34 Ways NOT to be an Asshole

Call your mother

Are you one of those people?

Have you found a way to function in society—to get most of what you need and some of what you want—without infringing on, or repelling others?

If so, congratulations. It’s comforting to meet you and to know that there are still people that don’t assault, deride, or otherwise demean fellow humans.

But some of you need help.

In case you were misunderstood as a child, in case you didn’t have good examples to follow, consider these tips for getting along with others.

These are all things most of us learned by the time we got out of high school. But not all of us.

And let’s face it, times have changed. We have more opportunities to be asshole-y then ever before. (This is odd because we probably physically interact less than ever.)

Read on and try one or two of them:

Call your mother

law_keven/Creative Commons

Call your mother. Minimum once a week. If only once a week, do it on a Sunday.If your mother kept you alive and didn’t torture you, she deserves not to be left all alone on a Sunday.

Eat dinner with your family (your family can be puppies, a roommate, a gay lover, whomever) occasionally. No phones allowed.

Grow something outdoors. On a balcony, in a public garden, in your backyard. (Legally)

Hiking boot plant pots

Photo: Andrew Bowden, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Watch your child’s sport event or musical performance, or any other activity. Watch them. Put your screen, newspaper, book away. They’re watching you and they see you NOT watching.

Quit multi-tasking. You suck at it. Unless you’re a parent making dinner and folding laundry—you, we salute.

Smile at people. Especially if you were just staring at them, visually assessing them and are caught. Do not just look away.

Learn how to merge. It’s a zipper people. First one car, then the next. Don’t be the second car trying to squeeze in.



Hold the door for people.

Say thank you to someone who held the door for you.

Send thank you notes. Actual real paper thank you notes with a stamp and everything.

Stop hitting “reply all” to your work emails. You don’t need to point the public finger when someone screws up, and no one wants to see the 37th email wishing someone “Happy Birthday.”

Read the entire post or article before commenting on it.

Don’t argue politics on social media.

Mind your own business about what other people wear, listen to, eat – unless they’re minor children under your direct supervision.

Introduce yourself to your neighbors.

Worry more about the environment and less about the number of syrup pumps in your latte.

Pay attention to your friends. If you’re lucky enough to see them in person, vow to keep your face out of a screen while you’re together.

Don’t shoot people.

Recognize that religion is private and personal.

Visit sick people in the hospital.

Dive in and help someone in crisis instead of telling them you’re there if they need you. Most people won’t ask for help.

Tip your server – even the incompetent ones.

Say please and thank you to those you love.

Encourage someone in your field. Look out for the new guy, mentor a youngster.

Celebrate your parents’ anniversaries.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes (not literally).

Thank a public servant.

Police Officers

Creative Commons / Tiptoety

Don’t have sex with people who don’t or can’t say yes.

Be on time.

Return calls/texts/emails or reduce your social circle.

Teach your kids not to be assholes.

Don’t let your dog (cat, iguana, etc.) behave like an asshole.

If you mess up on any of these, apologize and try again.


Call your mother. Seriously!


2 Thoughts on “34 Ways NOT to be an Asshole

  1. Good advice, Suzanne! I’d like to think most people mean well, but lately it seems more and more people are doing “asshole-y” things. Your tips ought to be taught in school!

    • Thanks, Jennifer – I have to admit that I kinda wrote them to remind myself! Don’t we all have those days? I so admire those who make their way with Grace and Kindness. Good goals to shoot for!

Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

The Mother Shot

The Mother Shot

How was your Mother’s Day?

Mine was sunny and warm. Freshly picked lilacs filled the kitchen with my favorite smell. I received funny and heart-felt cards from both kids and Tim, my husband.

The family had asked what I wanted several times leading up to the big day. I hemmed and hawed.

Several pieces on the internet referenced women really just wanting to be left to use the bathroom alone.

A piece in Salon heralded non-mothers and chastised any who claimed it as a virtue, calling it the “cult of motherhood.”

Motherhood to me is both a crushing burden and a weightless joy. I’m not unaware that many choose not to experience it for themselves and that many want it desperately and are denied.

It’s been said that having a child is to feel your heart walking around outside your body, but that doesn’t quite capture it for me.

It’s more like having your heart stomped on, thrown down the stairs, and then when you least expect it, dipped in chocolate and rolled in fairy dust.

Motherhood is an awful paradox. We see toddler cheeks in the faces of our adult kids, yet are denied the full memory of their physical weight in our arms.

We want desperately to be left alone for one minute—I used to say I was going grocery shopping, then I’d park under a tree with a magazine and an iced tea—then we cry the first time one of them doesn’t return home for a holiday.

And it’s never really over.

Not all mothers feel this way, and not all moms are saints. I’m certainly not.

I’m lucky to still have my mom who made me believe I was smart and beautiful. She taught me to never give up and made me feel someone was always in my corner. She still does.

I had a lot to be thankful for yesterday, as far as moms go. I’m friends with some terrific moms, and both of my sisters are great at the job.

I have my big sister, whose gorgeous, loving, hardworking kids first gave me the awesome job of “Aunt.” She taught me how to get my firstborn to sleep and taught me to trust that no one knows my kids as well as I do.

