Category Archives: Online newspapers

And I’m “Trying Out” Being a Vegan Because…

…I’m insane.

There’s enough going on in the world right now.

Laundry.  Arizona shootings.  A new teenager in the house.  Planning a 20th wedding anniversary trip.  A big old wad of wax stuck in my ear.  Editing my manuscript to present it to overworked editors and agents in NYC at the end of January with the dreams of a book contract.  Prayers for more subscribers to my blog and more readers on http://www.Evanston.Patch.com.

But hey, let’s throw in a 21-day-kickstart of all-vegan eating, just to feel TRULY alive.

Hold on, I’ll be right back.  Just need to pop another iron supplement so I can lift my hands to type.

That’s better.

Where was I?  Oh yes.  Avoiding any foods with faces.  Right.  Yum.  Crunch.  Slurp.  Fart.  Fart again.

I’m sorry, who are you?

Did you say we know each other?  You’re whose cousin?  Oh, sorry.  Yes, I was blogging about trying the vegan thing.

It’s not going very well…as clearly demonstrated by the sundry items I salivated over recently while on a trip to Austin, TX.

I sniff them whenever I get a hankering for hot dogs and BLTs.  It’s not the same, but every little thing helps.

Journalistic Terms For Newbies

I’d asked my editor at Patch.com what the term dek meant.  It’s utilized on the computer server which I use to upload my twice daily blogs about Evanston.

I loved her response, which was something akin to total surprise.  I think she said, “That’s a great question.  I’ve never really been asked that one.”  I love feeling like I’m not completely ignorant.

I went searching today for the meaning of dek.  It loosely translates to mean sub-heading, but there’s some question about how the letters d-e-k were chosen to indicate this.  It’s thought the term came from the term “deck”.

I just found a great blog post about journalistic terms:  click here.

Criticism

Ouch.

I posted a comment on http://www.Evanston.Patch.com about a local business with a website called http://www.fleebags.com.  Here’s the article I wrote:  http://evanston.patch.com/articles/flophouses-and-worthless-racehorces#c:

Photos (3)

I have some advice for the owners of a van I saw parked this week on Davis Street with their website, www.fleebags.com,  clearly emblazoned on the vehicle.

While their products are adorable, I’m struggling with the product name.

Clearly, their marketing assumption is literal:  women will use the company’s oilcloth bags when they “flee” (or fly) around, doing whatever it is they do.

With that logic, they’ve already lost me.

First of all, I don’t “flee.”

I zip.  I race.  I lug.  I schlep.  But, I most definitely do not flee or fly around like an Evanston fairy, landing softly on all the delicate anchorages of my daily to-do list.  I’m frequently storming through my day to get things done. I’m more of a blitzer.  A stormer.  An attacker.

I visited the www.fleebags.com website, where they provide definitions:

flee v; to run away, escape, fly, take flight, make off, bolt

fleebags; fun and functional oilcloth products for busy women “on the fly”

Then, for kicks, I visited http://www.dictionary.com, and typed in “fleebags”.  The result?

“No results found for fleebags: Did you mean fleabags?”

Why yes, I suppose so.

flea·bag

/ˈfliˌbæg/ [flee-bag]  –noun Slang

1. a cheap, run-down hotel or rooming house.

2. any shabby or low-grade public establishment.

3. a worthless racehorse.

4. a dog, esp. one that is flea-ridden.

5. a bed.

6. a sleeping bag. 


Origin:
1825–35; flea + bag 

Additionally, the site offers a slang dictionary:

fleabag definition [ˈflibæg] 

  1. n.
    a cheap hotel; a flophouse. : Rocko never stays in fleabags. He’s too proud. Sam doesn’t care.

Woops.  This is a little awkward.  So … how about those Wildcats?

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the new store at 1106 Davis Street is on Nov. 20.  The Mayor of Evanston will be there.

I’m guessing I won’t be invited.  That’s okay.   I’ll be storming Around Town, doing some other things.

————————-

Clearly, I did not give the business a “thumbs up” in the website name category.

