Home away from Home

A quiet life in Lisbon

I don’t know anyone who has applied for or attended a writer’s retreat–the kind where a writer or artist lives in a tiny cabin in the woods and shares meals with like individuals. They sound fascinating, perhaps a bit primitive, but who would have me, a relatively unpublished writer with no MFA? Maybe that is for another day when I have credentials or maybe not. So I made my own, this year in Lisbon.
I know I’m lucky. My husband is supportive of my adventures and I can swing a month long escape both financially and professionally without too much damage. I also have the necessary spirit of adventure, willingness to go outside of my safety zone.
This year I booked an AirBNB in Lisbon. I had a lovely apartment in a central location with a usable but not amazing desk to write on and excellent internet service. This matters because in Bari during a previous escape, my laptop crashed and I blew through all my internet data reinstalling Windows and other software. This caused a little consternation for my host but we figured it out. Fortunately, my Portuguese internet was stable and speedy.

Number 28 Trolley

The first week in Portugal was shared with my dearest friends who joined me from Chicago. We crammed in as many of the tourist highlights of Lisbon as can be accomplished in 6 days. We went to the Tile Museum (Museo Nacional do Azulejo), the castle, rode the tram, sampled the cuisine and walked until our joints hurt.
When they left, I hunkered down and started writing. Of course, nearly every day I was seduced by another ramble in the sunshine or an hour journaling at my favorite outdoor cafe or a trip to an amazing bakery for a treat.
In the next month of blogging, I hope to share some of the details. Enjoy.

Stairs and cross


A February Sabbatical

Two years ago, I started what I hope will be an ongoing adventure, I took an informal “sabbatical” from work.  First of all an explanation and a dictionary definition of sabbatical:  “a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked,” (link here).  At one point in my life, I might have aspired to a paid leave.  I am the daughter of a university professor and the wife of one, but I left academia early in my career, which is a story for another day.  Now I am self-employed so my sabbatical is unpaid and short but hard-won.

Bari Harbor
Two years ago I spent a month in Bari, Italy, which I blogged about some time ago.  The reason:  to escape Chicago winter which wears me down a little more every year and to work on editing my book and preparing it for querying.  The break was a success.  Walking on the boardwalk, touring the city and nearby small towns while spending weekdays editing and submitting made for an amazing February.  I’ll call it my “rest and revise” trip.  At the end I decided my novel was not quite ready for publication but learned from my mistakes and went back, not to the beginning, but to a new round of revising.

Last year, I was dealing with some health issues and did not manage another getaway, but lucky me, I am now largely recovered, and I just finished a month in Lisbon, again focused on revising, writing, touring and sunshine, not necessarily in that order.  I wanted to have my next round of revisions finished but didn’t meet that goal.  Even so, I believe my book is much better for the time and attention and I am sharing new pages with my writing group.

I don’t like my blog posts to get overlong.  I tend not to read long posts and doubt others do either.  Here are images of why I ran and what I found.


 After the "Polar Vortex"


More will follow in future posts. Thanks for reading.

A Little Light Reading

January is just flying by.  Here we are at the 18th.  In two more weeks, the month will be over, I will have a nice list of StoryStorm-generated ideas and will be taking them with me to Lisbon.

In the meantime, I can ponder the last two story prompts.  Two days ago we were steered to use puns liberally.  Today’s post is actually more a series of suggestions.  The first is to observe the ordinary, research it, and write it all down.  The second is to keep one’s mind open and non-judgmental about the ideas and interests that feed one’s writing.  The third is to look around, closely, for “one amazing thing.”  And of course, write that down too.


Fried chicken candy anyone?

There are parallels I see to my photography, maybe not so much the puns, but the research, generation of new ideas and looking for the amazing in the mundane.  I recently took a photo of a broken hubcap on the road.  I just liked the geometry.


I’ve read three books since my trip to the library last week.  I hope to review them on my Goodreads site and maybe here as well but that will have to wait until tomorrow.  Enjoy your weekend endeavors whatever they may be!

Slow day, snow day

Little Church in Porto
This photo is from a day well spent in Porto, Portugal back in 2010

I haven’t written anything yet today and time is passing so I probably won’t except for this post.  I start work late on Wednesdays but that doesn’t mean I get anything useful done at home.  This morning I bought some shoes on line and reserved some books at my local public library.  Both trivial actions relate to preparing for my upcoming trip to Lisbon (February 1).  Now that I think of it both relate to portability–good, light shoes that are easy to pack and likely to fare well on hills and e-books for the journey.

