What Every Blogger Wished You Knew

  1. Writing anything is a process. Whether I am writing out a grocery list or a novel, I require a plan and expect a conclusion. And so, my children, if you interrupt this process at the beginning, you will go hungry and I will type nothing but a title page. If you interrupt this process in the middle, I will forget the eggs and the plot twists. But if you stay the heck out of my closet where I’m desperately trying to focus and stop interrupting me asking for loose change, I will get to post my blog for tomorrow, all finished, and still have time to make your dinner. Go. Away.
  2. My blog is a child, and it’s entering the “terrible twos”. Yours, oh girlfriends of mine, have diapers – some have a leash and kibble bowl – but this child glows in the dark. It requires a regular feeding of sarcasm, wit and reality and it will spit it all back into my face when I least expect it. And laugh at me. It will only make into a fun story when it’s good and ready, and I can sit up all night attempting to coerce it into literary obedience. But this one has a mind of it’s own. I had five kids already. I should have seen it coming.
  3. Subscribers and commenters cannot be underestimated. They are the bread and butter of a blog. It doesn’t matter how unique or wonderful the writing is, no one cares if Facebook likes it or if you’ve got a really lovely business card. If people aren’t feeling compelled to push a button and respond to a blog, this work will never be published. Money is about numbers, and numbers are the only thing they count. If you’re a Subscriber, thank you, you get to be the bread, you crazy croissant, you. If you want to be the butterer-upper, though, you have to leave a comment in the box down there….
  4. However, what counts the most to a blogger is her ♥audience♥. That’s a different perspective altogether. We want to make a difference. A small one to a single person is enough. Enough to feel that a love affair with language can be used to touch someone else’s heart or produce a smile.
  5. And who doesn’t need a smile in their day?
  6. Blogging is not great literature. I can start sentences with “And”, “But”, and any foolish sentence fragment I prefer because The Blogging Fairy said I could. Bloggers prefer to write the way they chat and daughters earning degrees in Communications should not fall all to pieces when a sentence begins with “Because” and ends with “I said so”.
  7. Bloggers do, occasionally, leave their laptops with a babysitter and go off on wild tangents in order to acquire new “zest” for writing. Some people call it writer’s block. I prefer the term, “procrastination fascination”. If you see me deep cleaning the basement because I wanted to find a photo from 1983 that was in an album in a box behind the Christmas decorations and the discarded nightstands that need to go to Goodwill (even if I stood on one to reach the rafters where some old flowerpots were housing seashells) it’s safe to assume that I won’t be resurfacing for a while. And your blog is going to be late this week. Sorry.

emoti-con-founded

Something fantabulous happened to my girlfriend.

I don’t even know what it is.

I know she’s been on hold in more than one life strata, so regardless of whatever just went through, I’m super excited for her.

She sent out a brief little message with a handful of words and a bucket of emoticons, to which other girlfriends are replying with additional flurries of little symbols and stickers, and all I could manage was a word (“Congratulations!”) followed with a colon (:) and a right-hand parenthesis ()).

That makes a pathetic little smiley face.

But I feel in the loop.

Hip.

Happenin’.

Oh, who am I kidding?

I never took a crash course in ESL (Emoticons as a Second Language) but I should have, as my own kids (the under 20s but not my over 20s) are fluent.

They can have entire conversations in texting that contain zero actual words.

And rule the world thereby, I assume.

My phone gives me a selection of pre-made “smileys”.

Next to each one is a helpful hint as to what each one conveys.

;^) is “winking”. Simple enough.

But if I put my “foot in mouth” :-! over a “kissing” :-* incident and need to have “my lips sealed”, :-X, these little guys are here to help.

I am both o_O and :-[.

Frankly, parents, you should have seen the “new math” coming.

I’ve had my Mac Air for a year now. I have wanted to throw it out the window more than once because it doesn’t behave the way my old PC did. Like every piece of technology over the last ten years, by the time I figured out the basics, it was time to ‘upgrade’ to a new unknown.

It’s like I went to do the dishes one night, and when I got back to my desk, I could no longer use disks to back-up the photos made from film that I scanned into my laptop files that were no longer compatible with my photo program and now Great Aunt Bessie’s wedding photo is as six-feet-under as she is.

Oh, it’s in there somewhere.

We’ll just never be able to see it.

