Going down a rabbit hole: Learning from GOMI


A blogger I follow on Facebook recently mentioned GOMI and why she didn’t want to know what people said about her on the popular forum. GOMI stands for “Get Off My Internets” and is a blog about blogs. The blog itself follows the big names on the Internet but wading in the forums will show you the second tier bloggers, popular enough to annoy people but not so much that they would land a mention on the blog. And oh my goodness, “wading” is the proper term.

I first went wading into GOMI forums out of curiosity. My husband and I are preparing a re-launch and re-branding of this blog with the hope of building an income-generating website. Reading GOMI was first shocking, then amusing, then I figured that I could probably learn a thing or two about what pushes people’s buttons. Not being popular enough to register on the GOMI scale also means that I am not popular enough to have dedicated haters. There is something about popularity and envy that draws people to read something just to get their buttons pushed. I’m not sure I understand this about human nature but I’ve been around the Net enough to know it’s true. I think that people who don’t like my blog simply stop reading it. That’s the advantage of being small fry. Of course the disadvantage is that I don’t earn income from my writing.

Freed from the fear of finding my blog mentioned on GOMI, I was able to find a groove reading people’s beef. I focused my attention on the “Mommy/Daddy Bloggers” and the “Annoying Catholics” sub-forum found in the “Fundie Blogging” (Fundie as in fundamentalist as in “cults or extreme religion” which  in reality means “Christianity writ large with a sprinkling of Mormons”.) I don’t think I broadcasts my beliefs too much on this blog but as a practicing Catholic homeschooling mom of 9 children, I think that I get an Annoying Catholic mention just by getting-up in the morning. I swear that’s not why I do it.

I learned a few things about the treacherous waters of mommy blogging, and the even riskier waters of Annoying Catholicity. How do you feel about each of them? True, false, OMGoshNailedit!?

  1. There is a fine line between showing your children and exploiting your children. The raison d’être of family bloggers is to let readers peek into their lives but readers will turn on their favorite bloggers if they cross the line into exploitation. If it looks like your children are making the money and you’re just using it, watch out. Think Kate Gosselin.
  2. Bloggers should respect their children’s privacy. Think about your 2 year-olds as job-seeking 25 year-olds. How will they feel about having their anal retentiveness expounded over a Google-searchable 10-posts series?  You can write about potty training challenges without naming names.
  3. You should be “relatable” but not too real. That’s a tricky one. If you are a lifestyle, food or fashion blogger, you have to look perfect. However, if you are a mommy blogger you are expected to perform a tightrope act between looking like you have it all figured out (condescending) and being too whiny (get off the Internet and figure it out). This is especially true for Annoying Catholics who do not use artificial birth control. If you make having 10 children in 8 years look easy and fun you are obviously hiding something (like a full time nanny and a six-figure salary). If you make having 10 children in 8 years look difficult and challenging then you should start thinking for yourself and get an IUD.
  4. The way to make money blogging is through sponsored posts. A sponsored post is a post for which you are paid by a sponsor. It is usually written by the blogger although it can also be written by the sponsor and published on a blog. This is another tightrope act: it’s ok to make money blogging but you can’t be too obvious about it. You’re damned if you read like hired PR but you are also damned if you bite the hand that feeds you. In other words, if some clothing company flies you and your family someplace warm for a holiday-photo-shoot and you publish a sponsored blog post that is both crass and poorly written, and the sponsor gets angry and withdraws its sponsorship and you whine about it ceaselessly on your blog, you’ll end-up on GOMI. We’re not even close but I promise that if you fly my Annoying Catholic family anywhere south of Ottawa, Ontario, I will write you the best and brightest write-up you’ve ever read. I don’t even care if it’s for cat shampoo and we don’t own a cat.
  5. People want drama. But not too much drama. People want drama they can consume with their popcorn. popcorn-blankNobody wants to be privy to a train wreck in slow motion. It’s better to take it off-line for a little bit and write about the experience in hindsight (and with a little bit of perspective) than fall apart in public. It makes people squirmy and it makes the popcorn soggy.
  6. Finally, all of the above can be forgiven if you are a really good writer.

In other words, I will never get rich writing.

