Traditions

Traditions, family traditions specifically, are one of my all time favorite things. Growing up my family was drenched in traditions, and it was just something I took for granted. In fact, it took me a while to realize that other families DIDN’T have the same depth and intensity of traditions that my own did. What do you mean everyone doesn’t have a family parade on the fourth of July where they bang pots and pans and sing the first verse of “Yankee Doodle ” over and over again because no one knows the rest of the song? You mean you DON’T walk down the stairs at Christmas to the same Christmas song every year? You know you aren’t really an adult right? It’s not official until you’ve water ski’d on one ski all the way to Indiana Beach and back.

You get my point.

So even before I was pregnant with my first child, I was already thinking about the traditions I would create for my own little family. What would we have for breakfast on Christmas morning? How would we make birthdays special? What about Halloween?

Now that London is almost two, I finally get to put some of those traditions I’ve been mulling over into action, from baking cut-out sugar cookies for the major holidays…

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To the Christmas Cd that’s been playing on repeat since before the Thanksgiving turkey was even on the table.

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Let the traditions begin! (Say that in the voice of the announcer from The Hunger Games and it’s much more impressive.)

One of the things I KNEW I wanted to do for London and for all my future kiddos, was an advent calendar. I don’t mean the chocolate kind, although trust me, those have a place in our home too. I still buy one for myself every year. In fact I bought two…only one actually made it to December. Sorry. Not sorry. Anyways, I wanted to have an advent calendar of fun surprises, activities and treats leading up to the December 25th.

I’ve been eyeballing potential advent calendars for around three years now, and I found myself drifting back to the Pottery Barn website. Their website is the shopping equivilant of double stuffed oreos. You tell yourself you’ll just have one…but you look down to discover you’ve eaten half the package. Or the whole package. Depending on the day you’ve had. My criteria for an advent calendar was pretty simple. It had to be pretty. And it had to have pockets. Unfortunatly, champagne taste on a beer budget meant I always passed the pottery barn ones by due to the price. Until this year. We were out and about and this beauty was on sale. I stood there drooling over it for a while and took a picture.

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Then I had one of those conversations with myself that went a little something like this.

Me: I could totally make this. It’s just felt. My basic sewing skills could totally handle pockets.

Self: Your mom will tell you your nuts, but you totally could.

Me: Do I have time to make this?

Self: No. You should be spending your spare time preparing for baby number two and writing. Or maybe cleaning the house. It’s a hot mess.

Me: But it would be more meaningful if I made it. Family heirloom type stuff I could hand down to my kids.

Self: True. Unless it was a complete flop, then it would be a huge waste of money and time.  Plus, when are you going to find time to pick up everything you need? December is two weeks away.

Me: Hmmmmm

Self: By the time you buy everything to make this, it would be cheaper to buy it.

Me: Probably. Why does my sub-concsious sound more and more like my mom?

Self: Because you’re getting smarter in your old age.

Now this argument could have gone on for a long time despite my insistent toddler in the stroller demanding cookies, but then my lovely hubby stepped in. He noticed the drool and the picture taking and asked what was up. I explained that I was fairly confident that I could make the advent calendar, and which point he made “the face.”

If you are married, you know which one I’m talking about. It’s a look that combines “you’re crazy” with “be serious women”.   Then he said the magic words. “Just buy it.”

Done.

One command hook later and this baby was on my wall. Now came the fun part. Filling it.

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The requirements for the calendar were simple. The activity/surprise/treat had to be either cheap or free. Also-toddler friendly. Not as easy as you’d think.

A little brainstorming, and a trip to the Target Dollar Spot though and I was set.

Here is the list I came up with:

  • Bake Christmas Cookies
  • Decorate Christmas cookies
  • Decorate Gingerbread house
  • Snowman craft (prep ahead)
  • Christmas Tree craft (prep ahead)
  • Drive around and look at lights in the neighborhood
  • Read Christmas books in mom and dad’s bed
  • Write a letter to Santa
  • Visit from Nani
  • Visit from Oma and Boppy
  • Hang ornaments on Christmas tree
  • Watch Christmas Movie
  • Watch Christmas Movie
  • New Christmas ornament
  • New Christmas ornament
  • Drink Hot Chocolate
  • New Window Stickers
  • New Window Stickers
  • Holiday Craft (sticker house)
  • Holiday Treat (Maybe her first candy cane?)
  • Visit Santa
  • Make a snowman with dad
  • Sing Christmas Songs
  • Go to the Library and read Christmas books
  • Christmas Party at School

I typed the list into a word document using the label format, printed them out, and started stuffing . Now, thankfully this year…my child can’t read. So if for some reason the card I pull out for that day says “Bake Christmas cookies” and we are out of butter….well I can easily switch it out for something else like new window stickers or a craft. In a few years…I’m going to have to up my game, and probably the contents of the advent calendar. I can’t picture a teenager being thrilled about reading Christmas books in mom and dad’s bed. But luckily, a one year old is!

There was a little prep involved for some of the crafts I plan to do with her, but nothing a good pair of scissors and Netflix couldn’t handle.

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We are two days in, and so far it has been a success! Day one was “Hang Ornaments on Tree.” She LOVED it.   Only one ornament came to a shattered end thanks to my horrible reflexes. (Please ignore the bow I’m wearing. A certain toddler asked nicely for mommy to wear the Mini Mouse bow.)

