Monday, September 19, 2016

Our First Critique: FORGED

Yes, we are still writing our book. In fact, our precious baby is currently in the hands of a very talented and very generous editor, Alyssa Archer. We found her through the podcast, Writership, where she and Leslie Watts critique, advise and cheer on emerging authors like us.

Last year, after some feedback from writerly folks, we decided to re-write the book as Young Adult rather than adult/new adult fiction. Then, as many of you know, Holly had a medical set back that took her off the project for close to eight months. But the rewriting commenced this spring and we are in the process of developing book two and preparing to pitch the series once we get it back from Alyssa. Quite a process, yes, but we are determined.

If you're at all interested in hearing how things are going, please enjoy this 30-minute podcast where OUR WORDS actually come to life and our first chapter is read/critiqued. Friends, you have been so encouraging and we appreciate all of the good thoughts directed our way. Never give up your dreams...we believe in YOU too!

Happy listening! WRITERSHIP, Episode 62: FORGED {J}

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fall Reading (Or Should I Say, Re-Reading?

The best way to fill up my soul and tap into my creative bank is to READ. Getting lost in the pages of a story and the lives of the characters is purely, magically restorative. My current to-read list is extensive but something about the season of Autumn, makes me long to RE-READ. (My book club friends can attest to my serial re-reading habit...I know it's a little nutty.)

So if you are in need of a good place to get lost, look no further. The list below is tried and true, I promise.

1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

"No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, by someone who knows what he’s doing."

2. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

“...my love isn't a weapon, it's a lifeline, reach out and take hold, and don't let go!"

3. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”

4. Harry Potter - the whole AMAZING series by J.K. Rowling

“There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” –The Sorcerer’s Stone

5. The Shack by William P. Young

“Don't ever discount the wonder of your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak.”

6. Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be.

7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - I recommend the book series and the Starz miniseries

“Oh, aye, Sassenach. I am your master . . . and you're mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.”

8. The Chronicles of Narnia box set by C.S. Lewis

“Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.”

9. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer (Don't judge...they're a GREAT escape!

"No measure of time with you will be long enough. But we'll start with forever."

10. Pillars of the Earth and sequel World Without End by Ken Follett

“Nevertheless, the book gave Jack a feeling he had never had before, that the past was like a story, in which one thing led to another, and the world was not a boundless mystery, but a finite thing that could be comprehended.”

Okay, so these are not in any particular order and I have several others that I've read more than once, some classics, some not-so-classic, but all of them have inspired me on my own writing journey.

I hope there's something here that you can enjoy. Have you ever read a book more than once? Do share...

Happy reading!

{J}

Sunday, August 14, 2016

'Twas the Night Before School (re-posted from 2013)

(Reminds me of the good ole' days when we started school after Labor Day. Good luck friends.)

'Twas the night before school started and all through the house, 

Not a single child stirred, it was just me and my spouse. 
Our three kids were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of summertime still danced in their heads.

My husband and I, exhausted beyond a doubt,
Had just pulled the wide range of lunch fixings out.
We packed plastic baggies with fresh fruit and snacks,
Filled water bottles and searched for ice packs.

For the next day a new school year would begin,
The thought of the kids back in school made us grin.
We love our children, now don't get me wrong,
But this year our summer was unusually long.

Beach days, star-gazing, camping, and more,
Kayaking, barbecues and friends galore.
'Twas a memorable summer, chalked full of fun,
But after twelve weeks, like most, we were done.

The teachers were needed to make some new rules,
To reign in our wild ones, to retrain these fools!
For seven full hours, they'd teach them cool things,
And inspire them with knowledge that each new day brings.

Math facts, fluency and science were all in store,
Kindness, respect, "best effort" and more.
For seven full hours, they would use their brains,
While we hoped that last year's facts were retained.

The backpacks were ready, not one thing was missed,
Stuffed with the "suggested" supplies from the LIST.
Their outfits were hanging, so fresh and so clean,
Collared shirts for the boys, a new dress for our teen.

We hoped in the morning they'd be alert and lively,
But cute, well-dressed zombies was way more likely.
Our late summer evenings and sleeping past nine,
Made it impossible to get to sleep on time.

Their cranky demeanor surely couldn't last,
A week of early rising would fix them up fast.
The new year was exciting, grades four, five and eight,
And once we adjusted it was sure to be great.

The things of the summer that we'd surely miss:
Playing and late nights and sleeping in -- BLISS!
Things we were ready to put in the past:
Messes and fighting and being harassed.

"Mom, he touched me," and "She took my stuff,"
Or "I'm bored," "I don't want to," and "My life is so rough."
The constant demand for friends, cash and food,
"I swear kids, one more request and I'll come unglued!"

