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Rantings of a Crazed Soccer Mom
Monday, 21 July 2008
The Wisdom Of A Half Century Plus Two Years

Last month I turned 52 and I bought myself a tiara. I've always wanted to wear a tiara ever since the first time my mother let me stay up to watch the Miss America Pageant. I'm pretty sure that no one's going to give me a tiara, so I figured it was a good time to go buy one.

Which I did, along with a matching rhinestone necklace. And thus a birthday tradition was born. It has now become the Coveted Birthday Tiara and Matching Precious Sklinkles of Joy Necklace.

I was photographed wearing them and then wrote down what little wisdom I've gained in 52 years. Then I boxed it up and sent it to my mother, who will do the same, then box it up and send it to my sister Nancy. And so on. We will start our own little blog so we can all see each other's answers.



Here's what it's taken me 52 years to learn:

1) When a torrential downpour accompanied by a cold North wind during a camping trip to the Outer Banks forced me to spend 36 hours in a wet sleeping bag, I've learned to always appreciate being warm and dry.

2) Old habits die hard and even then, there are some that have amazing recuperative powers.

3) Having found myself at a point where I have nothing to worry about, I spend an awful lot of time worrying about nothing.

4) Money can't buy happiness and poverty doesn't necessarily bring despair, but you sure do sleep better when you are debt free with money in the bank.

5) Like it or not, you will turn into your mother sooner or later. And you won't mind it nearly as much as you thought you would.

6) A lot of things you've always wanted are over-rated. But having a baby isn't.

7) As a lifelong cat person, I have since learned to treasure the love and loyalty of a good dog. Unlike husbands and surly 12 year olds, dogs are always glad to see you no matter how bad their own day has been.

8) Getting a book published does not change your life nearly as much as you expect it to.

9) It's good to feel useful, and there's nothing more useful than helping people who really need your help.

10) Bad things will happen to you or people you love for no reason. But there will always be family, friends and even strangers who will get you through.

11) Marriage is not like dating. It's like going into business with a drinking buddy. You still get to have a beer together once in a while, but you have to work together to make sure the bills are paid, the kids are fed, the laundry done and the house cleaned at least once in a while. The purpose of dating is to have fun and impress the other person. Once you're married, you find having fun becomes a low priority and nobody's impressed any more.

12) On a cold winter night, it's nice to have a familiar warm body to snuggle up to. Even if he snores. Even if you snore.


Posted by judy5cents at 1:09 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 11:22 AM EDT
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Monday, 7 July 2008
I Like To Move It, Move It!!

 

I'm still on a runner's high. Instead of sleeping in on Saturday, I ran the Tri-Span 5K/10K along with a few hundred other folks.  Seeing as how I'm pretty sure my 52 year old knees can't handle 6.4 miles off running, I opted for the 5K.

I finished the race with a time of 37:53. My goal was 1) to run the entire race without stopping to walk, which I did, and 2) not to come in last, which I also managed to pull off, finishing 72nd out of 92 females, not to mention second in the 50-54 age group Only 16 seconds separated me from the first place finisher, so if I'd pushed a little harder, I could have won. How about that?

What's so cool, is that I was one of those non-athletic lumps who was always chosen last for team sports and avoided exercise like the plague. Funny how age has a way of leveling things out. Now I'm the fit one, and all those 1970s gym class heroes are all probably sitting on the couch, eating chips and watching cable.

So a shout-out to all you fifty-somethings, get off the couch and move. It doesn't take that long to get up to running a 5K (3.2 miles) and you're a winner just by showing up and finishing.


Posted by judy5cents at 1:35 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 3 June 2008
I Got A Book, You Got A Book, Big F***ing Deal
Mood:  don't ask

Sometimes I think authors (myself included) can be pretty dense when it comes to marketing, at least in our efforts on social networking websites. It seems like whenever I get a friend request it's from another writer. When I get a comment, it's from a writer talking up his or her latest release. On Goodreads, when I get a book recommendation, more often than not, it was sent by the book's author.

