Friday, December 30, 2011

Are Social Network Friendships Real?

          The other day, I was tweeting away when Honey comes in and says “Why do you spend so much time on Twitter and Facebook with those fake friends when you have real people right in front of you?” Now, I know that was Honeyspeak for “I miss you. Get off the computer and come sit by me.” But that wasn’t the first time he alluded to people I talk to on social networks as “fake people” or “fake friends.” Honey doesn’t do social networking, so it would be easy to say that he just doesn’t get it, but he did have a point. Why would I spend so much time with people online when I am surrounded by “real” people?

          The truth is I love getting on Facebook and Twitter and finding out what people are up to. It is amazing to me that I can chat with people all over the world in real time. People from Japan and Russia have read my blog. How crazy is that? Social networking puts the world at your fingertips. I have connected with some of the most amazing people I never would have met otherwise.

          The question is: are they my friends? When I looked up “friend” online, I was amazed at all of the different definitions I found, and don’t even bother looking up social networking unless you want to be overwhelmed with information. They have tons of articles dedicated to social networking and friendship. “Friending” or being “Friended” has even been added to some dictionaries, but that doesn’t answer the question.

As I have said in previous blogs, I see Facebook and Twitter as different beasts. Facebook is a little more intimate mostly because my family uses it, so it is a great way for me to keep in touch with them and share family pics and information. Plus you aren’t limited to a certain number of characters like Twitter (although it is amazing what you can tell about people in 140 characters or less). People are able to say and share more there, and I don’t have as many people to keep track of.

Twitter on the other hand is crazy. It is a shotgun of personalities, advertisements, conversations, pictures, links, comments, etc. I have over 1500 followers now, and I find it really hard to keep up sometimes. Am I close to every one of them? No, but there are a handful of people I have really connected with and chat with on a regular basis. I care about them. We discuss personal issues. We talk about things that drive us crazy and our hopes and dreams about writing. We wish each other good luck for important events, talk about our families, and support each other with retweets, book reviews, joining/reading blogs, buying each others books - the kind of things that friends would do for each other. They send me tweets that make me smile, and I love to do the same for them.

So are people I meet on Facebook and Twitter my friends? I say yes. It may not be what people think of when you talk about traditional friendship, but I don’t think it makes those relationships any less meaningful. I get a cup of coffee in the morning and look forward to sitting down for awhile and chatting with people on Facebook and Twitter. I try to encourage people when they are down, celebrate when they post accomplishments, send prayers when they suffer loss or get sick, laugh at jokes, and appreciate kind words sent my way. I think about them when I am not online and wish them all the blessings life has to offer. If that isn’t friendship, I don’t know what is. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Book Giveaway Everyday in January 2012!

I am very excited to announce that the amazing author S.M. Boyce is going to be giving away a different paperback on her blog everyday in January 2012! My book, Where Will You Run?, has been one of the books chosen! You can check out all the details on how to enter and a calendar for all of the books listed in the giveaway here. Entries will be accepted for 7 days starting on the featured date for each book.

My book will be featured on January 26, 2012. You can see the specific page for my book here.

So check it out!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Traditions Revisited

When my husband and I got married I was unprepared for the first holiday season. I assumed my husband, being a dude, would not really care about holiday traditions. I was wrong.

Now we had always opened our gifts on Christmas Eve and then visited family on Christmas Day and had a big dinner. Even though we had moved away from our family, my mom still kept that tradition. She used to put the packages under the tree days in advance to drive me and brother crazy. Then, on Christmas Eve, we would have a big dinner on the finest china of course. She would further torture us by making us clean the kitchen before we could finally open our gifts.

My husband was okay with that tradition, but in his family, his parents had kept their gifts hidden and put them out on Christmas Eve, so he and his sisters always awoke to their gifts on Christmas morning. He then insisted we keep that tradition as something of ours. I compromised. We would go to my mom’s on Christmas Eve with my brother and his family; have our own Christmas morning thing (which I was still kind of grumpy about), and then go back to mom’s for Christmas dinner.

Now my mom was a perfectionist. She worked for days preparing the Christmas Eve and Day food. She didn’t want anyone to help. Even after I got married and offered to bring food, she wouldn’t hear of it. My half-sister and I used to joke about how our moms were so much alike especially around the holidays, but we would never dare tell them that.

In the spring of 2004, my mom was diagnosed with pancreas cancer. A few months later, my step-mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My mom still insisted we continue with our regular holiday traditions. Even towards the end, she would recline on the couch and order me around so that everything would be perfect that last Christmas. After a vicious fight, my mother lost her battle with cancer on Christmas Eve morning 2005. That night was a blur. My brother and I went to our mom’s house and made sure that Christmas Eve went as planned for our kids and our step-father.

On Christmas morning, the fact that my husband had insisted we start our own tradition that had nothing to do with my mom was a Godsend. I have never been more grateful for something different. It was normal, and I clung to it because it was different. It was ours.

The next year was awkward. We didn’t know what to do, so we did what mom would do. It just wasn’t the same, and it felt strange. My step-mother passed away that January and my half-sister and brother asked me how I had gotten through the holidays, and I didn’t really have an answer for them.

So the next year, we started trying some new things. We kept some of my mom’s traditions, but added a few things here, changed a few things there, and started to make our own Christmas traditions. We are even thinking about going to Seattle next year to spend the Christmas holiday with my half-sister and brother, so we can all be together and try some more new things. My sister-in-law even said she would like us all to spend Christmas in New York one year. Why not? Christmas can be anything we want it to be.

 I still love Christmas, and I want to share that joy with my children. I want them to enjoy our traditions, but to always be willing to embrace something new. Take the time this season to appreciate your family traditions, but don’t get caught up in them. Be sure to see passed all the gifts and food and chaos to those you hold dear, and take the time to tell them how much you love them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nose to Belly Button!

          Back in high school I was deeply involved with my church youth group. Our youth pastor, Matt, was a little on the crazy side, but always fun. He never failed to make every activity an adventure. It kept us all coming back for more.

          My friend Tammy was the rebel of the group. She was always bringing in her latest bad boy squeeze to parade in front of us. We tended to ignore her silly attempts at making us envious, but on this night, she had brought a serious hottie. She had outdone herself. He was perfect. I sat staring at him; mouth open like a fish sucking wind. I saw her satisfied smile when she spied the look on my face. He followed her gaze and looked over at me too and smiled. I immediately looked down, cheeks blazing.

I may be many things, but smooth was not one of them. When faced with a really attractive male, I tended to freeze up, unable to say anything intelligent or make eye contact (I’m speaking in past tense here, but that hasn’t really changed. I’m still not smooth). It bordered on creepy really (Ok, still does).

I kept my head down as Matt, in his usual hyper fashion described the new game (experiment) he wanted to try. He told everyone to pick a partner of the opposite sex. He did this often, so we grabbed our usual buddies, generally safe guys we had grown up with in church. My buddy was Dan. He was almost as competitive as I was, and we made a nearly unbeatable team. Everyone groaned when they saw me and Dan standing next to each other. Normally, I would have taunted them all by saying they could give up and save themselves the embarrassment of a beat down, but HE was looking and my throat felt tight and my cheeks still burned crimson. Thankfully, Dan had enough smack talk for both of us.

