How to get through the long winter

No, this isn’t a Game of Thrones post. Sorry.

This is yet another post about how my kid amazes me. When we moved from a southern state to one a little further north six (!?!) years ago, I dread spending  long, grey winters indoors.

Until I saw how happy it made my kiddo.

Me:  (wrapping scarf #2 around top of child’s head and ears)  Fifteen minutes. You have fifteen minutes to play, then you come inside and warm up for five minutes.

Kiddo: mmffff  hmm meh hhmmm fmm mm.

Me: What?

Kiddo: (unbundling face) You don’t have to worry.

Me:  Of course I worry.  Frostbite is serious business.

Kiddo: Not for me. I’m part penguin. (grins)

It was that moment when I decided to let go of my worry (within reason) and I’m so glad I did. I watched from the window as a pack of tiny bodies waddled in the snow, flung snowballs with reckless abandon, and, generally speaking, behaved like a bunch of young penguins on an iceberg. My son-of-a-southerner flopped face first into a snowdrift, arms and legs flapping, and scooted across the front yard on his belly. Why? Who cares. It was fun.

Subsequent winters saw us with more snowball fights, snowmen named Jasper who liked jaunty caps, snow alligators, green with food coloring, towering forts and even a three-headed snow hydra.

So, now, I actually kind of look forward to the first big snowfall of winter. When the air is heavy and smells like ice, and you just know when you wake up the world will be clean and quiet with new snowfall. It seems no matter how old my kiddo gets, his face still lights up when he looks out the window at new snow. Maybe he is part penguin.

 

 

About extremes

 

I think it was near the end of fourth grade when my child started incorporating some of the Disney-channelisms into his everyday language.

Everything remotely good that happened, whether it was a bowl of cereal or a three-point basket became  “epic!”

On the other hand, if something didn’t quite work out – a stray dribble of ketchup from the bottle hit the dinner plate –  that was “so much fail.”

It’s all normal, I know.  Kids will pick up expressions from the playground, the classroom, YouTube, and that ilk. They try on different aspects of their personalities like  hats,  trying to see which ones feel the most comfortable.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but an adjective like ‘epic’ doesn’t pair well with anything other than Homer’s Iliad.  Maybe Star Wars. The noun that follows a word like epic truly needs to demonstrate heroic substance and weight. With all due respect to Kevin Durant, I question whether the most beautifully-executed three-point shots truly qualify as epic. Nor does a simple misstep along the way to the trash bin equal devastating failure.

For a while, I thought maybe these expressions were a byproduct of the hormonal roller-coaster known as puberty. And honestly, at our house, this is probably exactly what it is – a temporary step in the process of our kiddo growing up.

But it seems like everywhere you look, daily events are hyperbolized into life-changers of one extreme or another. I laughed out loud this morning at an advertisement for a cereal that proclaimed This. Is. Everything.  I had no idea honey-sweetened oats were so powerful.

bowl of cereal a.k.a. everything
Everything?

On the one hand, I am a big fan of celebrating everyday joys.  Doing a happy dance when I toss a wad of paper towels from the kitchen table to the trash bin *and make the basket.* My child and I singing at the top of our lungs in the car. Life’s too short to not celebrate whenever you can.

On the other hand, though, when everything is an extreme – either everything or nothing – we lose our ability to appreciate the vast majority of our lives that lie in between.

I think that’s a shame. All those in-between things, the everyday observations that would otherwise go unmentioned in the  novel of my life, are the daily simplicities that sustain us. Because it’s in those little things, my husband’s smile, my child’s yawn, my dog’s snore, those are the things that show me how near God really is all the time. And that, my friends, that is what’s really ‘epic.’

 

 

 

 

presto change-o

I almost gave up again. On writing, that is. Between daily life and the holidays and new school/job, I’ve been struggling to make time to put words on the page.

It’s too much, I told myself.

It will keep, I reassured myself.

I can always try again after____ is over, I promised myself.

Somewhere in the middle of my rounds of self-negotiation, I was chock full of self pity and feeling pretty low. I mean, seriously, who do I think I’m kidding? I’m not a writer. I’ve started and stopped how many times? You could probably fill an entire wing of the internet with the number of blogs I’ve neglected to nurture. (I know the internet doesn’t have wings, but I’m making a point here)

It was at that point that a small, still voice told me it was time to pray about it.

I hadn’t prayed with much regularity since I was in high school, and even then, I confess that I was more of a gumball-machine prayer – the kind that dropped prayers in  and expected the good stuff to flow out.  So I was feeling pretty sheepish and awkward about trying to strike up a relationship with God again after, well, a long time.

Maybe I’d better not ask for anything, I thought. Maybe I ought to just read the Bible and see if there’s a verse that points me where I ought to go. After all, I don’t know that I would just strike up a conversation with someone I hadn’t talked to in years. That would be rude. I don’t want to be rude to God. Isn’t there a Commandment about that?

Anyway. I opened my Bible and here’s the verse I landed on, from Philippians 2:3:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

My immediate response wasn’t pretty.

