Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A New Library In Town: One Stop For Writers

If there's one thing all writers agree on, it's that writing is TOUGH. The road to publication twists and dips as we learn the craft, hone our abilities, create stories we're passionate about, fight discouragement, educate ourselves about the industry...and then start the process all over again as we realize there's room to improve. But you know what? Holly and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Yet, sometimes it's nice to get a helping hand.

Finding a good writing book, a helpful blog, a critique group, a SUPER talented writing partner to share the journey with...these things are gems along the writing path. And there's another resource waiting just up the road called One Stop For Writers.

One Stop For Writers is not writing software, but rather a powerful online library that contains tools, unique description collections, helpful tutorials and much more, brought to you by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, the authors of The Emotion Thesaurus and Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows.

Whether you're work in progress is well on its way or you've decided to finally write that book that's been on your bucket list, or you're just looking to spice up your Facebook status updates and Tweets,One Stop For Writers has what you need. Visit Writers Helping Writers this week and see, where Angela, Lee and Becca are celebrating their venture with prizes and some pay-it-forward fun.

Happy writing!


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ten Things I Learned Going Back To School

Well, we made it through the first week and this is what I learned (or re-learned) going back to school:

1. No matter what grade, no matter how many years your child has been in the same school/district, there is a boat load of paperwork to fill out on day one. (Though it's getting a bit better with the parent portal - right, CUSD friends?)

2. It never fails, when shopping for school supplies, you will not get ALL THE THINGS on your first trip. It will take MANY trips to many different stores to secure ALL the things. Don't be discouraged. I'm pretty sure it's a test.

3. School clothes shopping is not just for parents anymore. Grandparents are out in droves. I've seen them, mostly grandmas. They're covering their ears cuz "the music in these stores is sooo loud." They're shrugging their shoulders when their grandkids come out of the dressing room. They're ringing their hands, "will your mom and dad approve of that?" If this happens in your family, be a love and send grandma with a list and any applicable dress code details.

4. If YOU are the one shopping, good luck to you. That is all.

5. Homework happens immediately. With earlier testing dates, higher standards and a changing curriculum, there's no easing them (US) back into it. Get ready.

6. Fundraising. School sports and/or performing arts. Boosters. School pictures. Yearbooks. Get a second job. Or a third one. Go. August and September are more expensive than December.

7. Electronic devices need to be shelved for a bit. It's called DETOX and it's necessary for everyone (at least in my family.) It's painful but it's the only thing that will cure DIDBD - Device Induced Brain Drain Disorder. If that isn't a thing, it will be soon. Just wait. I bet it's on Webster's list already. We're trying the NDDSD - No Device During School Days - treatment method. If you see my kids and they're twitchy, or RUDE, you know why.

8. School is magical. At EVERY age. But for very different reasons. ASK your kids. All of them - the sullen, non-verbal teen, the moody (scary) tween, the precious little - and find out what part of school induces that twinkle in their eyes. Just listen. Don't try to influence. It might be the cute boy in chemistry or the cow eyeball dissection in science or the "Super Duck" (shoot me now) fundraising prizes. Whatever form it comes in, celebrate the magic.

9. Teachers are SAINTS. This isn't new news, but I really mean it. Your kid might not always get his/her/YOUR favorite teacher but no one does the job of educating and preparing our kiddos for the next steps in life better than the professionals. Remember, this week is approximately 28-32 times harder on them. Be kind and patient.

10. Peace is a choice people. Going back to school is stressful, for EVERYONE. The only way to soften the blow is to find a few moments each day to relax. That goes for the stressed-out-because-she-already-has-two-tests-this-week 10th grader, the can't-get-enough-sleep-so-got-a-cold-day-four 7th grader, and the fell-asleep-on-the-laundry-pile-and-he-wasn't-faking 6th grader. The same applies for you, mom and dad. Carve out some time for a pedicure or a bike ride, a great work out or a date night. And if time permits, maybe work intentional PEACE into the rotation. It's good for all.

Sooo...tell me about your week. Learn anything?


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pura Vida!

Costa Rica...remember a couple years ago when Bella and Michael traveled there with a handful of other middle-schoolers? I was worried about the wild horses and the rickety zip lines and the child-eating crocodiles and the BUGS? Well, I'm happy to report that I was a little crazy back then. None of that exists. Well, at least not in Costa Rica.

