Ten Reasons Why I Haven’t Updated My Blog Lately

1. I’ve been busy at work. I know everyone always says that, but my job is really challenging. Performing brain surgery while rescuing kittens from burning buildings is harder than it sounds.

2. I was abducted by aliens. Really boring aliens. I kept waiting for them to do something interesting enough for me to write about, but they just kept droning on and on about glorfball, which apparently is a very popular sport on their planet.

3. I sold a short story to a magazine and got hit with a case of rebound writer’s block.

4. My intern quit and it took me two months to figure out how to work the keyboard.

5. The intern who quit had secretly outsourced his job to a group of monkeys living in my basement and banging randomly on typewriter keys. It took me a while to find new homes for them.

6. When I first went down to the basement to check on the monkeys, I slipped on a banana peel. I managed to catch myself before I fell, but then I realized we were almost out of bananas, so I went to the local banana emporium. On my way home, I was in a car accident. It was just a fender-bender, but the bananas were crushed, so I had to bake some emergency banana bread. While reaching to get my banana bread cookbook from the top shelf, I lost my balance and fell. I landed on my head and got the kind of amnesia where you remember everything else but forget that you have a blog.

7. With the intern and monkeys gone, I decided to try Blog-O-Matic Content Generator 2.0. Big mistake. It kept crashing my system and would only generate shopping lists.

8. I called the Blog-O-Matic customer support line six weeks ago. I’m still on hold. After the first hour, I started counting how many times their on-hold music repeated itself. When I got to 50,000, I hung up and reinstalled my operating system.

Oh, and if you think hanging up means I’m no longer on hold, you’ve probably never listened to the same on-hold music loop 50,000 times in a row. It changes you. I’ll be on hold, hearing that music in my head and half-expecting a Blog-O-Matic customer support representative to appear at any moment, for the rest of my life.

9. When I reinstalled my operating system, I lost all my saved passwords.

10. My dog ate it.

To celebrate my return to blogging, I’m holding a contest. The first three thousand people to comment on this post will each receive a free pre-owned typewriter! Each one comes with its own unique collection of stains and odors.

These Writing Tips Will Change Your Life

In an attempt to add some much-needed structure to this blog and to provide a valuable resource to the community, I’ve decided to devote this and all future posts to helping people become better writers.

We’ll start with a few classic tips I’ve seen elsewhere and incorporated into my own writing.

1. Stick to a schedule.

Setting a schedule and sticking to it has helped me avoid procrastination. I work on my blog from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Saturdays, my epic steampunk dystopian romance literary suspense trilogy from 10:50 pm to 11:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and my weekly shopping list from 7:52 pm to 7:54 pm on Wednesdays. I set a timer at the beginning of each session; when it rings, I finish the sentence or shopping list entry I’m working on, and then stop.

It’s important to come up with a schedule and set of procedures that work for you. You’re probably not going to get it right the first time. For example, when I started out, I’d stop writing the moment the timer went off. I found that leaving a thought unfinished sometimes led to confusion (like the time I needed toilet paper but bought a new toilet instead), so now I take the extra few seconds to finish the current thought.

2. Read like a writer.

You should read this book. But finish this blog post first.
This is a very funny book.

I’ve seen this bit of advice a lot, and for a long time I had no idea what it meant. It finally “clicked” for me a couple weeks ago when I was reading Dave Barry’s Insane City. Instead of just laughing hysterically at the zany antics of the characters, I found myself looking past my initial impressions and focusing instead on the intense, burning envy I felt towards anyone capable of writing something that funny.

This has improved everything I’ve written since then. For example, here’s the shopping list I wrote the Wednesday before I read the Dave Barry book:






And here’s the one I wrote the following week:


Red Wine

Ice cream


Duct tape

Ski mask


Latex gloves

Plane ticket to Florida

See the difference? Each list took two minutes to write, but the first was five words long, and the second was 17 words. Reading like a writer helped me get into the mind-set I needed to more than triple my productivity.

3. Show, Don’t Tell.

Here’s a sentence that uses an adjective to tell the reader something:

The clerk at the car rental agency in Miami was unhelpful.

The scene becomes more vivid if I instead show actions that support that description:

She handed me the keys and asked if I needed directions anywhere. I told her I needed to find the nearest 24-hour gun store. She said she didn’t think there was one. Fine, I said, I’ll improvise – just give me directions to Dave Barry’s house. She asked for the address, and I explained that I didn’t know it, which is why I needed directions. Then she just stared at me for a minute and said something about having to help the next person in line.