I have a younger sister with a creative, funny brood of three, who makes me believe my parenting experience is worth sharing.

Most importantly, I have my husband and two healthy, witty, loving, hilarious, and challenging children who support me, my writing, and try not to complain too much about my singing.

They are good. They are generous. They make me proud. They make me fear that the world isn’t good enough for them. I always knew I’d be a mother. I just didn’t know we’d all be such a good fit—most of the time.


Shortly before the big day, I decided to tell them exactly what I wanted. I wanted two donuts—one glazed, one chocolate—and a strawberry milk for breakfast.

Then, I wanted to go on a hike in the forest preserve with my husband. Next, I wanted two or three hours alone to write.

All of that happened in exactly that order. Amazing!

Later, all four of us plus my new son-in-law went to see Captain America: Civil War in the big reclining seats at the mall. Every year, the latest superhero movie is released suspiciously close to Mother’s Day.

I like these movies but in the past they weren’t my first choice. There was a twinge of resentment that it was my special day, and I was sharing it with The Hulk or Batman.

But in the strange way of traditions, it’s become something I look forward to. It was a given that we’d make it our family movie this weekend.

By nightfall, we were well-fed and relaxed. I opened gifts (liquor and bubble bath . . . awesome together or separately), and we shared texts and phone calls with those far away.

My mom did not have a great mother, but she became one. I had a great mom, and I worked very hard and consciously to follow most of her examples.

Not every woman wants to be a mother. Not every woman gets to be a mother.

I certainly don’t feel like I joined a cult, even if I didn’t think of becoming a mother as a deliberate choice. My path seemed clear. I would raise a family. Biology cooperated.

Yesterday was a great day . . . the weightless joy kind of day and I wouldn’t change a thing.







6 Thoughts on “Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

  1. This is so lovely Suzanne. So nice to read a positive post for a change. Will share on #wwwblogs tomorrow.

    Hedgey xxx

  2. j baum on May 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm said:

    Great post. Beautiful writing.

  3. Sounds like a lovely day and well-deserved day. 🙂

Crying in Restaurants

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil
Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

Flickr: loungerie / Via Creative Commons

This is going to be my thing: sharing work that’s been previously rejected.

The following is a true story. The idea for the piece came from a writing exercise while on a writing retreat at Ragdale, an artist community on Chicago’s North Shore. Oh, and the title is courtesy of Dani Shapiro.

I submitted it twice and received two rejections: one with a personal note that they’d just published something similar; one with some suggestions for changes.

Writing is revision, and I’m arm-pit deep in revising my novel. So I’m not suggesting that we all run out and post our crappy stuff that couldn’t hack it elsewhere.

But I loved this piece. I loved that it happened. I loved writing it. I cried writing it. I’m glad it’s out of me, and I don’t want to work on it any more. I want to share it for whatever it’s worth.

The writing of it was the point. Not the publishing of it. Sometimes that’s enough.


Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

My newly formed writing practice is fueled by a medium iced tea and a shortbread cookie at the local Panera coffee shop. In these two hours carved out of a busy weekend, I aim to add 500 words to the first draft of my novel, and I vow to stay off the Internet. But first, I reinforce my commitment with writing tips and encouragement from my favorite authors.

still writing

I begin with a chapter from Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. In its pages, I see shades of myself in a description of her mother, a frustrated, middle-aged woman, clickety clacking away furiously on a typewriter.

My eyes fill with tears and my stuffy nose blocks the yeasty aroma of the café’s freshly baked bread. These hours with my laptop in the corner booth are my attempt to finally pursue a passion long denied. I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer.

I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer

Maybe the catalyst was an emptying nest, age spots on my hands, or preparing to celebrate my own mother’s 70th birthday. Whatever the cause, a few months ago, I realized I had to give writing everything I had, or regret it for the rest of my life.

Still Writing was a reward for meeting my word count goals. It joins Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and other sources of inspiration on my shelves.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers; living vicariously through Natalie Goldberg, Brenda Ueland, William Zinsser and many others.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers

Long ago, after reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, I filled countless yellow pads with morning pages. There were flashes of stories in those pages I didn’t yet have the skill or courage to tell.

Back then, I marveled at King’s brazen recounting of his rejection slip collection. What nerve to believe he had something to say, and how fortunate for his “dear readers” that he never gave up.

I’m part of the tribe because I write

In a later chapter of Still Writing, Shapiro recalls sending an early manuscript to author Tim O’Brien, one of her literary heroes. His unexpected and encouraging endorsement symbolically welcomed her into the tribe of writers.

A chill passes over me. Maybe it’s the air conditioning on this hot summer afternoon, or maybe it’s that this morning my son handed me a copy of his favorite reading assignment for the semester: O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

I close Dani Shapiro’s book and open my slim silver computer, prepared to add pages to my rough draft knowing I’m part of the tribe because I write. I allow myself one foray into social media to message the author who inspired my writing session today.

I click on Shapiro’s Facebook page not knowing who manages her account or if she’ll see it. I thank her for Still Writing and confess that reading her words and pursuing my passion has unleashed a flash flood of tears in this very public place.

