Feeling a little less share-y

I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately that start with “where are you, you seem really busy” and that makes me feel bad, but it’s also true. Like, right now, I feel a little guilty about posting anything, because I have people waiting on me to finish up stuff. And those people might notice I just spent 14 minutes writing this maudlin blog post.

Still, I’m vaguely committed to Jennifer’s Epic Seven Days of Blogging Challenge so I figure I should post something.

I have some pictures from our June beach trip that I really love and I thought about posting them, because of course my children are bursts of freckled joy, but then I think – I dunno. I dunno about all this sharing.

The kids are getting a little older and it feels more like an invasion of their privacy to be telling the Internet about the funny things they’ve said or the things weighing on my heart. I remember I always hated hearing my mom tell stories about me to her friends. She never got the details right, I thought, or painted me in the most flattering light.

I now realize that telling stories about your children is a genetic condition that presents itself in adulthood upon bearing said children, and you are powerless to avoid it. Still, when my daughter gives me a bit of side-eye as I spin another story about her, I think: maybe I shouldn’t be doing that so much.

Or maybe that’s just what moms do, I don’t know. (I’m pretty sure my mom had me sized up pretty accurately, in hindsight, and still does.)

I’ve mostly quit Facebook, as well, for many of the same reasons that Rachel touches on in her recent post. I tried deleting my account entirely, but of course that broke some stuff I’d done for clients (long, boring, technical story and yes, I tried that, and yeah, I need to try that other thing). So now I just check in every couple of weeks, sprinkle a round of “likes,” feel bad about losing touch with people, get irritated by a conversation, and get on my merry way.

Having said ALL of that, I do have things I’ve been pondering and it does seem to help me figure out what I actually think when I blog about them. Very much rethinking our approach to homeschooling and wanting to write more candidly about the challenges involved in this way of educating my children.

I mean, every way of educating a child has advantages and disadvantages. Homeschooling is no different. So that will probably be some of this week’s posting discussion. Thinking a lot about children and competition – athletic, academic, artistic, who-gives-the-loudest-zerberts-ic. And socialization, and – well, more to come. I hope. (Spoiler alert: if you are one of those homeschool proponents with a speech at the ready about how ridiculous it is to worry about socialization and a list of all the ways in which your children are better at socializing because of homeschooling, perhaps you should find a different place to set up your soapbox.)

I also had a vision from on high that I should never again announce I am launching a series or a linkup or a regular weekly feature because I will always. forget. to follow through.

Anyway, thanks for reading, n’stuff. I’m outta here, but hope to be back tomorrow with something more useful to say.


Seven Quick Takes: Posts I Haven’t Made Time to Write

I just have a few minutes because I need to make the cookie cake for the Little League party before I take the kids to swim team now that we’ve gotten back from the orthodontist and figured out which library books are the source of the “third strong reminder” notices. I believe this state in life is known as “limping across the finish line.”

As such, you may have noticed I didn’t put up this week’s promised PINISHERS: FAIL post yet. Because, be honest: are any of us getting all up in the Pinterest right now? No. No, we are not. I don’t care who you are, the end of May is not Peak Project Time.

Here are other posts I keep intending to write but by the time I have a moment to spare it’s way past a reasonable bedtime. And I’m trying to reform. Always about reform.

— 1 —

Five Favorites for Team Moms, detailing the things that saved my sanity during my maiden voyage as Little League Team Mom. I actually really enjoyed it, and it helped ease the transition for my son who hadn’t played before – because mom had a job and a reason to go around talking to everyone.

— 2 —

Grand Unifying Theory of Children’s Sports, using phrases like “the creeping professionalization of children’s athletic events” and “social anxiety” but not, perhaps, in the way that you would expect. Spoiler alert: I have now modified my stance on forcing a child to participate in sports. Additional spoiler: I used to be against it.

— 3 —

Even Grander Unifying Theory of How to Talk to Women At Social or Professional Events, mapping out your conversational routes with stay-at-home-moms, work-from-home-moms, stay-at-home-wives-who-are-not-moms, work-from-home-pet-owners, homeless-corporate-raiders, and other hyphenated-Americans.

