Vacation Traditions, Part 3—On the Road

Recently those Nerdy Chicks, Kami [link] and Sudipta [link], shared their family vacation traditions that took us from Folly Beach, S.C. to India. My family’s vacation tradition was that our vacations were not traditional—we’d go somewhere different every year.

Living during the golden age of American road trips, we’d drive off from our New Jersey home to experience the great northeast—the Jersey shore, a Rhode Island beach, Mystic Seaport, Cape Cod, Vermont, Maine, Niagara Falls (twice), Washington, D.C. (also twice), a Canadian odyssey from Montreal to Quebec City. I have a photo of myself as a toddler with my Italian-speaking nonna and my Polish-speaking babka at Daytona Beach, Florida—I can’t imagine what that road trip was like.

family_beach

One year, my father sat at our dining room table with AAA maps and railroad timetables planning a trip to the Grand Canyon by train with connections in Chicago to all points west (my mother had a confirmed fear of flying). I was so disappointed when that trip never happened. Eventually, my mother overcame her issues with flight, and we made our trip to the Grand Canyon, continuing to Las Vegas, ending in LA and my first visit to Disneyland—but by then I was already 24.

Lincoln_annaWTC2001_anna_momAs an adult, I continued in the family tradition of wanderlust and saw the world. My last big trip was to Moscow to adopt my daughter. Then Anna and I began our own trips—the Jersey Shore, Washington, D.C., Hershey Park, a New York State dude ranch, a North Carolina beach, DisneyWorld.

3dogsLoRezBut then our family dynamic changed—we began to adopt dogs. First one, then two, then three. We loved them so much we didn’t trust anyone else to care for them (plus they tended not to like people other than us). This caused a vacation challenge for our family.

cabin_duskSo I bought a summer cabin in a lake community in northwest Jersey bear country and that solved the problem for a few years. It was the perfect place for us and our three dogs. But when Anna got her drivers license, she preferred being with friends, and the cabin lost its appeal for her. I struggled through the pangs of empty nest syndrome until I recommitted to writing and drawing for children. The cabin became Studio del Lago—my creative refuge.

Anna is now a certified professional pet sitter [link]. Her weekends and weekdays are spent lovingly caring for pets in their homes while their owners are on vacation. My weekends are spent at the cabin writing (like today) and napping (also like today).

But last weekend, we were both home and decided to have a Staycation together—having fun in our own hometown. We went garage sale-ing, shopped for beads at a craft store, had dinner at a Japanese restaurant, and saw Jersey Boys in our village theater. Sunday morning, we had pancakes at our local diner, and shopped at our favorite antique/junk store (she scored a cement replica of our dog Princess and I added an Italian vase to my collection).

staycation

Anna and I dream of going to Italy someday. I hear there’s an airline that lets your pets stay in coach with you. If it flies to Venice, you can bet we’ll get a photo of our dogs in a gondola.

Arrivederci!

Mary

 

www.maryzisk.com

 

 

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Barbara Walters

Barbara_Walters_512Television journalist Barbara Walters is retiring today. When we hear her name, we may first think of her interviews with “fascinating” celebrities and of her reign at The View. But before that, Barbara played a major role in trailblazing opportunities for woman. In the early 1960s, before the Women’s Movement, it was believed that women wouldn’t be taken seriously reporting “hard news.” Barbara fought that stereotype by first appearing on The Today Show as the regular “Today Girl”, handling light assignments and the weather—the only place for a woman on television news. She says that back then “there was no glass ceiling—it was steel.” Within a year she had become a reporter-at-large—developing, writing, and editing her own reports and interviews. walterstodayAlthough an important contributor at Today, she wasn’t made the first female co-host until 1974. Two years later, at ABC, Barbara became the first female co-anchor of any network evening news (to the open dismay of the male anchor). In 1977, she achieved a joint interview with Egypt’s President, Anwar Al Sadat, and Israel’s Prime Minister, Menachem Begin that started her on the path as a prime interviewer of powerful and controversial world leaders.

Even though Barbara is retiring today, I have a feeling it’s not the last we’ll be seeing of this pushy cookie.

 

Barbara Walters Quotes:

• I was the kind nobody thought could make it. I had a funny Boston accent. I couldn’t pronounce my R’s. I wasn’t a beauty.

If it’s a woman it’s caustic, if it’s a man it’s authoritative. If it’s a woman it’s too pushy, if it’s a man it’s aggressive in the best sense of the word.