Matt’s great new game? He would turn off the lights and yell out two body parts. We had to find our partners in the dark and touch those two body parts together by the time he turned the lights back on. The team with the most matches would win. Hormonally charged teens running around in pitch dark touching random body parts together sounds like a great church youth group game, right? Sigh.

Matt turned off the lights and yelled out “Elbow to ear!” and the chaos began. As usual, Dan and I quickly pulled ahead. We were a machine. I started to feel some of my bravado coming back. Winning is what I do. It’s what I love. Matt announced that we would have one more round before moving on to a new game. Everyone groaned. Dan and I stared at each other across the room nodding silently. The night was ours. Darkness.

Matt yelled out “Nose to belly button.” I was momentarily stunned by that one, but I didn’t want to lose, so I started calling out Dan’s name and making my way across to his voice. I was so close. Not much further. I yelled his name one more time and got cut off by two large hands grabbing my head and shoving me downward. I fell to my knees and got a face full of sweater. Guess I was going to be the nose part. I tried to pull back a little but Dan had me in a vice grip. I made a mental note to punch him later.

I was so focused on winning that it took me a second to realize that Dan wasn’t wearing a sweater. Before I could fully process that, the lights snapped on. I slowly looked up to see that I was kneeling with my face in the very taunt abdomen of Tammy’s hottie boyfriend. He had a wicked smile on his face. My eyes bugged out, and I think I made some kind of garble sound as I back peddled across the room on my butt. Face so hot I was sure I singed his sweater. Smooth. Tammy was giving me some serious stink eye. Dan was looking at me like it was my fault we didn’t win the last round.

Matt announced that Dan and I had won and herded us on to the next activity like my high alert hormones were not just buried in some hot guy’s six pack. Prayer would not save me from my thoughts. I knew I just had to make it through the night, and I wouldn’t have to see him again. I could tell by the look on Tammy’s face that bad boy would not be returning, much to my relief.

The next day at school, I was telling my friends about my horrible ordeal when I heard someone yell my name from across the quad. It was bad boy hottie. I desperately looked behind me, hoping it wasn’t me he was smiling and waving at. I smiled weakly and waved back; proud of myself for managing that. I heard his friends ask who I was. He said “That’s that girl I told you stuck her nose in my belly button.” Sigh. This was going to be a long year.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Banged-up Kiss - Guest Post by Maureen Hovermale @zencherry

I am absolutely overjoyed to announce my first guest post by Maureen Hovermale @zencherry! She is an amazingly generous and kind person who is deeply involved in the writing community. She has that cool ability to take an everyday moment and turn it into a magical story full of humor and wit. I love her blog, The Zen Corner. It's a great place to go when you need a smile. I was very excited when she agreed to do this guest post, so get your favorite beverage, get comfy, and enjoy :)

Banged-up Kiss

I was twelve-years-old and in the seventh grade when I decided that the really cute guy was worth being naughty about.

Oh but his bangs made his expressions sooo mysterious and I wondered secretly what it would feel like to ACTUALLY kiss a boy.

I imagined all sorts of things happening like the Harlequin Romance novel had in its pages. I'd managed to sneak one from my mom's stash one day and had it hidden in the darkest recesses of my closet in the safest place: Under the stinky tennis shoes.

He'd made goo goo eyes at me and I was astonished and thought he must have lost a contact lens or something. No one had ever looked my way since I carried my books like armor. He finagled my home phone number from my friend Theresa across the street and she came over after school gushing about the news. We exchanged paper dolls and had fun with some glitter talking about the love that would inevitably bloom. Theresa gave me some tips having already had a 'relationship' that went sour at camp the previous summer. I was thankful to have such a knowing, worldly friend and took her tips to pinky-swear heart.

After her mom called her home, I sat there backing. I couldn't believe it! He was going to call ME? I practiced holding an imaginary phone up to my ear and laughted in different octaves to see what sounded sincere and, (shh)

Every time the phone rang I raced to answer it and even got into a glare match with my older sister who deduced the reasoning behind my sudden athleticism. She declared that I was in a tree and was k-i-s-s-ing. I slammed my bedroom door shut and locked it. I took a deep breath and patted down my hedge-hair trying to calm myself. I had work to do! I put Theresa's advice into action and practiced my kisses up against the mirror, one eye peeking open to see if I looked like the glamorous movie stars. I even tried the hand test to see if my lips were too firm or too soft. I was ready. All except the tongue part but Theresa had assured me that tongues were never part of a first kiss and not to worry, only sixteen-year-olds went that far. I left my room and stuck my nose up in the air when my sister echoed her song after me.

"Hello, Maureen?"

I managed to grab the downstairs phone and tiptoed up the stairs snicking the door shut; locking it before my sister could figure out where I was at. I then went back down and sat on the bottom step. I tried not to pant from the exertion of racing around and calmly whispered in my most alto voice; "Yes...this is Maureen."

"Um yeah, well uh...I guess you know who this is."

"Well I don't know, I get so many calls in a day."

"Oh? Uh, you do? Well, Really?"

(So much for being coy) "No, I'm just playing. OF COURSE I know who this is. Um...what's up?"

"I was wondering if you'd like, I don't me outside around nine. I'll"

(I'm thinking in my head...what? Why would he need bodyguards?) "Uh...sure." (I'd never snuck out before. Should I? But it was so dark outside at nine! I pinched my arm and called myself a sissy.)

"Really? LeAnn said to call you so I uh..."

(LeAnn? She hated me!)

"...well I'll be outside at nine."

"You know where I live?"

"Yeah, you're over by my buddy."

"You're buddy?"

"Tom. It doesn't matter. Nine?"

(Tom...Tom the police chief's boy? The one who purposefully squeaked flatulence on his desk seat like some sort of musical instrument? He hated me too since I suggested a cork for his problem last month.)


He hung up the phone and I sat there thinking wow. This really didn't go the way I thought it would. I immediately rushed over to Theresa's house. We discussed every detail and then I remembered he'd said something about protection and mentioned it too.

Theresa's jaw dropped. "Do you know what he meant Maureen?"

"Well yeah, duh."

"Oh. Okay,"

Mom and dad were busy watching the television, the flickering lights making their shadows crawl up on the wall scaring me in mid-sneak. I froze and stood stock still, mentally shaking my fist at the wood floor which had just issued a squeak. I make it outside! Unbelievable! I must be better at this naughty stuff that I thought!

I see cool bangs and walk over in his direction making sure to sway the way I've seen the curvaceous girls do. (And just when would I finally fill my bra?)



He wraps his arm around my shoulders and I feel all high school about it and nuzzle in. Oh this is good. He's warm and he has a masculine scent. I take a deep breath trying not to be overly obvious about it.

He leans down...and KISSES me. Oh. My. GOSH. I'm in heaven. He pulls away and then reaches in his pocket with one hand and then grabs my hand with his other. He starts pulling me towards the bushes and I put the brakes on. "Where you going?"

He flashes the packet in front of my face and says something like, "You know."

It finally hit me. LeAnn's and Tom's idea of a joke. I punched him in the stomach. "I WASTED my first kiss on YOU?" I stomped his foot and went back in the house banging all the doors along the way. My mom and dad were shocked I'd been outside and asked me what I'd been doing out there.

