My baby turns 30 today!

by Laura Nalesnik

He was born quickly, shortly after I arrived at the hospital.  Always easygoing, he’d wake from his naps cheerful and smiling. Many times I'd go into his room to see if he was up yet, and I’d find him happily playing in the crib but delighted to see me.

So many memories…

When he was sitting in a high chair eating ice cream and my dad would tease that he was going to steal what was on his spoon, he’d freely offer his spoonful to his grandpa. He was always a generous boy.

The time he drew up a flip chart -- a la Ross Perot -- to show us why he deserved an increase in his allowance. He got it, but mostly for his creative effort.

When he was seven and he made his first New Year’s Resolution to not complain about any meal I made for dinner, which was my suggestion. I remember making all his favorite meals the first few weeks and by mid-year when he still hadn’t broken it I contemplated serving liver and onions on a daily basis. Nearing the end of the year he admitted he couldn’t wait to have this year over with so he could be done with it, and I told him that if he’d made it a year, it was a permanent accomplishment and that would then be his way of life. He kept it the whole year and never complained again. As proud of him as I was that year, I was envious that I’d never kept a resolution for an entire year.

Sharing a big bowl of popcorn after school while we chatted about his day.

Stalling before bedtime…with a capital S.

Signing up to take a sign-language class in middle school so he could converse with a deaf friend in his class. Using his skills to make another deaf friend on the beach the following summer.

The first time he emailed me from his room to ask, “What’s for dinner?”

His willingness to let me play Celine Dion's songs on long car rides because he knows I love her music. 

When we were cross-country skiing as a family and, as usual, his dad and older brother had moved on to more challenging trails without us. He always hung back and skied with me, until the day he turned around and said, “You’re doing great, Mom. Keep it up.” I told him to go catch up with the guys and pretty much skied alone after that.  Although I’d lost his companionship on the trails, I gained a quiet admiration for the beauty of the winter wilderness in the woods of Woodstock, Vermont. And as was right and proper, he moved out of my clutches into the world.

Using my knowledge of computers to teach him stuff, and the day I realized he knew more than me. And his endless help ever since.

The day he told us he was going to move to China for a year to learn Mandarin, and the visit we shared there near the end of his stay. His language skills were impressive. Obviously, it was a year well spent.

Today, knowing he wants to live there at some point makes me pause.  It’s so far away, and I’ll miss him so much. After all, he’ll always be my baby -- no matter his age.

But I’ll always be happy for him -- wherever he goes and whatever he does. 

Happy birthday, with love. 

Not your ordinary to-do list

by Laura Nalesnik

Any new writer needs a list, a long one. 

Develop a list of writing ideas and keep it handy so you're never wondering where to begin, or what to write about, when you face the blank page or screen. While it's true that not every idea on your list will produce a meaningful story when tackled, the regular practice of writing will help grow your writing muscles and your writing habit. 

Making a list is an easy and quick way to capture memories to write about. It's actually hard to write a list without jogging the memory. Try making these simple lists and see what topics beg to be explored, or avoided. Then pick one to write about in detail. 

  1. Make a list of all the relatives you can remember. Got a funny uncle? A crabby aunt? A cousin who had no tact? Describe your relationship. 
  2. List all the cars you've ever owned. Have you ever named one? Which one was your favorite? 
  3. Who are the people in your life that you've considered to be your best friends? Do they have anything in common? Are you still in touch with any of them? 
  4. List all the boyfriends (or girlfriends or partners) you've had. What was the best thing about each relationship? The worst? What ended the relationship?
  5. Make a list of all the places you've lived. Which one was your favorite? 

Notice ideas that come to you. If you're at the dentist and an idea comes up, enter it on your phone. If one comes in the middle of the night, write it down. Do whatever you can to record them. Grow your list regularly. Size really does matter. 

What's your favorite dish?

by Laura Nalesnik

I bet it isn't scorpions or starfish like these, which wiggle and squirm on sticks prior to being submerged in hot oil – fried alive -- right before your eyes. These crunchy delicacies are available on the streets of Beijing and supposedly taste like chicken. I’ll never know. 

Write about your favorite foods -- your grandmother's specialty dish, or perhaps the first meal your child made from scratch. Maybe your spouse makes a special dish? (Only in my dreams does my husband cook.) Favorite dishes from childhood and aromas of certain foods from our past can conjure up many memories worth exploring on the page.

Write about anything related to food that stirs up a memory. Just don't complain to me when your mouth starts to water, but please -- do share the recipe. 


Need to get something off your chest?

by Laura Nalesnik

Like this "salad lady," sometimes there's too much on our chest and we need to get it off. 

Make a list of anything and everything that’s bothering you. The faster you write the better. You may find a nugget or two to explore in more detail. Go for the topics that have energy for you.  Alternatively, go for the one you most want to avoid. Resistance is significant. It means it’s full of fire and would likely make a terrific story. If you can’t bare to share it when you're done writing, you can always shred or burn it. But you will feel better having written it.

In 2010 "salad lady" stood in Beijing's Beihai Park, which is a short distance northwest of the Forbidden City. I wonder if she's still there. 

In 2010 "salad lady" stood in Beijing's Beihai Park, which is a short distance northwest of the Forbidden City. I wonder if she's still there.