Holiday Gift Guide for What Your Friends and Family Really Want

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As the holidays approach, our thoughts turn to gift-giving, even during a pandemic when most of our shopping will probably be online. This is the year to break out of the rut and get your friends something they really want. With so many of our small, independent shops in trouble, it is extra important this year to gift something thoughtful and unique, hopefully sourced locally. Scroll through and find your person 🙂

Your Writer Friend Doesn’t Want Another Journal; Buy These Gifts They Long For Instead:

  • An air plant I cannot kill to green up my writing nook. I buy mine from The Salt Shed, but your local nursery will have them as well.
  • The chocolate tea sampler from Adagio Teas for those stressful moments
  • Because today is what it is, a nice literary-themed face mask would be much appreciated so I can represent when out interviewing.
  • A chunky blanket from The Savvy Stitchess, one of my former students 🙂
  • A new book or gift card from my favorite independent bookshop, Sundog Books. You could of course purchase from your local bookstore or from where they financially support indie bookstores.

As a writer I get a journal for every holiday and sometimes just because. I have a closet full of unmarked journals, but what I would love to get as a gift is one of these lovelies!

All cooks long to open a holiday gift and find that one item they have secretly been desiring. Buy one of these for them to ensure some holiday baking coming your way:

  • Saran wrap that actually sticks from Chic Tools. Never struggle with tearing, stretching, generally frustrating wraps again 🙂
  • An old-fashioned citrus reamer. We don’t need those fancy juicers that take the arm strength of a sumo wrestler.
  • A microplane for the love of god!
  • A gift certificate to a local bookshop that sells the latest Ina Garten cookbook.
  • An apron from Hedley & Bennett…because they are the best…end of conversation.

Many of your home areas have independent kitchen supply stores you can support with these purchases. Epicurious did a nice round-up of independent cookware shops across the country if you are looking for inspiration.

For the family members that either have everything or never give you any ideas:

  • Don’t get your dad another coffee mug. He really wants a countertop composter so he doesn’t have to take out the trash so often.
  • Don’t buy your mom another piece of jewelry she won’t wear. Get her one of these face sheet masks so she can relax for fifteen minutes of complete bliss.
  • Don’t buy your kids the latest gadget. Get your adult kids a grocery or wine subscription. They will thank you.
  • Embrace the nerdy stereotype and buy your younger kids, nieces and nephews gift cards to your local bookstore. Are you sensing a theme here ;)?

When in doubt, I LOVE The Art of Simple is Seaside. It is a store for “Curiosities and Necessities” and is chocked full of fun stuff!

I mean c’mon! This mug is from The Art of Simple and who does not need it every day on Zoom?

Freelance Writing: Personal Essays

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So, my class is on the horizon and I am building the resources I want to use which means find mentor texts for us to read and discuss. I knew definitely I wanted to use Jesmyn Ward’s piece in Vanity Fair, “On Witness and Respair” because it is devastating, honest and brutiful (I stole that word from somewhere…). And I had a few other ideas, but I was scrolling Twitter- which is what you do when you should be writing and have an impending deadline- when I came across a tweet asking for recommendations of personal essays by writers of color. So, I checked the thread and wow, there were some amazing suggestions!

I can’t keep all of them and I am excited to see if any of my writer friends out there have other suggestions, but here is what I have so far. Oh, and if this looks interesting and you want to pop an idea kernel into a full blown polished piece, sign up for my class 🙂 Registration link is here.

What are your favorite personal essays? Drop the title and author in the comments so we can share in the beautiful words!

Readings for Class:

Freelance Writing: Let’s Talk Money

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Money is always that icky topic most creatives avoid, but in these times where so many writers and artists are furloughed, jobless and thrown into the pool of pitching hell, money is important.

I have been participating in Tim Herrara’s Sunday Zoom panels, Freelancing With Tim. One of his recent ones focused a lot on how to build your freelance income. Jenni Gritters talked about diversifying your income stream and not putting all your eggs with one publication, one editor, or even one area. This got me thinking about my own income streams. When I first started I really focused on personal essays thinking this was what I was most qualified to write- I did teach the art of writing them for over a decade. I was not having much luck placing them though and most of the publications paid pretty modestly. So, I started thinking about what else I had expertise in that I could tap. I owned a restaurant before teaching, I have a talent for suggesting the perfect book for someone, I am pretty well traveled and I am pretty passionate about toxic diet culture. So, I shifted to pitching and writing about these topics. And bang, I got contracts. And, money. And, bylines.