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Day two was new window stickers, and you’d have thought I’d bought her the winning lottery ticket. Best dollar I ever spent. Although, it spoiled the Norman Rockwell moment a bit when she pulled them all off the window in one glob and demanded I turn the snowmen into penguins. Toddlers are great like that. Sigh. Oh well.

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As a side note, almost every activity in our house is given added excitement by the ever present “keep it away from the hungry bulldog” element. Tilly thought those window stickers looked like a good pre-dinner appetizer. We are now mysteriously missing one of the snowmen’s arms…coincidence? I think not.  My apologize to Frosty and his kind.

Anyways, I  can’t wait to see what she thinks of all the other days, and I have my drawer of goodies all ready to go.

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In sixteen years, she will probably think this is lame, but in thirty years my hope is that she will look back at the advent calendar activities and smile. And who knows…maybe her children will get to experience this same tradition. And maybe their grandmother will actually make an advent calander for them instead of buying one. But probably not…

 

A few of my favorite things…

Do you have favorite things? Things you’ve stumbled across that you rave about to your friends and gift them with because, really, their life couldn’t be complete without said “thing” in it?

I do.   And as an avid blog fan, one of my favorite posts bloggers sometimes do is on THEIR favorite things. Through these posts I’ve found some of my favorite recipes, makeup, home-improvement tips etc.   So I thought it would be fun to do the same. Especially since the gift-giving time of the year is officially upon us!

Warning. This list is on the eclectic side. I jump around a lot, and they are in no particular order, but I thought it might be fun to share a few of these. Enjoy!

First up. Bathroom spray.

6a00d83451616069e2017d3caac640970c-450wiSurprised? Remember…I said no particular order. I found this because someone put it in one of the bathrooms at  the school I used to teach at. There is NOTHING worse that going into the bathroom after someone who, well, let’s just say had some business to attend to, and finding it smelling like poopy flowers. This stuff doesn’t do that. It can kill even the worst of smells. And besides that, they have cheeky names that crack me up. They are a little more expensive than your average spray, but worth every penny and last ten times as long. So if you are looking for a fun stocking stuffer to make someone giggle…pick some up!.

Next up. These candles. Again. Expensive. But worth every penny. I used to nanny for a family who had these all over their house, and I became obsessed. Bonus, the jar is pretty too!

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Now as a good Christian girl, this next one’s name makes me blush a little. Pun intended. NARS blush stick in a certain scandalous name. Best blush ever. This lasts me at least 6 months. I wish for it for my birthday and Christmas every year. Mainly because it’s expensive…and I’m cheap.

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I’ve already mentioned my deep love for my discman and tune belt in a post. But it’s worth mentioning again. I love this outdated bit of technology.

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Green tea. And not just any green tea. THIS green tea. I’ve tried them all, and it can’t be beat. Now, being pregnant right now, I’m not able to enjoy this right now. (Did you know green tea flushes iron and folic acid from your system?) But it’s getting packed in my hospital bag to enjoy the minute after I give birth. Not even joking.

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Cloth Diapers. They have come a LONG way since our mothers and grandmothers used them. I was originally convinced to use them by this blog post. After a lot of research, I even got my skeptical hubby on board. They save us a LOT of money, and they are so easy…not gross at all…and super cute.

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Bulldogs. Both the French and the English variety. As a Butler University Alum, I have a special place in my heart for the wrinkly, overweight, smooshed faced, gassy blobs of cuteness. And after years of owning a huge Airedale terrier who required a five mile run every day just to stay sane, their complete lack of exercise requirements is refreshing.

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Beach Body Workout Tapes.

I’m doing my best to keep these guys in business. I now own P90X, Insanity, and P90X 30.

Working out is a priority for me. It keeps me sane.  Now that we have a 1 and ½ kids, going to the gym every day isn’t an option. I’m lucky if I can sneak out a few mornings a week to run before everyone wakes up! These tapes have been used over and over again. Well worth every penny, and I know that I can get a good workout in no matter how much time I do or don’t have.

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Netflix.
I always say this would be the best gift for someone about to have a baby. Do you know what’s on TV at 2 am. when you wake up with a newborn and have to stay awake through a ½ hour feeding? Nothing. There is nothing on TV.
Enter Netflix.
It got me through those first few months of being up all night and  home all day with nothing but talk shows and soap operas on TV.   And now I use it daily when I workout in our basement at 6 am. Because again…there is nothing but vaccume clearner infomercials on at that time of day. Worth. Every. Penny.

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This post wouldn’t be complete with out mentioning chocolate. Just like no day is complete without a little chocolate. Am I right? (Now you know why I have to workout so much!) And if you are looking for the BEST out there, you have to go to Albanese. And I don’t’ say that because I grew up with a lot of the Albanese kids. (Not technically related, but they are my cousin’s cousins so it took me a few years before I REALIZED we weren’t.) But they seriously make the best malt balls, chocolate covered raisins and chocolate covered peanuts out there. And don’t even get me started on their gummy bears. You haven’t had a gummy bear until you’ve had theirs. I used to live minutes away from their store. Deadly. Luckily, they ship, and I visit the area enough that I get my Albanese fix.

