An Author in the Family

My cousin, Mike wrote a book. And I am just so proud of him! When my mom called to tell me that Mike was a newly published author, I wasn’t surprised.  For as long as I can remember, Mike has been a talented musician who plays more instruments than I can count. He’s a singer too. And a songwriter. And a sign painter. Suffice it to say that Mike is very artistic and creative. So it only made sense that he’d written a book.

Stranger in a Small TownStranger in a Small Town is about a high school boy, Chris, who has lived all of his young life in New York City. When Chris’ father accepts a job transfer, his family is forced to relocate to a small town in Iowa. Chris has to learn to face his insecurities and adapt to small town life in place that feels completely foreign to him in comparison to the big city life to which he’s so accustomed. The story provides an inspiring message for young and old alike. Be yourself and be proud of who you are. You never know what good things might come when you are true to yourself.

Stranger in a Small Town is a great read for young adults, but adults will enjoy it too. (Face it. We’ve all been through the high school experience. We can relate!) And it’s a nice, relaxing read. I bought and downloaded a copy to my Nook one evening and finished it the next morning. I could see a lot of Mike’s personality in the character of Chris, especially in regards to his passion for music. And anyone who reads this will see familiar faces in the friends Chris makes in his new neighborhood and at school.

To be honest, I was a little jealous that my cousin had published a book. love to write. For a while, I thought maybe I might someday write a book. Then I convinced myself that I am not the kind of writer who writes a book. And besides, you must have a story idea to write a book. I’ve never had one. I decided that I’m the kind of writer that simply journals about my life and my days. And that was that. Besides, there’s my job to think about. And the family. And a household to keep up. Who has time to write a book?

Apparently Mike has time, and he managed to write a book while juggling his music, job, family and household. I never even tried to write something more than a blog post. Maybe I could. Maybe I can’t. Really, it might not be a bad idea to try to find out for sure. And that’s what Mike’s book is all about. It’s about putting energy into the things you love to do (whether those things are “cool” to anyone else or not) and how it’s almost inevitable that more and bigger opportunities to improve and use those talents will come along.

So Mike has inspired me. Maybe I’ll think about what would make a good book and at least give it a try. Vampires? Wizards? Nah. Been done. 50 Shades of… nope. Scratch that.  How about zombies? Nah. Already in the works. Organ donation? Bowling….? Heyyy! Now there are a couple of ideas! So while I start thinking about that…. You go read Mike’s book. (You can pick up a copy here, here or here. And read about Mike and how he decided to write a book and what it felt like here.) And whether you do that or not, follow Mike’s lead. Go throw yourself into something you love. You’ll be happy you did.

The First (possibly)-Annual Reader-Appreciation Awards

I didn’t write as much, or as well as I wanted to in 2011. I fell out of routine at times and there were a lot of gaps in between postings.  Even so, I somehow managed to maintain a somewhat regular schedule of blogging, even if that meant I sometimes only wrote once in a week.

One of my goals for this year is to write more and write with more quality. One thing I’ve never lost sight of is how much I enjoy writing, so I’m looking forward to a less chaotic year than last and giving it a better effort.

Even though I felt as if my writing lost a step in the past year, I still managed to write a total of 199 posts, and that’s not bad. WordPress was kind enough to provide a year-end summary, and they tell me that my blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2011. Also not bad! The year-end summary told me who commented most often on the stuff I wrote. And since half the fun of blogging is meeting and interacting with the friends you make online, I thought it only appropriate to express my gratitude to those who came back to visit time and again.

MJ at Emjayandthem’s Blog honored me with a fun award. I’m going to follow her lead and share it with my top commenters of 2011. So, without further adieu, I present to you, the First (possibly)-Annual These Are Days Reader-Appreciation Awards!

TA-DAAAAAA!

Thank You!

