Category Archives: Writing Life

Fabulous Followers: Featuring @Stuart_Sheldon

FabFollow

Gratitude to Val Erde at http://artyoldbird.com for letting me use her image.

Not long ago it occurred to me, I have all these followers on Twitter, but who are they? I mean, I don’t know everyone who follows me.

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Cute, right?

So I picked one cute guy and I sent him a quick tweet, asking him, you know, why me?

As you can imagine, we struck up a lovely cyber chat, and I learned a lot about him. And guess what? Now I’m following him!

I intend to make this a kind of semi-regular feature, so if you follow me, don’t be surprised if I tweet you and ask you to tell me about yourself and share your story with my readers. Because everyone has a story, right?

So today I’m introducing you to Stuart Sheldon.

He lives in Miami, Florida with his wife and their two sons.

He blogs HEREAnd he tweets at @stuart_sheldon. 

• • •

RASJ: You’ve been following me, Stu. Tell me a little bit about yourself. You know, so I feel a little less stalked. 

SS: I am the guy who constantly reinvents himself, because I want to taste everything in life. At 25, I was the youngest vice-president at Smith Barney and destined for untold riches, but I threw it all away at 27 to pursue my artistic dream. Twenty years later, I’ve hosted my own television documentary, written for, launched and sold my own magazine, and exhibited my paintings and sculptures on nearly every continent. My greatest creation has been the mixed media collaboration my wife and I worked tirelessly to manifest – two beautiful boys who teach me each day. With the major bases now covered in life, my laser beam is now focused on the sale of my recently-completed first book and the inception of my second. 

RASJ: Whaaaat? You finished a book! Tell me about it. You must be stoked.

SS: A Lonely Fool’s Masterpiece is the true story of a forlorn artist in his late-30s who decides to paint the wife and child of his dreams into existence. This is what I did and, thankfully, the journey burned my oversized ego like feathers in a flame. Now I am calmer, more grounded, and full of constant gratitude. If nothing else, this book is my legacy and gift to my kids, chronicling the emotional play-by-play that led, after much laughter and tears, to their arrival. National Book Critics Circle Award winner, Edwidge Daniticat, called it a “moving book for our times,” which was awesome. Now I’m querying publishers.

RASJ: Wait, you’re a writer and an artist? Have I seen any of your work?

SS: Maybe. One is my favorite sculptures, titled Play! is made entirely out of toys I found in thrift shops in the Bay Area. It now lives in the collection of a producer somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.

Stu

Stu Sheldon’s piece entitled “Play!” Isn’t it cool?

RASJ:  That piece is wicked cool! Okay, let’s have a little fun. Look! A penguin walked into your room wearing a sombrero. What does he say? And why is he there?

SS: That’s so weird because a penguin did walk into the room. My back was turned and he did not recognize me at first as he said, all spineless and fish-breathed, “Senor (he incorrectly pronounced the enye as a hard ‘n’), you want tamale?” I spun around, grabbed the brim of his hat and tossed it like a Frisbee into the hallway. This penguin, incognito as a tamale salesman, owed me money. But I saw right thru his ruse because I can read people … and flightless birds.. I said, “No, I want those twenty clams. Cough it up, Happy Feet!” 
Unfortunately, he actually coughed up twenty little neck clams. Directly onto my new Bermuda shorts. I will never again do business with a penguin.   

RASJ: So seriously, what made you decide to follow me? Which of my posts caught your eye? You can tell me.

 SS: The Day the Last Baby Tooth Fell Out” really punched my lights out. And not because it rode the tails of Sandyhook. No, this one was a direct line from your heart to the rest of us with kids. It really captured the essence of our perspective as adoring yet helpless observers of our children.

Your son sounds like such a good boy. Through your words, I love him and his cream soda eyes. He is kind and patient in the face of inconvenience and even pain. He does not play the victim. Far from it, he is every bit a mensch. As the father of two young sons, I understand every bit of the idea of time passing. And milestones falling. And the purity of youth evaporating. In that piece you magically transformed your son into one of my own.

RASJ: Thanks for your kind words, Stu. It’s nice to learn a little about you. We have a Happy House in Florida. Maybe we can meet up in real life sometime, you think?

• • •

If you’ve been lurking around and you’d like me to notice you, tweet me. You could be next!

tweet me @rasjacobson

Offering Options

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I’m at 3 Things For Mom today, where every day a different writer shares a “truth” (a life lesson, observation or insight), a “tip” (a practical “how-to” shared in the sisterhood) and a “find” (a product that person loves).

I enjoy reading these short posts, lovingly collected by editor Lauren Warner.

Click HERE to follow me there. You know I’ll respond!

• • •

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 1.14.19 PMIn case you missed it, there’s  still time to enter to win a copy of author Leanne Shirtliffe’s book Don’t Lick the Minivan.

