Sunday, January 15, 2017

Happy New Year!

The latter part of my 2016 was characterized by busy-ness and progress on the professional front. Rather than having to choose between editing and writing for a living, I was able to do both! And 2017 promises more challenging and creative assignments.

There was progress in another area. My son finally bid his wheat allergy good-bye, after a summer of oral wheat challenges leading up to the official green light by his allergist. Six months on, I am still marvelling at how much our lives have changed because of this. He is still allergic to peanuts, so we all remain vigilant in this regard.

I started this blog ten years ago, on January 14, 2007. At the time I was working on a clunky desktop PC in the office that would later become my daughter's bedroom. Life was a lot simpler then: a relatively simple routine with a toddler, and no social media to distract me. Fast-forward to 2017: two school-age kids, a long volunteer stint at Literary Mama under my belt, a freelance editing and writing business, and the aforementioned drama of navigating life-threatening food allergies. I am proud of this blog, despite its lack of traffic for the past couple of years (with the exception of this very popular post on Food Allergy Friendly Bahamas), but it's time to officially shut it down.

You can always find me here, at my business website: and here, on Twitter: @mpscala

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Some Recent Happenings (May and June)

This spring I was very pleased to receive my copy of Exploring Voice: Italian Canadian Female Writers, edited by Venera Fazio and Delia De Santis. A special issue of Italian Canadiana (Frank Iacobucci Centre for Italian Canadian Studies, University of Toronto), it features the work of 26 Italian Canadian women, including Michelle Alfano, Bruna Di Giuseppe-Bertoni, Mary di Michele, Caterina Edwards, Eufemia Fantetti, Terri Favro, Darlene Madott, Gianna Patriarca, Giovanna Riccio, and many more whose writing I greatly admire. I'm proud to have three of my poems, "Bread for E," "Keeping Up," and "Do Good, Then Forget About It," as well as my essay "How to Feed My Kids Italian" appear in it.

After nearly nine years as a member of the editorial board of Literary Mama, the last two as Editor-in-Chief, I am leaving the magazine to focus more on my freelance editorial business and creative writing. It was a tough decision to make, but I am eager for the new challenges ahead. You can read more about this decision here.

On the home front, we received some encouraging news about my son's food allergies. While he hasn't completely outgrown his wheat allergy, he's making great progress, showing that he's able to tolerate some of it. We'll take it slow this summer, and work with our allergist to increase his exposure every few weeks. Anyone who has followed this blog will know that my son has come a long way since first being diagnosed with allergies to wheat, egg, tree nuts, and peanuts. He's outgrown his allergy to egg completely, and can also have tree nuts now. While every child's experience is different, sharing my son's story is my way of spreading some hope.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Just Another Kid (Outgrowing Food Allergies)

After nearly six years of doing without, my son has completely outgrown his egg allergy. Every morning he requests an omelette, or scrambled eggs, or an over easy. Every single morning.

We made a big deal out of this news, of course. I snapped photos of that first bite, a flutter of anticipation in my chest to see his emotional reaction. (How awful if he'd turned his nose up to it. But he didn't.) I ceremoniously crossed out "Eggs" on all the allergy alert labels on his food containers, backpack, and EpiPen pouch. And I removed this little button from his medical alert bracelet:

He drank it all in–my enthusiasm, my energy–and beamed with pride. I didn't have to send an email to his teachers, because it was his story to tell, and he told it better than I ever could.

So now, only three allergies remain (wheat, tree nuts, and peanuts). There are some tree nuts that we know he can have, including hazelnut (wondrous ingredient of Nutella*). And there is a doctor-supervised oral wheat challenge on the horizon.

Sometimes, as I'm rushing about filling lunch boxes in the morning, I glance over at him and marvel at such an ordinary sight—just another kid eating breakfast.

*The Nutella I am referring to was manufactured in Canada, so I cannot vouch for the "peanut-free" and "nut-free" nature of Nutella produced in other countries. As always, consult your physician, carefully read labels, and call manufacturers when unsure of product ingredients.

Monday, January 25, 2016

January: Writing, Reading, and a Blog Birthday!