Yes, summer was over and it was a good thing,
We needed a break from all the bickering.
And the kids needed learning, no more TV or Wii,
Tomorrow would start school and a slew of activity.

Which meant for us parents a different type of work,
The lax days of summer replaced with homework.
We'd be needed for chauffeuring, reading logs and more,
Thursday folders, concerts and flash cards galore!

But as we look back on the first weeks of school,
Maybe missing the trips to the beach or the pool.
Or maybe we're dancing cuz they're out of our hair,
Either way, there's one thing that we certainly share.

Come May when we've gotten through standardized tests,
When we're all done with essays and science projects.
We'll longingly look at the year that has past,
And say to ourselves "Summertime...at last!"

{J}

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Emancipation and Dishes and Pimps...Oh My!

One of today's challenges for parents is teaching our sweet emerging adults how to make good decisions. For most of their lives, we're charged with keeping them alive so we become really good at controlling things to limit the risks. Sound familiar?

In order to prepare them for flight from our orderly, safe nests, they need to know how to carefully evaluate options and use reasoning to solve problems and make decisions. If we tell them what to do and when to do and how to do, we rob them of the chance to hone these critical life skills. Let's not do that, m-kay?

I give you this prime example: a recent conversation with my 16 year old.

Me: Your job is loading the dishes tonight, okay dear daughter?

DD: Ugh...NOOOO!!!

Me: Your brothers unloaded and took out the trash. Just get it done before bedtime.

DD: Why do you hate me so?

Me: I don't. I do hate loading the dishes though.

DD: Mom. I want to be an emancipated minor.

Me: Oh...is this because of the dishes.

DD: Yes.

Me: You do realize that you'll then be responsible for both unloading and loading, right?

DD: No. I'll use paper.

Me: That's a lot of paper plates and plastic forks.

DD: Oh...I'll just hire someone. More environmental.

Me: Ok. That's probably a better idea. So where do you think you want to work so you can pay for the help?

DD: BLK Burgers. It looks fun there.

Me: You're right. And I love their garlic edamame!

DD: Me too!! And I'll probably get some free food. How much do you think they get paid there?

Me: Probably minimum wage plus tips. You might need a second job to make enough money to live on your own and pay for someone to do your chores.

DD: Then I'll be a madam like Greer in Reign. She makes tons of money. (If you haven't seen Reign, it's set in Elizabethan times in France and Greer is a lady-turned-madam. She's quite endearing.)

Me: Yes, I'm sure she does, but if you really want to go into that line of work, we better get you some target practice before you move out.

DD: Why?

Me: Well, because present-day madams are usually men and they're called pimps and they dabble in things like drug-dealing and weapons and human trafficking and I don't think they like competition.

DD: Mom, I have my black belt.

Me: Yes you do.

DD: I'll just kill all the pimps...

Me: That's one way to do it...

DD: And I'll steal their business and I'll be really nice to the courtesans.

Me: I'm sure they'd like that but do you really want to kill people?

DD: Not really. I don't like blood.

Me: Yeah, there's that.

DD: Hmmm...maybe I'll just work at BLK and live here for a while.

Me: At least stay until college. There's plenty of time to figure out what you want to do.

DD: Yep. I have options.

Me: Lucky girl. Oh, and thanks for doing the dishes while we had this very interesting chat.

DD: Sure! (With a smile.)

Decision-making process at its finest, people. True story.

{J}

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Card - 15 Years Late

If I could write a Happy Mother's Day card to myself when I first became a mom, OH MY, there are so many things I'd say. But since time travel isn't possible, I'll address this letter to my friends who are newer moms, to those women who one day wish to be moms, and to my FABULOUS network of amazing moms who've helped me figure out the important stuff about this Mommy-gig.

Dear New Mommy,

Congratulations!! Your little family is such a gift. Life is so magical and good. I know that every little trip to Babies R' Us makes you giddy and that you've fallen in love all over again with your spouse and that you'll never understand what you did will all your time and money before your pre-baby life. But your past is nothing compared to this new, joy-filled, exhausting, terrifying and fulfilling phase of your life and there's no turning back.

So I'd like to share with you some things that I wish I knew before I started down the path of parenting. I really hope these tips will help make Mommyhood a little easier and a lot more enjoyable for you.

1. FOCUS. Don't waste time on your Instagram or FB persona. The way your life appears on the surface is much less important than your real story. Your marriage, your close, authentic friendships, being present for your kiddos, your passions, those things are worth every second and cent in your pocket. And you'll avoid that empty feeling of "less-than" if you aim for REAL, even when it's messy and hard and mind-numbing. I'll tell you a secret: those who appear to have all their $%*# together are some of the loneliest people I've ever met.

