Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ready for the New Year

My in-laws left this morning after a two-week visit. The house is in shambles, nothing is where it should be and I feel so out of sync. But not for long.

Thankfully, my writing class starts in a few days and I'm really looking forward to deadlines and writing on a regular basis again. I had a deadline over the holidays for a local magazine. That was tough. I was so not in the writing zone. I've been wrapping, eating, singing, partying, cooking, baking, playing...everything but writing! I'm looking forward to just being back to normal.

Our family has a New Year's Day tradition of going to the beach. We live about 25 minutes from the ocean and we've only had rain on New Year's Day once. Somehow looking out across the ocean and breathing in the sea air brings such a sense of being alive, of being able to accomplish anything in the new year. I love that the beach is practically deserted. We feel like we own it, like we've discovered this secret that only we can share.

I'm not one for making resolutions, but childish as it sounds, I do believe in the power of wishes. My goal for this coming year is to dream big, reach for the stars, and do everything in my power to see my wishes become reality.

It's the start of a new year, the beach is calling, and anything is possible...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Family Traditions

My husband has a glittery golden reindeer that he hangs at the top of the tree each year. It has to go up first and nothing can go higher except the tree topper. The irony is, my husband HATES glitter. But he’s had that ornament since he was a child and his father used to lift him up so he could put it near the top. For the sake of childhood memories, he overlooks the glitter.

One Christmas Eve his mom got home late from work and made tacos for dinner. Everyone loved it, so she kept making tacos for dinner every Christmas Eve. It became a tradition that all four of her kids carry on today in their families.

My family would eat popcorn, cookies and hot cocoa on Christmas Eve, open one present and watch whatever holiday fare was on tv. My dad would also insist on a roaring fire to keep any fat men from breaking and entering through the chimney, but our stockings still managed to get filled by morning. My kids think this is an excellent way to spend Christmas Eve after a nice taco dinner.

Before I had children, I was really anal about where the ornaments went on the tree. Everything had to be spaced properly and color coordinated. These days, I don't have time or energy to control such ridiculous details. And the haphazard way the kids decorate the tree has a charm all it's own. They love to listen to Christmas carols and sip candy cane tea as we unwrap and hang each treasure from the ornament box.

We have a Christmas village that grows larger each year. My husband's grandmother started us off more than 10 years ago with a bank. (She worked her entire life at a bank.) Each year we add one new building. The four of us spend a lot of time in the store trying to agree on which piece to buy each year. It’s one of the things our family looks forward to every December.

What traditions do you look forward to each holiday season?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Food for Thought

There is something inherently wrong with paying perfectly good money for creatures I would normally kill with relish. And yet I seem to find myself forking over my hard earned cash every week or two simply to buy insects for the dining pleasure of a lizard or two. Okay, it’s not a lot of cash, but still!

Meet Sarah and Travis, our cricket guzzling, spider chomping, rescued pet lizards. My daughter saved Sarah from the jaws of death, otherwise known as Twinkle the cat, and decided we should keep her as a pet. A couple days later, my son rescued another lizard from Twinkle and named it after cousin Sarah’s brother, Travis.

While I’m happy to admit that it’s actually quite fascinating to watch these scaly pets devour insects, I’m rather disturbed that I’m buying food for them that they could have for free if they just roamed around our back yard. Instead I pay someone to kill the insects outside, and pay for insects to feed the lizards inside. How screwed up is that?

The kids and I go on Insect Expeditions where we turn over rocks and dig for bugs to feed the lizards. And whenever you hear the cry, “Bug jar! Bring the bug jar!” you know that someone has found a spider poking his head up where he shouldn’t.

We often find Twinkle on top of the lizard cage trying to finish off the job he was so rudely interrupted from. He can’t understand why we get hysterical and chase him away. Sometimes, neither can I…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Favorites

Part of the fun of Christmas in our house is getting to read all our holiday favorites. My husband and I have been lucky enough to still have a few of the books from when we were children. One of his comes out every December and we all enjoy the story.

