Category Archives: 99 Days of Summer Blogging

What I Learned From Blogging Every Day for 99 Days (99/99)

99 Days of Summer Blogging FINISHED

Now that I’ve actually finished 99 Days of Summer Blogging, let me tell you a secret.

I didn’t really believe I would finish this.

And here we are, 99 posts (and 99 days) later.

I hesitate saying this project was hard because, really, when compared to other truly hard and difficult things that this life presents, writing a blog post for 99 days doesn’t even come close. NOT. EVEN.

Was it challenging?  Yes.  Frustrating?  Sometimes.

But hard?

What was hard was overcoming the self-doubt that plagues all of us.

This blog post is ridiculous, half-baked, nonsensical crap. 

Nobody’s going to care what I have to say about this. 

Is anyone even reading this? Is this thing even on?  Hello?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller? 

What blogging for 99 consecutive days taught me — and which I didn’t realize until very recently — was that it was training ground for other things I don’t think I can do.

Of course, like most bloggers, I was curious and interested in the numbers. Even though we often say we don’t care about the number of views our posts get, I’m betting more than a few of us really do.

Those of us who have been blogging for any length of time know that consistency is key. And in that respect, I think 99 Days helped increase my monthly readership. In January, there were 1,784 visits. By April, that had dropped to 1,380. The summer months saw a significant rebound:  June had 1,809 visits, July had 1,864, and there were 1,829 in August.  Average views per day stayed consistent with 60 views in both June and July and 59 in August.

I was curious to see which posts were the most popular. As it turns out, the posts that got the most views are also the ones I’m most proud of.

Below are all of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging posts, with the Top 10 most popular posts in larger type.

My inspiration for this project came from my friend and fellow Pittsburgh blogger Emily Levenson, who embarked on her own 100 Days of Blogging project earlier this year. I decided it would be fun to do the same. I jumped in with very little thought and even less preparation and I’m really glad I stuck with this until the end. And I’m especially glad that you did, too. Thank you, as always, for reading and commenting.  And don’t worry … I’m not going anywhere.

Besides, tomorrow’s post is already queued up, ready to go.

 

sunday salon/currently …one more day (98/99)

Sunday Salon banner

I confess: I’m ready for this summer to end.  I mean, I would be happy to keep this weather; cool mornings, sunny and warm (but not too warm) low-humidity days and evenings with a slight chill are as perfect as it gets in Pittsburgh. All that can stay. But this has been a long summer in a challenging year with a lot of Really Hard Stuff.  I’m trying to focus on the good things about this summer, instead of the disappointments and the struggles and the hard stuff.

The Boy’s four-week camp program went well and he’s mentioned wanting to return next year. The Girl got a partial-scholarship for a week-long teen writing camp and also had the chance to do a painting camp, also for a week. She met one of her best friends, who lives out of state, for breakfast.  The Girl went to a sleepover (in a tent outdoors — a first for her) and she was invited to spend a day at the pool with that same friend.

The Girl and I met Judy Blume and we enjoyed a young adult author event with local writers Jonathan Auxier, Nick Courage and Siobhan Vivian. Our family spent a couple days back in Philadelphia (where I also attended the Mid-Atlantic MRKH Conference) and we enjoyed a fun get-together with the Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh casts from 2015 and 2016.

So, yeah. Some good things among the really, really hard.

Blogging
In addition to one more day of summer, there’s also one day remaining of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project!  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m glad I did this (and I’m astounded that I stuck this out for the entire 99 days) but I am equally glad the end is here. I’m have some thoughts on this whole endeavor tomorrow or later this week.

Reading (Summer Reading Wrap-Up) …
Our library’s Summer Reading Program ended August 31 and my official tally was 21 books — which sounds impressive, but magazines also count. If one tallies only books, I’ve read eight. There’s a very good chance that I’ll hit nine by the end of tomorrow (because my personal Summer Reading Program goes from Memorial Day through Labor Day) and maybe I can find a short book to make it an even number. Here’s what I have so far, with one day to go:

LaRose, by Louise Erdrich
Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue, edited by Amy Ferris
Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub (published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/16/2016)
Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life, by Joan Chittister
Tales of An Accidental Genius, Stories by Simon Van Booy
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Reliance, Illinois, by Mary Volmer
Bright, Precious Days, by Jay McInerney

 

Reading (Currently) …
Leave MeAround lunchtime on Saturday I started Leave Me by Gayle Forman and by dinnertime I’d finished more than 150 pages. (I had a few hours to read while The Girl was at a library program.)  It’s a fast read. I’m loving the Pittsburgh setting — and Forman clearly knows this town extremely well, right down to the location of specific stores and the names of local holiday craft fairs.  This one is a review book, and several others will be following it. (Another reason I’m glad 99 Days of Summer Blogging is finished … more time for reading, which I’ve missed.)

