Writing a Blog

A comment on one of my ovarian cancer posts surprised me the other day.  The anonymous commenter asked about writing an "established" blog like mine.  What advice do I have.
I still look at that comment and say "What...????"  I don't consider my blog established, not by any means, unless you mean presence online.  I've been blogging for a few years, yes but my blog isn't read by very many people at all.  Not only am I not "popular," no one even knows who I am. 
My blog is just my place to record my stories, my feelings, my life.  Anything I consider interesting enough to write down and want to save.  An opinion that comes to me and I feel the need to vent or express my confusion (most people who know me would be amazed at how many of those I never post - the vent is a rant and I sound far too shrewish to share it publicly!)  A recipe I tried and want to share my success... or failure.  Family things that someday my brother is going to be sitting around a fire pit and ask me to remember. 
That's what my blog is.  I never set out for a readership, not a permanent one, anyway.  I joined a meme here and there and then lost interest.  I entered giveaways; won a few and lost many.  I keep writing because it's for me.  I'm honored anyone wants to read what I have to say but I'm not driven by that.
Keep in mind everything I'm about to say is my OPINION.  I have no hard facts to back me up, I haven't interviewed anyone for this.  This is how I feel about the subject, what I say would be advice I would give myself - NOT as any kind of expert. 
When starting a blog, be you.  You can try a gimmick, look to be unique but after a while I would think that would become pure work.  A blog is supposed to be relaxing, I think.  It's a place to unload all that you've been carrying around in your head.  Write it down and either put it out of your mind or look at it and clarify what you've been thinking. 
The next advice?  Don't worry about what other people think about what you write.  Unless you ARE writing a factually based blog, what you are writing is your opinion, your experience.  Blogs have, it seems, become a little competitive and while 99% of what I've seen the men and women who write blogs are extraordinarily supportive of each other but there are those...  There are those who will be jealous if you think of something before they do or share what they share better than they do and they will try to undermine your confidence.  Ignore them.  There are those, too, who will steal your content.  Pass it off as theirs.  I've read plenty of stories of bloggers talking to lawyers to fight those who steal posts.  There have also been blogs created with elaborate "back stories" of cancer or dying children or pregnancies in trouble and the people who create those are looking for attention from "popular" bloggers.  Whatever their motivation, it's hard when the ruse is discovered.  People don't like feeling foolish and imitation is not always the best form of flattery. 
Although....in that same vein?  Give credit where credit is due.  My BIGGEST fault when I first started posting on my blog: I'd have found something somewhere and then couldn't remember where I found it.  I'd try it, put my own spin on it and then couldn't give credit for the original idea because I hadn't noted where I found it.  That is, simply put, rude.  I never took credit for anyone else's idea but I still felt crummy every time I did it.  So...I got smart and now I keep track of where I find things or at least I try to and link up in my posts whenever possible.  Or - I don't post the project, recipe, etc.
If you enter and win giveaways?  Please say thank you.  Take pictures of what you've won and post them along with links to the blog who hosted the giveaway and say thank you!!!  It's imperative that you not just take people's gifts and ignore them.  Would you let your children get away with not thanking their grandparents for birthday gifts?  No.  Then don't forget to thank those who give you something they had no obligation to offer in the first place. 
Always get permission for pictures.  Especially if they are of children.  I'm not a lawyer, I have no idea if it's illegal to post pictures of unidentified kids or not but...err on the side of caution.  Ask.
Monetize or not?  Up to you.  I don't.  Again - I am not looking to become some big popular blog.  That IS work and I do not want to be forced to share.  I want to write when I want to write and if someone wants to read it, fine but I'm not crying if I don't get a readership larger than say 10 people (my friends & family makes up 8 of those...). 
I could go on and on and on and on.  Most of what I've learned, though, is from reading other blogs - not just writing my own.  There are plenty of people who will talk about the importance of good pictures and I have to admit.  I do prefer reading blogs where the pictures are better, especially if there is a tutorial involved.  I'm back to my preferences - I'm not looking for a major readership so I don't go crazy over my pictures.  In fact, I'm lucky if I remember pictures and I have never written a tutorial (I don't think) so staging pictures & taking pictures of "steps" isn't something I've tried to do but I've read a few posts that indicate it's often a challenge.
Want to see how bloggers who have turned their blogs into business do it?  Go to my links page and click on a few of the blogs I've put on there.  Clarification:  I haven't updated that page in a LONG time so there may be a few blogs I no longer read.  I apologize ahead of time if the links don't work.
Finally?  Write.  Just...write.  Write what interests you.  Come up with a theme and go with it.  Decide the time you're willing to invest, research blogs online and figure out what you want to do.
And that, I'm sure, barely scratches the surface of writing a blog but... you asked so I didn't want to ignore you.  All the best, whoever you are, Anonymous Commenter.  And even above that?  Thank you for reading my ovarian cancer posts.  They were extraordinarily hard to write and I greatly appreciate your time in reading them and for taking the time to comment.  It's important to me, I hope you know that.
Hopefully this made sense.  I typed this very quickly this morning with football on the TV in the background.  I'll wrap this up by repeating myself - check out other blogs, blogs with readership, blogs that ARE the writer's livelihood.  I'm not qualified to offer anything more than a very humble opinion.  Ok...I'm originally from New Jersey.  Probably not so humble but I hope you understand what I'm saying.  Good luck & God bless!