“A Little Cowboy’s Christmas,” published in 1951 by Wonder Books (a division of Grosset and Dunlap that no longer exists) is a sweet story of a father’s desperate search on Christmas Eve for a rocking horse for his son. The kids laugh at the 39¢ price on the cover. And while a lot of Wonder Books have become collectibles, ours isn’t in great shape. It would probably still sell for 39¢ today!

Not that we’d sell it. For us that book is worth so much more. Pulling it down from the shelf every year is like unwrapping a Christmas ornament and remembering how much you've enjoyed seeing it hang on the tree year after year. It just wouldn't be Christmas without it.

Isn't the vintage artwork great? And notice something else about the cover? The author and illustrator aren't even mentioned! You have to open the book to find out who did the work. I wonder how much they got paid back then for this type of book? It's interesting to see how things change over time.

What are some of the Christmas favorites in your home?

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's the Thought that Counts?

A few weeks ago Mary Hershey issued a challenge based on Cami Walker’s website, 29 Days of Giving. I accepted the challenge and promptly discovered something about myself: I have lots of good intentions, but I don’t always follow through.

Don't get me wrong. If I SAY I’m going to do something, I will go to painful lengths to make sure that I do it. I can’t stand flakes.

What I’m talking about are all the kind thoughts that pass through my brain on any given day. I should write a thank-you note to so-and-so. Three months later I still haven’t and feel too embarrassed to do it now. (Miss Post would roll over in her grave!) Or, I’m going to donate those outgrown clothes to charity or a child I know who would look cute in them. And the clothes are still in my garage gathering dust. I should offer to help so-and-so. They’re having a rough week. But I don’t do it.

The thought doesn’t always count. Sometimes people need to see in real practical ways that you care about them, that you’re willing to put yourself out there for them. So for me, this challenge was a way of forcing myself to act on all these “nice thoughts.”

And how have I done? I’ve managed to give something away every day, sometimes twice a day and I’m loving it. Sometimes it’s hard. I get caught up in my day and then try to figure out what to give. But every time I give, whether it’s a concrete thing or my time or my assistance, I feel good. And sometimes, I get something right back. It’s a sweet little perk!

I hope I can maintain this level of giving once the challenge is over, because I’ve realized something else by doing this challenge: I have a lot to give. Of course I have days where I feel like life sucks and people should be giving ME stuff! (I could really use a tiny fraction of that bailout money!!) But I live in America. I’ve got plenty to give, and I’m not just talking about stuff. I’ve probably been the most satisfied when I give things that you can’t put a dollar amount on: helping a stranger with my design talent and positive word-of-mouth; writing a thank-you note even though it’s late; giving my kids an afternoon to do whatever they want to do with me even though I’ve got deadlines.

So a big thank you to Mary and Cami. I wouldn’t have done this without them.

And now I challenge you. Don’t just think about it. Do it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Don’t you love reading something so funny it makes you laugh out loud?

Two summers ago on vacation in South Carolina, my son discovered Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He was only 7 years old, but he totally loved that book and read the whole thing out loud to us, sometimes laughing so hard we could barely understand the words! It was so great driving around the state hearing nonstop laughter from the back seat.

Last night in the car on the way home from Santa Barbara, he was rereading the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar. He read out loud to us his favorite funny parts. But even as he read to himself, I could hear his chuckling delight and it made me laugh.

Jasmine recently discovered the Dumb Bunnies series by Dav Pilkey. I realize some people think he is too irreverent for children, but omigosh I LOVE him. And I love that even at this young age, she gets everything she’s reading and just laughs and laughs as she reads the books!

A.J. Jacobs is making me laugh out loud right now. (Yes, I’m actually reading a book intended for people over the age of 12. Shocking, I know.) I’m reading The Year of Living Biblically and I have to say I love his honesty and his dry wit. Coming from a conservative Christian background, I totally relate to some of the absurdities of religion and I love his “outsiders” perspective on the whole concept of Christianity.

