A Writer's Ramblings…

January 19, 2010

A Story For Us All

Filed under: What's in my head today? — barbaratoombs @ 9:40 am
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I recently completed a writing job that was quite different for me, but one that really made me reflect on my own life.  I was approached to write the “life story” of a man who lives here in Arizona; he wanted to self-publish a few copies (leather-bound) to give to his family as a gift.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the man is of the Mormon faith–a faith well known to place significant value on family and family history.

He was raised on a ranch in Idaho, one of six kids in a devout Mormon family.  He went on a mission, married fairly young, had five kids of his own.  Like most of us, he had his challenges in life: got divorced, remarried, divorced again.  He learned a lot of lessons along the way–lessons he felt his children would benefit from, and perhaps even his grandchildren, if they were written down.

Over the course of six hour-long recorded interviews, this man revealed his life to me, piece by piece.  What affect his parents had on him, how he felt about his faith, what he learned after two failed relationships, the importance of family.  When all was said and done, I probably knew more about this man than most.

Was his story anything special?  Did it read like the script of a blockbuster movie?  Not really.  Was it a story that deserved to be told?  You bet.

At one point, in the midst of our interviews, he nearly bailed on the whole project, expressing concerns that perhaps none of his family would even be interested in his story.  I’ve got to admit that, at first, I was skeptical about the project myself–but, as we progressed, I came to realize how much I would have loved to be able to read a similar “history” of my mother (who died in 1998), or my grandparents.

When Robert voiced his doubts to me, I looked him straight in the eye and told him how much I would have treasured a book like this.  I also told him how, at one point in time, my aunt had very wisely recorded (on cassette tape–guess I’d better transcribe that!) some conversations with my grandfather about his childhood and what life was like growing up as a young Dutch boy in Michigan.  Even today, I cherish hearing his voice again and listening to the challenges and joys he had growing up in the early 20th century.

Whatever I said must have given Robert the boost of confidence he needed, because our sessions continued.  As his stories and thoughts came to life through my keyboard, a theme became clear.  Although it is easy for us to blame others for the way we are (“My dad was too strict” or “My mother was an alcoholic”), we all are responsible for charting our own path.  With knowledge, we can be more understanding about the way our parents were raised, for example, and the effect it may have had on them and how they treated us, for better or for worse.  We have a choice in life to continue that pattern–or to change it up a bit.  I guess it’s only when we get to be “mature adults” that we can look back, reflect, and understand–but it sure would help to learn, either through the written word or recorded history, what the roots of our family trees really look like.  Those roots, after all, are what shape us into the people we are today.

Robert’s book–“A Life Well Lived”–is full of family anecdotes, a few photos, and a life’s worth of lessons that could benefit us all.  The book is now at the printer, soon to be delivered into the hands of a man many would shrug off as “just ordinary.”  By taking the time to write down his story, he became extraordinary.  I can’t wait to hear how it was received by his family.


December 17, 2009

All Hail The Cell Phone!

Filed under: What's in my head today? — barbaratoombs @ 1:10 pm
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All right, I know there are many of us out there who curse the invention of the cell phone.  But I, for one, applaud it.

This all became clear to me recently, when I was traveling out of state for Thanksgiving and realized, upon getting to the airport, that I didn’t have my cell phone with me.  Horrors! After hyperventilating for several minutes, I realized that (a) most of the important people in my life were actually with me, (b) I could still check my voice mail from another phone, and (c) I could use my son’s cell phone in a pinch.

So I managed to limp through that long weekend without my precious new Verizon Versa touch-screen phone (sniff!), knowing that when I arrived home, there it would be, sitting on the table where I had left it in the rush to get out of the house to the airport.

But NO! It wasn’t THERE!  I frantically began to search everywhere, had everyone calling it, emptied pockets, searched purses…all to no avail.  I was really beginning to panic.  But then I had the tiniest idea that maybe the phone had fallen out of my handbag in the back of the cab on the way to the airport.  So I called the cab company.  It was a Saturday, and the Lost & Found department wasn’t operating, but I filed a report and was told to call back Monday.  I did, first thing.  The woman from the cab company said that, no, they didn’t have any cell phones like that there.  Dismayed and disheartened, I was about to give up, when suddenly the woman said, “Wait a minute! Let’s trace what cab you took and see what depot it came out of.  The phone might have been turned in at another depot.”  Turns out my cab came from a depot in another part of the Valley, so I called there.  The woman at Lost & Found asked me to describe my phone, and imagine my delight when she said, “I have it right here in my hand!”

As you can imagine, I jumped in my car and raced over there as fast as I possibly could, feeling the most intense relief at holding my phone in my hand once again.

It was then that I started to question why I was so attached to this thing.

Our cells phones are not just devices for making and receiving calls any more, let’s face it.  Without consulting my phone calendar, I would never be able to keep things straight or remember appointments.  Remember the days of the good ol’ Filofax binders? I use my phone like that!  Naturally, I have some music on there, a few games (great for doctor’s office waiting rooms), Internet access, poignant texts that I want to save, cherished photos, and even important notes to myself about writing ideas, a great wine I liked at a restaurant, medications the kids and I take (again, great for doctor’s visits), and more.

To lose it was akin to losing my computer, really.  Well, nearly.  At any rate, I was profoundly glad there was an honest cab driver out there who had dutifully turned it in, and was even more profoundly glad to have it back in my hot little hand.

To those of you who say, “Cell phones? Who needs ’em?”…I heartily say, “I DO!!!!”