Hours later, my laptop timer and the condensation on my watery iced tea signal it’s time to head home and make dinner. I’m satisfied with 873 words added to my manuscript. Before packing up, I check Facebook and see the message waiting icon. It’s from Dani Shapiro.

I wipe away new tears and take a screen shot of her generous, encouraging comments. As to my crying in the coffee shop, she empathizes and says she once thought of writing a book based on similar experiences. She’d call it Crying in Restaurants.

Dani Shapiro Facebook Message




6 Thoughts on “Crying in Restaurants

  1. Barbara Armstrong on April 5, 2016 at 7:51 am said:

    This will be copied and added to my files from my WRITER daughter and when she has her novel published, I will show it to her and we will probably be in a restaurant and we will both be crying!!!!!

  2. This is a great piece, Suzanne! I love those seemingly random synchronicities that give you chills. They’re kind of like trail markers, letting you know you’re on the right path. …I’d say you’re not only part of the writing tribe, you’re part of that tribe of encouraging and inspiring writers who welcome others into the fold. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  3. Daisy Wawrzonek on April 6, 2016 at 12:06 pm said:

    What a wonderful story!! Thank you for sharing.

REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

Tired kid
Tired kid

Creative Commons Image – Click on photo for source

For about a week, I’ve been contemplating an inspiring post about things that amaze me. But here’s the thing, I have a full time day job, and I’m committed to finishing this latest draft of my novel sooner rather than later. I’M TIRED PEOPLE.

Especially today. My husband and I dogsat last night for my daughter’s two dogs. We love these rent-a-pet opportunities. Throw a stick, scratch a belly, and then wave goodbye.

Thor and Ruger

Last night, her slightly neurotic boxer and fluffy mixed-breed slept over. Thor, the boxer, decided that 2:30 a.m. was a good time to slink over to my side of the bed and lick my hand. I was up Netflix-ing for the next four hours.

But writing this book is something I want to do, so instead of catching up on sleep, I brainstormed the rest of my outline.

All of this whining brings me to the topic of my post today. Sometimes writing things and flinging them out to the universe isn’t always gratifying. Sometimes we’re rejected by the very people who once accepted us and validated our writerly existence.

But I’m trusting all the legends out there,  all the novelists who tell us persistence is the key. So I’m persisting. And yawning. Which is why today, you’re getting a previously unpublished essay instead of my amazingly useful post on wonderous things that amaze me.

This essay was my second submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was rejected. The essay made my sisters cry which is one of my litmus tests. It did not make me cry. Maybe it will make you cry. Maybe not.

Maybe you’ll instantly know why my first submission to the Soup people was accepted and why this one was rejected. Maybe not. Probably not.

I don’t have the energy or desire to resubmit or rewrite this particular piece. I got it out of me and—to paraphrase a lovely novelist I interviewed this week—made it an artifact. This time that was enough.

It’s a true story. Names changed, etc.. I hope it speaks to you.

Remember to just keep “making stuff.” (Yes, that’s from Big Magic by our friend Liz, and yes, I resisted reading it because everyone’s reading it, and yes, now I have bent over every other page because it speaks to me…damn you, Liz!)

Here’s my rejected piece:

Lessons Learned

Had I known that sunny September day would set a course for the next 17 years of my life, I might have thought twice about attending the Parent Volunteer meeting. My brown-eyed girl was starting Kindergarten and I was determined to get involved. I left her two-year-old brother with a neighbor and dressed in my best mom uniform, khaki capris and sandals.

The gymnasium was set with folding chairs and long tables littered with sign-up sheets. There were paper cups filled with lemonade and rows of sparkly sugar cookies and grownups having conversations! I’d escaped the confines of stay-at-home-mom, venturing into the land of Moms Who Help. It was a vast land with its own politics and customs. Our comfortable community in a desirable school district had the unusual problem of fielding too many volunteers. Assignments filled quickly.

Our leader for the afternoon ended her welcome speech by reminding us that there were always areas in need of more help such as the Read-A-Book program. We had a diverse student body many of whose parents did not speak English in the home and did not have access to reading materials. Those volunteers selected would choose books and read aloud weekly to children in need of special attention.

It seemed like the perfect fit. We’d read to our kids from an early age and my daughter would see me helping her classmates. I put my name at the top of the list and selected a few other events as well. I would help stock the Book Fair and come in once a month for Art Parent, whatever that was. I also filled out a lottery form for Room Parent, the most competitive category. Those lucky folks that planned all the classroom parties were chosen in an annual drawing clouded with rumors of fixed entries and other shenanigans.

Throughout the next 17 years, I read to many of my children’s classmates and served as room parent more often than not. I chaperoned field trips to museums and zoos, spotted climbers on the knotted rope in P.E. classes, filled water balloons for orchestra camps, fed referees at wrestling tournaments, grilled bratwurst at football games and demonstrated sculpture to third graders using Hershey Kisses and toothpicks.

The assignment that resonated the most was the reading. It seemed such a simple thing. Each reading day, I’d choose a book from a cabinet in the volunteer room. I’d pull the pocket folder belonging to my student and record the book title. After reading, I returned the folder noting any comments the child made about the book or any requests they had for the following week.