2. RELAX. Filling all your free time with errands and cleaning and to-do's gets really old really fast. Leave the dirty dishes in the sink when baby takes a nap and catch up on your own sleep. As the kiddos get older, leave some of the work for them - laundry and dishes and trash are real life skills. Don't run yourself ragged (see #3 and #4 for more on this). Put your feet up when you can. You're less likely to lose your $%*# when someone in your family gets sick (or worse-lice), gets in trouble, or needs a homemade costume for school, tomorrow.

3. RECRUIT. You can do it all, for a little while, but you'll kill yourself in the process. And your spouse won't like living with you. True story. But, if you've worked on #1, you'll have a network of friends and family willing to share the work and come to your aid. Ask for help when you need it, and offer it in return when you see your friends exhibiting signs of being maxed-out, i.e.: eye-twitching and head-jerking and drooling. There's a reason they say it takes a village. Because it does. Make sure you're one of the village people, not one of the zombies.

4. PRIORITIZE. It's not just okay to say NO to things, it's a necessity. Figure out what's truly important and then make sure there's a buffer for emergency situations (AKA: illness, injury and LICE). This takes a self-awareness that you may have to work to attain but if you make that a priority too, it really will help everywhere else. I'll go a little further and remind you that it's OKAY to take time for yourself. Don't be a martyr. It's BAD for everyone.

5. FORGIVE. Not just your kids, who will press you beyond limits you ever imagined, not just your spouse, who will come up short every once in a while (we all do), but yourself too. If you work outside the home, if you spend hours on Pinterest, if you sometimes indulge in coffee, Diet Coke, Netflix, novels, wine, shopping, chocolate, Hobby Lobby, or name-your-vice, if you curse or yell or hide in the closet on that rare occasion, LET IT GO. We are fallible and this job is HARD. Harder than anyone ever admits. Tomorrow is another day and as you figure out how to do #1-4, you'll need #5 less and less.

6. SAVOR. This is probably the one that you'll hear the most: Savor every moment. And it's true. But the way you do this is important too. Please don't make the mistake of trying to record each milestone and every event that you spend all your time looking through the lens of a camera. Your baby, your pre-schooler, your pre-teen, your graduate...they want to see YOU...not just present, but aware. They yearn to witness the joy stretched across your face, the tears in your eyes, the pride when you point and say, "That's my kid." And if you're hiding behind a recording device focusing on downloading the moment instead of living it, you'll miss it. And then the moments will be gone.

New Mommy, I hope my hindsight perspective is useful. Congratulations and Godspeed. This truly is going to be the BEST part of your life.

Happy, happy Mother's Day to all!

{J}

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Peace is this way," said one kid to another...

"Mom, my friend told me something today that he hasn't told very many people."

"Do you want to share it with me?"

"He told me he's a Muslim. He said that he doesn't tell people because some kids at school say Muslims are terrorists and they tell mean jokes. Mom, I've heard some kids make fun of people with different beliefs."

"That's really sad. But how nice that he trusts you and knows you're not like that."

"Yeah. He also told me he's not a terrorist."

"I'm sure he's not."

"He told me that the terrorists who say they're Muslim are impostors and that Muslims are peaceful. Why do so many people think all Muslims are bad?"

You guys, initially I wanted to say some nasty things about people who tell racist jokes or blatantly judge an entire religious or ethnic group, but at the same time, I didn't want to be like them, putting negative generalizations out into this fractured world. So instead, I kept things simple and direct.

"Son, sometimes people are afraid of what they don't understand. And sometimes it's easier to believe what your friends say or what you see on Instagram than it is to seek out the TRUTH. And that's probably what's happened with the kids at school who aren't being nice. But do you know what our only job in this life is?"

"To be nice to everyone?"

"It's to LOVE others. ALL others. And that includes our friends as well as the ones who are scared and confused. Even when it's hard. So make sure to thank your friend for sharing his truth with you. Because that's a gift."

Friends, we are inundated with negative, finger-pointing, mud-slinging, ugliness all over the interwebs and in the news, and SO ARE OUR KIDS! Most of us have the maturity and sensitivity to filter the hate out but that's not so easy for kids. They're seeing grown-ups behave badly, hearing political rants, witnessing nasty memes, and many of them are believing that crap as TRUTH!

PLEASE...pay attention to what your kids are ingesting through six-second Vines and 140-character Tweets and every other social media platform they have access too. TALK to them about what they're hearing at school. And think about what messages you're putting into the world. We have to be the truth-tellers and love-spreaders and the hate-diffusers. That's our most important job.

Love to all!