I was so mad that 'Taking out the trash', was all I could manage.

You'll be happy to note that not many years after my stellar entrance onto the dating scene, I married a bald man. He's the sexiest thing alive in my book and as a bonus, he's a pretty good bodyguard too.

*Thank you, my friend, for sharing your smiles and talent! ~ Michelle

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Who Kind of Christmas

          Two days before Thanksgiving, Honey calls to tell me he has been injured at work and will meet me at the doctor’s. The fact that he was going to see a doctor let me know that it must be serious. Honey is no stranger to getting injured near the holidays. A few years ago he was coming down the stairs on Christmas morning and blew out his knee. Then the next year he hurt it again and had to have surgery right before Thanksgiving. The surgery didn’t go well and we spent the night before Thanksgiving in the emergency room. This year, it was his arm, but they postponed his surgery until after Thanksgiving which was nice.

It was nice until I remembered that all of our Christmas decorations are packed in storage. Now I won’t say Honey is a Grinch, but he can take or leave the holidays. Despite my pleading, he packed all of our Christmas stuff in the back of our storage unit. His reasoning is that we only use it once a year which still didn’t make any sense to me since we never use the other stuff. Because there are so many heavy items and things are stacked high (and somewhat precariously), Honey is the only one who can get them out safely. With his arm out of commission, we are out of luck. I could be crazy and try to get the stuff out on my own, but I figured we can only have one of us at a time on injured reserve.

I was so disappointed. Christmas is my favorite holiday and now I wouldn’t have any of the decorations I love. I broke the news to the kids. They were as disappointed as I was. They said “We aren’t going to have a tree?” Of course we will! I told them we were going to get a real tree and hit the Dollar Store for some decorations. My daughter and I got some tinsel and ornaments at the Dollar Store the next day, but they didn’t have any trees at the grocery store next door. Later that night, I had to go to Lowe’s for some home repair stuff, so I took my 11 year old son to help pick a tree. He has more Christmas spirit than one of Santa’s elves and I really needed the morale boost.

Lowe’s had some trees for $19.99, so you know where I was headed. My son wanted to stop and look at all the Christmas decorations of course. He loves the animated ones and has to turn all of them on at the same time. When we got to the trees, the $19.99 ones had been picked over, but I found a pretty decent one. I spun it around. It didn’t have major holes or defects. I turned to show my son, who smiled and said “That one’s nice, but I really had my heart set on this one.” He pointed to a gnarly, funky little tree that reminded me of a Charlie Brown Christmas. I was afraid it would fall apart if we put tinsel on it.

“Son, this one is a little bigger and fuller.” He looked at me with his big blue eyes and said “You don’t like the one I picked?” Sigh. “Ok, buddy. Pick it up and let’s go.”

We got home and Honey and my daughter looked at the tree with identical frowns. I gave them the stink eye warning to keep their mouths shut saying “Isn’t this a nice tree?”

That night we laughed and decorated our little tree and set up the few decorations we were able to find at the Dollar Store. I sat back and counted my blessings. We were all together and healthy, and Honey’s arm is going to be ok in a few months. I thought about the end of the Grinch story when all the Whos hold hands and sing even though all of their Christmas stuff is gone. I get it. I look at my funky little tree with its twinkling lights and Dollar Store ornaments and smile. It’s the best tree ever.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Please Pass the Ice Cream

            The first year of marriage is a challenge for everyone. My Honey and I were no different. We still giggle when we remember back to that crazy first year. One of favorite stories is the “Ice Cream Incident” that happened a few months after we got married and moved in together.

Honey had been married before and was an old pro in his mind. He had married very young while he worked to put himself through school and start his career. Me? I had a different plan. I was completely independent and didn’t really care about getting married. I also worked to put myself through college and started on the career track. I hadn’t had any significant relationships before we met. I had plenty of friends and hated dating, so why bother? I didn’t have to worry about making anyone happy. I was responsible only to myself, and I liked it that way. It was perfect.

Then I met Honey and my world got turned upside down. We were married in less than a year. He was used to the whole “we” thing which was pretty foreign to me. Oftentimes I would stop by after work and grab a soda or something only to come home to a “Where’s mine?” to which I would reply “You’re a grown man. You can’t buy a soda if you want one?”  I know. I had a lot to learn.

One night, I had a craving for ice cream, so I stopped by the store on the way home. I even remembered to get Honey a little container of his favorite ice cream too. I was pretty proud of myself for being a good wife and thinking of him. I can learn. I got to our apartment and put his ice cream in the freezer. I took mine to the couch not wanting to wait until he got home late.

I was happily munching away when he came home earlier than expected. I was excited, but I had a mouthful of ice cream, so I couldn’t tell him his was in the freezer. He spied me with my mouth full of chocolaty creamy goodness and his eyes squinted. Before I could say a word, he said “Ice cream? You’re eating ice cream? That’s a small container, so I guess you aren’t going to share.”

At this point, I was going to tell him to check the freezer, but I could tell by the look on his face that I was in for a good, long, sarcastic outburst. Since I had a comfy seat and refreshments, I decided to keep my mouth shut and settle in for the show.

“I know you got some for me too. Since you are such a good wife and always thinking of me, I know that if I open the freezer right now there will be some ice cream for me.” (I will interject here to say that he should have known what was coming by the look on my face, but he was too far gone to notice.) “I know there’s some ice cream in here for me because my wife would never buy ice cream without getting some for me too. She would never be that selfish.” He moved dramatically towards the refrigerator. “I know when I open this freezer there will be ice cream for me.”

Unfortunately, he had to turn his back to me to open the freezer because I would have loved to see his face when he saw his favorite ice cream sitting there. He stood staring into the freezer for some time before saying “I’m a big fat jackass.”

“Yep.” I said giggling with glee.

“You could have stopped me at any time you know.”

“What and miss the show? Nah!”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Dangers of Flip Flops

           I am a huge Diary of a Wimpy Kid fan. I originally bought the books for my kids, but my daughter started reading parts to me, and I got hooked. The books are hilarious. As soon as the latest book came out, I picked it up, and my daughter started reading sections to me almost immediately. Greg was talking about how boring recess was because of his school playground. Due to injuries and insurance, they had removed all of the playground equipment for student safety.

            While the description was incredibly funny as usual, it made me kind of uncomfortable. I do think the schools are going a little overboard with safety. Last year, I got a call from the secretary at my daughter’s school. She asked me if I knew my daughter was wearing flip flops. It’s California. It’s hot. Everyone wears flip flops, so you can understand my confusion. The secretary then tells me that the student handbook clearly states that students cannot wear flip flops to school. I told her I didn’t remember reading that. She lost her mind inferring that I was uncaring. Didn’t I know that my daughter could trip and fall while running with flip flops? Didn’t I know how dangerous flip flops could be? My daughter is in junior high and most of them sit around talking or reading. They don’t run unless you make them.