We sat wherever we could find a spot. We’d plop down on big bean bag pillows in a carpeted hallway, a corner of the library, or a special sunny nook with no lockers off the office corridor. Most of the children spoke English but didn’t read much at home either because their parents didn’t have the time or didn’t speak English.

Each year, every session started out tentatively as I got to know my students. They’d ask whose mom I was and slowly, over weeks, they’d relax, revealing their personalities. Some demanded the same book each week. Some wanted me to scour the library to find a special title. Then there was Jake.

Jake was in my daughter’s fourth grade glass and according to other classroom parents, was likely to end up in juvenile detention before making it to high school. He was always in trouble. He swore. He was high energy. He received poor grades. He was troubled by most every definition and was assigned to read with me as his parents didn’t speak English at home.

The first day I called his name, he slapped a book off a classmate’s desk on his way out to join me in the hallway.

“Hi Jake,” I said.

“I hate reading.” He said.

“Good, you don’t have to read. You can just listen if you want.” I slid down the wall to the carpet wondering how I got so lucky to have him on my list.

“Maybe.” But he also sat down, three feet away from me as if he might bolt at any minute.

“I heard you like Goosebumps?”

“Whatever.” But he wasn’t punching anyone or trying to run away.

I opened the book and began to read. Occasionally, I’d sneak a peek at him. He had the spiky bangs in fashion with a lot of the boys. He had giant brown eyes and an 18-inch tail of hair down the middle of his back, the rest of his hair cut short to match his spiky bangs. The tail definitely stood out and I learned other students often teased him about it. The radical hairstyle contributed to his aura as the bad boy of the grade school set.

Our first meeting was deemed a success by his teacher. I could see a change as I called him each following week. He no longer acted out on his way to greet me. Instead, he practically ran and sat so close I could feel his warm skin and smell the baby shampoo his mom used on her special boy. He was always cheerful and seemed well-cared for. I didn’t understand the source of his behavior problems. I was just there to read.

One late spring day, we were finishing our last book of the year. I’d bought each of my students a book as a parting gift and I handed him a new Goosebumps paperback. He didn’t say much just twirled the long tail of hair. I took a risk and asked him about it.

“That must have taken a long time to grow, huh?”

“Yeah, my mom won’t let me cut it.” He didn’t let go of it and rubbed his other hand over the book cover.

“Really? How come?” I didn’t want to be nosey but I was intrigued.

“I was really sick as a baby and my mom told God if he let me live, she’d never cut my hair.”

I swallowed past the lump in my throat and finished reading. When I got to “The End” I closed the book and listened as the muffled sounds of a busy science lesson drifted through the closed classroom door. Other than that, our little alcove in the hallway was silent.

Then I heard Jake clear his throat, “Thanks for reading to me. Maybe I’ll get you next year.”

As my tears threatened to overflow, I risked possible rejection and hugged him. He hugged me right back.

My volunteer efforts on behalf of my two children and several school buildings have had splashier successes. In truth, I’m not even sure that my reading with Jake made any impact on his life other than those few hours we spent together in quiet enjoyment of a good book. What I am sure of is the valuable lessons Jake taught me.

Everyone you meet has a story and usually, you’ll never know what that story is. Secondly, any effort expended on behalf of another human being has the capacity to improve a life. In this case, that life was mine.

11 Thoughts on “REJECTED: Too Tired to Inspire

  1. Well, I liked it Suzanne! A valuable lesson to be reminded of. Who knows what the peeps at Chicken Soup were looking for, anyway? Doesn’t mean they didn’t like it, just that they liked something else better!

    A lovely story, though. <3 🙂 <3

  2. ksamudio on February 29, 2016 at 4:01 pm said:

    Yes, I love it; yes, I did get teary (even before the vow his Mom made to God – it hit me when he sat so close you could feel his warm skin/baby shampoo/Mom’s special boy); yes, I feel confident that you did have an impact on Jake – I’m betting he has never forgotten you, Suzanne the kind reading Mom!

  3. As we ride the life river we pass over stones we may never see again, unaware that our motion has changed their position forever.

  4. That’s a sweet story, Suzanne. I was still thinking about it the next day and the day after that. I think that’s the mark of a good story–one that stays with you! I bet you could find another outlet for it.

    I can also relate to your tiredness and your faith in the power of persistence… in spite of the tiredness and occasional disappointments. It’s all part of the process.

    P.S. I look forward to reading about things that amaze you some other time. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jennifer! I know we all have this limited time and energy quotient to spend on our activities, thoughts, pursuits. How we allocate it can affect what we finish, submit, etc. Pondering the “amazement” thoughts some more. Many thanks for chiming in, especially on the persistence and the process!

  5. Hi Suzanne! I’ve been getting many rejections lately as well! I have to remind myself how many times I have been lucky to get acceptances, which means someone else got the rejections! So I rejoice for those who are getting the “yes” this time around!