Horrors We Live With Every Day

I was born and raised in New Jersey.  We lived in a couple of sleepy, small towns before moving to a mid-sized town when I was 10.  One of the towns we lived in, Clayton, is in the news this week because of the disappearance and probable murder of a 12 year old, sweet-faced young lady named Autumn Pasquale.  This morning a body was found in a recylcing bin, near where she disappeared and it is believed to be her.

My heart sunk when I first heard the story.  Child abduction stories rarely end well it seems.  Few children are found and reunited with their parents and just by looking at the pictures of this girl, I could imagine the horrors she endured.  Where my imagination takes me is one of some experience.  Not the exact same, mind you - obviously but experience nonetheless.  I am always reminded that God must have had bigger plans for me because I think back over my childhood and I wonder how I made it to adulthood.

One friend has posted two teenagers have been arrested on suspicion of her murder, a third is being sought.  If that is true, this case is going to get uglier and sadder by the minute.

What is getting to me, though, in addition to her death, is the description of Clayton as being a small, quiet town.  People are always shocked when such things happen in such places.  My question is why?  Why are we surprised?  It is the quiet, small towns where people still let their children ride bikes to friends' houses and walk to school unaccompanied.  They think of themselves as living in safe neighborhoods, safe towns.

No - I do not advocate living in fear.  Never.  But I do advocate living in awareness.  The awareness that small towns in a small world do not equal safety.  Too many lions roam among the lambs and until the day everyone bends their knee, the lions are going to feast on lambs whenever they get a chance.  Those lions have different faces, too.  If teenagers truly are to blame for the death of this young girl, what does that say about the kids living in that town?

That brings me back to my memories and wondering why people think small towns are safe.  I always get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I hear of a child gone missing but this one actually made that sick feeling a physical reality.  This little girl rode her bike to a friend's house, probably along a route I'd ridden as a little girl.  Clayton is not a town full of fond memories for me.

It is a town riddled with arson and murder and scary experiences I've only thought about briefly through the years.  We lived on Maple Street and just on our street I can remember three distinct incidences that involved quite a bit of violence.

The first - the end of Maple St. was a dead end.  The train tracks ran right through town, right past the end of our street and on one side was an old warehouse for a furniture store (whose name I can't remember) with a field next to it running right up to the tracks.  As kids we used to play in that field.  It's where the boys would hang out to watch the trains run over their pennies...

I was in that field one day, alone.  Picking flowers.  Such beautiful wildflowers grew in that field.  I happened to look up at the warehouse and in the window I distinctly remember a man pointing a shotgun (or rifle...I was about 7 and I don't know guns) at me.  Was he debating pulling that trigger?  I don't know.  Was he thinking how stupid us kids were playing down there - especially coming alone?  I have no idea.  I just know I dropped my flowers and ran.  Ran for home so fast.  I never looked back and I never again went to that field.

The second incident involved a neighbor's brother.  Or neighbor's sister & brother-in-law.  I don't recall the exact relationship.  I know one neighbor lived two houses up from us and the brother lived at the other end of the street, past the funeral home (yes - I lived on the same street as the town's funeral home).  That brother (in-law?) stabbed his wife and then killed himself.  My parents did a pretty good job of keeping that one from us but I do remember the police and ambulance activity at the house the night in question.  And I remember only walking on the other side of the street after that...