I was too perplexed to laugh. I knew she wasn’t joking but didn’t see how she could be serious. I asked her if we should send our kids to school in bubble wrap and bike helmets. She got so upset with my “lack of concern” that she decided to look up the rule in the student handbook so she could read it to me. I sat quietly while she frantically looked for the specific rule against flip flops. It wasn’t there. It did say kids had to wear appropriate footwear. I made sure she wore her tennis shoes on P.E. days. I thought that’s what it meant. Again, it’s California. It’s 100+ degrees. Flip flops would be appropriate. She would not have it. She yelled at me. She yelled at the principal asking him if he knew that flip flops were not specifically banned in the handbook. A problem they remedied for this year I assure you. No more flip flops. It’s the law.

I also have problems with my daughter’s P.E. teacher. My kids are in Tae Kwan Do which is obviously a contact sport. They wear lots of protective gear and are closely supervised, but they get hurt occasionally. You would think that as a P.E. teacher, he would be glad that she was involved in a sports program outside of school. No. He told her that she had too many notes to get out of P.E. at school and that I should consider putting the kids in a safer sport where they wouldn’t get hurt. A safer sport? Are you kidding me? What sport is that? Croquet?

My husband will tell you that I am an overprotective mother, and I thought he was an adrenaline psycho who didn’t care if the kids got injured. He enjoys getting the kids involved in risky sports like riding dirt bikes, quads, skateboards, motocross racing, etc. It made me crazy. I said “The kids might get hurt!” He said “Yeah, so. They won’t die. They’ll have fun, and they’ll learn to be careful, and that they can get hurt and be ok later.” I didn’t get it at first. I certainly didn’t want to listen to my husband who has enough scars and broken bones to rival Evil Knievel. Then he pointed out that I have my own scars and broken bones that I got having fun and being a little wild when I was a kid. Didn’t that make me stronger? Make me fearless about going after what I wanted in life knowing that I could survive pain?

                He was right. I don’t want to see my kids hurt, but unfortunately, pain is part of life. I used to try to protect them from everything. Now, I teach them caution, but I also teach them not to be afraid of life. Sure, you might get hurt, but it can make you stronger. Sometimes the things you want most in life come with some pain and effort, but it will be worth it in the end. Don’t be afraid to live. Do what you love. Chase your dreams. Don’t be afraid to wear flip flops.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Living Under a Microscope

            I was standing in line at the grocery store feeling sorry for myself when I happened to glance up and see one of those magazines that runs mean stories about movie stars and other famous people. The big picture in the center was of Jennifer Lopez. She was walking in a green evening gown that was cut up to her thigh, so that her left leg was fully exposed showing some cellulite and tan Spanx trying to hold it in. The headline was something like "Stylists tell all." Now when I was younger, I might have giggled and maybe even been a little grossed out, but time and age have changed me.

I’ll be the first to admit, I am no Jennifer Lopez fan. It would have been easy to be catty and point at the sex symbol and snicker at her cellulite, but when I looked at that picture, I actually felt sorry for her. Why? I saw a woman with two small children who is trying to pick up the pieces of her career after a divorce. A woman with some post kid chub like I have, only I don’t have to worry about people following me around trying to take unflattering pictures of me all the time. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live under a microscope like that with people watching my every move.

            She wasn’t the only one they were criticizing. Apparently, movie stars can’t even be human now. They were vilifying Kathy Lee Gifford for having sweaty pits and some other hot male movie star for having bad breath. Are you kidding me? They can’t even sweat or have bad breath? They were making fun of a stain on Britney Spears’ shirt because famous people never spill food on themselves I guess. They have to look perfect 24 hours a day. And, whatever they do, they can't go anywhere in sweats unless they are jogging or taking their skinny fat butts to the gym.

            I know there are those who will read this and say that famous people know that living with paparazzi and having their lives an open book for all to see is just part of the deal. Somehow, I don’ think that when Jennifer Lopez signed on as a Fly Girl dancer on In Living Color, she knew she would end up on the cover of a major magazine with a Spanx encrusted, dimpled thigh hanging out. We see the consequences of this pressure on actresses everyday who walk down the Red Carpet with their bones sticking out. Then they get blasted for being too skinny. They can’t win.

            And why do people care if Kathy Lee has sweaty pits; Brittney spilled some Taco Bell sauce on her shirt; Brad Pitt has body odor; or Jennifer Lopez has cellulite? Why do we want to see who has the best and worst beach bodies? Honestly, are we so pathetic and lacking in self confidence as a society that we can’t wait to revel in the pain and human weaknesses of people just because they are successful and/or beautiful? Those magazines are selling or they wouldn’t be in business. They hound movie stars and other famous people and can’t wait to dig up dirt. The more pain the better and people keep buying it. I just don’t get it.

            I’m going to risk a Forrest Gump moment here and say that my momma used to say “You can always find someone worse off than you are, but that doesn’t make you any better.” She also said “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Good advice. Thanks Mom.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Schizophrenia and Multiple Personality Disorder - Common Mistake

            The other day I was doing a class on behavior analysis for the staff of several care homes. One of the staff members approached me afterwards and wanted to talk about a particular patient he was working with. He started talking about the patient having multiple personality disorder saying he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder (Dissociative Identity Disorder) are two completely different diagnoses. Having worked in the field of psychology for more years than I care to mention (10 years specifically with schizophrenic patients), I have found that confusing these two for the same diagnosis is the most common mistake when talking to others about mental illness.  

Unfortunately, I have seen this in literature as well. I have read several books that included main characters (generally the bad guy) diagnosed as schizophrenic, but was actually described as having multiple personality disorder. Whenever I find mistakes like that in a book, it bothers me. I feel like the author based his/her knowledge on stereotypes and misinformation rather that doing research to make an accurate portrayal of someone with mental illness.  I know that not everyone who reads about fictional characters is going to be a professional in psychology, but I think it’s important to your homework if you are going to create a character with a mental illness.

            Schizophrenia is a Psychotic Disorder marked by hallucinations, delusions, and/or disorganized thinking. People with schizophrenia have both positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include the hallucinations and delusions (including possible paranoia). They often hear voices and can sometimes be observed talking to themselves. The negative symptoms include mood, language, and motivation issues (including poor hygiene, odd emotional responses, and isolation). Schizophrenia is biologically based and is treated with a combination of antipsychotic medications and behavior management. The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to have something to do with dopamine and possibly serotonin. Currently, there is no cure. People diagnosed with Schizophrenia are also often diagnosed with or suffer from symptoms of depression and/or anxiety as well. Substance abuse and suicide rates are higher than average in this population.

            Multiple personality disorder (Dissociative Identity Disorder) is a Dissociative Disorder (which also includes amnesia) and is caused by some extreme trauma like ritualistic sexual or physical abuse. To deal with the trauma, separate and distinct personalities are formed. Some symptoms may include headaches, severe memory loss, flashbacks, mood swings, unexplainable phobias, and depression among others. The treatment usually consists of long term therapy to deal with the trauma and integrate the personalities. This particular diagnosis has been surrounded by controversy for some time as to whether or not the condition actually exists. Several famous case studies were made into movies: Sybil and The Three Faces of Eve.

