I have one rule, and one rule only: know your financial, scheduling, emotional and mental limits, and try your very best not to push past them. That’s it.
May you have the happiest (and most rejuvenating) of holidays, Blog Family! 🤷🏻♀️🥂💓
It’s been ten years since Mom died.
And as this first decade passes, it hits me that I have lived another half of that short portion of time. A brutal realization that, when ruminated upon, has the potential to really do a number on my spirit. But, Mom was never one to ruminate. She liked to think of each experience as a chance to learn. So, in the spirit of her courage, thirst for knowledge, and decade-old eulogy, I share with you the lessons I’ve learned in her absence, albeit not without her influence.
Life rarely ends up resembling the vision we’ve created for ourselves, but what do we really know in the grand scheme of things?
You should never fear being yourself. A bigger fear should always be inauthenticity.
Above all, to achieve your dreams you must be tenacious. Statistically speaking, things are bound to work out if you keep at them.
Although dreams should be pursued, it’s often the things you don’t think you need that end up being the most conducive to growth.
Success in life should not be measured by financial freedom, or other societal parameters. It should be measured by your ability to find value in your life, especially when it seems inherently lost.
The grass often looks greener on the other side, but much of the time that’s just a trick of the light. In reality it’s greenest where it’s tended to best, so take care.
Sometimes the hardest conversations you can have, or the toughest actions you can take, are the only ones that’ll make anything better.
Live in the moment as much as you possibly can. Our time is simply a long series of moments woven together. If you wait until its finished to admire its intricacies, you’ll miss out on the process and much of the details.
No matter how alone you may feel, the fact is you’re not (you know, statistics and all). Someone out there understands and will appreciate knowing that they’re not alone either.
Life will never be without loss or pain, but that should not keep you from living. In fact, heartache is what allows us to see just how sweet the good times are.
I love you more today than I ever have before, Mom. Hope you’re taking good care of Mike, and the other newer arrivals. <3
So often we begin each new year with a laundry list of resolutions: lose weight, gain funds, eat less, exercise more, etc. And it’s a widespread joke that by February these steadfast decisions become nothing but empty promises and proof of failure.
Ironically enough though, resolution actually means “a firm decision to do or not do something.” It can also mean “the action of solving a problem.” In other words, we start each new trip around the sun ruminating on the previous year’s failures and binding ourselves to start fixing them as of the very first day of the year. No wonder why we all screw up. It’s too much pressure. If it was all that easy to fix our shortcomings don’t you think we’d change without resolving to do so?
So, here’s my proposal: forget resolutions. Instead, let us reflect. What can we learn from 2017? Think back on the past year, revel in its joys and garner strength from their positivity. Then consider the downfalls, because there are even more lessons to be drawn from those. Let us reflect, learn from our past, and then move on, because it is our responsibility to live in the moment as much as possible. The present is the surest thing we have, and it is painfully fleeting.
I’ve always dreamt of being a writer. As a child, I devoured book after book, traveling to far off lands and through life-threatening mysteries (from the safety of my bed), while the rest of the late eighties kids played outside from sun up to sun down. I think I was subconsciously studying for my dream career: creating tales that would allow people a taste of escapism, in the form of two hundred-something pages.
However, I always maintained a diary. Sure, most of the entries I scrawled in puffy, pubescent handwriting were laments about one crush or another, but I became used to expressing myself. I found words for my feelings and wrote them down, because I’ve always been a little extra, and so have my thoughts.
Now, fast forward to adulthood, and more specifically my experience with Motherhood. It has been rich with love and fear and light and dark. My head swims daily with thoughts: Am I good enough? Am I alone? Is everyone else as crazy with anxiety about their children as me? Am I fucking up my kids? And conversely, are they fucking me up?
And in these moments, I am so thankful for blogging. I originally kept at it with two intentions: expression and catharsis. But as time went on, I realized that as I exposed my experiences, I found others with similar sentiments. This community of authenticity is liberating. It allows readers to draw strength in a positive, supportive way. And at a time when our country feels so broken, I am even more thankful.
But, it’s hard. And it’s scary. And when people ask me, “What does it take to be a blogger? How can I become one?” I say, “you just have to do it. You have to write.” But more specifically, you have to be OK with pouring your heart and soul into a piece. You have to embrace being yourself. You have to know the value of being authentic and raw. You have to know that by doing it, you’re allowing others that same liberty.
Blogging isn’t about selling a product or an idea. It’s about expressing yourself and finding common ground. In this day and age, that is becoming increasingly important. Bloggers and truth tellers alike are at the forefront of important social movements. If you feel that impulse, that need to express yourself, or an itching to express feelings you have trouble verbalizing, nothing should hold you back. Don’t fear failure. Fear absorbing your feelings and not expressing them. Write, and post, even if it’s kept private.