 

What they ate (or didn’t) this week and some thoughts about keeping Fridays


One of my favorite bloggers, Simcha Fisher, started a recurring — or not — feature on her blog I have to Sit Down called “What’s for Supper?”. Because I also feed a crowd every day and because I’m not one to miss a good link-up (I like having a topic picked for me, I’m that kind of lazy), here is my contribution.

The ground rules as far as our family of 11 is concerned are simple:

  • The meals must be simple and contain easily identifiable ingredients. Casseroles rarely fly here, unless they are a simple gratin.
  • My husband and I try to avoid grains during weekdays. Fresh corn doesn’t count as grain.
  • We don’t eat dessert on weekdays.
  • Normally I make a meal plan on Saturday, shop for food on Sunday and will often need another produce run midweek. For the last 9 months, I’ve been out of meal planning and our grocery budget is running amok.
  • Supper needs to be figured out and started by 3:30pm if we want to eat by 5:30pm, clean-up the supper dishes and have the five younger kids in bed between 7:00 and 8:00 pm. Lately — because of absentee planning — supper gets going around 5:30pm, we eat at 7:00 and we’re lucky if the kids are in bed by 9:00pm. We are still in “summer mode” but we’re fraying at the edges. Chaos and exhaustion are threatening our entire livelihood and we hope to return to normal as soon as we can find the energy to turn this boat around.
  • My husband is often gone from home from 7 am until close to 7 pm. We live in a rural community so we avoid evening engagements such as extracurricular activities as much as possible: driving into town at supper/bedtime was in fashion in 2010-2012, now we’re traumatized.

MONDAY

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Eye of round roast (this one has to be started in the afternoon)

Roasted potatoes: I just quarter a whole bag of baby potatoes from Costco, lay them on parchment paper, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper, and bake at 415F for about 20 mn.

Red cabbage slaw. Or as we are expected to call it “red-but-should-be-purple-cabbage”, with vinaigrette (1/3 red vinegar, 2/3 olive oil and a splotch of Dijon proportional to what you used as a basic measurement. I do 1 cup red vinegar, 2 cups of oil and a heaping tablespoon of Dijon. There’s leftovers.)

Broccoli . Because everyone here eats broccoli but red cabbage slaw is touch and go. I like giving the kids a chance to win.

TUESDAY

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Tuesday, we received our school books. Yay?

Fish and fries. That’s what I make when I forget to take meat out of the freezer. I don’t consider cucumbers to be a real vegetable, it’s mostly water and seeds, but I just can’t sleep unless there is something green on offer. And cucumber is green.

WEDNESDAY

Blog post_What they ate this week wed I

Roasted chickens and fresh corn on the cob. I use the organic chickens from Costco, throw them on a roasting sheet with salt, pepper, onion flakes and smoked paprika and roast them at 415F for 45mn or something. Two chickens and 12 corns fed my “small” family: the three oldest were out of the house.

When I cut the chickens, I throw the carcasses and drippings straight into a large Dutch oven. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar, fill with water and make broth right away. I used to keep the bones in a ziploc bag in the fridge until I had the optimal broth ingredients, also known as “until the carcasses turned moldy and my husband threw them out.” Water, bones, vinegar, boil forever.

THURSDAY

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We had friends for lunch and I made quesadillas with the leftover chicken and corn.

For dinner, I roasted sweet peppers, carrots, garlic and a Lego wheel — just kidding! I removed the wheel before roasting. Then I had afterthoughts and checked the oven again. Phew! I did remove the wheel… — and made some orange soup with the chicken broth.

I also made a tomato salad with cherry tomatoes from my sister’s garden and basil from our garden. I used the same dressing as earlier this week.

