliable client]
But never as good as I feel right now [but this would pay SO MUCH BETTER]
Baby you’re the only one that’s ever known how [should I follow up yet?]
To make me want to live like I want to live now [if I land this, I can stop eating peanut butter sandwiches!]
The waiting is the hardest part [maybe my phone isn’t getting e-mail notifications?]
Every day you see one more card [let’s check that Spam box again…]
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart [they promised I’d hear from them soon]
The waiting is the hardest part [guess i’ll work on that book for now…]
Don’t let it kill you baby, don’t let it get to you [FREELANCING AIN’T FOR THE FAINT OF HEART]
Don’t let ’em kill you baby, don’t let ’em get to you [you will probably starve before hearing back–but sometimes it’s worth it?]
I’ll be your breathin’ heart, I’ll be your cryin’ fool [*sob* just hire me, damn it]
Don’t let this go too far, don’t let it get to you [write a blog post about it instead!]
Sorry for the silence! I’m currently in the midst of major changes, including new contributing positions with Vivala.com and Hello Giggles (and potentially more on the way), and working diligently on a new book proposal about those months I spent on the road back in 2011.
I’m also working on making this site better and just created a Contently page to use as a portfolio. The freelance writer life leaves little downtime, but the bit of free time I have had as been spent chasing after Willy B, who is growing more rambunctious by the day. Have also been spending a lot of other random, free moments reading everything I can (currently in my possession from the local library are Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed, Toni Morrisson’s Paradise, Simone de Beauvoir’s America Day by Day, Salman Rushdie’s The Jaguar Smile, and Flaming Iguanas by Erika Lopez). Basically, if my writing doesn’t take off, at least I have enough fodder to start a book review segment to my blog!
Will complete an editorial calendar for the blog soon as well, so there will be fresh content for the month of September. Also in September, my birthday! More on that later.
For now, it’s time to sleep before the toddler tornado wakes up.
Some weeks (months?) ago, I wrote a piece about stepping out of your gender comfort zone when you go shopping. It was partly inspired after a round of errands at Targt and Wal-Mart, where I found nothing but pink “girl” toy sections heavy with dolls and “boy” toy sections filled with cars and trucks and toy guns.
I normally take my son down every toy aisle, whether it be pink or not, in the event I notice him eyeing something. But I recognize many parents might not, and some might even be angry at allowing their son to play with a doll or other “girl-oriented” toy. Now, kids will be free to choose without being in a particular area that attempts to define who they are based on one or two toy choices.
Personally, I feel this should go hand in hand with children’s clothing as well (why do we need to cut children’s clothing differently when their bodies haven’t developed secondary sex characteristics? And even then, that has nothing to do with their gender.) it would also bring more attention to the fact that women are often charged more for everyday items than men. I’ve observed this myself walking into men’s clothing sections and seeing how much cheaper their pants often are (but still not being willing to buy pants that did not fit my body the way i’d like).
Regardless, this is great, first step in combatting gendering in the public sphere and I applaud Target on listening to their shoppers and taking it to heart. Hopefully Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, and others will follow suit.