Three Things Thursday: What Made Me Smile

I don’t blog hop. I have bad knees, so hopping is usually contraindicated. Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t have bad knees, but it’s what I have to tell my husband to get out of running. I’ll hike all day long, but ask me to run, and I’ll drop to the floor clutching my knee like I’ve been hit with a tranquilizer dart. So far it has worked for me. Please do not tell my husband.

Anyway, I don’t normally hop with blogs. But today, I need to. I discovered Nerd In the Brain through Alice. I had to follow, because TOILET CANDY! Seriously, someone send me some. I needs it. And where there’s toilet candy, there is also some gratitude. I am grateful, but I know I’m not nearly grateful ENOUGH. Know what I mean? So today I work on that and share three things that made me smile.

A tear comes to my eye. He is just the mostest.

A tear comes to my eye. He is just the mostest.

I ordered some of this, and it shipped. It shipped yesterday. I am so happy I could weep. My husband loves coffee as much as I do. He got a Chemex a couple of years ago, and we’ve only used a drip coffee maker a couple of times since. It’s not hipster, it’s just good coffee. Husband is okay with me ordering Severus Snape coffee, but he draws the line at my life-sized cut out in the bedroom. No, I don’t understand him, either. Husbands are just weird, I guess

That's my thumb it's sitting on!

That’s my thumb it’s sitting on!

Hatchlings. So many hatchlings! You may remember this fabulous little guy. And it appears that he is indeed a male. Apparently, it’s a bigger deal than I realized, his hatching for me. I am receiving congrats from other zoos. That’s kind of cool. Who am I kidding? It’s totes amazeballs (the only time I have ever in my life used that phrase, I can promise you. And not only has he hatched, I’ve got some other new babies, too! I hatched two more Neon Day Geckos (Phelsuma klemmeri) and a Pancake Tortoise (Malachochersus tornieri)! Want to see a tortoise belly button? Of course, you do!

https://twitter.com/zooknoxville/status/717448098893664256 That’s MY GUY! Or girl. Probably girl.

Phelsuma klemmeri, a critically endangered lizard from Madagascar. This new hatchling is about 1.5 inches long. So tiny!

Phelsuma klemmeri, a critically endangered lizard from Madagascar. This new hatchling is about 1.5 inches long. So tiny!

And my third thing? I don’t know. Is it that after two months of illness, I’m finally starting to feel better? Is it that I printed a spiral bound copy of one of my manuscript and have begun rewrites and edits? Is it that the Padawan has been accepted into the Youth Volunteer program at my zoo? Is it that I have so many photos for the family album that it is headed toward a whopping 100 pages? Is it that I am making new connections with people in my life and am spending a wee bit less time hiding under a rock? Is it that I have a road trip coming up? Or that we have new animals coming into our department and some will be mine to care for? Or that someone made my family a chocolate coca-cola cake? I can’t decide which makes me smile bigger, so I’m throwing all of them out there.

And how about you? What three things made you smile this week? Come and join the blog hop by clicking here and adding your post to the hop. Then visit some of the other people there. Community is a good thing.

 

 

 

My 2016 Wishes

Just to clarify, 2016 is a year, not a quantity. It’s not that long a post, cross my heart.

2015 was a good year. A fine year. It was okay. I’m sure it did its best. 2016, though, wow. It sits on the horizon like a shiny new boyfriend, dangling its baubles of possibility. It hasn’t yet left its underwear on the floor, eaten my stash of MoonPies, or stolen my car. There’s still that tiny chance that it will be perfect, The One. Heck, it’s so special it’s even got an extra day. I plan to spend that bonus day like found money, friends. It’s already burning a hole in my pocket.

I made some wishes to start the New Year out right. In a new relationship, it’s important to say exactly what you want, you know. So here goes.

  1. I want my new computer to pack itself up and send itself back for repairs. I’m not asking for the moon, here. I’m not requesting a self-healing laptop or anything. That would be greedy, and maybe a little unrealistic. I just want it to throw itself in the box and print out its own packing labels and such. And I don’t want it to use my reindeer duct tape to seal itself up, either. I know I said I was okay with the the thing being broken, but depression is sneaky like that. One minute I’m pretty okay with adulting; the next minute, the thought of having to hook up the printer, get out the packing tape, and insert flange A into slot B is overwhelming.
If the elves can't fix them, maybe they can just buy me new ones?

If the elves can’t fix them, maybe they can just buy me new ones?

  1. I want my Vibram Five Fingers to last forever. I received a pair as a gift a couple of days ago, and they already make me sad because I know that in six months or a year, all the tread will be gone, and I’ll have to throw them away or risk slipping and falling to my death. Then I’ll be Five-fingerless. They make my feet look like flippers, but they are heaven. They feel like magic, so maybe they ARE magic. Maybe some little flipper-footed elves will make me new pairs in the dead of night?
  2.  I want this to be the year that I can read more books by the expedient of shoving a computer chip in my skull. I used to study in college by rubbing my notes on my head and then sleeping with them under my pillow, but I think that only works if the volume in question is under ten pages. My to-be-read list is a giant backlog of things too good to skip. I just have to find the built-in card reader that I’m sure my head came with. Lesson learned: it isn’t in my nose.
  3. This year, I want to figure out a direction for my blog. Probably north. North is good. Except for the polar bears. But south means piranhas. See, this is why I’ve never found direction. There’s no way to win.
  4. I want this to be the year that Americans get their collective thumbs out of their collective card-readers and vote on issues, not along party lines. Forrest Gump said it best when he stated “That’s all I got to say about that.”
  5. I wish for zero One Direction trends on Twitter in 2016. I don’t see this happening. I think I’m wasting a wish here.
  6. I will learn to Nae Nae in 2016. My kids say “No No.”
  7. In 2016, I will focus on my art.
    On a related note, maybe this will be the year I remember which side of the hand is pinkie, and which is thumb.