I've never bought any of their books. I've never even gone to the library and borrowed their books. There are so many requests for my attention, it's like the junk mail I barely glance at before throwing in the recycling bin.

Why do authors seek out other authors when trying to promote themselves? We're all far more interested in selling our own books than buying someone else's. Granted, there is a benefit in networking with other authors, but sending out announcements of book signings and favorable reviews is not networking. It's little more than an annoyance.

Even though I'm doing it sporadically and ineptly, my goal is to seek out and interest readers. I'm looking for the people who were smart enough never to start that book that everyone has lurking within them, the ones who are content to read other people's stories rather than write their own.

If you're a writer who's discovered a new way to get in touch with readers, please let me know. If you're just letting me know that the latest book in your paranormal romance vampire detective series has just been released, go ahead and delete me.


Posted by judy5cents at 6:51 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Leaving The Children Behind

At this moment my 12 year old daughter is sweating through the EOG tests, otherwise known as the dreaded End Of Grade tests. She's been taking them since she was in the third grade and it seems like every year the pressure increases.

I've never put much faith in standardized testing.  In another lifetime, I trained to be a teacher and one of the things I learned is that tests are only as good as the people who put them together.  Coming up with test questions that measure the required skills and knowledge of any given grade level is a difficult task. 

For example, back when she was in third grade, my daughter brought home an EOG practice test to work on. She was stumped by this question:

Where would you go to find Treasure Island in the library?

The answer was the card catalog.

Now, my daughter was born in 1995. She's never seen a card catalog as they were all replaced by computers before she was born. I pointed this out to her teacher, who thanked me and said that I shouldn't worry, this question wouldn't be on the real test. Since the test is kept secret, I have no way of knowing that there aren't more questions to which the children of the 21st century can't possibly answer.

The whole idea of holding schools "accountable" by measuring students' progress with a one-size-fits-all test is ludicrous. Treating schools like corporations where the best organizations survive and the low performers fall by the wayside is also ludicrous.

When I saw presidential candidate Barack Obama last month, he said that holding schools accountable was a good idea, but instead of punishing the low performing schools, we needed to give them whatever they needed to improve.

My daughter will be glad when the tests are over, as will I. Someday I hope we'll come up with a system for measuring progress that doesn't involve number 2 pencils and filling in grids. 


Posted by judy5cents at 8:03 AM EDT
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Monday, 31 March 2008
No Longer The Yellow Ribbon Capital Of The World


 

The yellow ribbons will be taken down in Batavia, Ohio. After four years, missing Batavia soldier Matt Maupin will be coming home. Sadly, it will be in a flag draped coffin, but he’s coming home.  Yesterday an Army general told Keith and Carolyn Maupin that troops had recovered a body in Iraq and that DNA tests confirmed the body was their son’s.

You probably have forgotten, it has been four years since Matt Maupin was all over the news. He was the soldier captured by insurgents in Baghdad.  Al-Jazeera broadcast video of him sitting on the floor held at gunpoint by five masked men. Later a grainy video of an American soldier executed by firing squad was also released, but officials said it was impossible to identify the soldier who was shot.

The news media went on to other stories since 2004, but the Maupins and the entire town of Batavia waited for Matt to come home.  There were yellow ribbons on every parking meter on Main Street and most of the houses. Week after week the Maupin family was on every church’s prayer list.  Through the years, the ribbons became bedraggled and shabby looking, and have been replaced a few times since then. But the prayers never stopped.

This is not the way anyone wanted this to end. But at least the Maupins have some certainty now. They can stop the vigil they’ve been holding for the last four years and begin the greiving . And maybe they’ll find a little peace at last.


Posted by judy5cents at 6:59 AM EDT
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Friday, 28 March 2008
Postcard Mania

Have you ever bought anything simply because someone sent you a postcard?

