Who knew?

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As a blogger, especially a blogger without a particularly huge following (ok with a pretty small following), sometimes I wonder if anyone is reading. I kind of missed the heyday of blogging and I’ve somewhat consciously decided not to actively try to increase the number of “hits” and readers through things like “search-engine optimization”. I don’t do Twitter or Facebook which probably hurts me as a lot of people are more likely to follow and comment on blogs through social media. The reason I’ve chosen not to do those things isn’t that I think that any of it is wrong but just that I’m more comfortable keeping blogging as something I do mostly for myself but that happens to be sort of public. It keeps it where I want it in my life. A fun hobby but not something that takes over too much of my time and energy.

Still. I can’t help but wonder sometimes. Does anything I write impact anyone? Do my musings on parenting encourage anyone? Do my husband’s photos that I shamelessly use inspire anyone? Do my book reviews prompt anyone to read more?

At the end of each year, WordPress sends bloggers an email with a summary of stats. As much as I say I don’t care, it’s still fun to look. Hey, someone in Turkey clicked on my blog! They love me in Latvia! One of the stats that was especially interesting to me this year was my number one post from the year (as judged by views) combined with the number one search engine topic that drew people here.

It was this post from 2012.

And the search engine topic that sent the most people to my blog (and presumedly to that post)? “Michael Landon was no saint.”

Really.

Out of all the things I’ve ever written about. That’s the one that got the most people here. I’m not sure whether to give up or to just tag every post “Michael Landon” from now on.

Regardless, I’d like to welcome all the Little House on the Prairie fans that have stopped by. You made 2013 a great year. Thanks!

 

Writer’s Block

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Hello.

I was shocked when I realized yesterday that the last time I posted here was 12 days ago. That isn’t such a long dry spell but it comes after several months of diminishing posts and of a general feeling of blog malaise. When you blog and then stop blogging there is a tendency (at least for me) to feel slightly guilty: like readers are disappointed. And then I feel like that’s ridiculous, there are roughly 4-million some bloggers out there and the lack of my voice out there in the blogosphere isn’t going to matter much. Then I think about posting about my guilt and my angst over that guilt and that just seems like a pathetic attempt to get readers to comment on how much they miss me and love everything I write. So what do I do? I don’t write anything.

That’s part of it. Of course, I could just ignore my lack of posting and instead write about other stuff. But what stuff? I think the other part of my posting problem is I’m not sure anymore what I want the blog to be. I started blogging mostly because I just wanted the opportunity to write. Over the years that I’ve been doing it I’ve also enjoyed the community aspect, especially in niche communities like among book bloggers. I’ve also migrated from just writing about stuff I’m thinking about to mostly writing about books but I don’t really think of myself as a book blogger. So what do I do? I don’t write anything.

So that’s also part of it. The other part is that my non-virtual life has been busy this spring. Baseball and a beach vacation and all the end of the school year celebrations and recitals and plays and picnics. In reality though the idea that I’m somehow too busy to blog is a lie. Yes, I’ve been busy; mostly that busy-ness is work and school and kids and reading in the spare minutes. But I’ve found also the time to spend more time on a homeschool message board. And to watch Chopped. I’ve spent evenings surfing the Internet following interesting (and not so interesting) links. I think most of the time when we claim that we are too busy to do something it means that other things are just more important. There is only so much extra time in the day and lately I haven’t been choosing to use it to blog. Still, I tell myself I’m too busy. And I don’t write anything.

More than anything though I think it’s simply that I’ve gotten out of the habit. New habits have crept in and taken over. I’m not in any way comparing myself to John McPhee. However, in thinking about this lack of a habit of writing I thought of a recent article in The New Yorker by him on writer’s block:

You are writing, say, about a grizzly bear. No words are forthcoming. For six, seven, ten hours no words have been forthcoming. You are blocked, frustrated, in despair. You are nowhere, and that’s where you’ve been getting. What do you do? You write, ‘Dear Mother.’ And then you tell your mother about the block, the frustration, the ineptitude, the despair. You insist that you are not cut out to do this kind of work. You whine. You whimper. You outline your problem, and you mention that the bear has a fifty-five-inch waist and a neck more than thirty inches around but could run nose-to-nose with Secretariat. You say the bear prefers to lie down and rest. The bear rests fourteen hours a day. And you go on like that as long as you can. And then you go back and delete the ‘Dear Mother’ and all the whimpering and whining, and just keep the bear.  