I am making a point of reading MG books at present.  In December I binged on essay collections.  I have been writing and submitting an essay or two to literary journals but am now trying to focus back on my MG novel-in-process.  So I am concentrating on craft.

Lisbon is not just a holiday for me, although it will be that.  It is also a writing retreat.  If I stayed here at home to write, I would have to face the weather that leaves me down and demoralized.  I also would procrastinate and the guilt would send me back to the office.  So why not rent a small apartment and hole up somewhere?  And if I’m going to do that, why not somewhere warmer and far more exciting than my home turf?  Hence, Portugal.

Two years ago, I did a similar retreat to Bari, Italy.  It worked very well!  I edited, proofed and submitted my novel to agents.  I participated in a Twitter competition.  I learned about pitches and synopses.  Not all happened in that order necessarily.  I didn’t get any bites and have since started a deep revision which brings me up to the present.

I have a critique group.  What I need is space and time to work.  So there I go in a few short weeks.  With my new shoes and e-books.

I missed blogging about StoryStorm for a couple of days.  The prompts are about telling a difficult story (the example given is a Holocaust story) and about starting a story in the journalistic sense with Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.  Not that all of those are necessary at once, but it makes for a great framework for considering beginnings.  The question words remind me to get back to studying Portuguese.  I can now say, “I drink milk” but haven’t gotten to “Where’s the bathroom?”  Very useful words, those.

May all your journeys, literal or figurative, writing or otherwise be bright.

The three sights

At the beach

The StoryStorm prompt for today is to use three “sights,” namely eyesight, insight and hindsight. I read this as: 1) What do I see? 2) What do I learn from this? 3) How does this relate to my past?

I am just now looking through my window. I see snow and sunshine. The sky is blue, everything is reflective, sparkling and clean. What do I learn? To take joy in the moment. Chicago in winter may be cold and inhospitable but there are moments of striking beauty. The hindsight? Snow days of my childhood. Trips to Mt. Rainier with our sleds–it was lovely to be able to visit winter but not stay. Getting snowed in at school and eating hot dogs waiting for the buses to arrive. My first winter in Chicago–26 below zero that year. Being literally blown off my feet.

I’m not turning all this into a picture book because I have other projects on tap but I am grateful for the prompt and it will give me something to return to someday.

Contemporary Reading

backyard bunny

I just chose this title to reflect on the previous blog post.  A comment from a reader this week inspired me to, finally, go to the library and clear up some old fines and get my library account usable again.  Now I can check out or download as many books as I want.  This solves my bind of not wanting to buy large numbers of hardback books to keep myself up-to-date with children’s literature.

I arrived home with around 6 middle grade novels and a graphic novel.  All are due on February 1 which coincidentally is when I will be leaving for 5 weeks in Portugal.  I call it my self-made writing retreat and hope to sightsee, write and edit my book, and escape from cold Chicago.  I am cramming a bit of Portuguese before I go and trying to catch up on all the necessary chores before I leave.  The new library card was motivated in part by wanting to download books onto my Kindle instead of carrying them with me.

Toys in the Snow

I missed two days’ of prompts for StoryStorm.  My short form of those two days and today amounts to this:  1)  Stop, look and listen (be mindful of the world around you) and recombine prompt words in novel groupings.  2) Keep a journal of interesting words and phrases.  3) Make a pillow fort and connect with your childlike self.  I need to get my idea book and work on these tonight.

Writing Historically

picture books

The latest writing prompt from StoryStorm day 9 is about historical events and anniversaries. The notion is to look up a certain date, say, 50 or 100 years ago plus or minus a year or two and write about something from that date.  An example was given of the toaster which was invented in 1926.  This brought to mind a story already written of “The Brave Little Toaster” which was turned into a film my kids and I watched many times.

Besides toasters, this prompt got me thinking about my anniversaries and about my reading history.  The process of writing a middle grade novel gets me revisiting beloved stories of my childhood and of my kids’ youth.  They are 21 and 26 now so I haven’t been reading to them much lately although just this week my older son had a novel he liked shipped to our local bookstore for me to read.  That was a delightful surprise.

Unfortunately, I find it hard to keep up with modern MG novels which is a professional necessity.  I think I need to renew my library card and get over to the library more.  I have a bad habit of accumulating fines!


The images above show some books from my recent and more remote past.  Most of the children’s books were boxed up and I am already missing them.  The books are an odd mix.  Some I bought or were gifts reflecting adult favorites, for sentimental value–books that the kids never read.  Nancy Drew is one of those.  Some of the most worn picture books were read countless times. I miss reading to the kids and hope that reading will be something I can share with grandchildren some day.

Happy reading or writing to all.