Hope you’re having a good weekend!

 

 

Weekend Cooking: Home Cooking (97/99)

Weekend Cooking - New

A few weeks ago, our Weekend Cooking host extraordinaire Beth Fish Reads posted about food items that we make at home versus those bought in the store.  I’m on a two-fold quest to pare down our grocery bill as much as possible while trying to eat (and serve the family) less processed foods.

As I write this, I have a vegetarian taco meat mixture in the crockpot (lentils and quinoa) that I’m hoping will be an occasional replacement for Beyond Meat, which our family loves but (like most meat substitutes) is pricey. The recipe also called for taco seasoning, something I don’t typically use, but this recipe seemed like one that might benefit from it. Fortunately, the cookbook I’m using had one with all the spices I had on hand.

When thinking about what I currently make from scratch, I realized the list isn’t very extensive:

Guacamole – Mine isn’t real guac (like Beth Fish’s recipe) but instead just smashed avocado and tomato sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt. Since I’m the only person in the house who eats it, this works fine.

Vegetable Broth/Stock – I started doing this last winter, saving up scraps of vegetables and freezing them in a big bag. It’s especially easy in the crockpot — just dump in your bag of frozen veggies, add enough water to cover them, toss in a bay leaf or two and maybe some parsley, and cook it on low for the whole day. I think I let mine simmer for at least eight hours. Making broth is on my agenda this weekend so I can get a head start on all the soups awaiting us this fall.  (I tend to make a big pot on Sundays in autumn. One of my favorite things about this season is football on TV and a crockpot simmering away in the kitchen.)

Chicken Tenders – For the same price (or less) than a box of chicken tenders, you can make your own. They’re also much less processed. I coat mine with egg and breadcrumbs (with some parmesan cheese sprinkled in) and try to make enough to have leftovers during the week. That never happens because the kids always devour them.

Marinara Sauce – I haven’t made marinara sauce for awhile, but I need to do so more often. This recipe for making marinara sauce in the crockpot was one that we really liked.

Muffins – I’m not much of a baker, but I do like homemade muffins. More importantly, the kids do, too. Banana Chocolate Chip seem to be popular and there was a pumpkin muffin several years ago that was well-received. Our oven hasn’t been preheating properly and I’ve been putting off getting it looked at, especially since we don’t use it much during the summer months.  I’ve seen some recipes where you can bake quick breads and such in the crockpot using a small loaf pan, but that makes me nervous.  If you’ve tried that with good results, let me know.

Other items I’d like to start making include hummus, pancakes and egg muffins. There are probably many others but those are all I can think of right now. What about you?  What do you make from scratch versus buying at the store?

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #97 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

friday randomness

Sky - 9-2-2016Orange-pink puffs dotting the sky tonight, brighter and more vivid than my cell phone photo above.

It’s been a busy week — a big project at work that required much focus and attention to detail combined with a stress test — and now I’m more than ready for a three-day weekend. As usual, we don’t have much planned. The Husband has been getting into watching old movies and we just finished watching Bonnie and Clyde. Like most people, I knew the basic premise of the story but never saw the movie. (A bonus: the late Gene Wilder is in this one.)

What I am planning is as much reading as I can pack into these few days. I just received a review book for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A few more are on their way for another freelance assignment which I just landed this week and am thrilled about.

Also hoping to get at least one walk/run in. I’m attempting to do Couch to 5K, which deserves its own post.  I walked for a half hour on Thursday, including several very short (like 30 second) intervals of running.

One of my coworkers bought our entire office Chipotle for lunch today and I am now officially addicted to their burrito bowl and guacamole, which I’m sure I could live on for the rest of my life. Yes, I had never had Chipotle before today’s lunch. I live a very boring life.

Forget Donald Trump’s prognostication of taco trucks on every corner — just bring me Chipotle every single day.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #96 of 99 of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging posts. Almost there!