After 95 posts to Patch.com, I got my first “attack” from a reader:

While I usually find Christine’s articles to be helpful regarding ongoings and such in Evanston, I certainly don’t understand her seemingly uncalled for attack on a new business opening here in Evanston. We want to encourage small businesses to find a home in Evanston, not rip them apart before they’ve opened their doors because they might have a cutesy or whimsical name. But since she did call the products adorable, the rest of the article is justified, correct? So in keeping with the theme, while the author looks adorable, I have a hard time with her name. Definition of Christine: Christine is a feminine name of Greek or Latin origin. It is derived from the word Christ, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”. Definition of wolf (wlf) n. pl. wolves (wlvz)
1.
a. Either of two carnivorous mammals of the family Canidae, especially the gray wolf of northern regions, that typically live and hunt in hierarchical packs and prey on livestock and game animals.
b. The fur of such an animal.
c. Any of various similar or related mammals, such as the hyena.
2. The destructive larva of any of various moths, beetles, or flies.
3. One that is regarded as predatory, rapacious, and fierce.
4. Slang A man given to paying unwanted sexual attention to women.

Maybe we should call the author a destructive larva messiah? After all, she races, zips, charges, attacks, blitzes and storms around Town. But that wouldn’t be nice, accurate or fair, would it.

So.

Here I am.  In my kitchen.  Reading this reply. Wondering (with a smile) if this is sort of like what a Vanity Fair correspondent feels after writing a scathing review of Lindsay Lohan’s behavior, only to be admonished by a teenage fan for degrading LiLo.

I’m not sure if I should respond to the writer.  I’d like to see other responses.  I don’t feel defensive.  I actually feel justified in my critique (not criticism) of the business owner’s choice of names.  As a former advertising exec (and English minor in college), I can’t believe someone would choose to name their website http://www.fleebags.com and NOT expect some raised eyebrows.  Maybe that’s the point.

And perhaps this bru-ha-ha is all part of his/her marketing genius.

All I know is, this is my first dose of “negative” feedback from a reader.  I’m not hurt, but I’m genuinely intrigued by the back-and-forth of communication.  I live for it.  And I so appreciate the reader’s clever response.

Embracing Change

I’m so. Freaking. Tired.

It’s the good kind of tired, when I know I’m giving it my all.  It’s also the kind that leaves me edgy and irritable, and that’s the part I hate.  Or, as my friend Kimberly Jolie might say, “It’s a feeling I do not love.”

Writing for Patch.com has been a stunning surprise, and it’s consumed me from the minute the call came in to do it.  I’ve taken it seriously, knowing it’s an opportunity to learn and grow and expand my writing chops.

I’ve been watching my kids watching me, and it’s been pretty interesting.  They’re accepting this new demand on my time with as much tolerance as can be expected.  They’re happy I’m happy, but vocal about the amount of time I spend on the computer.  They ask gentle questions, like, “Are you always going to be this busy, Mom?” or “Do you like staying up so late writing?” or “Do you think it’s always going to be this hard?”  I answer their queries with honesty, and I let them know they’re my priority.  Still, they see the bags under my eyes lately, and sense my exhaustion.  They know there’s been a shift.

I also hear my husband, Mike, cautioning me.  “You can’t keep staying up till 3am.  You’re going to get sick.”  I know he’s right, and I love him for his matter-of-factness.  Each night, after the kids are tucked in and I’ve had a chance to finish my other commitments, I settle into bed with my laptop and start the business of reporting for Patch.  I review the news of the day, check email, think about the issues flying through Evanston.  I open a new Word file and start typing.  Emails keep coming in.  Mike turns over and puts a pillow over his head.  He’s not complaining.  He knows his wife’s happy.  And finding her way.  He knows there’s been a shift.

 

Henry and me...Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

 

Change is hard.  Change is unnerving.  But change stretches us and affords us practice with that delicate skill called adaptability.