My gravy, life’s too short.

I watch everyone emailing and Facebooking all the day long and smothering their words with little thumbs-up and saxophones and puppies and cakes and hands-in-the-air-like-they-just-don’t-care.

And, ya’all…some of them are animated.

I have emoticon envy.

But from my barcalounger.

I wonder what happened to my girlfriend?

I could ask my 14 year old to interpret, but that’s just wrong.

I could call her by actual telephone and hold an actual conversation.

I presume she still speaks the mother tongue.

But we all know, no one uses that archaic device.

I could order flowers over the internet. I’m sure there’s an app for that.

I’ll attach a virtual card that says,

“!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

There’s No Place Like Home(coming)

The boys’ Homecoming Dance was on Saturday.

The theme was “The Wizard of Oz”.

Knowing I was no longer in Kansas, I made a pre-emptive strike a month ahead.

I put on my best wish-granting wizard face and asked my 16 and 14 year old sons if they wanted to take a date.

An actual girl.

To a dance.

With them.

I would drive of course, and pay for incidentals (having zero experience in this parenting arena did not slow me down; I merely assumed that “incidentals” would go no further than pizza money).

Years of lecturing on The AntiDate have taken their toll.

They sensed a trap.

“Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?” said their concerned faces.

When I insisted that I was really, truly going to allow this frivolity, they held a Summit Meeting and decided that if they went without a date, they would be free to dance with any girl in the room instead of only the girl they brought.

Wise guys. (I walked away humming,“If they only had a Heart”.)

And the rest of the planning was their own business.

Son A decided to go casual and wear a brilliant green button-down with his slacks.

He went to shine his shoes and decided a little strategically placed crazy glue was a good precaution against his soles joining any flying monkeys in the gym.

Son B was all about the ‘spit-shine’. Nothing less than a flashy red tie and a snazzy vest would do. He put moleskin under his socks, hoping his heels would still be there after four hours on the yellow brick road.

Son A: “Are you wearing deodorant?”

Son B: “Yeah.”

Son A: “Well, put some of this on.”

Son B: “Why?”

Son A: “Because you should layer your deodorants, just in case.”

Son B: “That’s stupid. I’ll smell like a rainbow.”

They slicked up their fresh haircuts and actually brushed their teeth.

I know.

I caught them taking selfies before they walked out the door.

Arriving in our black Lexus was pretty snazzy, so said my sons, to which I did a hard eye roll or two, until we arrived in the Merry Old Land of Oz and watched a glittering Hummer limo pull up.

That’s a horse of a different color.

Now there’s some incidentals.

This ain’t Prom, folks.

Okay, no. I can’t even.

I have never stepped foot in a limo in my life, not even at my own wedding.

No kid of mine gets to, unless I get to first.

It’s a Life Rule, look it up.

(My parenting style runs the fine line between mature common sense and childish rivalry.)

But the boys said they had a wonderful time.

They danced with actual girls, and while both had been nominated as court princes, neither won the Homecoming King contest.

Just as well.

They would be posing like the Tin Man, forever.

Leader of the Pack

I read Jack London in junior high school, so I really have no excuse.

I know what an alpha dog is and why one is required in a wolf pack.

Have you met my family?

Noticed anything particular when we convene?

What do you get when you marry a first-born to a first-born who then produce at least two additional first-borns?

That’s right.

Almost daily campaigns for the Ultimate Dictator of the Free World.

I can tell you right now who the winner should be.

I have a pretty wicked stink eye.

You don’t want that.

Hubby and I can, just barely, keep the children at bay.

But when you’ve been married almost 30 years, everything from opening windows to reading a novel has been cause for WWIII.

Yeah, I’ve read every marriage improvement book out there.

Somehow I figured that if I could just pinpoint the “problem”, our home would become the Good Ship Lollipop.

All the books give you different advice and you try them all, just in case you missed a spot.

One of them said, “Don’t go to bed angry.” I could choose between going sleepless for a week or crashing on the couch.

One advised, “Keep regular date nights.” It didn’t have advice for the feuds over which restaurant, which outfit, or what was safe to discuss once you got there.

One of my favorites insisted on “setting firm boundaries”.

So I told Hubby he could have a bureau in the corner and everything else, as far as the eye could see, was my domain.

I scent-marked it with Lysol.