Five years in and I’m still getting used to the idea that I’m creating a writing career in a drastically different arena than I first imagined. And each day I write, I’m allowing pieces of myself out into the world, not some fictional tale I made up. But, it’s become clear that I didn’t choose the blog life. The blog life chose me.
Everyone’s heard the adage, “It takes a village,” in respect to parenting. And thousands of years ago, people did actually have the help of a village in raising their children. Consider our original mode of survival: hunting and gathering. Tribes of people co-existed in relatively small areas and relied on each other in various ways. Everyone shared chores, and goals were reached as a collective effort, including raising all the children. This ensured a maximum survival rate because let’s face it, sometimes just surviving is incredibly hard, and no one can do it all on their own.
Yet, today’s modern parent is expected to virtually do just that. We now live yards (if not acres) away from each other in huge houses with only our immediate nuclear families. We don’t have our closest girlfriends, elders, and a medicine man all living within a ten foot radius of us to help with our burden. Some of us are with our children, with no other real adult interaction, for hours (or even days) on end. We can seek relationships on the internet, but when relative anonymity is an option, it’s pretty much scientifically proven that there is a huge increase in general nastiness. Thus, there tends to be nothing communal about some of those larger Mommy and Daddy groups out there.
So, when I read yet another entry by an aching, isolated woman who feels like she’s losing her battle with Postpartum Depression or something similar, my heart weeps with my sisterhood in Motherhood. I know how isolated and lonely she must feel, especially within those first few years. Sleep deprived, her hormones going haywire and attempting to find equilibrium. She is desperate to find a semblance of who she was pre-baby, while being immersed (OK, more like drowned) in her new world of infinite commitment and consuming love. The fears, the anxieties, the worries. They are overwhelming. No, they are suffocating.
And we all have them. Within the trenches of our swelling hearts, resides the worries. Will I be a good mother? Do I have what it takes? Can I keep them safe? The pressure is immense, but the fact remains: we all feel it. None of us are alone in this journey, even if we assume that we are. We only feel inadequate because we weren’t meant to brave this incredible, life-altering journey in such an isolated manner. We were meant to have a village behind us.
So, for all of you who feel like you’ve lost yourself, who can’t find footing in this sudden onrush of emotions and sleep deprivation and love and pain, just know this: the feeling of trying to stay above the water, but repeatedly being swallowed by the waves… It’s not forever. It will slowly subside over time. We all feel it at some point, to some degree. You are not alone.
And since you are not alone, others have survived. When it feels like you’re alone in this, there’s always someone to turn to. If one of us doesn’t know how to discuss it, she may have someone in her remote “village” that does. And if that doesn’t work, there are professionals who are trained to guide us. Because none of us are alone in our worry and pain. We are a sisterhood in modern Motherhood, and we just have to work a hell of a lot harder to find our village.
If you know me, you know I have a serious adoration for DIY kids’ décor. The littles grow out of interests so fast though that it’s absurd to spend too much money on things for their play or bedrooms. So, when I saw this easy to make, affordable, and timeless Lego-inpired dresser on Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family, I fell in love. Read below for instructions and where to buy all the goodies (click the item link to shop) you’ll need! (For full tutorials, see embedded video or visit the first link above).
What you’ll need:
1) Sand/prime cabinet (if needed
2) Divide with your pencil and your ruler into “bricks”
3) Glue PVC pipe caps to dresser
4) Paint cabinet desired colors
5) Draw with sharpie to section off colors
“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” – Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
Amy: Hi, J.M. Thanks for taking the time to talk with my readers and me. Let’s just dive right in. Tell us about your story that appears in AHOW, and what drove you to write it.
J.M.: “Only the Dead Go Free” is about Wendy Sigler and her teenage daughter Fiona, fleeing Wendy’s abusive boyfriend Earl into an abandoned, family-owned cabin in the woods. What she discovers residing there ends up being far worse than what they are fleeing.
I’ve had an idea for a ghost story rolling around in my head for a while now. Somewhat different than this one, but similar elements such as the cabin in the woods, 1970s era, the MC named Wendy and many of her traits, and more I won’t get into (spoilers). Brian Paone and I often talk about music, and discuss his genre of choice – Rock Fiction – which is stories based on a particular song or album. I had played around with that a bit, but hadn’t made a serious effort. I knew Brian sang for numerous bands, and that one of them – Transpose– was more my style of music. I searched through their catalog, and found “Only the Dead Go Free”. After listening to it several times, and reading the lyrics, the story just formed in my head. While the setting and theme are pulled from my other story, many of the scenes are based on the lyrics of the song. The lyrics also tie in heavily with the theme I already had in mind. It was a perfect fit. I just hope the story lived up to the song.