FRIDAY

Here comes Friday. I follow a few Catholic bloggers from the United States and was curious as to why they seemed to universally abstain from meat on Friday. It picked my curiosity because I know some very legit Canadian Catholics who do not abstain from meat on Friday. Recently, I spoke about it with my spiritual director, as I was really struggling with the concept of abstaining from meat on Friday. The problem seemed to be twofold. First, meatless dishes in my family are mostly party food. They are also really easy to make for me. I felt like pancakes were too much fun for a Friday observance of the death of Jesus, fish is too good, soup and bread are comfort foods, sandwiches are a get-out-of-jail-free card for me, and so on. I came to the conclusion that the only sort of meal that would look like a universal family sacrifice would be a dish that is really complicated to make for me and that the kids don’t like, like vegan moussaka or lasagna. But making food that everyone hates is wasteful. Back to square one. Making an elaborated, suitably mortifying, vegan dish also prevented me from going to Mass and Adoration on Friday evening, the only weekday Mass offered in my Parish at a time later than 8:00 am. My spiritual adviser wisely noted that in Canada, the Conference of Catholic Bishops did not require the faithful to abstain from meat on Fridays outside of Lent but encouraged us to keep Friday through some kind of penance, prayer or act of charity. Maybe, she added, organizing your day and your evening meal so that you are able and ready to leave home at 6:00pm to go to Mass and Adoration is all the penance you need to keep Friday? Well… Now that you mention it yes, having supper ready, served, eaten and cleaned-up by 6:00 pm requires my entire day to shift 2h early.

So we had hamburgers. And Mass was cancelled that night. Oh well.

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I make hamburgers using an entire pallet of ground beef from Costco. That’s in the vicinity of 3-4 lbs I think. I season the meat with my usual suspects (onion flakes, salt, sage and smoked paprika) and beat it into large but thin patties. As you can see from the picture above, they fluff-up as they cook. If you make them small and thick, you’ll end-up with a meatball on your bun. Know what I mean?

SATURDAY

Collage_Saturday picnic Kingston

On Saturday, we traveled to Kingston, Ontario to attend our son’s entrance ceremony to the Royal Military College. We called-up some old and dear friends and asked if we could stop at their house with our burgers and sausages for a last minute BBQ. We left home with a cooler full of meat and ice packs for the supper and a picnic lunch. When picnicking with van full of little kids, simple is key. I bought a big bag of round buns from Costco, some ham, celery sticks, apples and go-go-squeeze tool of the devil and a big jug of lemonade. The picnic by Lake Ontario quickly degenerated into underage skinny dipping and we made it to the ceremony well-fed, bathed and relatively dry.

Collage_RMC Arch Ceremony

For the history buffs amongst you, the middle picture in the collage above is the parade square at Royal Military College. In the very background on the left hand side of the picture is Fort Henry, a National Historic Site of Canada. The building immediately behind the parade square is HMCS Stone Frigate. Yes! The building is a boat! It’s Colin’s dorm and it’s called affectionately “the boat”. It’s the oldest building at RMC and it even has its own Wikipedia page. Can your dorm say as much??

After the ceremony, we headed to our friends’ house for an impromptu BBQ. There are a few things I enjoy more than seeing old friends, especially when our children get along well. Feeding 4 adults, their 9 children and the 6 children we had with us in one sitting was impossible so we took turns. First thing children, then the teenagers and eventually the moms and dads got to have a seat. Their 4 year-old twins Binh and Phuoc ate through all three sittings, a wonderful sight when you think of everything these girls have been through. ← (The article linked there is excellent. You should really read it.)

Collage_Supper at the Wagners

And there you have it my friends, what we ate last week. Now I must hang-up and run make supper. Another week awaits.

“I was spanked as a child and I turned out fine”


A Facebook Friend (who is also a blog reader, hi!!) recently posted this meme on her timeline:

for-those-of-you-who-are-against-spanking-your-children-79911

As a result of spanking or in spite of it?

Hitting children is not new and the world has kept on turning, I’ll concede the point. But I always get a chuckle when people claim that despite something “they turned out all right” . From politicians to policy-makers, business and community leaders, from the smallest to the largest units, people “who turned out fine” are having the babies, making the decisions and overall having a direct impact on the world we live in.

The numbers are in and can we really pretend that “we turned out all right”? Whether you lean left or right, it’s hard to argue that everything is all right with the world today. As a society, we’ve been unwilling to care enough about the consequences of our purchase decisions to pay for their actual cost. From environmental degradation to sweat shops, if our wallets are happy, we’re content to let “others” live with the consequences of our actions. We have a hiccup of remorse when tragedies like the Rana Plaza put us in front of our lifestyle choices but not enough to change anything. That would require sacrifice. And sacrifice is hard, especially when it involves others. We like the kind of sacrifice that get us ahead somehow. Like saving money, or going to school. Paying $200 for a pair of ethically sourced shoes? What’s in it for me?