• Most of us have trouble juggling. The woman who says she doesn’t is someone whom I admire but have never met.

• I got the reputation of being a good journalist, but also of being a pushy cookie.

• Success can make you go one of two ways. It can make you a prima donna, or it can smooth the edges, take away the insecurities, let the nice things come out.

• To feel valued, to know, even if only once in a while, that you can do a job well is an absolutely marvelous feeling.

If you’d like to hear from Barbara Walters about her struggles against discrimination  and her true feelings about “Baba Wawa,” go here for interview videos.

 

Mother Nature: The Ultimate Nerdy Chick?

Mother Nature is a Nerdy Chick. She’s strong, talented, and assertive. Okay, she can be cranky too, but we try to stay out of her way.

 

winter

This past winter, Mother Nature bombarded many of us with unreasonable amounts of snow and pitched us into frigid polar vortexes (which we had never heard of before). But while we hunkered down in our homes (thanks MN for four days of writing while the office was closed), she was out there creating beauty: putting diamonds on tree branches, etching intricate frosty patterns on glass, and sculpting ice into glossy reaching fingers.

 

ocean

me_oceanWhen April arrived and the last snow melted away, I attended a writers’ retreat at the Jersey Shore. Mother Nature spent the weekend churning the sea with heavy wind and rain, but I didn’t let her chase me away. Doing my best Jim Cantore imitation, I bundled up in storm gear and walked alone on the beach. I inhaled the salty, fishy air and watched Mother Nature paint patterns on the sand with foaming water, leaving collages of shells, stones, and claws.

 

spring_sign

Today my perennial garden is covered with last fall’s leaves, hiding treasures like clutter hides a teenager’s messy bedroom floor. Mother Nature is sending small signs of spring, hinting at the summer to come. She grows a quilt of glossy leaves and her small gifts of early flowers pop up. She soaks her gardens with more rain, and paints abstract patterns of lichen on trees.

Mother Nature is a creative and clever Nerdy Chick. She has endless imagination when using color, form, and texture. She shares all of it with us—whether we want it or not. If we accept her many moods, we can see her beauty all around us.

 

All photographs © Mary Zisk 2014

 

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Judy Blume

Blume-JudyWho has created a bigger impact on children’s literature than Judy Blume? She was among the first authors to write teen novels about racism, menstruation, divorce, bullying, masturbation, and teen sex. She’s also written chapter books and novels for adults, selling more than 82 million copies of her books in 32 languages. In the 1980s, Judy found herself in the center of an organized book banning campaign. Ever since, she has worked tirelessly with the National Coalition Against Censorship to protect the freedom to read.

Judy Blume Quotes

• The best books come from someplace inside. You don’t write because you want to, but because you have to.

• I’m really quite bad at coming up with plot ideas. I like to create characters and just see what will happen to them when I let them loose!

• I wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret right out of my own experiences and feelings when I was in sixth grade. Controversy wasn’t on my mind. I wanted only to write what I knew to be true. I wanted to write the best, the most honest books I could, the kinds of books I would have liked to read when I was younger. If someone had told me then I would become one of the most banned writers in America, I’d have laughed.

• I wanted to show sexuality with responsibility. I wanted girls to have a good time. Damn, I was a girl.

• I talk to God as a confidant, the way Margaret does.

• Censorship grows out of fear, and because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed. Book banning satisfies their need to feel in control of their children’s lives.

• You cannot say, “I don’t want a book in the library because I don’t want my child to read it” when everybody else’s children have the right to read it.

To learn more about Judy, her books, and her views on censorship, visit her website. To watch video interviews of Judy, go to here.

Simon & Schuster is reissuing Judy’s middle grade novels in April with cover illustrations by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Click here to read about Debbie’s new covers as well as her exciting news about other Blume classics.

7mgJudyBlumeBooks-600

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Reshma Saujani

reshmaWith all the Nerdy Chicks out there, it’s surprising that only 12% of computer science graduates are women. Reshma Saujani is determined to close that gender gap. The former Deputy Public Advocate of New York City, Reshma founded Girls Who Code, an organization whose mission is to “educate, inspire and equip underserved girls ages 13-18 with the skills and resources necessary to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).” She is the author of a book on female leadership entitled Women Who Don’t Wait in Line: Break the Mold. Lead the Way. In 2010, Reshma became the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress.

Reshma Saujani Quotes:

• We don’t even know what the world would look like if we gave girls the leverage and power of technology. The ideas they come up with are so different than if I was teaching a group of 20 boys. Their ideas are centered around changing the world. They’ll do it. I have no doubt.