4. Avoid “weasel words” and the passive voice.

Consider this sentence:

In retrospect, the death threats may have been a bit of an overreaction.

Pretty wishy-washy, isn’t it? By saying the death threats may have been an overreaction, the author is implying that they may not. And if they were, who overreacted? And how much of an overreaction is “a bit”? The sentence is practically meaningless. If you take out all the extra words and use a more active structure, you get a sentence that conveys the author’s true feelings:

He had it coming.

Clear, concise, and to the point — I think you’ll agree this is a huge improvement.

These four simple tips did wonders for my writing, and I hope they’ll help yours as well. If you have a favorite tip of your own that you’d like to share, or if you have a tricky writing problem that you’d like some help with, please tell us about it in the comments.

Thank You For Reading My Blog. Here Are a Few Things You Should Know.

As part of my ongoing quest to make this blog as confusing as possible, I’ve changed servers again, moving it back to wordpress.com. If you see anything strange, please leave a comment or send mail to info@unlikelyexplanations.com to let me know. I’m especially interested in strange things about this blog — missing images, etc. — but really, feel free to tell me about anything strange you notice anywhere.

This is not a cat blog; however, I sometimes add gratuitous cat pictures to posts that have nothing to do with cats. This is one of those times.

Gratuitous cat picture
Gratuitous cat picture

Take everything you read here with a large grain of salt, unless you have high blood pressure, in which case you should take everything you read here with a large grain of salt substitute, unless you’re allergic to salt substitute.

This blog accepts no responsibility for any adverse reactions you may or may not have to any salt or salt substitute you consume while reading this blog.

Some of the posts here were written by my cats. You can generally tell by the writing style: the cats tend to use words like “mncmnzlmxhfb” or ” srassrfmn” more frequently than I do. If you have trouble understanding one of the cat-authored posts, you’re not alone. Google Translate is useless for this.

I have instituted a new comment policy. It’s available as a link in the menu above, but since this is a full-service blog, I’m including it in its entirety here…

Comments are strongly encouraged! I’d love to read your opinions and stories. Please just follow these simple guidelines:

I don’t moderate comments (other than spam), but I get a lot of spam, and I don’t always check my spam queue. If you try to add a comment and it didn’t appear immediately, please use the contact form to let me know I need to fish it out of the queue.

If I don’t know you and you leave a comment that’s just a generic compliment, I’ll probably assume it’s spam and delete it. This is especially true if you use words like “informative” to describe one of my posts.

Comments absolutely must be on topic! Not necessarily the topic of the post you’re commenting on, of course, but they need to be on some topic.

I sometimes post pictures of my cats on this blog. Comments referring to my cat pictures must contain at least one of the following words: adorable, cute, sweet, beautiful, charming, exquisite, or delightful.

Comments must be written in iambic pentameter.

Comments must be signed with your full name, email address, home address, phone number, and the names and addresses of three character references. Or you can just make up a name and leave the rest of those fields blank.

Before you hit the “send” button to post your comment, please stop for a moment and ask yourself, where did I leave my keys?

Comments involving embarrassing stories are always welcome, unless those stories are about me.

If you’ve been getting Unlikely Explanations posts in email, you should have received a message from WordPress with a subject line like “Laura invited you to follow Unlikely Explanations”. If you want to continue getting these emails, please click on the “accept invitation” link in the mail (or click on one of the “follow” buttons on this page).

Self-Referential Sunday: My New Posting Schedule

Themed days of the week (Caturday, Wordless Wednesday, etc.) seem to work well for other blogs, so I’ve decided to adopt that strategy to add some much-needed structure to this blog. From now on, I’ll be posting according to this schedule:

Pictures of the real thing are coming on Monday; here's a stuffed toy from tapirback.com to tide you over until then.

Maggot Mondays: Some of my most popular posts have been about insects, so as a special treat, Monday posts will be chock-full of high-resolution photos of everyone’s favorite fly larvae. Read Maggot Monday posts over breakfast for the perfect start to your week.

Terrible Tuesdays: Tuesday posts will be just awful — meandering, pointless diatribes full of spelling and grammar errors. Just thinking about them makes me cringe. But if you can force yourself to read through them, they’ll make the rest of the week — and, really, the rest of your life — seem so much better in comparison.

Washing-Machine Wednesdays: Each Wednesday, I’ll post a detailed account of every load of laundry I’ve done in the past week and an inventory of the dirty clothes I still need to wash. Wednesdays will also feature lint trap art and, of course, the weekly mismatched sock round-up.