Since I can’t read just one book at once, I’m also busy reading The Sea of Monsters, book two in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. While I don’t laugh aloud in these books, they do make me smile. Percy's world completely captures my imagination and I’m thinking Riordan’s pretty brilliant.

What’s making you laugh out loud these days? Tell me. Books that can crack up my family are always a good thing!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reading for the Masses

Thursday is my daughter’s favorite day of the week. It’s the day that she gets to share with other children in a very grown up way.

Jasmine just turned six last month, but like her big brother, she’s an avid reader. When she started first grade in September, the kindergarten teacher asked her to come in after lunch on Thursday’s to read to the class. Every week Jasmine picks out a book and practices reading it upside down so the other children can see the pictures while she reads.

She takes such pride in doing this. And the kindergarteners look up to her since she’s a year ahead of them. They listen so attentively, laugh at the right parts, and sometimes ask her questions afterward. I cry almost every time I watch.

I love that I’m growing readers, that they enjoy books as much as I do and that they’re happy to share this love with others around them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An Interested Publisher

Today was a very good day. Really, really good :)

I sent out 4 queries in November and today I got a postcard back from one requesting the full manuscript! Yay! Of course, tomorrow I'll be stressing over my cover letter (I wrote and rewrote that query like you wouldn't believe!) but tonight, I'm just going to bask in the glow of knowing that someone's interested.

For today, it's enough.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm a Loser, Baby!

National Novel Writer’s Month is officially over and I am officially a loser. But only in one sense.

Even though I didn’t write a 50,000 word novel, I do have almost 10,000 words written in my book. For a middle grade novel, that’s almost halfway! And when you consider all the words written in my outlining and notes, heck, if I could count all my blogging and commenting, I might be closer to 12K!

The point is, even though I didn’t “win” according to the NaNo rules, I feel like I accomplished a lot of writing this month. I made headway on three different stories and I really worked at it. I’m proud of what I’ve done this month. And that’s kind of the point.

Now if someone could just come up with a National Sign an Author Month, or a National Strike a Deal Month…

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Things I'm Thankful For

1. Family
2. Pilgrims
3. Marshmallows flambé
4. Books and art by not so famous people
5. Rain
6. Pumpkin muffins
7. Dishwashers
8. Time to enjoy it all

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Based on the Book

"Twilight" captured the box office last week and it got me thinking about the connection between books and Hollywood.

I can remember in high school claiming that I was going to write the Great American Novel and then pen the screenplay based on the book. Ah, the ignorance of youth.

I'm still plugging away on my great novels, but the allure of a film version has waned. I love books and pretty much any movie made from a book I've read will guarantee my presence in the theater. But sometimes when I hear that one of my favorite books is being made into a film, I cringe. (Can anyone say "Eragon?") Most bookworms would probably agree that the movie is never as good as the book, but sometimes film makers do manage to get it right.

I'm a purist. I hate when they change a great story for a movie. There are only two films that have thrilled me as much on the screen as they did on the page. "Presumed Innocent," by Scott Turow had spot on casting with Harrison Ford and the script stuck closely to the book. And when the Disney/Walden film "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" came out in 2005, my son and I stood in line on opening day. It took our breath away. Seamless animation, stunning cinematography and fabulous casting combined to make this my favorite adaptation of all time.

Sometimes small screen versions of books do well, especially when they become a mini-series. "Roots," "Brideshead Revisited," and "The Thornbirds" all attracted large audiences. And while the television show "Little House on the Prarie" had little to do with the actual books, it had me hooked for years.

So what about you? What books did you enjoy on the silver screen? Which ones should Hollywood have left alone?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friends and Faces

One of the things I love about living in a small town like Solvang is that no matter where or when I go out, I'm always bound to run into someone I know. It's like living among friends. Of course, my husband probably has a completely different opinion on this.

