Jun 16

Like Father, Like Home

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We were thrilled to own (or at least owe on) this dirt.

After five years of marriage and apartment living as DINKS (Dual Income No Kids), my husband and I began the process of building a house. It was our first baby. We visited the site every day for the nine months of construction, following its every change with great excitement. We would wander around dirt, and later concrete, imagining where we’d be eating and sleeping, washing dishes and watching TV.

Once the second floor was framed out, we’d sit on the bottom steps and dream aloud about our future life. There was a bedroom that we both hoped would one day be a nursery. To be safe, we agreed to simply call it “the empty room.”

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Like a well-built house in a storm, a good father helps make his family feel safe in a sometimes scary world.

Six months after we moved in, I became pregnant. The empty room became the baby’s room, first for my daughter and, eight years later, for my son. All the while my husband proved to be an amazing father, patient and loving, as comforting and constant as the roof over our heads.

When circumstances changed and we decided to sell, I hoped that our home would find, well, a good home.

Our buyer was a single businessman from China who had recently become an American citizen. “Matt” (his American name) and I conversed easily.

Matt and I, both born in the year of the rat. I knew he'd love my house as I had, even before I knew the meaning of our address.

Matt and I, both born in the year of the rat. I knew he’d love my house as I had, even before I knew the meaning of our address.

We soon discovered that we were the same age, our birthdays being only days apart. Having visited China with my sister, I had a love for his home country as much as he had a love for his new country, too. Above all, Matt loved my first baby as much as I did.

At the closing, Matt let me in on a little secret. Our house number–1717–had a lot to do with his choosing our home. In Chinese, numbers have great significance. As Matt explained to me, 1 means “I want” and 7 means “a wife.” What’s more, 7 + 1 = 8. The number 8 is considered the luckiest of all numbers, signifying success, wealth or money.

So 1717 to bachelor-entrepreneur Matt read, “I want a wife, I want a wife, money, money.” I hoped he was right and wished him every happiness.

A wedding (in this case, mine) marks the end of one phase of fatherhood for the dad and the beginning hopes of grandfatherhood!

A wedding (in this case, mine) marks the end of one phase of fatherhood for the dad and the beginning hopes of grandfatherhood!

Less than a year later, I received a call from Hazel Sun, an outstanding real estate professional here in Central Florida. As Matt’s agent in our sale, Hazel had kept in touch with us both. She told me that Matt had met a girl and was getting married.

A few weeks ago, I received another call from Hazel. This one ended with me in tears. Happy tears.

"Which way should I go, Dad?"

“What will my future hold, Dad?”

Matt is about to become a father; he and his wife are expecting their first child. From the heart I saw in him as he told me stories about growing up in China, I know that Matt will be a great father. The empty room will be filled once more.

So 1-7-1-7 has come true. Matt met the wonderful wife he wanted so much, and now, he’s about to embark on life’s most profitable venture. Because loving and caring for your child is the greatest success to which a man can ever aspire.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feb 16

ONE Neighborhood – ONE School

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The desire: That children within one subdivision of homes bound together by geography (no major roads dividing), common recreational and meeting areas, and a Homeowners’ Association be zoned for the same school.

A Musical Plea to Florida’s Seminole County School Leadership and Board

As final plans for rezoning elementary schools here in Seminole County, Florida are being finalized, I wanted to help the hard-working Superintendent, his staff, and our elected school board to remember ONE Neighborhood – ONE School. More than a mantra, it’s a guiding principle, an overwhelmingly uniting one, too. It’s something on which all with whom I’ve spoken and heard speak in the East Zone seem to resoundingly agree.

So I thought, what better way to help us all remember something than to put it to music. Right? Here it is below, what I believe to be the first musical public postcard of its kind to a school board. Sing along with me!

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Jan 17

The Poetry of Politics

If our home is still zoned for Partin in 2014, my son could just as easily walk, bike, or swim to school!