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Last but not least… Lake Shafer. I know this isn’t exactly a product like everything else. But I had to mention it anyway. I spent every summer of my childhood on this muddy river, and it will forever have a place in my heart. It’s the lake of Indina Beach fame, but it will always be full of sunburned memories of cousins, swimming, capture the flag, and fishing. Sigh. It’s where my heart is happiest. I just had to mention it.

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So there you have it! A few favorite things. I’m sure I forgot something on here…and if I come up with enough maybe I’ll do a follow up post. Who knows.

What are your favorite things?

Boys and Books…

As an ex-middle school English teacher, I can testify that boys are often some of the hardest ones to get reading. Now, there is always the exception to the rule, but on the whole they were my biggest challenge. They are so easily turned off from reading. Maybe it’s because our culture emphasizes sports and video games as “boy” things and reading as a “girl” thing, but whatever it is, I refuse to believe that it’s because they have a harder time falling into the fantastic world of a book. Long story short- I don’t know, but boys are a hard sell.

I over came this challenge a lot of ways as a teacher, and I think on the whole I did a pretty good job of it. By the end of the year, most of the boys in my class had experience reading a book that they just GOT. If you’re a reader, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that book that grabs you and won’t let you go. The one you stay up too late reading and can’t get out of your head after you’ve finished it.  I am proud to say that I helped put a lot of those books in their hands. How? By reading A LOT of books to find the ones that would speak to a boy’s soul. Maybe that’s why I wrote one that would appeal to boys. Hmmmm.

Anyways.

Here, are some of my favorites for boys. (Also-girls love these too! I can vouch.)

The Lightening Thief

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This one is a tried and true boy favorite. Greek gods. Epic Battles. Teachers turning into monsters. All winners in the world of boy.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp

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King Arthurs knights of the round table are still around…except now they drive lamborginies.   Usually all I needed to sell this book.

The Hunger Games

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I feel like this one needs no explanation. It’s fabulous. Nuff said.

Looking for Alaska

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Have you read John Green yet?  Have you watched one of his vlogbrothers posts?  You are missing out if you haven’t. This one has some language and content, so probably better for the older boy in your life (think 13 and up), but he is by far one of my favorite authors. (And I’m not just saying that because he also lives in Indianapolis.)

Acceleration

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A boy finds the diary of a serial killer. Now he has to stop the killer before he kills his next victim. So intense you CAN’T put it down.

The 5th Wave

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This one has a girl main character, but it doesn’t matter. Aliens have taken over the world, except…they aren’t anything like you’d expect. Incredibly fast paced and action packed.

Holes

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An oldie but a goodie. There is a character named Armpit. Again, nuff said.

Maniac Magee

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I used to read this one out loud to my students. It’s old enough that a lot of people have forgotten about it. But it is fabulous.

Hatchet

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Another oldie but a goodie. For the boy who loves hunting and survival. Fun fact-it was my husbands favorite book as a kid. And he was a boy who “hated reading.”

The Maze Runner

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Another one that has become so popular I don’t feel that it needs an explanation. This is a boy book through and through.

Harry Potter

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No list is complete without this series. It’s a book everyone will love. My little brother wasn’t a reader, until he read Harry Potter.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

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This book kept me laughing all the way through. There is a little bit of language in it, but over all, a fabulous read.

Legend

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It’s actually an updated slightly tweaked retelling of Le Miserable which makes it just that much cooler in my book. A legendary thief (think Robin Hood type character) and the girl prodigy assigned to bring him down makes for a  fast paced and very well written story. The whole series is great.

Leviathan

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So for a long time steam punk was going to be the next big thing in publishing. Almost every literary agent seemed to be interested in it, but it never really took off. No clue why. The exception to the rule was Leviathan. A reimagining of World War I with a major steam punk twist this story is told from two separate points of view. The illustrations are phenomenal, and the imagination is divine. Although, since it’s written by Scott Westerfeld, creator of the Uglies series, I’m not sure why I was surprised.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few, but if you are looking for a good book for the boy in your life. Start with a few of these. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh.

And don’t forget this boy book coming in May!

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Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Ps. Amazon has their description up for it now!

I’m back!

HELLO? HELLO? Is this thing on?

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I apologize for the impromptu blog hiatus, but for the last few weeks I’ve been putting every spare minute I’ve had into getting book two for The Edge of Extinction ready to send off to my fabulous editor at Harper Collins. Now please don’t be confused and think the novel is done. It is FAR from done. If past experience holds true then it has at least two major editing overhauls to survive, line edits, and galley edits before it sees the light of day. BUT, the book is at least written and sent off so the whole process can begin. Why the rush? I understand your confusion considering book one is still months away from hitting real bookshelves.

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Although fun fact. You CAN pre-order it now here!  Hint Hint.  Nudge Nudge.

The real motivator in all of this is baby Martin number two’s impending arrival sometime at the end of February. I let my editor in on the impending arrival before I’d even let some of my family members know because I knew it would impact the timeline for getting book two ready to go. ( Also, please enjoy the picture of “skinny” Laura. I put that in quotes because “skinny” is a relative term. I’m sure in that picture I was obsessing over 5-10 lb. Now, I would give both my arms and a leg to look like that. And I would probably have to give up all three of those appendages to hit that number on the scale. Sigh. Growing a baby is fun…)

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Anyways, back to my blog abandonment. My thought process in getting book two done ahead of schedule is that it’s hard to get much accomplished with ONE baby in the house. TWO…well, hold on to your hats folks.