Here are the rules for this award:

  1. Award your top 6 bloggers who have commented the most.
  2. Be thankful. (I am!)
  3. You cannot award someone who has already been awarded (I’m not sure how I would know if you have been awarded before, so we might be breaking some rules here !) and also cannot give the award back to me.
  4. Don’t forget to tell the bloggers you’ve awarded.
  5. If you don’t want to pass on this award, that’s okay too.
The most active commenters on this blog last year were:
  • Agg79 – a world traveler, runner, Boy Scout-supporter and Golden Lab-lover who writes My Two Cents
  • Kathy McCullough – a memoirist, an artist and woman of compassion who writes Reinventing the Event Horizon
  • Rock Chef – a cyclist, guitarist, wonder-husband and dad; a war-gamer and author of a blog with the ever-changing name who writes  Snap-Happy Rock Chef
  • de-I – a man of extraordinary culinary skills, an avid hiker, a lovable goofball and my kidney-donor buddy who writes de-Intimidator
  • Jeni Hill Ertmer – a  woman with amazing embroidery skills, a love of her Swedish heritage, a passion for genealogy and a wonderful mother and grandmother who writes Down River Drivel
  • Jules – a tough chick who recently married her best friend, is a do-it-herselfer,  a baker of  the most beautiful cupcakes and hater of spiders who writes Shenanigans of Jules

If you’ve got some spare time, please go check out the blogs of these wonderful writers. These are the people who had the most to say, but there are many others who join in the conversations here on a regular basis., Just check my newly created blogroll to see all of the blogs I try to keep up with! And there are some who don’t write but stop by to comment now and then too. (Shelly, Rosie!) Thank you to all of you who come here to read, comment, make me smile and offer support. Writing here wouldn’t be nearly as fun without you!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our ceremony. See you again next year. Maybe. :-)

Four Months and Seven Links

Once upon a time … long, long ago … way back in …

August

I was invited to participate in the Seven Links Challenge. I was invited by Bud who writes Older Eyes. Bud did his best to assuage any fears that this challenge qualifies as a meme. Apparently some people are opposed to/intimidated by the thought of participating in a meme. Snort! Can’t imagine who that might be!

Oh… I guess that would be me.

Bud went so far as to say, “Let me reassure those of you in the incipient stages of an anxiety attack that this is not … repeat IS NOT … a meme.  Put away the Xanax and keep reading.”

Xanax? Seriously, Bud? I don’t need Xanax to complete a meme. Now where’d I put my beer?

So, yes. I was invited to participate over four months ago and I promised Bud that I would do it even if it takes me some time. Clearly, getting started has taken me quite some time. Better late than never, I always say!

Okay, I can’t even take credit as if I’d been whole-heartedly planning to follow through all of this time. I forgot. But I was reminded again recently thanks to another nomination from Marion Driessen of Figments of a Dutchess. And no, Dutchess is not spelled wrong. Marion is from the south of Holland, lucky girl! See? Get it? Holland? Dutch? Dutchess? Pretty clever play on words if you ask me.

Anyway, I suppose at this point, unless you are Bud or Marion, you’re wondering what this Seven Links thing is all about. The goal of this challenge is “to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again.” The rules?

  1. The blogger who is nominated publishes his or her seven links, one for each category.
  2. The blogger nominates up to five other bloggers to take part.

A few months ago, I imported all of the posts from my old blog to this blog. So I think I’m finally ready tackle this Seven Links challenge. Here goes!

Your most beautiful post: Magicin which a typical winter snowfall makes me feel things that are anything but typical.

Your most popular post: Braggy McBraggart – in which I brag about my healthy lifestyle only to realize it’s really not so healthy. This post was featured on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed page for a day or so and according to my site stats, that post received over 1,000 views!

Your most controversial post: Churchin which I describe my ongoing struggles with my faith and a surprisingly positive experience in a church that was so different from the one in which I was raised. Technically, this wasn’t very controversial. As a rule, I avoid writing anything that invites controversy. But it stirred up a lot of feelings and discussion in the comments!

Your most helpful post: Understanding Female Crabbiness – a survival guide for men. ‘Nuff said.

A post whose success surprised you: Happeningsin which I just ramble about the everyday happenings of our lives at that time. I tossed in a few photos I’d taken. One of them was a picture of a bug with a very long tail. According to my site stats, that post has had nearly 600 views. I think it was the bug that did it!

A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved: What if we all had beards – in which I help everyone contemplate what it would be like if we all had beards.

The post that you are most proud of: Our Transplant Storyin which I describe the experience of giving one of my kidneys to my dad. Biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I wanted and needed to write it down and preserve those memories.