— 4 —

Manifesto Against Self-Deprecatory Remarks, a treatise I will write for myself, then ignore.

— 5 —

My Opinion of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, based on the Amazon Kindle excerpt I read half of.

— 6 —

Good Gravy Crackers, What Have They Done to the American Girl Brand.

— 7 —

Something about one of those articles I keep bookmarking in the New Republic/New York Times/First Things/WSJ/America, except mostly I’m just thinking about my haircut some more and how I should probably go to a real salon now after my brief fling with self-coiffure.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

THE PINISHERS, Volume 4: Family

Hello again, Pinishers! We are getting into a groove here, aren’t we? We are not going to let the month of May and its constant family-related events and end-of-school-year ceremonies get in the way of our quest. Our quest…to actually do something we’ve been meaning to get around to. Or—OR—and this is key—remembering things we did a few weeks ago and taking credit for them.

This week’s theme is family.

Pinisher blog link-up

Link to Original Project: DIY-ing the Emmys: Make Your Own Bow Tie.

Link to My Pin: Pinned after the fact. I admit it. No shame in that.

Follow me on Pinterest here.

I generally complete sewing projects at a rate of one per year, but I make that one project count by doing something insane, like cutting up my wedding dress to make a First Communion Dress. Last Easter, I decided to practice before I disassembled my wedding dress; I made an Easter dress for my daughter with the same pattern. And I’m glad I did, because the pattern needed quite a bit of altering in order to fit her correctly.

This year, she was happy to wear her Easter dress again, which is good because it didn’t even occur to me that she might want a new dress. I always feel bad that I don’t sew things for my sons, so I decided to make matching bow ties for my husband and the two boys. I had quite a lot of fabric left from the previous project so I was able to do so the night before Easter, because I am incapable of planning ahead.

This tutorial was easy to follow but MAN, did the bow ties turn out tiny. The one I made for my younger son was so small that it required extensive effort to get it turned right-side-out after the initial “sew the two pieces together and leave a small hole to push the fabric through.” The finished product would probably be the right size for a Beanie Baby. I’ve already misplaced it so I can’t take a picture, but trust me on this one.

So, I ended up giving Daddy’s bow tie to my older son, and the one I’d made for my older son to my younger one. They fit the boys just fine, but if I were to try this again – I honestly don’t know how I’d figure out what size to make the tie.

Sew your own bow ties

There you have it.

Now, I know we’re all looking forward to next week, when the theme is FAIL, but surely you can find something from the last year to fit “family,” right? Looking forward to reading your posts!

If you’d like to use a handy-dandy template for your post, here’s the basic template, or here’s a special version for this week’s adventure-themed badge. (And here’s how to use the templates.)

If you just want the snazzy adventure-flag badge, here’s the code to copy and paste. Make sure you’re in HTML mode (switch to the tab that says “Text” or “HTML” in your blogging editor) and not regular composition mode.

 Loading InLinkz …

Blessed Are the Meek ~ New Books from Kathleen Basi and Elizabeth Scalia Challenge us to Be Humble

Two new titles from Ligouri Publications and Ave Maria Press explore the many things that get in the way of God, and how humility is the bedrock of the virtues that draw us to Christ.

Often, perhaps most of the time, those whose faith strikes us most forcefully aren’t those who talk about it, but those who simply live it—letting the actions speak to the faith that directs them. We all know people who rarely talk about their faith, and yet everyone around them knows it is central to who they are.

Thus author Kathleen M. Basi outlines her hopes for readers of her newest book for families, This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes

(As an aside – how I wish I could be one of those people, the serene “radiating grace” types, you know? I think I mostly radiate snark.)