All you have to do is leave a comment telling me about a time you when you were a wee bit naughty as a kid.

Or, if you prefer, you can tattle on your kids and tell me about some of their antics that drove you to pain and chaos.

I encourage you read the entire comment thread, as the stories folks have shared are not to be believed.

Enter until Sunday night at 6 pm.

One winner will be announced Monday 5/27 at 7 am.

• • •
Kracke.Photography.Jacobson.BarMitzvah.06.23.12-0279

I raise a beaker of ginger ale to Hubby!

In other news, it’s my Hubby’s 47th b’day today.

He doesn’t read my blog.

But if you see him, you can tell him you remembered.

It’ll make him feel good.

I’ll take care of the rest.

Later.

*IYKWIM. <— And I think you do.

* If you don’t know what this means, Google it. 🙂

tweet me @rasjacobson

Don’t Lick The Minivan: A Review and #Giveaway

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When my son was an infant, I knew I was doing everything wrong.

I was sure of it.

Looking around, I saw smiling mommies bouncing quiet babies on their knees.

Meanwhile, I had The Screaming One.

I was failing Motherhood-101, and I had no one to confide in.

Leanne Shirtliffe’s book Don’t Lick The Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say To My Kids has hit the stores, and — boy oh boy — do I wish I had it 13 years ago.

While living abroad in Thailand, Leanne gave birth to twins, William and Vivian. After a bit of a rocky start, Leanne found the babies (she lost them on the way home from the hospital), the right nursing bra (not so easy in a country where boobies are slightly less bodacious than ripe Canadian ta-tas), and she started to find funny everywhere.

You know those days when you’re feeling like you’re the world’s suckiest parent with rotten-good-for-nothing kids?

Leanne teaches us to find humor in those low moments.

She tells us how:

  • Her husband left the babies with drunken strangers. (Sorry to throw you under the tuk-tuk, Chris.)
  • William liked to pee. Everywhere. On everything.
  • Vivian drew on the dining room table. Using a Sharpie. (The permanent kind.)
  • The twins carved their names into her minivan’s paint…with rocks.

She sucks at crafts.

She’s anti-glitter.

She let her son sleep next to a turd.

Leanne has this way of making us see the humor in the exchanges we have with our kids. When you are suffering through life’s most unfunny moments, remember we are all partners in this ordinary, extraordinary thing: raising tiny humans. And Leanne? She reminds us it’s okay to laugh with them – as well as at them.

Because Leanne is yummypickles, one person is going to be able to win a copy of Don’t Lick The Minivan.

What do you have to do to win?

Leave me a comment telling me a naughty thing you did as a child that you thought was hilarious OR tell me something naughty that one (or more) of your kids did that was heinous at the time, but you can look back at now and laugh. Kind of.

Can’t wait to win a contest? Buy Don’t Lick the Minivan on Amazon.

Buy Don’t Lick the Minivan at Barnes & Noble 

They even have an audible version. Listen to the sample.

tweet us @rasjacobson & @lshirtliffe

NOTE: This contest is open to residents of the US and Canada only. Random Number Generator will be helping me on this one. One winner will be announced on my blog on May 27th. If that person doesn’t contact me within 24 hours, I’ll select another winner. Don’t be that turd.

• • •

Ain't she cute?

Ain’t she cute?

Leanne Shirtliffe’s book, Don’t Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to my Kids, has received glowing endorsements from Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess), Jill Smokler (Scary Mommy), Kirkus Review, and others. When she’s not stopping her eight-year-old twins from licking frozen flagpoles, Leanne keeps a blog at ironicmom.com and teaches English to teenagers who are slightly less hormonal than she is. Follow her on Twitter at @lshirtliffe.

NOTE: Michelle from Steadily Skipping Stones recorded a fun interview video with Leanne on her blog! When you are done reading this post, click HERE to hear Leanne answer silly and serious questions from her fans.

It’s My 1,101st Day in The Blogosphere

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Some of you may have missed that it was my blogoversary on Monday.

You know because it was buried under my Lilly Pulitzer handbag giveaway.

So yeah. I’m two days into my 4th year in the blogosphere.

And I wanted to thank everyone again for sticking with me through thick and thin.

And I wanted to share some random information.

MY FIRST CYBER-FRIEND

The very first cyber-friend I made was Carl D’agostino, a fantastic cartoonist and writer who writes at I Know I Made You Smile. From time to time, Carl and I send each other emails and he recently sent me this:

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Carl knows my son used to have a thing for Ticonderoga pencils. I should probably report that Tech has graduated to mechanical pencils. We should have expected this, of course. I’ll worry when I see he’s ordered a pocket protector from Amazon.com.

MY BEST DAY IN BLOGGING

It happened on March 7, 2011. I got 3,42o visits to my blog when I wrote about How I Tricked My Book Club Into Writing. Yeah. I know, right? Whatever that was about? I’d like that to happen again. You know, like, everyday.