Hardly a day goes buy that I don’t get some kind of promotional postcard in the mail, offering me everything from pizza to carpet cleaning to the services of a competent, experienced realtor. These cards go directly to the recycling bin, destined for the Mixed Paper section of the local recycling station.

But they must work, otherwise people wouldn’t send them to me.

Postcards are a favorite topic of authors. I don’t know why they’re considered such an effective marketing tool. Even using a reasonably priced service like Vistaprint, it will cost around $120 to send out two hundred postcards. If you’re lucky and you get a 2.6 % response rate, you sell four books, not nearly enough to cover the cost of the mailings. Of course, response is a relative term. Most likely, the response means that 2.6% of those people will go to your website, say "Oh, isn’t that interesting?" and not buy anything.

I’ve received a number of postcards announcing upcoming books by authors I’ve never heard of, and I’ve never bought a single one. Like most people, I will read a book because I heard something good about it. Either someone I know recommended it or I heard a review of it on the radio. Hearing or reading interviews with the author also has motivated me to buy a book.

Marketing is a pretty tricky business. I can’t begin to say what works and what’s a waste of time and money. I have heard that whatever you do,only ten percent of it pays off. The problem is, you never know which ten percent. I know that to sell my book, I need to somehow bring it to the attention of prospective readers in a way that’s interesting and not irritating. The trick is finding out what among the millions of marketing strategies out there accomplishes that feat.

Anyway, I’m prety sure it’s not the postcards.


Posted by judy5cents at 11:22 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 11 March 2008
But It Still Resonates...
Anyone been following the Margaret Seltzer story? The woman who grew up in affluent Sherman Oaks CA, graduated from a private high school, and managed to pass herself off as an LA gang member? Her publisher is shocked, shocked to discover she made it all up. Apparently all they know about gang life in Los Angeles is what they've read in the New York Times and seen in HBO documentaries.

Of course, authors of memoirs have always been allowed to play fast and loose with the truth. Mostly because the truth needs to be condensed, fast forwarded and spiced up. Characters are merged, actions are embellished to make for a better story and all the slow moiving, boring parts are left out. And since it's the author's point of view, it's supposed to be subjective. No one expects a memoir to be as faithful to actual events as say, a history book or biography would be.

The forbearance that memoir writers have been given as far as accuracy goes, has paved the way for the total fabrications now in the news. Ms. Seltzer was lucky enough to have an audience who wasn't savvy enough to realize her story had huge holes in it. Drug dealers and gang members in South LA generally don't buy New York Times Best Sellers, so there were no "experts" to vet her story. The people she wrote about were all conveniently dead, in prison or lost.

I was hoping that after the problems presented by James ("A Million Little Lies") Frey, memoirs would come under more scrutiny. But apparently we've learned nothing. Publishers and readers are still gullible enough to believe a few brazen middle class white folks have walked on the wild side and lived to tell about it. When people say "Well, why didn't they write it as a novel?" the answer is, these stories have been done to death in fiction. What makes the story about the young white girl descending into a life of crime interesting is believing that it really happened. We want to read a first hand account of life on the street, not a novel about what someone thinks it might be like.

I've thought about writing a memoir, but for now I'll stick to mystery. It's so much easier. I don't have the stamina to pass myself off as a character in my own books. I've never been a very good liar and I'm sure I'd never be able to keep my stories straight.

Still, every time these fakers are exposed, it always makes me wonder if anyone's gotten away with it. I mean, these are just the ones who got caught. Could there be someone out there living a lie and getting paid for it? Nice work if you can get it.

Posted by judy5cents at 3:55 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 11:25 AM EDT
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Friday, 7 March 2008
The Stump Is A Chump

A bit of background here. I belong to an online community called Goodreads which is place where readers discuss books. We have some lively conversations, especially in the group called "Books I Loathed."