Kathleen Basi - This Little Light of MineThe book is an interesting project in that Basi has structured each chapter to include reflection for both adults and kids, with questions that the whole family can discuss. The book walks us through the Beatitudes, exploring the challenges of living out these ideals in everyday life. I think the challenge here for Basi is to present these teachings in a way that grabs our attention, since many of us have heard them so many times that they can come off as platitudes about “how to be nice.”

Basi cuts to the chase. The Beatitudes call us to a life of infinite small sacrifices, not the occasional grand gesture. She asks pointed questions:

“When contemplating a purchase, ask yourself: “Will having this item bring me closer to God, further away, or make no difference?”

When all of a sudden I am the main priority in my life (a false god), where is there room for the kingdom of heaven that Jesus promises?

Does political activism or religious discussion put you in a position where you feel compelled to “trash talk” others in pursuit of a greater good? How can you change that script without compromising your beliefs?

Her book is in part a quick tour of a well-rounded Christian life, as she weaves meditations on the Sacraments, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and the liturgy into her exploration of the eight Beatitudes. I liked that she often went in directions I hadn’t thought about when talking about a particular Beatitude, like when she discusses parents’ approaches to fostering religious vocations during a meditation on “Blessed are the clean of heart.”

I’d recommend this book to both families interested in learning more about the basics of their Catholic faith, and those who have been active in the Church but would like a simple, focused way to come together and study the Beatitudes more closely. From the cover, I’d expected something much more “kid-focused” but it’s really targeted at adults, with special content for kids in each chapter. I’m guessing it would be something you’d read to your kids rather than hand over to them to read, as the kid-content is interwoven with the rest of the book. The book overall isn’t age-inappropriate for kids aged middle school and up, I’d say, but I think it would work better if read by parents to kids as part of family discussions about the principles involved.

Elizabeth Scalia - Strange GodsWhen you are ready for Advanced Humility: Think On Thy Sins, turn to Elizabeth Scalia’s take-no-prisoners book, Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life.

My goodness. She does not mess around when it comes to unmasking, for “…the covenant between God and humanity cannot grow and survive if our strange, self-reflective idols are placed between ourselves and him.”

I’ve been a fan of Scalia for years and was so happy to receive a review copy of her book, even as I knew I’d probably find myself indicted in much of what she writes. But it’s okay, because she’s one of us – Idolators Across the Globe.

My experience is grounded in experience, for I am a great idolator and have been all of my life. Like an ex-drunk who is the only one who can understand where you ahve been, where you are now, and how you can escape from a perpetual alcoholic haze, I wish to share what I know in order to assist in clearing out all the cluttering self-created deities that stand before God and before us – between us and the satisfaction of our deepest longing, which is ecstatic union with our Creator.

This idea of idols as whatever stands in between us and God is echoed throughout the book, as Scalia goes beyond the expected “don’t let your desire for a Mercedes get in the way of your vocation” to pointed critiques of how our devotion to a particular cause, or to our own plans, or “coolness” can all become idols. I was particularly sensitive to her thoughts on how the Internet can so easily devour our time, our energy, and our authenticity. “When we lose sight of the great and Almighty because of our passionate engagement with an earthly cause—and even the most worthy fight in the interests of heaven has its earthly measure—we can also, with astonishing swiftness, lose sight of the inherent dignity of the human person. We can begin to think of the person as ‘other.'” So, you know, Facebook political arguments for the win!

I’ve starred and underlined passage after passage in this book – some made me wince in recognition, others made me laugh, and it all made me think. It’s not that she’s focused on taking down our culture’s idols, no stone unturned—easy to point fingers. Instead, she asks what makes these things so appealing and how we can turn ourselves back towards Christ. What could have been a series of trite reminders is instead a deeply personal, challenging book. Highly recommended.

Oh, and the final chapter, in which she describes how the writing process itself became an idol, is hilarious.

Disclaimer: I received review copies of these titles from the publishers, and the links are affiliate links to Amazon, so I get a small “cut” if you decide to purchase the books. But I shall not make of this an idol!

THE PINISHERS, Volume 3: Adventures

Hello again, Pinishers and Pinish-enablers! Nice to see you back, especially since I totally, totally did not forget until just now that today is Tuesday! You know, like for Pinishers!