Amy: What do you hope readers will gain from “Only the Dead Go Free?”
J.M.: Aside from feeling gutted by the story, there is an underlying theme – one I do not beat the readers over head with. Regret. Wendy made a lot of mistakes in her life, and in the end those mistakes caused serious damage to her only daughter. We’re all human, we all make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes can have dire consequences not only to ourselves, but to those we love. If Wendy had put more thought into her actions and not been so motivated by her id, things would have likely not been so tragic for her.
Amy: What other stories did you enjoy the most in AHOW, and why?
J.M.: I have to be honest, I’ve only read the first nine stories to completion, and am partly through the tenth. “Anesthetize” by Brian Paone was good, left me with a sickening feeling in my gut, and I actually needed to go for a walk after. “Rowdy” by Dr. Wendy Vogel hit home in a couple of ways – the subject matter is the same as my A Journey of Words story, “The Last Ride”, and we have very recently experienced it again in our home. Left a lump in my throat. “If It’s Not Okay, It’s Not the End” by Travis West is a wild adventure across the country, features a musical hero of mine, and was a poignant love story at it’s heart that left me both sad and happy. D.L. Smith-Lee‘s “Knock, Knock” has a very much old-school, Rod Serling era Twilight Zone feel to it, and I love those shows. “Gunpowder & Wool” really pulled me into the scenes. Kari Holloway‘s wording created strong imagery in my mind so that it played out like a movie. So far, I am really liking Laurie Gardiner‘s “Thief,” but I’ve not finished it yet.
Amy: I am so looking forward to finishing the stories myself, although at the moment a clear favorite of mine would be the very compelling “Widower’s Choice” by Virginia Carraway Stark. On a related note, I notice that, although you write across all genres, the bulk of your work remains to be in short story format. Can you share about any full-length, solo projects you may be working on?
I originally starting writing to get an epic adventure I’ve been researching and designing in my head for almost 20 years out. The plan was to do a few shorts to sharpen my skills before diving in. I’ve learned that I have quite a bit yet to learn, so the shorts have kind of taken over. That being said, I am not writing any new stories now, just getting out the ones I already have planned, starting with shorts and working my way up. Of the non-flash, non-shorts I have in queue, in order of length:
Phil: This one is an oddball, a challenge given to me by a childhood friend – also the very first piece I tried to write seriously. Melissa Brown runs a struggling beauty salon in Cambria, California. A chance encounter with a strange man and his gift of what appears to be an ordinary houseplant will change the fate of Melissa, and all those who work with her. Letters: A man in the 1980’s purchases an antique file cabinet at an estate sale of a recently deceased, elderly German man. The World War II era letters he finds inside detail a twisted tale of love and war, betrayal and refuge. Novel: Ursa Major. Takes place in Southern California, from the early 1980s through 2020s. While coping with the recent mysterious deaths of multiple childhood friends, a middle-aged man begins exploring his past, only to uncover it may be much darker and unearthly than he ever imagined. Most scenes in Huntington Beach, Big Bear, and Los Angeles.
5 Novel Series: Destiny Reborn: Set in a sparsely-populated, Earth-like world, one with some stark differences. A group of friends uncover something that appears to challenge all that is known about their world, and set off on a quest to uncover the true meaning of it. They get that answer after traversing the entire continent at the end of Book One, only to discover another major piece of the puzzle, which sends them to another continent. This goes on through five continents, until all five of the pieces are revealed, and the planet’s true past is as well. Each part of the puzzle resides on a different continent and in a different book.
Fill in the blank (with as much as you’d like): when I’m not writing, I’m: most likely working my day job, something which usually takes up over 80 hours a week of my time. What little time I have left outside of that I try to spend with my kids. I don’t get to do that nearly enough. Even if it is something simple like a board game, a walk around the block with the dogs, a hike in any of the nearby nature reserves, a day at the beach, or a day at one of the local theme parks.
Amy: In your interview with Brian Paone, you said to be a great writer one should read. When you actually find time to read, what author’s works or specific books do you find having the most impact on your own writing style?