    On a related note, maybe this will be the year I remember which side of the hand is pinkie, and which is thumb.

     

  8. In 2016, I will write the correct year on all my cheques by April at the latest. This is an almost mystical wish because I still write 2008.
  9. This will be the year I get my Christmas shopping done before Winter Solstice. Ah, who am I kidding? A little pressure is a good thing.
  10. In 2016, I will not be bound by conventions that dictate lists should be ten items long. I have a year to work on it.

 

What are your wishes for 2016? If you did a New Years Post, link it in the comments. I’d love to read it!

50 Happy Things: Because Gratitude is Contagious

There’s a whole lot of grateful going on out there on the interwebs. I just happened to catch the wave of it when Dawn over at Tales FromThe Motherland started a whole gratitude blog party. The gist is simple. Write down as many things I am grateful for as I can in 10 minutes. I had to start this a couple of times. First time around, I came up with “sticks,” and “trees.” Because apparently there was too much pressure, or I am a squirrel. So I tried it again. None of it is in any particular order

Stuff I’m grateful for:

My computer. It takes me places.

My husband. We were meant for each other. At a recent Christmas party white elephant exchange, a gift was opened, our eyes locked, and we both knew without speaking that we had to have it. When it was my turn, I took it for our own. We high-fived. It is beautiful.

It's a redneck plunger. It's beautiful. It goes perfectly with our Leg Lamp.

It’s a redneck plunger. It’s beautiful. It goes perfectly with our Leg Lamp.

The Girl-child. She is home for the holidays, and without getting all maudlin, I’ll just say that I forget how helpful and funny she is. It’s good to be a family of five again.

The Padawan. He’s a funny one, and he always makes me laugh.

Squish. He made me late for work. Because he needed to put on a fresh roll of toilet paper.  I have passed on the sacred knowledge.

NaNoWriMo. I made some real strides this year. I needed the prod back into writing, and it has taken my students to places they never thought they’d go.

Gas range. Which I guess officially makes me a boring grown-up. I’m okay with that. It cuts cooking time in half sometimes.

Tech savvocity  I never used to think of myself as tech savvy, but I  am now. I can hate on Windows 10, not because I am afraid of new things, but because it has actually given up functionality.

New things that hatch. Images are borrowed mostly from previous posts, which is why the captions are weird, but I’m almost out of room for photo storage here. Click to enlarge.

My job. I love going to work every day. Who wouldn’t?

My camera. I take thousands of photos every year. I love to catalog stuff.

The blogosphere. Referring specifically to the wonderful people that have come into my life because of blogging, in person sometimes.

Pesky cats. I don’t have words for the weird little fuzzy things that share my space. Pixel is such a kids’ cat. She hears a crash and is off to see how she can help stir things up further. Loki is her spirit-deity.

Maturity My new computer has something wrong with the display, and I had some things stolen from the mailbox at Christmas. But it’s just one of those things, a series of inconveniences, not tragedies like they might have been two years ago. 

Grocery shopping  Don’t get me wrong. I hate grocery shopping because it’s a chore, but it is also a privilege not everyone has.

Holidays. Family fun time is the best time.

Humor. I like to laugh. I NEED to laugh. I discovered The Bloggess this year. I approve. She even retweeted some of my tweets in her awkward fest a few weeks ago.

Good books. There is nothing better than losing myself in a good book. What’s the best book you read in 2015? My e-reader is hungry.

Writing. If I don’t like the world I am living in, I can write myself a new one. I need to do that more.

My friends. They keep me grounded AND encouraged.

Music Trite, but true. Sometimes somebody else sings the songs of my heart. This year I discovered Poets of the Fall.

Free books  My used bookstore has a free bin out front. I find all kinds of treasures in it, like a hardcover Lord of the Rings. Also? Kobo store has some free gems now and again.

E-readers.  I got a new one for Christmas – shiny, back-lit, glorious. I love tree books, but e-readers mean that when my sad hands get all crampy and useless, I can still read.

Getting rid of crap. After Christmas, I try to get rid of at least as much stuff as I brought into the house. I aim for more this year.

My faith. It pulls me through hard times.

My blood family. They’re weird and funny and nutty and wonderful.

My church family. See above. Family is family.

Iwako Erasers. If anyone wants to send me a bag of fifty, I’ll give them a good home.

Harry Potter. This book series has brought much joy into my life and some incredible people. It is made of magic.

SPP. The best little online game that you’ve probably never heard of. I met wonderful people there, some of whom are sisters from other mothers IRL.Also, the first time I had to come to terms with the fact that nothing lasts forever.

This is also the place where I learned that people will complain about ANYTHING. It was a giant education in a little, fun game.

SPP. This is also the place where I learned that people will complain about ANYTHING. It was a giant education in a little, fun game.

My school. I can be in the worst mood ever, but the moment I walk in, I feel the love and joy. My school feeds my soul.

Toys. I like fun. I am naturally attracted to toys.

Lego sets This morning, Squish spent several hours putting together his Mystery Machine Lego set. So I got to sleep in and then READ.

My Chemex. I’m not a hipster, but I do appreciate good coffee. I can’t go back to auto-drip now that I’ve used a Chemex.

Old dogs that can learn new tricks, like how to use a Chemex.

Storage containers As a kid, I dreamed about what Santa would bring me for Christmas. As an adult, I dream about putting it all in clear plastic boxes.

When my kids read my blog and laugh.

Being a recommended humor blog. I think that ship has sailed, but I was on WordPress’s nice list for a nice, long stint.

Good movies

The ability to like what I like without caring what anyone else thinks. This ability was a long time in coming, but better late than never.

Used bookstores.

Wool socks If it ever bothers to get cold again. It’s just after Christmas, and it’s over 70 degrees.

