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Monthly Archives: June 2011

A short backtrack

Day 17 – a picture of somethingone that has been an influence in your life recently

Dear Jen,

The first thing on my blog to-do list is to write a thank-you letter to someone who influenced me.  Of course, you suggested I write a thank you note to you for being awesome.  I’m gonna guess you didn’t know that I already planned that. 😛  Here’s the problem:  I’m not sure words can say just how awesome you are.

I’m not sure I can put a finger on exactly when our friendship began, but I’m pretty sure it really took off when I started trying to steal your babies.  You were even foolish enough to leave me alone with your first-born son.  Lucky for you, I knew better than to try and steal a sleeping baby.  You have to get them when they’re awake and happy and full of candy.  Or milk.  Duh.

When I came to visit you for a few days in June two summers back, I didn’t expect to end up staying all summer.  Bribing me with not one, but two babies, was a stroke of genius.  I also didn’t expect the kind of friendship I found.

Over the last few years, you have been one of the only people I can turn to with any problem.  You didn’t judge me when I left teaching, even when I was judging myself.  Instead, you opened your home to me and let me move in when I didn’t know what was next in life.

When I agonize over the plight of singledom, you tell me stories to make me laugh about your own dating adventures, sign me up for singles websites, and try to pick up guys for me at the farmer’s market or on the dance floor.  It amazes me the way you can spot my insecurities before I even mention them, and you always manage to find a way to make me forget my doubts.

Your faith has also been an immeasurable influence on me.  I watch you turn to God every day, in the good moments and the bad, and it inspires me to do the same.  Your relationship with the Lord makes me strive to know Christ with the same intimacy.  Not only have you been an inspiration, but you have pushed me to learn why I believe what I do, both personally and as a Catholic.  Your hard questions make me think about my own relationship with God on an individual level.  Catechetically, you challenge me to delve into the Bible and the magisterium to find answers to doctrinal questions I can’t answer on my own.

More than anything else, Jen, you’ve made me feel like family.  When I have a bad day, I know I don’t have to go back to a house with a roommate who is a stranger and nobody to talk to.  If I ever need a hug (or a piece of chocolate), I know you’ll be there with open arms and a box of Godiva.  We’ve taken each other to the ER, shared countless cups of coffee, mocked endless hours of children’s programming, and made more polygamy jokes than most husbands would be comfortable with.

So, my dear wife/big sister/best friend a girl could ask for, thank you.  For being awesome.  And for being you.


photo credit to baby bird #1!


How to satisfy picky readers

In five easy steps:

1. Have a good title. 

I can’t really explain what makes a good title for me, but it is VERY important.  Single words are generally less likely to attract my attention.  Some examples of books with good titles that I randomly picked up based on name alone:

Travels With Barley

City of Ember

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Good Grief

2.  Attractive cover art

Again, this is hard to pin down; however, if you have a mediocre title with an awesome dust jacket, I might pick up the book to read a little more. Not looking stupid is the main thing.  I avoided what is now one of my all time favorite books for many years because the cover looked stupid:

Those are even in order of least to most uninteresting.

This is the one that finally caught my eye:

Another book that has been recommended to me several times in the last week that I think looks totally boring:

Up til just now, I thought those were chickens.  Anyways…

3.  Use appropriate margins and text size.

I used to give my students a hard time if they picked up a book, flipped through it, and put it back on the shelf without reading a word, usually announcing that the words were too little/many on a page/many in general.  I’m guilty of this myself, though.  I like a book with enough of a margin that I can hold it without covering up too many words.  If you need more pages, use them.  Don’t just shrink your margins like a college kid trying to meet a professor’s criteria. I also hate when lines are too close together.  If I can’t track my place easily, you’re losing my vote.

4.  Equal parts character development and plot

I read a really interesting article about which makes for a better story: a strong plot with lots of twists or a character-based story.  I do enjoy strong characters and internal conflict, but too much of it gets boring quickly.  Same goes for too many twists in the plot.  The balance is tough, but worth the work.

5.  Good writing style.

The top offenses here include: not enough dialogue; too much dialogue (without tags); cliched descriptions; pretentious prose. . .the list goes on.  Again, I might flip through a few pages, but too much description or overly written scenes land the book right back on the shelf.

Of course, the obvious answers are the easy ones:

Fall into one of my current interests.  Recently I have devoured multiple books on the following topics:

Mt Everest; Abraham Lincoln; Catholicism; the Appalachian Trail; serial killers; Anne Frank

Be one of my favorite writers (or have a review/prologue/introduction by them):

Elizabeth Peters; John Krakauer; Bill Bryson, Gillian Bradshaw; Orson Scott Card; J K Rowling; Rick Riordan. . .again, the list is long

Come with a strong recommendation.  This one is not always successful, but if I really like you, I might read a book you suggest to me.  Which is why I am off to find a book by the name of “The Post Office,” suggested to me by a super-cute guy at the airport.