When you’re snapping at each other, it’s hard to hang out with your “newlywed phase” friends.

They’re all kissy and cuddly and honey-booboo and you’re thinking, “Man, where are the drinks?”

I understand that wolves mate for life, but I put the “tea” in “team” and that’s where it stops.

You just don’t appreciate all the twists and tribulations of raising five children, creating hearth and home on a daily basis, and what it takes to keep our pack from going on a rampage.

Throw me a bone, people.

But I’m all done reading books on strategy.

This mama wolf is tired of the growling and snarling.

For my next maneuver, I’m gonna slink outside and howl at the moon.

And hope at some point we wander into the civilized world, where we move past our fierce need to be right and into a domesticated confidence that shares the honor.

Shakespeare Swear Words

Shakespeare.

“I bite my thumb at you sir!”

Why did it have to be Shakespeare?

“I do desire we may be better strangers!”

The man was a genius, but, he wrote for an illiterate peasant crowd.

Like TV and movies today, he included plenty of fart jokes, crotch shots and swear words.

He cleverly disguised adult content from future generations by cloaking it in another language.

(There’s old math and new math. There’s old english and new english. Don’t get me started.)

Most students need to have Ye Olde Elizabethan Englishe interpreted to them. Not mine.

Mine were raised reading a King James Bible and when Shakespeare puts his actors into lewd situations, only my kids will blush. They will get the innuendos before the teacher explains them.

I can speak the mother tongue. When the swear words run through my head, complete with cloak and dagger, I don’t let them out of my mouth.

But you can tell they’re in there because my eyebrows go up by an inch and a half.

My kid landed a part in the school play. It’s his first, and he’s pretty jazzed about it.

Between jetting off to Canada and keeping up with cross country meets, somewhere in the shuffle I lost track of this fact.

“Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.”

Bad mom.

I remember helping him with his audition and then dashing away to the grocery store.

Two weeks into rehearsals, I was told to attend the parent meeting, and that he got the part of…Juliet.

Seriously?

I went to the parent meeting armed with a prepared tirade against the public school system as a whole, and my best stink-eye. I was pretty steamed up.

And then the sweetest lady sat down and introduced herself as the drama coordinator.

“There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.”

“Thank you all for your talented children. It’s our first, ever, drama performance at this school, and I went for the easiest play I could find to start us off with.”

Easy? Do you know how many lines Juliet, alone, has to memorize?

“Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade.”

“This play contains bits of everything Shakespeare wrote and puts them into a spoof. The kids and I have been slowly going through the script.”

Spoof? What does she mean?

“Come, come, you froward and unable worms!”

“You may not realize this, but plays by Shakespeare are pretty rough. We’ve been going through, line by line, and just cutting content to make it teen-appropriate.”

You’re destroying Shakespeare? Is this legal?

“Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage.”

“You’re Juliet’s mom, right?” she asked, looking straight at me.

“Oh, um, yes. I guess so. He’s playing…Juliet?”

“As I said, it’s a spoof. Your extremely tall son is playing Juliet and a very short young lady is playing Romeo. They pull off the comedy effect very well.”

Slowly it was dawning on me that things weren’t as they seemed.

I put my stink-eye back into the bottom of my purse.

“Your son approached me on day one and wondered how acceptable the play would be. Most kids don’t even understand the parts that I’m deleting. By the time we’re through, we’re hopefully turning out a play that the whole family can come support.”

I put my tirade aside for another, more worthy opponent.

“This performance is light-hearted, fast-paced, and most importantly, easy on our non-existent budget. The costumes and sets aren’t what you think they are.”

I just couldn’t decide what to say next.

She put three teens on the stage (“The fourth is at volleyball right now”) and gave us a sample of Hamlet.

To a rap.

Roll over, Beethoven.

“You, minion, are too saucy.”

(In case your Google isn’t handy, my quotes are from: Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, All’s Well That Ends Well, Henry V, Measure For Measure, Taming of the Shrew, and Two Gentlemen of Verona.)

Lego Wars

Occasionally, I receive questions from my delightful readers seeking advice.

Much like Dear Abby, I am asked about relationships “My husband insists on leaving his dirty socks just outside of the hamper. Should I pick them up for him, or put them all under his pillow?” and job etiquette “My coworkers found my breast-pumping equipment under my desk; now what?” and shady conduct “My teenaged son and his friend were rummaging through the kitchen asking if we had any sulfur in the house; should I worry?”