Family photos, especially the ones that hold family secrets. We have a hundred years’ worth of photos, and they are priceless. 

Blogs. My lunch hour is spent reading blogs. Some of my faves are The Middlest Sister, The Kitchens Garden, and 2 Brown Dawgs. I read dozens. There are more, I’m just running out of room here!

Good customer service. The champs this year – Lego Store, Chuck E. Cheese, JCPenney, Mostafa at Hewlett-Packard, and Shutterfly.

New editing tools on WordPress. And also the ability to write in the old admin format. The new one is too minimalist for these eyes to read. So thanks for looking out for us old-timers, WordPress.

Punctuation. I know it doesn’t seem like it from looking at my list, but WordPress wouldn’t play nice with punctuation and formatting today.

There are forty-something on here, I think. The numbered bullets went all nutty when I added images, so I removed them. Too much to do tonight to spend longer than twenty minutes wrestling with the formatting. Want to join us? I hope you do!

Instructions, copied and pasted from Dawn’s blog:

If you’d like to join in, here’s how it works: set a timer for 10 minutes; timing this is critical. Once you start the timer, start your list (the timer doesn’t matter for filling in the instructions, intro, etc). The goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2015, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; write what comes to mind in the time allotted. When the timer’s done, stop writing. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s ok. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! When I finished my list, I took a few extra minutes to add links and photos.

To join us for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste the instructions from this post, into yours) 2) Click on the blue frog at the very bottom of this post. 3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. 4) Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List. Please note: the InLinkz will expire on January 15, 2015. After that date, no blogs can be added.

 

Pretend this is a blue frog and click here to join the party.

For Alice On Her Birthday

Today I’m going to tell you a story. Because Alice asked me to, and it’s her birthday. Happy birthday, Alice! You don’t know her? Oh, you should! She’s funny and so, so smart. I love her posts. Sometimes her posts make me laugh, sometimes they make me cry. Sometimes it’s both. Read her. You just might love her.

I’ve gone back and forth about which story to tell. Fiction? Not fiction? Embellished not-fiction? I want to come up with a good one. For the last week, my internal dialog has gone something like this:

There was the time that… no, that’s no good.

How about… nope. Funny only to me.

I’ve got it! Yes! Um, are you kidding me? You can’t admit to that in a public setting.

So here you go.

Sharon slid the box across the counter. It didn’t look like much. About eighteen inches square, it had been white at one time, but trotting the globe had acquired a layer of grime. One corner was dinged, and the shipping label had begun to peel, but the packing tape held fast. That bit was all that mattered to Sharon.

“Here,” she said with a furtive glance at the ceiling. “Better hurry. Dad’ll be down in a minute.”

Thad’s eyes glowed. He pulled the box to himself and began to dig at the packing tape with his thumbnail.

“Don’t open it here!” Sharon hissed, terror in her eyes. She flung an arm toward the door. “GO!” she cried. “And don’t tell Dad!”

Thad dropped a pile of cash on the counter without bothering to count it and gathered his precious box gently, mindful of its delicate cargo. Balancing the box on his arm, he was gone with the jingling of the shop door.

Sharon watched him go, not daring to breathe until she heard him climb the stone steps to street level and saw his feet pass by the basement window. She turned to the new girl.

“I can’t believe I did that,” she whispered hoarsely. “Dad will kill me if he finds out.”

The new girl said nothing. She simply wondered. Then she turned back to sorting the shipment of live fish that had just been delivered to the little basement shop.

“Okay,” Sharon said, collecting herself. “Let’s see what we have here.” She lifted a gallon-sized bag teeming with tiny, colorful fish. “Guppies,” she announced. “We’ll put those in one of the 20-longs in the back.”

The new girl did as she was told. She collected the bag of fish from Sharon. It was surprisingly heavy, but she did not drop it. She upended it gently, pouring fish and water carefully into a waiting bucket. She shook out the corners of the bag to dislodge any remaining fish and then discarded it and dropped an air hose into the bucket.

Shipment days were the best days, every available surface in the tiny shop stacked with cardboard boxes and Styrofoam coolers. She liked sorting it all out, seeing order come from the chaos, but mostly, she liked the new fish. Shipments from Florida were the best. Not only did they require a trip to the airport to collect, but they contained the greatest surprises.

In the mid-1980s, few fish species beyond basic livebearers and a few cichlids were regularly bred in captivity. It was easier, and usually cheaper, to import animals freshly caught from the wilds of Africa and the Amazon. Sometimes, swimming right alongside the common side-sucking plecostamus they had ordered, she would find something weird.

When one of these tiny mysteries appeared, she snagged it, put it in a catch box and ran for the books. Sometimes even after studying Axelrod and Practical Fishkeeping, she came up short. It was her first introduction to the enormity of the world and its diversity. She could barely comprehend she was holding a creature that Herbert Axelrod, that demigod of fish keeping, had never even seen. On those occasions, she put down her money and carted her new treasure home. Sometimes it died. More often, she kept i a few months until she grew bored with it and returned it for something newer and more exciting.

So  many weird and interesting things came into the shop unexpectedly that it never occurred to her to ask Sharon to special-order things for her. It did, however, occur to Thad.

“You can order it! It’s right here on their inventory list,” he’d said, thumping his index finger on the paper for emphasis. Sharon looked at him doubtfully.

“I don’t know,” she answered, frowning. “Dad wouldn’t like it. He said no. He told me, and he told you, and he’d fire us both if he knew.”

“He doesn’t have to know.” The new girl hated his wheedling tone, hated how many girls caved to it, hated that  Sharon, who was an adult and supposed to know better, was no exception.

“Alright,” she said. “But you have to pay for it, dead or alive, and Dad can’t know. Dad hates snakes.”

Harry, her father was the owner and namesake of the little aquarium shop. He had started it with just a few aquariums in his basement twenty years previously. The business had grown over the years until he was forced to either quit his full time job or hand over the reins to Sharon, his youngest daughter. He still lived upstairs, but she managed the place on her own. He would likely never see the invoice.