I think back to the time when our family went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for spring break.  Henry was in 2nd grade and hell-bent on taking a dune-buggy ride.  I insisted on going with him — especially since I needed a break from 2-year-old Velcro-Nate.  We got to the parking lot in downtown Puerto Vallarta and signed a barely legible legal waiver.  The “vehicle” issued to us was essentially a death-cage made of steel bars and barely working electronics.  I’d never tried something this adventurous, but was determined to show Henry I could handle it.  And, this HAD to be better than holding a writhing, sweaty, sunscreened toddler.

We drove with our “guide” down a crowded Puerto Vallarta highway.  I tried not to stare at the asphault below us, but there were no “walls” or “floors” on our vehicle; we were essentially one with the highway.  No airbags.  NO SEATBELTS.  Looking back now, I should have insisted on wearing helmets.

The stick-shift dune buggy had a clutch that my short legs could barely engage, but I gripped the steering wheel and pointed my toes as hard as possible, hoping with every shift that I could keep the vehicle moving.  The brakes weren’t what I’d call “functioning”; I’d suck in my breath every time we approached an intersection, hoping we’d make it through alive.  Imagine driving down Lake Shore Drive or another major thoroughfare at 40 miles an hour.  No windshield.  No turn signals.  No floor.  No horn.  No idea if your brake lights were visible to others.

But dammit, I wasn’t going back.

We drove through dusty fields with our group, trying to keep up with the guide.  At one point, we drove through a muddy river where locals were washing their clothes.

I tried to smile, even though I was scared to death.

Henry began to look worried — for the impoverished residents as well as for our safety — and I wondered how good an idea this really was.

The guide led us to a pit-stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  We entered the small, church-like structure, only to learn that the proprieters were sampling tequila.  When Henry was offered a sip, I knew this might be a bad idea.

We made a quick exit, hoping the other members of our tour group would be ready to head back to town.  While waiting near the parking lot, Henry and I sampled some authentic tacos and declared them the best we’d ever tasted.  We ignored all the warnings we’d ever been given about “only eating and drinking at reputable locations in Mexico” and high-fived each other for surviving this unbelievable experience.

We got back to the hotel, covered in mud and dust.  I was still shaking from gripping the steering wheel in terror for four hours straight.  My calves screamed from stretching to reach the clutch, gas and brakes.  Yet the experience stretched our outlook and gave us stories we still laugh at and share to this day.

I wondered if my blog was ever read.  I’m grateful it was, and even more grateful for the chance to grow.

Jumping In Head First

Two weeks.

I’ve been blogging for Patch.com for two weeks now.

What a roller coaster ride.  The good kind.  The scary kind.  The kind you “wonder if I really wanted to take this ride?” The kind that makes you feel great you did after all.

My novel’s been sitting in my bag, waiting for me to come back to her (I’m a sailor, so of course she’s a she).  I like to think this time apart from her is just allowing her to breath, like a fine wine.  Sometimes, though, I think of her like a neglected child.

I’ve still got my critique group, thank God.  Every two weeks, we present 5-7 pages of our work.  That deadline kicks my ass sometimes, dragging me to the computer to create or revise the next submission on time.  If it wasn’t for that gun to my head, I might not push myself as hard.  My critique group partners know the feeling, and I’ve come to love them like family.  There’s a special bond made with people you share your writing with, and ironically, words fail to describe how deep my fondness is for them.

These past two weeks have found me immersed in a sudden new “career” of blogging about life around town for Patch.com.  So far, I haven’t struggled to find interesting tidbits to write about, nor do I think I will.  The challenge doesn’t even come in finding the time.  These past two weeks, I’ve found myself living, blogging, parenting, cleaning, carpooling, wiping tears (some of which were my own), checking in with my husband, worrying about friends and family, grocery shopping, petting the dog, attending other meetings.

The biggest challenge has been seeing my typos and grammatical errors show up in many of my blog posts.  They drive me insane.  I’m a recovering perfectionist, and I physically shudder when I see my errors.  I remind myself that, like a newscaster, you can either soldier on and keep going, or stop dead in your tracks and make a bigger deal of it.  I’m trying to soldier on, to check my work more carefully.  I’m often writing, spell-checking and submitting my blogs on the fly while living and doing 1,000 other things.  I try to review what I send before it goes out, but inevitably, it shows up with something (or things) that I missed.

