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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Kindergarten Kids - On Birthday Parties


You're at a birthday party and no one is having any fun. The host is trying, but their idea for the party isn't working out. She's made a cake from scratch with homemade frosting and fondant, the deviled eggs were whipped to perfection, and the room is packed with five year olds. What could go wrong?

In our case, it was a karaoke party, which is tough for five year olds...since none of them can read that fast. When the girls first arrived, they improvised, grabbing the microphones and having a loud conversation with the birthday girl, who also had a microphone. The dad, understandably stressed while trying to figure out the complicated karaoke machine, told everyone that the microphones were for singing songs, not for talking. And we ended up with silence. Everyone put down the mics and stared at him.


Fast forward, and after a few kids walk in who are too shy to sing, everyone decides it's embarrassing to sing, and song after loud pop song plays to a wall of sullen children.

No one is having a good time, and the hosts look like they're about to cry.

What can we do?


I have no embarrassment meter, so who better to try to save this sinking ship? Since none of the kids could sing or wanted to sing at that moment, I tried the dancing route.

Now, I am a horrible dancer. Like, the worst. So it made it look silly and fun to the kids (I hope). Anyway, I convinced one of the twins to dance with me. And no one joined us.

After the song, I looked at the peanut gallery of parents just sitting there and literally said, "thanks a lot, guys."

I mean, think about it when you're someone's guest. If you had thrown a party and it was failing, wouldn't you desperately want the other adults in the room to throw you a bone?

As I explained to my child when she dragged me out of the room to tell me I'd embarrassed her: It's our job as party goers to have a good time.

It is your job, as a party goer, to have a good time.

So try!

Sometimes, the hosts can't get things going, and they certainly can't with the pressure of everyone else staring them down like, you gonna make this fun or what?

My kid and I went back in, after I'd also told her not to worry about what people think, and that everyone else WOULD start to have fun, I promise, and we danced again.

And finally, people started to join in.

And by the end of the party everyone was dancing and singing and having a good time.

And the smile on my kid's face when she said she wasn't embarrassed anymore may have been the highlight of my life.

So, when you go to a birthday party, try to help a mother out! You know you'd want someone to do it for you.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

#AllMenCan LISTEN (on Policy Mic's Apparent Unravelling)

I'd like to start this diatribe with the realization that in posting this (assuming they read it) I'm totally blowing my chances of ever working for Policy Mic in the future. Which peeves me because at some point I'd have really liked to write for them. But, alas, it must be done.

After becoming embroiled in a mild skirmish on Twitter which they didn't really respond to, today, they published this piece on women's rights:

37 Men Show Us What Real Men's Activists Look Like

Where to begin?

First of all, can I just say I am so relieved to have 37 men telling me what they think about women. The pushback wasn't complete without an article highlighting men, guys.

Secondly, it's staged.

EIGHTEEN of the 37 pictures were taken in the same room. Since Policy Mic didn't remark on this, I can only assume they gathered their male employees in the cafeteria or something, and had them hold up signs so they could complete this assignment. I hope I'm wrong. Maybe it was another company who decided to do a project on it. But if that is the case, the project should be recognized, don't you think?

Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about.

Times that by 18. Call me cynical, but the message doesn't have the same impact when it feels like we are being tricked into thinking these were random calls to internet activism by men propelled by their own volition.

I mean, check this out. In 17 and 18, there is the same man in the same plaid shirt in the background (that guy is actually in the background of 15 and 16, too. Same pose. Everything.)

Also, 26 and 37 are the same picture.

Oh. Looks like they fixed that, now. ^^

Let's take a look at some of the signs, shall we?

4) Alpha males, huh?

5) "It takes strong women to give us the strength to know better." This is in regards to hitting women. I do not appreciate the implication that in order not to be hit I need to be a strong enough woman to teach a man not to do that.

8) "MRAs don't speak for me." ... Not all men.

10) "Because I'm a man and I will never hurt you." Not. All. Men.

21) "My masculinity doesn't include misogyny." NOT ALL MEN.

34) Wielding is spelled wrong, but more importantly, it's a sign indicating that the reason men should be involved is that their own safety is at stake. Which might be true. But isn't really what the conversation is about right now.

Also important to know that the man in #34 is a writer for Policy Mic. Which they didn't mention.

UPDATE: courtesy Brooke Binkowski, San Diego reporter.
#1 - PolicyMic founder Jake Horowitz
#9 - PolicyMic sports editor Bryan Graham
#12 - PolicyMic social media editor Jared Keller
#18 - PolicyMic editor Michael McCutcheon (and this shows that the room which is featured in half the photos is a PolicyMic room or somehow connected to PolicyMic).
#34 - PolicyMic contributor Charles Clymer

(Again, nothing wrong with that, but it needs to be noted in the article, guys).

37) "If there weren't women, there would be no men." Oh. Well. Um, thanks for that brand new information?

In the middle of this article, they ask us to use the #allmencan hashtag to make our voices known about what men can do.

I've said this many, many, many times before, but I'll say it again.

All men can LISTEN.

And if they were listening, well, maybe we wouldn't feel the need to post articles with them talking over us so much.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

One Man's Journey Through Labor -- Guest Post

 As feminism continues to fight against the misogynistic tendencies of our current culture, my friend Mike has graciously agreed to post about the labor process, from the male perspective. Enjoy it. I know he did.


My wife’s water broke just as I was sitting down to masturbate, which was sort of annoying. Or at least that’s what she said. Neither of us had ever gone through the labor process before, and as it turns out it’s not as obvious as TV makes it out to be. So, while she was in the bathroom, I turned to Dr. Google and…still had no idea. Eventually she went back to bed and I joined her. A few hours later she was in so much pain she insisted on going to the hospital, and, despite still not having any idea if she was actually in labor, we were off.

