Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Authors and soap makers constantly need reviews and critiques. They need people to read their books or wash with their soap, and then they need those readers/washers to write down and post what they thought of the book or sudsy soap in a public place like Amazon.com. 

If a writer can get enough readers to rate and review their book on a single special day, the list maker fairies will sit up and take notice. 

“Hey,” the list maker fairies will shout, “Look here! Someone who knows how to post on Amazon has read this book. To the cool book list.” 

And then other people see the cool book list and say, “Hey, what’s happening here? I want to be cool too and read that book.”

I don’t know if it’s the same for soap people. I guess it is: soap, suds, rinse, repeat . . . write a review. 

It’s possible to review everything from coal tar soap to goat halters on Amazon.com. It can be a lot of fun to say stuff about goat halters.

In the interest of encouraging more reviewing of everything from goat halters to fire starters to gummy calcium chews to my newest book, Beyond the Strandline, soon to be launched and thrown into the happy winds of the book judging public, I’m writing this checklist, “How to Review Anything.” 

#1. Go with saying something nice if you can and be specific! Find one to three positive things to say about the soap: nice packaging, good heft, quick delivery. Or about a book: excellent title; snapping dialogue; I wet my pants over the ending. Or about the gummy calcium chews: tasty, gummy, fruity—not chalky at all. 

#2. Sometimes a quick description is helpful. Like: “The soap comes in a nice thick black bar and smells like coal tar, but it cleans like Windex for skin.”

#3. Constructive criticism is a fine art. Comparing a book to whale dung is neither helpful nor constructive. Extending the criticism to compare a book to the stuff under whale dung isn’t helpful, nor constructive, or enlightening. How does a writer improve from the stuff under whale dung to actual whale dung? There’s no path to a better way. 

#4. Be constructive. Try starting the beginning of a review with an upbeat observation. For example: “While I enjoyed the strong bones the calcium gummies might give me, the chalk-like texture and flavor which cause my tongue to cleave to the roof of my mouth prohibit me from giving this my highest rating.” 

#5. If you must be scathing and sometimes you must . . . be brief. All that should be said at times like those, “Yikes.” 

#6. Actually, it’s the rule of threes. Find three strengths or likeable aspects and comment then follow that with three areas that could be improved upon. It’s rarely that there isn’t something happy to say or suggest, although I’ll confess I’ve critiqued papers that I’ve struggled with a bit. Don’t underestimate the importance of creative writing.

I learned how to review some real stinkers as a mom with teenagers because there were days it was tough to find something—anything—positive to say about kids who rolled their eyes at me so hard I could heard it. I have been known to say to my grumpy, hostile teenaged offspring, “Hey, no one can breathe in or breathe out like you do, kiddo. I was just hoping you might take this pickaxe and clean that fungus bloom out from under your bed.”

If I were reviewing this posting I would start by saying to myself, “Nice use of the word yikes and chalk-like. The numbers are in the right order. I like the juxtaposition of soap, books, and goat halters.” 

And then I would add, “One) Name names: Which kids? What do eye rolls sound like? Any smells you’d like to include? Two) Is everything a joke with you? Get serious once in a while—or not. Three) Try using more dashes. I like them. 

And that’s how to review stuff.

Linda (Five Stars) Zern 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Happy Day of Remembering!

MEMORIAL DAY 2015: When speaking to a church group after one of his three deployments to Iraq, our son commented, "The price of peace is blood." He should know. He absolutely should know.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

As the Group Turns

Group work in college is all the rage. It teaches social interaction and village building. The problem with village building is trying to figure out who is going to be the village idiot. 

And so went my group project for the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” If you are not familiar with the wildly popular and oft used short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” let me summarize. 

Once upon a hateful time, men were dogs who keep their women in rooms with ugly wallpaper. Eventually, the hideous wallpaper makes the women go nuts. It’s a classic tale of women who cannot figure out where the paint department at the Home Depot is located.

Explaining the project to my youngest daughter, I said, “So, to start, we’ve got this guy in the group who’s going to show a YouTube video that makes you see hallucinations. His name is Marcus.”

“Does Marcus do drugs?” she asked.

“Only in class.” I waved away her concerns. “The hallucination video represents how the ugly wallpaper makes the helpless woman in the story see stuff creeping around, under, and in the wallpaper.” I scratched the end of my nose and then added, “I don’t know what she was worrying about. I’ve seen mildew that could form a kick line.”