{J}

Friday, April 8, 2016

Entitlement is a Choice

Parents, listen up. We can make a difference in the world and this is how: Don't let our kids fall into the entitlement trap. THEY are kids, and their brains are not fully developed so they really don't have control over their unreasonable expectations, epecially when so few of them ever have to wait for what they want/need. In fact, even their environment is fighting against us ALL the time. Instant access - typically via a mobile device - is conditioning them to be impatient.

I'm serious. Do your kids ever get crazy when someone doesn't text them back right away? The other day I was running errands and I left my phone off while in the store for all of fifteen minutes. This was what my daughter sent me:

are you almost home (notice lack of punctuation and capital letters)

where are you (12 seconds later)

hellllooooo!! (30 seconds later but hey, she's using puctuation here. There is hope!)

ARE YOU HOME YET (I should tell you now that SHE WAS HOME so asking if I was where she was indicates some break here, as do the shouty caps.)

I WANT A DONUT (Okay, this is new information and now I know she's hungry-crazy. Did I mention this is approximately 72 seconds after the first text?)

AND THE FRICKIN WIFI ISNT WORKING AND I CANT FINISH MY HOMEWORK WHERE ARE YOU!!!!!!!!!!! (Hungry, crazy and something isn't working. This is an emergency!)

When I finally saw the text fit, I simply responded: Just got these. On my way. No donuts. Make a smoothie and try unplugging modem.

A few minutes later my sweet child emerged: thx that worked YAY xo

If your children are more civilized than this, you don't have to read further...Facebook awaits.

So, pure panic when feedback isn't immediate...that's not good. Nastiness when something doesn't go their way...also NOT good. Parents standing by, or worse, perpetuating it...REALLY BAD. And we don't always do it on purpose. The other day, I sacrificed my morning tea because my son wanted to get to his friend's house as soon as humanly possible. He followed me around, pestering with his overflowing excitement, until he wore me down. And he wasn't being selfish, he was irresistibly sweet. But I chose to answer his immediate need instead of taking three minutes to make my tea and making him wait. So I allowed his needs to trump mine, even though neither of us thought about it at the time. In isolated incidents, it's ok, but if my default is constant catering, I'm losing the opportunity to teach my children the great importance of hearing NO.

And you know what? There's just not a lot of NO going on out there. I don't think we're consciously trying to ruin them by over-yesing them, but it seems that kids get more and more of what they want, when they want it. I'm not just talking things, they get us as their personal assistants and chauffeurs and short-order cooks. And they don't even pay us!

But we've put a spin on it, haven't we moms and dads? We're just "doing what we can for our kids," who are too busy with activities and school and friends and keeping up, they can't possibly do any of it for themselves. Right? I've done it. I've said it. I've waved the white flag of exhaustion with a sick sense of pride. If we're not all running around wearing UBER-BUSY like a badge of honor, we're not doing everything we can for them. If we're not sacrificing our sanity, our identities, ALL of our free time, then we aren't good parents. No one says it out loud but it's surely implied.

Listen, WE are the grown ups here and we need to bring back some perspective and balance into our homes, for everyone's sakes. That starts with choices. Sometimes hard choices. You might be afraid of being judged. But THIS IS OUR ULTIMAYPTE ASSIGNMENT, to prepare our kids for the real world. I think about this a lot with a sophomore, especially when she shows me her Pinterest pages for her fancy wedding, where she wants to travel and her future luxury beach house. Without shattering her dreams, I want her to know that the grown-up starter kit does not typically include a blog-worthy beach house. That things aren't always going to be easy. I want my kids to be prepared for hard work. And more than anything, I want them to have some of those experiences now.

And they need us to expose them to these life experiences, instead of making everything easy for them. When we say no to getting back in the car after two hours of carpool just to take them to see a friend, they learn how to compromise their wants for those of someone else, like a parent who desperately needs to NOT be in the car for ten minutes. When we say no, you can't go do that fun thing because you've been out doing fun things all weekend and you need to do some chores, we show them the necessity of balancing their obligations and learning important life skills, like laundry and work and budgeting time. When we ask our children what they could've done to better prepare for that test, project, game, etc., instead of telling them they deserve better, they learn that the world is filled with people who don't know them like we do and that their choices reveal their character.

Raising entitled children who don't know the meaning of "not now" or straight out NO, is a choice. Preparing them for successfully living in the real world, is a better one. The best thing we can do is give them the experiences to find growth through grunt work. To show them how to start at the bottom and EARN their accomplishments instead of being "gifted" the best, newest, most expensive. To let them falter a little and support them as they rebuild instead of constantly rescuing them, even if it was with the best intentions.

Hard work, I tell you. For them AND for us. But we can do hard things and the world will be a better place for it. Who's with me?

{J}