Once Amber was hooked up to the machines at the hospital they told us, definitively, that it was possible she was in labor. She asked if she should call out of work, and was told, “Not yet. But maybe shortly.” Admittedly I was pretty exhausted (I work until 1:30 am and go to bed at 7 am normally, so I had slept about two out of 26 hours at this point) but I was pretty sure I was done with this whole ‘labor’ thing already. Just under an hour later we were told that she was going to be moved into a delivery room, and Amber gave me the okay to tell people this was actually happening. A statement she would soon regret.

“Wow, delivery room chairs are REALLY comfortable” I posted to Facebook at 11:15 am on February 15th. “I’m not being sarcastic, this chair is nice. They told me to take a nap, but then they keep coming in like they expect something to happen and waking me up. It’s like they have no regard for my comfort. Oh, Amber is in labor on the other side of the room.” 

“What color is it? The chair, I mean.” Comes the reply from one of my best friends. I let him know it was a nice dark blue, and he says, “Nice. Soothing. Tranquil. Sounds like a good chair. You two should be happy together, seeing as how they gave Amber a while bed.”

“Breaking news!” I post at 5:26 PM, “I just slept in the chair for a little over an hour. I feel pretty rested, all things considered. I had to use my hoodie instead of a pillow, but that isn’t the chair’s fault. Amber is also good.” My boss responds, letting me know that she thinks I’m probably focused on the wrong thing. Amber checks her phone for the first time and realizes what’s happening, and the first threat against my life is made.

Around 6:30 I got hungry and took a trip down to the hospital cafeteria, where I made the biggest mistake of the day. “Did I opt for the hospital cafeteria fish? You’re damn right I did. #Neverscared.” Less than ten minutes later I was singing a different tune, “Did I opt for the hospital cafeteria fish? Damn…you’re right. I did. #alittlescared.” I feel queasy, but I push down the fish with some amazingly delicious chicken fingers and solder on.

It’s almost 7 pm and I know Jeopardy! Is on, but my sister and I can’t seem to find it on the hospital TV. “The biggest pain of the day has been trying to find Jeopardy! On the TV in the delivery room. The TV has a ‘guide’ button, but it does nothing. How can they expect me to deal with these 1990’s conditions? Giving birth is hard.” A friend of mine feels my pain and tells me so, “Man, that’s rough. And I bet Amber is just lying in bed while you deal with all that, huh?” A second threat against my life is made verbally, as Amber posts that she hates both me and my friend. Someone else asks if Amber has hit me yet, and I point out that she’s both drugged up and out of reach. Not for the last time.

It’s now 11:28 pm. “Just over 14 hours in the hospital and my lower back is starting to hurt slightly. Probably a 2 on the pain scale of 10. Annoying, but not bad. Despite this, I’m finding this labor thing much less painful than everyone claims.” After some responses I have to point out, once again, that Amber is drugged up and out of punching distance. I do admit, however, that it may be possible that this is worse on Amber than it is on me. A friend from work posts, “You’re really taking this like a champ, Mike. I’m impressed,” but I don’t want people getting the wrong idea about me. “I’m no hero. I’m just a guy trying to make his way through this crazy, mixed up world…” Someone wonders why Amber hasn’t killed me yet, and she responds, “Don’t worry, I know where he eats and sleeps.” I get a little uneasy until I realize that there’s no way she remembers saying that once she’s off the drugs. Probably.

Hours pass. I fall in and out of sleep in my comfortable delivery chair, and I think Amber even falls asleep for a bit. My mother agreed to stay with us for the night and she manages to stay awake while doing some knitting. Around 3 am the nurse declares that our baby is ready. She calls the doctor, and while we wait the nurse asks about my job and we have a nice twenty minute conversation about StubHub. Eventually the doctor arrives and everything changes. They start to monitor the baby’s heartbeat and two hours into the actual pushing the doctor remarks that his heart rate has been steady this entire time in a way she’s never really seen before. “He’s the most calm baby I have ever delivered.” Amber smiles and remarks that he takes after his father.

My next, and second to last, Facebook post goes up. “At 5:15 am on February 16th, my amazing wife gave birth to our son, Owen Enrique-Osmun Provencher. He is 6lbs and 8ozs. There is no joke here. Don’t get used to it.” He cries a little, but true to the doctor’s word he’s not bothered by the whole birthing process for long and quickly calms down. I post one more time to Facebook before we move to the room we’ll all be spending the next few days in. “I think my wife is in love with another man…”

Congratulations to Mike and his wife, Amber.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fail Kitchen: Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Three ingredients. Still fail.


Mom Fashion

When you see me out and about town, I probably look, to you, severely lacking in style. My fashion choices are questionable, and I seem to be blissfully unaware of trends or even hygiene. I assure you, that is not the case. Here's a simple infographic explaining mom fashion.

So, in conclusion, it's not ONLY that we don't really give a damn what you think. We also don't have time to give a damn what you think. Just roll with it, guys. We have to.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Recipe Monday - Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

It's the time for many celebrations, and we need to have as many easy frosting recipes on hand as possible. With that in mind: strawberry buttercream frosting. Easy and delicious. Great twist to traditional favorite.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 (16 oz) package powdered sugar (I only used HALF of this and it was still a bit too sweet, be warned)
1/2 cup of fresh strawberries, chopped

Beat the first three ingredients together until creamy.
Add the sugar and strawberries a little at a time, beating each addition in thoroughly.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kindergarten Kids - Rules for The-End-of-the-Year Play


Your kid has spent weeks preparing for her special end-of-the-year play. She's spent hours memorizing songs and dance moves. Singing and speaking, being quiet, and watching, readying. And it's all been hush-hush. She wants it to be a surprise for you. Because you'll be there.

We'll all be there.

This isn't the 1980s anymore, and one of the striking differences in parenting style is that these days, you never don't show up. Gone are the days of empty soccer field stadiums that I remember, a few straggling parents there with a weak clap here and there. These days, you show up. Whether you do it because your parents did it for you or because they didn't, you are there.