From what I’ve heard, showering becomes difficult…let alone finding time to write. So lets just say I’ve been in hyper drive trying to get EVERYTHING accomplished. Book stuff, house stuff, organization stuff.   Please picture Yoda saying “The nesting force is strong in this one” and you might have the idea.

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Photo credit here.

The result has been driving me poor husband up the wall with my never-ending To-Do lists as I panic at him nightly about all the things WE STILL HAVE TO DO! I even typed up the massive to-do list in hopes that it would make him panic too. It didn’t. He’s oddly sensible and calm. Annoying.

Just to prove my point, my daughters nursery was done, clothes washed, stuff on the walls, diapers stocked and ready to go before I was even 25 weeks along. I’m not joking. Neither was Yoda… the force is strong.  (This is a pic from her original nursery before we moved.  DONE. WEEKS in advance. )

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This time around it hasn’t been so easy. For one, the cute but incredibly busy toddler who decided naps are for wusses slows me down quite a bit. For another, when she finally does fall asleep, it takes everything in me not to just pass out as well.

But of all the things on the list that needed to get done my biggest priority was draft number one for book two getting out the door. Until that happened, everything was put on hold. And when I say everything, I mean everything.

For example, our English bulldog is balding. Again.

Before the balding…. cute, cuddly, chubby…lots of hair. My vacuum cleaner can testify to that last one.

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After the balding began… notice the odd patches on her back. Not good.

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The day after the draft went out the door the poor girl finally got drug to the vet lest she soon look like Dr. Evil’s cat in Austin Powers. She doesn’t have the bone structure to pull off that look. Chubby girls shouldn’t be bald.

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One hundred dollars later, and we are assured the hair should soon stop falling out in tufts. Here’s hoping.

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Along with our bulldog’s hair situation, the house was dirty. Things on every available surface were cluttered and unorganized. Laundry was starting to develop it’s own personality. Projects I wanted to do for the nursery and the house sat half finished and abandoned in random corners. Every spare minute went to book two. Then editing book two. Then editing it again. Then editing it one more time for good neurotic measure.

But! Book two is now OUT THE DOOR! So until it comes back and needs one of the overhauling edits I mentioned, things have been getting DONE. It feels good people. Really good.   It also helped that this weekend my in-laws whisked our daughter away to Chicago for some fun at the Shed Aquarium. It is AMAZING what can be accomplished when you have a few connected hours. I think back on my life before kids, and I wish I could give myself a good shake and yell “You think you’re busy? You aren’t busy! You’re on vacation!” And if time travel ever gets invented. I probably will. Until then. I’ll just satisfy myself with getting things checked off my to-do list. Confession.

Sometimes I even write things on the list just to check them off. It feels that good. Some people have addictions to smoking or drinking or gambling…my addiction might be to-do lists. It’s sad. But true.

Also-as I write this. I realize I might have officially turned into my mother.

Not a bad thing. The women gets things accomplished like you wouldn’t believe. Efficiency and Organization should be her middle name. It’s just so NOT who I used to be. My natural state is “hot mess.” But somewhere along the line I turned into someone who relishes organizing the mess underneath her bathroom cabinets.

Weird.

So while I work on a few new blog posts to stockpile for when my adorable toddler comes back home and makes getting things accomplished difficult again. Here are a few before, after, and progress shots of what’s been happening while this blog was silent. Enjoy!

First up….the dining nook.  New pillow covers sewn. (note the green pillows in the first picture I pulled from my daughter’s birthday.)  And the backs of the built-ins are now painted a lovely grey.  (please pardon the pictures taken from my phone. And the blue car…no excuses on that one. Just too lazy to move it.)

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Next up was the playroom.   Which recently got a new ikea couch, and I sewed a “gender neutral” banner.  I didn’t think  that baby number 2 (which is a boy by the way) would appreciate all the pink.

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The nursery accent wall got painted. And yes…the mask is VERY attractive.  But if it means I get to help paint…I’ll wear it.

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A random “Ho” got painted too, just for good measure.  Bring on Christmas!

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So again, I apologize for the absence. I’ll try not to do it again any time soon!   Now back to my to-do list. I get to check of “write blog post”.  And you know how I feel about checking things off to-do lists!

Step One…

So you want to write a book…

Good Luck.

Just kidding, but seriously.

When I first got the idea to write a book in my head, I had no clue where to even begin. I’d been reading books forever, but how to actually create one of those pieces of magic was beyond me. I majored in creative writing at Butler University, and the topic was never covered ONCE. Seemed like a bit of an oversight to me.

So, like any good 21st century girl. I turned to the Internet. I think I typed “How to Publish a Book” into google.

Seriously.

My ignorance on the subject was epic.

The details are getting fuzzy now, but I remember reading a lot on the topic through every online article and library book I could get my hands on, and eventually I had a rough idea for how to go about the thing.

Step One of the whole process seemed to be to ACTUALLY WRITE A BOOK. Now, that may seem obvious, but I’m actually here to tell you…that step one is to write MORE THAN ONE BOOK.

What?!

Write more than one book?