A Fine Mess: Writing and the Scientific Method

Writing is Scientific

I’m sitting in a middle school gymnasium wondering how I could have forgotten the deafening, high-pitched squeal produced by over one hundred 13-year-olds. My daughter, a research biologist, coaches a science Olympiad team on invasive species and my husband and I have come to cheer them on.

Bob the Bubble Man entertains the students waiting for their final scores and medals to be handed out. He repeats over and over that science is all about asking questions. If we want to make this bubble bounce on our hand, what’s the best way? Should we use a dry hand, a wet hand, or maybe a gloved hand?

Bob the Bubble Man

Writing fiction is all about asking questions. How would our protagonist react to this situation? What is the more dramatic choice in this scene? Would telling the story from a different point of view reveal more character?

My daughter’s team scores two big victories and over a celebratory dinner, I chat with the head coach, a Ph.D. entomologist, about projects she and my daughter are developing in their day jobs for the same scientific company, and I update her on the progress I’ve made on my novel. She’s a big reader and curious about the writing process.

I share the stops and starts, how detours down one path have led me to revelations about changing the point of view, even the tense I’m using to tell my chosen story. How I’ve narrowed down—finally and after three full drafts—what my story is actually about. How I feel like I have the tenuous grasp of a spine that I’m building on and how all the “mistakes” have gotten me to this point.

Writing is Scientific

She nods knowingly and shares how she must coax the junior scientists on her team into making mistakes on purpose. She encourages them to pursue unusual avenues in the hopes of uncovering something new.

Sometimes, she’s frustrated with the younger scientists who, having mastered one testing method, become comfortable and want to stick with it. She has to nudge and push them out of their comfort zone.

Writers have comfort zones, too. We identify as pantsers or outliners. Like scientists, we can benefit from trying different methods or inventing new methods.

As a former die-hard pantser, I hesitated to use even a beat sheet, but in later drafts, outlines have helped me shape my character’s focus and purpose.

The doc reminds me of a development project she worked on and how the genesis of the idea came to her in the shower. She asked “what if” questions and hit on a unique solution that continues to pay off.

She leads a team of researchers and is responsible for encouraging them to move past their fear, to encourage them to look at what would they try “if they weren’t afraid of being wrong,” of wasting time or resources. She teaches them to expect dead ends and detours. It means they’re exploring possibilities.

Back to Bob the Bubble guy. He asks the kids to predict how best to bounce a bubble on their hands. He recruits three volunteers and they try all three options. Turns out the dry hand pops the bubble, the wet hand causes the bubble to stick and on the third try, on the gloved hand, the bubble bounces over and over, glistening under the gym lights.

Cool Scientists

Cool Scientists!

What would you try if you weren’t afraid of being wrong, of wasting time? What would you create?



4 Thoughts on “A Fine Mess: Writing and the Scientific Method

  1. great observation!

  2. Painting/drawing. I have it all in my mind, but it doesn’t ever come out that well in reality! Perhaps I am afraid of being crap at it! So I don’t try. Like a true hedgehog.

    Thanks for dragging me out from under the safety of the leaf pile!

    A xx

To Bend or Not to Bend: In Defense of Dog-Eared Books

Origami Bookmark Etsy

Origami Bookmark Etsy

Today, I came across this adorable idea for an origami book mark. It promised to prevent the age-old problem of lost bookmarks slipping out of pages, or the emergency need to dog-ear a corner.

But here’s the thing, I don’t use bookmarks. I crease the corners of, write in, and generally molest whatever book I’m reading.

Some readers are anti-crease and adamantly so, but I like my books to be lived in. For me, a book without bent corners is like a living room sofa with plastic slip covers or the fancy china that no one uses.

Crinkled corners do more than remind you where you left off the night before. You follow them to your favorite passages, like a well-worn path through a patch of woods.

Book blemishes leave an impression of those that read the same words as you and welcomed the tale into their hearts and minds.

They let you know what your friends thought of the book you adored and insisted they borrow. Bending the pages softens them in a way, helps release the essence of the book.

dog-eared book

Of course I respect the preferences of friends if I’m the one borrowing. But, yes, I do bend library book pages! I never mind checking out a book that has wrinkled pages or fingerprints. Reader residue adds dimension to the experience.

A turned-down corner won’t slip out and get lost under your bed, or fall into a mud puddle as you scramble off the train.

It’s not that I don’t have bookmarks; I have received dozens of them as gifts, and I love them all. When I receive one, I’m reminded that the giver understands how much books matter to me.

My daughter brought me a leather monogrammed bookmark during a high school tour of Italy and a metal one engraved with a thoughtful message at the rehearsal dinner the night before her wedding.


My son brought me a book of Abraham Lincoln quotes and matching bookmark from a middle school field trip to Springfield because he knew I loved books and Honest Abe.

Bookmarks are the ultimate book accessory. I save them, display them, or use them with art books, coffee table books, and collectibles.

But most books are to be consumed, devoured, and remembered. The wrinkled pages and stretched spines of a book tell us that something was well-loved and served a noble purpose, like frayed cuffs on an old pair of jeans or initials carved in a farm table.

origami bookmark






Our reading habits, like our book buying habits are personal. We prefer hardcover or e-Readers, ordering from Amazon or visiting independent bookstores. You may be a stickler for pristine pages, or are you a rebel like me?