Sharon placed the order against her better judgement. When the shipment arrived, she called Thad immediately, and the transaction went down with neither hitch nor Harry’s knowledge. She thought she was out of the woods, but then the snake, a Haitian Vine Boa, escaped into Thad’s apartment and was gone for good, likely cooked in the heating vents, and he was back on her doorstep begging her to order another. And then another. Today’s shipment was his third.

The new girl worked the following day by herself. Sundays were usually slow and sleepy, and this day was no exception.

She stood at the sink scraping the hard water line from an aquarium with salt and a razor blade. She looked up when she heard the jingle of the door and was surprised to see Thad. He never came around on his days off. It was one of the many things she disapproved of when it came to Thad. She had a list.

She was even more surprised to see him holding a pillowcase, or more correctly, holding something inside a pillowcase. She frowned.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“My new snake,” he said proudly.

“Why is it here?” she asked haughtily, pretending disapproval to mask her terror. She had never seen a living snake up close, and she was pretty sure she didn’t want to now.

He laughed, seeing right through her and making her hate him more. “Is Harry home?”

“No,” she said, stuffing down her fear and turning back to attack the hard water line with new zeal.

“Good,” Thad said gleefully. She looked up to find him reaching into the bag.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, her voice an odd point somewhere between a his and a squeal.

“Hang on,” he said, furrowing his brows in concentration. “Relax. It’s a ball python. When they get scared, they roll up in a ball.”

She didn’t answer, her blade squeaking on the aquarium glass like fingernails on a chalkboard.

She didn’t look up until she heard him say “Oh, no.” The snake, a wild-caught, thin specimen about three feet long,  had clearly not read the manuals on typical ball python behavior. It showed no inclination whatsoever to roll into a ball but a rather strong desire to bite Thad somewhere in the vicinity of his face. He managed to pin the snake’s head, pressing the animal’s mouth closed with the balls of this thumbs while the snake twined its back end all the way up his arm.

The new girl took a step back, away from crazed snake and handler. She looked over her shoulder to plan the best escape route should Thad drop the snake at the same time the snake dropped him. A thump from above stopped them both in their tracks. Harry was home.

Thad said a word the new girl had only read on bathroom walls. “Help me!” he squeaked, gesturing as if he thought she might actually step forward and assist him in his snake-handling endeavors. His hand was turning purple.

“No way,” she said, shaking her head fiercely. He frowned at her. She frowned back. Another thump and the shuffling footsteps of a knee replacement from above. Harry was coming down to the shop.

Thad said another word unfamiliar to the new girl. She was pretty sure it was German, and totally certain it was bad. He did a little dance on the spot to loosen the coils constricting his arm. By some great miracle, he was able to shake the snake into the pillowcase and tie it off. Thump-thump. Harry descended slowly down the basement steps.

Thad thrust the bag at the new girl. “We have to hide it!”

“Washer?” she suggested?

“What if he’s doing laundry? Closet?”

“He might be getting fish food for upstairs!”

Thump-thump.

Out of time and optionsThad dropped the bag into the empty display aquarium at the front of the store beside the counter just as Harry rounded the corner and appeared behind the counter, scratching his grizzled head and looking at least as grumpy as the snake.

“Thad?” he said with a frown. Men, it seemed, were immune to Thad’s charm. “What are you doing here?”

“I, uh, I just came by,” Thad squeaked, standing in front of the aquarium to block Harry’s view from the contents.

Harry walked around the counter. Thad took a step back, pressing himself against the aquarium as Harry walked toward him. Thad shot a look at the new girl over Harry’s shoulder, a look of sheer hopelessness. It was all over. Harry was going to find the snake and learn that both Sharon and Thad had disobeyed his orders. Thad would lose his job on the spot.

With the look of a hunted man, Thad darted around the corner and out of Harry’s reach. He could fire Thad, but he’d have to catch him to hit him. And hit he might. Harry hated snakes.

Harry stopped in his tracks and turned on his heel to face the new girl, his back to the aquarium and his expression inscrutable. She thought she might soil herself. Did he think her complicit.

“I thought I made myself clear,” he said sternly. Her knees felt weak. Would he fire her, too? She gulped.

“Yes?” she whispered.

“You’re listening to television.”

“What?” she asked, genuinely puzzled.

“The radio,” he barked. “The radio! You’re listening to Judge Wapner. I told you and told you, the radio is for classical. It makes customers spend more money!”

The radio! She felt positively wobbly with relief. He hadn’t seen the snake bag in the aquarium. But she could. She watched in horrified fascination as, behind Harry, the snake bag came to life and slowly rose up the side of the aquarium. Thad had not tied the pillowcase down very far, giving the snake plenty of room to stretch out.

The new girl did not hear a word Harry said, so focused was she on the snake making its slow and careful way up the front of the empty aquarium, impeded only by its pillowcase. Harry, oblivious, continued to chastise her radio choices while the snake bag danced behind him.

The new girl didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It seemed impossible that he did not see the bag contorting and stretching itself… stretching itself to the top of the tank! Oh, dear God! It was going to climb out, pillowcase and all! The snake pushed up on the lid of the aquarium and it rose a fraction of an inch. She stood transfixed, terrified. The snake pressed the lid a little further. Its head, covered by the knot in the pillowcase, was an inch from Harry’s arm. One tiny poke, and Harry would undoubtedly suffer heart attack, aneurysm, or stroke, maybe all three at once. The new girl silently lamented skipping CPR class when she was a Campfire Girl.

The snake, hampered in its exploration, fell on its side with a hollow thud as loud as a gong. Harry didn’t hear it over the radio. He made a few more points, and she nodded her head in blind agreement, eyes fixed on the snake so determined to announce its presence. Finally, he walked over to the radio, changed the station, and heaved himself back upstairs.