Are you insane?

Writing one is going to be a challenge!

I hear ya. And I agree. Writing ANYTHING as long and complicated as a book is a challenge. (Now the first 20,000 words? Ridiculously easy. They fly. The last 50,000+? Brutal. )

And if you just write the one, feel free to pat yourself on the back, check it off your bucket list, and brag to your friends about your accomplishment. Don’t worry. I did that too.

BUT.

Here’s the thing. Your first book will be utter crap. You won’t think it is. You will be convinced it’s brilliant. And that’s okay, books are a lot like children, and you always think your own is the best.

BUT. That doesn’t change the fact that your first book is still utter muckity muck. It’s supposed to be. How else do you learn how to write a book unless you, ya know, write one?

For example…my first novel was a middle grade novel and ended up being 150,000 words when it was all said and done. The average middle grade novel is 50,000. Whoops? Like I said…. First Book= Disaster on Wheels.

Now I’m sure there is the random freak of nature out there somewhere who got their first novel published for a huge advance and rave reviews. And to that person I say. Good for you. I hate you. But good for you.

So let’s just say that this post is for the rest of us.

So back to your utter crap book that you still believe is pure genius. Here’s what you do with it.

You edit it like it’s going somewhere. Show it to other people who know what they’re talking about and edit some more. Show it to your mom, because it’s always wonderful to hear someone else tell you how great you are. Then show it to someone who tells you that it’s awful- just to keep your ego balanced. And while you are doing all of this, learn to shape a story. Then go ahead and query that novel. Why not? It can’t hurt to try, and just like anything else, you’ll learn how to query by actually doing it.

(Side Note- I’ll write a post about queries when I write about STEP TWO of getting a book published. Until then, you can check out this website to learn everything you need to know about the vile pieces of writing called the query letter.)

But here is the secret.

While you are querying your first novel, which is being shot down left and right because, obviously, no one understand your brilliance, start your second book.

You heard me. Start it. Fall in love with it. Use everything you learned from writing your first novel to make this one really sing.

This accomplishes two things.

  1. It takes the sting out of all those rejections novel number one is getting.
  2. You end up writing another, better, book.

Now I’d love to tell you that book two is the magic number for getting published, but it’s not. I lucked out, and the second novel I ever wrote ended up being the one that snagged me an agent. BUT, it might be your third, fourth, fifth, fifteenth novel.

What you need to ask yourself is if you NEVER got published, if there was NO light at the end of the tunnel, would you still write? If the answer is yes, then you have nothing to lose, and remember….

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Your iPod’s grandma…

I decided a long time ago that there are certain times when I am completely willing to look like an idiot. Ever had one of those realizations about yourself? For a half second you consider changing and then decide that marching to the beat of own drum makes you happy… dang it… so screw society’s conventions?

Well, confession time.

What makes me weirdly happy and totally willing to look stupid is a disc man.

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That’s right. You heard correctly. A disc man.

Before you ask…

Yes, they still make them. In fact you can buy one here. It’s the one I use and recommend.  (Although, now that I just hyperlinked that I see it’s no longer being made and is now ridiculously expensive…and I just had a minor panic attack. That company might be getting a letter.  No worries…other companies are still making them for a much more reasonable price.)

Yes, I’m aware that there is newer, smaller, infinitely cooler technology available. And while I adore my Iphone, I don’t own an Ipod.

Yes, the 80’s has been calling wanting their technology back. But tough luck. It’s mine.

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Let me explain. I have an addiction to reading books, but I’m also really busy. Solution? Audio books. It allows me to listen to a book while I make clean my house, fold laundry, DIY, drive in my car, and here is the big one…while I run.

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(Infographic from a great article on audiobooks here. I can personally recommend numbers 3, 6, and 7.)

I run between 5-6 miles every other day. That’s roughly an hour of time that I get to spend with just my sneakers, the road, and a book. I go through around 2-3 books a week this way between the one I have going in my car and the one on my trusty disc man. I can’t run with music. I tried it once. Horrible experience.

But I’m sure you’re wondering…why a disc man? Why not load those books onto an Ipod.   The simple answer? Lack of time. I get the majority of my audiobooks from the library, and some (like the one I’m listening to right now) are on LOTS of CD’s. It would take gobs of time to load each CD onto an ipod which would inevitably be maxed out on storage in a matter of days, causing me to spend even MORE time deleting old books. All of this is time I could have spent doing something else.

So a disc man it is.

I even used to introduce them to my students and allow them to rent them from my classroom. I would explain this foreign technology as “your Ipod’s grandma” and tell them to be respectful to their elders. Some laughed. Some thought I was a complete dork. Which was fine. I am a lot of the time.

Now, if you are at all like me and are a little bit intrigued by this whole idea, I have some helpful hints for you. Take it from a faithful disc man user and audiobook aficionado for the last 20+ years

  • Get a tunebelt. It’s a specialy designed belt to hold your discman while you listen. In my case, it holds it while I run, but my mom uses one while she pulls weeds and cleans the house. I’ve gone through about five of these in my lifetime. I always stash extra CD’s, batteries, a back-up hair tie, and a few dollars inside it. Oh… and a Taser. (Thanks Dad!)