She shuddered and muttered the word ‘bleach’ under her breath.

“And I’m creating faux nasty wallpaper out of poster board, which I’m making everyone stare at during the entire presentation except when we’re making them have hallucinations. Josef, the foreign exchange member of the group, is happy about that. He doesn’t want anyone looking at him while he’s giving his oral report. I think his student visa has expired.”

“What village is he from?”

“Exactly! Anyway then for the big finish we’re going to do an interpretive dance under a yellow bed sheet.”

“Fitted or flat?”

“Flat,” I snapped. “Who would bring a fitted sheet to an interpretive dance? Anyway we’re going to take turns running around under the sheet like the crazy people the woman sees creeping behind that butt ugly wallpaper.”

She frowned and started to say something else, but I kept going. 

“Then I’m going to dance last, and after I run around, I’m going to faint and they’re going to cover me with the yellow sheet in a solemn, artistic, interpretive dance kind of way.”

I twirled for effect.

She sighed and asked, “Mom, have you ever thought about just trying to blend in—for once?”

“Gosh no! Because then The Man would win!” I pumped my clenched fist at the ceiling. I don’t know who this guy is that they call The Man, but all the college kids in my group talk about him like they know him personally.

Mike brought a fitted sheet for the dance. It never occurred to me to tell Mike to bring the flat one. Ever try to cram seven members of a group under a clingy, elasticized sheet? 

That’s modern education: group projects, interpretive dancing, and “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story that you’ll study ten to twenty-three times, until you figure out that the village idiot might not know the difference between a fitted and a flat sheet.

Linda (Sheet Dancing Queen) Zern 


 Postings that are short and sweet.  There's love and then there's the man who lets you bring home your goats in the cab of his truck. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


As our day (as in ‘the day of the dinosaur’ or the ‘last days’ or ‘The Days of Our Lives’) darkens all around us, and the world devolves into a spinning orb of nuttiness, I believe we should actively be looking for signs, omens, and portents.

For example, Omen Number One: As I stood on the back porch eating a bowl of Rice Puffy Junk, I froze, spoon halfway to my gaping mouth. Why? Because my neighbor’s donkey trotted by, wearing a twelve-foot galvanized gate around its neck. That’s why. I knew immediately what I was looking at; an omen, it was a deep, dark, disturbing, donkey wearing gate omen.

As most of us know, donkeys are best known for the parts they play in live nativity scenes and political cartoons, and a gate is symbolic for being the place where people hang signs that say happy and inviting things like Warning—Attack Dogs Trained by Germans. Clearly, the omen of a donkey wearing a twelve-foot gate around its neck was trying to prepare me for the invasion of Saint Cloud by German dog trainers.

I finished my bowl of Rice Puffy Junk.

Omen number two manifested itself in the form of a bird (variety unknown, it all happened pretty fast) that flew into my truck’s side-view mirror. The impact was grisly. I can’t talk about it, but it was like an episode of “Wives With Knives.” 

Obviously, this portent was a warning to avoid air travel and eating fried chicken livers. (I love fried chicken livers but a portent is a portent.)

The final sign is that my ears have started to flush red and heat up, usually while watching press conferences, man-on-the-street style interviews, and election projections. I’m pretty sure that hot-ear-syndrome is a sign of possible drone surveillance or apoplexy. Therefore, I’m stepping up my order of dehydrated green peppers and powdered eggs; clearly weird times are coming when donkeys wear gate necklaces and birds explode willy, nilly. 

Stay alert—omens, portents, and signs are on the rise. Stay frosty out there; we’re all in strung out shape.

Linda (Chicken Liver) Zern 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Kids When Little Can't Say Things Good So Much

Two doors down from us there is a rental property, or as I like to say, “People come and go so quickly there.”

One of the groups that quickly went from said rental property left behind five (count ‘em) five cats, who immediately began to starve. I started feeding them. I had to feed them because 1) they were starving and 2) they started ripping holes in my window screens, trying to get into my house so they could eat my soft parts while I slept. I was scared.

We have a cat. She came with our house. We call her Condi, and she is known around here as the “good” kitty. She does not give birth to flesh eating offspring. The five flesh eating abandoned cats are referred to as the “bad” kitties. 