As soon as Harry was out of sight, Thad snatched the snake out of the aquarium and beat a hasty retreat himself, leaving the new girl to fall into helpless, hysterical giggles on the counter. Harry never found out about his close encounter of the reptilian kind, but the new girl learned that she never, in fact, hated Thad. Or snakes, and in fact went on to work with reptiles herself 20 years later.

to alice

Happy birthday, Alice! Your present will be there later this week. And no, it’s not a snake in a bag.

 

Challenge Accepted!

A few months ago, I found a blog out there in cyberspace. I don’t even remember how I came across it, but I started reading, and I just couldn’t stop. The woman can write, and about all manner of topics. Smart, funny, and did I mention smart? So anyway, imagine my surprise when I logged in last week and discovered she had tagged me in a post. Not just any post, but one containing a challenge. A photo challenge, no less.

You KNOW how much I love photographs!

You KNOW how much I love photographs! Click to enlarge. Because I said so.

So the first part of this challenge is to thank the person who tagged me in the first place. So, thank you, Alice. It was a huge honor to see my name on your blog.

The second part is to share one photograph and quote per day for three days. But I am nothing if not lazy, so I’ll give you three photos in one day. Click to enlarge because apparently you can’t read the text without enlarging the pics. I’m so sorry. I’ll learn photoshop for next time.

Okay, fine. Not technically a quote, but there are at least 50 shades of grey here. And they look so good on him.

Okay, fine. Not technically a quote, but there are at least 50 shades of grey here. And they look so good on him.

 

And this:

achamedit2

And last, but definitely not least. My favorite.

achamedit

So the last part of the challenge is to tag 3 other bloggers. I’d rather share with you three bloggers that you should be following. Besides Alice, of course.

Peas and Cougars. Web comic. Hilarious.

The Middlest Sister. She really gets childhood.

The Kitchen’s Garden. Sustainable farm, mind-blowing photography.

So there you have it. Do you have a favorite quote to share? Clearly I stink a quotes.

Ending the Debate

I don’t usually address hot-button topics on my blog. I’m a fiery and passionate individual, and I’m learning that my knee-jerk reactions make me prone to put my foot right in my mouth. When I get really fired up about something, I wait before I address it. When the smoke clears, I don’t want to discover that I have totally embarrassed myself by not thinking things through properly.  Today I don’t care anymore. I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer or hide how I really feel. I’m speaking out. I don’t care about making people mad or fights in the comment section. I can’t keep silent anymore. You want to know my stance? The correct one. Under. The issue is question is, of course, toilet paper.

This patent proves nothing. This is a DESIGN patent, not a utility patent. It shows how it's made, NOT how it is used. So take that, all you hung-over people. Welcome to the Under-world.

This patent proves nothing. This is a DESIGN patent, not a utility patent. It shows how it’s made, NOT how it is used. So take that, all you hung-over people. Welcome to the Under-world.

 

It is simple science. It’s a little-known fact that Sir Isaac Newton was one of the earliest proponents of “under,” about 150 years before TP ever had a patent. Remember high school physics? Me, neither. But I do remember his first law of motion. An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. At first, I thought he was talking about Squish. He used to run into walls a lot. But then I gleaned the deeper meaning.

Clearly Newton was talking about the proper way to hang the bog roll. Give a tug to a hungover roll of Charmin (or any brand at all. I’m not picking on you, Charmin. Please don’t sue me for insinuating you are less aerodynamically sound than your counterparts), and it goes on forever. There is no outside force to act upon said object, and therefore no way to control how much comes off the roll. A rear-hanger, however, provides its own outside force. A mere yank to the left or right (no preferences here!), and the proper amount needed to complete the paperwork tears right off.

Under is more practical for kids and pets. Cats, dogs, and kids have a habit of playing with the toilet paper.  A curious hand or paw bats the paper, and it rolls off into the floor in an ever-increasing pile, and the next thing you know, the living room looks like the morning after a Halloween frat party. A rear-orientation, however, means that a kid or critter can paw to its heart’s content without causing any damage. ***

Less ick-factor. If the toilet paper doesn’t unroll wildly, there’s less chance that the end of it will come into contact with floor-cooties. Floor-cooties are real, and they are disgusting.

It is avant garde. Over is so easy to support. It’s too easy. It looks all fancy when you fold the outside piece into a little triangle. Whatever. Under is subtle. You have to look closer to appreciate. Over is the Starbucks coffee of toilet paper orientation. Just because a lot of people use it doesn’t mean it’s right. Under is the hipster, fair-trade coffee shop. It just tastes better. Wait…

Cooler people go under. Guess who’s a hung-over girl? Tori Spelling. Because “it’s chic.” Don’t get me started. Guess who’s an under-guy? Gerhard Richter. You know. The dude who painted this? I know it looks blurry. It’s supposed to. It’s an oil-painting of toilet paper.

Kolorolle. Yes, it's art. IT'S ART.

Kolorolle. Yes, it’s art. IT’S ART. It sold at Sotheby’s for about $180,00, so that makes it art, and therefore RIGHT.

Know who else is “over?” My husband. I found that out tonight. Wow. 20 years of marriage, and you think you know someone. I’m considering asking for an annulment. He misrepresented himself.

Want the other side of the debate? Visit Rae at Peas and Cougars. She thinks she knows something on this topic. I think we all know that she does not. Visit her anyway. It’s bound to be funny.

So, join in the brouhaha. Are you an over-achiever or an under-dog?

*** Except for my old dog, Magic. She ate the paper straight from the roll in big chunks so we were cleaning ourselves with what looked like an endless roll of Swiss cheese. But she doesn’t count. She wasn’t an average dog. I’ve had houseplants that could outperform her on IQ tests.