Funny what happens to memories, isn't it?  They become fuzzy...  For some memories, that's a good thing.

Around the corner from us, an abandoned house burned to the ground.  Arson.

And shortly after that, a neighbor girl was out walking.  Probably to the store to grab some groceries (back in the day when Mom gave you $5 and you took her short list to the store for her..) and on her way home she was viciously attacked by a group of young men, teenagers all of them.  She was beaten so bad she spent many days in hospital - perforated liver or ruptured kidney or...  I don't remember but it was something like that.  She was a mass of black & blue marks on her face and body when she could come home.

While she was still in the hospital, those boys were still roaming the streets together.  One day, that neighbor girl's sister and I were leaving school (our old elementary school is now a senior home, I believe) and a group of young men surrounded me.  Michelle was smart - she ran back to the school when she saw them.  I was totally unaware they were even there until I turned to say "hey... where you going?" to Michelle's back and they circled me.  They started pushing me around, bouncing me off each other and saying that I looked like a fun one, etc.  I just kept begging "Guys... please leave me alone, guys..." And I don't know why that struck them.  I called them guys.  Not boys.  And they thought that was cool.  "Guys.  She called us guys."  They left me..and started walking away.  I just stared at their retreating backs for a few minutes, still in a bit of shock, until I realized I needed to run.  I ran for the school and Michelle and we sat outside for a while, until we figured for sure they weren't coming back.  And then walked the back way home from school...

That was the end of it, though for my parents.  Clayton was no longer the town in which they wanted to raise us.  They told us we were moving to be closer to my father's work but when I was in my 20's, my father told me the real reason they left was fear for our safety and what the town was becoming. 

We moved in June, 1978.  My sister was 9 months old and we moved to Marlton.  Shortly after we left?  Our former next door neighbors were killed when someone threw a molatov cocktail (I believe that's what they're called) onto their back porch and set their house on fire.  Rumor was that was meant for my old house - a police officer and his family had purchased our home.  The three people living in that house, Stephen, Babe & Jeffrey Crane died trying to get out the front door.  If I remember the story correctly, they had a dead bolt on their front door that used a key to lock and unlock it.  In the smoking darkness of their fire riddled home, one of them knocked the key off the top of the TV onto the floor and they couldn't find it to get out.  I don't know why they didn't break a window.  Panic?  Smoke inhalation?  I don't know.  All I remember is they found the three of them inside the front door, together.

The last thing I heard about?  My church - the Methodist Church on Delsea Drive burned to the ground.  Also arson.  The man they arrested?  The husband of the daughter of neighbors who lived directly across the street from us.  She was a bit older than me but I played with her sister a lot.

This was the late 1970's.  Unless Clayton made great strides to clean up, they had serious problems 40 years ago.  It doesn't surprise me at all that this happened. 

It just makes it more than ridiculously tragic to me.  My heart aches for this family.  Aches.  I can't imagine all that they are feeling but I think about all that happened to me and wonder why her - why not me so many years ago.  It wasn't for lack of people trying way back then.  Whatever will happen in Clayton now?  How many more changes will be made?  Who will leave?  Who will stop letting their kids ride their bikes alone...  Security shattered.  Lives altered in ways no one can fathom.  What will people do?

How do we take back our towns?  How do we protect our children while still allowing them to be kids?  When will we actually accept that we don't live in a world where a child alone is ever safe?  The days of leaving our kids in their strollers, sleeping, while we shop (my mother used to do that with me in a town not too far from Clayton) are definitely LONG gone.  But.. the days of our kids riding their bikes to their friend's house are gone, too?  How sad a society are we, really?

UPDATE:  Was just reading an article about Autumn and one of her friends quoted had the last name Doughty.  That was the name on the side of the furniture warehouse at the end of our street...  Small town.  Small world. 