 

 

 

 

– I am hooked on The Piano Guys, whose music my cousin introduced to via Spotify. Most of my week at work was consumed by a pretty intense project and they were perfect

a few mini book reviews (95/99)

One of my purposes for doing this crazy 99 Days of Summer Blogging project was to try and clear out my extensive backlog of posts still in drafts.  I have — no lie — more than 200 such posts that need further development or a place in the trash bin.

There are quite a few sparse book reviews in those posts , some dating back as long as five years. I give those to you here, as mini reviews.

The Little SparkThe Little Spark: 30 Ways to Ignite Your Creativity, by Carrie Bloomston
C&T Publishing
128 pages
2014

Take some inspiration, a lot of pretty photographs, a few real-life stories, and a handful of reflective writing exercises and you have both a workbook and motivational guide to jump-start your creativity. Whether your creative urges involve crafty pursuits, writing, painting, cooking or something completely, uniquely your own, The Little Spark offers 30 suggestions of how to get started and sustain your passion.

The MaytreesThe Maytrees (audio), by Annie Dillard
Narrated by David Rasche
HarperAudio, 5 CDs
2007

“Falling in love, like having a baby, rubs against the current of our lives: separation, loss, and death. That is the joy of them.”

Love is the theme of this novel, which takes the reader to the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts and into the lives of poet Toby Maytree (referred to as simply Maytree throughout this story) and Lou Bigelow. The story spans several decades of the Maytrees’ marriage and how, over time, they change with it. The narrative felt disjointed at times, making for a confusing-at-times listen, but I liked the writing and David Rasche’s narration kept my attention.

The MiniaturistThe Miniaturist by Jessie Burton 
Ecco Press
2014
400 pages

I was sold on this by cover, which so perfectly captures the very essence of Jessie Burton’s debut novel, set in 1686 Amsterdam. Petronella (who goes by Nella) is 18 when she marries a wealthy merchant named Johannes Brandt.

After moving into his mansion, Nella quickly learns that this is a house of secrets. Johannes spends a lot of time either at work or in his study and isn’t very affectionate to Nella. Her stern and unwelcoming sister-in-law Marin is clearly the head of the household, which also consists of Cornelia and Otto, two odd servants. With its themes of feeling trapped and discovering one’s power – and what we do with that power — The Miniaturist is an engrossing read.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #95 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

State of the Heart

Pittsburghers are known for being incredibly friendly people.  It’s one of my favorite things about living in this area.

The downside of that is people here are chatty.  Really chatty.  And nebby as hell too. (That’s a colloquial term meaning that they love to find out all about your personal business.)

This phenomenon happens everywhere — not just the ‘Burgh — but it’s particularly acute in doctor’s offices. Nobody needs blathering bubble-headed bleached blondes (h/t Don Henley) on morning television in waiting rooms here because there’s no shortage of people waiting to entertain you with the minutiae of their medical history.  It’s why I always, always, always bring a book to every appointment I go to.

(That and because I cannot STAND handling magazines in public places. I’m no paranoid germaphobe, but oh my God, the idea of touching a magazine that sick people have had their paws on gives me the heebie-jeebies.)

So, yeah, I’m that person reading their book, making as little eye contact and conversation as possible. I’m an outlier among Yinzers. The Husband will disagree, but I am not a chatty or nebby person. I’ll smile and engage in pleasantries to be nice and because I know idle chit-chat is a stress-reliever for some and a way to combat the boredom of what sometimes is a long wait. And for the elderly, I understand these connections are sometimes a valued piece of social interaction.

Mind you, it’s not just the patients. Medical professionals, too, tend to be incredibly chatty. Again, I get it — customer service is what they do and you want them to be friendly and interested in you as a person and all that good stuff. Nothing wrong with this.

Except, well … I’m convinced I have some magnetic pull that attracts People Who Say Stupid Shit.

Case in point: I spent part of this morning in the cardiology lab at our local hospital for a scheduled stress test, my consolation prize for having a trifecta of high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and intermittent chest pains.

While I dreadmilled for 10 minutes, going faster and faster, one of the cardiac technicians would not shut the hell up. Maybe keeping me talking was intentional to exhaust every last bit of bit I had, but that didn’t stop her from going on about a new ice cream shop in Lawrenceville, a good 40 minutes away.

I KID YOU NOT.

I mean, I’m wearing more wires than an actor in The Sopranos, hooked up to machines, and we’re talking about flavors of fucking ICE CREAM, which is one of the main reasons I’m even in the damn cardiac lab at 8 a.m. (#JobSecurityForCardiologists, I hashtagged on Facebook.)