Pinisher blog linkup
The theme of this week’s PINISHER linkup is “Adventures,” and have I got an adventure for you! Woo-hoo!

Yes, sir-ee-bob! This adventure, I’m telling you–it’s—well, it might be too much for you to handle in one sitting. Why don’t you go make a cup of tea and, you know, settle in, and I’ll just—look through my Pinterest bookmarks for a few minutes.

(frantic scrolling)

(sudden Photoshop crash)

(quick once-over of the recent cell phone pictures)

Aha! You’re back! That’s great, because this adventure is—going to be—about—THE TIME I CUT MY OWN HAIR! Yes! What an adventure that was. Fun for the whole family. Highly recommended.


Link to Original Project: This basic YouTube “Cut Your Own Hair” video, and this advanced YouTube “Create Sexy Waves or Curls or Something While Wielding Scissors on Your Own Hair, What Are You, a Glutton for Punishment?

Link to My Pins: The basic video and the advanced tutorial with the sassy lady who will show you how to “get that really pretty, sexy look that the Victoria’s Secret models use, and I just think it’s so adorable.” My outcome was…different.

Follow me on Pinterest here: http://pinterest.com/dorianspeed/

So, ha ha, here’s what happened.

It’s kind of a blur. One minute, I was fretting about my upcoming speaking engagement at WordCamp Austin and the next I was Googling “cut your own hair.” I emailed my star chamber and did some focus group testing via the Scrutinies Facebook page – you know, “should I cut my own hair?” “I’m thinking about cutting my own hair.” “When I say ‘cut my own hair,’ what pops into your head?” And while they were responding (consensus: “NO!”), I got out my scissors and went to town.


So…it’s not the WORST haircut in my lifetime—doesn’t hold a candle to the Fantastic Sam’s era, 1985-1987. (Photo not available)

It also was the gateway to my exploration of yet another Internet subculture: the Curly Girls. There’s a website, there’s a book which you can order INSTANTANEOUSLY on Kindle, if you for some reason you’re feeling a bit frazzled about your decision to lop off half a foot of hair.

There are rules, with this way of life. You identify the TYPE of curl, using the descriptors, and then you follow the regimen, even the part about how you don’t brush your hair. Understand? Brushes are right out. Brushing, uh, stresses out your hair, or something, and then it rebels in a cloud of frizz and you have to start from scratch. The first rule of Curl Club is Don’t Talk About Brushes.

I was along for that ride for a good four hours, the first day, but then I surrendered to the Call of Clairol. I couldn’t take it anymore, and my daughter was starting to ask Questions. I brushed. I brushed, and I’d do it again, 100 times in a row like Honey in the Trixie Belden books.

She’s still asking questions (my daughter, not Honey), but it’s been a few weeks of following most of the rules and I think it’s getting a bit curlier, maybe? Here’s a terrible selfie:
Curly hair attempt

At this point, it’s too late to get my hair cut again someplace decent before Saturday’s speaking gig, so if you check out wordpress.tv and are like “who is the frizzhead with the hipster glasses?” you’ll know you’re in the right place.

Okay! That was an adventure. Time for you to join in the fun! What adventures did you go on this week?

If you’d like to use a handy-dandy template for your post, here’s the basic template, or here’s a special version for this week’s adventure-themed badge. (And here’s how to use the templates.)

If you just want the snazzy adventure-flag badge, here’s the code to copy and paste. Make sure you’re in HTML mode (switch to the tab that says “Text” or “HTML” in your blogging editor) and not regular composition mode.

What do you expect from a book review?

Important pre-post disclaimer: I am not The Great Decider, On Whose Review Hangs the Fate of Every Book, and I realize that.

I’ve been a blogger reviewer for Tiber River for a few years now and enjoy getting to read new titles as they come out. It’s an opportunity to read books I may not have heard about otherwise and to think about what audiences would best appreciate a given book.