Last night I attended a meeting regarding plans for rezoning Seminole County elementary schools. Indeed, it seemed there were as many proposed plans as committee members circled together inside the Winter Springs High School library.

Somewhere between my third and fourth Ghiradelli chocolate square, fortuitously strewn across our community table in the back, I heard the leaders agree to whittle down to five plans as a goal. And by the time I found the source of the flamingo-pink lemonade observers were holding, I had already gained a sweet appreciation for both the complexity of the problem and the impassioned individuals striving to solve it.

Sharing the precious scavenged provisions with my eleven-year-old daughter (who hadn’t had dinner either as we had raced from a dentist appointment), I realized something important about myself. You’ve heard, I’m a lover, not a fighter? Well, I’m a poet, not a politician. Now I know.

http://www.nps.gov/inde/independence-hall-1.htm

The inspiring Rising Sun Chair at Independence Hall in Boston

As I watched the panoply of the technical proceedings unfold, I thought of George Washington’s famous chair at Independence Hall. I had seen it up close in Boston when I was pregnant with Cassidy. Near the end of the Constitutional Convention’s historic debates in 1787, Benjamin Franklin had made his immortalized observation:

I have, he said to his founding friends, often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.

What a memorable metaphor. Maybe poetry has a place in politics after all. Before rhetoric took on a negative connotation for being used without conviction, the graceful use of words was actually part of the process. Watching C-SPAN today, I’m not feeling the love of language, or anything else for that matter.

But last night was different. Of the many PTA moms, principals, school board members, public servants and other impassioned volunteers whom I witnessed, none lacked for sincerity or commitment. I tip my half-full styrofoam cup to them all.

Returning home, inspired by the evening’s information and sugar, I did the only thing I could think to do. I wrote. Below is what came out: sixteen haiku poems, one for each of the villages within our diverse yet richly woven community of Live Oak Reserve here in Oviedo. Politics or poetry? Maybe they can still co-exist.

16 REZONING HAIKUS

Seminole rezone

Redistribute don’t divide

Live Oak Reserve homes

Sixteen villages

Standing together as one

Supporting Partin

One community

Defined by geography

Involved at Partin

Think transportation

Model green choices for them

Let Live Oak kids walk

Live Oak Reserve is

A walking community

Don’t take that away

The law appears clear

Proximity is foremost

Factor in rezone

Follow the statute

Strive to maximize locals

Minimize buses

Transportation law

Reasonable distance test

Live Oak all within

Spend increased taxes

On better education

Not gas for buses

Support childhood health

Not with empty words but votes

That reward walkers

We teach save the world

This choice must be consistent

Cut carbon footprint

Never on big streets

By foot and bike together

Live Oak kids go home

Parent involvement

Naturally higher when close

Made harder when far

Diverse families joined

Each working hard to live here

Growing with Partin

Live Oak Reserve: sixteen branches of one tree. Our goal: to stay together in the Partin Elementary school zone.

Live Oak Reserve: sixteen branches of one tree. Our goal: to stay together in the Partin Elementary school zone.

These sixteen branches

Filled with children as green leaves

Cherished every one

Branches of one tree

No matter how divided

Cannot thrive apart

Visit Live Oak Reserve HOA for current news on “One Community. One School.”

http://liveoakreservehoa.us/

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Sep 10

Pushing the Stone

 

The cardinal rule: don't sit in front of a window if you don't want to be distracted.

I just completed my Week 8 assignment for the Writer’s Digest online course, Build Your Novel Scene by Scene. It was brutal. Not the scene, but the process of drudging through miles of sticky mental muck to actually write. To demonstrate my fragile mental state, I shall be relating a story about squirrels. But first, oh look! The cardinals are strutting outside my window. Aww, pretty birds…Where was I?

Mr. Squirrel thinks he's stealthy.

Oh right, my deep-seeded emotional struggles to persist. There I was, researching in circles on my laptop again as righteous justification for not writing, when I spotted the enemy: I named him Mr. Squirrel (further evidence of my creative angst).