And so is everyone else. kind of sucks.

So, I have some rules I thought up that might help next year's class.


1) Have the room open immediately.

This play was at 8 a.m. The place had to have been ready the day before. Don't shut the door. We all got there at 7:45 for the morning bell, and we want to go get a seat. What we don't want to do is stand in a line that wraps around the elementary school like a snake of good parenting. Let us in. That was silly and put everyone in a defensive mood.

2) Let parents know where their kid will be.

I have twins. One was in the front. One was on the side of the room. We picked a seat unknowingly where we could see neither of them. A lot of parents did this. So, during the play, there was a lot of people getting up and changing seats, and repositioning, and I'm sure it's not what the school had in mind. The kids had those spots from the beginning. Let the parents know the general area where their kid will be. That's who they're interested in. You don't need seating plans or anything, but just a general idea would be helpful.

3) Parents: don't save seats, for cripe's sake.

Now, I'm not talking about one partner saving a seat for the other partner. One seat saved is fine, necessary even, but I'm saying we came into the room, thinking seats were available and they were not. So we went to the front, where there was an empty bench. Only umbrellas, bags, keys, and shoes were splayed out over the whole thing. Not cool, guys, not cool. Now the mid-seats we could have taken were already taken. And the mid-seats we thought were open? Covered with travel mugs, sandals, and freaking walking sticks.

Stop it. Just stop. We all know you're about to get up and snap a photo of your kid anyway. Do you need to sit next to 80 of your closest parent friends who couldn't get there at 8? Very frustrating.

4) The phones, guys. Can we not with the phones?

Again, when it's your kid's time to play her two-second part? By all means, bodycheck everyone else out of the way, and snap your shot. But they have a video being recorded by the school, guys. And they sent an email saying, HEY, WE'LL HAVE A DVD AVAILABLE, SO DON'T RECORD THIS ON YOUR PHONE.

So, why did I have to try to see my kids through a maze of upheld electronic devices? I showed up at ass in the morning to see my kid sing, not to see her through your tiny newest iPhone lens.

And honestly? Are you going to watch and rewatch your shaky phone video of the kids singing "Florida Alphabet"? Isn't it better to actually enjoy it the first time? To make eye contact with the kid as she sings? I'm not even close to a phone shamer, but in this one particular case, I'm totally down with the 'put down your phone' thing.

5) Don't be the "wooooooooo" guy.

Once you woo for your kid, we all have to woo for our kids. I didn't go to a pep rally, dudes. I went to an itty-bitty kid concert. They don't know how to handle five minutes of parents out-wooing each other after each song. They just want to sing again, so...can we let them? Fist pump at home.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Confessions of a Formerly Reluctant Step Dude -- Guest Post

I'd introduce Jerry Kennedy here, but he does a damn good job of it, himself. Look for more of him at Choosing the Truth.


So I’ve been staring at this blank page for a week now, wondering why in the hell I thought it would be a good idea to request a spot as a guest blogger for Darlena. I mean, I’ve been a blogger for awhile now (my first blog post was published in May of 2009...did we even have the Internet back then?), but I’ve always written about subjects that I knew pretty well. Whether it was sales and customer service or my own journey of personal development, it was stuff I knew. But to contribute to a parenting blog? That’s a different animal entirely.

Parenting is brand new for me. I have no children of my own. Up until 2 years, 7 months, and 14 days ago, I was certain that I never would have children of my own. Recently divorced after 17 years of marriage (yeah, I’m that old), I was planning to live out my days footloose and child-free. And then it happened: I walked into my friends’ house for a birthday party, and I walked out in love with a single mom. You know what they say: “the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley...” Or at least that’s what Robert Burns would have said.

Anyway, the point is that I was suddenly in love with a woman who had a four-year-old son. Like really in love. Like stupid in love. And I decided that I wanted to be part of her life, kid and all. I mean, how hard could it be? I’d missed the really difficult parts (dirty diapers, random projectile vomiting, sleepless nights, crying fits, terrible twos, terrible-r threes), and everything should be a piece of cake from here on out. Right? Uh-huh...and jelly beans really *are* Easter Bunny poops.

So here, in no particular order, are some lessons I’ve learned about myself from stepping into the “step” role and living with the child I know as the Monkey:

1. I do, in fact, have a temper, and the fuse is shorter than I could have imagined. All my life, I’ve been laid-back, even-tempered, able to keep my cool in any situation. It was a badge of pride for me, like a super power; I was Guy Who Never Gets Angry. That is, I was GWNGA until a small, angry, red-faced person started shouting “NO!!!” at me at full volume. I’ll never forget the day I snapped: before I knew what had happened, the Monkey had lost every privilege for an entire weekend and, if I hadn’t had the good sense to walk away, would have probably been restricted to his room until he was 35.

This might not seem like a big deal to some folks; after all, I didn’t get physically violent or shout. To me, though, it was devastating. I felt like a major failure because, despite my outer appearance, I was *angry*. And over what? A defiant child. What kind of superhero was I? How could I go from Guy Who Never Gets Angry to Dickhead Who Takes Away Legos and X-Boxes For Life in under a minute? I have no idea, but for a split second, I wished he had more toys that I could take away.

After we both cooled down, we had a chat. I apologized for overreacting, and he apologized for yelling, and we decided on a slightly more reasonable consequence for his behavior. It’s happened a few times since, but I got some great advice from my coach (aka Mommy). She told me that when a child is upset like that, continuing the conversation is only going to fan the flames. So now, I walk away, wait until he calms down, then we talk. Don’t get me wrong: I still see red, but now I take it as my signal to stop. Ram Dass once said, “If you think you’re so enlightened, go spend a week with your parents.”  I think he meant children.