J.M.: In terms of voice, probably Stephen King. His stories tend to have a personal feel, as if someone were there with you, telling you verbally. While I don’t consciously try to imitate that, I can definitely see it when revising my work. It makes sense since he is probably the author I’ve read the most of. King tends to not have a lot of plot twists, or inter-connected details though, and that is something I try to do. Hard to tell where I pull that from, exactly, but I have read a lot of GRR Martin and Michael Crichton, so perhaps from them. I generally like to surprise the reader, as well as convey a strong emotion and/or message. I’ve read most of Shakespeare’s and Poe’s works, am a huge fan of Jean Auel, JRR Tolkien and H.G. Wells. I think it’s safe to say I have many influences.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin,
Amy: And what about the books from your childhood? Name a single favorite book from that originally fortified your desire to write.
J.M.: Wow, just one book, eh? The first epic tale I read at the age of 8 – “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien. That carried me away, and my like for reading grew into a passion with it. It is then I realized the power words have to create new worlds, and I knew this was something I wanted to do. I have to give an Honorable Mention to the relatively unknown “Beautiful Joe’s Paradise” by Marshall Saunders, also read around the same age and inspired me almost as much.
Amy: Thank you! Before we end, what would you like readers and followers to look out for in the near future from J.M. Ames?
J.M.: There are four more stories I am hoping to publish this year:
The Snow Bride – Ajir stops by the desolate Tsas Ber Tavern after a long mining contract to satisfy his appetites for food, wine, and women, and ends up giving back more than he took.
Blind – After losing the love of your life and therefore yourself, can you ever be found again?
Not Yet Dark – When you believe your entire culture is being destroyed by another, what would you do to fight back?
Fourteen Years – Nonfiction Biography, co-authored with my best friend since we were 4. After a long night of celebrating, a single car accident leaves one man dead and his friend maimed for life – physically, mentally, emotionally, legally, and socially. This is about his fourteen-year recover, and all the challenges that came with it.
Amy: Thanks again for your time, J.M., and best of luck! We look forward to reading more from you!
J. M. Ames is a multi-genre author native to Southern California. He has multiple publications dating back to 2016. When not working his day job or enjoying his fatherly adventures, he writes short stories and novels, including an upcoming series. Feel free to contact him at JMAmesAuthor@gmail.com or visit jm-ames.com for more information and links.
As the thick layer of jet lag dissipates, I’ve finally set out to create a BlogHer17 recap. But as I prep my entry, I begin reflecting on my experience. What do I write about?
I think about which panels were most useful, meals the tastiest, events the most ‘worth it.’ I skim through photos and favorite the best or most intriguing. I mentally critique the product giveaways. And just as I began to write, I stop.
I realize in that moment, everything I had considered was meaningless. I saw that those trivial details, like what goodies we came home with, or what companies we met, were so very secondary to all the invaluable takeaways offered.
Like, my amazing group of new friends. The absolute best thing about BlogHer17 was the attendees. Im inclined to believe I was in the company of the world’s coolest SuperWomen all weekend long. I was blessed to create and reinforce friendships that I really believe will last a lifetime. To top it off, each friend I spent time with was so unique. This served as a beautiful reminder of the individuality that hides behind each blog URL or social media account.
Or the unrivaled family memories we made. In terms of my childhood, family vacations were something I heard about from my friends once school resumed in the Fall. So, planning this cross-country trip for four was well outside of my comfort zone. But in the end, we tackled nearly every theme park and mastered the lazy river – over and over again. And what began as a trip to BlogHer17 slowly became a test of familial patience, love, and togetherness. And I think, on a whole, we really learned to love and accept a great deal about each other in the process. It was family bonding done right.
I also arrive home with a newfound vigor and purpose. I’ve always hoped that by sharing my trials, I will help someone get through their own challenges. But, writing is scary because when hitting ‘Publish,’ our thoughts shoot out into the world at breakneck speed, and are instantly subjected to criticism. This makes it hard to not waver.
But BlogHer17 offered all of its attendees something infinitely special. No matter our backgrounds, genders, ages, or ethnicities, we were all given a cohesive, open arena in which we were accepted and supported.
And as I stood on the VOTY stage, surrounded by the other Honorees, I witnessed unimaginable beauty. I watched our categorical details melt away and became inconsequential. The content of our pieces did, too. What became most important in each attendee was the bravery and motivation they possessed. Their willingness to share intimate details of their lives in hopes of helping, of spreading the word, of catalyzing change. It was rejuvenating and inspiring.
Isn’t that always the case? The things we can’t see or assign a value to, those are what matter most.
About five days before BlogHer16, I stumbled onto a post for the convention for the first time. I know, I’m not sure where I was living before that (perhaps under a rock?), but it was going to be on my home turf in just over 120 hours, and I knew in my heart I had to get myself there.
I did the best I could to prepare. I read an article or two, but with the very little time I had all I could do was print a rushed business card at a local office supply store and pray for the best.