            So where do you get information on mental illness? If you are serious about it, invest in a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (fourth edition). It is the diagnostic manual used by clinicians. It includes the clinical code, name, and diagnostic criteria for each condition. They cost around $100.00 new, but I have seen them on Amazon in decent condition for $10 - $15. Talk to people who work with mentally ill patients. Most cities have mental health services that have educational information available to the public about mental illness. Also, I wouldn’t normally recommend this, but actually Wikipedia had a pretty decent explanation of both of these disorders when I looked. I looked because the staff member I was talking to said he got his misinformation from Wikipedia, so I wanted to check and was surprised by the accuracy of the descriptions I found there.

            So remember, when creating a character with a mental illness…do your homework!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Junior High Horror Story

            A million years ago when I was in junior high, I used to hang out with my three best friends: Laura, Jamie, and Joyce. Now our junior high didn’t have a cafeteria, so unless it was raining, we had to eat outside. The problem was that it also meant they had no kitchen, so they had to ship the school lunches in from somewhere else (I won’t speculate where). The “hot” lunches arrived at our school in foil covered aluminum trays that had been heated at some point and stored in insulated containers. They were delivered to our school and sat there until it was time for us to eat. The trays were divided into sections for the protein/carb, veggie, and dessert parts of the meal

            This process of heating the entire meal in those metal packs was not ideal. Everything got heated at the same time and somehow each section became its own loaf thing. For example, on Wednesdays there was the burger/tater tot loaf, the green bean loaf, and the canned peaches loaf. Even things that should remain cold were not like the salad loaf, and my personal favorite, the dreaded pudding loaf.

Now, my mother insisted that I needed to have a “hot meal” at school and try as I might, I could not convince her that she was wasting her money, and it would be cheaper and healthier for me if I took my lunch to school. “What good is it if I don’t eat it?” I cried, but she wouldn’t budge. So I spent most of my lunchtime sitting on the grass begging for food from my friends whose mothers let them bring a sack lunch. “Trade you half your peanut butter sandwich for my burrito loaf.” Oddly enough, they weren’t usually interested although they did occasionally take pity on me. Laura’s and Jamie’s moms always sent them with the usual sandwich, chips, and apple or some other sturdy fruit. Joyce’s mom, on the other hand, was special. She loved her daughter and always sent Joyce with some kind of forbidden snack cake. We were all envious of Joyce and even Laura and Jamie often tried to trade, but when it came to Hostess Cupcakes, their apples and chips had about as much value as my pudding loaf.

            Now this particular day was a beautiful, sunny one, and we were all sitting under our favorite tree. I was having a particularly hard time trying to trade because it was hot dog/French fry loaf day. I’m not sure what happened to the hot dogs during the heating process and transport, but they always came out green. No kidding, literally, the green weenie. Jamie had taken pity on me and had given me half of her smooshed peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We were chatting, secretly stealing glances towards Joyce waiting for the unveiling of the snack cake of the day. Joyce tried to be quiet, but you can’t hide the happy crackling of a snack cake wrapper. We all turned to find Joyce unwrapping Dolly Madison royalty…the coveted Raspberry Zinger. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a vanilla snack cake with cream in the middle. The outside is covered in coconut flakes glued on with raspberry jelly. Sigh.

            Of course we all started hounding Joyce for a bite of the prized pastry making our best trade offers, but she refused as always and started to savor the creamy coconut raspberry goodness right in front of us. Who could blame her? We all watched with rapt attention; our eyes following the smallest coconut flakes that fell silently onto the grass.

            About half way through the Zinger we knew it was a lost cause. Joyce would not share the tiniest piece, so we stopped bothering her and resigned ourselves to watching her enjoy it. When she started in on the second half, a large pincher bug (earwig) climbed out from underneath what was left of the Zinger and onto the backside of it. Laura, Jamie and I all saw the heinous creature, and in an attempt to save our friend, we all yelled and reached for Joyce at the same time. Unfortunately, she saw this as a last ditch attempt by us to gang up on her and take what was left of the Zinger by force. She did what any kid would do and shoved the whole thing in her mouth. Her cheeks could barely contain the last half of raspberry goodness and a little bit of coconut fell out as she smiled smugly at our looks of horror, thinking she had outsmarted us.

            The moral of the story is: Anytime you think someone is going to steal your Zinger, they may be trying to save you from eating a pincher bug.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Goodreads Choice Awards 2011: Horror Category - An Apple For Zoe by Thomas Amo

I was incredibly excited to hear that An Apple for Zoe by my dear friend and fellow author, Thomas Amo, is a semi-finalist in the Horror Category in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2011. Tom is an amazingly talented writer as well as one of the nicest people on the planet. He does so much to support his fellow authors that I am honored to be able to return the favor. He has been an inspiration to me and has been invaluable in my quest to be an indie author.

If you like the horror genre, you won't want to miss An Apple for Zoe. It's available on Amazon and stop by his blog for more information about his latest projects.

I would love to see An Apple for Zoe win for Best Horror novel! It is definitely worthy of the title. Please help out and vote! You can vote for the Best Horror category on Goodreads here . Vote by November 20th! Thank you!!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thoughts From An Old Mining Town Cemetery

          We went to visit my in-laws today who live in the foothills of California in an old gold mining town. On the way out, we stopped by the cemetery. The kids both lost their minds still having childhood thoughts of ghosts and zombies stuck in their heads. I told them they could stay in the car and even lock the doors if that made them feel better, but there was nothing to fear in a cemetery. They were not convinced.

I love old cemeteries. It sounds creepy, I know, but I see those headstones and I wonder what their lives were like. What stories could they tell especially in this cemetery where many of those buried here were pioneers leaving everything they knew behind hoping to strike it rich in California during the gold rush of 1849. Were they able to find their fortune? Did they find happiness here or only heartbreak? I wondered about these silent souls as I stood amongst the family plots; old gravestones with the words worn down some barely legible, including some made of wood with the words “Unknown RIP.”

          What I found most disturbing was the number of graves for infants and children. Life was hard for adults in these mining towns during the gold rush days. It has been estimated that as high as 1 in 5 people died within the first six months of coming to California to mine for gold due to accidents, disease, malnutrition, and violence. Imagine how difficult it would have been for the women and children. There was one poor couple in the cemetery who lost all three of their children within a three year span. They were 9, 10, and 11 when they died. Two of them died in the same year. I can’t imagine the hardships these people must have gone through in such an isolated area.

Their birthdates were not listed on the headstones, but how old they were when they died in years, months, and days making it obvious how young many of them were when they passed on. Many of the family plots had several infants and children. While the gold rush in California was very profitable to some, many of the people who came to mine during that time barely made enough to live on.

On my way back to the car I saw my 13 year old daughter (who freaked out when we said we were going to a cemetery) with paper and a pencil making rubbings from some of the headstones.

“Hey, I thought you said this was stupid and creepy.” I said.

She looked up and said “Mom, he was just a baby. You’re right. It’s not creepy.”

Looking at her beautiful face as she made the rubbing of that baby’s headstone, I had a sobering thought. If I had given birth to her during the late 1800s in this tiny mining town, we would have both died, and my son would never have been born. I just wanted to stop off and look at an old cemetery. I had no idea it would make me think so much about my own life. I sat next to my daughter in that family’s plot while she worked and said a silent prayer of thanks for all the blessings in my life.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Where Will You Run? Book One of the Dìon Series

          My debut novel Where Will You Run? is the first book in the Dìon series. I am currently working on book two called Where Will You Hide? Several people have asked me for more information on the first book, so here it is. The story takes place in San Francisco and follows homicide detective Mari Lucas as she searches for her sister, Kerry, who goes missing from a locked psychiatric facility.