We just got back from nine AMAZING days of adventure and I have one thing to tell you friends: you HAVE TO get to Costa Rica. The minute we landed and met our tour director and bus driver - Seidy and Rafa - we felt immediately welcome. And not fake welcome. The Costa Ricans truly love tourists. Did you know that tourism is their number one industry? That much of how and why the country developed was inspired and motivated by the visitors that came, fell in love with, and settled down in Costa Rica over the last two hundred years? It's true. Go there. Ask someone.

My husband, along with two other teachers, lead a group of 24 students (Logan was one), and 8 adults on an ecological tour of the volcanos, mountains and beaches of this beautiful country. We started with visits to the Poas and Arenal volcanos and the town of La Fortuna. The weather was tropical and cloudy. Lush green hills stretched as far as we could see. We kayaked on Lake Arenal, visited Baldi Hot Springs and ate our first of MANY traditional meals: Casado (rice and beans), various meats and fish, and more fresh fruit than we knew what to do with.

The highlight of our time in La Fortuna was a visit to a local elementary school where we provided back packs and school supplies and played with the kids studying English. Ranging ages 6-12, they told our students that they dreamed of being doctors, truck drivers, soccer players, mechanics and teachers. All the boys played soccer and all the girls jumped rope. The cook (yes, they get a hot and healthy lunch each day), served fresh fruit and taught us how to fry plantains. The best part for me was when the principal's daughter asked to take a picture with me. She hugged me tight and said over and over, "It's nice to meet you," in her sweet voice. We teared up when it was time to say good-bye.

Then we were off to the mountains of Monte Verde, literally, Green Mount. I'm not sure I've adequately expressed how green Costa Rica is. The pictures just don't do it justice. There, we zip-lined through rain forests and over tree tops...it was absolutely incredible. Also in the mountains, we rode horses to a natural hot spring, visited a family farm, milked a cow, tried fresh cheeses, planted trees in a reforestation project, toured the rain forests, sampled even more delicious traditional food and learned about our host country. Each activity and encounter was filled with meaning. A warm drizzle followed us through the mountain towns but in no way did that hinder us. In fact, we rediscovered the magic of playing in the rain, getting slightly (or totally, if you forgot your poncho) drenched, skipping and singing and listening to the music of raindrops. No wonder kids love it so much...it's truly enchanting! Grown-ups, if we ever get rain in California again, GO OUTSIDE. Take your umbrella, and the nearest child, and find a way to enjoy this simple and beautiful pleasure.

Next we were off to the beaches. The waters of Manuel Antonio National Park were a fabulous 85 degrees. The sand was soft. And even when the occasional thunderstorm touched down, the waves still welcomed us. We played with monkeys, swam for hours upon hours, walked and ate and shopped and melted into a place that was beginning to feel like home. Even with a packed itinerary, we all felt completely relaxed. And I think I know why...

Throughout our nine days of travel and adventure, Seidy and Rafa taught us so much about the priorities and motivations of Costa Ricans, the most important being Pura Vida. Literally, the phrase means "pure life" with other translations such as "full of life", "this is living", or "real living". It's used both as a greeting or a farewell, as a way of giving thanks or stating that all is good. All the locals say Pura Vida, and they mean it. Life is pure, good. And in Costa Rica, you truly feel what they mean.

On the last day, tired and smelly and wet, we hugged our old and new friends and promised to find each other on one or the other social media platforms. We embraced Seidy and Rafa, and thanked them for sharing with us their beautiful culture and country. But more than anything, we (at least the adults) wondered...How could we possibly bring the peaceful vibe, the welcoming attitude, the slow-down-and-smell-the-rain pace, back to the hustle and bustle? Could we bring Pura Vida to the OC? And keep it sacred?

Pura Vida is a choice people. And it doesn't matter where we live, how long the to-do list is, or what stresses we're facing, we should strive for Pura Vida. Sometimes the simplest things in life are the most fulfilling. Sometimes slowing down is the only way to truly move forward. Sometimes we have to look at things through a different lens to see the meaning. Sometimes a new adventure has the power to propel us off the hamster wheel. The lucky thing is, we always have a choice.

Go to Costa Rica people. I promise, it will inspire and change you.