Origami isn’t my thing, but I made the referenced bookmark in under a minute using a discarded calendar page. I’m pretty sure I won’t use it.

6 Thoughts on “To Bend or Not to Bend: In Defense of Dog-Eared Books

  1. Hmm, interesting! I’d never really thought of “book blemishes” this way. I tend to fall more in the “protect and preserve” camp. I might put post-it tabs on the edge of a page, but I’d never write in a book or fold the pages. Even when a book comes with blank lines meant to be filled… I’ll use a separate notebook instead! I’m not sure why that is. I think your way sounds more lovable and less stuffy. 🙂

    • I think this is my rationalization post 🙂 I may just be too haphazard and disorganized for “protect and preserve!” But it came from the heart. I also do the sticky thing – especially in a book I’m going to review, or if it’s from an author I’m interviewing. I have to highlight all the bits I loved. Funny how we all have an identifiable tendency, though. Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read!

  2. Ha ha! I have 5 bookmarks, which I manage to lose regularly, in various books I am currently trying to read simultaneously. 😉 So like you, I dog ear! It’s a sign of affection!! 😁

    Nice post Suzanne!

    Love from the little Swiss Hedgeworm. xx

  3. I’m a “new” book person, meaning I always want the crispest, most perfect version on the shelf. That said, I leave my mark on a book, bending, noting, highlighting, etc. On the occasion that my crazy need for a clean book is overridden by finding a book at the library or one loaned by a friend, I am always intrigued by what the previous reader found illuminating. The dog ears, underlines and cracked spines at a particular plot point make me think about what drew a person to that word or sentence. It is a book within the book.

    • Yes, Deb! I love the new, best, untarnished version from the bookstore. Leave the crinkling and wrinkling to me!!! Along the lines of your highlighting, I’m always intrigued when I go back to a treasured book (maybe on craft or on the writing life) and see that a section that speaks to me now so pointedly didn’t speak to me at the time. Almost like reading a whole new book!

Christmas of Sloth or You Won’t Find this Post Useful

Suzanne as Sloth

Suzanne as Sloth

Writing a blog means writing a blog even when you don’t feel like it. Scratching your head, coming up with topics that at least one person finds interesting or useful.

It means putting ideas down on the screen with an ice storm pelting your windows and the Christmas tree desiccating in the corner.

I was going to write about goals achieved: Five bylines for the local newspaper, a book signing for charity, my first author panel at a big city bookstore.

Then I was going to choose favorite posts of the year, but the ones I think were my best aren’t the ones most people cared about.

So instead, I’m going to talk about what I got for Christmas. And by “got,” I mean unwrapped – not family love, peace, and harmony, blah blah blah, though fortunately I received that as well.

Christmas 2015 was the Christmas of Sloth.

By request, I received 4 or 5 bubble bath/body scrub products.

I received two magazine subscription renewals: Entertainment Weekly  (lots of book reviews), Writers Digest. And a few others including Flow, which is a magazine for paper lovers, weird, I know. And Poets & Writers.

Books! I got books! I’m almost done reading Descent by Tim Johnston which was a request of mine. I have The Virgins by Pamela Erens waiting in the wings. This novel was a recommendation from a writing teacher.

Using some gift certificates, I’ve ordered three other books that should arrive by tomorrow: Eats, Shoots and Leaves (yes, it’s a book about punctuation), the latest Stephen Hawking, and a book on the law of attraction.

Candy, candles, football tickets, a 2016 Sister calendar, new bras in my stocking from Victoria Secret (an annual tradition). So many other cool things but for now, I’m focused on the relaxation of it all. Ooooh, a pedicure gift certificate.

Almost forgot. My sister just sent me a new karaoke machine. I have one in the kitchen but the microphone is going. This new microphone is pristine, and now, if I feel like it, I can have a friend join me for a duet.

Basically, I’ll be laying in a hot tub of soapy water reading for the next six weeks. When (if) I emerge, I will put on new stretchy clothes, and sing to my heart’s content.

I’m filling up the well, reading Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, reading great novels, and allowing myself to write what I want. Notebook is next to the bed for ideas visiting at night, laptop is charged.

Soon enough, my sloth stage will pass. A new correspondence course on Story as a State of Mind awaits when I’m ready. And my novel. My novel is calling.

What were your favorite gifts of 2015?

2 Thoughts on “Christmas of Sloth or You Won’t Find this Post Useful

  1. That sounds like a lovely Christmas, Suzanne. My favorite gifts are the “pampering” kind of gifts too–self-care, relaxation, sloth… it’s all good. 🙂 And now I want to check out all those books you mentioned!

    By the way, I can relate to that “head-scratching” feeling of trying to come up with a blog post every week. You’re doing a great job!

    • Hope you got some pampering, Jennifer! I’m in the middle of doing some writing exercises so the blog posts get challenging when you feel like all your good ideas get used up 🙂 Refilling the well helps, doesn’t it? Thanks again for reading and Happy, Healthy New Year!