Any minute increase in the price of gas  or electricity sends us writing to our MPs. Heaven forbids we should pay the actual cost of our endless thirst for energy. We want the SUV and the soaring two-storey windows in a sub-polar climate, how are we supposed to have this without energy subsidies? We subsidize the rich and the poor equally in the name of an infantile understanding of fairness. We hate to pay taxes, yet expect Cadillac entitlements on a K-car budget. Let the others pay the taxes. We shake our heads in contempt at governments’ willful blindness on debt, deficits and quantitative easing, yet we run our personal spreadsheets according to similar principles. We vocally take financial institutions to task for raking-in record-breaking profits while doing the same thing with our personal money. Let them share the banks’ obscene profits but not those of our favorite sports and entertainment personalities. We elect tax-cutting governments, then turn around and require social services. We suffer from a collective inability to be consistent with our political and economical beliefs. It’s all about me: my money, my entitlements, my job, my lifestyle, my stuff. We lean left when the State giveth and right when the State taketh away. We are unable to see that our day-to-day decision-making reflects that of the world leaders and financial planners we so adamently denounce for their self-serving ways.

We were spanked as children and turned out all right, yet incidences of mental illness and addictive behaviours are soaring, not only amongst ourselves but in our children as well. School yard bullies and victims grow into workplace bullies and victims. We profess zero-tolerance as harassment and belittling reduce our neighbours and colleagues to rubble. We reach deep into our reserves of righteous indignation when a child dies at her own hands but we look the other way when the hazing happens in our own backyard. How many parents of bullies were spanked as children and turned out all right? How many bullies have grown out of attachment voids passed down generations? Meanwhile, social and medical academic litterature has been linking addictive behaviours to unmet attachment needs since the ’70s and we keep spewing nonsense about “turning out fine.”

We are not fine. Our marriages are not fine. We are unable to put others’ wellbeing before our own, even when research consistently shows that children are wounded even by the most amiable of family breakdowns. Whenever someone declares that they were spanked as children “and turned out fine” I always want to start a game of 20 questions: oh yeah? How’s your relationship with your teenagers? How many relationships have you left? How’s your relationship with your boss? Your colleagues? Authority? Your faith? Are you still with your spouse? Is it possible that the voids in your life might have been left by unmet attachment needs? Would you entertain the idea that being hit by your parents might have had an influence on your inability to persevere through challenges or — the opposite — to leave abusive relationships?

We suffer from that psychological condition known as “respect for others” which causes us to share heartwarming viral stories about disabled people beating all the odds while we terminate our disabled pregnancies in ever increasing numbers. With the growth of prenatal diagnosis and the expectation that “the government” will take care of our medical needs, the primary care of physically and mentally disabled people has become a matter of choice. We call ourselves tolerant, fighters, believers. But when our turn comes to rise above, accept difference and take a chance at love when love is scary, we refuse. Today, 9 out of 10 pregnancies of children affected by Down Syndrome are terminated. Our psychological condition known as “respect for others” doesn’t extend to our own children, which we are not quite ready to love unconditionally. We tolerate difference only in the most limited sense of the term: to allow the existence of something that we do not necessarily like or agree with. We celebrate difference on the outside but on the inside we believe that the disabled life is not worth living. 

In a recent ad for a radio segment on Alzheimer’s disease, the announcer declared: “Alzheimer’s: first it robs you of your memories, then of your physical abilities, and eventually of your dignity…” Does it really? Is the indignity of the aged and the ill such an accepted fact that we no longer pretend to respect them? Our psychological condition known as ‘respect for other’ is an exclusive club where the “other” worth respecting is young, healthy and suitably well-off. The poor and the downtrodden need not apply: we’re so full of “respect”, we no longer have room for compassion. 

So stop with the memes already and go hug your kids. Your parents’ smacks are not genetic, you don’t have to pass them down a generation. Let’s see if love can build a better world than spanks have.