November 25, 2009

Truly Giving Thanks

Filed under: Uncategorized — barbaratoombs @ 8:10 pm

Although I suppose a blog called “Writer’s Ramblings” should be about various aspects of writing, I’m using a technique called “literary license” today to write about something on my mind that doesn’t really relate to writing at all.

I am writing this on a plane, headed to Florida, for what we fondly call our “cousinal” Thanksgiving celebration.  This annual weeklong festivity began just over 10 years ago, I believe, and a different cousin in a different state hosts each year.  The year it officially began, I didn’t attend, because I lived in England at the time.  I was thankful, however, to know that my father, who lived in Florida (where it was being held that year) did attend—particularly because my mother had died a few months earlier.  I was happy he had family around to be with at that time.

The annual get-together grew and grew, moving around from Maine and Arizona to Michigan and Chicago, depending on which cousin was hosting that particular year.  With it, new traditions have evolved—such as unique take-home place settings (often with each participant’s name on them), the triumphant de-boning of the turkey, a fun-filled day of baking on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving followed by a dinner out, the Turkey Day meal itself, and a “theme” dinner of some sort the next day.

The first year I attended was when my cousin in Arizona, where I now live, hosted the event.  Recently divorced, and realizing that my children were spending the holiday with their father that year, I was thankful to have somewhere to go—and family to spend it with. I had a blast, and I was hooked.  The next time I attended (two years later), it was with the new man in my life and his daughter, who were wholly embraced by my wonderful extended family, and the event became a favorite of theirs every year, too.

We’ve lost some family members along the way, and gained new ones.  But each Thanksgiving, as we come together, we share that blood-is-thicker-than-water bond that is so special.  We give thanks for what we have, that we are together, and remember those who are no longer with us. It is a particularly special time for me. I lived overseas for more than a decade, and during that time I tried to tutor my foreign friends in the traditions of this wonderful holiday that doesn’t rely on gifts and tinsel, but rather on simply giving thanks for what we have.  Although they humored me, they didn’t really “get it.” Thanksgiving is truly a holiday that is uniquely American, and I am proud that we celebrate it the way we do.  So I raise a glass to America, to Thanksgiving, and to family—long may the tradition continue.  Now…will somebody please pass the cranberry sauce?

November 22, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — barbaratoombs @ 6:50 pm

(Originally posted on February 19, 2009 on BlogSpot)

At the risk of dating myself, I’m going to admit that I learned to type on a typewriter.  It was 8th grade, I believe, and we actually had an entire class in this skill (shorthand, too, as I recall…how un-PC for females today!).  Typing turned out to be one of the best skills I ever mastered, particularly considering my present profession as a writer and editor.  But I was amazed the other day, watching my 16-year-old daughter’s fingers flying across the keyboard of her PC.  Not one typing class has she ever taken.  This skill has been self-taught, from years of growing up with computer technology.  She never knew the agonies of jammed paper, replacing ribbons, stuck keys, white-out, or–God forbid–having to painstakingly patch up a “stencil”.  Anyone remember THOSE??  This generation gap was brought all-too-painfully to my attention quite a few years back, when that same daughter was admiring a silver charm bracelet of mine, heavily laden with charms that each meant something very specific to my life, my travels and my hobbies.  She paused when examining it, stopping at one that had moving parts, and looked puzzled.  “Mom?” she said, “What is THIS?”  I looked.  It was a miniature typewriter, complete with moving carriage, to commemorate my foray into journalism and the fact that I was editor of my high school newspaper.  How in the world could it be that my very own daughter had NO KNOWLEDGE of what a typewriter was?  Somehow, I like to cling onto the perhaps mistaken idea that those of us who grew up with those “archaic” machines appreciate even more the wonders of today’s technology and the ease at which words can now be sent across continents at the push of a button.

November 13, 2009

Red Pen Disease

Filed under: What's in my head today? — barbaratoombs @ 4:32 pm
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(Originally posted in January 2009 on Blogspot)

Well, since I’m a writer, I guess I’d better get on this blogging bandwagon, huh?  Up until the beginning of 2009, I didn’t really even know what a blog was!  (Am I giving away my age here?)

Yep, I’m a writer…and an editor.  I have that weird disease that means I can’t read anything without putting a red pen to it.  Typographical or grammatical errors literally jump off the page of a book, an ad in a newspaper, a billboard in town…and hit me in the face.  Drives me crazy.  Drives my husband crazy that I do this, in fact.  But there you have it.  You’d think my meticulousness with the written word would translate into me being one of those people who have a very neat house and a very organized closet, right?  Well, unfortunately those two things appear to be very separate.  In fact, I’m what’s known as a “piler”.  I have “piles” everywhere: of papers, books, photos, you name it.  I’m resigned to my fate, however, and will be content with cleaning up the written word.

It always amazes that, even on extremely professional websites or publications, how many errors you’ll actually find.  Or simply poorly written copy.  Maybe people don’t know there are poor, struggling freelancers like us out there to cater to their every whim and make their written materials look fantastic??

I actually became a freelancer out of necessity, after I was laid off from my job as Managing Editor of a monthly lifestyle publication here in Phoenix, a job I loved.  But such is today’s world, with layoffs happening everywhere…and, although I had no inkling that it would affect my life, it did.

But, since I’m generally one of those “cup half full” people, I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons, getting bits of freelance work here and there and helping my husband with his new business (Sandler Training–a fantastic sales and management training program that is 180 degrees from traditional training) by writing his web copy, press releases and so forth.

And when I don’t have freelance work, expect more blogs–at last I’ve found a way to release the words within me, whether anyone reads them or not!!!

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