When Conviction Smacks You Upside the Head

As I start typing this post, it's 5:05 PM on a Saturday afternoon.  Aaron is going to be done at work in 10 minutes and heading home.  When he gets here, we'll head out to do some grocery shopping and get what we need for the upcoming week.
While I'm waiting, I'm winding down a bit from a very busy day.  I'm perusing a few blogs here and there and stumbled across this post.  When I finished, I rubbed my head, feeling a bit bruised because my conscience had slapped me just a little silly.  I have a host of deviations from what she was saying but I say that in some minor attempt to justify my behavior. 
I know better.
You won't find me at the outlet mall and when we head into a state that has a lower tax rate, I don't rush into all of the stores picking up the deals but...  I get online.  I will spend a Saturday dusting, doing laundry, picking up clutter and rearranging things so the house looks good and then it hits...  the "I need a rest" thought.
And to the computer I go.
One blog will talk about some wonderful recipe and it'll mention an immersion blender and I'm off to search for one that's cordless.  Someone else will talk about another gadget or they'll have been asked to review a product and I have to do a bit more digging.  Or someone will mention a great new vendor on Etsy and there I go...
To shop.  Even if I end up only window shopping, I can't resist looking. 
And it's put us in a not so great place.  Don't get me wrong - we can pay the bills.  But when we went to buy our new car, Aaron had to be on the loan with me because I have such high revolving credit that my credit score is no longer high enough to be acceptable for the lower interest rate loans.
And that is incredibly hard to admit here.  It's hard to admit just to myself but REALLY hard to state it publicly.  But after reading that post I think I need to.  I think I need to get serious about saying "no."  A couple of months ago I did unsubscribe to about 10 different "newsletters" and weekly store ads but I still get a few.  I think it's time to ditch them all.  Take up reading when I "need to rest" instead of sitting on the computer.
I need to stop.
Stop thinking that I can spend $20, $30, $40 on something that I know I don't need but it's "cool" or "pretty" or will make life easier and pay for itself.
Horse puckey.
Our giving is down.  And that's not ok.  Not at all.  And I need to stop making it worse.  How is this me being a good steward?  I'm not.  Every time I start down this road, I think of Luke 12:47-48 and at the end of those two verses it says "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."  Truth is, I've been given MUCH.  There are so many with SO much less than me and what have I done with it?  Who have I clothed?  Who have I fed?  Who have I helped.  Yes - one or two here and there but nothing consistent.
And I continue to spend... 
I need to say no to myself.  More.  And hopefully get better at it.  Perhaps I, instead of skipping the J Crew Outlet store will get to where I skip amazon.com.  And figure out how to give more...


Oh So Very Yummy Dinner

It has been a while since I've posted any kind of recipe or link to a recipe on this thing.  Last night, though, I cooked dinner following a recipe I found here.  Technically?  I didn't "find" it there, I was directed to it from here.

I thought I should be clear.

Now that I have cleared that up?  All I can say is (1) if you enjoy homemade Mexican style food and (2) if you are looking for something super quick and simple to make and (3) if you love leftovers...

Make this.

About the only change I made to my first attempt at this recipe was I left out the diced tomatoes.  My 12 year old can't stand them so I figured "ah...they're in the salsa, why extra?" and just left them out.  Didn't hurt it one bit.

Also?  Pay attention to your layers.  I was talking homework with said 12 year old and trying to get the new dog (who is, by the way, now named Bandit - no longer Joe) to remember his manners and stay out of the kitchen when food is present so I forgot the cheese in the first layer of the lasagna.  Not a deal-breaker mind you but highly disappointing if you love that ooey gooey-ness of a TON of cheese.

The biggest regret?  Not a single picture was taken in the making of said lasagna.  I really don't think about my blog too much in my everyday life...

And finally?  I know the recipe calls for you to bake it for 30-35 minutes but check it.  I only cooked it for 30 and probably could have gotten away with 25.  The cheese on top was just starting to burn when I pulled it out so we have a couple of icky spots on the top.  At about 25 minutes, I think, it would have been positive perfection.



Ahhh... Joe

Posted yesterday about our new family member.  Have to admit, now that he's been with us a few days and has started to realize he's not at the shelter, he's relaxing just a little bit.  He's such an affectionate little guy.  I'm loving it.  I have to watch, though - make sure I don't do anything crazy like start spoiling him.

It's in my nature.

Today we were working on his "commands" and I am so impressed.  He knows sit, lay down, leave it, come, wait, let's go and as I found out today, shake.  We're trying a few things out here and there because we know he was well trained, we just have to unlock his little secrets.

One thing we need, though, is a new name.  As my boss so brilliantly pointed out, Joe is awfully close to "no" and well...  that just won't work.  Doesn't seem all that fair and actually seems fairly confusing.