2. I don’t know anything about anything. When I first met the Monkey, he was a big fan of dinosaurs. That’s actually a bit of an understatement; dinosaurs were his life. One of the first conversations we had, he asked me if I knew what the biggest dinosaur was. I confidently said, “Brontosaurus!” I don’t actually remember what the right answer is, but that certainly wasn’t it. Apparently, science has learned a lot about dinosaurs since I was a kid, and I hadn’t been keeping up. When I would read stories to him at bedtime, he usually wanted me to read from his dinosaur book; it was full of dinosaurs I’d never even heard of, in spite of collection of Michael Crichton books.

And that was only the beginning. From planets (Pluto isn’t a planet?) to primates (WTF is a bonobo?), from comics (there’s really a villain called the Abomination?) to cartoons (how did I not know about Adventuretime??), I’m kind of a dunce. Or at least I’m a dunce when it comes to things that little boys find interesting. Living child-free for so long, I had no idea that so much had changed. I’m still woefully inadequate when it comes to dinosaurs and Marvel comics, but I’m learning...mostly by pretending to be Nick Fury sending him on a mission when I drop him off at school.

3. Being a step dude is one of the coolest things ever. In the beginning, I was super reluctant to have the Monkey see me as a parental unit. He had an amazing mom and a dad who was an engaged and active participant in his life. He had no need for me to be anything other than his mom’s boyfriend. Besides, I was certain that any child who viewed me as a parent would be irrevocably damaged; I was afraid of the responsibility, afraid of the commitment, and afraid of the attachment. I was so awkward about it, in fact, that at one point he started introducing me to his classmates as his brother. I think that was even more confusing to his classmates, who always looked at me like “Seriously? That old fucker is your brother?? No way!” Kids can be so cruel.

Eventually, though, as it became more and more clear that this was a family unit I wanted to be part of, my reluctance subsided. I became comfortable with being called the Step Dude and, eventually, “my stepdad.” I certainly lucked up: I get to be an active participant in the life of an amazing child, even if he is sometimes headstrong and grumpy and yells at me. It’s all worth it when, in one of his lucid moments, he looks up from what he’s doing and says “Jerry, I love you.” Four simple words that have melted the frozen heart of a soulless, old curmudgeon to the point that I’m now looking forward to someone calling me Daddy.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Five Year Old Is NOT a "Strong Leader"

As I walked with my children to school an hour ago, in between paying exactly equal attention and lavishing exactly equal praise to my twins so that they would remain in a human-like mood at least until we got to the big doors, I readied myself for a talk I needed to have with one of the girls' teachers.

As anyone who knows us knows, my girls are scare-quote spirited. We'd been coming off a long stretch of normality, where the girls would play together nicely for hours, accept reality as it came their way, and just generally showed a maturity I knew was too good to last.

But this past week has been an abomination.

There are lots of reasons for this. 1) School is drawing to a close, so their schedules during the school day have been disrupted with activities they are unused to. 2) The dentist told them they needed to stop sucking their thumbs, which, until this point, had been a major source of comfort and security to them. And my kids? They've wills of steel. They stopped that day and have not put their thumbs in their mouths since. I, as an adult, cannot fathom this. I've been trying to stop biting my nails for 29 years. HOOOOOOOOW? They just did it. I don't even know. 3) They've been fighting off an illness, which always makes for a rough go of things.

But there is a new culprit in the mix, and one I'm just not ready to face (although I did and I will).

The influences of other kids at school.

Yesterday, one of my daughters tantrumed for a full three hours. Ninety minutes over a lollipop that she picked out and ninety minutes out of just general malaise. It may have been my hardest day as a parent yet.

When pressed, one particular little girl, Natalina's partner for the school play, and the girl she now sits next to (that was a change from the previous month), kept coming up. M eats blood. M doesn't listen to anyone. M doesn't like me. M says mean things all the time. M likes me now and invited me to the "popular girls club" (INSERT MOM RAGE). M never does what she's told. She doesn't have to. M squeezes her hand hard to hurt her during play practice. M thinks she's a tattle tale. M, M, M, M.

So, I suited up.

In my I-mean-business trench coat and my paper-plate necklace, I prepared my talk in my head to the teacher.

When I got there, though, the tone of the talk surprised me.

"Hi, Mrs. G, I'd like to ask you about M."

She nods, knowingly.

"Okay, good, so you know what I'm talking about. What's up with that?"

She took a moment. "We have lots of trouble with M. Has she said anything ugly to your child?"

"Well, kind of," I replied. "They're partners in the play and I know Lilly sits next to her now. We're having some behavior issues at home, and I know you had to send L to the office the other day for attitude. I was just wondering if you could move her back to sit next to G?"

She hesitated again. Now, this is a longterm substitute. Natalina's teacher had a baby, and left just a few months ago, if that.

Her old teacher knew that N has trouble finishing assignments, and needs a good example to follow. N picks up on cues really easily, so when paired with G for so long, she began finishing assignments and setting a good example for others.

N picks up on cues really easily.

So, when Mrs. G told me that Natalina was a "strong leader" and she needed to "keep a good kid at each table" and mine was "one of the good kids", while my heart filled with pride (and recognition...they used to do this to me in school, too), I knew it was all wrong.

My child is not a strong leader.

And that's okay. She will be. I have no doubt. But she's not there yet. The person the substitute thinks my child is, and who my child actually is are two different people.

Natalina picks up on cues really easily.

For now, because I was not expecting that response at all, I let it go. The teacher is going to monitor the situation more closely, and there are only two weeks left of school anyway.

But, in reality, this is only part one of the talk. I need to, now that I know what I'm dealing with, go back in there and get my kid what she needs.

This may well be the one time in my child's life where being thought of as a strong leader will be detrimental to her, but so be it.

My child is not yet a strong leader, and I will defend her malleability as she grows into one. So that one day, perhaps, yes, the teachers will make her the leader of the table of kids who have some trouble.

Today is not that day.

Today she is just learning how to overcome her own trouble.