”Draft No. 4”, by John McPhee, in the April 29, 2013 The New Yorker

I have no big conclusions or resolutions about this blog. But you can consider this post a habit-breaking ‘Dear Mother’ letter.

Thoughts on Book Awards (and stuff)

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I intended today to write a post about the ALA awards that were announced yesterday. But today was one of those days where life interfered with blogging. As I write that I realize it sounds a bit pompous. Sort of, “Oh, I’m just too busy and important for this little blogging thing.” Which is not what I mean. Neither do I mean that my real life interfered with blogging as I hate the pretension that blogging is somehow fake or less worthy than other endeavors. I guess what I mean is just that it was a day where a lot of other pursuits took my attention and distracted me from this particular pursuit.

There was a lot of birdwatching. There was a morning teatime. And an afternoon teatime. With lots of reading at both. We read poetry and books about owls and books about Benjamin Franklin.

There was some discussion of factors and prime numbers. There was less school than planned since it was an unusually warm January day and I wanted to let the kids spend a lot of time outdoors.

I kept thinking I’d have time to sit down and write. But there was bread to bake. And some unexpected laundry to do due to spilled hot chocolate on “pink blanky” during teatime number one and a great deal of mud from the outdoors adventures. There was some painting to do in the guest bedroom we are in the process of renovating/redecorating.

There were altogether too many emails to write. And a fair number of phone calls for work.

Then after dinner and bathtime there was more laundry from a vomiting child. (Who is now snug in bed sleeping.) And of course more books to read.

I sit here wondering why I even still feel compelled to write this post. Do I think that there are readers who are waiting with bated breath for my thoughts on the ALA awards? No. I could easily choose to do something else with these few spare minutes. Some might saw something more worthwhile. The truth is that I enjoy this time and this endeavor. It’s slightly therapeutic. Or cathartic. It’s worth my time.

So…the ALA awards. The winner of the 2012 Caldecott is A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka, a book I haven’t read. I have read the three Caldecott Honor Books: Blackout, Grandpa Green and Me…Jane and liked them all, especially Grandpa Green. The winner of the 2012 Newbery is a book I haven’t even heard of, Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. One thing that pleased me was that the books all seem more like things kids would actually like than just books adults think are really great and that kids should like. Dead End in Norvelt sounds kind of wacky but intriguing enough that I put it on hold at our library. The other two Newbery Honor Books sound more to me like beautiful books that adults think kids should like. One, Inside Out and Back Again, sounds like something I would really like but I’m not sure about kids, at least my particular kids. I should probably be careful about making those assumptions though. I remember thinking the same thing about Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! when it won the Newbery but then being really surprised at how much John enjoyed reading it together. Good books are good books for a reason.

I’ve been more aware of book awards this season between the Cybils and now the ALA awards (there are many more ALA award categories that you can see at their website). I’ve come away with two impressions. One is that there are an awfully lot of great books out there for kids and young adults. It’s amazing to me how little overlap there is between the Cybils shortlist and the Caldecott winners. And I know there are a lot of other awards I don’t know about and that probably chose different top books. I think this says more about the quality of children’s literature than any lack of consensus in the kid lit community. Second, I’m struck by how subjective it is to pick a “best” of anything, much less a book. There is great depth and wide variety in the field. I do wonder how the judges choose. Is it more important to write a book that kids love or one that somehow is innovative and pushes the boundaries? How do you define excellence other than “I know it when I see it”?” It’s an interesting process that I wish I knew more about.

However, regardless of whatever other choices the ALA judges made they made the absolute best choice for the Edwards lifetime achievement award. They gave it to Susan Cooper who is the author of The Dark is Rising series my all time favorite series from childhood. To let you know both how much I love these books and what a book geek I am I’ll tell you that we went on our honeymoon to Cornwall because of them. So in my mind the ALA awards were right on the money this year.