THERE! I did it! And just so you can appreciate that this was no easy task, let me just say that I had to sort through 935 posts to find these! And now… to invite others to participate. Who do I think might be willing to give this one a go? How about…

  1. Abby of AbbyNormal
  2. Rock Chef of Snap-Happy Rock Chef
  3. Jeni of Down River Drivel
  4. Judson of Footprints in the Sand
  5. Kathy of Reinventing the Event Horizon

And I just have to say, as much as I dreaded putting this post together, it was a wonderful exercise. As I sorted through my posts, I found things I was surprised had even come from me. I hadn’t realized how much my voice changes with my moods, with the times. And I found old friends in the comments, long removed from the blog world. I’d almost forgotten how many connections I’ve made through blogging. I miss those friends, but I’m grateful for the time we had together.

Marion, Bud … thank you.

What next?

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m indifferent to the prospect of self-improvement. It’s just that the beginning of a new year doesn’t tend to serve as a big motivator for me.

Not surprisingly, I don’t typically do spring cleaning in the spring either.

Regardless, I occasionally feel the pull to change something for the better. And when I do, I act on it, no matter what the time of year.  Remember that time when it wasn’t the beginning of the year and I decided to be a runner? Ha! Well, I had good intentions anyway. Someone once remarked to me that I have a classic runner’s body. My body apparently doesn’t know that.

So what about New Year’s resolutions?

Well…? Why not? I spent the better part of last year wondering what my new direction should be once my youngest child left for college. There was a slight mourning period that makes a reappearance now and then, especially after the kids come home to visit and then leave again. But more often these days, I’m remembering there is possibility in the days ahead. There’s time for me now. Why not make the most of it?

There are things I could do. I’m probably more likely to do them if I actually admit I’d like to do them.  Maybe there’s something to this whole resolution thing.

Yeah. There are things I could do. Like cooking. I feel kind of bad that I’ve always considered it such a chore and that I didn’t have more fun with it for the kids’ sake when they were around every day to enjoy it.  Now that I have more time on my hands and less pressure to be other places, I’ve discovered I sort of enjoy cooking. And I do a pretty decent job of it too. Granted, I’ll never come close to doing what de-I does, but I’ll bet I can do some pretty cool things in the kitchen. Besides, I have some new cookware and cookbooks. Best put them to use!

And there is some work-related stuff I could stand to work on as well. For most of the almost seven years that I’ve been with my employer, I haven’t really had to fight to advance. I just did my thing and it all came very easily. Someone noticed my work and said, “Hey, we’d like to move you up!” Then some changes occurred in the last year. I’ve come to realize that no one is going to just notice my work and pat me on the back for it. I’ve realized that I need to find a little bit of fight within myself. I could definitely stand to work on that.

And there’s something else I’ve contemplated a lot over the last few months. Writing. I love to write. I didn’t really realize that until I started blogging almost five years ago now. Over the last half-year or so, it just hasn’t seemed as easy to write as it once did. And when it doesn’t come easy, it’s all too easy to just not write. More often than ever, several days would pass between writings; sometimes almost a week. The less I wrote, the harder it was to just sit and write. Then Abby clued me in to this NaBloPoMo thing where bloggers commit to posting every day in a given month. I had heard of NaBloPoMo, but thought it only happened in November. Turns out it happens every month. So I took the leap and signed up in December. (So far, so good! Only two more days to go to meet the challenge!)

Writing daily has been challenging at times, but it has really helped me find my find my muse again. I wrote some pretty good posts in December and it felt good! So I think I’ll do it again in January.

So not wanting to set myself up for failure, I think I’ll just stick with the three resolutions.

  1. Find my inner culinary artist
  2. Workplace assertiveness
  3. WRITE!

That’s definitely a do-able list. And trust me. If sometime mid-year I decide to work on my sense of adventure and take up skydiving or some such thing, I’ll feel free to add that to the list of resolutions. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and … blog posts for posting!

December is upon us. It’s such a busy month, but in such a good way.

I love the way December feels. I love the sense of anticipation and preparation. I love the way people seem transformed by a spirit of generosity and good will. I think that I actually enjoy the days leading up to Christmas much more than Christmas itself. I am happy in December.

But there is a lot to get done in December. There are gifts to buy and wrap, cookies to bake, cards to sign and mail. There are favorite Christmas movies to be watched and the tree needs to be brought into the living room and decorated. And on top of all the things that need doing at home, I’m helping to coordinate twelve days of politically correct, non-denominational holiday activities at the office.

It would be tough to squeeze in one more thing. But I’m going to try.

I began this year by attempting to write every single day. I didn’t last long; a month. Maybe two. But I did manage to write something every single day while I was committed to it, at least until I decided it was too hard to keep it up while working full-time, while preparing a child for high school graduation, while preparing that same child for college and amid a million other things that have to be done every day. Writing fell a little bit to the wayside.