Pura Vida!


Friday, June 19, 2015

The End of an Era

It's the end of an era...

I remember, very vividly, Isabella's first day of kindergarten at Chaparral Elementary school. Miss Grieve, her sweet teacher, welcomed the "late owls" with a bright smile, truly excited to shepherd those littles into their first real year of school. The room was bright and bold. Words, numbers, pictures and happiness awaited them. And just for good measure, the song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" rang all around them as they crossed the threshold into kindergarten bliss. I cried.

Now, 10 years later, my youngest has just wrapped up his last few days at Chaparral Elementary school. As each hour ticked away, as each end-of-year event unfolded, my heart broke a little more. As excited as he is for middle school, and as fun as the next chapter is, it's painful to say goodbye to this glorious and magical part of my children's youth.

I know it's inevitable and I can't turn back time. And I'm pretty sure they wouldn't let me hold him back a year, even though he is on the small side. But as I counted down flag salutes, I couldn't erase the feeling that the best memories really were behind us. Because in many ways, they are.

The wonder of each new milestone - riding a bike, tying a shoe, making a friend, letting go of my hand - all of those miraculous firsts, the ones that required the best digital camera money could buy, we've recorded those.

The excitement of each new grade - finding out teachers, exploring an interesting new subject, trying out sports and musical instruments and hobbies, learning what inspired them - all of the wondrous discovery that unfolded with each stage, we've uncovered so much of it.

The days of hanging art on the fridge and walking littles to their lines are gone. The days of reading library books together and cutting word sort words are gone. The days of park picnics and play dates are gone. The days of getting a play-by-play of the day while holding hands on the way to the car, are GONE! In middle school, almost none of that happens. And I already miss them like that: little and needing me.

Chaparral Elementary school, you have given our family some of our most joy-filled years. Morning announcements, music with Mr. Heely, Champion Follies, holiday activities, Town, Walk Through California, Ancestor Day, candy grams, Spring Sing, the Kellogg House, jog-a-thons, carpool, recycling, little/big buddies, countless performances, the list goes on and on. And even though the transition is more bitter than sweet, I must acknowledge the incredible teachers that have shaped my three children and prepared them for the future, even if their mom would like to press pause.

So as we bid a final farewell to our favorite school, we thank you...Mrs. Nicolai (then Grieve), Ms. Schofield (then Siglock), Mrs. Killian, Mrs. Stetter, Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Eusey, Mr. Trager, Mrs. Simpson, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Mannix, Mrs. Valdez, Ms. Millat and Mrs. Burns. You will forever be treasured in our hearts.

Until next year, have a GREAT summer! (And don't be surprised if you see us at a flag salute or two next year, just for old time's sake.)


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me patience. For showing me patience even when I threw tantrums as a toddler, talked back as a pre-teen and disregarded you as a teenager. When I flew from our beautiful peace-filled nest to head to college and never came back, you were still patient. When I started the journey of parenthood and came to truly understand what an incredible mother you were to me, you waited patientiently for that acknowledgement. You modeled the kind of patience that only moms have access to. Endless patience.

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me grace and not just grace for others. A good portion of a mother's sanity comes from having grace for herself and you reminded me of that, especially when I first became a mother. When I couldn't do it all, you reassured me that no one could. When my unreasonable expectations smothered me, you gently insisted that I just do the best I could at the most important stuff: showing up and loving them. You showed me that it was a choice that every mom should make. Practiced grace.

Thank you, Mom, for teaching me about love. Not romantic love, that sometimes fleeting and often intense kind of love, but the kind of love that a mother feels for her child. It's a lasting, unconditional and overwhelming love. It's a feel-in-your-gut, sacrifice-a-limb, keep-you-up-all-night love. It's the kind of love that has the power to bring you to tears and to your knees, often in the same breath. Thank you for showing me an eternal, unwavering and all-encompassing love. Boundless love.

I love you forever! Happy Mother's Day Mom!


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Spring Break!!!

Spring break. Every year it comes just in the nick of time! It's April and we're a bit tired. The culmination of a year's worth of work is staring us down. Activities are going full force and summer planning is looming. It's enough to send me into hiding to binge-watch Downton Abbey and drink Diet Coke. How do we possibly maintain the level of production and enthusiasm needed to get our families safely to summer? Really...how?