This is a crossroads. An important one. These kinds of events could determine how my daughter deals with outside influences for the rest of her life. So, for now, I've instructed her to be nice to everyone, including M, but to know that she needs to do the right thing, always, and not follow along if she sees M behaving inappropriately. That whether or not M likes her bears no consequence on her life.

God, I hope it sticks.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fail Kitchen: Blooming Onion COOKING FAIL

Next episode of Fail Kitchen. Done. Blooming Onion fail. Watch out for hot oil and water, and renegade ketchup.


How to Make a Career Out of Freelance Writing - Guest Post

So, I'm a mom first, but very much a writer second, and sometimes I make money at this, and sometimes I don't. Kristen Duvall has actually gone nose-to-grindstone with the freelance, and through hard work and persistence, well, she's making it work. If you'd like to give it a try (which I recommend), she's got some amazing tips here for the beginner and the advanced alike.


First of all, I never set out to make a living as a freelance writer. That all happened by accident. In fact, I have a graduate degree in real estate development, not English or journalism. I have always loved writing, but it seemed like an impossible dream so I went for the more “practical” path.

But then things changed. I won't go into details, it's not important. But desperation will lead you to do anything to pay the bills... and for me, that anything happened to be writing. Not I'm no expert on the subject, and I hate to jinx myself by bragging too much... but I have been able to make a decent amount living from writing and I can say, it's not impossible. Heck, I don't even consider myself that great of a writer... I think I'm decent enough, and I put out work I'm happy with. I have one book of short stories published, and I have a few publishing credits to my name, but I'm by no means as good as many writers out there. So if I can do it, so can you, trust me.

Many people look at websites like The Huffington Post, and when they realize many of those don't pay their writers, it can get pretty discouraging. Of course, the HuffPo is great for exposure... but exposure won't pay the bills. So what do you do when you need to pay the bills, and you can't wait for the exposure to pay off?

You freelance.

I'm here to answer a few questions about freelancing, and hopefully offer some tips that'll help those of you interested in getting into as well. It's easy to get discouraged when you see big journals who won't pay for your time, or clients who expect you to work for pennies on the dollar, but it doesn't have to be that way.

So first off, how did I break into the freelance market?

I happened to know someone who was writing for a celebrity gossip site and she hooked me up. The job paid $10 an article and I was expected to write two articles a day, every single day. At first, it was a slow process and I was frustrated... $20 a day for a day's work? But I had no other choice and it was my only income at the time, so I stuck with it. Before I knew it, I wrote faster and faster articles so I could take on additional work.

Now, I know not everyone knows someone who can get them into a job like that. My advice to you is to sign up for or any number of websites devoted to freelancing. I specify Elance simply because that's what I experience in. Sure, there are jobs that pay nothing and expect a lot of work. Skip over those. Those people aren't looking for quality writers, they're hoping to get something for nothing. Not worth your time to stress about them. However, if a job sounds interesting and relevant to you, apply with what you'd be willing to do the work for anyway. You may be surprised and get the job at the higher rate... or you may not. But it never hurts to try, right? It costs nothing to apply. 

There are decent clients on Elance however. Yes, you need samples. And yes, having a blog helps. But one other way to nab jobs is to build up your reputation on the site. That means, find some small projects that pay $20-30 or so and apply for those. In my case, I wrote a Christian romance short story (I'm not Christian nor am I a romance writer, I write horror, but hey, I did it). It paid $30. Easy peasy. I also worked on another project writing content for an app, and because of how quick it was for me to do, it came out to about $60 an hour in the end.

Now, I get invited to several jobs a day. Some are terrible, while others are actually really, really good.

And I've been doing this full-time since January. That's it.

But writing job boards aren't the only way to find work either.  I found one regular writing job by searching for “writing jobs”. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? I was bored and figured nothing would turn up... but not only did I find the job, I got hired at a very decent rate. I get paid more than double what I was making on the celebrity gossip site per article now. And from here, I'm applying to more jobs, some of them full-time, some of them not. I've decided my goal is to be an editor one day, or perhaps just find a full-time writing gig. The jobs are out there... they require experience, sure... but that's what I'm doing right now. Building up the experience, bit by bit, while paying my bills.

Some tips I've learned from my experiences...

1) If a job says they'll test you out at a lower rate and then raise it to something really, really good? Likely they won't hire you back. How do I know? Experience. Some of them don't even bother to leave positive feedback.

2) With Elance, it helps to have a paid account. It's $10 a month, but you can see what others are bidding so you can price yourself accordingly on the jobs you really want, and you get more connects per month to apply for more jobs and to also provide another benefit that I'll mention next.

3) If it's a job you really want, use the extra connects to sponsor your post. It will be placed on top (only four proposals are placed on top). The good clients get a ton of proposals, so make yours stand out by being on top. Also, it shows you're really serious about the gig too. I find I'm more likely to get a job if I sponsor my proposal. And with 120 connects, I can afford the 4 connects it takes to do so.

4) Get better at writing FAST. Currently, I've been known to write 10,000-12,000 words in a day when I need to (and for me, it's about a 5-6 hour day with breaks now). The more you can write, the more money you can bring in.

5) Be down with ghostwriting. Sure, it sucks to write fiction and not have the world know it's yours... but I tend to get paid more for my fiction by ghostwriting than I do if I publish, at least for now as an unknown. I actually make more money writing fiction than nonfiction, and even when I have to write a genre that isn't my favorite, I still have a ton of fun. And I get paid for it, so double yay.

6) Don't assume that just because you're not an expert on something, you can't write about it. That's what research is for. I couldn't care less about celebrity gossip, and I avoid reading about the spoiled, pampered elite as much as possible because their antics annoy me... but when it came down to getting paid for it... I did what I had to do and still enjoyed it over  anything else I could be doing at the time.

Now here are the pitfalls I've personally experienced.