But, it can be exhausting to pitch 10-20 articles a week, do all the pre-research, write grafs and then hope they get picked up. So, I went back to the drawing board again and thought about other ways to diversify my income. Teaching is an area I have deep experience in, especially teaching writing, especially teaching personal writing. So, I pitched a couple classes to The Coop Workshop. They picked up my personal essay class. It will be virtual so anyone can take it safely. I really like their model. They keep 20% of the proceeds and the teacher/writer keeps 80%. The woman who started it was looking for a way to help out of work writers find avenues to monetize their skills.

My favorite part of teaching was personal essays- the rounds of revision, feedback sessions and getting to a polished final draft. Now I can teach this without having to return to the classroom. This will add to my income buckets I can draw from and has inspired me to think about other ways I can leverage areas of personal expertise. Virtual cooking classes might be on the horizon…

If you are a freelance writer, think about all the areas you have experience or knowledge in and how you can use that to broaden your income streams. Also, check out Jenni Gritters‘ and Wudan Yan‘s podcast, “The Writer’s Co-op Pod” for great advice and tips on advocating for better pay rates, building relationships, negotiating contracts, taxes and basically everything you want to know about building your freelance writing career. Also, it is free 🙂

Byline Brag

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Exciting news! My first real piece of food writing is out in the world 🙂 Yes, I published a couple of food tours, but this is genuine food writing with narrative arc and I am so thrilled!

I wrote about gardening as a kid, opening a restaurant and my first soup…Butternut Squash Bisque. I am so proud to have my work in this publication. It is small, New England-based and wow am I in the company of some amazing writers.

Please read it, let me know what you think, try the recipe and share your favorite soup memories in the comments 🙂

“Plant a Victory Garden; Make Soup,” Farmer-ish, Fall 2020 Issue

Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton- Review & Commentary

If you recognize this commercial, we grew up together.

I remember the expectation this perpetuated for women- you can work a full time job, make dinner for your family every night and be a sex goddess with energy to spare. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

I just finished Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. It is a memoir that chronicles her journey with food. What really struck me and kept me reading, was the honesty. She pulled no punches about how difficult the restaurant business is for a woman, and doubly so for one with a family. There is a scene where she is at a panel where she is meant to talk to young women entering the restaurant industry about what it is like for a woman in food. She goes in thinking the panelists will be honest about the heaviness of the work, but instead is shocked by the whitewashed vision the other panelists portray for the young women. It reminded me of the archaic personas we embrace about women. Restaurant work is messy. You unplug toilets. You clean grease traps. You butcher and truss animals. You work 18 hour days, every day. It is not romantic.

You know what else is not romantic? Motherhood. And Hamilton paints that picture as well. There is the nightmare of finding care. The days of childhood sickness. The days of teething, whining, and general neediness. The inconvenience of breastfeeding, especially in public where stigma is so rampant. Not romantic. Fulfilling, like “killing the line” on a busy night, but not romantic.

The thing that I liked best about this book is how it made me think about women’s roles in society and how bullshit our expectations are in respect to that gender, which is really a societal construct anyway.

Hamilton’s style is laden with description. Her tone is unapologetic. Her experience is relatable. This read made me appreciate my dogeared copy of Prune and Hamilton’s meticulous cooking even more.

In Defense of Teachers

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Not everybody knows I am a former teacher. I loved the students, the people I worked with, the relationships that last far beyond the classroom. But, I am thankful every day I am not teaching this year.

I opened Twitter this morning to check and see if an app I linked was functioning properly and was caught by a teacher tweet in my feed.

“I need to write this down so I don’t forget: if we are still in this mess at the beginning of the next school year…I’m taking a leave of absence and working at…Trader Joe’s or Target or wherever. I love teaching AND I love my mental health more.”


It makes me sad and angry at the same time that so many of my friends, colleagues are leaving a profession they are passionate about because they feel devalued, attacked, in danger of infection, and generally bone-tired. I remember those feelings and that was before a pandemic. I have tried for years to figure out what it is about teaching that draws disrespect from the public that depends on educators to raise and enlighten the next generation. Many times teachers are treated like servants- pay is low, expectations are high, burnout is certain.