I told myself I would still write often. I just wasn’t going to hold myself to the every day thing. But sometimes over the past few months, I didn’t even write often. Sometimes it was all I could do to write one post in a week. I lost my motivation. I fell into the habit of telling myself I had nothing interesting to share. Strange behavior for someone who actually finds writing to be fun. I can see how easy it might be to fall out of the writing habit. But as easy a choice as that sometimes seems, it’s not one I want to make.

I like to write. I mean, I really like to write. So why does it sometimes feel so difficult? When I first started blogging, I couldn’t wait to write something new each day, and it was easy. Somewhere over the last few years, things changed. So many days I sit down to write, but begin to think there has to have been something extraordinary in my day in order to write something. And so then I write nothing.

So, inspired by Bud of the blog Older Eyes who has written every single day this year and also by Abby of the blog AbbyNormal who jumped on the NaBloPoMo bandwagon last month, I’m making a commitment to write every day, just for the month of December. I signed up yesterday before I could change my mind.

There’s a picture over in the sidebar just like this one.

It’s there to remind me that I took the leap and I’m going to try this as a gift to myself this month, which is appropriate since the theme for the month is gift. Call me crazy, but I think this is going to be fun!

And maybe a little bit difficult.

But FUN!

(You can do it too. Just click on the picture and it will take you right to the place where you can sign up.)

Wish me luck!

Meeting Kim

I am so lucky. For the second time this month, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a blog friend in person!

I first “met” Kim in my early days of blogging and we became fast friends. I liked Kim immediately for her positive attitude and ability to see the silver lining in any situation. In fact, she is the one who inspired me to write those weekly “Life is Good” posts, which I no longer write, which is not a reflection whatsoever on the state of my life. It is merely a reflection on my inability to stick with any kind of writing routine.

Kim writes the blog Worn Out Woman. She writes there rather infrequently these days, but who could blame her since she’s actually become a published author? Yep, you heard me right. Kim wrote a whole book! An amazing book! I thoroughly enjoyed Finding Kylie which is now on its way to becoming a Hallmark movie! You should totally get yourself a copy and read it. (Shameless plug for my friend’s book, I know.)

I have communicated with Kim online for years now. We’ve texted one another, kept up on Facebook, and have talked on the phone. But this was the first we’ve had a chance to meet. It was all very spur-of-the-moment, but we made it work! Kim was in town on business and when we figured out her hotel was a mere 20 minutes from me, we decided to get together.

Obligatory fuzzy cell-phone picture taken by our very bubbly waitress

I picked up Kim at her hotel and we made a quick drive over to the Mall of America where we found a place to eat. I couldn’t tell you the name of the restaurant. All I can tell you is that Kim and I took turns talking non-stop for the entire time we were together. We realized how much we have in common and it was so comfortable spending time with her, it was if I’d known her forever!

After dinner, we walked around the mall a bit, picked up a gift of Legos for her little guy at home, and proceeded to get lost while trying to find our way back out of the mall. Don’t worry. We weren’t lost for too long before things began to look familiar and we found our way to the place we’d first entered. Too soon, I was dropping Kim back at her hotel and we were saying goodbye. I feel like there wasn’t nearly enough time. I have so much more to tell her and there’s so much more I want to know about her. So I guess we’re just going to have to make this happen again!

If you ever have the chance to meet a blog friend in person, DO IT!

I got to meet a blog friend! I got to meet de-I (which is short for de-Intimidator.) I also got to meet Mrs. de-I, who, funny enough, actually has a name! It’s hard to tell from de-I’s blog that Mrs. de-I actually has a name because when he writes, he refers to her as Wife.

It all started with an email from de-I containing a subject line stating, Dinner opportunity in the Twin Cities. This was immediately intriguing to me because I just so happen to live in the Twin Cities! de-I went on to explain that he and Mrs. de-I would be in Wisconsin for Mrs. de-I’s family reunion the week of June 6th and that it would be practical for them to stop by my place on June 10th to cook dinner for me and the family if I was interested. (I didn’t realize until much later that this “practical” stopping over meant a four-hour drive!)