 

 

Bloggy love

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Thanks to Bindu for nominating me for my first blog award.  Although,it’s small in the big scheme of things, anyway who writes a blog knows that it’s really nice to have readers and even nicer to know that those readers appreciate what you have written. They like me! They really like me!

The idea behind this award is to give recognition to “small blogs” (defined as less than 200 followers). I’m now supposed to nominate five small blogs that I enjoy. I have two problems with this. One is that I don’t really read a large variety of blogs these days. The second is that I have no idea how to tell if the blogs I read are small enough to qualify for this award. I read Mental Multivitamin and Semicolon regularly, but I’m quite sure both of those are well beyond the small category.

Other than that the five blogs I read the most regularly are: Hope is the Word, Reading to Know, Across the Page, I Capture the Rowhouse and Fanny Harville’s Unschool Academy. I really am not sure if they all meet the criteria for small blog, but they are all worth checking out if you are interested in books, education or just good writing.

Armchair Cybils

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I’ve heard buzz about the Cybils around the blogosphere for the past couple of years but didn’t pay all that much attention. This year, Amy captured my interest with this post about a challenge of sorts she is hosting. The Cybils Awards are the “Children and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards” and are given yearly to what are considered the best new books  in a range of categories covering juvenile and young adult fiction. The nominations and judges come from the kid lit blogging community.

I thought it would be fun to play along with Amy. I’ve decided to start by reading as many of the nominees in the “picture book fiction” category as I can (and that I can find at my library). The biggest challenge in homeschooling right now for me is making sure I’m giving enough attention to my 2 yr old and (almost) 5 yr old. So, I figured this would also be a way to help me challenge myself to read more to them at their level. And I can be sure to get two extra “judges’” opinions on the books.

Check out Amy’s blog for more info or to play along too. If you don’t have a blog you can always read the books and comment over there or here in the comment section. And be sure and check back over the next few months for what hopefully will be some great new children’s book recommendations.

Hey, what happened to all the pictures?

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When I first started blogging I made the decision to use code names for my kids and not to post any identifying photos of them. The decision was more based on respect for their privacy than any worry about potential danger. It felt a little silly since my blog was brand spanking new and didn’t really have many readers that weren’t people I knew offline. It also felt a little hypocritical to say I was doing it for privacy when I was engaging in the public naval-gazing of starting a blog.

Over the last year or so, I’ve relaxed my self-imposed picture standards. This was for various reasons. One was that I enjoy looking at blogs with photos. One was that I felt like maybe I was being a little silly about the privacy issue based on the enormous number of bloggers who do post photos. One was that I figured out how to upload photos to my blog.

However, recently I’ve decided that I had this right the first time. The truth is that our kids are growing up in a very different (and more public) world than we did. It’s likely that by the time that they are adults they will be very comfortable with photos of themselves being in the public domain. Maybe too comfortable.  But ultimately, I think that’s a choice they should make on their own and not be made for them. Yes, my blog still has relatively few readers that don’t already know us. However, who knows where all this information that’s out there in the public space will be in 20 years.

So last night I spent the time I intended to spend blogging on going back through my blog and deleting photos. This forced me to look back at my posts over the past two years plus. An interesting trend I saw was that as I posted more and more photos I became lazier about my actual writing. I’m not sure if what I was writing was better two years ago, but since one of my purposes of having a blog is to have an outlet for writing, in this case more is better. (At least from my perspective as a writer, not necessarily from my readers’ perspective.)

Blogs are visual medium by nature. Some bloggers are also talented photographers or graphic designers and looking at their blogs is a visual treat. For those people, I don’t think more  photos equates to laziness. For the rest of us, the truth is that part of blogging is making it visually appealing. Photos can be a tool to that end.  But for me I think they often became a fallback. Instead of taking the time to craft a post,  I’d slap up a cute piture, make a pithy comment or two and call it a day. Or I’d post a series of photos with a sentence or two describing them. I allowed images to become the default communication method instead of words. I think the use of photos caused me to take this blog in a direction where it was more important to me to post frequently and with visuallyappealing posts than to use it as a tool that made me think more and stretch myself as a reader and writer more.