This photo was taken one of my first years teaching in Virginia. It is important to me. It stays on display in my office/library to remind me of the good things about teaching. So, I looked at it this morning and remembered all those students whose college essays I read and collaborated on, whose games, plays, and debates I attended to support them, whose worlds I had the privilege of being a part of, whose friendships I still have today. Teachers are people too, with dreams, responsibilities, families, student loans, car payments, child care issues, depression, loneliness, and stress just like the rest of us trying to navigate this upside down world we find ourselves in. I hoped back in March when everybody was praising teacher courage and resilience it would bring change in how we treat and value teachers. I hoped we would start recognizing the great burden society puts on them. Unfortunately, here we are.

I understand when friends reach out to let me know they are leaving the classroom. They have children to worry about, elderly parents to worry about, their own health to worry about. Just.Like.Us. We need teachers who are passionate about their mission, who do it because they love it, who know their responsibility to the next generation. But, I am scared many of those teachers will be leaving the profession, if they have not already.

To those sticking it out, adapting and finding ways to connect with their young charges, I see you. To those who elect to leave because the burden is too great, I see you as well. I know you are all the quiet heroes of many kids’ lives as you stock a fridge with snacks and food for those who have nothing to eat at home, or have a few dollars in your wallet to slip to the kid who can’t afford a ticket to the school play, or buy extra school supplies for those who can’t afford them, but don’t want the stigma of going to the school supply closet for the needy, or buying a couple extra copies of books so the kid who is scared at home has something to keep him company, or letting the boy in the back lay his head down for a few minutes because he works nights to help support his family. You are the caretakers and I see you.

Maybe one day the rest of the country will see you as well.

Freelance Writing: The Importance of Self-Care

For some reason I am always drawn to careers that inspire huge personal commitment, long hours, and pieces of my soul. Owning and operating a restaurant was a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year labor of love. Teaching never stayed at school- it was nights, weekends, and vacations filled with inspiring the next generation. Professional Writing seems to be following that trend, but I have the unique opportunity to follow my dream decades after I put it away for careers that were more certain, and that is a great gift. I am grateful.

As I have been reading, teaching myself, and taking classes on the art of writing, pitching, querying, and organizing a successful freelance writing life, I have seen lots of posts about self-care. I just skim these usually, moving on to other items on my to-do list. But, this has been a huge week. I pitched nine articles, submitted two essays, and received five acceptances for some exciting bylines (eeekkk ;)). I also interviewed two sources, and did a ton of research. And, it is only Thursday.

So, when the kittens went down for their nap this afternoon, I decided I was going to take a few minutes for me. I can see why self-care is so talked about- I feel invigorated, cared for, and excited to keep traveling this writing journey.

  1. First up was a little meditation. I like the app Calm.

2. Next came some fresh nail polish. I love OPI, in fact it is all I buy- see what I did there 🙂

3. Then came the wine. I have been watching my consumption because you know, I may have been drinking a little too much since staying-at-home with my kittens and husband to talk to…Back to the wine, Orin Swift, always Orin Swift if I have a choice. They make UH-mazing wine that is a little pricey, but not outrageous. This is the their latest, and my current fave, 8 years in the desert, which ironically feels like this moment.

4. Now for the really good stuff…face masks! I never do these because they usually involve a lot of time with messy stuff on your face. But, my daughter introduced me to these little gems while she was home. Sheet masks are gold! I am staunch in my cruelty-free stance and The Body Shop has been my go-to since I was 13 years old and had my first editorial published in The Burlington Free Press. It was all about the cosmetic industry and testing on animals. When it came out, everybody sent me gift cards and baskets to our local Body Shop, and after trying their products, I was hooked.

5. To round out my interlude of self-care, chocolate was in order. If you know me, you know my love affair with everything chocolate. In fact, our last family dive trip to Grenada included a day at a chocolate estate- I picked cocoa pods, ground it with my feet, saw the processing, tasted an obscene amount, and bought an obscene amount. It was a great day. The place was Belmont Estates and a must-do if you are in Grenada- check out my post on it here.

That’s it. Just a little over an hour, but it was all about doing things for myself. As we weather this tragedy in our country, remember to take a few moments for yourself.

Check out my other posts about the Freelance Writing Life:

The Importance of Networking

Instant Byline Gratification

Tools for the Freelance Writer

Query Shark and Other Thoughts

Query Letter Examples and Advice

Beginner’s Guide to the Query Letter

Transitioning out of Teaching to Freelance Writing