Well, I tell myself, I’m learning.  I’m trying.  I’m not going to beat myself up.  It’s been two weeks.  I can improve and it’s not the end of the world.

The end of the world came for the young man who died on a playground near my house this week.  Who, apparently, used a pipe bomb to blow his head off, splattering his remains all over trees and swings and teeter-totters and wood-chips.  Closing school for two days so police and the FBI and social workers and groundskeepers could try to put things back together again.  They’ll never go back to normal, but we can all try our best…that’s all anyone can do.

And so, I can live with my spelling errors.  I can live with a lot of things.  I can live.  I can.

It all began with an itch on September 1, 2010

My Grandmother, Irene Cieslak, died just two months ago from Parkinson’s Disease.

She taught me many things in life, including how to make chocolate peanut butter balls, how to be humble yet proud, and how to appreciate the latest copy of the National Enquirer.

One time, during a visit to our house in the 1980s, she handed me a scratch-off lottery ticket.  Miraculously, I won $50.  I thought it was rigged.  I looked to my grandfather, Walter, then back to Grandma.  My smile was huge.

She said, matter of fact, “Well, your feet must have been itching last night.”

I almost dropped the winning ticket.  HOW did she know?  My feet — and hands — had been itching the night before.

“Simple,” she said.  “When you’re coming into money, your palms and your feet will itch.”  And that was that.

Fast forward.

Last Wednesday night,  I was in bed, trying to sleep, but it felt like something was crawling all over me.  I worried it was a case of bedbugs…they seem to be all over the news (plus, my grandmother also passed down her hypochondriacal nature to me).  I got up, put on some lotion, and tried to sleep again.  Itchy itchy itchy.  I tried to stop thinking about it, but then, of all things, my big toe just went crazy with itchiness.  So bad, in fact, that I soaked it in the tub, thinking I might have been bitten by something.

The next morning, I felt perfectly fine.  No bug bites.  No redness.  No sign at all there’d been an itchy foot.

I went about my day, taking kids to school, futzing with a blog entry that I can’t seem to get right (about books I’ve been reading lately, wondering who on earth even reads my blog except kind souls who feel sorry for me or want to keep my spirits up about being published someday), and generally pushing the piles on my desk from one side to another.

Around 4 in the afternoon, the caller ID announced a local number I didn’t recognize.  I answered, thinking it might be the parent of one of my son’s friends.

“Is this Christine Wolf?” the young woman’s voice asked kindly.

“Yes it is,” I said, quite annoyed that yet another salesperson could sneak through the do-not-call fortress I’d clearly failed to build strong enough.

“My name is…….and I’m calling from —CH dot com.”

“From where?” I said, eyeing the fridge, wondering if it was five-o-clock yet.

“—CH dot com,” she said patiently.

“Scratch dot com?” I asked over the voices of my three children and each of their three friends.

“PATCH dot com,” she said, unruffled.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “let me step outside.  I’ve got a million kids running around here and it’s hard to hear you.”  I felt like I was being selfless by continuing to hear her schpiel, rather than barking, “Sorry, not interested.”

“Not a problem,” I think she said.

“Where are you from again?”

I don’t really recall the exact conversation, but it went something like this:  She’s the editor for an online newspaper called Patch.com, her name is Jessica, and she’s been given my name by someone who read my blog and really enjoyed it.

“I’m sorry,” I said, ignoring the kids and the dog and the bottle of wine waiting for me in the fridge, “but did you say someone read my blog?”

“Yes,” she said.  It totally sounded like she was smiling.

“REALLY?” I asked.

Then I remember her saying they’re looking for someone for their About Town column, someone who’s honest and in touch with a lot of people in the community.  At that point, I thought she was looking for names.

“I know a lot of people,” I think I blurted out.  I fought the urge to scream, “WHO READ MY BLOG?  How did they find it?”

She continued.  “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to send you an email describing the job.”

I don’t think I said anything.

And I think she expected me not to say anything.  “We’d like you to be our About Town blogger.”