Thunder Thursdays: Okay, I admit it — I stole the name Thunder Thursday from Kitten Thunder, which features a different guest cat every week. My Thunder Thursday posts will be similar, but with a twist — instead of just focusing on a guest cat by itself, I’ll explain in detail why my own cats are better. For the ultimate personalized blog-reading experience, send me a picture of your cat, and I’ll devote a Thursday post to pointing out its flaws.

Forgetful Fridays: Each Friday, I’ll post a few questions about some minor detail about your life; for example, I might ask who your first-grade teacher was, what street you lived on as a child, your first pet’s name, your social security number, the name of your bank, or your credit card number. Join in and show off your awesome memory skills!

Sugar Plum Saturdays: Remember Sugar Plum Awareness Month? Every Saturday, I’ll tell you how many days are left until December 1.

Self-Referential Sundays: Sundays on this blog are all about writing about this blog; for example, I might describe my blogging schedule or announce the grand opening of the Unlikely Explanations Store.

The Five Stages of Realizing You’ve Written a Poorly-Worded Blog Comment

Sometimes I read other people’s blogs. Sometimes I leave comments on other people’s blogs. And sometimes that process goes terribly, terribly wrong.

Self portrait (assuming that, in a previous life, I was Edvard Munch and imagined this is what I'd look like today).

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but every time you write a comment, you run the risk that someone will misinterpret it. While everyone is different, most of us go through the same five stages when faced with this kind of emotional trauma.

Stage 1: Denial

You notice that a blogger has replied to a comment you left on his blog — but instead of engaging in friendly banter as you’d expected, he seems to have interpreted your comment as a personal attack. Your immediate reaction is to assume there was some glitch and that his angry response was intended for someone else, but then you notice specific details that could only have been directed at you. You decide he must be hypersensitive. Or crazy. No sane person could possibly have thought you meant that.

Stage 2: Apology

At the end of the denial stage, you read your comment once again and are shocked to realize that it really could be interpreted to mean that. Easily. By a sane person. You’re hit with an intense wave of embarrassment, which you try to alleviate by shooting off a combination apology and explanation of what you really meant. This will fix everything, you tell yourself. He’ll read the explanation, understand what I really meant, and we’ll both laugh about it. You just need to check back later for the friendly response you’re sure is forthcoming.

Stage 3: Stalking

You check back later. No response, but maybe he hasn’t seen it yet. You reread your apology. You’re not sure it’s clear — after all, you wrote it kind of hastily. You write another comment expanding on the explanation. Then you wait a reasonable amount of time (say, 90 seconds or so) and check back again.

Still no response. You look at your apology and your apology clarification, and even though you meant them sincerely, you realize they could look like the comments of someone who was initially wrong but is now backpedaling. So you post another comment explaining that that’s not what you’re doing. That just makes it worse, because denying it makes you look even more guilty. You post a comment explaining that.

You decide all these comments are starting to make you look like a stalker. You post a comment explaining that you’re not stalking him and that you’ve never stalked anyone. Unfortunately, you can’t resist ending that one with “but there’s a first time for everything”. You post another comment explaining that the last bit was a joke.

You begin to regret leaving all these comments. You send the blogger a tweet apologizing for the first one and asking him to ignore all the others.

You send another tweet explaining that you meant he should ignore all your other comments, not anyone else’s.

You send another tweet explaining that you meant he should ignore all your other comments on this post, not the two previous posts of his you’ve commented on, and that you remain steadfast in your opinion that his children and pets are adorable in their matching purple sweaters and that his brownie recipe looks delicious but could probably be improved by adding a cup or two of chocolate chips along with the nuts. Technically, you have to break this into three tweets because of Twitter’s character limit.

You send another tweet explaining you’re not a stalker, because you just realized that if he follows your instructions and doesn’t read all the comments you left on his blog, he’ll miss that very important bit of information.

You send him a friend request on Facebook.

You add him to your “People I Am Definitely Not Stalking” circle on Google+.

You realize there’s probably nothing more you can say to him at this point, so you start asking friends to act as character references. No one seems particularly enthusiastic about the idea. You can’t imagine why.

Stage 4: Depression

All your tweets and friend requests and comments go unanswered. The blogger clearly doesn’t believe you. You feel like you’ve lost all credibility. You start to wonder how many other people you’ve offended without realizing it — after all, lots of people just ignore comments they think are offensive, so how would you know? You withdraw from the Internet and resort to speaking to people in person. You realize you’ve hit rock bottom when you find yourself buying the print version of a newspaper.

