Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen (Book Review)


Perhaps the subtitle (A Memoir of Going Home) is what threw me a curve when I first put this memoir on my “to read” list.

You see if the title, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, precedes a hint at this Mennonite going home the reader may expect some facts about the Mennonite faith, what life was like growing up a Mennonite, stories of buggy rides (or am I confusing them with the Amish?).

But that is not what Rhoda Janzen has written.  Janzen, who is not only a writer but also a poet, teaches English and Creative Writing at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  Using her expertise as a writing professional, Janzen weaves her story with nostalgia, humor, some facts about her family’s faith, talk about aging, and tops it off with a look at parents who have accepted the woman Janzen grew up to be.

I found Janzen’s book so engaging that at times I found myself chuckling out loud or uttering an affirmation of my agreement about “going home.”  A journey toward the home of your childhood as a 40-year old divorcee whose husband left her for a gay man he found on Craigslist isn’t paved with thoughts of warmth and welcome.

Yet Janzen’s deadpan, witty and wry humor makes it a journey her reader enjoys.  My recommendation is:  If you haven’t read it, do!

Struggling with Time Management (Part 4 of 4)

This is the fourth and last post in the series dealing with time management and our personal struggles in balancing life and writing time.

Just a few days before posting Part 3, I began thinking that there must be a tangible way to look at one’s time and the demands on that time.  After all a clock can give you the time of day, but cannot tell you how to balance each hour against another.

In researching this concept, I came across something remembered from my growing up with my printer/publisher dad — an editorial calendar.  It’s a calendar used by magazines, newspapers and other publications to track articles, timing, and other details of publishing.

Why could it not work for a writer?  Someone attempting to find writing time in the midst of busy days, weeks and months, not to mention years.  Someone attempting to balance life as a young mother and wife with her wish to write.  Perhaps a retiree who has found the joy of more freedom lending itself well to too many pursuits.

So, I’ve found a few which may or may not work for you and I’ve provided links to download these templates.  Yes, someone else has done the hard work.  All you have to do is find the one you like, download it, and begin!

1.  Michelle at Scraps of My Geek Life is a 40-something trying to juggle four kids, tech blog, husband, running, living a healthy lifestyle and still find time for digital scrapbooking. Granted Michelle doesn’t mention writing, but she does have a blog and participates in online digital scrapbooking.  Otherwise, her life is busy even not counting blogging and scrapbooking.

Michelle’s template is an Excel document, and she provides several different versions for you to choose from.  Follow this link to Michelle’s informative post on this template and you can download it for free.  Just click here.

Michelle’s template is easily adjusted by making minor changes to accommodate activities you want to track.

2.  KBK Communications, a marketing and consulting firm, offers a variety of free resources for business bloggers.  Well, what are we writers but people looking for book business?  The KBK template is a simpler, straightforward template.  But if writing schedules and publication dates are all you need to stay on top of, I think it’s a very workable Excel calendar.

To look at this template and review KBK’s comments about it, please follow this link here to read more and download the free template.

3.  Lastly, Kelly Garrett of Ekcetera Design Studio offers the following template free.  It is designed specifically for social media uses but could easily be manipulated for your own purposes.  Linking here will take you to Kelly’s post outlining tips on how to use this calendar and how to receive the template.

If you don’t see what you want here, don’t forget:  Google calendar is a fine option to “design your own.”  Or if you use Outlook, it has a great calendar option as well.

Also a search on Google or any other search engine for editorial calendar images will offer a large choice to review.

I’m sure that you, like me, will find that just looking at these templates and studying how they’ve been used will move you along to working out your own editorial calendar and schedule that writing time.

So, let’s get writing!

Out of Sync by Belinda Nicoll (A Review)

The date September 11, 2001, will likely remain seared in the minds of most Americans.  When I read a synopsis of Belinda Nicoll’s memoir, Out of Sync, and learned that she and her husband landed at JFK International Airport on 9/11, something pulled at my heartstrings and I knew I had to read her story.