I’m eager to help.

“Not to worry,” I replied, “unless his grades are falling drastically, this is only a 9th grade phase. Remind him that – whatever it is – it’s an outside activity.”

I attached an internet connection for the best deal on sulfur (Costco).

Recently, an avid reader was having troubles with her only child.

The trouble: her only child loves Lego.

“I’ve been trying to figure out how to organize and manage all our Legos. Any advice?”

Only Child has approximately a million little Lego pieces that mom has been trying to corral for years, Pinterest style, into tubs, cubbies, bags and bins.

She saved all the boxed sets together and kept all the boxes.

I have five kids.

I’ve had Legos in my house plants for over 20 years.

My over-six-foot-tall kids still beg for more.

“Yes,” I answered, “we keep them all in a closet and if the door shuts, we win! Seriously, just put a bed sheet out on the floor, dump the Legos on it to play, and when you’re done, dump them back into the tub and put them away.”

I considered the girlfriend I was talking to and added, “Most of the fun of Legos is digging through the heaps and discovering little bits of treasure.”

I didn’t mention that some of the treasure is actually fuzzy lollipop sticks and Barbie shoes and old melty Jolly Ranchers and occasional toenails.

I could feel her frowning in disbelief that I, the Queen of Chaos Control, would recommend such reckless abandon.

So I sent her a real-time photo. Straight out of my den.

“I think I like your bed sheet idea,” she said after a moment.

“I kept them in sets but Only Child keeps pulling out various pieces to make her own thing. I guess that’s what it’s all about – getting creative.”

I wanted to tell her that The Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about, but instead I replied, “Exactly so. Kiss all the money you spent on sets goodbye and embrace the total mayhem.”

And I sent her another picture.

“Obviously ours aren’t even in the closet, so at present…we aren’t even winning that.”

“You’re very very liberating!” she said, “I think I’m going to go for it! Trying to organize them all is just making me nutso.”

“I’m very sure you’re entertaining when you’re nutso,” said I, “I want a picture if it happens.”

“Many have witnessed it,” said she, “but rarely is it documented.”

I could feel her courage building.

Then she found all the boxes.

“Take a photo, it’ll last longer.”

“I still have the booklets for assembly. Maybe I’ll just save those and recycle these dumb boxes.”

I just love purging parties.

She got a large tub.

And one by one, dumped the household Legos into it.

“Stiff upper lip!” she declared, as she found more and more Legos in hiding.

Slowly the tub filled. The sets dissolved into one large teeming mass of colored bits.

“I’m way out of my comfort zone,” she said, starting to hyperventilate.

“Learn to get comfy. Stick your hands in and swirl it up. Feel the freedom! You’ve got to embrace your inner slob!”

“I just freed up 50 ziplock baggies!” she cried in victory.

“You could gently release them into the wild, or save them for the next compulsive organization project. Your call.”

“Truth be told, this is so much easier,” she sighed, “Only Child is totally on board, and Hubby will be the most grateful to you! I save everything, so this is a big step. Feels great! Thank you Jolie!”

“You’re welcome. The therapy bill is in the mail.”

I really shouldn’t get the credit, though.

We live a short drive from the best theme park in the world: Legoland.

You know how they store the play area pieces?

Giant mosh pits.

Only factory robots can put the right pieces together into the right sets.

But then they permanently seal them and make people pay to open them.

So clever.

You’ll Always Be My Friend…You Know Too Much

I received a birthday card this year that said, “Let your dreams be bigger than your fears; your actions louder than your words; and your faith stronger than your feelings.”

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In the basement of a sweet little church last week, I stood up in front a group of women and let my dream of saying something intelligent be bigger than my fear of choking on the spot and dying a very public death.

For sure, leading a gym class and gaining perspiration would’ve been easier than leading a Bible class and gaining inspiration.

And as it turns out, when I stood in front of these beautiful women, my faith wasn’t in my own abilities to speak, but rather in their intentions to listen. I had to believe that somewhere in my ramblings, each of them would hear something that spoke directly to her own heart. Something gloriously small and explicit. Something, I hope, that made them glad they were sitting down with enough time to enjoy the new thought.