1) Procrastination is always on the horizon. You know you can write fast, you have all the time in the world, so why not play some Candy Crush, just for a few minutes. Oh, and you forgot to send an e-mail to so and so, that'll only take a minute. Gosh, I'm so tired, my brain can't possibly write... It might be time to nap. Napping on the job is too easy when you're freelancing, trust me. This can lead to so many problems... If your life is anything like mine, unexpected issues always crop up. I get sick. I have guests who show up at the last minute. You run over a screwdriver on a quick trip to the grocery store and end up losing an entire day of writing the day before a deadline. You name it, it can (and does happen). I speak from personal experience.

2) It's unstable. One month, I rake in the dough. I get several high paying jobs and it feels too easy. The next month? Nothing. It's scary when you live month-to-month and don't have a guaranteed paycheck which is why I have a part-time job at a bookstore... just in case. I live in Southern California where my rent is ridiculously high, so I take guaranteed money where I can get it. It wouldn't hurt to work part-time while trying to get off the ground.

But it can be possible to make a living off it. Sure, you don't always get to write what you want to write (err like romance for me, but I've come to enjoy it), but there's something about being paid, and being paid well, for your writing that satisfies me like no other. It's not for everyone, and if you're the type of writer who needs to be inspired to write, well... it's probably not for you. You can't wait to be inspired or work through writer's block when you have a deadline on the line. But for me, I've learned that there's no such thing as writer's block... it's just needing to push myself to sit down and write. What better motivator than a deadline and a client willing to pay you for your work?

And besides, it was either that or find some lousy desk job that made me hate my life day in and day out again like I had before... One where I dreaded going into work everyday. I was chronically depressed, always wishing I had more time to write or at least do something I enjoyed. I have that now. Sure, there are pitfalls like the pay being unstable, but after being fired from a secure job, and then watching my boyfriend get fired from a job he had for 13 years (neither of us were given a reason), I've come to realize that nothing is stable in life... Not even the job we've dedicated our lives to.

And personally speaking, given the choice between a mind-numbing job staring at spreadsheets all day, I'd rather write.

If this sounds like you, it I say go for it. If you can write on command, write content that isn't always your cup-of-tea, then go for it. Perhaps start out small and keep your day job if you want to, but look into sites that are hiring for content writers. Maybe they aren't huge like HuffPo, but many sites do pay for content... and they pay fairly well too.

Trust me when I say it can be done. 


Monday, May 19, 2014

Recipe Monday - Praline Brownies

These start from a box, but it's a great add-on to make them a bit more special.

1 box (21.5 oz. size) fudge brownie mix
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Make brownies according to box and pour into 9x13 pan.

Put it in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Now, combine brown sugar, butter and remaining pecans in small bowl, and pour it over half-cooked batter.

Bake the whole thing for another 15 minutes and you're done!


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Moment of the Week - Regular Days

Instead of a moment this week, here's a collection of pictures that depict a normal week.

We do homework.

We go to church (although this is new).

We eat ice cream.

Draw family portraits.

Take naps.

Wash the car.

Give presents.

Frost cupcakes.

Pretend to get married.

And climb all the fences.

It's a good life.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Kindergarten Kids - On Parenting Books


The twin that is usually the more reasonable twin has been acting out in a big way this past week. As always happens after they've been behaved for a stint, the sudden pushbacks, non-stop attitude, and tantrums throw me off-guard and I immediately forget that we just had three months of normalcy. I immediately think, Oh, God. What am I doing wrong.

And with that thought comes the parenting books, with that thought comes the Internet searches. Because I want this to stop and I feel the need to change my behavior to make it stop. I automatically discount growing and learning, and want the torture to cease.

This time around, I chose to look into Calm Parenting. Because I am NOT a calm parent. I do yell. When they're behaving, this is not a big deal. And when they've been misbehaving for a week, it's actually also not a big deal because I've acclimated to the current normal. But during the switch from good behavior to bad, all of a sudden, I'm yelling all the time. Because I'm flustered and don't know what to do, and what the hell is even happening?

And of course, I want to not yell all day.

But, it turns out, calm parenting may not be for me.

Because I simply cannot do it. At least not all in all at once.


As with anything, you have to take what you can use and leave the rest.

I absolutely cannot leave my children's lives and decisions in their own hands, allowing them to "discover their authentic selves, all by themselves." I will discipline my kids. The books say this won't allow them to learn to self-discipline, but I disagree. At this age, they CANNOT self-discipline and it is unfair to ask them to do so with no barometer in place. Right now, I'm still them and they're still me in their eyes. Therefore, I am their SELF-discipline. If I am loving and keep the emphasis on the actions not the person, they will learn which behaviors they need to self-monitor at a later time.

These books and articles I've read encourage "not pushing your agenda or ego" on your child, and allowing them full space to live their own lives. At three? That's bordering on cruel to the kid, I think. Talk about confusion. They're not ready! That's why parents are there, no? To help a child mold her internal monologue so that she actually has something to fall back on that has been consistently presented to her. We are the inner core, we are the voice, we are the moral values. To NOT be that is to ask your child to parent herself at a really young age.

There's being empathetic and not bullying and making your child feel heard and respected, but that can all be done within the boundaries we set in our home.


And I've got a whole other post planned about the "example dialogues" these pieces present. Oh. My. God. Stop.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ask a Cleaning Lady - What NOT to Use to Clean your House

Over at Smibbo, our resident cleaning lady has a few choice words to say about a few choice soaps. After giving us a rundown about how the stuff even works, that is. I have never been so enlightened about cleaning before, and I'm so lucky she agreed to share her knowledge bombs with me.