Mari took care of her younger sister, Kerry, after their parents were murdered. While Mari focused on her career in the SFPD, Kerry had her own run-ins with the law. Mari resented the fact that she was constantly pulling strings and asking for favors to get Kerry out of trouble. She felt as though her career had suffered because of it. Mari’s original plan was to join the police force, work her way up to homicide detective and eventually solve her parents’ murder. However, with the number of current homicide cases she was assigned to she rarely had any free time. She was a chronic workaholic and her personal life had suffered as a result. The relationship with her sister was all she had and that was strained.

When Mari gets a call about Kerry being arrested and taken to a locked psychiatric facility, she has finally had enough. Mari meets with her on the psychiatric unit, and Kerry is frantic. She tells Mari that she was delivering a package to the Collins building downtown. She went to the wrong office and overheard a conversation between two men who were talking about transporting humans. When she tried to get away without being discovered, she was pursued by the owner of the building, Christopher Collins. Kerry told Mari that she made it into the elevator right as Collins caught up to her. She said that Collins moved with unnatural speed and had fangs and threatened to find her. Mari was prepared. She had been told ahead of time that Kerry had been placed on the psychiatric unit for claiming that she was being hunted by vampires. For Mari, this was the last straw. Kerry had finally pushed her too far. Maybe Kerry really was crazy. Mari leaves her sister on the unit and begrudgingly agrees to look into Kerry’s claims.

Mari knew she had to keep any investigation of the city’s golden boy under the radar. Christopher Collins was a well known and well loved business man in the downtown community. He was best known for his charitable efforts with the homeless population. He funded a series of shelters for the homeless offering them not only a safe place to sleep and good food, but substance abuse treatment and medical care as well as job training and placement. The Collins building itself was a beautiful high rise right in the middle of the business district and housed the offices for his various business ventures. Not to mention the man played golf with the mayor. Going after him was career suicide.

Before Mari can decide on a plan of action, Kerry disappears from the locked psychiatric facility which, according to them, was not possible. Mari finds out Kerry’s disappearance is not isolated one. There has been a recent increase in missing persons’ cases especially among the homeless. Mari is forced to partner up with Raith Macrae, a detective from missing persons. Mari does not play well with others and writes him off as another pretty boy who gets by on his good looks and charm. Her attempts to keep him on the sidelines quickly backfire as she finds out that his playboy demeanor is just a cover. Raith Macrae has a darker side and appears to have his own agenda.

The situation quickly spirals out of control and Mari’s life gets turned upside down. When she gets in over her head, who can she trust? Where will she run?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Reviews - Adventures in Self Publishing

         Finally, for the last blog in this series I want to focus on reviews. Personally, I suck at writing reviews, so I have a lot of respect for people who volunteer their time to read books and then take the time to write about it. That’s where I am at now. My book has been accepted for review by four separate people. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. Most reviewers have disclaimers on their websites/blogs that say “I only give honest reviews.” That can be a little intimidating. Of course I only want an honest review. It’s okay if someone doesn’t like my book. But let’s face it, I want people to like my book. I especially want reviewers to like my book because then others may take a chance and buy it.

          I have seven 5 reviews on Amazon for my book already, and I love every one of them. Not just because they’re good reviews, but because I know the people who left the reviews meant what they said. There are people (including friends and family) who have read my book and never said another word about it. Did they like it? Hate it? I don’t know. They never said. Complete silence. Honestly, that makes me crazier than a bad review. It’s okay not to like my book. It’s even okay to say that to me. Maybe they think it will make Thanksgiving awkward. Not on my end. My feelings are not wrapped up in my book. I’m a big girl. My husband told me to ask them directly to leave a positive review, but I don’t want fake reviews. If you like it, say so. If you didn’t, say so. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving a review because you think I’ll give you the stink eye at family functions, then don’t.

          For me, negative reviews fall into one of two categories. The first category is crap - a negative review that is absolute crap and is thoughtless and cruel. The second category is constructive – that’s right, constructive. Sometimes a negative review can tell you something about your writing you didn’t know (or didn’t want to admit). Something helpful like overusing a particular word or phrase, punctuation or spelling errors, time or plot conflicts, formatting issues, character inconsistencies, etc. These reviews can help you improve your writing (although they can be worded cruelly as well). Don’t just write off a negative review especially if several people are saying the same thing. Be honest with yourself before putting it in the crap category.

For authors, it seems like so much emphasis is put on reviews, and for obvious reasons. If a book gets several bad reviews, it can have a serious negative effect on sales. Not to mention, it can be a little hard to hear. While I do have a thick skin, I’m not totally immune. Some writers I know say you’re not a legitimate author until you have at least one hater. They wear their one star review like a badge of honor. I like that attitude.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Adventures in Self Publishing - Twitter

            Twitter, Twitter, Twitter. Argh. I wrote an earlier post called “My Take on Twitter.” Going back and reading it I realize how quickly things can change. I have become more forgiving on Twitter. Some things I considered impersonal are really done in the interest of time and efficiency. For example, it bothered me when someone’s first tweet to me was about reading their blog or book. I thought that was pushy. I know now that that may be the only encounter I have with that person, so they are taking advantage of that opportunity. They are using Twitter to help market their product. Isn’t that what I’m there to do as well?

 My Twitter follows are exploding. I will soon have over 1000 followers; a feat that seemed impossible when I wrote that blog post in September. I had no idea it would take off that fast. I used to follow everyone back, but I’ve learned that I need to stay focused, and I have to be picky with my follows. I thought that was mean at first. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I am out there to make connections with other authors and readers. I don’t need break up advice, not talking politics, and I don’t want to see your naked pictures. Sorry.

            Even though tweets are limited to 140 characters, it’s amazing how much personality can shine through in so few words. I have met some amazing people on Twitter. They make recommendations for follows, retweet, make fun comments, ask how I’m doing, help push my blog and book, and I do the same for them. However, that hasn’t necessarily translated into direct sales of my book. I think that’s mostly my fault. I honestly don’t send out many tweets about my book, and I don’t push my book and blog the way others do. Mostly because I don’t have time to be on Twitter that often.

Enter tweet generator. In my previous Twitter post, I said that I didn’t like tweet generators because it made my Twitter feed look like one long infomercial, and I didn’t want to be a part of that. I’ve had to change my views. Now that I am following more people, the Twitter feed goes by so fast, that one or two book tweets a day just won’t cut it. Even if they are retweeted, they can easily be overlooked in a sea of tweets. When I was only following a few people, I could get on Twitter and go back in time and see all the tweets for the day. Now, I’m lucky if I can cover a few hours of tweets. In an attempt to get some control back, I recently downloaded TweetDeck to help manage my Twitter account. I’m going to set up scheduled tweets about my book and blog and join the infomercial. Stay focused – promotion and making contacts.