Belinda’s story, however, deals with so much more than that one frightening incident in New York and the aftermath in the days that followed.

Belinda had been on a roller coaster before arriving in America.  Born in South Africa the youngest, and unexpected, child of an Afrikaner family, she grew up alongside the black house servant’s daughters.  Together, they used their imaginations to create a fantasy land which included the Serpent Goddess who made promises never realized.  Blissfully unaware of their country’s politics and comingupheaval, the girls became like sisters.

Still very young, Belinda married an attorney in the law firm where she worked.  Together they had two children — a daughter and a son — before their marriage crumbled.  Belinda then climbed the ranks at an advertising agency where she met her second husband, Bruce.

It is with Bruce that Belinda makes the move across the ocean to America.  Not once did she even think that she would never be able to go back to her homeland, until things began a bumpy ride beginning with their landing at JFK on 9/11.

Once in San Francisco Bruce landed a job with an ad agency but worked long hours tackling the learning curve.  Belinda’s solitary time at home because of her green card status left her feeling alone and abandoned at times.  Delays by the U.S. Department of State in issuing green cards was more than difficult for Bruce and Belinda, and I find it an embarrassment that such inefficiencies and complacency exist.

Removed from her children and other family members made life more difficult emotionally for Belinda, something it seemed hard for Bruce to cope with at times.  This reader never doubted their love for one another; it seemed from time to time they were working at cross-purposes.

After many job changes and moves from the west coast through the mid west and then upstate New York, they find themselves in Raleigh, NC.  This part of Belinda’s story resonated with me, especially her descriptions of the people, their colloquialisms, and their behavior toward outsiders and their believes.  Growing up in the South made no difference when I moved from a large city to a small town within the same state.  I was looked upon as “suspicious” because no one knew me and who knew why I’d come.  I felt that Belinda and Bruce felt this same alienation when they arrived in Raleigh.

Basically, this is a story of seeking common ground in the midst of a relationship cemented by love but fragmented by unrelenting circumstances created by outside forces.  Belinda’s tenacious desire to make their lives work in synchronicity shines through on each page turn.  Bruce is not denied his part in attempting again and again to pull the pieces of their lives together and repair hurts and inadequacies.

Belinda’s ability to share the sheer truth of her story is amazing, not only because it is possible to sense that it is the truth that you’re reading but also because the writer has honored character development, story line, and dialogue which is utterly believable and moving.

Out of Sync is a story of healing and an excellent model of what memoir writing is.

Struggling with Time Management – Part 3 of 4

Where do you write?  I can hear you asking yourself, “What does “where” have to do with time management?”

Some people consider where they write to have a major role in how they write.

I have two choices:  (1) our desktop computer in an office I share with my husband who operates a small business; and (2) my laptop, usually in the family room.

Two nights a week and one afternoon each week my husband is away from the house at band practices.  Quiet time abounds then, and I feel I’m my most productive.  But sometimes the phone rings, or there are chores to wrap up, or any one of several mundane tasks to carry out.

Some months ago, I was reading a blog post by Linda Hoye who writes at A Slice of Life Writing.  The title of the post really caught my attention:  My Writing Life — Location, Location, Location.

As I read Linda’s post, I realized that she had made her writing space and time sacred to her work.  She described the lack of distractions if she worked in the library or a coffee shop, somewhere other than home.  What really struck me was her deliberate setting aside of writing time.

Not only was location important, but balance between her writing life and her life aside from writing.  Linda gives much food for thought about where and when she writes.  I think — no, I know I need to follow her lead.

Q4U:  Is your writing time scheduled?  Do you have a quiet space to work?  Is your time distraction-free?  Let’s chat about how you find balance.

NEXT TIME:  Part 4 will bring this series to a close with a look at using an editorial calendar to bring ease to your writing.