What not to use:
Murphy’s Oil Soap

Do not use Murphy’s on your hardwood floors or your wood furniture. Just don’t. If you are confused as to why, just look at the label. This is soap, made from oil. Oil that does not mix entirely with water (because its in soap, not detergent or solvent) So whenever you use soap (and I’ve ranted against soap use in the shower/bath) you leave behind a kind of weird sort of oily residue that may or may not also contain dirt, depending on how exactly you mixed your solution. Soap does not actually strip oil very well. It will dissolve some fats, especially fats that have been contaminated with dirt but overall, soap is a very ineffective and inefficient cleaner for most surfaces. Oil based soap even more so. (by the way, Dr Bronners is a soap. It’s an oil-based soap but because of other ingredients, its actually more effective at cleaning than most oil-based soaps. but that’s not saying a whole lot)

Wood is a natural surface but in the vast majority of cases, wood isn’t in its natural state when it is a household object of any use. Wood is almost always coated in either paint or some type of varnish/urethane. The coating of wood protects the wood from superficial damage over time from sun, humidity and dirt. So when you are cleaning your floors or your furniture or bookshelves you are usually not cleaning wood. You are cleaning urethane or paint. If you use soap, especially an oil-based soap, you are leaving a residue on the surface that might still contain particles of dirt.

Now, what do you think happens over time as you use oil-based soap? It builds up. On your shiny urethane or painted surface. It builds up with oil and often smears of dirt too. Because, really, oil and water only mix so well, and most of the time people use too much soap anyway. The reason there are directions for mixing things like Murphy’s is because the soap needs to attach to water in order to do its job and then leave. If there is too much soap, there will not be enough water to carry the excess soap away. Soap already leaves a bit of oil behind anyway but when you do not mix it properly (and it must be mixed in blazing hot water to really work) you not only leave oil behind, you leave soap too. Sticky, sticky soap.

Obviously, if you use too much water, you will not get the dirt to vacate the premises and you are more or less wasting soap and putting water on your nice wood floor. Not good. So if you ARE using Murphys or Dr Bronners or any other soap-based cleaner, always be sure to mix it exactly according to directions (I usually skimp a tad on the soap anyway) but the only time you should be using soap-based cleaners for your house is if you need to scrub stone, brick or certain kinds of tile.

In any case, stop using Murphy’s or ANY oil soap for your finished wood. IF you have bare wood and are interested in oiling or waxing it, Murphys can possibly clean it a bit between stripping sessions but its not really necessary then either.

What you should use instead:

To clean a hardwood floor, figure out if you have pre-formed laminate sub flooring or just urethaned wood. Pre-formed laminate can only be cleaned by solvent-based cleaners. Windex, Clean-up, even very watered down automatic dishwashing detergent will do the trick. But really all you need is some vinegar and water. Laminate floor doesn’t realy get a lot of dirt embedded in it. Because it doesn’t get pits and micro-cracks like urethane does, dirt mostly vacuums away. Anything left behind can be wiped with a soft cloth and some glass or all-purpose surface cleaner. Or, vinegar and water.

A solvent based cleaner will NOT build up and it will NOT dull over time. Unless you are really grinding stuff into your floor, whacking it with metal objects (don’t laugh, I know people who practice their throwing star technique over their laminate flooring… or sword fights) or deliberately scoring it with a key, there’s no reason to believe you need anything more than a basic wipe down of your floor. If you HAVE used an oil-based cleaner, I’m sure you noticed the dulling that resulted. If you are one of the unlucky people who learned all this the hard way there is nothing to be done except go to HD and buy some laminate floor stripper and redo the finish. You’ll end up spending a pretty penny (stripper, cleaner, refinisher) but once you do it, you should be golden for a while. And I know you won’t make that mistake again. Learn from this my friends; learn.

Now, if you have a urethaned floor, you can also use solvent based cleaners to avoid the build up and dulling. However, urethane decomposes over time and ends up with cracks and pits and peeling which means things can get under the urethane and possibly in the wood itself. That is to say, urethaned wood can, over time, be progressively harder to keep clean. That’s when you might want to OCCASIONALLY use a detergent to clean it. You can even scrub it. However, HOWEVER, the problem is that any water you put on the floor will actually speed the degradation of the urethane. The longer the water is on the floor the more it will compromise the urethane. So if you’ve really got some serious dirt to battle, I still recommend avoiding detergent until you know for sure that nothing else will get it out. You can try dry cleaners like borax or baking soda. Sprinkle it on, rub it in a bit then sweep and vacuum it out. Wipe with a DAMP cloth then immediately dry. You can try solvent-based cleaners without any water – glass cleaner, counter cleaners, anything that smells like petrol. Just be sure to wipe it dry.

IF YOU MUST mop your urethaned floor, then be assiduous. Make sure your detergent solution is properly mixed (although the less detergent, the better) and that you are wiping all the excess water off in a timely fashion. This is tedious and back-breaking labor. If you insist on doing it this way, you are probably one of those stubborn old-fashioned people who thinks Donna Reed was the ultimate in womanhood (and I hate to burst your bubble but that perky happy always perfect housewife thing she did was an ACT. She was probably a really sweet lady but she was also an actress. Nobody could be Donna Reed in real life, not even Donna Reed) OR you are someone who has a cruel brain that convinces you the only way to clean something is to torture your body. (modern life has given us so many advances, please give them a try)

But for all that is holy in this world, if you love your beautiful wood floor, DO NOT use Murphy’s Oil Soap (or any oil based soap) to clean it!! EVER.

(if you still are skeptical, peruse the authorities: Flooring companies or ask the experts and consumers)

BONUS TIP: NEVER USE: Swiffer (wet-jet spray)

Swiffer is an evil evil thing and must never be used.

I have used a lot of cleaning products during my time. I’ve learned a lot about the physics and chemistry of cleaning. To this day, I do not understand what Swiffer’s wet-jet spray is. Is it a solvent? Is it a soap? Is it a detergent? Is it some combination?