Jennifer Robson

I'm happy to start off the year (or should I say, cap off the month?) by sharing my interview with international bestselling Toronto author Jennifer Robson, which appears in the January issue of Literary Mama. Here's an excerpt:
MS: Your publication story is one that is heartening for me, as I read that your first novel was rejected around 25 times the first time you sent it out for consideration, but Downton Abbey changed things for you, didn't it? And given the commercial and critical success of your first book, I can imagine that writing and publishing After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris, your second and third books, respectively, was a bit different.

JR: Somewhere in France recently went into its 14th printing, and now has almost 100,000 copies in print, but for the longest time I thought I would never get it published. I completed the manuscript in early 2009 and submitted it to about two dozen literary agents in the United States and Canada, but everyone rejected it. It was only after Downton Abbey hit TV screens in 2011 that publishers started looking for books set in the period—and that was my big chance. I sent it out again in the spring of 2012—the exact same manuscript that had been so roundly rejected before—and within days I had received an offer of representation from the woman who is now my literary agent. In that moment I felt like I had won the lottery—I still do.

Writing my subsequent books has been an entirely different experience, since I am committed to very tight timelines. Currently I'm writing a book a year, and plan to do so for the next three or four years at least—and that leaves very little room for dithering (my default setting). Right now I'm not only promoting the publication of Moonlight Over Paris, which involves a fair amount of travel through the United States and Canada, but I'm also neck-deep in work on my fourth book, which comes out in early 2017. Really, the only way to manage that kind of schedule is to be extremely disciplined about work, and I'll admit I struggle with it every day. It's hard to shut out everything else and just sit at my desk and write, but that's the only way the work gets done. The great Neil Gaiman said it best: "This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard."
You can read the rest of the interview here.

In the same issue of the magazine, as part of an Essential Reading list on the topic of "New Beginnings," I recommend Pico Iyer's The Art of Stillness
This slim book pulled me in immediately, with these intriguing lines: 'In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.'
Read the rest here.

And lastly, I need to wish this blog a Happy 9th Birthday! (How did that happen?)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My 2015

My blog, nearing its ninth(!) year, is coming out of hibernation. Here's what I've been up to over the past twelve months, in terms of reading, travel, work, and writing.

Reading: Kwe: Standing with Our Sisters, edited by Joseph Boyden. 'Kwe' means 'woman' in Ojibwe, and more specifically, it means 'life-giver' or 'life carrier' in Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language. This book, which includes writing from Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, Lorna Crozier, Gord Downie, Tanya Tagaq Gillis, Lee Maracle, Yann Martel, and Michael Ondaatje, is a call for action regarding the prevalence of violence towards First Nations women in Canada. These Aboriginal women are three times more likely to face violent attack and murder than any other of their gender. As Boyden writes in his introduction: 'Hey, boys, what are we to do? Hey, men, why don't we question this sickness that beats inside too many of us? Shall we healthier ones spend our lives staring, not knowing what to do, just stand and look at our shoes or touch our faces and ask for forgiveness for horrors we feel no part of . . . ?'


Travel: Cancún, Mexico

Reading: Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail comes to mind immediately, when I think of bravery. Strayed's soul-searching, solitary hike along the PCT following her painful divorce and the devastating death of her mother Bobbi, whom she described as 'the keeper of my life,' was made into a stunning film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, with a screenplay by Nick Hornby. When I saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this past fall, I wept through it, so sad for it to end. I went home and reread the book, wanting to immerse myself in Strayed's evocative journey yet again." 
Work: March Issue of Literary Mama

Work: April Issue of Literary Mama
Writing: "Months 1, 2, 3 of 2015" (poem)
Writing: "Superman" (poem)

Writing: "Birthday Party" and "First-Born Son (revised)"  (poems)

Travel: Ottawa, Ontario

Work: Freelance short fiction editing

Travel: Cancún, Mexico

and Muskoka, Ontario

Reading: I found myself in an unusual situation during late August—I actually had the gift of time to read Lawrence Hill's epic novel The Book of Negroes. It had been on my wish list for quite a while, and I am grateful for that week at the cottage with the touch and go Wi-Fi, for it allowed me to immerse myself fully in the story of Aminata Diallo's incredible journey. Hill captures, in remarkable and often brutal detail, how an eleven-year-old freeborn Muslim girl from West Africa was brought to the United States as a slave during the eighteenth century. Despite all the personal losses she faces during her lifetime—her parents, friends, husband, and children are all taken from her, in one way or another—Aminata presses on. Whether she is 'catching babies' (being a midwife—a skill learned from her late mother), teaching others to read, balancing financial accounts, registering Black Loyalists on ships headed to Canada, or lending her voice and story to the abolitionist movement in England, she is a heroine I won't forget. I also found the historical breadth of this novel very satisfying, and my edition of the book includes many details about the research Hill conducted regarding the people and events depicted. There is even a link to the real Book of Negroes(accessible by clicking on 'Documents') from Library and Archives Canada.
Writing: "Lost Child (reprised)" (poem)