10 Ways to Ensure Your Christmas Letter is Used as Kindling

Christmas Letter Photo
Christmas Letter Photo

The most requested photo.

It’s that time of year again, time for the beloved tradition of the annual family Christmas* letter. These letters are often a chore to write and for many, to read. Last Christmas, my mother-in-law asked me if I was tired because the letter wasn’t as entertaining as usual. You can’t please everyone.

I skipped one year thinking no one would care, but we actually got phone calls and notes requesting one. I know, shocking, right?

This year, I will send our 23rd letter inside a traditional Christmas card along with a family photo.

Family 1993

For more than two decades, I’ve forced my family to pose in front of the tree or under a picturesque pine frosted in snow. It almost always ends in tears, mine or the kids. My husband cries on the inside.

Choosing a card is usually the first step and I’ve developed some unbreakable anal retentive habits. For example, I can’t buy a card with three snowmen on the cover (or three stockings, or two penguins) because there are four people in my family. It’s like I’m killing one of them off.

circa 1997

I’ve tried to order photo cards or pre-printed cards to save time, but when the holidays roll around, I can’t go through with it. My mother’s voice echoes in my head that at least once a year, everyone deserves a personal note or hand-written signature.

Below you will find 10 things I’ve tried to avoid doing in my letters. It’s personal preference of course, and along the way, I may have been guilty of one or two of the things on the list . . . but never more than two in one year!

10 Ways to Ensure Your Christmas Letter is Used as Kindling

  1. Start out with a complaint, you know, something original about the cold weather or how fast the year went by.
  2. Brag about your kids’ trophies or grades without acknowledging they’re on parole, slated for rehab, or at least halo-free.
  3. Share the cost, make and model of your new car, or other luxury purchase. Nothing says Peace on Earth like taking inventory of our stuff.
  4. Detail the exotic vacations you’ve enjoyed while we’ve been stuck at work. You didn’t take us with you. We do not care.
  5. Write it from the viewpoint of a family pet. Seriously. We dare you.
  6. Whine about how everyone starts celebrating too early. Because your timeline is universal and everyone should fall in line.
  7. Rub your busy holiday itinerary in the noses of the lonely and depressed. They need to know someone is more fortunate. You’re providing a service, really.
  8. Describe all the medical procedures undergone by you and your relatives. Include lots of squishy details about incisions and bodily fluids or anything in the hemorroidal area.
  9. Include lots of photos, at least 12, and make them tiny, so we need a microscope.
  10. Make it more than two pages long and single space it. Why wouldn’t we want to know more about your family than we do about our own?

10 Ways to Ensure Your Christmas Letter is Used as Kindling

One of the reasons I still do a letter is my husband loves it. He’s not what you’d describe as a touchy-feely guy, but the fact that he let me dress him up in long-johns for a Christmas photo tells you something.

I wanted to include some of the awful photos, the ones where you can tell someone has been crying but they reflect poorly on me. Do you still send cards? What about a letter? What’s the worst card or photo you received?


*Christmas is what my family and I celebrate so that’s what I write about. Feel free to substitute the word “holiday” or whatever holidays you and your loved ones celebrate.


6 Thoughts on “10 Ways to Ensure Your Christmas Letter is Used as Kindling

  1. Ha Ha Ha! This is cute. Love the red long johns! Now I’m all inspired to write a Christmas letter… keeping in mind your advice, of course. Thanks for sharing your tradition!

  2. LOVED this…hilarious. I remember our card drama. It was a drama or a farce. I had them dress up for “Christmas Around the World”. Each year a new country. The dog quit when she had to wear a sombrero. We also did pirates and American Gothic Christmas. The best pics were the outtakes. Sharing on FB

  3. This is awesome 🙂

One Way to Help France

How to Help France

How to Help France

I don’t know how to heal France.

The Facebook memes are flying, and the French flag covers everyone’s faces. I am not politically astute or well-versed on world politics, and I’m not a religious scholar. But I’m pretty sure that a new Facebook app or a trending hashtag probably isn’t enough.

If participating in the social media outpouring offers solace or a feeling of solidarity, I don’t judge that. But for me, it mostly seems like a temporary way to make ourselves feel better. And maybe that’s okay.

I don’t know how to stop ISIS.

Ranting with outrage and sadness, cathartic though it may be, doesn’t seem to offer much hope or substance.

Hating all religion seems illogical. Religion has rightly been blamed as a catalyst for violence, yet also relied upon as a source of immeasurable comfort to millions throughout the most painful moments in human history.

Invoking one religion over another doesn’t seem right either. How will more hate and blame fix anything?

My reflex is to binge-watch sitcoms on Netflix. Laugh. Escape. Medicate. But that’s just a deep, dark spiral toward over-referencing dated shows and too much snacking.

So what should I do? What can we do?

A quote from an unexpected source struck a nerve and echoed wise words from an old childhood friend, Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

That feels right. Small, maybe, but at least it doesn’t seem useless or incendiary.  What if we went a step beyond and copied the helpers?

Help someone.

How? Where? Well, I don’t know anyone in France. I’ve never even been to France. But there are people there helping each other, taking in neighbors, hugging strangers, crying together, offering comfort.