So we're on a hunt...a hunt for a name that suits our young fella.  I sure hope we come up with one soon because otherwise, Joe is just going to stick.

Any ideas?  He is at least part Australian Cattle Dog...  we have ruled out Matey, Barbie and Outback, though...


Addition to the Family

Most people who know us know we lost our beloved Max on June 16th.  He was an adopted dog, we found him at a local shelter on October 5, 2007 and let me tell you - I have never loved a dog like I loved Max.  He was gorgeous, a Rottweiler and German Shepherd mix (or at least that was what the shelter vet said) with the Rott coloring and a Sheperd face and a gorgeous, gorgeous plume tail.

Max was the type of dog I found incredibly easy to spoil.  To his detriment, I know but I literally could not help myself - once I decided I was choosing to not help myself.  He would get up with me every morning and I would make him sit for his cookie and then open his door and as soon as he finished that cookie he was off touring his kingdom.  He'd even sit on the back step so he could, as we always called it, "survey his kingdom."  He had a thick, beautiful coat of fur and the sweetest demeanor I had ever known.  Well...as long as he was dealing with people.  If he was dealing with other dogs, killing them was the only thing on his mind.  We had to keep him away from other animals, always.  He also managed to protect his home turf a few times in the years he lived with us and every neighbor knew to keep their dog away from ours.

It worked.

Then, he got sick and we had to put him down.  We were devastated.  Just...devastated.  Nothing has torn our hearts apart so deeply as having to make that decision for such an incredible friend.  I even commented it was almost harder than losing my mother and I've written several times as to how hard THAT has been.  Besides the obvious differences, though, I didn't have to decide to put my mother down.  I think THAT was the harder part between the two situations and it really didn't matter at the time that it was the absolute best decision for Max.

So - there we were.  No one barking a greeting to us, jumping in excitement as we came through the front door.  No one sauntering through the front yard with that confident assuredness that all was right with the world but he was prepared to take out anything that might want to make it "wrong."  No one tearing through his dog door to get to the squirrels outside, claws clacking across the kitchen floor...

The house was too quiet. 

That was all there was to it.  We needed a dog.  We needed a dog to keep us anchored to the house because otherwise?  It's just a place to sleep.  Don't get me wrong - we have friends over all the time, we have family over, we definitely live in our home but having a dog there while we're gone, someone to come home to?  That made it WORTH coming back home.  It meant if we were going to go out of town, it had better be worth it because if we couldn't take Max, we probably wouldn't go. 

So we started looking online.  Shelter after shelter posting pictures of available dogs.  And one would pop up and we'd "ooooh" and "aahhhh" and say "Now THAT is a good-lookin' dawg."  And after several weeks of that, we decided to visit the same shelter where we found Max.  The first week we went home empty-handed.  There were a couple of dogs we were interested in but one of them had been in a shelter his entire two years of life and had started resource guarding and he had bit a couple of the staff and volunteers at the shelter so he was ineligible for adoption.  That just breaks my heart.  If you could see this dog...  How anyone could walk by his cage and not choose him?  I did not understand...  I still don't. 

There was another one who caught my husband's eye.  He was a white Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix and we were pretty sure there was some wolf in there, too.  He. was. gorgeous.

But...like Shep, he had behavioral issues and they sent him to live at a shelter that specializes in his type of dog, acclimating him to their pack. 

Then there was Joe.  I had spotted him our first week but we spent so much time talking about the other two that we never had a chance to bring him up.  Until yesterday.  Back to N.O.A.H. we went, to see who was new and see who we might consider and no one caught our eye.  Except Joe...  And the staff up there spent about 4 hours trying to make sure we were the right family for this dog.  He has some cattle dog in him, that's pretty sure, but they listed him as a shepherd mix, too.  And he is stinkin' smart.  He's not at all furry like Max but he's whip-like strong.  His thighs are massive for a dog his size.  He's just beautiful.

And sweet.

But we're not letting that sweet fool us.  He'll run the house if we do.  We're working immediately on the ground rules and we've made all sorts of changes from Max.  Obedience classes are going to be coming up pretty quick, too.  We're not messing around. 

Look at this face....

Can you see why we have to be strict from the get-go?  I mean...how does that face not melt your heart?

How I love being a dog family...  He's not Max and that's good.  He's Joe and he's home.  I hope for a very, very long time.