Mr. Squirrel likes to eat the bird seed. This distresses me greatly. It leads to a long, annoying game whereby I run outside to chase away Mr. Squirrel, he waits until I am back inside and in front of my laptop again, and then he boldly returns, laughing at me through the window. Repeat the scene another dozen times.

As with many of life’s great trials, however, I found a solution at Lowe’s. See the dome underneath the feeder? It’s called a–get this–squirrel baffle. This was going to be good.

I installed said bird feeder protection device and went inside. In my excitement, I may have actually typed a few sentences of my scene while I waited. Then he appeared, making sure I was watching him. Time and again, he climbed up the post of good hope but could not round her cape. Mr. Squirrel was baffled, indeed! (Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh.)

"Watch and learn, Mrs. Human."

Perhaps I accidentally wrote another sentence or two before the next event; I can’t remember. But not long after my sweet victory, he was back. Mr. Squirrel approached my window yet again. As you can see from this third picture, he stared me down straight on, one searching creature to another. Then he turned from his stance on the ledge and leaped, hairy toothpick arms and legs flailing wildly in slow motion, landing on top of the baffle.

He proceeded to feast with abandon on the bird feed. I watched him for a few minutes, allowing him to enjoy the fruits of his labor, the spoils of his conquest, the prize of his chase. He had persevered. Even though the birds on top seemed to mock him; even though some other squirrels had tried but given up after a few attempts; even though he himself was baffled and frustrated by his repeatedly thwarted efforts–Mr. Squirrel kept on trying. He did not. Stop. Trying. (sniff, sniff)

My 11-year-old daughter summed up this lesson for me a different way last night. It was my low point for the writing week, when I actually let slip the words, “It’s just too hard. What am I doing this to myself?” Seeing my frustration, she told me: You have to push the stone if you want it to move. I think her Padawan training is complete.

As for my squirrel story, it ends happily. I ventured to Lowe’s once more, this time for a hanging block of corn feed. Mr. Squirrel earned it. And so will I, one baffling try at a time.

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Jul 18

The Publish Driven Life

WHAT ON EARTH AM I WRITING FOR?

An impromptu book signing at a friend's baby shower. Yes, I always keep copies in my car!

“It’s not about you.” That’s the memorable first sentence of Rick Warren’s spiritual bestseller, The Purpose Drive Life. It’s a message worth repurposing for those of us who would like to call ourselves writers but still aren’t sure we’ve got what it takes.

The foundation for Julia Cameron’s groundbreaking The Artist’s Way  is the same; it’s not about us or what we, from aspiring to accomplished artists, do or don’t do. Rather, it’s about who our all-powerful creator, the Great Artist, shaped us to be. Cameron contends that creating is our gift back to God. It’s a liberating mindset, this powerful extraction of one’s ego from one’s art.

So then all that remains to be vanquished is our fear. At every turn and dark alley, shooting off even the most scenic streets, it lurks in the shadows telling us we’re not good enough, attacking pieces of us that we are working so hard to put together. With its intended fatal blow, fear tries to convince us that what we want to create is too difficult. It’s too hardour fear tells us. I just can’t do it. Or there’s the even more insidious lie, I just can’t do it now.

My personal procrastination, however, recently received a grande battement in the derrière. After hurdling over past creative blocks and working hard to complete two YA novels in less than a year, my fellow creative Chick Vivi Barnes–a.k.a. ticklingthemuse–landed an awesome literary agent! I was so inspired by Vivi’s efforts and success I even wrote her a victory theme song.

Suddenly the reality had hit really close to home: hard work is really all that’s standing between me and finishing the novel I’ve been chasing for so long. Hard work is the only wind that can blow the sails of any story. So I enrolled in a Writer’s Digest University online workshop, Build Your Novel Scene by Scene. And it starts tomorrow!