How I put together a review

Here’s my basic approach.

I’m a pretty snobby reader. There are going to be a few books I absolutely love and think should be force-fed to everyone, perhaps while they’re waiting on oil changes at car dealerships.

Then there a lot of books that are well-written, enjoyable, but not necessarily my “thing.” With these, I try to ask “who would really like this book?” and craft my review accordingly.

On the rare occasion that I can’t really recommend a book, I…feel real bad and do nothing. I generally avoid this scenario by requesting review copies of books by authors I’m familiar with and can be fairly confident I’m going to enjoy.

Procrastination and the glass case of emotion

I'm living in a glass case of emotion

Right now, I’m so behind on book reviews that I imagine my picture on the bulletin boards of several publishers, with an “IF YOU SEE THIS PERSON, ASK FOR OUR REVIEW COPIES BACK” advisory. And it really has nothing to do with the caliber of the various books in the “to-review” basket. In fact, I’ve already read some of them – most notably, the works of both Hallie and Dan Lord – and am eager to recommend them. But this is what happens:

1. I read the book, or look at the author’s name and think, “hey! I sort of know this person on the Internet! This is going to be great! I’ll write the most thorough and insightful review of all time!”

2. I lapse into Project Amnesia, a condition which also explains why my kitchen window has a random piece of fabric clipped to it for a curtain and why my sons’ pants will never be patched at the knees. I completely forget that I want to write a review of said book.

3. I see the book again. Now, I imagine the author, fretfully clicking over to my site every few weeks, cursing the day that a copy went out to me in the mail when I so clearly don’t appreciate the time and effort—the blood, sweat, tears, and soul—that went into the writing of the book.

4. I feel bad. Real bad.

5. I decide I’m going to write an even better review and I absolutely cannot start on it until I have time to really peer into the heart of the work, transcending space and time to distill the work into its purest essence through my words which will then launch an avalanche of purchasing that will let the writer take early retirement.

Meanwhile, my other reviews are read by, on average, 15 people per annum, half of whom are Ukranian spambots.

6. I feel more bad – so bad that I deliberately squint so as to not see the Book Review Basket as I sprint past it on my way to the computer.

Do you read reviews? How do they affect your purchasing decisions?

So – here’s my question. What to do when it’s a book that I can’t recommend, for whatever reason?

To whom is my obligation, as a Two Bit Reviewer? Am I here to promote all of the great new works by Catholic writers and help them find audiences? Or am I writing reviews so that readers can make good decisions about what books to buy?

I saw this on Twitter the other day and I hadn’t really thought about taking this approach to reviews:

I’d like to know, if you’re out there:

  • what you hope for when you read a book review
  • how the review colors your own experience of the book (or other media)
  • how often you choose to buy a book based on a review

And I’d also like to know what you consider to be the ethical obligations of a reviewer, to get all high-and-mighty about it.

THE PINISHERS, Volume 2: Home!

Last week, I moved all of my “get posts via email” subscribers from Feedburner to MailChimp. I’ll write about how and why I did that another time, but I bring this up because: my gosh. What an awesome responsibility. You have agreed to let me send things TO YOUR INBOX. It’s a sacred trust. I can’t just slap a photo of my dirty shower floor up on this blog and call it a day. (Plus, the thing with mixing vinegar and Dawn detergent doesn’t work quite as amazingly well as I had hoped).

So, instead, I shall turn to drink for this, the second edition of THE PINISHERS. The theme is “home,” and I will be describing a thing I made…at home.
Link to Original Project: Canning mint syrup for mint tea.

Link to My Pin: Here it is, all pincomplished and everything.

Follow me on Pinterest here: I will try to make it worth your while.

Last spring, I planted a variety of herbs in the hopes that some would survive. Three types of mint plus assorted other plants that would soon be completely subsumed by the Mint Monster:
Mint monster invades herb garden
I was young and naive. I didn’t know the ways of mint. That it will slither across an entire bed of mulch and choke the living daylights out of delicate thyme and lavender before trying to make a break for it across the driveway.