The Blogger’s Guide to Social Media: Twitter

Of all the social media out there, my heart belongs to Twitter. I like its concise format – no giant walls of text to plow through. Twitter’s reach is better than Facebook’s. Anything you tweet will show up in the timelines of those who want it to. End of story. Here’s how to make Twitter work for you as a blogger.

This post isn’t so much about how to achieve a million followers. That part is easy. Follow 2 million people. Statistically speaking, about half of them will follow you back. There you go. This post is more about how to use Twitter to make connections and promote your blog.

For those who are completely new to Twitter, here’s how it works. Follow people, and then their tweets will show up in your feed. A blue check mark beside someone’s name means they are a verified famous person, though  I can’t guarantee you’ll have heard of them. You can use the Publicize feature on WordPress blogs to automatically send a tweet with a link each time you publish a post.

Don’t know whom to follow? Twitter can help. They offer suggestions based on those you have followed before and on the preferences of those followers. It’s pretty much the same algorithm Facebook uses. Sometimes it’s spot on, sometimes it’s not. I’d like to say the more you use it, the better it gets, but that would be wrong.  “You followed a field biologist? Here’s another one for you. And another! You could follow ALL of them! No? You want field biologist who study frogs, not beetles? TOO BAD! You like rock bands? Here’s a geologist for you.” It’s all kinds of fun. But once you get started, you’ll find some peeps.

When I am on the prowl for people to follow,  I look for:

An active feed. Sometimes people take a break from the internet. That’s no big deal. But if I look at someone’s feed and see that they seem to tweet only once every six months or so, I’m probably not going to give them a follow. On Twitter, I’m looking for the potential for interaction, so unless I know them personally, I’ll probably skip them.

Varied content. I read a formula somewhere that explained the ratio of original tweets to retweeted stuff. I then promptly forgot it because that’s what I do with formulas. But the general idea is this – a Twitter feed  should ideally be a mix of links to your blog posts, conversation with other Tweeters, and retweets (also known as RT) of other people’s stuff. A timeline that contains only tweets linking back to a blog doesn’t tell me much about the account holder. If they’re new to Twitter, I might follow them anyway. Someone who tweets only reviews of their books and the Amazon links to purchase them get skipped. I have definitely bought books (and music) from people I’ve discovered on Twitter, but that’s usually only after I get to know how they present themselves.

Use photos judiciously. Many people do not love pics on Twitter. (click to enlarge)

Use photos judiciously. Many people do not love pics on Twitter. (click to enlarge)

An interesting bio. Be personable. And humble. If you’ve published a book, say so, but don’t belabor it. I prefer it when a writer links me to their website, not to Amazon. If you tell me the title(s) or have images of your titles as part of your header, I can find your work. There’s a place to link your blog, too. Be sure to do so.

Conversation. I mentioned this under varied content, but it’s important enough to warrant a bullet of its own. Conversation tells me a few things. It shows that a tweeter is engaged on the site, and it gives me a clue how they interact with others.

Spelling. I don’t care if a tweeter makes spelling errors. We’ve all done it, and there’s no way to edit without deleting the tweet and starting over. I will not, however, follow someone whose tweets are composed entirely using text-speak. My preference is in no way universal. Lots of people don’t care. But using it too often will pretty clearly define your demographic for you and limit your reach.

A respectable number in the “following” column. Sometimes I come across accounts that have a number of people following, but not so many that are being followed. I like ratios that are fairly even, give or take twenty percent, unless they are a legitimate celebrity. Refusing to follow other people maybe means Twitter isn’t the best fit for them. Tweeps want at least a little interaction.

Twitter is a useful tool and a pretty fun place once you get the hang of it. It’s more like speed-dating than an engagement, so don’t feel too badly if you lose a follower here and there.

I wrote a post about Twitter a while back that contains some of my Twitter pet peeves. You can find it here.

What do you like to see in a Twitter timeline? I’m @becomingcliche over there.

I’ll be offline for a few days. I’m having minor hand surgery on the morrow, so I may not get to comments as quickly as I usually do. I’ll be reading them, but unless I can convince my husband to be my personal scribe, I’ll be quiet for a bit.

 

 

How To Write a Blog So That People Will Read, Part 3

Welcome to the third installment in my series on writing a blog, written for writers by an inveterate blog reader. If you missed the first two posts, you can find them here and here. The opinions herein are mine. There are endless guides for bloggers out there. Read a few and decide what works best for you.

Use bullet points. Sometimes. Every how-to will tell you that people LOVE to read blogs with bullet points. And that’s true sometimes. Bold print helps to break up giant walls of text. Be aware, though, that very often, people will ONLY read the bold print. The shorter the explanation of the bullet point is, the more likely people are to read it. Also, not all blog posts lend themselves to a  bullet format. Don’t limit yourself.

Don’t hit “publish immediately.”  This is a tough thing to do, but I recommend it. WordPress allows us to save posts as drafts and revisit them. Do that. Give yourself a little space from the post, anywhere from a few hours to a few days, whatever you need to see your work with fresh eyes. Then re-read. Not only are typos and sentence fragments more likely to jump out at you, having some distance allows you to read for clarity as well. If you aren’t sure you’ve hit the nail you were aiming for, use the feedback feature. WordPress lets us send a feedback link to anyone via email, even if they don’t use WordPress. The post will open for them and will look just like a live post so all formatting, photos, etc, appear in context. Linda A is one of my go-to editors. I trust her red pen. Find yourself a Linda.

Edit.  Put your best foot forward, every single time. The way most blogs are laid out, the most recent post is right there on the homepage for everyone to see. Make sure everything is all cleaned up. Root out any mixed up homophones and sentence fragments where you’ve cut and pasted and rearranged. And please, for the love of muffins, use paragraphs. I know. It’s not school, and we should feel free to format as we wish, but God created paragraphs for a reason.