This exciting 90-day intensive course is exactly what I need. I’ve always worked better with the urgency of deadlines, the feedback of a teacher and the overall structure of a school-like setting. For starters, it will force me to outline the entire book in detail before being “allowed” to write. The latter is my favorite part, but in neglecting the former I’ve floundered at sea, drifting this way and that.

There is NOTHING more rewarding than seeing your story in the hands of a reader!

My final destination is indeed PUBLICATION, that is, getting my story into the hands of readers. The once intimidating and paralyzing prospects of “breaking into the publishing world” are changing dramatically in this modern electronic age. Fear of not getting published is now invalid. Whether in physical bookstores or only in online bookstores and e-reader apps, the best stories ultimately win. My own positive self-publishing experience with Lulu.com–getting my first children’s book out there– has shown me that the only barriers left to becoming a writer live in the mind.

So my immediate goal and focus for the next 90 days is to FINISH. Whether or not I secure a traditional literary agent and publisher once I arrive at my intended port is (almost) a moot point. It would be great, of course, but if I finish this story in which I believe so intensely, writing it to the best of my ability, then I’ve already acquired the real prize.

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May 13

My Mom, the Mayor

Me and mom in February, 2001. I was about to give birth to my first child, Cassidy, and she was about to give birth to her third child (after me and my sister), the Town of Southwest Ranches.

Sometimes life takes a U-Turn. Take tonight, for example. I was planning on writing a lovely Mother’s Day post on my co-authored creativity blog, 4 Chicks and a Muse, about my pride in being a “Home Creator,” like my mom–Mecca Fink–was when I was growing up. I thought it might be cool to show a picture of her, showing how she went from being president of the school PTA, to president of her unincorporated area’s HOA, to co-creator and inaugural mayor of the Town of Southwest Ranches, in Broward County, Florida.

Instead, I found only stories of an ugly corruption scandal a few years back involving one Debra Wasserman-Rubin, her husband and others. The negative comments directed at my mom prompted me to write the response below, my unedited but sincere attempt to put a little truth in the cyber world about all the good my mom did for the town in which she still lives.

My mom and original council member and volunteer fire founder Johnny Dollar celebrating the passing of the vote for SW Ranches to become its own town in 2001.

What a Mother’s Day message I hadn’t anticipated writing. I was simply overcome by compassion for my mom, whom I had no idea endured so much backlash following her eight years of volunteer elected service as mayor, during which, among other visionary ideas, she dreamed of a town rich with parks and preserved open spaces for generations to come. Looks like life threw her a U-Turn I didn’t know about. How sad and yet wonderful that learning of this tonight moved me to gain an even deeper love and respect for my mom.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms and daughters who are moms out there. Share the love!

Original Wanch Waggler Blog Post

Tracey Fink Smith said…

In writing a blog post about my mom, Mecca Fink, for this Mother’s Day, I Googled to see if I could find a picture of her as Mayor. I can’t believe what I’m reading. First of all, “Corn Pone”, my mom wasn’t ejected from office. She was re-elected to a second term, which she served to completion and decided not to run again when both my sister and I were pregnant at the same time. Second of all, I remember my mom first talking about the possibility of helping to make SW Ranches its own Town when, as she was President of the SWR HOA at the time, she learned of plans for Pembroke Pines to annex it. She didn’t want that to happen and fought, I mean really worked hard and fought for YEARS to push the due diligence that led to the 2001 vote to township. I recall her enthusiasm, passion, energy, which she shared freely to help create, build and grow SW Ranches (in addition to her nominal ~$3,500/year “salary”, which she felt important to keep low for elected volunteer officials to ensure integrity). I cannot tell you how it saddens me to now find only negative comments about my mom, who honestly believed she was doing good for the town in its boomtime by investing in parks.

I currently live in Oviedo, Florida, a 100-year old town named one of the top 10 places to live in the country for the past three years. Part of what keeps it in the list is the significant investment the town has made in its many parks and protected green spaces.