It’s a fairly simple set up: Condi, good kitty; all other cats, bad.

When Conner was two years old, he became the self-appointed “bad kitty” spotter. He took a lot of pride in his work. They could run, but they couldn’t hide. The problem is that Conner couldn’t say things good so much.

When he spotted a flesh eater, lurking in the hedges, he would shout at the top of his lungs, “Bad titty! Bad titty. YaYa, bad titty!” Luckily we live in the country and our neighbors have moved.

Conner’s brand new brother, at the time, was named Kipling, but if you asked Conner he would tell you that the baby’s name was Dip.

While cutely troublesome, these examples do not even begin to compare to our oldest granddaughter’s struggles in learning English. Zoe, as small girl, was a real frog lover. Unfortunately, when she would spot a frog, sense a frog’s nearness, or locate the plush version of a frog in a store she would scream at the top of her adorable potty mouthed toddler lungs, “F- - -!” A word that rhymes with luck.

My daughter and I would say, “Yes, Dear, that’s a F-R-O-G,” sounding out and spelling the word slowly and completely, also at the top of our lungs. Repeatedly.

By the end of November, my husband and I will have thirteen grandchildren—eleven and under. Our cup runneth over and spillety out with kids who say the darndest things, mostly with four letters. What fun.

Linda (Potty Talk) Zern 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


It’s a tire swing: rubber, rope, and physics. Okay, it’s a tire swing cleverly designed to look like a rubbery horse swinging from a tree branch. It’s cute. It’s clever. It’s intended to suck in credit card wielding grandmothers like a snake swallowing frogs. It works.

I bought one.

I made the Poppy hang it in the big tree out back. He did. We waited for grandchildren to arrive and be dazzled.

They’re dazzled all right, but mostly, the toddler-aged swingers just throw themselves in the dirt and scream their guts out while waiting their turn because of two fatal flaws. 

The rubber horse swing only fits one chubby toddler at a time. You can jam two of them on if you squish them in tight, and they’re feeling magnanimous, but it swings higher and faster if THEY TAKE TURNS.

The other fatal flaw? A collection of exhausted parents who tend to collapse into lawn chairs, slipping into partial comas—in my backyard, under the live oak, assembled in a circle, on the weekends. They’re a real sedentary bunch.

Not long ago . . .

Parents vegetated. Children demanded. The horse swing sat idle. Parents ignored. Children grew shriller. The horse swing beckoned. Someone cursed. Children lined up. The horse swing twirled. Parents pushed. Kid shrieked with joy—one, single kid shrieked with joy. Many others screamed with impatient rage, thrashing in the dirt and worms.

Lazy adult shouted, “I’m cutting that swing down. Somebody give me a knife. Anybody.”

“The swing stays,” I shouted back.

The swing swayed back and forth.

“But that devil swing is the epicenter of all things temper tantrum. I hate that horrible thing. Let’s burn it down.”

“The swing stays,” I insisted.

Toddlers rolled and kicked and moaned, while the lucky swinger giggled. 

Other parental types picked up pitchforks and torches and howled, “Let’s get it.”

I threw myself into the path of the rampaging villagers.

“Chop the tree down,” they foamed. “Dig up the stump. Kill all its roots. Sow the acres with salt. Arrrrrggg.”

“It’s not the horse swing’s fault, you dolts, or the tree or the stump or the acorn that made the tree. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN HOW TO WAIT THEIR TURN AND SHARE. THE SWING STAYS.”

It was a good speech. No one argued. 

The swing stayed.

Sooner or later they’ll learn, I thought. The parents, I mean; they’ll learn. 

Swing now. Naps later. And before you can blink that swing will hang lonely and forgotten, and we’ll want the babies back. 

Linda (Charge It) Zern 

Monday, May 4, 2015


Top Definition. Chump. Someone who does not understand the basics of life on earth. Confused easily.

I married my high school sweetheart. My husband married his high school sweetheart. Which means that we married each other. It also means that we went to high school together. He followed me around for all of my sophomore year. I had no idea. Back then it was called ‘kind of cute.’ Today it’s called stalking.

After the stalking phase, we actually took a class together—some kind of writing class, I can’t remember what it was called—"Word Mongering 101", Essays Anyone Can Understand 234", "How to BS Your Way Through the Rest of your Life 300," something. 