• Technology can either enhance poverty or diminish it.

• If you teach one girl how to code, she will teach three.

• We have to be okay when we don’t have nets. You have to fail fast and fail hard. You have to embrace failure and risk.

• Bring me more grief because you learn so much more from the journey.

• If you haven’t failed yet, you haven’t tried anything.

I took comfort in that last quote when a recent project failed—it’s better that I had tried and learned. If you want to listen to Reshma, she’s one of the interviewees at Makers.com

The Quotable Nerdy Chick: MAKERS.com

makers.com

While researching the modern women’s movement for a novel, I came across a remarkable documentary called MAKERS: Women Who Make America. Using interviews, it told the story of the social revolution by American women who fought for their share of political power, economic opportunity, and personal autonomy.

That documentary led me to MAKERS.com, self-described as “a dynamic digital platform showcasing thousands of compelling stories—both known and unknown—from trailblazing women of today and tomorrow.” This ongoing initiative aims to be the largest and most dynamic collection of women’s stories ever assembled.

Yep, video interviews with thousands of Nerdy Chicks!

Founded by Dyllan McGee (her story here) and developed by AOL and PBS, MAKERS.com introduces you to strong, committed women from such categories as: Groundbreakers, Politics, Arts, Science & Tech, etc.

Here’s just a sample of these very Quotable Nerdy Chicks:

Anna Maria Chavez, CEO, Girl Scouts of USA

• Don’t let other people create your persona. Don’t let other people paint the picture of who you represent.

• We need to bring a more diverse thinking around the business table, around the government table, around any table where tough decisions are being made.

Erin Brockovich, environmental activist

• Someone, somewhere, went out on a limb. They created a law. They changed a life. They made a difference.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, first Latina elected to Congress

• Is this a great country or what? To think that a Cuban refuge could come to the United States, not know a word of English…I’m now a member of Congress. I’ll always have that little niche in the history books.

If you were born after 1960, you owe it to yourself to better understand how women’s roles in America evolved from the 1950s to today. Meet the courageous women who stood up and demanded to be heard by clicking here and watch MAKERS: Women Who Make America. Six more documentaries will be released later this year.

A Winter Dream Tree Grows in Jersey

threetrees_blogOur living room Christmas decorations seemed extra twinkly this year with three trees. When I put them away, I missed the sparkle of little lights and the cheeriness of ornaments. The dark spot left by the put-away Christmas trees reminded me that last winter felt especially gloomy, both meteorlogically and emotionally. Normally, the inside warmth of my home during winter feels cozy and creative. But not last year, for some reason. So this year, to fend off any doldrums, I put up a Winter Dream Tree.

Barb's holiday tree and Polly's vision tree

Barb’s holiday tree and Polly’s vision tree

Inspired by artist Barbara Johansen Newman’s yearly holiday tree and artist Polly Law’s vision tree, I cut branches from a dead Japanese Andromeda shrub (I had mourned the loss of its life, so I was thrilled to find it a new life) and arranged them in a pitcher of stones.

visionboard_blog

My visions from 2011

At first I intended the tree to be a Vision Tree. How many of you have made a vision board—a device that sends your intentions out into the Universe to fulfill your desires like a magic genie whose bottle is decorated with ripped-out magazine pages and phrases and Modpodge? My vision board from a few years ago hasn’t kicked in yet—there is no yellow Mini Cooper in my driveway and I still haven’t been to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. But the board still expresses my hopes and passions (are you listening, Universe?!).

Instead of pressuring my tree to be visionary, I decided to decorate it with whatever represented my inner spirit and I scoured the house for personal symbols, a.k.a. tchotchkes (my home is overrun with symbols). The decorating began: artist’s tools of the trade, family, animals, beads and keys (to the future), many clocks (time is ticking), things from Italy, jewelry bling, and a timid touch of Intentions to the Universe (writing and illustration projects). mylady_combo

Now my Winter Dream Tree is twinkling in the living room, brightening up winter’s days and my mood. I call my dog Oliver my happy pill because he constantly cheers me up. After a couple of winter weeks, I can truly say that my tree is working the same way. It probably won’t come down in spring but will just transform to reflect the new season. I’m getting so attached to the tree that it may even need to stick around and share the stage with next year’s Christmas tree.

fulltree_sunday

Anyone tempted to install a tree of your own? If so, I hope it brings you a Happy, Dreamy, Creative, and Visual New Year!