Stage 5: Acceptance

You begin to put the situation into perspective and return to the Internet. You’re filled with something that you try to convince yourself is a sense of inner peace, but it’s really just numbness. And then a thought comes to you, bringing with it a shining ray of hope: hey, this might be a good topic for a blog post.


I needed a theme for this year’s Valentine, so I decided to turn to my blog’s search term stats for inspiration. I reviewed the list carefully and narrowed it down to these three:

so many flies all of a sudden
how decomposed would marilyn monroe be
cat happy valentines day

I decided to go with the cat one. You’re welcome.

The Unlikely Explanations cats would like to wish you a grudgingly happy Valentine's Day

Want to do something special for your cats on Valentine’s Day? Serve them a lovely homemade chicken and gravy dinner and give them a nice gift, like a CatSofa or a Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse.

Lessons Learned From Last Year’s Search Terms

If this year’s search terms have taught me anything, it’s that the world needs a quality robot mouse cat toy — preferably something better than the Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse.

I also learned that the problem of getting locked in the bathroom because the door is blocked by an open drawer is much more widespread than I’d previously imagined. I posted about my experiences with this last summer, and while I did manage to get out alive, I suspect that most people won’t be able to use my escape technique. So please, everyone, take these simple precautions:

  • Before entering the bathroom, make sure there are no precariously-balanced partially-open drawers adjacent to your outwards-opening bathroom door.
  • If you have children or pets, install child-proof drawer locks on any drawer adjacent to the bathroom door.
  • Assemble a simple locked-in-the-bathroom survival kit with 3 days’ worth of food, a spare cell phone, a cell phone charger, a change of clothes, some reading material, a jigsaw puzzle, and a jigsaw. Store this in your bathroom, just in case.

People seem to need a lot of help finding the Roman numerals for future Super Bowl games. My Super Bowl guide didn’t include that information, so I’m providing step-by-step instructions here. It’s really simple.

First, figure out the number. Super Bowl XLV was played in 2011. XLV is the Roman numeral for 45, and the numbers increase by 1 each year, so obviously you can find the number for any future Super Bowl by calculating sqrt{year^2 - (3932 * year) + 3865156}. For example, to find the number for this year’s Super Bowl, start with 2012 squared (4048144), then multiply 3932 times 2012 (7911184) and subtract the second number from the first. That gives you a negative number (-3863040), to which you add 3865156, which brings you back up to 2116. Then just calculate the square root of that number, which is 46. Similarly, next year’s Super Bowl number is sqrt{2013^2 - (3932 * 2013) + 3865156}, or 47.

If you have trouble remembering the formula, just use this simple mnemonic: Sally Told You That She Tasted Part Of The Yellow Apple, 3932 Truffles, And 3865156 Anchovies Today — Then She Regurgitated, which makes it easy to remember to Square The Year, Then Subtract The Product Of The Year And 3932, Then Add 3865156 And Take The Square Root. Or I guess you could just add 1 to the previous year’s number, or maybe subtract 1966 from the year. Whatever.

Once you have the number, you just need to convert it into Roman numerals. That’s also pretty simple, as long as you remember the symbols for each number:

1 I
3-ish π
5 V
10 X
50 L
100 C

Based on what they’re searching for, many people seem to want to be reassured that they have nothing to fear but fear itself. Those people are wrong. They should also fear zombies.

I wrote a post last year inspired by the search term MY SON KEEPS SEEING BEES BUT THERE IS NO BEES. Since then, I’ve been getting a lot of searches from people who seem to be concerned about loved ones hallucinating bees and other kinds of insects. I also get lots of searches from people who see flies in the house all of a sudden. Sometimes I wonder how often I get both kinds of search from the same household.

In the unlikely event that you’d want to read even more about search terms, you could check out my open letter to anyone who was directed here by a search engine, which is a year old today (although it has been updated a few times).

Only 330 more days until Sugar Plum Awareness Month! Sugar Plum fact of the day: a sugar plum dropped from the roof of the Empire State Building would hit the ground in approximately 9 seconds.

My New Year’s Resolution: In 2012, I Will Humiliate Myself Publicly On This Blog

What passes for an illustration on this blog today.

I love reading illustrated blogs — blogs with cartoons, watercolors, or even doodles. But although some of my posts have included photos, graphs, and even a few images I’ve cobbled together with Photoshop, I’ve never posted any original drawings. The reason for that is simple: I can’t draw. At all. Which leads me to my first resolutions:

Resolution #1: I will attempt to learn how create some kind of original freehand illustration that won’t make me cringe with embarrassment. (Any suggestions on how to accomplish this would be greatly appreciated).