The other day, Michael and I were merging calendars - three schools, project and test schedules, all the extra activities, deadlines - and I was complaining. Then, like a little nudge from a higher power, a more important question demanded attention: what about them? The ones actually doing all the work, juggling demands that they might not have even asked for? What about our kids?

As much as we feel the pressure of pending science projects and research papers, they feel it double. As much as we worry about sports qualifiers, semifinals, championships, they lose sleep about it. As much as we are aware of each A-teetering-on-a-B and how critical the upcoming tests are, they are hyperaware.

Because our kids, usually by middle school and definitely by high school, are living through each of these challenges, growing in knowledge and self-awareness, striving to become the productive people we envision, hoping to measure up. And along the way, they are recording their performance and gauging their worth. Sometimes the barometer lies within their peer group or team. Sometimes it's a sense of passion from within. Sometimes it's us. They witness our worry. They hear each criticizing inquiry. They feel our, "How was the test?" and "Did you do your best?" and the pressure compounds under all of the mounting expectations.

Setting goals and communicating expectations is part of the job we all signed up for when we decided to be parents. But too often, we forget that the parent-child relationship is meant to be more than a nagging system of checks and balances.

So let's make sure, as we stagger toward the school-year finish line, that there's plenty of encouragement and perspective and understanding and balance and support and love to help them finish strong. Let's assure them, with words and actions, that they are so much more than the sum total of how they perform. Because pretty soon, our chance to do so will be over. Our kids will be out of the house trying to make it in a world that unleashes criticism and judgment relentlessly, and I promise you, they'll not remember the team they beat this season or the grade they got in Geometry. They'll remember how we made them feel about themselves regardless of it all.

I know we're tired and ready for a longer break than the one we just finished, but let's not lose focus. This is our legacy. Make it really count.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Milestones Start with Baby Steps

(Choate Rosemary School: renowned boarding school in Connecticut, and the place where the adventure begins...)

The milestones of two ambitious writers... The first 100 pages are professionally revised. Our synopsis is complete. And our query letter has been reworked dozens of times.

We had six literary agents at the SDSU Writers' Conference request to see our work. Today, we sent everything off. We're thrilled about our revisions at the guidance of our AMAZING Editor, Deborah Halverson. We're hopeful that there is an agent out there who shares our vision. And we're eager to give FORGED its very best shot at oneday landing in the hands of readers.

As many of you know, we have been working on this book for a year and a half. What isn't commonly known is that the path to publication is almost never straight, or quick. But we're still writing.

This year, our biggest challenge was a genre shift, from new adult (18-25 year old characters) to young adult. Our characters aren't freshmen in college anymore, they're seniors in high school. Believe it or not, that one year makes a HUGE difference. Initially reluctant about making the change, halfway through it, we feel like this is the story that was always meant to be written. So now we wait. And we finish revising the second half.

In case you'd like to read more about Forged-book one of the Power of 7 series-below is our latest query letter:

“The first seven were given extraordinary powers in order to save their people. The final seven will use those powers to save humanity.” David Amesbury, Dean of Sixth Forms at Choate Rosemary School reveals the legend to Emily during her first week of her senior year in FORGED, a young adult, paranormal adventure. The manuscript is complete at 79,000 words.

Emily has always felt abnormal. When her best friend—the only one who knows her secrets and insecurities—mysteriously dies, she's left to navigate her senior year alone. Or so she thinks. One night, Emily witnesses an attempted suicide and is shocked that her hands have the power to heal the broken boy who lands at her feet. When she’s confronted by a demon disguised as a student, John intervenes. Captivated by her talent, John divulges his own power to communicate with spirits. It isn't long before they discover that they've been brought to Choate for a very specific purpose.

FORGED, told from the points of view of Emily and John, follows the "Healer" and the "Listener" and five other gifted students, as they confront a force that only they can overcome. Not only will the mission put their lives in jeopardy, but it will undermine the emerging love between them. In an atmosphere riddled with spirits, demons and secrets that are centuries old, these seven will find that by embracing what makes them ordinary, they have the power to restore humanity.

FORGED can stand alone or act as book one of a series for which a synopsis has been established. Thank you for your time and consideration. We hope to have the opportunity to work with you.

What do you think? Thanks for your feedback and support.