When have I been selfish and vain, exactly?  I mean, sure, I’ve been aggravated when my plans haven’t worked the way I want them to.  Consider others better than myself?  I mean, I’m every bit as good a writer as these other folks, right? I might even be a better writer than they are. I’ve been writing most of my professional life. So why am I not published yet? Why is my name not on the best seller lists? Why am I not going on book tours or being asked to speak?

When my temper tantrum subsided, the truth hit me square in the face. The truth is that I’m not so great. And I really haven’t been trying to serve anyone but myself.

I’ve been writing to show other people that I could do it. To prove to people – family, former coworkers, friends – that I could be creative and imaginative and funny. I wanted everyone to know that I was important.

It’s hard to humbly serve when you’ve got a chip on your shoulder. In my case, I think I may have lugged around boulder-sized weights on both shoulders. I’ve been writing to advance my own ambitions rather than to help other people, to share the joy that comes from knowing we’re not alone, that God is for us.

So yeah, I prayed. I asked forgiveness for my arrogance, and for guidance to find the work that I’m supposed to do. I don’t have any answers yet, but I know that step by step I’ll uncover what God has in store for me.

Even though I may not be working on a manuscript, I felt like maybe blogging here about this next part of my journey might help someone else who’s feeling lost.  Every morning I ask God to help me find my place, to help me use whatever gifts I have to serve Him and others.

Whatever it is I’m supposed to do – whether it’s writing or building a powerpoint or shuttling kids to karate class- I’ll do it knowing that He loves me enough to show me the truth. He loves me where I am, and He’ll help me fulfill his purpose.

 

 

 

 

My Summer ‘To Read’ List

This year I was lucky enough to go to the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference and hear the fantastic Nancy Lohr speak about writing for children. One of the first things she asked the group was “who here has read a children’s book recently?” More than half of us raised our hands.

She was happy with our response, and told us that she’d spoken to a number of groups – writers’ groups – in which no one had read a children’s book in the past year, five years, ten years. How can you write in a genre you don’t read?

If you’re a children’s writer, you have to read children’s books. And there’s plenty of incredible ones out there to soak up. Here’s a list of a few that are on my list for the summer months.

Anne Ursu’s Cronus Chronicles  Breadcrumbs 

I adored “Breadcrumbs” and “The Real Boy,” for their wit, the dialogue that’s grounded in reality while playing in a fantasy world, and simple, beautiful characterizations.  I’ve been itching to read the Cronus series for a while.

 

Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff

Story of a ten-year-old boy with learning challenges who changes schools and becomes the target of a bully.

 

Del Ryder and the Crystal Seed, by Matthew David Brough

Full disclosure – I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Brough at Blue Ridge, and was intrigued by how he described the heroine of this series. Del Ryder sounds like a character I could cheer for.

 

For Animal Lovers, by Kim Cano

Three short stories about animals (including a special needs swordfish obsessed with aliens), with a portion of the proceeds going toward the ASPCA.

 

What’s on your list? Tell me in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Morning

It’s as reliable as the rise and set of the sun.  Monday through Friday, getting our son out of bed for school is fraught with as much drama as an episode of “The Hills.”  I slog my way into his pre-dawn room, trip over an errant action figure or race car, kneel down by his bedside, and let my eyes adjust.

He’s beautiful when he sleeps,  I don’t mind saying, and when my eyes are sludge-free and I can stare at him at will, it’s not uncommon for me to swell up with tearful love for the kid.

Then I glance at the clock and there it is- the cold hard crack back to reality, and it’s time to yank the little cherub out of his rest and plunge him into the morning.

The drama usually begins like this:

Me:  Good morning sweet boy.  Time to wake up.  [*gentle smooch on cheek*]

K:  {thrashes from one side to the other, swinging an arm and smacking me in head/face/neck or upper torso} Mom.  NO.  I’m sleeping.

Me:  {rubbing the injured body part}  I know honey.  It’s time to wake up.  School day.{reaches over and turns on bedside lamp}

K:  {hoisting blankets over his head} Mom!  Stop it!  I’m SLEEPING.

I should point out that  this is where the direction of the dialogue goes one of two ways, one of them far more appealing to me than the other.  He either dives headfirst into frustration and angst and temporarily becomes a junior Rumplestiltskin, and I drag him step by step through breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth, loading into the car, shuffling to class.  (hint – not my favorite)

Or, he shakes off the early daze and becomes my absolute favorite, Happy Morning Boy, and he wants to play ninja battle force or – my personal favorite – racing tag – all the way to school.  All this before 7 a.m., and usually all this before I’ve had a single sip of coffee.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  Five times.  Enter Friday night.  I say a fervent prayer, knowing that my dearest husband will very likely let me catch up on my zz’s in the morning and get up with K  whatever the crazy hour it is.  But I say my earnest prayer anyway, because I hold fast to a fantasy of a lazy Saturday morning, sunlight streaming in the windows, birds chirping, and a gradual easing into the day.  Sort of like a zero-entry swimming pool.  Dear, dear, gracious and kind Lord.  Please let our little angel sleep in tomorrow.  Let him rest.  He’s still growing.  I’m not asking for noon, just maybe 7:30.  Let me know.