Last night we went to my son's favorite restaurant to celebrate his birthday. We ran into Emily, a student who helped on my yearbook staff last year. Sweet, funny and extremely talented, I enjoyed catching up with her (she graduated in June so I don't see her at school anymore).

As soon as we sat down, a teacher from my children's preschool came up to say 'hi' and commented on how much they had grown. Once she was out of earshot, my son turned to me and said, "Who was that?"

I stared at him, shocked. He used to like this teacher. "That was Veronica."

My daughter chimed in with her two cents. "She taught at preschool! Don't you remember, Drew?"

My husband shrugged and smiled at my son. "That's okay, Drew. I had no idea who that was either!"

And so, to quote Carrie Bradshaw here, I just had to wonder. Do women make better connections with people? Is my family unique or is this a male/female thing?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Memorable Books

Sometimes when you hear a song, it takes you back to a pleasant memory, forever connected to those notes.

Books do the same thing for me. In fifth grade I started a new school and discovered Judy Blume. "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" and "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself" were my best friends until I met Tammy, a girl almost as bookish as I was.

Seventh grade was all about V.C. Andrews. "Flowers in the Attic" didn't make it onto our junior high book list, but I read and reread that series for months. In ninth grade I was home sick for two weeks so I started in on my mother's books. "Lincoln" by Gore Vidal and "Shogun" by James Clavell were the most amazing, wonderful books I'd ever laid eyes on. History was suddenly incredibly interesting. I would have stayed home sick for longer, just to read everything they wrote!

My sophomore year of college, Carrie Fisher spent the summer with me in Spain. I read my Steinbeck and my Fitzgerald, too. But "Postcards from the Edge" was so different from anything I'd ever read before. I gave my dog-eared copy to a Japanese friend I met that summer and bought a new one when I got home!

So many books, so little time. What books are connected to memorable moments of your life?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Win a Free Book

Last year when Jasmine was in kindergarten, she studied giraffes. She made a huge paper mache giraffe that now lives in our music room and I learned more than I ever wanted to know about giraffes. Now I know why. It was preparation for this moment. All that useless trivia rattling around in my brain can finally be put to use!

Catherine Ipcizade is giving away a copy of her book, "'Twas the Day Before Zoo Day," in honor of BUY A BOOK FOR THE HOLIDAYS. The thing is, you have to know a certain giraffe fact in order to enter. Go to her website and see if you know the answer.

Book Dads are also giving away a book, "The Magician's Book," by Laura Miller, the story of one reader’s long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. If you'd like to enter for a chance to win this one, visit Book Dads.

Good luck!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Civics in the City

The first time I saw San Francisco in person, I rolled into town on a big yellow school bus. High school choir tour. I know. This really solidifies me as a big time geek.

Now keep in mind that I was born in rural Ohio and lived in a small town where everybody knew my name until I was ten. San Francisco blew my mind!

San Francisco still amazes me. The buildings, the crowds, the energy is so unlike any other city. It’s an exciting place to visit. And my children, growing up in little Solvang, where half the town knows their names, are thrilled by it. They love riding a streetcar or even just seeing more people on the sidewalk in an hour than we have pass through town in a month!

We sat down for lunch today on Embarcadero Street when a drum started beating and voices began chanting. At least three thousand people marched down the street waving flags and posters, making their voices heard for equality. Talk about a real-life civics lesson. I’m glad we were here to see it first hand.

In case you can't read the sign on the right, it says, "Britney Spears and Jason Alexander, 55 hours. Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman, 9 days. Drew Barrymore and Jeremy Thomas, 19 days. Eric and Walter, six years. And we threaten marriage?"

Something to think about.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Books, Brakes and Christmas Presents

So here we are just over six weeks from Christmas and I had to spend close to $1,800 dollars tuning up my Volvo. The commonly repeated phrase, “At least it’s paid for,” is offering very little comfort today. Especially since the dealer was only willing to offer $1,000 for it as a trade-in. I spent more money tuning it up than the damn thing is worth!