And while I know that many accomplished dreamers and leaders throughout history are often lambasted and despised for their efforts, it is so acutely painful to see my mom’s voluntary efforts over nearly a decade not only not acknowledged (even on the town’s own website, there is NO mention of her name), but evidently intentionally discredited. No good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes.

Debra Wasserman-Rubin may have had less than noble intentions and actions. I don’t claim to know about that. However, I do know my mom’s intentions and actions were always, ALWAYS, in the best interest of the town she pushed to create.

So mock, throw stones and point fingers as you like. The truth is that if it weren’t for my mom (and the town’s early leadership), SW Ranches would be the northern tail of Pembroke Pines today and certainly NOT the one wagging the dog.

The rural lifestyle you all value was preserved. The independence you all share was celebrated and allowed to continue. The green spaces you all cherish was spared, not turned into more concrete strip-malls but rather set aside and secured for the enjoyment of all residents.

Forgive me for speaking my mind so boldly. But if my mom’s taught me anything, it’s to speak the truth as you see it when you know it. And mom, if you happen to see this, know that I’m proud of you. Not just for being mayor and creating a town but for evidently enduring the persecution of the very people you tried to help. I love you anyway. Your grandkids love you. Happy Mother’s Day! <3 Tracey

May 13, 2012 11:14 PM

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Apr 16

The Real Test

It’s been said that Florida only has two seasons: January and summer. While that’s mostly true, I’d add a third season, one which children and their parents here share with so many throughout the country. Yes, it’s the highly anticipated season of standardized test-taking. And if it were a movie, it could be categorized as a thriller, horror or comedy, depending on one’s experience.

A recent article about some powerful psychology around testing kids really hit home with me. It underlined the dramatic results of emphasizing effort over ability. In short, the control group who were told they did well because they were smart did worse on future tests and took less risks than those who were told they did well because they worked hard.

Surprised and shocked by this clear principle, I applied it to my own life. Had I passed the test? As an aspiring writer, had I too (like the subject 5th graders) been caught in a fundamental trap of believing that what I may be–or rather, all I may NOT be–is more important than what I do? Effort results in learning, which ultimately leads to success.

When my daughter’s teacher sent out a request for pencils, I penned these few short lines to remind the kids, and myself, of this simple truth. Feel free to share with your own students, citing my website if possible. Whether they’re facing a national benchmark such as the Stanford or Iowa achievement tests, or a state-customized version, like the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) our public schools take here, my hope is that young test-takers everywhere might be encouraged just knowing that their hard work has already paid off.

THE PENCIL POEM

Sharpen these tools like you’ve sharpened your mind,

And the answers you seek you’re sure to soon find.

For when you work hard and just do your best,

You’ve already passed life’s most challenging test.

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Dec 29

Book on a Hook

“Addie and Ollie” Now Available as Paperback or eBook

What’s your book hook of choice? Whatever your preferred portal, you can now find Addie and her purple octopus there, ready to soothe your big dreamers to sleep.

Amazon - printed

Barnes & Noble - printed or eBook for Nook (or any other EPUB reader, like iPad)

Lulu - printed or eBook for any EPUB reader

Apple - if you have an iPad, you can simply search within the free iBookstore app.

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Dec 13

What’s in a Pen Name?

No, Jane is not my “real” middle name.

My adopted writing name has three parts, each gifted to me by the most important influences of my life and representing an important part of who I am:

TRACEY is the first name given to me at birth by my parents. It means brave, daring, courageous. And while I wouldn’t generally attribute any of these adjectives to myself, they seem to be the very things I most need to work on. So perhaps the words may be more of a life goal than a description, encouraging me to act despite and amid my formidable fears.

Of course, the name can also mean war-like or fighter, which my husband might only half-jokingly tell you is more fitting. And although the “e” in my variant spelling is often omitted by others, I really do like having it there. For what is the first job of a writer but to literally trace the past? Indeed, those often fuzzy, retraced paths of memories, events and human emotions form the only well from which any artist can draw.