GOOGLE Search Terms THAT BROUGHT PEOPLE Here

intimidacion escolar. I had to Google that, but then I realized people were looking for information about bullying. In Spanish. They may have been looking for THIS or THIS or THIS.

i want to quit the flute. Yeah, so did I. Also, I think my mother is still pretty pissed about that. That said, I think these folks landed on Let ‘Em Quit or Make ‘Em Play, which is something we struggled with at one point.

teacher on her period. Yeah. That happened, Not to me! Omigosh! No no no! But to one of my teachers. It was ugly. You can read about it HERE.

meat truck scams. For those of you who have been here for a while, you know I have done some wicked stupid things. But this was really dumb. Yes, I did, in fact, purchase meat from a meat truck. And it was not at all delicious. But I’m pretty sure that Nigerian Prince stuff is legit, and I’m expecting that guy to pay me back any day now.

kitajska abeceda. I have no clue. Sorry, person. You’re on your own.

The Post That Receives The Most On-going Spam

Darla.

You wrote an amazing post (“Dear Diary: I Hate You”) where you cited stuff directly from your middle school diary. Apparently, you made so many references to now outdated items, every wholesaler and retailer wants to help you. They want you to buy their clothes, handbags, and wrinkle creams. Mostly, I think they’re concerned that you’ve still got that big comb hanging out of your back pocket. This is probably the most offensive outstanding piece of SPAM that I’ve ever received. Ever. Seriously, you HAVE to click on it.

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I’m holding onto this stuff for you, Dar. Let me know if you’d like me to forward the hundreds of pieces of SPAM that have come my way since you posted that doozie. How much do I want to make out with my Askimet SPAM filter right now?

I would like to thank the other talented writers who have posted in this year’s #SoWrong Series so far. They have set the bar pretty dang high. And I’m so grateful they’ve chosen to participate. Yeah, I’m talking to you Dan, Tori, Jules, Pegoleg, and —  get psyched — because Misty from Misty’s Laws is going to be here on Friday! Her piece: “To Bra or Not To Bra?” Divine.

The Regulars

Certain people show up regularly to say hello. And I need to thank them. Because there’s actually something reassuring about seeing those familiar avatars.

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Please don’t ever break up with me. You know, like Tad did.

Bless every one of you for making this blog so much fun for me over the last 3 years. I’ve said it before, but your comments really are like chocolates, and me likes the chocolates. Please know that I LOVE to read your words. You don’t have to agree with me (only my husband has to do that!), but never be afraid to leave a comment. I know a bunch of you prefer to lurk. That’s cool, too.

Did you know that Instagram is my new lover? It’s true. If you’d like to follow me there, please do.

Also, you have until Friday at noon to try to win that cool Lilly Pulitzer handbag. And, no, you don’t have to have girl parts to enter. Guys, be proactive. Win this handbag and that special someone in your life will love you forever! Or what do I care? Use it yourself!

LOVElove

xoRASJ

tweet me @rasjacobson

Tweet With #TribalChix About Survivor Tonight!

imgresA bunch of you know that I’m a Survivor junkie.

And that I’ve even tried out to be on the show several times.

(Can you even believe that they haven’t picked me yet?)

One of the questions the folks from Survivor always want to know is what three (3) non-survival related items you would take with you to a remote location, and why.

I’ve thought about this at length.

Here are the items I’d bring to the island if they let me:

  1. A well-stocked medical kit. (No way I’m getting sent home over some infected splinter.)
  2. A huge bottle of sunscreen. (Poor Cocharan. Did you guys see that guy’s feet when he burned them? Ouch!)
  3. A jumbo-sized box of tampons. (I’ve always wondered if those are considered survival items. No one ever seems to have her period. What can I say, I’d need them.)

Anyway.

As it turns out, two of my favorite blogging buddies, authors Tiffany White and K.B. Owen, are die-hard Survivor fans, too.

And we decided that tonight we’re going to tweet live during Survivor.

I know. Fun, right?

We’re going to use the hashtag #tribalchix, and we’d love it you would join us in the conversation. 

So grab your torches and join the #tribalchix tonight.

You know, until the tribe has spoken.

It’s game on at 8 PM, EST.

What talents/skills would you bring to the island? If you were stranded on an island, who would you most want to be stranded with?

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

5 Things I Learned at BlissDom 2013

I just got back from Blissdom ’13 in Dallas. While I’ve been blogging for almost three years and have built somewhat of a following, this was my first blogging conference.

Ultimately, what motivated me to attend this conference was my desire to connect with three women bloggers I admire: Erin Margolin, Kiran Ferrandino and Greta Funk. While some women opted to have individual rooms during the conference, I’m a summer camp girl. I knew I would feel better if I had a few women I could count on to be my home base, and I couldn’t have picked better roomies.