Okay. Deep breathing. It has been a very good car to me. I’ve put more than 93,000 miles on it so I’m going to assume that I’ve gotten my money’s worth from it. And it still works. I got it new 8 years ago. My husband changes vehicles almost as often as his underwear. Okay, so not quite that often. But truly, he has had 6 vehicles in the time that I started driving my V70!

The kids weren’t too happy to hear that they got a brake job for their Christmas presents (which isn’t true anyway because I’ve already bought them a ton of stuff—now if I could just remember where I hid it all…)

But did that stop me from casually entering the Barnes & Noble and plunking down the plastic to cover my addiction to all things bound by ink, paper and glue?

Being a middle grade writer, I can’t seem to pull myself out of the children’s section. I just finished reading “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan. Brilliant book. So of course I had to buy the sequel. “Inkdeath” found it’s way into my bag. I haven’t started it because of my NaNo preoccupation. One obsession at a time (although I am dying to know what happens to Dustfinger – don’t tell me!!)

So what are you reading? Any good recommendations?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Watcher and the Watched

San Luis Obispo has such a great vibe, probably because it's a college town. I can indulge in the fantasy that someone might mistake me for a postgraduate student instead of an aging soccer mom. *Sigh*

I love all the little coffee houses and the used book store on Monterrey, but when I need an internet connection, I head for the Starbucks tucked into the plaza between Higuera and Marsh. With it's floor to ceiling windows and conveniently place plugs, it's also a great place to recharge the laptop and people watch.

The kids were amused by the woman with the huge, white fluffy poodle; the man walking a fat Chihuahua wrapped in a red sweater like a slobbering Christmas present. We loved the man in the oversized fuzzy pink baseball cap sipping coffee near our window while his wife shopped; the tween tottering around on heels she'll be paying for later with a broken hip or back surgery.

Then I looked up an noticed the cafe at the Barnes & Noble across the plaza. There were people sitting at the window...watching us!

All the more reason to bury my head back into the computer and write some more. I'm happy with the stories I'm working on, just not finding as much time to focus on them as I thought I would. FOCUS being the operative word here!

Current NaNo word count: 3430. Nineteen days to go.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

In Your Eyes

I'm really shy.

I know it's hard to tell from a blog, but if we were meeting in person, I might not look directly into your eyes. And if more than three people were in the group, I probably wouldn't talk at all.

That's how I've been as I surf the internet, too. I guess I'd be called a lurker. I love to read people's posts, but I don't have much to say in response. Too scary. What if they think I'm a total dork?

Yesterday I stumbled onto a site by MotherReader encouraging bloggers to engage with each other by posting to five blogs every day for three weeks. I have to say, a month ago, I would not have been up to the challenge. But the longer I'm at this, the easier it gets. No one has mocked me yet (that I know of!) and I've actually "met" some incredible people online. 

Earlier this year, Mary Hershey gave me some advice that I've taken to heart. Surround yourself with what you want to become. Get to know the community, learn from other writers. What I've found is that writers are a very supportive group. I've been overwhelmed and beautifully surprised.

I still get nervous posting to a new person's blog, but I've also "talked" to some great people. People I would enjoy spending time with in real life. 

I might even look into their eyes!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Creative Deadlines

Here's what I love about NaNoWriMo, and I know it's weird, but pressure totally gets my creative juices flowing. And make no mistake: NaNo creates pressure. With only a month to create a novel, the pressure of a deadline, especially when a lot of people KNOW about your deadline, can be paralyzing.

I had no idea what I was going to write about. I thought about it all through October. November 1 rolled around and I still couldn't come up with a good concept. But I went to bed that night thinking, no, stressing, about it, and woke up with not one, but three great ideas, all begging me to write about them!

Now one idea will probably work best as a picture book, but the other two are full-blown middle-grade novels. So if I write both this month, I'll have my 5o,ooo words.

The pressure is mounting...and I'm thrilled!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...