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  • Use rechargeable batteries. Unlike Ipods, Discmen where born before everyone started “going green.” I used to go through a four pack of double A batteries every week…it got expensive. I finally bought a pack of rechargeable batteries and they have been going strong for over four years now.

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  • Use your local library. Audiobooks are EXPENSIVE. Nuff Said.

I know most, if not all of you are rolling your eyes at the moment. And that’s fine. But don’t knock it till you try it. HOURS of your life that are spent doing mundane tasks could be used to improve yourself. I always recommend audiobooks to struggling readers. It helps build vocabulary and fluency, plus it allows struggling readers to really get “hooked” on a story because it’s being read at the pace that was intended. Kids who struggle with reading never “like” it because it’s the equivalent of watching a movie in slow-motion. BORING!

I tried to find a picture of myself wearing my tunebelt and discman setup and didn’t do so hot. Shocking but I don’t do lots of photo-ops wearing what is essentially a fanny pack.  Here is the best one I’ve got.  See it on my hip? It’s right next to the photobombing french bulldog. (Don’t panic, my dog doesn’t really have two necks like the picture shows. His image just got a little wonky in the mirror’s reflection. )

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If you aren’t afraid to fly your nerd flag proudly…try it out. You never know. You might actually like it!

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ps. I can’t end this post without mentioning the Harry Potter audiobooks. They are read by Jim Dale who is phenominal. I may have listened to this series more than once.  Okay..more than ten times. But who’s counting?

Blogs…

I’ve wanted to write a blog for over five years now. Ever since I stumbled across an amazing one and got addicted to reading the content every day. I’d find myself doing DIY projects around my house and narrating how I’d write them up on my “imaginary” blog.  Dorky? Oh yes.

I even started up one, wrote one post with a random picture of my dog on it (translation: ridiculously lame) and then chickened out. For one thing, putting a blog out there is a lot like waiting to get picked for a team in P.E. class. You wonder if you’re “worth” someone choosing and then you wonder if you really want to know. For another I noticed that most of the bloggers I enjoyed following had some MAJOR photography chops. Something I am sadly lacking but am going to make an effort to improve.  I also told myself that any time I spent writing blog posts would be better spent  writing and getting a novel published.  So, on the shelf went my blog idea….of course until I started this little corner of the internet.

But while I was avoiding blogging myself, I did develop a very serious blog addiction. In fact I let all my magazine subscriptions lapse because blogs were just so much better. And FREE!  So in the interest of sharing some of my favorite sources of inspiration here they are in no particular order! Enjoy!

#1. Young House Love.   These guys were in a league of their own when they were blogging. They were the first blog I came across which led me to the other blogs I would eventually follow. Sadly, they stopped blogging over a year ago now, but their website is still up and their archives are a literal treasure trove of DIY know-how.  They also have a new book coming out that I will be buying the day it drops. Yes. They are THAT good.

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#2. Bower Power.  I found Katie Bower through a mention on Young House Love, and I will cry if she ever stops blogging. She is HILARIOUS and manages to accomplish some major DIY projects all while raising  four adorable little boys.

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#3. Meg Duerksen.   When I mentioned the photography chops, this lady comes to mind. She is so creative and positive and her posts just make me happy. They also make me want to craft. Go check it out, and you’ll see what I mean. ( As a side note: the name of her blog Whatever is also based off of one of my favorite Bible verses. Ten points if you know the verse JUST from the word Whatever.) IMG_9268(pp_w775_h547)

#4. Janet Reid.  This is by far the best blog for writers out there…in my humble option. As a top literary agent Ms. Reid delivers priceless advice for would-be writers all with a side of dry-humor that will keep you smiling. She also runs a second blog, because yes, she’s THAT good.  It’s called Query Shark, and this one is a must-read for writers who are attempting to create a query letter. She takes submissions from writers and then critiques the query, telling in detail what worked and what didn’t. When I was trying to write the dreaded query letter (blog post to come on that whole messy process), I spent hours upon hours reading the archives of this blog. They were all hours VERY well spent.

#5. The Freckled-Fox.  This is one I just recently stumbled across. Emily is not only beautiful but she has this positive outlook on life that is contagious. She has five kiddos all five and under…think on that one for a second…and still manages to make time to put together an amazing blog. It’s worth checking out for her hair tutorials alone.

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So there you have it!  I feel as though I should apologize for the HOURS of time you will probably spend getting lost in the labyrinth of creativity these ladies have produced. But I won’t. Because I know you’re going to love every minute of it. You’re welcome.

Staying Focused…

I have a confession.

I never REALLY understood or sympathized with people who talked about how busy they were once they had kids. I used to think that they were exaggerating or just plain not organizing their time well.

Then I had one.

And I immediately felt the need to write apology notes to all those people for all the secretively judgmental thoughts I’d had on the subject. In fact, I did write a few apology letters to my own mother, because, gosh, this parenting thing is HARD.

So when I say having a  one-year-old who could give the Energizer Bunny a run for his money keeps me busy, I promise I’m not exaggerating. Which means I have two set times of day when I can get some writing done. Heck, when I can get anything done for that matter.

  1. Nap Time (Which can last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours)
  2. Bed Time (Again, anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours of free time once the munchkin FINALLY falls asleep.)