You’re probably wondering why one of my blog friends whom I’ve never met in person would offer to drive four hours to cook dinner in my kitchen. Well, there’s a very good reason. de-I cooks. And I don’t mean that he cooks like I cook which mainly consists of the use of a crock-pot (on a good day) or frozen pizza (on a less good day.) de-I cooks really good stuff. Like gourmet stuff. Like really impressive looking stuff with mouth-watering descriptions. This talent for cooking is a staple of the de-I blog and these posts come with pictures of said food. I have a sort of standard comment that I leave whenever I read one of these cooking posts. It goes something like this: I’m hungry now. That looks SO good. If you ever happen to be in the same vicinity as me, you’d best plan on cooking something for me. 

How was I to know that de-I would take my comments to heart?

de-I and I share something a little deeper than my envy of his cooking talents though. We’re kidney donor buddies. You see, I “met” de-I when I started writing about the possibility of donating a kidney to my dad a few years ago. de-I had donated a kidney to his sister just a few months prior and he became my pal while the months went by until the kidney donation became a reality for me and my dad. Donating a kidney was one of the most profound events in my life. And de-I was there to encourage and support me. I had much love and support from friends and family during that time, but no one really knew all of the emotions I was feeling. de-I knew what I was going through. He’d been there before me and he understood. We’ve been friends ever since.

So when the proposal to meet came along, I knew immediately that I wanted to make it work. Of course, Mark wasn’t so immediately certain of his willingness to go along with this, but it didn’t take long for him to agree. He saw how important it was to me and so he got on board. de-I and Mrs. de-I later explained that Mrs. de-I felt the same sort of hesitation as Mark, but also agreed to go along with the plan. I am so grateful!

The get-together was planned for last Friday. I had taken the day off to clean house and prepare and as the hours passed, I found myself growing a little nervous. I’d periodically ask Mark, “Are you nervous?”

“No. Why?”

“I’m a little nervous,” I’d say.

But soon enough, de-I and Mrs. de-I arrived and my case of the nerves melted away! We all hugged hello and soon we were carrying groceries into the kitchen and de-I was explaining what was to transpire. Everyone had a hand in the meal and/or dessert, and believe me, it was all to die for!

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I was tasked with making a pound cake ahead of time, in preparation for the dessert. Other than that, all of the food was prepared after the de-Is arrived. (You’ll have to forgive me because I can’t remember the names of most of the dishes, maybe because I was too busy trying to keep from drooling over them.) Mark chopped fresh herbs, and then some bacon. I grated cheese and chopped onion and garlic. Mrs. de-I made a fresh peach topping and home-made whipped cream for dessert. de-I was a maniac at the stove, stirring, sauteing and boiling. He filled us in on the nuances of his cooking, and described various techniques. Brad was fascinated and kept a close eye on the cooking.

We all talked while the preparations were done and while de-I cooked at the stove. My kitchen is small, but we managed to maneuver around one another just fine. My cookware and utensils were lacking a bit, but we made do with what I had. Throughout all of this activity, we talked and got to know one another even better. It was especially fun to get to know Mrs. de-I. She makes cameo appearances on de-I’s blog, but that evening, we got to see the person de-I is in love with. And it’s no wonder. Mrs. de-I is soft-spoken, passionate about her family, and so very sweet!

As the evening progressed, I would periodically catch de-I’s eye and think to myself how incredible it was that we were actually together, in the same place, talking and looking one another in the eye, not just conversing across virtual space. I know there are some who might never agree to meeting an online friend this way. But I am so glad that we did. It was amazing.

Dinner was served in courses, and I have to admit, I’ve never eaten dinner in courses. What a great way to enjoy a meal! It was relaxing and we were able to really appreciate each dish separately. First we were served a shrimp dish with crusty bread to soak up the sauce. Mmmmm! Next came a mushroom stew with home-made croutons. Fabulous! Probably my favorite! Then the main dish – Spaghetti Carbonara. It was all so delicious! There were also two different kinds of wine, both of which I really enjoyed. I barely had room for Mrs. de-I’s dessert, but I’m glad I saved a little bit of room. It was phenomenal!

The evening passed way too quickly and soon it was time for the de-Is to leave. They were tired from a week of family reunioning and too many hours of driving. They needed to get some rest to begin the long journey home the next morning. We all hugged goodbye and the de-Is headed back to their hotel.

After they were gone, Mark, Brad and I talked about how very cool it was to have had the opportunity to spend time with the de-Is. Very cool. What a wonderful experience that was! So if ever you have the chance to meet your blog pals in person, DO IT!