The title of my classes, “On the Care and Feeding of Your BFF”, was chosen by a group of girlfriends months ago, as they were lounging pool-side. I actually asked them to vote on what I should talk about in Canada.

I’m cool like that. (I’m also sadly unfocussed like that.)

But, as every writer knows, all bets are off when you sit down at the keyboard.

Martha and Mary of Bethany kept butting into my notes and no matter how hard I explained to them that they had lost the vote, they would not get out of my face.

So I let them take the floor, and Class 1 was born.

They showed me how to behave like a “best friend forever”. And how not to. And what happens when you let Christ take over your heart. And what happens when you don’t. They both looked me in the eyes and reminded me that the Good Samaritan hadn’t seen his choices coming, but when he saw a wounded man, he didn’t see danger or calculate a backstory or contemplate excuses.

He just reached into his bag and pulled out a massive can of instant and lavish compassion.

“Let’s do this,” I hear him think.

End of story. But also the beginning of ours.

The ladies in Ontario played along with me as we explored the many languages of love that feed and nurture those deliberately connected relationships.

We had soul-warming soups for lunch, and faith-building, hand-holding conversational comfort food; the kind made of good old fashioned face time, bubbling along with laughter, our individual flavors melding together.

Later, we went deep into the pits with Jeremiah and up to the mountain top with Elijah.

Caring for your friendships needn’t stop when one stumbles into a pit.

For the girlfriend who suddenly doesn’t know what to say or do, this class held tools for building ladders out of pits and ways to hold on to each other when life gets real.

It does get real, doesn’t it?

How wonderful to know someone has your back.

Amazing things happen when women gather together.

Their love for each other is so tangible.

I am thankful for the prayers and encouragement, the mentoring and editing that countless women supported me with as I walked this road to Canada.

It’s changed me in ways I haven’t yet put words to.

And I know that, one BFF at a time, we are going to make it through this crazy life of ours, holding hands, pressing onward, and yes – very likely – giggling a lot of the time.

Canadian Capers

You. Guys.

I just had the best adventure!

I spent a week in gorgeous Ontario, Canada.

I wandered through autumn-colored forests of pine and aspen and ash and maple, dripping ferns and lush moss. It’s beautiful countryside.

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Every road leads to water, over water, or around water.

Look at a map of Canada. It’s got more lakes than swiss cheese has blow holes.

The locks move boats between lakes and swing bridges make passage for the taller boats.

If you own a “cottage on the lake”, you’ve arrived.

Lake Muskoka

Lake Muskoka

If you own a house on a tiny island, you’ve arrived, won the lottery, and get to drive a boat to work.

If a Californian gets in a boat, there is no way he will end up at work.

They’ve never had a drought and you can’t find a cactus for beans.

Which is why my luggage was over the weight limit.

I had to rearrange my suitcase in the airport and carry on the five pounds of tortillas.

The beans stayed wrapped up in my boots.

Priorities, ya’all.

I did find avocados there for $1.99 Canadian.

They came from Mexico.

But all of the grocery store packaging is in English and French. Not Spanish.

This is a classy step up in my opinion, but does not compensate for their drought of Mexican food.

In the airport, I traded some ‘Merican money for Canadian cash.

If your money is called “loonies” and “toonies” (a thing which even putting the Queen Mum’s face on it can’t redeem) then your freeway speeds make up for it.

Here’s photographic proof that your car can hit 120 km/h….which is basically crawling down the highway at 60.

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But it looks great on the speedometer.

People were delighted to tell me snow stories.

It’s like they don’t want me to come back.

“There was the year the snow reached to the middle of this telephone pole. That was the year they closed the highways. It’s not really a problem unless the snow is blowing. When it’s windy, you can’t see two feet in front of you. You drive super slow in case someone is stopped in the street in front of you. You don’t dare stop because the guy behind you can’t see, either. And also, you can’t stop anyway…we end up in the ditches a bit.”

Uh huh.

I visited at the exact perfect time of year, which travelers should always strive to do.

And while I could drone on and on about my adventures, I won’t (you’re welcome) because the main event – the flocking of females, the gathering of gregarious girlfriends, the bevy of Bible lovers – was the most beautiful thing I saw in Canada.

Freshly squeezed Canadian

Freshly squeezed Canadian

We’ll go there next.