But here is the problem. Sitting down and ACTUALLY writing. Besides the dishes that need washed, the bulldogs that need to go outside for the tenth time, the laundry that needs to be folded, and the dinner that needs prepped- it’s hard to sit down and dial myself into my novel and let the other stuff go.  And that’s not even the biggest distraction.

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(Graphic originally from here.)

The internet, where free time goes to die.

For example, I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest. I have thousands of pins that represent HOURS and HOURS of my life, and I think I’ve only actually done around twenty projects/crafts/DIY projects from there. And by the way, those HOURS and HOURS spent on Pinterest would have definitely been better served writing.

But here are the rules that I’ve discovered that have helped me get down to the serious business of writing.

  1. No Music
  2. No TV
  3. Disconnect the Internet
  4. Leave your Phone in the other room.  On silent.
  5. No Company (That includes my poor husband who can’t HELP but talk if we’re in the same room. The nerve!)
  6. Caffeine

Now while all those rules are great, I have a particular fondness for number six. Probably because it’s the easiest of all the rules to follow.

I was never  a big coffee fan. That is until I discovered iced coffee. Then all bets were off. I came up with this recipe after a bit of trial and error, and it can be tweaked to fit your preferences. I have one of these every afternoon, and it’s that little extra jolt that helps keep me on track.

Step One: Brew a cup of coffee. (Awesome Harry Potter mug is completely optional, but it will make your coffee taste better.  Fact.)  I do this in the morning and then pop it in the fridge until I’m ready to use it. There is nothing, and I repeat, nothing worse than trying to make iced coffee with hot coffee.  You’ll end up with a diluted mess.

Step Two:  Now that your coffee is nice and cold, you’re ready to assemble. Here is the line up of players.

Step Three:  Pour your coffee over ice. Some people get all fancy and freeze coffee into cubes so their coffee doesn’t get diluted at all. I’m not that picky…or organized…so regular ice it is.

Step Four:  Add your almond milk. I’m sure regular milk would work too, but I prefer almond.

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Step Five: Add a splash of creamer. Not to much or it gets WAY too sweet. And if it’s fall, Pumpkin Spice is a must.

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Step Six: Put a LID ON THAT CUP.   Coffee and computers don’t mix well. Your elbow will hit that delicious concoction you just created and then your hard drive will sizzle. And you’ll probabaly cry.

Use a lid.

Always.

Then settle down and get writing, and don’t stop until that sleeping baby wakes up!

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The Power of Words…

I adore quotes.

There is something so powerful about them, and I can’t really put my finger on it. As a teacher, I started each day off with a quote of the day plastered loud and proud on the opening slide of my powerpoint. Often it would tie in with the novel we were reading, the lesson we were tackling, or a current event.  I had these high teacher hopes that the few seconds we spent discussing it would somehow impact their middle-school souls. Because, wow, some quotes are just knock your socks off, tattoo it on your heart and live by it powerful.

Here are a few of my favorites “Classroom” quotes.

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So it’s no real surprise that I have a lot of quotes posted around our house in various prominent positions. I would have more, but my husband has a firm dislike for “clutter.”

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I painted these for my daughter London’s nursery. I’m not sure if the one on the left counts as a quote, but I’ll let it slide.  I can’t take credit for the beautiful design as I just free handed these from the original artwork of Katie Daisy. If you’ve never looked at her work on etsy, you need to. I own quite a few pieces, but nothing she sells came as large as I needed for the nursury, so I busted out the old paint brushes and got to work.

Also- take a moment to look at the cute one-year-old busy “reading” during this photo shoot. And just to keep it real, it took some major re-shelving  while she un-shelved to get this picture.

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The quote on the right reads:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 
-Mary Oliver

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These two beauties live in our living room.

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Also, that picture on the right is vintage Martins. Back when we treated our bulldogs like kids because we didn’t have any yet. Although, if we’re honest, they still get treated like our kids.

We are also blessed to have a dedicated “playroom” in our house, and I tried to make most of the artwork fun and colorful. You know, kid stuff. Here is a quick shot for reference. Again, this took major clean up during nap time. It is usually a hot mess. Toddlers are not known for their tidiness. And unfortunately, neither am I.

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Here is the art on the right hand side. The top left is a chalkboard that, don’t worry, is sure to hold lots of quotes for my kids as time goes one. You know, once they can actually read them. And can you spot another piece of Katie Daisy artwork? If not, you probably really struggled with Where’s Waldo as a kid.

Anyways, I recently added this quote as a reminder for myself. They are words by an author I admire greatly, Mr. C. S. Lewis himself.  The man who had me checking the back of wardrobes for longer than I’m willing to admit. His words are some that convict my heart daily as I find myself longing for nap time as I read the same story for the twelfth time in a row.

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“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work. ”  -C. S. Lewis

These words remind me daily that these moments are fleeting. They won’t be here forever. Someday I’ll have all the time in the world to write, and my daughter will be too busy to hang out with her mom. Sniff. Okay enough of that.

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While I was in the playroom, I noticed a quote I’d almost forgotten about. For years, this lived in my classroom. It was one of the things I made as a first year teacher, and I brought it home on the sad day I cleaned out my room for good. I thought it was too cute not to use somewhere so to the playroom it went. I know it’s hard to read on the vase, but it says:

“Don’t let the weeds grow around your dreams.”
-Anonymous.
I told you, I preached dream chasing like it was my job. Because, really, it was.