One of the books that came up was a children's book by Shel Silverstein called The Giving Tree.  Depending on your point of view, it's a poignant parable of unconditional love, or the toxic relationship between a narcissistic male and a pathetic self-destructive female.

Here's the story. Once there was a tree who loved a little boy. He would come and play in her branches and sleep under her shade. Then he began taking. He wants to buy a car and she gives him her apples to sell. He wants a house and she gives him her trunk and branches for wood. At the end of the book, he's an old man, she's a stump. All he wants to do is sit and rest and she offers herself to sit on. And she's happy.

The first time I heard it, I thought "My God, the tree dies! She's reduced to nothing but a stump and she's happy that the boy is sitting on her!" I've always seen it as the relationship between a selfish man and a compulsively giving woman, but one member of the group saw it as a mother and child relationship.

Now Shel Silverstein has written some wonderful stuff for children, like his poetry books Where The Sidewalk Ends and A Light In The Attic. I love the poem "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout" about the disatrous results of not taking the garbage out. A far more practical moral than giving so much that you're not even you any more.

I never read this book to my daughter. I much preferred Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are where Max escapes his time-out by going to the land of the Wild Things where he's made King of The Wild Things and stays until he gets hungry and decides to go back where someone loved him best of all.

And his supper was still hot.


Posted by judy5cents at 10:55 AM EST
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Tuesday, 4 March 2008
Ripped From The Headlines!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not exactly.

But I am in the position of being able to exploit a current news story to sell a book that was written five years ago. (Yes, the wheels of publication do run slowly.)

Yesterday, an eco-terrorist group called the Earth Liberation Front (using the adorable acronym ELF) set fire to three multi-million dollar mansions in a Seattle suburb. Fortunately, the houses were unoccupied and no one was hurt or killed. Of course, ELF prides itself on never harming a living being, only property.

In my book Tree Huggers, a house very much like the luxury homes in Seattle is burned to the ground, supposedly by an ecoterrorist group very much like ELF. However, there are people in this house, and they die.

Those of us who write murder mysteries occasionally find ourselves having written books that parallel real-life cases purely by coincidence. Yes, we like having the publicity, but there's a downside. Every murder victim leaves a family and they deserve to be treated with respect and sympathy, not to have their pain used to sell more books.

I know those developers must be feeling a great deal of pain at the loss of their houses, but they also have insurance. They'll get over it.

No, I am not condoning eco-terrorism (although I don't mourn the loss of another humoungous house built for people with more money than sense.) And I don't expect this story to make Tree Huggers a best-seller. But I am hoping that anyone who's interested in this story might enjoy reading a fictionalized account of this group.


Posted by judy5cents at 4:32 PM EST
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Ripped From The Headlines!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not exactly.

But I am in the position of being able to exploit a current news story to sell a book that was written five years ago. (Yes, the wheels of publication do run slowly.)

Yesterday, an eco-terrorist group called the Earth Liberation Front (using the adorable acronym ELF) set fire to three multi-million dollar mansions in a Seattle suburb. Fortunately, the houses were unoccupied and no one was hurt or killed. Of course, ELF prides itself on never harming a living being, only property.

In my book Tree Huggers, a house very much like the luxury homes in Seattle is burned to the ground, supposedly by an ecoterrorist group very much like ELF. However, there are people in this house, and they die.

Those of us who write murder mysteries occasionally find ourselves having written books that parallel real-life cases purely by coincidence. Yes, we like having the publicity, but there's a downside. Every murder victim leaves a family and they deserve to be treated with respect and sympathy, not to have their pain used to sell more books.

I know those developers must be feeling a great deal of pain at the loss of their houses, but they also have insurance. They'll get over it.

No, I am not condoning eco-terrorism (although I don't mourn the loss of another humoungous house built for people with more money than sense.) And I don't expect this story to make Tree Huggers a best-seller. But I am hoping that anyone who's interested in this story might enjoy reading a fictionalized account of this group.


Posted by judy5cents at 4:32 PM EST
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