This year, we pulled out all of the remaining herbs, which had gotten overgrown with weeds and whatnot, and covered the whole bed with mulch in case I get another wild hair and decide to attempt Herb Garden 2.0. And look who showed up a few days later?
Invasive mint returns
I AM NOT PLAYING GAMES WITH YOU, MINT. I will rip you from the ground, tear your leaves from the stalks, and boil them down to nothing but sweet, sweet simple syrup.
Mint simple syrup
What I like best about this is that keeping a jar of this in the refrigerator makes me feel like a true Southerner, one with a mason jar of hooch on hand for any occasion. In truth, I only use this to make what we’re trying to call “Georgia Mojitos,” a concoction of lime juice, mint-infused simple syrup, gin, and club soda.
Mint syrup, gin, club soda, and lime juice
Still working on the proportions – the version I crafted for my sister-in-law this weekend was apparently like “limeade for grown-ups” and it’s supposed to have a more minty flavor. I’ll be sure to try various iterations of the recipe and keep you apprised of the combination we settle upon.

There. That was my “pincomplishment” for the week. Astute readers will note that the jar is labeled “July 2012” and that’s in keeping with the incredibly low standards for boosting your self-esteem by becoming a PINISHER. So feel free to track down a project you completed years ago and want to celebrate anew. (In my defense, though, I do make drinky drinks with the syrup every couple of weekends.)

It’s your turn! What did you accomplish recently that you’d like to share? If you’d like to use a handy-dandy template for your post, here’s the basic template, and here’s a special version for this week’s home-themed badge. (And here’s how to use the templates.)

If you just want the snazzy food-themed badge, here’s the code to copy and paste. Make sure you’re in HTML mode (switch to the tab that says “Text” or “HTML” in your blogging editor) and not regular composition mode.

Don’t forget to stop by next week – theme will be “Adventures.”

THE PINISHERS, Volume 1: Food!


Like a true procrastinator, I have somehow ended up composing this first historic post at 11:51PM the night before the link-up dawns. The link-up that goes live in nine minutes. See? Low standards. (For more on the importance of setting reasonable expectations of yourself, see this overview of the Pinisher creed.)

I forgot to try the thing I’d said I would try (rinsing berries in vinegar to preserve their freshness), so instead I pinned a thing I did three days ago, which was make gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Because this week’s theme is FOOD.

Pinterest recipe link-up

Link to Original Project: Recipe from King Arthur Flour

Link to My Pin:  http://pinterest.com/pin/267471665342112595/

Follow me on Pinterest here:  http://pinterest.com/dorianspeed/

My husband has gone gluten-free and has really been sticking to it despite his wife’s intermittent commitment to preparing gluten-free meals. He enjoys cooking and especially loves grilling, but during the week he gets home past dinner time and it’s hard for him to help out. Which is why I feel all the more guilty about the days when dinner was basically “find your own ramen.” In my defense, I present Exhibit A: Children’s Activities Every Single Night.

Anyway, I was proud of him for toughing it out for the last couple of weeks, so I found this gluten-free chocolate chip cookie recipe. I’d invested—and I do mean invested—in King Arthur’s gluten-free baking mix, and the recipe basically lets you swap it out for regular flour in a traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe, plus the addition of xanthan gum, which is totally a thing now, you guys. Everyone’s trying it.
Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies
We were fairly pleased with the cookies. The texture was just a little “off,” but they tasted pretty much like regular cookies. I pinned it after the fact so that I won’t forget the recipe.

It’s midnight, Pinishas!!! Time to link it up! If you’d like to use a handy-dandy template for your post, here’s the basic template, and here’s a special version for this week’s food-themed badge. (And here’s how to use the templates.)

If you just want the snazzy food-themed badge, here’s the code to copy and paste. Make sure you’re in HTML mode (switch to the tab that says “Text” or “HTML” in your blogging editor) and not regular composition mode.

Don’t forget to stop by next week – theme will be “Home.”