SMITH is my last name, the one given to me by my husband. Becoming one of the millions with this common surname was a big change from my maiden name–Fink–which drew a bit more attention in grammar school. Although a writer certainly “informs against another person”, too, I opted to use my married name. It’s the least I can do to thank and honor the man who has been my biggest, unfailing supporter for more than fifteen years now.

From the old English to smite or strike, I am reminded of the hard labor, sweat and perseverance required to successfully ply any trade, writing included. My husband is hands-down the most persistent, patient person I know. Let’s just say, we complement each other well. Once again, these are great characteristics for me to improve upon.

JANE is my middle name, the one given to me in between my others. I received this new name sometime in middle school by my most beloved teacher. To describe Judith Marsh as an amazing English teacher is woefully insufficient. While I am grateful to other teachers for sharing with me a thoughtful appreciation of literature, I can fully credit Mrs. Marsh with teaching me how to write, as can hundreds more like me. Her no-nonsense southern witticism, her precise mastery of grammar, her high expectations of every student (that sometimes resulted in erasers and books being thrown across the room)–these made every pupil at our school fear and eventually love Mrs. Marsh in equal measure.

The inimitable Mrs. Marsh taught middle school English and eighth grade at St. Mark's Lutheran School in Hollywood, Florida between 1972 and 1987.

Now to be clear, I was not the only one rechristened. Many students found new tags after their names, as if a single startling word and always with an elongated question mark at their end.

JenniferAnn? Would you kindly show the class how to diagram this compound sentence?”

“Who would like to tell us why Mr. Miller might have named his character Willy Loman? BonnieSue?

TraceyJane? I KNOW you’re not talking when you should be listening.”

Why did Mrs. Marsh choose new names for some people? It could have just been her southern sense of humor and rhythmic balance. Or perhaps, it was for the same reason God chose new names for some people in the Bible. Maybe it was her was way of letting us know we were becoming something different, even if it was only more literate and articulate 12-year olds.

Whatever the reason, when it came time to decide on my pen name, I smiled at the perfect, simple answer. I heard Mrs. Marsh calling on me in her pointed, lilting voice. And although I have often felt accursed as a Jane of all trades and master of none, my new name is enough to make me feel like a slightly different person. As Tracey Jane Smith, I find myself with just enough courage to risk failure and accept rejection, as I walk down this dusty road to become a “real” writer.

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Nov 29

Meet the Real Addie

My niece Addie, "with blue eyes like the sea, yellow hair like the sun."

A friend who recently purchased the book told me how intrigued her son was that the story was inspired by a real person. In fact, this friend showed a picture of my niece I had posted on Facebook. Since this so interested my friend’s son, I thought other kids and their parents might enjoy the story behind the story, too.

Addie Marie is my first of now three nieces. Two years ago, when Addie was just three, my sister and her family had moved to Hong Kong. Wanting to give Addie something extra special to help soothe her transition to her new surroundings, I wrote her a much longer rhymed story about “Addie and Ellie” as a Christmas present.

For this first Addie story, I tapped my artistic daughter–eight years old at the time–to draw the pictures, right down to the Gymboree polka-dotted nightgown I had picked out for Addie. I even convinced my mom to sew a stuffed elephant toy from a pattern and fabrics I picked to match.

The REAL Addie is everything I say of her character: clever, fun-loving, brave, helpful, considerate. When we’ve Skyped over the past year, she’s enjoyed seeing the development of Bob Ostrom‘s colorful illustrations for Addie and Ollie. While I’m currently working on what I’m calling a Dream-Lib story to post soon, I’m hoping to adapt the original story in the future into one or more books in what I hope can become a series.

This year’s Christmas gift to my sister and nieces includes a printed copy of Addie and Ollie. Like my well-traveled niece, now living in South Korea, it seems that Addie the character has come a long way, too.

 

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