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Erin, me, Kiran & Greta

I woke up at 5 AM and traveled seven hours to get to Texas. I was exhausted when I got to the Gaylord Texan Hotel.** As I mentioned in a prior post, I was anxious about attending BlissDom. But the moment I checked in, it was game on. This brings me to the first thing you have to know about going to a conference for the first time.

1. BEING A NEWBIE IS TOUGH

As a teacher for over twenty years, I’m used to speaking to groups of people and (sometimes) flying by the seat of my pants. I’m pretty good at mixing and mingling, but even I found BlissDom a little overwhelming. The hotel was large and initially difficult to negotiate. I suppose I’d forgotten what it feels like to do something new.

Being at BlissDom reminded me of my very first day of school. Remember how you worried you would never figure out how to find your classes, how you prayed someone would ask you to sit next to them in the cafeteria, how you were in awe of the older students who seemed to know exactly what they were doing and where they were going?

An extrovert who is generally energized by people, I felt drained at the end of each day. I can only imagine what some of the more introverted folks felt.

As a newbie, I worried a lot. Was I in the right sessions? Was I missing opportunities? Was I talking to the right people? Sometimes when I’m exposed to something new and scary, one of my least appealing coping mechanisms kicks in. I click into teacher mode and look for mistakes, little flaws and inconsistencies, to make the internal me feel a little bit superior and less out of control.

Case in point. The first night, conference goers attended a Kick Off Reception as well as a Partner Meet & Treat. I knew that there would be corporate sponsors, but holy swag!

I watched people cramming tote bags with towels and hair care products, applesauce and raisins, lip balms and bug spray, diaper ointment and Duck tape. Women were tweeting and Instagramming furiously, trying to win sunglasses, a vacuum cleaner, a cruise, furniture.

Because I felt out of my element, I turned up my nose.

So much stuff.

So much hoopla.

So many cupcakes.

(And no Canada Dry Ginger Ale!)

After a while, I remembered that the Meet & Greet was exactly why people were there. The gathering represented an opportunity. Clearly, sponsors were crossing their fingers, hoping bloggers would fall in love with their products and continue to buy them, maybe even blog about them for their readers. And bloggers were thrilled to directly network with sponsors who were open to hearing different ways of exposing their products to different markets.

Coffee Cup

Luckily, I caught myself being a Debbie Downer.

Seriously, if I met someone with my attitude, I would have wanted to smack that girl upside the head and serve her with a tall-glass of boot to the face.

Part of the problem was that I kept hearing the voices of all the people who told me I should have attended a writing conference. Truth be told,  I don’t think I would have felt any different at a writing conference. I would have been intimidated and out of control and worried I had made an expensive mistake.

At BlissDom, I felt pressure to make sure that I was getting the most bang for my buck. After all, conferences aren’t cheap. I wanted to make sure I was maximizing my time.

And all that pressure was exhausting.

That’s why it’s important to…

2. BE PREPARED

If you are going to a blogging conference, make damn sure you know how to answer the following question:

“What do you blog about?”

Because I soooo didn’t.

I’d say:  “I’m a writer. I write about everything. I like to play with words.”

But this concept did not transfer well in the blogging world.

Many of the first people I met had faboo products they were trying to sell: spectacular jewelry and cool aprons and yummy soaps and felted wreaths. Some people baked doggie treats or people treats. And some people focused on hair and makeup and fashion. But everyone asked: What do you blog about? So I had to figure it out. Right there.

imagesWhat in the hell is my blog about? What am I selling?

Eventually I realized, I am the story behind my blog.

Me.

And if folks like the way I tell a tale, well, maybe some of them might want to read my book one day.

Duh.

It only took me forty-seven hours to figure that out.

3. YOU ONLY NEED TO MAKE A FEW GOOD CONNECTIONS

In his keynote speech, author and motivational speaker, Jon Acuff said the most important thing to do at any conference is to meet a few good people. Not a hundred. Not fifty. A few. Prior to the conference, I had 500 business cards printed. Two-hundred would have been more than ample. I only gave my card to people I genuinely liked, folks with whom I could see myself having future contact.

Unless you are a graphic designer who specializes in business cards, you don’t need to collect eleventy-two jizillion business cards. You’ll meet a few people you like and feel comfortable with. It is with these people you will want to exchange cards. It will happen organically.

If you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone who has read your blog and be excited to meet you. You will remember these people forever. You will want to buy them things.

You’ll  probably meet a few people you admire, people who might be able to teach you a thing or two, people who seem willing to help.

These people will become part of your network and…

4. NETWORKING IS THE REASON YOU ARE AT THE CONFERENCE 

I met many talented women at BlissDom.

Aimee Broussard makes the freaking cutest aprons.