In a way, how I spent last night was painful. This blog has become something I’m oddly proud of and going back through and deleting photos and some full posts felt kind of depressing. But in the end, I think it’s a good thing. Both for my kids and hopefully, for the blog also.

Being Real

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REAL: true; not merely ostensible, nominal, or apparent: the real reason for an act. existing or occurring as fact; actual rather than imaginary, ideal, or fictitious: a story taken from real life; being an actual thing; having objective existence; not imaginary: The events you will see in the film are real and not just made up. being actually such; not merely so-called: a real victory. genuine; not counterfeit, artificial, or imitation; authentic: a real antique; a real diamond; real silk; unfeigned or sincere: real sympathy; a real friend. (from dictionary.com)

It seems to me that I hear the phrase “being real” or “keeping it real” more and more these days, both in “real” life and online. It’s typically used when someone wants to share their struggles or  a way they messed up or how  they are less than perfect. I’m all for admitting we’re less than perfect. One of the things that drew me to reading blogs initially was that often reading about someone else’s struggles or shortcomings as a parent made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

And yet.

I wonder why the term “being real” is never used to apply to sharing the good. You never see someone say “Hey,just keeping it real, but we had a great day today.” Is that because we think somehow only the struggles are gritty enough to be real? Are those good days not authentic?

When I write here about my kids I typically share the good. The books we are enjoying, the field trips we take, the projects we do. I share sometimes about things I’m personally struggling with or experiences in parenting that make me think. But I somewhat purposefully don’t share the bad days. It’s not because we don’t have them. And it’s not because I am trying to create a fake view that says that all is perfect at our house. But I am cautious about these words I put out into this virtual world. I don’t think we have any idea what our kids will one day read. I don’t want them to think all was perfect but I also don’t want them to read about a particularly bad day I had when they were 5 and think that’s how I always felt.

So I share the good. I’s only one part of the picture but no less real for not being the complete picture.

I started thinking about this whole concept of realness after a conversation with a friend who made a statement to the effect that she finds it difficult to feel like she has a real relationship with someone unless they are sharing their struggles with her. At first, I agreed with her but after thinking about it more I started to wonder about why it had to be sharing struggles. Why not sharing  joy? Sharing the mundane?

I’m a fairly introspective and solitary person. I like being alone. Most of my life I’ve preferred to have a few close friends rather than a big group of people around me. And I do appreciate the people who I can call when I’m struggling. But I also appreciate those who I can call and brag about something good without wondering if they are going to be anything other than happy for me. I appreciate those who will listen and be genuinely interested about the small everyday things we do.

The person who I am closest to (H.) is the one who is there for the big struggles and the big joys but also shares all the little daily every day tasks of life. In reality, most of our conversations are about those little every day things.

Often when I am asked “How are you?”  my reply is, “Fine.” In certain circles and with certain people I can feel their disappointment. They want more. They want struggles. They want REAL.

But much of the time, I’m not struggling. I’m not hiding the pain.

I’m fine.

And fine is real.

 

Why surfing the Internet isn’t a waste of time- Part 2

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In the time I spent away from blogging this summer, I also got out of the habit of reading blogs. I like reading blogs for reasons I talk about here but I have found that there are so many that I’ve become more selective in what I read. One that I do check almost every day is Mental Multivitamin. There is rarely a post of hers that isn’t somehow thought-provoking and I’ve found her rare posts on homeschooling some of the most helpful I’ve read in the blogosphere.

From there I found a link to Semicolon’s book blog and the Saturday Review of books. I enjoy Semicolon’s blog but especially like the Saturday Review for all the new books (and blogs) that it introduces me to.

This past Saturday I had to follow a link to Book Harbinger, a new blog to me, as she had a review of  The President’s Daughter posted. This book by Ellen Emerson White was one of my favorites as a teenager and it was nostalgia that led me to see what someone else was saying about it.