Travel: Ottawa, Ontario 

Work: September Issue of Literary Mama and freelance website editing/advertorial writing

Reading: Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald is a novel that cuts to the heart of the desire for motherhood. Mary Rose MacKinnon, nicknamed 'Mister' by her father, is a successful YA fantasy author who sets aside her career to raise her family. Her wife, Hilary, a theater director often away for work, leaves Mary Rose to mostly look after their children―Maggie, two, and Matthew, five. With humor and frankness, MacDonald captures a reality of modern-day parenting recognizable to many: "A writer she admires has described sex as 'indescribable.' The same goes for a day with two toddlers. That early period is now a blur, but Mary Rose still has the reflexes to show for it: like a war vet throwing himself over the body of a bystander at the sound of a car door slamming, she rushes in with tissues to staunch other people's spills in cafés. ... She used to think she was busy when she was all about her career, but she did not know from busy till she had children." Amid all the busyness and domestic absurdity, Mary Rose frets about pain in her arm, a reminder of a childhood illness, but perhaps of something more violent from her upbringing. Her parents, Dolly and Duncan, figure largely in the story, and through shifts in time and place, we learn early on that Dolly wasn't 'good at having babies,' having lost several children, either by miscarriage, stillbirth, or crib death. Dolly experienced intense periods of postpartum depression that resulted in prolonged hospital stays away from her family. At the opening of the novel, Dolly is fully accepting of Mary Rose's lifestyle, but this was not always so. When Mary Rose came out to her parents in her twenties, her mother said she'd prefer her to have cancer, to have been born dead. To me, this scene encapsulates both the complexity of human relationships as well as the desire to mother or not.


Work: November Issue of Literary Mama and freelance memoir editing

Travel: Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

Reading: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
Work: December Issue of Literary Mama and author interview for forthcoming piece in said magazine. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sweet! The December issue of Literary Mama is Here!

"It's the last week of school before the winter break, and I find myself clearing out closets, squishing my kids' outgrown clothing into bins for giveaway. Maybe I toss out the odd toy or game with missing pieces. Ultimately, I'm making room for what's to come. This is a common mindset for many of us this time of year—"Out with the old, in with the new."

But I can't seem to get rid of that pale pink dress (size 5) with the delicate rose and that my daughter never wore. It was a gift from her nonna— my mom. So I push it to the back of the closet, to its rightful place next to the penguin Halloween costume that saw a lot more wear. Then, I close the door.

This month at Literary Mama, many of our contributors are anticipating new experiences, while others hope to dwell a little longer in the moment. As always, we are offering up a diverse range of voices and perspectives." Read the rest of my letter here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

November issue of Literary Mama is here!

I'm so happy to introduce the latest issue of Literary Mama. It's hard to believe that I snapped this photo just last week, as many parts of Canada and the U.S. are in full winter mode!

Take a look at my Editor's Letter, and be sure to visit the rest of the site for all the wonderful writing.

Happy raking/shovelling (?)

Friday, October 31, 2014

No #tealpumpkin for us (Bambino wanted to go traditional) but a definite nod to the project.

Stay safe out there tonight, and always read the label!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October issue of Literary Mama is Live!

It's been an exciting time for all of us at Literary Mama. Our October issue just went live! Here's an excerpt from my Editor's Letter: 

I am so pleased to introduce you to the October issue of Literary Mama, which marks our recent switch to a monthly publication. Before I tell you all about it, I’d like to acknowledge the tremendous effort put forth by all the staff who worked on the issue. Every one of these women dedicated their talents and their time to making it the best it could be. All while juggling family, work, and creative commitments! I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Karna Converse, our Managing Editor, for keeping us all on track and up to speed.

Read more from my letter here. And be sure to visit the rest of site, for all the wonderful writing!