And Angela Youngblood. How can a chick with a bod like that have four kids? Kind and funny, she is also one helluva writer.

And Gigi Ross is an even bigger rock star to me now that I have met her in person.

Did I love every session? No.

Did I click with everyone? Of course not.

But each of us found our people.

That’s one heckuva magic trick.

And now I shall leave you with a tip.

5. ENJOY THE VENUE

Once I stopped trying to fix BlissDom, I started to enjoy what it had to offer.

There is much to be said about letting down one’s hair.

And that is probably how I ended up in the Alberto VO5 Hair Salon.

It started with an innocent question about how to control the frizzies.

But somehow I found myself in a chair, getting my hair flat-ironed and styled.

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And while I was there, I had my make-up done.

And did I want fake eyelashes?

Um, yes please.

Because why not?

Who knew I was going to have a mini spa-day in the middle of BlissDom?

BlissDom was unlike any conference I’d attended before.

It offered attendees head to toe rejuvenation to its attendees, most of whom are women.

And what woman doesn’t need a little TLC?

I could do as much or as little as I wanted.

I was free to engage with new people without the pressure of having to report back to a principal or department chair.

I was only accountable to myself.

I didn’t have to follow the feet.

I didn’t have to cook or clean.

Thank goodness I recognized how much joy I was missing out on by being judgmental with plenty of time left to enjoy the conference.

Teachers are taught to think critically, to look for the cracks and the inconsistencies. We are trained to listen for the wrong answers. But sometimes, we are too ready to deduct points with red and green and purple pens.

Sometimes it’s more about the process than the product.

All conferences are about growth and self-improvement.

But Blissdom was about feeling and dreaming and connecting and, hopefully, igniting something inside of us.

Personally, I felt like I went on a vacation.

I obviously needed one.

Did the earth move for me?

I don’t know.

But maybe it didn’t have to.

Maybe having that realization is enough.

Now I’ve seen what a blogging conference is all about.

Engaging. Networking. Connecting.

Hopefully, I’ve learned from some of those bigger kids and I’ll start off more relaxed at whatever conference I choose to attend next.

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What do you want to know about BlissDom? Or if you went, what was your experience like? If you wrote a post, leave a link so I can come check you out!

tweet me @rasjacobson

**Much gratitude to the folks at the Gaylord Texan. If you’re going to the Gaylord in Dallas-Fort Worth, ask for room 7090. Four women with five suitcases stayed there comfortably for 3-nights with more than ample room. The staff even delivered extra hangers, towels and coffee to our room for us! How nice is that? Thank you Gaylord Hotels!

Anxious About #BlissDom? You’re Not Alone!

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In a few days, I’ll be attending BlissDom, a blogging conference in Grapevine, Texas.

I’m excited to network and meet some cyber-buddies, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being nervous, too.

For weeks, I’ve read posts about what people are doing to prepare for this thing. Some bloggers wrote about how they plan to get to the conference early so they can have their nails done & have their hair cut and colored before the keynote on Thursday night.

{gulp.}

Some women posted pictures of what they plan to wear to the conference. Others mentioned they received sponsorships from clothing companies that not only paid for their tickets to the conference, but also gave them cute outfits to wear the entire weekend.

{gasp.}

I’ve read how about how important it is to pack properly for this conference. Apparently, I need earplugs and Band-Aids and duck tape and snacks and comfortable {yet stylish} shoes. And an iPad. And gifts for my roommates.

Holy moley, Spicolli.

I know y’all mean well, but y’all are making me want to hide at the pool, and I haven’t gotten on the plane yet!

For those of you who haven’t met me yet (and that would be everyone since this is my first blogging conference), I figured I’d come clean right now.

I will not be the girl with the make-up or the nails or the pretty outfits.

Coming from Rochester, New York, I live in a puffy, black sleeping bag coat between November and April. We all do. It’s a thing.

So I probably shouldn't wear this, huh?

So I probably shouldn’t wear this, huh?

Also, I operate under a probably misguided belief that I look adorable in jeans worn under a sundress.

With cowboy boots.

So I will probably be wearing something like this:

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This works, right?

Everyday.

I might also be wearing a hat.

On account of my crazy hair.

Here are some things I would appreciate if you would do when you see me at BlissDom:

  1. Check my teeth. I have this one area where food always gets caught. Friends generally tell me if there is something nasty up in there. Seriously, I will love you if you lean over and discreetly tell me my lunch is stuck in my grill.
  2. Dance with me.  I plan to tear it up on the dance floor. I don’t need any alcohol or drugs or anything to get out there. If you want my drink tickets me to love you forever, dance with me. Don’t say you need ten drinks first. Just come join. I promise I won’t make you stand on the bar. Probably.
  3. Ask me if I know where I’m going. I was not born with an innate sense of direction. When traveling alone, I am 100% dependent on Google Maps, which probably won’t help much inside the Gaylord Hotel. If you see a woman weeping in a corner, chances are I have to pee and I can’t find a bathroom. If you can just point me in the right direction, I’d be much obliged.