Find your best time to post. This bit of advice is more from the standpoint of a blogger. You want to schedule your posts at a time where you have the most readers online because individual posts get buried in readers and in email.  Here’s the sad part. Every blogger’s sweet spot will be different. If I posted after 9pm, I heard nothing but crickets, but my friend sj’s rants posted at midnight would immediately receive 100 page views within minutes. Every demographic is different. You will need to experiment. Try a time slot for a week or two, then try a different one, maybe a little earlier or a little later. Check your stats. What time slots do you see those peaks? Here’s what I can tell you as a reader:

I rarely read blogs on weekends, holidays or particularly solemn occasions. I am usually too busy doing other things on weekends and holidays. As a blogger, I found this to be true as well. Hits were low over the weekend. If you’re a seven-day-a-week blogger, your weekend posts may get buried without many people seeing them. When there is an event of great magnitude, I turn off the computer completely. During mourning periods following a school shooting, racial injustice, etc, most of the stuff that is dumped onto the internet becomes senseless noise. I don’t read, and I definitely don’t contribute.

Your readership will have natural peaks and valleys. Write anyway. This tidbit isn’t a tip, just a heads-up. In the summer, for example,  page views may go way down. People are outside, on vacation, away from computers and devices. Write anyway. Write to improve your skills and, more importantly, to stay in the blogging habit. You can always reuse any gems later when people ARE reading.

 

What other tips do you have?

Next week I’ll start talking about social media for bloggers. Anyone out there use Pinterest or Instagram to promote their blog? Want to guest post, or at least give me some insight? Let me know in the comments, or contact me via email.

 

How To Write a Blog So That People Will Read, Part 2

This is the second bit of a mini-series on blog writing. If you missed the first installment, you can find it here.

There are endless how-to posts about blogging out there. A quick online search for “How to write a blog” turns up 723 million results, and I do not pretend to have the be-all, end-all guide. I encourage you to read other posts on the topic to find what works for you. In this space, I’ll share what has worked for me, both as a reader and a blogger.

1) Watch the length of your posts. This is a brilliant bit of advice from Angelique at Sappho’s Torque. I agree. I prefer to read posts that are 1200 words or fewer under normal circumstances. 700 words is even better. It’s not because I have a short attention-span and am easily distracted (Here, kitty! Can I braid your hair?). It’s because shorter posts are frequently better-written. Not always. Not always. Not always. I follow some blogs that routinely pass the 2K mark, and I stick around because they are stellar. But more often, shorter posts tend to get to the point quicker and more clearly. In the words of good old Polonius, brevity is the soul of wit.

2) Understand that not everyone is going to like you. And that’s… okay. (I feel like I’m channeling my inner Stuart Smalley here.)

And that's...okay. Photo credit

And that’s…okay. Photo credit

It’s also the hardest thing for most of us to accept. We want to write something brilliant, something that will resonate with everyone. But think about it. There are seven billion people on this planet. That’s a lot of resonance for one blog. The better goal to aim for is that each time we hit “Publish,” we make someone (someone, not somebillion) laugh/think/smile/start a conversation.

Negative comments happen sometimes. I have both read and written posts that hit someone’s nerve. The bigger your audience, the more likely you are to make someone mad. Comments can be unkind. It’s up to you to handle them in good grace, and to define what “good grace” means to you. Do you delete those comments? Allow but ignore? Allow and respond? You decide. But my best advice is to grow a thick skin and let it slide.

Sometimes, worse than spawning a giant poop storm,  a post is ignored completely and quietly dies. I bet every blogger out there has a post that didn’t get the attention they thought it deserved. It happens. But if one person got one thing out of it, maybe that can be enough.

3. Make your blog visually appealing. First impressions are everything. A blog appeals to me when it’s easy to find what I’m looking for, but it’s not an information over-load. Some things are a matter of taste, of course. Here are some suggestions for layout.

  • Three must-have widgetssearch, email follow, social media follow. Sometimes a post you wrote sticks in someone’s mind. Make it easy to locate. Also, an email follow button is appreciated. Clicking “Follow” at the top of a blog means that blog shows up in someone’s reader where it can get buried really fast. Give folks the option of appearing in their email inbox where they are more likely to see (and read) it. Social media widgets give readers more options for how to follow you.
  • Choose a theme that is easy to read. No white text on black, please. Or that deadly “Google blue.”  Show old eyes some love. WordPress has so many themes to choose from, and you can give them a tiny test-run before you commit. Many are free.
  • Consider carefully the location of your widgets. Nine times out of ten, widgets that run down the sides of the page are more useful than ones clustered at the bottom. It’s a cleaner look, and the widgets are more obvious. I followed one blog for a year before I realized the widgets were all at the bottom of the page.
  • Limit the number of posts that appear on a page. On WordPress, go to WP Admin>settings>reading, and then choose how many posts should appear. 10 or fewer is best. When a reader has to load every post you’ve written, it takes forever. Slow-load means fewer readers.

One blog I love is Peas and Cougars. If you visit Rae’s site, you’ll see she has an attractive header and image widgets on the sidebars that are pastel and not too distracting. There’s plenty of white space and just enough going on to make it interesting.

4. Lift the seat before you pee. Whoops. Wrong…list… my bad.

5. Blog about what interests you. There is nothing more appealing than someone sharing something they really love. I love a fanatic. One of my favorite Tweeters is passionate about sports.  I don’t know a futbol from soccer (see what I did there?), but she does, and her enthusiasm (and sometimes rage) is entertaining and contagious.

Some blogs have a focus topic tight as a laser-beam. I always know what to expect when I visit. Others are a mixed-bag, always full of surprises. Both can work well. Alexandra began her blog taking photos of her exotic cat. Later, she began adding posts and a shop to raise money for homeless cats in her country of Montenegro, where there are no cat programs or shelters. She handled her focus-change neatly by adding a menu bar at the top of her page to help readers find the posts that most interest them. To learn how to create a menu, go here.