Its’ impossible to tell because it has every bad quality of every one of those things and none of the good. I’ve seen floors that have been wet-jetted beyond recognition. Globbed on, nearly transparent swirls that have clear swipe marks and still contain bits of dirt and detritus. I have gotten on my knees and actually tried to figure out what in blazes goes on when this hellacious compound is applied as directed. I have not made any discoveries of note. All I can do is guess. Therefore, I am certain wet-jet spray is made of shellac, acid and probably the ground up tails of kittens. It leaves a bizarre sort-of shiny glaze wherever it goes. That shiny glaze can build up with only three applications (depending on how evenly you spread it) but it can also leave a murky dull coating that contains fur and dirt and old food that you swear you never ate and it will do both at the same time.

I have never seen a floor that was actually cleaned by using a wet-jet spray device. Never. I’ve spent hours stripping that ghastly chemical soup off of a perfectly nice floor using only dishwashing detergent. I don’t know what effect wet-jet spray has on the floor over time and honestly I don’t want to know. I only know that the madness must stop. Don’t use it. Ever. On anything. Just don’t. Now that you know how to keep your wood floor clean, beautiful AND safe, you can go forth and Swiffer no more, my friend.


Visit Smibbo for more cleaning tips and stories that will make your life easier and more enjoyable!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Double Trouble in Surrogacy -- Guest Post

Today, Rhy from Welcoming a Heartbeat is here to talk about one particular bump on her path to surrogacy pregnancy and birth. They're having twins, and I know, honestly, exactly what she means. I've totally been there.


Multiple birth is a side effect of IVF and ART, it's not a goal. We knew that by agreeing to transfer two embryos, we were risking our surrogate getting pregnant with twins. It was a risk we felt compelled to take. After three years of trying, and after experiencing everything from failed cycles to surrogacy fraud, it was one of the few things we could do to increase our chances of actually taking home a baby.

When Kim called to tell me our surrogate was pregnant, I was so excited I could hardly breathe. Seeing the results of the beta hcg test made it clear that twins were a possibility. It was confirmed by ultrasound two weeks later.

We're thrilled. We feel blessed. And the next person who squeals "OMG TWINS ARE SOOOO CYUUUUUUUTE" is going to get a slap upside their damn fool heads.

Having twins didn't double my worry for our surrogate and our babies…. it increased it by a factor of ten.

A twin pregnancy catapulted our surrogate from low to high risk. Women who are pregnant with twins are more likely to experience hyperemesis gravid arum, gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia. Almost sixty percent of twins are delivered prematurely, and can experience life time complications from their low birth weight and preterm birth.

Drew and I are intimately familiar with the reality of caring for a medically fragile child. We know that no matter what happens we will be able to care for our children. We're confident that our surrogate and doctor are going to do everything possible to care for our babies to give them the absolute best chance for a healthy start.

Still. Twins are scary.

When a couple on Babble wrote about being "pissed" and "terrified" at the thought of having twins, I was one of the people who thought, "Cry me a river, you ungrateful jerks."

That was before I was in their shoes.

Don't get me wrong. both of my babies are very much loved and wanted. I'm thrilled that after years of pain and heartbreak, we're finally pregnant. I am overjoyed in fact.

But that joy is tempered by the sobering reality that twins are higher risk on every level. I'm terrified that my babies will be born too soon and too small. I worry about intrauterine growth retardation, lung maturity, placental abruption, prematurity, brain bleeds, cerebral palsy, and neurodevelopmental issues.

Loving my babies doesn't mean pretending that this is going to be easy. In fact, it's because I love them so much that I'm so worried.

I believe strongly in responding quickly to my baby's needs. I'm going to do my absolute best to continue to do that. We're fortunate to have lots of friends and family to help, but at two in the morning there will be one of me and two of them. Remembering the sleep deprivation of the newborn stage and multiplying it by two has me wondering just how much caffeine one person can drink before overdosing. Yesterday, while sorting laundry it hit me it's not double the laundry, it's probably tripling laundry when you count me needing to change clothes after being vomited on by two instead of one. As I buckled Q into his carseat this morning, that not only will I be buckling three kids into carseats this winter, I'll need to figure out how to do the grocery shopping with two infants and a six year old who still rides in the cart. (I wonder if the store would let me hitch a cart to one of their electric chair things?)

There may be some things that we won't be able to afford to do for two. I feel guilty they will have to share me with one another from their very first breath. I worry that people may stereotype one of them as the "good twin" and the other as the "bad twin."

When I had my first child almost thirty years ago, being a good parent meant that you kept them reasonably clean, well fed and relatively well behaved. Now it seems like parenting is an extreme sport where anything less than perfection is failure.

There are plenty of things for me to be anxious over in the next few months. Most of them are things I can't control. I can't control whether our surrogate develops complications or when the twins are born.

What I can do is accept the fact that parenting doesn't have to be a pass fail proposition. Maybe the twins will do just fine with a high mileage, slightly frazzled mom who is a little neurotic. Rather than shooting for "bestest mommy ever" I'll go for the more achievable and infinitely less stressful, "good enough mom who loves you all the same."


Don't forget to visit Welcoming a Heartbeat for more on this incredible journey.


Wall Decals; An Innovative Gift for Loved Ones -- Guest Post

Yesterday, I visited my friend, Lisa, and found that she bought some lovely wall decals to decorate her son’s room for his 11th birthday.

When entering into her house, the first thing that caught my eyes were the huge flowers wall decal in her living room. They looked so awesome on the wall and seemed like real flowers. The beautiful color instantly lightened the whole room and gave more freshness and vitality. Then Lisa told me that they were wall art stickers, (click here) and that she also bought one for her son as a gift.

She showed me around her son’s room, where there was a lovely growth chart wall decal. It was a giraffe whose neck serves as the height indicator. The wall decal was so cute that her son loved it as a gift! And of course, now the parents can mark the growing of their son through this lovely animal decal on the wall.

After I looked into the stickers, I found that my favorite of this kind of new interior decoration was wall quote stickers (click here). Like this one:

The quote wall art stickers can be said by the great figures, or just a saying of your grandma. You can make them to order according to your preference. I think they are really, really good gifts for families and friends.



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