Help someone nearby, someone you know, or someone you don’t. Help with something big or something small. Help one time, for one minute. Or help for an hour or a day or a week.

Our energy is either positive or negative. You choose what you spread.

Spread hope. Infect people.

Babysit for a new mom, or an old tired one. Rake leaves, shovel a driveway, send a note to a crabby aunt, or a piece of pie to the lonely guy down the street. Offer your seat on the train, a smile, or a compliment to a stranger on the sidewalk.

Become temporarily inconvenienced.

Delete negative postings. Don’t argue. Don’t try to convince. Seek first to understand.

I don’t know what the appropriate military response should be. I have no expertise on how to strategically stop attacks in other cities.

I love the idea of America sending assistance, but I don’t relish sending our soldiers. That means my niece and my child’s oldest friend and a classmate’s son would all be put in harms way.

But if troops are sent, support them, encourage them, respect them.

I have no public platform to influence world opinion. If I went on a hunger strike demanding world peace, approximately seven people would care.

But I can do good in my house, on my street, in my town. So I’ll be on the lookout for that.

Don’t watch all nine seasons of The Office three times in less than a month. (But do watch it. Steve Carell is amazing, and Pam and Jim? My heart can’t take it!)

Don’t accept hate. Don’t allow despair. Don’t invite rage.

We’re all swirling molecules of energy. Maybe our molecules never make it all the way to France; there are many other places I’ve longed to visit first. But if we all help someone closer to home, and that person someday visits France, maybe just maybe . . .




10 Thoughts on “One Way to Help France

  1. Exactly. Become aware of who we are and why we’re here. Remember our humanity. Inconvenience ourselves with helping someone else. Brilliant. I believe (that’s my religion), that we can create a tipping point of humanity. More love less hate, more hugs less harm, more help less judgment. I love (d) Mr. Rogers.

  2. Beautifully said, Suzanne. Those are wise words to remember when the ever-dour news starts to get me down. Thank you for this!

  3. this is beautiful, Suzanne. I wrote something so similar and am going to share too. Let’s keep the small kindnesses present every day. Thank you for posting!

  4. <3 this! Well said, Suzy B!

  5. Deb Chavez on November 17, 2015 at 9:50 pm said:

    So proud to have you as my BFF! Imagine if everyone did just one kind thing for someone every day?! Life is a blessing and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Awesome post!

Where Were You?



Through the fog of memory, I know I was driving a 1985 Toyota Corolla – a trusty, rusty, brown sedan with standard transmission and a bazillion miles on it. My seven-year-old son had just scampered out of the back seat and into the line of students meandering and shoving their way into school that morning.

My daughter, 11 1/2, turned down a ride in favor of the school bus to get a few extra minutes socializing with her friends instead of a boring ride with mom and her baby brother.

The radio still worked, and WLS 890 Chicago crackled in the background. I sat stunned in the parking lot listening to the news. A plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Was it an accident? Was it an attack?

I drove home determined to check some things off my housekeeping list instead of collapsing on the sofa in front of Oprah. But first, I turned on the news to see if there were any updates. One of the first things I saw was footage of a plane flying into the World Trade Center.

A replay, I thought. But why was the other building already . . . no, this was a second plane. My first reaction was to call my husband, a carpenter, at work in one of the office buildings in Chicago.

I told him I’d dropped our son off and our daughter was probably already at school. Should I go pick them up? Bring them home? The urge to have them near was overwhelming.

Instead, he suggested they’d feel safer, more normal if we left them at school with their regular schedule and friends to distract them. He didn’t think the teachers and administration would bombard them with news images. If there were an emergency close by, he reasoned, the school would be notified before we were.

So, home alone, I sat in front of the television and watched both buildings collapse. Or maybe it was only one. The truth is, what I mostly remember is sitting in the car, listening to the radio and then calling my husband and wanting my babies at home.

Later that day, my husband would call again and tell me he was working in the suburban Chicago AON building off the tollways. They had offices in the top floors of one of the Twin Towers. He said he’d never forget the looks on people’s faces as they talked on the phone with coworkers in New York who knew they wouldn’t make it out.

I remember Alan Jackson’s poignant, thought-provoking song. I remember the endless news cycle carrying dusty white images of the horrified bystanders and those fortunate enough to escape.

Saturday Night Live with the Mayor and the Firemen looking uncomfortable, sad, maybe even a little embarrassed – wondering what they were doing standing on stage. David Letterman giving everyone permission to laugh again.

Not much of a story. Just one memory of one woman in the Midwest wondering what the hell had happened to our crazy world.

I’d mostly stopped watching televised news by this time, thanks in large part to the 1994 incident when a mother drowned her own sons after falsely claiming she was carjacked. I thought there was no reason to subject myself to that kind of evilness on a nightly pre-programmed basis.

Somehow, I always manage to stay abreast of current affairs. I seek out multiple points of view on various topics of note. I research, I look into things. But I have continued my boycott of tragedy and horrific images as entertainment.

But I watched as the world watched that September day.

2 Thoughts on “Where Were You?

  1. Great post, really good details and descriptions – I, too, remember exactly what happened on that day.