Help me on any of these fronts, and I’ll pretty much do anything for you.

I’ve got my business cards and my iPad.

This Yankee is packing her big girl panties and her cowboy boots.

I promise to bleach my mustache for you.

But I’m not getting a spray tan or micro-demabrasion or liposuction or Rejuviderm or Botox.

{Unless someone is offering to sponsor that. In which case I totally am.}

Get ready, BlissDom.

I’ll be the 45-year-old shaking her badonkadonk on the dance floor.

What are the most important things you have ever brought to conferences — writing or otherwise?

tweet me @rasjacobson

Dangerous and Unseemly: An Interview With K.B Owen

It is with great pleasure that I introduce author K.B. Owen. Kathy has been a wonderful cyberfriend, and our appreciation for women’s history and chocolate connected us long ago. I love reading Kathy’s blog and following her on Twitter, and now her mystery Dangerous and Unseemly: A Concordia Wells Mystery is out, you guys!

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Click here to buy at Amazon!

You want to know what K.B.’s book is about? Okay. It is 1896. Professor Concordia Wells must discover who is behind malicious pranks and attacks at her college, before she is the next target.

RASJ: Receiving a college education was pretty new for women when Concordia was around. I attended Hobart and William Smith College, a coordinate college, where women had dormitories separate from the men. What is Concordia’s living arrangement like? And what challenges did she face?

KBO: Although Concordia is a professor rather than a student, her living situation certainly poses some difficulties. At Hartford Women’s College, there is little separation between one’s teaching duties and one’s personal life. Women teachers are required to live in the cottage dormitories with their students and act as surrogate mothers/chaperones. They are assisted by house matrons – one to each cottage – who have light housekeeping and supervisory duties. What is grossly unfairly, of course, is that the male teachers have it easy, and aren’t given such responsibilities. This is the norm throughout all women’s colleges at the time.

faculty room WellesleyConcordia has faculty quarters in Willow Cottage, which houses about two dozen female students. Her rooms, which consist of a study and a bedroom, are on the ground floor, so she is subjected to a lot of noise from the heavy-footed students above her. While she enjoys spending time with the girls in her care, they can be a rambunctious lot. They play pranks upon each other, engage in illegal cooking in their rooms (fudge, hot cocoa, etc), and have a heightened sense of drama when things go wrong. Concordia’s greatest challenges are managing her time, and keeping her students out of mischief.

RASJ: Rambunctious girls? A heightened sense of drama? I can’t imagine what you might be talking about. *ahem* While living in the dorms, I had to share a bathroom with a lot of women who were always trying to look their best. Back in the 1980s, I wanted to be Stevie Nicks, so I dressed in flowing skirts. Who would Concordia have wanted to look like? What was the fashion like back then?

KBO: Concordia isn’t exactly a fashionista, although she likes to look fashionable for special occasions, such as balls and teas. She and the other female academics typically wear simple shirtwaists (blouses) with serviceable full skirts in wool or cotton lawn, depending upon the season. She is especially fond of smart-looking jackets, however, especially if they are trimmed in an attractive braid or the lapels are faced with a contrasting color that complements her outfit.

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Wikimedia Commons

Since she is a redhead with a pale-freckled complexion, she’s very aware that certain colors look dreadful on her. The 1890s style is leg o’ mutton sleeves and tapered waists, with a significantly diminished bustle. The 1896 sketch at right, titled: “Bicycling: The Ladies at the Wheel,” by Francois Courboin, gives a good idea of what the typical outfits looked like.

RASJ: When I wasn’t in class or studying, I danced in an on-campus organization, that’s still around today. I wore leg-warmers, a leotard and tights. Fraternity life was a big part of the social life on campus, as sororities were not allowed. At night, I studied in the library, then — later, after hours, I went to local bars to dance and, even later, I came back on-campus to attend fraternity parties. What was a woman like Concordia allowed to do for fun in the late nineteenth century?

KBO: There are limitations to what proper 1890s ladies can do. Their skirts are their leg-warmers, LOL. And a bar? Never. There are ladies’ restaurants, tea shops, and soda/ice cream parlors where women can go for refreshments and to meet with friends. Several of the ladies’ restaurants in Hartford (the setting of my story) are located in department stores like G. Fox and Brown Thomson’s, so it’s a win-win: shopping and lunch! All of these are just a quick trolley ride away from campus. The street rail system in Hartford has just been upgraded from horse-drawn to electric-propulsion, so it’s even more efficient.