While Twitter has not translated into a lot of book sales for me, it has generated a lot of buzz about my blog. Honestly, this blog, which I got dragged into kicking and screaming, has been more fun than I thought it would be. I’ve been surprised to see the number of page views I’ve been getting and the majority of them are from Twitter. So the potential is there. I just have to find a way to tap into it. I would love to hear any comments or suggestions you may have. Thanks!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Adventures in Self Publishing - Facebook

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I know social media is a huge part of getting the word out about my book, but it can be very overwhelming. There are so many social outlets, it would literally take a full time staff to keep up with everything out there. I have limited my exposure to Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

I have had a Facebook account for some time now thanks to my loving sister. I have to admit I was not happy about it at first, but it grew on me. Facebook is a good way to keep in touch with friends and relatives I don’t get to see very often. It’s nice to hear about what’s going on in their lives when we live so far apart. Facebook has always been a very personal place for me, and I have only accepted friend requests from friends and family.

With the publication of my book, my author buddy Tom introduced me to the #BNFF group on Facebook. This group is made up of an amazing bunch of authors who welcomed me with open arms. They understood the characters scratching to get out of my head, the late night writing sessions, the single-minded drive to finish. They also struggled with writer’s block, family issues, work responsibilities, and self promotion. I didn’t feel so crazy or alone in this process. If you haven’t found a close knit group of authors to talk to, I would highly recommend it. Soon, they started sending me friend requests. I didn’t see a problem with that. They are a great bunch of people I am honored to call friends.

However, I still wanted to keep my Facebook account personal. I know many people use this as another way to promote their book. I made an author page (I can’t say Fan Page, it makes me giggle) for people to “Like,” and I post information about my book there. I knew eventually people would find me. Sure enough I started getting friend requests from other authors outside of the #BNFF group and random people from Twitter. I panicked. I’m a private person, and I didn’t want these people I barely knew to see pictures of my niece’s birthday party. Honestly, why would they want to? Facebook is a place for me to be myself, chat with family and friends and not have to worry about pushing my book.

I know several authors have multiple Facebook accounts which I will have to consider for myself. The problem is time. If I barely have enough time to do one Facebook account, how can I manage two? Facebook and Twitter alone take up most of the time I have allotted for book promotion. I have a Goodreads account, but I’m rarely able to look at it or keep it up to date. I read a blog recently where the woman said that if you are putting yourself out there to promote a book, blog, etc. then you have to get passed any misgivings you may have about being approached online. You have to let people get to know you. I’m working on it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Adventures in Self Publishing - Promotion and Sales

When I planned out this series in self publishing, I wanted to start at the beginning and proceed in an orderly fashion. However, since my brain doesn’t work in an organized way that’s not going to happen. I want to talk about what has been on my mind lately – promotion and sales.

Honestly, when I was writing my book, I didn’t think about publishing. Mostly because I was afraid I wouldn’t finish it like every other book I had started, so why think that far ahead? My sister, Melanie, and BFF, Shelbi, were so excited about the project, it kept me motivated. With their gentle encouragement (a.k.a. hounding), I was able to finish my first book, Where Will You Run? At the time, I was so proud of my accomplishment and the fact that Mel and Shelbi loved the finished product that I didn’t care if another soul ever read it. Then I thought about it. All that  work was just gathering dust on my hard drive. Was I really going to just let it sit there?

Why not self publish? I sent a copy of my book to a friend of mine, Thomas Amo who was a self published author. He liked the book and said I should definitely do it. Tom and his beautiful wife came by to help me upload my book to Amazon, she said with a knowing chuckle “Now you’ll be checking your sales all the time like he does.” I assured her that wouldn’t be me since I didn’t really care about sales. Boy did that change overnight. Having people buy my book was both exciting and scary at the same time. I did find myself checking my sales reports regularly and grinning at my Amazon page.

Reality soon set in though. After the initial boost from friends and family, the sales numbers quickly dropped off. Now I was left with the daunting task of promotion – something I have never been good at. (Here is why I wanted to go in order because I wanted to write about promoting on Facebook and Twitter first. Oh well…carrying on.)

The biggest problem for me is that I wrote a vampire/paranormal romance. While that doesn’t sound like a problem since that genre is hot especially with the juggernaut that is Twilight and also with the popularity of television shows like True Blood, it would make sense to strike while the iron is hot. The problem is the market is saturated with paranormal books. I can’t believe all the paranormal romance indie authors I have met on Twitter alone. In a genre that is filled with heavy hitters like Jeaniene Frost, Charlaine Harris, J. R. Ward, Kresley Cole, Kim Harrison, Keri Arthur, etc. (and that doesn’t even scratch the surface), why would paranormal readers want to take a chance on an indie book (or a bajillion indie books for that matter) when they have such an amazing collection of traditionally published authors to choose from. I don’t have an answer. In a genre dominated by well established, traditionally published authors, how do you get noticed in an ocean of indie books?

Again, I’m trying to be patient. I know it takes time. I am reading a lot of blogs on the subject of self publishing, and I am going to try some of their suggestions. I will start trying some of these and blog about the results. The first one is a recommendation to start local. Today I went to our Barnes and Noble since my book is also available on Nook. I met Lee and asked him if they had a program to help promote local authors to increase Nook sales. Lee just stared at me. I said “Did I stump you?” He said “Yes.” There were no managers available so he took down my information and promised to get back to me. If I don’t hear from Lee by Monday, I will be brave and go back. I have to start somewhere. I will keep you all updated. Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thinking Out Loud - Adventures in Self Publishing

            This is the first in a series of blogs about my experience with self publishing including my progress and what I have learned. I have more questions than answers, so this really is just me thinking out loud. I was just going to write one blog about it. It soon became obvious that my ramblings on this subject could not be contained in one blog post. I want to take time to address each section of my “stupid book stuff” as it has become known around my house.

How it all started: A little over a year ago, my sister, my best friend and I were sitting out in my gazebo talking about all our favorite paranormal romance series as we usually do. I told them that I had a few story ideas myself but could never get passed the first chapter. They were curious, so I told them about a few. They loved my ideas and threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t write them down. I was surprised by their enthusiasm, but I thought it would fade as time went on. Nope. They kept hammering at me, so I started to write.

I had written a lot of poetry and short stories, but I just didn’t have the discipline to finish a book. It was the one writing goal that had eluded me for years. I got off to a great start, but as usual, it became so overwhelming I quit. I didn’t quit so much as take a break. I didn’t like the ending. Months passed. My sister and best friend continued to pester me. Then a few days before Memorial Day weekend this year, I was talking to my husband about it. He asked me how much I had left. Just a few scenes and the ending I told him. He said “What’s stopping you?” I realized I didn’t like the ending. It was missing the “WOW” factor. It was predictable and boring. Once I figured that out, I couldn’t stop writing. That 3-day weekend I was tethered to the computer. I wrote 12-14 hours a day. I barely ate. I didn’t get dressed. I was mad when I had to go to the bathroom, but I finished it.

