Sunday, November 30, 2014

Good-Bye November. You Were Great!

National Novel Writing Month is here!! And we are taking advantage of the NaNoWriMo campaign to finish Power of 7 and prepare for pitching it at some upcoming writers' conferences.

If you've ever considered writing anything, visit www.nanowrimo.org to get inspired. It's and AMAZING conglomeration of talent and motivation.

POWER OF 7 is now FORGED. We have decided the series will still be Power of 7 but each book in the trilogy will have its own name. FORGED, FRACTURED and F???

NaNoWriMo2014 is over and we added 11,427 words, edited 12 chapters and only have a few to go. We didn't complete an entire novel but we made MAJOR progress. If you have a dream of one day seeing your words in print, you don't have to wait until November. But it's a great place to start.

Happy NaNoWriMo2014!

{H&J}

Monday, November 10, 2014

What's In A Name?

Sooooo...we survived the first week of NaNoWriMo and logged 7458 words, roughly 30 pages. Good progress for a week that included (between us) two birthdays, end of year football and volleyball games for the freshmen, Halloween sugar detox and the general duties of mommyhood and wifedom. We're pretty pleased with ourselves.

The highlight of the week was seeing the "Graveyard" shift-change at Corky's while contemplating how bad our antagonists should be. Holly is much better at that than I am. I really don't want to dislike any of our characters so I come up with crazy justifications like, a demon made him do it or she's hormonal and brain-damaged. You'll have to read the book to see how we reconcile those little details. It's so much fun!

The best part was when our waitress witnessed our creative tool for character profiling. What can I say, we're visual writers. We had our phones propped up, facing each other, with these images to help us hash out the details of two of our male characters. I'll leave you with this visual:

It's all part of the process, friends.

And we need YOUR help. We're looking for names for these two inspiring specimens. (Ian and Colin are out.) Try not to get distracted by the eyes. MERCY!

Thank you! Writing on!

{J&H}

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ditched On Halloween!

Happy Halloween! What a fun holiday, especially if you have kids who still dress up and go TOTING (Trick Or Treating), like all youthful candy-hoarders do. I'll admit, I've really enjoyed the annual excuse to eat too many Twix bars and Butterfingers. I have very little willpower.

When the kids were younger, we had them dress in coordinating costumes. How much say should kids under five really have about their costumes, right? My favorite year, our boys were the brave Prince and cuddly Gus-the-Mouse to match Bella's Cinderella costume. (Photo reference above...SO CUTE!)

When the kids were younger, we used to determine exactly how many pieces of candy they could ingest on Halloween and each day after, for roughly one week. At that point, the Candy Fairy would visit and magically whisk the candy away (except the Twix bars and Butterfingers), leaving a delightful treat in its place, sure to bring just as much joy to our candy-addicts' sugar-overloaded hearts.

When the kids were younger, we'd share a pre-TOTING meal with friends - chili, salad, cornbread and some sort of Autumn-blend, micro-brewed beer. Then we'd take pictures with ALL the neighborhood kids before setting out through elaborately decorated streets, dodging ghouls and collecting goodies, all the while capturing photos and video at each doorstep and reminding them of their lines: "Trick or Treat" and "Thank you!"

When the kids were younger, we had a little more control of the Halloween festivities. But now that they're older, the holiday has taken on a new feel. Today, our kids have their own thoughts on costumes and there's no way you'd find them in any sort of coordinating set. Dorothy, a Ninja Turtle and the Headless Horseman don't go together, and that's okay. Today our kids have their own hidden stashes of their candy favs and they don't have to ask for permission to indulge, and that's okay. Today our kids have their own plans for Halloween - parties and hanging with friends - and none of those plans include mom and dad following closely behind with a video camera, and that's okay too.

Today is a different Halloween and I'll admit, I'm a little sad about it. Not simply because they're growing up, but because the festivities lack the luster when the kids aren't around. So friends, keep those kids close and gobble up those Halloween memories. You never know when it's going to be the last one with them.

Happy Halloween! I'm going to make myself a cocktail and have a Twix (and maybe a Butterfinger.)

{J}

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blog Tour Excitement and GIVEAWAY!!!

We are so excited to participate in our first Blog Tour and giveaway, especially because the book deals specifically with WRITING and our genre-NEW ADULT!

Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson is a masterpiece to budding new adult writers like us. We have found her advice and simple insight into revising, character building and finding your “hook” to be exceptionally useful and, although she focuses on the emerging genre of fiction that involves protagonists ages 18-25, we feel it applies to any piece of fiction.