SophCrew Wellesley 1879There are events on campus: teas, socials, play productions, recitations, picnicking on the grounds in the nice weather and “coasting” (sledding) in the winter, hikes, bicycling, lawn tennis…the list is endless. Concordia, for example, is an avid bicyclist. The one challenge for students, of course, is that they have to follow the “ten o’ clock rule” – in bed, lights out, by ten p.m. This is standard practice at women’s colleges.

RASJ: As a student, I developed close relationships with female faculty members at my college. Toni Flores was a Women’s Studies professor, and I babysat her children. Deborah Tall was a poet who helped inspire me to publish my first poem. Both of these women became mentors whom I could go to if I needed help. When Concordia finds herself in trouble, in whom does she confide?

KBO: The mentoring and friendships one develops in college/grad school are wonderful, aren’t they? It was that sort of atmosphere I wanted to create in the novel’s college, too. While Concordia does her fair share of mentoring troubled students, she finds herself needing confidants to lean on in the story. Lord knows she’s faced with enough difficulties: the college as a whole is dealing with arson, malicious pranks, threatening notes, and other bits of skullduggery that I won’t spoil for you, and compounding that is Concordia’s personal trouble with her mother and sister, and a mysterious death close to home.

Her best friend is Sophia Adams, a very unconventional young lady (the same age as Concordia), who lives and works in the settlement house in Hartford. She works with the poor and advocates for women’s suffrage and other progressive social issues. Sophia is someone Concordia enjoys spending time with, and can turn to in times of trouble. Two other people she relies upon are Chemistry professor David Bradley and Lady Principal Hamilton. Although the “lady principal” designation is becoming outmoded by this time, it’s still in use. A lady principal is second in responsibility and position to the college’s president, and she is in charge of matters dealing with the faculty.

RASJ: How is Dangerous & Unseemly a story only you could have written?

KBO: I have always been a mystery-lover, especially of the classic, detective tradition. I wanted to write a book that I would enjoy reading myself, so that’s why it is in the “cozy” style.

I taught literature and writing for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, so that gave me plenty of experience with eccentric teachers, student peccadilloes, and some of the unique faculty-student interactions. I have a doctorate in nineteenth-century British literature, which provides me with a good background in the time period, although I still had a lot of research to do in writing the novel. I lived in the Hartford area for five years, and fell in love with the locale and its history. All around, it seemed a good fit for me.

RASJ: What do you love about this book?

KBO: I thought at first that I would say I love the plot, but in thinking about it, I love the characters even more. They stay with me: their convictions, their inner demons, their eccentricities; and I love how they respond to events in the novel. It’s cool to be puppet-master. Bwahaha.

RASJ: Oh, Kathy! I know mystery lovers and folks who enjoy women’s history would like your novel as well. How can people get it?

KBO: Well, they can click HERE to buy at Amazon or click HERE to buy at Scribd or click HERE to buy at Barnes & Noble.

• • •

And now a little mystery fun. Remember the game “CLUE”? Each stop in K.B. Owen’s book launch tour features a mystery question to answer. When you have them all, unscramble the answers to which ROOM, WEAPON, and SUSPECT, and email Kathy at kbowenwriter (at) gmail (dot) com. Click HERE for details on how the game works. She’ll announce the winner (chosen from the correct entries) on the last stop of the tour. Then she will email the winner!

What can you win? A free ebook copy of Dangerous and Unseemly, and a $25 gift card of your choice to either Starbucks, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble! If you run into a few stumpers – no problem! Check out K.B.’s Mystery Quizzes page for links to the answers. If you’ve joined us in the middle of the tour, the complete list of Book Tour hosts can be found at kbowenmysteries.com. Good luck! (Deadline to email K.B. with your answers in April 1, 2013.)

The special question for my readers is as follows:

Nate the Great, a “soft-boiled” kid detective from a popular children’s series, eats a favorite food when he needs to think out a case. What is it?
Q) hot dogs
R) pancakes
S) Doritos
T) broccoli
Happy sleuthing, and congratulations to K.B. on her new book!

Go ahead. Ask K.B anything about women in higher education right around the 1900s. I’ll be she knows the answer!

tweet us @ rasjacobson & kbowenwriter

Getting to Gnome You: Valentine’s Day Stories

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Remember these guys? My neighbor won them at my Book Club’s Annual DeGift & Re-Gift Party. Well, as it turns out, Lori wasn’t wild about the gnome salt & pepper shakers. And guess what? She gave them to me! And just in time for Valentine’s Day! Read on  to see what you can do to win them!

Valentine’s Day in kindergarten was simple. My teacher wore a red sweater with pink hearts on it. We ate cupcakes. And then we napped.

In 3rd grade, Valentine’s Day became a bigger production. Valentines needed to be made for every person in both sections of the grade. Forty construction paper hearts, people!

My mother brought out a the colored construction paper, handed me a pair of scissors, and I got busy cutting out small, medium and large-sized hearts for my friends.

The people I liked the best got the biggest hearts.