I also have a few key quotes that have impacted my writing life and gave me a much need kick-in-the-pants to write a novel already. I wanted to share them  in the hopes that they might impact you as well. Maybe they will inspire you to go after that thing that you’ve ALWAYS wanted to do… or become… or accomplish. You know, the thing that eats at your insides and won’t let you sleep at night. The thing you catch yourself daydreaming about?
Yes.
That thing.
Here’s hoping these inspire you to chase it down.

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This next one isn’t a quote, it’s a poem. I know, I tricked you. But I’m counting it as a quote anyways. d9bc417f92ff7e4eff0b43bae3e271a8

And this one is just so powerful I feel it in my bones.

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Infographic originally from here

What a thought! Put a deadline on a dream, and it because something completely reachable. Not something you just think about, or wish about, or complain that you never accomplished. Deadlines work. I am a firm believer in the deadline.

And just for fun, I thought I’d share this one. In this selfie day and age, where photoshopped models beam from the covers of magazines, it is refreshingly frank. I’m more than guilty of “screening” photos before sending them out into the world.  But gosh, sometimes my face just looks that bad, and I need to just suck it up and deal. Thank’s Honest Abe.

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Infographic originally from here

And finally, this guy.  Because isn’t that the truth. Have a great week guys.

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You can buy this gem here.  I’ve been more than tempted.

What if…

One of the first lessons I used to teach my students about writing is that EVERY story starts with a “what if.”  What if there was a boy who found out he was a wizard? What if there was a whole other world on the other side of a wardrobe? What if a boy found a dragon egg in the woods? (That’s Harry Potter, Narnia, and Eragon for those of you who don’t speak book quite as fluently as I do. All of which should be read post haste if you haven’t yet. Because, clearly, you aren’t spending your time correctly.)

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My book started the exact same way. With a “what if.” My “what if” just happened to strike at New York’s Museum of Natural History. My mom and I took a short trip to New York during my school’s fall break. That’s us at Central Park. While she would have rather spent the day shopping or seeing a show, I drug her to a museum. Because I’m that brand of nerd I guess. Not only do I adore museums, but I’m also one of those obnoxious people who reads all the plaques. My dad is too, so I guess I come by the obnoxiousness naturally. If you ever have a chance to visit this particular museum. Do it. If for no other reason than that the dinosaur bones displayed there are amazing.

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I have no clue what the picture below was of. Prehistoric deer? Bullwinkle’s ancient cousin?  Bambi gone bad?  For some bizarre reason I thought it was worth taking a picture in front of…  No accounting for taste.

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While I was gawking (and taking awkward pictures) with the rest of the tourists, I noticed a tiny dinosaur in a glass case off to the side. It was roughly the size of a dog, and pictured protecting a few baby dinosaurs. It immediately caught my imagination, and I snapped a picture. This picture actually.

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As I looked at that dinosaur, I wondered…what would happen if we ever developed the technology to bring these creatures back? Would we have dinosaurs as pets? Would we eat them instead of, say, a cow? Or. Would we eventually be the ones who went extinct?  Immediately, I pictured a girl running to get the mail, dinosaurs chasing her all the way.  The opening scene of Edge of Extinction- The Ark Plan was born.

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I pulled out my phone and made a note about the idea. And then, like all good ideas, I promptly forgot about it. (This, by the way is the number one rule if you want to be a writer or anything creative for that matter. When you have a good idea WRITE IT DOWN. The brain is designed to hold on to the mundane, everyday life kind of stuff. The GOOD stuff. The AMAZING IDEA stuff, slips away like my will-power around anything chocolate. So write it down! Legend has it that the idea for Harry Potter was written on a napkin! Tangent over. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. My inner-teacher won’t shut up sometimes. I’ve tried beating her back with a stick, but she’s freakishly stubborn.)  The point is that it wasn’t until months later that I noticed that note on my phone and decided to give the story a try. No note on my phone. No story. And I would probably still be banging my head on the publishing world’s door to no avail.

As a side note, I never read the books or watched any of the movies from the Jurassic Park franchise before starting this book. I knew of the general premise, because I don’t walk around with my head in a bucket, but I didn’t know details. How I missed out on that bit of culture for 20+ years, I’m not sure. I’ll chalk it up to being a general wimp when it comes to anything remotely terrifying. My parents let me watch Dante’s Peak when I was twelve, and I still hold it against them. I also refuse to watch Jaws. I like swimming in the ocean too much.

Anyways, I didn’t watch or read anything Jurassic Park related until the book was completely finished. I didn’t want to “accidentally” steal any of the ideas. As soon as the book was done though, there was a movie marathon at my house.  For those of you wondering about the similarities. There are a few. Dinosaurs being the big one. But when I queried the novel, this was the closing paragraph of my query letter.

“The Ark Plan is a middle grade novel geared towards a male audience that would be a lot like Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park if Jurassic Park hadn’t had fences, the dinosaurs had outnumbered the people 10,000 to 1, and the human race had been the endangered species. Actually, scrap that. It’s nothing like Jurassic Park. Thank you for your consideration.”

And it worked. Because Edge of Extinction-The Ark Plan is set to be released May 10, 2016! Now go forth and write down your brilliant ideas. You owe it to yourself.