But then, oh! The booky bloggy wonder! Book Harbinger posted about this deal (on yet another site that I hadn’t heard of). And I discovered that The President’s Daughter wasn’t the first of TWO books in a series but the first of FOUR and that I HAVEN’T READ THE LAST TWO.  And this particular site was selling the series at an unbelievably low price. Suffice to say that all four books are making their way to me at the low low price of $11.61. That’s for all FOUR books plus shipping.

Ok, I’ll stop there before I start sounding like I should be promising you a set of Ginsu knives if you order NOW. But I am convinced that Al Gore just may have been on to something with this Internet thing.

What I did on my summer vacation

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Recently I was reading a blog that had advice on how to write a better blog. One of the pieces of advice was to not keep writing updates after long absences. The thought being that it’s kind of boring for readers. It was good advice.

Which I will now ignore. But this will be the last post of that kind. I promise.

*We moved. It was a relatively easy move being only 15 minutes from our old house. Even so, all the headaches of the whole process of buying and selling and negotiating and packing and unpacking prompted me to tell H. that I look forward to growing old with him. IN THIS HOUSE. The move itself didn’t dramatically affect our everyday lives: we work in the same places, go to church in the same place, shop in the same places for the most part, and are closer to most of our friends. At the same time, it’s been a good move for us. The house is bigger but even better the yard is much bigger and more fun for the boys. The new location is close to a bike trail and I think we’ve been out walking or biking almost every day since we moved here.

*We’ve done a lot of house renovations. We bought the house “as-is” and the people had done some on the surface cosmetic things to sell it but there was a lot left undone and a lot done poorly that need to be done over. The day we moved in we had a plumber, HVAC guy and electrician here. For about the first month I think there was a contractor here every day. We’ve gotten a new roof, new windows and had to completely rip out and replace one shower because it leaked (we could see water pouring out of the front of the house). We’ve painted and done many minor repairs. There’s more to do but the major stuff is over now and most of the rest is cosmetic. Still, it’s been a summer of being focused on the house.

*We started school a few weeks ago. John is in 2nd grade. David is in preschool and still spends much of his time pretending to be a monkey.  Ruth is enrolled in the school of domestic destruction and spends her days emptying bookshelves, defying baby safety locks on cabinets and making a mad dash down the hall if she sees the boy’s room door open. She knows that’s where all the good toys are.

*It’s been a good summer. Ordinary but good. A lot of swimming. A lot of biking. A whole lot of reading. A little travel (the beach, New York and home to Richmond). Some art together. Lots of time with friends. Once H. and I described our perfect days to each other. His was something like this: a little architecture, some good food, a little exercise and good company. That’s kind of been our summer.

Confessions of an Imperfect Perfectionist

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I have a love-hate relationship with doodling. I tend to doodle when I listen to a lecture and I find it helps me think. But I can’t stand the ugliness that the doodles cause on the page. The imperfection of the notes with scribbles and scrawls around them makes me want to rip out the page and rewrite the notes. (True confession: I have actually done that a time or two.)

I have a stack of notebooks and journals where I’ve written for a week or two and then nothing more. I would start writing and detail some plan for self-improvement and then I’d get busy and forget about it. Later I might want to journal again but I couldn’t stand to go back and pick it up again once I’d stopped. The imperfection of the half-finished project or journal just seemed to mock me.

I’ve started a lot of diets and then failed because I had a bad day or bad week and then decided it wasn’t worth trying again. It was too imperfect, too embarrassing to admit my failure somehow. Better just to pretend I didn’t really try in the first place.

It’s now been almost 5 months since I wrote here on this blog. At first I was just busy. Then I had doubts as to what I really was doing blogging in the first place. So many people blog now and do it better. Then as each day/week/month passed I felt like the blog had become a more public version of one of those unfinished notebooks. So imperfect. I toyed with the idea of deleting it (or closing it or whatever you do with a blog when you’re done) and starting a new blog.  Like a clean doodle-free notebook page. Mostly, I just thought that maybe the time for me to blog was over.

But.

Lately I’ve been thinking again about things I’d like to write about. Books to share. Stories to tell. Thoughts to ponder and reflect on. I find myself composing blog posts in my head.

So, I think I’m back.