I can’t tell you the amazing feeling of accomplishment I had when I finished that book. The one writing hurdle I had never been able to master. That high was short lived though because I could see the finish line. I immediately started editing and revising. I hooked my talented brother who happens to be a graphic artist into designing a book cover. I made contact with a good friend of mine, Thomas Amo, who was also a self published author and began hammering him with questions. Together we got my book uploaded to Amazon as an ebook and Lulu for paperbacks. I thought that was the hard part. I stared at my Amazon page with a stupid grin. I was a published author. Let the adventure begin…stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bullying in Schools Part Two

            After last week, I felt the need to write a follow up to my last blog post on bullying. Oddly enough when I called the school that Monday, the principal told me that they were doing a series that week to address the issue of bullying with the students. My daughter got in the car that Thursday, and I could tell something was bothering her. She started to cry saying that they had been watching a power point presentation about bullying in schools (the program the principal talked about). My daughter said that the teacher told them about several kids who had committed suicide due to continuous bullying including some as young as 8 years old. I thought that was what she was upset about and was prepared to talk to her about it since I knew it was coming. However, she blindsided me with something I was completely unprepared for. What bothered her more than the suicides was the fact that some of the kids in her class were actually laughing about it. She started crying harder and said “Mom, what is wrong with them? How can they think a second grader who would rather die than go to school because of bullying is funny? He felt so alone in the world. Like everyone hated him. How is that funny?” With all my years of education and experience in psychology, I didn’t have an answer. It made me sick to my stomach.

It’s the same feeling I get when I see videos of young people committing random acts of violence and filming it while laughing. In our local news, they recently showed a video of a young man who stood on the sidewalk of a shopping center and hit a middle aged woman in the face when she walked by. Then he ran off laughing, and you could hear his friend who was filming it laughing as well. There was also another story in the national news of a teenage boy who went into a convalescent home and poured a pitcher of ice water on an elderly woman in a wheelchair. He thought it was so funny, he brought back several of his friends to do it again. They thought it was funny too. What about the trend where young people were going to fast food drive thru windows and throwing liquids or other substances on the employees working there? Are you sick? You should be. All you have to do is spend a few minutes on YouTube and you can see all the random violence you want. YouTube does try to remove these videos, but there are so many uploaded per day that it takes time to find and remove the bad ones. Plus, there are other venues for posting videos.
Which brings me to another problem – how technology has aided in bullying. My daughter is constantly bugging me for a cell phone and Facebook account, but she admitted that many of the bullied kids reported being harassed 24/7 on their cell phones and on social networks like Facebook. Parents need to check on their kids cell phones, Facebook accounts, and the online histories of their computers. I tell my kids they only have the privacy I allow them.
Finally, I know this is a hot topic for debate, but I have a real problem with some video games. No, I don’t think video games cause people to be violent. My problem with video games is more subtle – desensitization towards violence or an erosion of compassion. In my opinion, when video games reward people for antisocial behaviors like robbery, theft, rape, car jacking, murder, etc. and the more violent the better, you can’t tell me that somewhere along the line that doesn’t have an effect on young people. Some kids spend hours playing games where compassion is a weakness and even a hindrance in progressing to the next level. Parents have to be aware of the games their kids are playing. Movies and music can also carry violent antisocial messages. Pay attention to the ratings and warning labels.
Reading back over this I'm thinking I sound like an old person criticizing movies, music and video games. When did that happen? Despite all of this, I don’t think the world is going to hell in a hand basket. There are plenty of good people around. We just have to be more vocal. We can’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend things will get better as our kids get older. As parents, aunts, uncles, mentors, teachers, grandparents, adults in general, we need to be aware of what is going on with our young people. As a working parent, I know that time is precious and checking up on our kids’ cell phones, social networks, games, music, movies, computer websites, etc. can seem overwhelming. My question to you is – Can we afford not to?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kill the Beast - Bullying in Schools

         I know there has been a lot of press recently about the increase in bullying and the horrible consequences among our young people. Unfortunately, we have experienced that firsthand. The usual playground teasing easily deflected with “I know you are but what am I” is gone, and it has taken on a sinister twist that crosses into inexcusable cruelty. This is my daughter’s story.

Four years ago, my daughter, Megan, got accepted into the Gifted and Talented (GATE) program. She started the 4th grade in a GATE classroom at a brand new school. Soon after she started, there were several girls (led by one girl in particular) who started harassing her. She did not know these girls and could not understand why they didn’t like her when she hadn’t done anything to cause them to dislike her. Can’t tell you how fun it is to have a conversation with your children telling them that sometimes people will not like you and there really is no good reason. I told her to ignore them and to focus on the kids who were nice to her. What I didn’t understand at the time was the depth to which bullying is allowed to go these days. I say “allowed” because while the schools put on a big “No Tolerance” policy for bullying, there really is very little that is done to control it. I’m not even sure what schools can do to stop it and when did it become the job of schools to teach children not to be cruel to others. That should start at home. Where are the parents??

            I admit, I should have been more proactive when it started, but I had no idea how far it would go. Megan came home several times upset about the way these girls teased her in class. I tried talking to her teacher and she said she would do what she could. After a few months, Megan came home crying uncontrollably. She handed me a note that the bully ringleader had given to her. It read “If you hate Megan sign below.” She had gone around the class and had all the kids sign it (willingly or not). Then she gave it to Megan and said “See, everyone in class hates you not just me.” After taking some time to calm my own “seek and destroy” mother bear instincts, it became clear this was no regular case of playground teasing. I went to the principal with the letter and voiced my concerns about the constant harassment. The principal assured me action would be taken. The bully ringleader was sent home for the day and was given some kind of lecture about her behavior. That was it. Of course the behavior continued.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and followed the girl until she met up with her mother. I then talked to her mother about the incident. She apologized and asked if we had received the apology letters from her daughter. When I told her we had not received any letters, she again apologized and said she would try to remember to have her daughter do that. Try to remember? Since when does your child being completely cruel to another child not register on your priority list or set off alarm bells in your head??!! I continued to talk to the girl’s mother and even befriended her to keep her daughter away from Megan while constantly fighting my own urge to beat some sense into her.

Thankfully, things got better for Megan.  She is now in the 8th grade and has a lot of friends and is doing well. However, yesterday, we were reminded of the cruelty that still exists. I had been away on a short trip with the kids and when we returned, my husband was laughing and saying that I needed to listen to the messages on the answering machine. He said there were several crank calls from some kids who were most likely from Megan’s school. He said they sounded funny. Our digital recorder is old and sometimes the messages are difficult to understand. There were three of them (two from a boy and one from a girl), and I had to listen several times to be sure of what I was hearing. Among the silly rambling, all three messages included “Megan you are fat and ugly.” One even ended with “Megan you are fat and ugly. Suck my dick.” Are you kidding me??!! The caller ID was blocked of course, so there is no way to track them. I will be going to talk to the principal on Monday when school starts back after break even though I know there is nothing they can do. Megan keeps bugging me for a cell phone, like we really need her to have a direct way for kids to harass her.

Compassion is not like breathing and swallowing. It has to be learned and it needs to start at an early age. Parents have to be the first line of defense against teasing and bullying. It has to matter to parents when their children are being mean to others. It has to be taken seriously by ALL parents involved. This can no longer be tolerated as “kids can be cruel” sometimes. If it takes a village to raise a child, we need to get out our torches and pitchforks my friends because there is a beast among us and it is called “Bully.”