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. :-)

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!

On Writing

If memory serves, it’s been just over four years now since I started blogging. I think it was December 30th of 2006 when I wrote my very first blog post. I wish that all of those words were housed under one roof, but they’re not. Some of them are lost forever in cyberspace, but most of my essays are safe and sound, locked up on two other blogs that have been set to private status. I suppose I could transfer them here, but that would take more effort than I care to exert, and probably an amount of knowledge I don’t possess. Oh well. I know where to find them if I ever really want to revisit them.

I wonder if I thought back then that I’d still be at it this far down the road. I don’t think I ever gave it that much thought. I just remember sitting down at the computer one day in 2006 to put some thoughts in writing. I opened up a blank Word document and just started spilling my guts. I did it because… well, I don’t really know what drove me to do it. I was angry, I remember. And I just wanted to do something other than stuff all that anger back inside. So I started writing; not for anyone. Just for me. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. On and on it went. The more I wrote, the better I felt. I never did anything tangible with those particular words. They’ve long since been deleted. But the process of putting those feelings in writing allowed me to let go of some darkness. And it felt good. It wasn’t long afterwards that I discovered I could set up a blog. I vaguely knew what a blog was then. (I knew it as “blog” long before I understood that the word was short for “weblog”. I’m a little backwards that way sometimes.) I’d discovered a few high-profile blogs in the previous year or so and enjoyed them enough to read through every bit of the archives and to check in on them daily for anything new. A time or two I’d thought, “I wish I could do this. I bet I could do this.” And all of a sudden, opportunity presented itself. And so I dove in. And I loved it. Suddenly, I had a passion for something. And that’s a feeling I couldn’t remember having felt for a very long time.

I’ve written all kinds of stuff. At times I’ve tried my hand at being deep, or funny, heart-warming or suspenseful. For a while I participated in every meme that came my way. (Does anybody even do memes anymore? No? Thank God! If you do, don’t send them my way. I’m horrible about memes. I’ll promise, with good intentions, that I’ll participate. And then I forget about it and don’t.)

I don’t really know if I have a style. (Do I have a style?) I guess what I’ve always really wanted to do was just to keep a journal of my days, my thoughts and all of the feelings that pass through my soul on any given day. Have I written things I’ve regretted writing? Hell, yes! I’ve written some things that made me proud and I’ve written some really stupid stuff too. And I have this strange need to hide from most people in my real life the fact that I write. (Of course, a lot of them know now. But I’ve packed up and changed addresses, so I’m safe again for a while anyway. There are a very select few whom I’ve trusted to share in this with me, so if you’re one of them, you know you are special.) But I’m glad I kept at it in spite of those insecurities.  I love to write. I suspect my writing hovers somewhere around that “average to decent” category, leaning a bit towards “could be good with a little more effort.” I know this because I have this feeling when I write; when I dig deep to reach those thoughts and feelings that would hide inside the dark hollows of my heart if I would only let them, and instead I manage to lure them out and give them shape with words. Every once in a while, that really amazing feeling comes back; when I’ve written something that didn’t have a voice before. And it doesn’t matter if it means a thing to anyone else. That’s when I know I’m a writer. Do you remember that feeling when you were a kid? When anything was possible? Not always… not even often… but sometimes, that’s how I feel when I think about writing. And that’s how I know I should keep doing it.

I had almost forgotten that drive, that desire. I had begun to let work and life push writing to the back burner. A time or two, I wondered if I’d really miss it if I quit writing. I wondered if anyone else would really miss it if I quit writing. It was a quiet little thought; one that I didn’t really allow myself to recognize very fully because I didn’t really want to admit to it. But it was there in the back of my mind. There I was, right on the fence. Could have fallen easily to one side or the other. And along came WordPress with this crazy challenge to write every single day. Every day! Well, I’d been telling myself I either needed to write more, or just quit because my writing had begun to drop off to two or three postings a week. And the more infrequently I wrote, the harder it became to find something I even wanted to say.

So I contemplated that challenge and I thought, “What the hell. I’m joining. I probably won’t write every day, but even if I don’t, I’ll write more.” And I did it. I wrote every day since making that decision. I’ve got one week under my belt. And every day I wonder what I’m going to write about next. WordPress has this great site set up to help give participants ideas for writing. And I may take advantage sometimes. But I’ve never been good with writing prompts. Kind of makes me feel like I’m back in school and trying to figure out How I Spent my Summer Vacation. But then again, maybe even creating something from a prompt will come easier the more I write. Some days the words flow effortlessly and others, not so much. But I’m writing. And with every word I write, it feels more natural. And that drive that I felt when I first realized that I loved writing? It’s coming back. The excitement I felt when I first started doing this is back.

When I announced (in writing… so as to make myself go through with it) that I was joining the Post-a-Day 2011 challenge, one of my favorite blog friends, though supportive, suggested that even if my writing had dropped off recently, I was capable of writing something of quality on occasion. And quality might be better than quantity. I worried about that… briefly… until I realized that the more I write, the more likely I might be to find my “quality.” And when another one of my favorite bloggers, Bud, (a very talented writer, I might add,) announced that he was joining the challenge, I was excited! Everything challenging becomes easier when you’ve got a friend to keep you motivated.

So here I am, feeling like I can maybe do this, and so excited about it. So thank you, WordPress, for making me push myself, for making me remember… I am a writer.