HOLY C&@P!!!!!!!

She sent me the email that night.  I Googled the heck out of PATCH.com, trying to figure out if this was really legit or if I was dreaming.

I kept thinking to myself:  I’d get to keep working on my novel.  I’d get to work from home.  I’d blog twice a day, Monday through Friday about the town I live in and the people who live here.  I’d get paid to do it?  I’d get paid to do it.  I’d be a paid writer.  A professional writer.

And then, I remembered my big toe.  How it itched.  And drove me crazy. And kept me up all night.  I thought about my grandma, smiling from that place she’s gone to, saying to herself, “I told her so.  I told her so.  I’m no liar.”

Then, the next few days were an absolute blur.

I reviewed the job description and contract with my attorney (who’s also the father of my children).  Knew the commitment would be big.  Challenging.  Exciting.  Good “exercise” for dedicated writing and creative thinking.  Considered how it might force me to stay disciplined with my schedule.  My attorney agreed with me that it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

I signed on the dotted line on Friday, September 3, submitted my bio and photo for the website on Sunday, September 4, and had my first blog post published online on Monday, Labor Day, September 5.  I became a working girl again on the day most people take “off”.

CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?

I still can’t.

Another really surprising thing happened on Monday night.  I was sitting in the kitchen with my attorney, talking again about how unbelievable this whole situation was, when the phone rang.  The caller ID said, “Elder, Robert.”

“Pick it up!” I said, knowing it was the regional editor for Patch.com.  Jessica, my new boss/editor had emailed me the day before, saying…oh what the heck, here’s her email:

Christine,

I just wanted to pop you a note to say not only did I love your first article, but the Chicago Patch regional editor (Rob K. Elder, of the book “Last Words of the Executed” and formally of the Chicago Tribune) thought it was great. You’re a really talented writer, and I’m so glad we approached you for this column!


Do you have any ideas for the next few columns yet? A sample of what readers should expect?

Have a great Labor Day!

Now, I was taught at a very young age not to boast or show off.  And if you’re reading this, I apologize so deeply for including that email, truly I do. But when I read those words, I started crying.  And, I didn’t even know who Rob K. Elder was.

If you’re a writer, you need no further explanation. And if you’re not a writer, it might sound silly, but it’s so absolutely amazing when someone says something kind about your writing.  That’s why we go to critique groups (for feedback).  And conferences (for encouragement). And therapy (for…well…).  Writing is a lonely, sometimes agonizing and frequently isolating experience.  The irony of writing is in its desire to share with others what we create while we’re alone.  Don’t get me wrong:  I love writing, just like a runner might love to run marathons.  It can be tough, and I need to push myself a lot.  I might not always want to do it, but I know I’ll feel better about myself if I do.  It feels natural and I feel great when I’m done.  It’s just who I am.

Oh, back to Elder, Robert K. on the phone.  I went out on the porch and tried to sound cool and in control.  But inside I was shaking, because I’d Googled Rob K. Elder after that email, and again, HOLY C&@P, he was calling me.

Again with the paraphrasing:  He was just calling to thank me for coming aboard and for my excellent writing (oh how I wish I’d recorded that CALL!).  All I could think about was how this guy had interviewed Gary Sinise.  And now, he’s calling Christine Wolf to say thanks.

Wow.

Grandma Cieslak, thank you for everything you taught me.  I almost never make the chocolate peanut butter balls, and I all but gave up tabloid rags after Princess Diana was killed in Paris because of the paparazzi.  But, I now know with certainty that a little itch on the toe is something to sit up and pay attention to.

Oh, and the biggest kicker?  The mother of the main character in my novel (for 8-12 year olds) loses her job as a local newspaper editor because online newspapers are taking over readership.  Hmmm.  Interesting…..

Here’s an article on Patch.com

http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/04/can-patch-com-help-aol-reinvent-itself/

Thanks, as always, for reading.  I’m genuinely grateful you stuck around, even when I wondered why you did.

P.S.  I wish you could have met my grandmother.  You would have liked her. She was a hoot.