So that’s it for this week. Next week, I’ll post a part 3, and then we’ll talk about blogging and social media. If you use Pinterest or Instagram to promote your blog, please  let me know. I may go out on a limb and offer a guest post position on these two, since I don’t have direct experience myself.

How To Write a Blog So That People Will Read

This year, one very popular resolution  has been to either start a blog or to be more involved with an existing one. I think I can help you guys out!

No one asked me for advice, but I’ll pretend they did. I think I’m pretty qualified to make some suggestions, not because I’m a blogger, but because am a reader. I read blogs. A lot of them. Every, single day. A significant portion of my lunch break at work is devoted to catching up on my blog reading. I enjoy reading the work of old friends, and I adore discovering the next great voice.

So how do you make your blog stand out? I’m a WordPress user, so some of my suggestions are specific to this platform. If you use Blogger, you’ll need to check and see if your platform has similar features.

1) Decide your intended audience: Ultimately we should write for ourselves, of course, but most of us hope to have some readers.  Knowing your audience will help determine your approach to a given topic. Blogs intended to be read only by family, for example, will likely have a different focus than one that is meant for a wider readership. A back-to-school post meant only for grandma might consist of a snapshot of little Lulu and her giant backpack with a caption “Lulu on the first day of preschool. What a big girl!” A post with a bigger readership will need a bit more meat to it. Those related  to her actually care about Lulu. The average reader won’t. A back-to-school post may still be appropriate, but it will need to be handled a different way. A tortoise blog directed toward the scientific community is going to be much more technical than one aimed at the general public.

Word to the wise, cats make a poor intended audience. They tend to be snooty and judgmental about grammar.

Word to the wise, cats make a poor intended audience. They tend to be snooty and judgmental about grammar.

An aside here: for  parents who are new to blogging, decide from the get-go how and if you are going to present those kids in your blog. Will you use their first names? An initial? A nickname? It’s a personal decision, and it makes no nevermind to me as a reader, but I’ve talked to a number of parents who wished they had given more thought to using their kid’s name. Once that name is out there, it’s really tough to take back.

2) Post regularly. This bit of advice is on every how-to list you’ll find. There’s a reason for that. Posting regularly helps people get to know you. Writing regularly also helps to hone your skills. Posting daily is fine, especially at first, but don’t feel like you have to, and don’t expect all but your most loyal readers to read every day. I only follow a few daily blogs, including this one. I don’t have time to read a ton of dailies. You’ll find that certain days of the week get more traffic than others, anyway. No point in wasting your brilliance on a Saturday if all of your readers are at the beach.

3) Don’t post more than once a day. New bloggers are very excited and have lots to say. Publishing multiple posts in a day can be a hardship for readers, however. Assume that anyone following your blog also follows others. Be respectful of their time. Use WordPress’s  auto-post feature. Schedule posts out over the course of a few days, a few weeks, even a few months.

4) Use SEO to your advantage, but don’t abuse it. Search Engine Optimization simply means tagging your posts effectively. If all of your posts are uncategorized, it’s harder for a search engine to point readers your way. Use relevant tags.The important word here is “relevant.” I’ve seen a few bloggers try to boost their traffic by using tags for hot-topics that aren’t related to their post at all. Tagging a post about taking your cat to the vet with “Ferguson” or “Bill Cosby” may bring some traffic, but it will also land a blogger on WordPress’s naughty list and will turn off conscientious readers.

Don’t forget to tag your images, too. Which brings us to…

5) Throw in an image or two. Pictures help break up walls of text. We humans are visual creatures. Gimme something  to look at. And you don’t have to be a great photographer or even own a camera. There are plenty of good quality images available under Creative Commons. Here’s a great article on where to find free images and how to properly credit the image owner. Pick smart. Don’t steal. Karma is a you-know-what.

I was hoping for a place to share this image. It's our Little People nativity illuminated by a leg lamp. I need people to know that I am classy.

I was hoping for a place to share this image. It’s our Little People nativity illuminated by the soft glow of a leg lamp. I need people to know that I am classy.

6) Use social media properly. Now that I follow a gazillion blogs, social media is my favorite way to follow new ones. Use the Publicize feature on WordPress to automatically publish links to your post on your favorite social media sites. Be aware that most of your Facebook friends will never see your post in their feed unless you cough up some cash. Twitter, however, directly publishes to all of your followers.  Be careful that your Twitter isn’t cross-posting to Facebook, which then cross-posts to Twitter, which then cross-posts to… This is a common mistake. Check your social media settings. Sometimes I’ll see six identical posts in a row from the same person because their all of their social media is set to cr0ss-post everything.

7) Be yourself. My favorite blogs have one thing in common – they are unique. Amy’s blog is very different from Nicole’s blog, which is nothing like Linda’s blog.  None of them are trying to be anybody else. Be who you are. Unless you’re mean. Then go right ahead and pretend to be something else.

8) Write what interests you. We talked about intended audience and all that, but your first reader is you. If you don’t like what you’re doing, no one else will, either. I write about tortoise belly buttons. Because it makes me happy.

9) If a reader leaves a comment, respond if you can. Answering comments helps to build a sense of community. Never, ever responding to comments completely is kind of rude. Sometimes we’re not available to respond immediately, or we find ourselves with 80 comments in the queue,  or an individual comment gets buried in the notifications. Readers get that. And sometimes a comment is antagonistic, so withholding an answer is actually taking the high road, but most readers are earnest in their comments. Answer when you can.

10) Read other blogs. Don’t just read them, engage with them. Leave a (meaningful) comment where appropriate.  Not in the hopes that they will return the favor, either. Engage with other bloggers. Build your own little blogging family.

What do you love in the blogs that you read? This post may morph into a mini-series, so additional tips are welcome!