Resolution #2: I will post some of my attempts on this blog, even though I don’t really expect to achieve the “won’t make me cringe with embarrassment” part of Resolution #1.

Also, because of recent events:

Resolution #3: I will not buy any flashlights in 2012.

Resolution #4: I will acquire some matches.

And finally:

Resolution #5: I will make Sugar Plum Awareness Month a reality in 2012. Sugar plum fact of the day: sugar plums are the most popular of all the flavored plum confections, outshining vinegar plums, anchovy plums, and even wasabi plums.

Happy New Year!

Errata and Clarifications to Recent Posts

In the post Grocery Bag Dysmorphic Disorder (September 14, 2011):

  • The grocery bags were not made of unicorn skin. The unicorn is a mythical beast.
  • “Check out this week’s Dear Good Greatsby” was meant as a recommendation, not an order. I acknowledge that I am not in any way, shape, or form, the boss of you.
  • Getting the name of a blog wrong is not definitive proof that you are secretly in love with the owner of that blog.

In the post An Open Letter to a Guy Who May or May Not Be Named Dan, Regarding Our Recent Text Message Exchange (September 10, 2011):

  • Dan’s final text message (“sorry wrong number”) was omitted. I couldn’t bring myself to mention it; the feelings of anger and shame triggered by his assumption that I was too stupid to figure it out for myself were still too raw.

In the post Terror in the Skies: An Open Letter to Vance Gilbert (September 5, 2011):

  • The fork incident really occurred, but it was significantly less embarrassing than implied in this post. Also, the salad was very overpriced, not “kind of” overpriced.
  • Nail polish remover is not allowed on airplanes.

In the post The Door (August 15, 2011):

  • Mixing bleach and ammonia does not create “a simple explosive which can be used to blast through a blocked door easily and safely”; instead, it produces deadly cyanide gas.

In the post Lucky to Be Alive (June 31, 2011):

  • The “300 frenzied rat-like creatures running wild” were actually two docile gerbils in a cage.
  • The “raging inferno that almost cost us our lives” was a birthday cake with twelve lit candles.
  • The sound of “sirens of approaching fire engines, our last desperate hope for survival” was actually the sound of a small group of people singing “Happy Birthday” out of tune.

In the post Errata and Clarifications to Recent Posts (September 16, 2011):

A Change of Focus

Book cover for "To Serve Cats: Yes, It's a Cookbook, But It's Not Like the One In That Twilight Zone Episode

When I started this blog, I honestly wasn’t sure whether it would last beyond the first few weeks. How many random humor posts did I have inside me? Ten? A thousand? Ten thousand?

The answer turned out to be 41. This is post 42. I’ve run out of funny things to say, and I can’t in good conscience continue trying to write a humor blog — it wouldn’t be fair to me, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to you. But that doesn’t mean this blog is going away! I’m just taking it in a new direction, and I hope you’ll stick around.

I toyed with the idea of turning Unlikely Explanations into a “mommy blog”, because I’ve heard they’re popular, but I was concerned that the fact that I don’t have any children might have a negative effect on my credibility in that genre. Then I thought about making it a cat blog, or a food blog, or maybe a cat food blog. Finally, it hit me — this blog should be a companion piece to the cookbook I’ve been writing. For anyone who’s not already familiar with my cookbook, here’s the cover design:

Book cover for "To Serve Cats: Yes, It's a Cookbook, But It's Not Like the One In that Twilight Zone Episode
My book cover. I designed it myself.

Every Friday (starting later today!), I’ll post a recipe from the book, with a description of my experience preparing it and my cats’ reactions to it. And I invite you to do the same — join the Unlikely Explanations Recipe-a-Week Challenge! Here’s how to participate:

  1. If you don’t already have a cat, adopt one (or preferably two) from your local animal shelter or rescue organization.
  2. Check this blog each week for new recipes.
  3. Prepare a meal using a recipe from this blog every week (or as often as you can).
  4. Resist the temptation to eat the delicious meal yourself — feed it to your cat(s) instead.
  5. Blog about your experiences preparing the recipe and your cat’s reaction, and add a comment here pointing to your blog post. Or just describe your experiences in a comment here.

That’s it! What could be simpler? Please join in — the more, the merrier.

P.S. I should mention one more change: although Unlikely Explanations has previously been ad-free, I’ve decided to accept advertising from a few select sponsors. Please take a moment to check out these fine products from our first two sponsors: the CatSofa and the Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse.

Update: Recipe #1 is now available!