The first thing our public school teacher told us was that no one in that class, not one of us, was college material.

I believed her.

I’m not sure if Sherwood cared enough to believe her. I think he was still mildly stalking me at this point.

The second thing our public school teacher said left most of us shocked and shaken.

“I can smell plagiarism. And I mean smell it, not to mention recognize it when I see it,” she said, fixing her plagiarism-detecting eyes on us as she looked down her plagiarism-sniffing nose at us. She repeated her plagiarism spotting abilities, many times. We trembled. 

Okay, I trembled. Sherwood was checking out my Sweet Honesty t-shirt. 

I went home and sweated over our first writing assignment, two pages of ‘something that interests you,’ every word mine, every thought from me, every sentence coming out of my head. What was my paper about? I have no idea. But I know one thing, IT WAS MY ORIGINAL WORK. 

Sherwood went home cracked open the Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia and copied one of the articles—WORD FOR WORD—straight out of the book. I remember what his TOTALLY FAKE essay was about—The Boston Freaking Marathon.

We handed in our papers to the fake paper-sniffing teacher.

Okay, let’s recap. I wrote a totally original essay. Sherwood cheated like a guy selling fake Gucci’s in New York City. 

Sherwood the Cheater made . . . wait for it . . . an A, with “Very Interesting!” written across the top of that fake paper like a going out of business banner.

My paper? I made . . . wait for it . . . a C . . . for chump.

Later, he had the effrontery—how’s that word for a C for chump writer—to claim that he didn’t copy the article word for word. He left out words like written by and see reference.

I admit; it was a little discouraging, but I got over it and had the effrontery to finally go to college and keep right on writing. I also married the boy, but I encouraged him to pursue a career in computers rather than wordsmithing. 

Linda (Tattle Tale) Zern 

Friday, May 1, 2015

War Footing

In these uncertain times, our family has discussed various family responses to probable or imagined emergencies. We have a war room—with maps and little plastic army men. It’s a wooly booger to dust.

After a recent run-in with a Florida reptile of the highly toxic persuasion, I have concluded that our emergency response team is largely inefficient and possibly pointless.

When my husband and our two dogs (a lab/boarder collie mix and a Yorkshire terrier) burst through the bedroom door breathing heavy and wagging their tails—well, the dogs were wagging—my husband was just breathing heavy, I knew that something was up.

“Where’s the shotgun?” my husband asked. 

Looking up from my computer, I peered at him over the rim of my glasses and said, “I thought we’d talked through our budget issues.”

“No, it’s not about that. There’s a huge cotton-mouthed moccasin behind the barn.”

“Shotgun—closet.” I tipped my head toward the closet. He bent and unhooked the dogs leashes and wandered to the closet. The dogs padded after him. With the shotgun in hand, he wandered out of the closet, and out of the bedroom. I heard him stomp down the hallway, through the living room, down another hallway, and into the guest bedroom. Several minutes later, he wandered back into the bedroom, dogs in tow.

“Where are the shells?” 

“Well, they’re not where you were. Check in the black drawstring bag in the closet where you got the shotgun.”

He disappeared into the closet. The dogs followed. Shuffle, rustle, rustle, bump, shuffle boomed from the closet.

“I can’t find them.” He yelled.

I pushed back from my desk and went to play find the shotgun shells. The drawstring bag was brown, not black. My husband and I emerged from the closet, dogs under foot.

Sherwood dropped the key for the gun-lock once and then twice. The dogs sat watching my husband trying to unlock the shotgun.

Approximately 23.78 minutes had passed since the danger was first spotted.

I took a hard look at our emergency response team: Coco Channel, the lab/collie mix with an irrational fear of dump trucks, Ploodle, the Yorkshire terrier who weighs five pounds, and Sherwood, a guy with no ACL in his left knee. 

I sighed and then said, “You realize, of course, that in the time it has taken you to lock and load we would have been raped, murdered, dismembered, and raped again.”

Sighing harder than I had sighed, he said, “Come on dogs.” Out the door they went, the daring emergency response team to face whatever danger might still be lurking in the high grass behind the barn.

The snake got away.

We were planning to run emergency response drills this weekend, but we’ll probably take naps instead. 

Linda (Snake Oil) Zern 
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