And since I was not stupid, I made my teachers big hearts, too.

{I needed all the brownie points I could get.}

In 1976, I was crushing hard on two boys. I took tons to time make sure both boys received double-matted cards – pink construction hearts glued on top of red construction hearts – and I carefully wrote the same note to both boys. And signed my name.

{In pen.}

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Image courtesy of Antonio Rodrigues, Jr. Click to see his beautiful booklet!

I didn’t think much about signing my cards.

It was Valentine’s Day.

If ever there was a day to use the word “LOVE,” that was the day, right?

Um, wrong!

Once the cards were delivered, it was discovered I loved not just one but two boys.

That day I learned about monogamy. There were rules, and I had broken them. It didn’t matter how much Herbal Essence Shampoo I used, girls were not supposed to love two boys at once. It didn’t matter if Savallas called Mary and me on Saturday mornings to talk about Soul Train. It wasn’t okay for a girl to like two boys.

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Photo courtesy of Antonio Rodrigues Jr. Click on the image to see more of his work.

In high school, the pressure around Valentine’s Day increased.

Students bought flowers for friends {and the people with whom they hoped to become more than friends} for the bargain-basement price of $1 per stem.

While I  always received a few flowers from my closest friends, the popular girls made a big show about carrying their dozens of carnations around, toting them from class to class like it was a chore. It was hard not to feel inadequate sitting next to Miss Universe over there, holding two-dozen pink and red carnations on her lap as she copied her vocabulary words off the blackboard.

And some people didn’t get any flowers at all. That had to sting.

When we were in the “I-so-want-to-impress-this-woman” phase of our relationship, Hubby made an amazing dinner at his friend Brian’s house. (Okay, maybe Brian made the dinner, but I’m sure Hubby helped). It was a long, late leisurely meal. I tried escargot for the first time. And ate filet mignon alongside a green salad. We all drank wine.

Later, I smashed an irreplaceable wine glass (hand blown in Germany and borrowed from Brian’s mother) on Brian’s floor.

Anyway, Hubby wasn’t mad at me.

{Brian’s mother probably was, but Hubby made me feel okay about being human.}

Years later, when I became a high school teacher and saw girls parading around with their carnations, I decided celebrating Valentine’s Day in school teaches students the wrong message about love.

The implication is that love is something you can buy.

That the person with the tallest pile of cards or the most flowers is the winner.

Hubby helped me unlearn that lesson.

And for that I am grateful.

Tell me about a best (or worst) Valentine’s Day memory. It can be fact or fiction or hybrid.

*If you are interested in winning those gnomes, include the word #GNOME at the end of your post! And tweet me for an extra chance to win!*

Winners will be announced on Friday 2/15, after I do all the figuring. I imagine Random Number Generator will help.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Gratitude: It Is Decided

I am beyond grateful today.

When I asked people to help me to design a new header for this blog, I didn’t think anyone would do it.

As usual, I have been surprised by this wonderful writing community.

I communicated with all of the people who submitted entries to my contest, each of whom insisted that if I wanted to use the header that he or she designed that I could simply use it.

Steve from Brown Road Chronicles told me he didn’t even know there was a prize involved when he made the header in the first place and suggested that I make a donation to our local food pantry. Val Erde from Arty Old Bird thought that making a donation sounded like a great idea, as did Jules, who told me to hold onto her header and use it whenever I want. The two other bloggers insisted they remain anonymous, but agreed with everyone else.

So I made my decision.

If you look up, you will see my new header.

I love it.

And, shockingly, I love that I am not wearing my hat.

Who’da thunk it?

After Thanksgiving, I will make a donation at my local food pantry in recognition of all the participating bloggers’ names.

Even the anonymous ones.

In a few hours, my house will be filled with family. My parents are traveling to be with us. They will find a cozy place on the couch and plant themselves there. My nephews will talk about medical school and college, and I will cling to my eldest niece, knowing she will be heading somewhere fabulous in the Fall.

I will look at my son and his younger cousin, my niece, and feel a sense of awe. Too soon, they — like their older cousins — will leave home. My hope is that everyone comes back once in a while to share in this family tradition. In a few hours, while the men shout about how the damn TV remote isn’t working (because our TV remote totally sucks), I will be drowning in love and potato peels.

I am thrilled to host this year’s feast, which means Hubby and I are offering our house, preparing the table, making fifteen pounds of mashed potatoes, a bunch of side dishes, and a dessert or two.

Because like Jenny Hansen and Susie Lindau, I have major turkey anxiety.

I would rather set the table and wash all the dishes than be responsible for the bird.

There are the tables, ready to go.

May we all eat well and remember the many blessings that have been bestowed upon us.

I feel so fortunate right now. Truly, I wish I had long enough arms to give everyone in real life and this blogosphere a big hug.

With much gratitude,

xoxoRASJ