Fast forward a year, and considering everything I know now (based on my attendance as well as my prep for BlogHer17), I’ve created a list of:
Three Things I Wish I Knew Before Attending BlogHer16.
1) The package you present yourself in is much less important than the contents inside. Let me explain: those several days I had to “prep” myself (i.e. get my nails done, shop for a cute outfit or two), I spent completely frantic. I thought – gosh, if I don’t seem up on the fashion trends, will I be less desirable to the companies looking for collaborations? Will they be uninterested if they see the roots on my scalp and the milk stains through my shirt?
What I found, was simply this: it’s easy to judge a book by its cover, but most people attending BlogHer are interested in bettering themselves and learning from others. It’s a collaboration of minds, so many of them great! And sure, it’s nice to primp and prep, to style yourself & take care, but your content (pun intended) is so much more important.
2) Sometimes things don’t align perfectly, and that shouldn’t keep you from having the best time possible. Because I was local, and my attendance at BlogHer16 was so last minute, I had no way of lining up childcare for my little guy (who was 6 months at the time). He had just had his immunizations, but I hadn’t yet taken him to major events. So, I was reticent to hage him tag along, and even reconsidered my attendance because I’d have to drag him with me.
In the end, I rallied, packed a massive diaper bag, and braved the LA traffic at rush hour to attend. He was perfect. The Expo was a lot of fun for both of us – there were so many interactive booths for children and adults alike – we were in Heaven. I thought he would cramp my style, but I ended up probably making even more connections because of his cute, little face. The only time things got difficult was when I had to breastfeed during a panel, but still – no more difficult than breastfeeding in public ever is.
I understand the logistics and anxieties that come with travel and attendance. I’ve spent hours of planning this year to attend BlogHer17 in Orlando with my family of four (I know, I’m crazy). It’s hard not to have a great deal of expectations, but the hurdles that present themselves during travel and conventions are just that – meant to be leapt over. 😉
3) Put yourself out there. The only way to get the most from this convention is to be yourself. Show everyone who you are, what you represent, what matters most to you, and people will notice. That’s what all of us bloggers have come here for anyway – to make connections and be inspired by our peers. Be that inspiring you that drives you to blog, and let us see it, too!
Also, I mean it literally – put yourself out there. There are TONS of raffles, contests, and challenges. Join as many as possible. I think I won two out of four I entered – imagine if I had entered ALL of the ones I wanted to!
Another thing – put yourself out there on social media, if you feel so inclined. Sometimes, businesses are watching. Other times, attendees are. Most of us are because we are just as nervous or excited as you. Let us know so we’re not alone! You’ll never know – you may make a good friend to stroll the halls with!
…. Have so much fun everyone! And don’t forget to say hello 😉
Our Florida trip is in t-minus three weeks and the nerves have already set in. This will be our first time flying with the kids, and Charlotte has been saying “I’m scared of heights” on repeat. I’ve tried to sweeten the deal time and time again: “But we’ll be landing and going to DisneyWorld!” “You won’t even notice you’re in the air!” or “C’mon, you’ll be able to watch movies the WHOLE time.” I’ve even offered her cool flight swag (a captain’s hat, an iPad, etc) to assuage her fears. Nothing has worked.
Until, that is, we watched Home and Family on Hallmark Channel – our new mother and daughter ritual – and saw Orly Shani‘s super fun balloon animal pillow project. She made the cutest snowmen, unicorn, and puppy dog! Charlotte’s eyes lit up and she shouted, “That’s it, Mommy! That’ll be my nap time pillow for the plane. I can cuddle it if I get scared! Can we make twoooo?” How could I refuse a family craft time that’s simple and super cheap?!
All you’ll need to make these super duper cuties is*:
– A pair of opaque tights or stockings
– Pillow stuffing (as white and fluffy as possible!)
– *Optional supplies: needle and thread matching the tights you choose, as well as extra decoration if desired (see the video above or extra project ideas below for inspo on how to use them)!
Simply slit the tights in two at the crotch (see video above). Then start stuffing! When you want to create a bend in the material, simply tie a knot. Or, to maximize neatness and eliminate floppiness, you can even sew a tight twist in place with thread that matches the hue of tights you’ve chosen to work with. Then continue stuffing! For easier manipulation, you may follow the instructions for creating a “dog” below. I’m always confused watching the balloon artists anyway!
Do not stuff the pillow until you manipulate each step of folding. If you fold after stuffing, you may not have enough room to manipulate the tights into the shape you prefer.
I can’t wait to post photos of how our own pillow pets turn out – make sure you’re following my Instagram to see! Also, follow my blog for more DIY inspo and family fun!