It’s Saturday morning.  Or at least, I think it is.  It’s pitch black.   Could be Friday night.  A tiny hand clutches my shoulder in the dark, and I have to take a deep breath to keep from snarling.

K::  Mom?

Me:  (breathing in…) Yes dear?

K:  I had a bad dream.

Me: You did?

K:  (tearfully) Yeah.  Can I cuddle with you?

And there in the dark, with his warm little body molded to my side, I think about what kind of dream might have driven him here.  I wonder what monsters my mommy-arms keep at bay.

I  realize that someday in the not so distant future, I will have plenty of lazy Saturday mornings.  There will be far more time than I probably want to listen to chirpy birds.  I can comfort my boy now, but all too soon there will be tears shed that try as I might, I won’t be  able to dry.

So I cuddle him close, listen to the day begin, and just hold on.

Please enjoy

it's been a rough couple of weeks.
it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

 

Struggling a bit this week – everyone in my house is sick and there’s some kind of thick fog in my head that makes me think I’m next.

I’ve written some new stuff. Yay. And I’m on track to get my MS out to a new beta reader in a week or so.

That’s pretty much it.  So please enjoy this picture of an orange.  Because after typing all this I need to go take a nap.

 

Progress, not perfection

Cocoa. Marshmallows. Choco-whip.
Cocoa. Marshmallows. Choco-whip.

Early in our marriage, my sweet hubs pointed out what I like to think of as humanity, but he calls a “charming quirk.” We’d eaten out, which we didn’t do often in those days (or these), and he noticed that as I talked, I cut my food into bite sized pieces, then selected a few pieces to eat. I did it without thinking about it. He said it reminded him of the “When Harry Met Sally” movie – Sally always had to create the perfect bite.

There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you like and the way you like it. But writing, for me anyway, doesn’t take well to that kind of process. When I write, sometimes I get stuck in that “perfect bite” mode. I self-edit to the point of paralysis.  Some days I spend more time thinking of the word choice and possible implications of said choice than I do just letting the ideas pile onto the page.  I don’t know why it happens, and it’s agonizing.

This week has been one of those weeks where I’ve been beating myself up over my staggering lack of perfection. And what do you know, the ol’ creativity faucet has clogged.  Nothing but ick. Quelle surprise. Today I finally FINALLY eked out a few dribbling words on a new MS and it. felt. amazing. The words flowed just enough to remind me that they’re still in there, if only I’d dial down the self-criticism long enough to let them out.

So tomorrow I’ll sit down to write again and I will tell myself that it’s okay. That the page I’m staring at is a welcoming page, an inclusive place where all syllables, consonants and vowels are treated kindly as we build this little world together. Yes, later we will slice everything into pieces and select a few choice morsels to save. But today what’s more important is to keep moving, imagining, slinging ideas out and sprinkling them with whatever comes to mind.

There’s a Book for That

I’ve never been a shoe person.  All my life, I’ve needed just handful of shoes to feel comfortable in any occasion. Need to dress up?  Black pumps.   Exercise?  Sneakers.  Is it summer?  Flip flops.  Winter?  Furry boots.  Have a class?  Plain white flats.  All purpose. No muss, no fuss.

Give me a Scholastic book order form, or a library card, and I’ll show you a smorgasbord of possibilities.  Here’s my latest favorites organized by mood, snackfood and/or weather.

“What is the world coming to? Give me hope, please.”   THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN – Katherine Applegate

“I’ll take two pink cotton candies with a side of ridiculous fun.”  ATTACK OF THE FLUFFY BUNNIES – Andrea Beaty

It’s a small world… and all that….KINGDOM KEEPERS series – Ridley Pearson

Perfect for dreary, chilly afternoons. Blankie plus cocoa plus THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE – Jonathan Stroud

What’s your favorite book when you’re feeling sassy?  I’m kinda digging MacBarnett & Jory John’s THE TERRIBLE TWO.   Let me know what I’ve missed.

The Getting Started Post

Everybody says you have to have a platform if you want to be a writer. All these agents, publishers, writers’ blogs – they all say you have to put yourself out there. Not just yourself. Your best, nicest self. This will help people like you, want to work with you, and even buy what you write.

This presents a bit of a pickle. Even my nicest, bestest self contains some fairly questionable material. A few ill-advised phrasings. And horrible timing, no matter how genuine or generous my intentions may be.

The good news is that if we’re ever at a dinner party together, you and me, you will never be the most awkward person in the room. But the bad news is that it’s hard as all get-out to build a platform on a dicey proposition such as me.

I’m up for it if you are, though. So let’s try this: How about first I tell you all the things I’m not. Then we can move on to the fun writing stuff, which is why I’m here in the first place.

I’m not:

  1. Graceful – but I love to dance.
  2. Mean-spirited (on purpose).
  3. Into reality tv, in spite of having a masters’ in documentary film.
  4. Comfortable with heights or water.
  5. Ashamed of loving cheese.
So there we have it. I feel tons better, don’t you?