As my heart rate was “recovering,” she started telling me about her experience at a fairly well-known Pittsburgh attraction and its proprietor.

“He’s a bit of an oddity himself. A little Asperger-y, I think.  Very scripted. You might want to keep your kids away from him.”

Um.

Say what now?

DID SHE JUST SUGGEST I KEEP MY KIDS AWAY FROM SOMEONE WHO MAY HAVE ASPERGERS?

I may have glanced at my blood pressure on the heart monitor machine thing, since I was convinced I’d be watching my vital signs explode off the literal chart if I responded to this absurdity.

Now, although I had offered that my kids were teenage twins, this conversation hadn’t yet progressed to my saying that my son has Asperger’s — which isn’t really anybody’s nebby damn business. Instead, not wanting to screw up the results of the stress test, I muttered something like “hmmm.” Later on, I realized I should have shot back with, “Oh, you mean I should keep MY SON WHO HAS ASPERGERS away from this individual?  Is that what you mean?”

While thinking about this today, I realize that this is a big reason why I dislike and take pains to avoid superficial conversations among strangers. People say Stupid Shit and I am getting too old to deal with Stupid Shit.  And as well-meaning and unintentional as people may be, Stupid Shit often results in too many sharp jabs.

It was jarring to hear — in 2016, for godsakes — a medical professional expressing the notion that people with disabilities should be avoided. Shunned.  This kind of thinking only perpetuates ancient stereotypes, misconceptions, and myths. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I did nothing to thwart that.

I left the cardiac lab with a benediction from the cardiologist that I “performed better than average within my age group” on the stress test. My heart, it seems, is likely to keep on ticking, its dings and dents notwithstanding.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #94 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging Project. 

listen to your mother, the grand finale season

 

LTYM - Pre-Show Toast 2

Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh cast, pre-show toast. May 6, 2016. Photo credit: Ashley Mikula Photography.

If you followed any aspect of my experience with Listen to Your Mother this year, you know how much being in this show meant to me. I know that’s true for all my other castmates and I’m sure its the same for those who were in Pittsburgh’s inaugural show in 2015, and everyone who has been in a LTYM production throughout the country (and Canada, this year!) since the show’s inception.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Today the announcement was made: this upcoming 2017 season of Listen to Your Mother will be the show’s last. In all cities.

As disappointing as it is to hear that the show is ending, it’s good to go out on a celebratory note. And Listen to Your Mother has so much to celebrate. More than 150 shows in 54 cities. Over $100,000 raised for nonprofits supporting women and families, in local communities across the country.  Two thousand (yes, 2,000) stories shared via video on YouTube, including mine as part of Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016.

I know there are probably some of you who attended a LTYM show or watched a video or read a post and thought, “Hmm … maybe I could do that someday. Maybe next year. Maybe I have something to share.”

Or maybe you thought the opposite: that you could never do that, but you secretly wish you could.

Here’s the thing.  Sometimes this life presents us with opportunities that we think we’re incapable of doing.  Or, maybe we think we’re not ready right now.  I admit, I had some of those doubts as I wrote my story and even after I was selected for the show.  I questioned whether I was in a strong enough place to talk about this (the answer: yes).

Opportunities are ours for the taking. Sometimes they disappear.

There’s no room for maybes in this too short life.

You never know who needs to hear your story. If you feel you have a something to share, don’t wait. Auditions are usually held in late-winter/early spring. All you have to do is put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write what’s in your heart.  And if you don’t have a story to share, the same goes for attending a show, which can be just as life-changing. I guarantee you, something will resonate with you in each story you hear.

So, yes, while I’m sad that Listen to Your Mother is ending, I’m so very, very grateful to have been part of this extraordinary experience, for this opportunity that has inspired others in my life.  I’m so appreciative to our Pittsburgh producers, Jennifer, Stephanie, and Amanda for all their hard work in creating a wonderful show, one that has been recognized with a Best of the Burgh award (seriously, around here that is a BIG DEAL). I’m so glad this show has connected me with some of the bravest, most courageous and strongest women — strangers once, now treasured friends.

And especially, I’m thankful to Ann Imig, founder of Listen to Your Mother, for her vision and belief that motherhood deserved a microphone and in so doing, provided so many of us with the chance to share our stories with countless people throughout the world, knowing our experiences — and our lives — matter.