As writers of contemporary fantasy that blends elements of historical fiction and romance, our challenge is capturing the motivation, conflict and emotional development of several different characters while making them authentic and age-appropriate and keeping our plot compelling. Writing New Adult Fiction is the perfect guide in our endeavor, and here are a few reasons why.

In Chapter 2, Creating Your Premise-NA Style, Ms. Halverson discusses the importance of having a “Hook Statement” and all that it entails. A hook, she shares “describes what the story’s about, how it fits into the NA marketplace, and what makes it stand out from all the other books in that market, all in a single sentence.” Just a little pressure! But, pressure aside, being able to describe the premise of our story in such a concise way has saved us HOURS of time. Her suggestion of printing out the “hook” and keeping it above the computer to keep our story on track and acting as our compass, is priceless. She stresses how using a hook will prove to be invaluable throughout the writing process from editing, to pitching, to marketing and publishing. Although we have gleaned so much information from this book as a whole, this chapter stands out for us especially as we revise and outline several other books in a hopeful series.

The other chapter we continually reference is Chapter 12, Revising in a Speed-Driven Market. In it, Deborah gives an in-depth look into revision techniques that, again, can apply to any genre though she gives specific examples that pertain to new adult. We especially appreciate the Stop Looking Test which: "reveals weaknesses in characterization, plus generic language and missed opportunities in dialogue narrative beats. The revision work you do as a result of this test can significantly improve the story and your writing overall." No lie. Using the seek and find tool in MS Word, we found 497 instances of the word "looked" in our first draft. That's borderline obscene! But, with this test, we can easily correct the abuse of some of our favorite words, and we all have them. The first step to correcting the problem is admitting you have a problem. And the Stop Looking Test has helped us do just that.

The other very helpful revision tool that Ms. Halverson offers is the Story Evaluation Questions sheet. The guide, as she says, "will take you into the process of deep, meaningful revision, giving you the tools you need to revise your story effectively as well as efficiently." How can these questions help you with your work in progress?

"Where is the story’s heart—in the action, in the characters, in the relationship?"

"Do the characters talk like real people?"

"Which scene first pulls you into the story?"

"Can you predict the ending?"

"Are the words dynamic?"

With these, and many more, the editing process takes a relevant and directed approach and will produce a better book, every time. We're counting on that!

We have truly enjoyed being able to preview Deborah Halverson's Writing New Adult Fiction and if we had more space, we could showcase useful tools and nuggets of wisdom in every chapter, but you will be much better served to get your own copy and discover the magic yourself.

We thank you, Deborah, for your insight and your skill and for composing a masterpiece about the craft of writing this bold, new genre. Writing New Adult Fiction has been priceless in our writing journey and we hope to work with you very soon to make the final tweaks to our manuscript.

Writers: GO GET THIS BOOK!

{H & J}

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Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson Publication Date: August 21, 2014 Genres: New Adult, Non-Fiction, Writing Craft

Tour: Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson

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Synopsis

Foreword by Sylvia Day "For the writer who wants to become a new adult author, or the new adult author who seeks to enrich her craftsmanship and stand out from the herd.” –Tammara Webber, New York Times best-selling author of Easy and Breakable From Sylvia Day’s Bared to You to Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, new adult fiction has arrived—and it’s hotter than ever. But there’s more to this category than its 18- to 26-year-old characters: The success of your story depends on authentically depicting the transition of your young protagonists from teenhood into adulthood. With Writing New Adult Fiction, you’ll learn how to capture the spirit of freedom, self-discovery, and romance that defines the new adult experience. -Create memorable characters that act and sound like new adults. -Sculpt a distinct personality for your fiction with POV, voice, tone, and word choices. -Build a unique, captivating plot that satisfied your audience from beginning to end. -Learn tools for revising effectively and efficiently in a speed-driven market. -Weight the options for your path to publication: traditional, indie, and hybrid.
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About Deborah Halverson

Deborah Halverson spent a decade editing books for Harcourt Children's Books before becoming the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, Writing New Adult Fiction, the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, a picture book and three books in the Remix series for struggling readers. She is now a freelance editor, author, writing instructor, and the founder of the popular writers’ advice site DearEditor.com. Deborah also serves on the advisory board for UC San Diego Extension “Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating” certificate program. She speaks extensively at workshops and conferences for writers and edits adult fiction and nonfiction while specializing in teen fiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For more about Deborah, visit www.DeborahHalverson.com.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Livin' La Vida Loca

I don't know about you but this summer, I didn't get nearly as much done as I had planned, mostly in the writing department. I had expected to finish revising my WIP (work in progress in writer's speak, but it can really apply to anything), draft some blog posts--IN ADVANCE, conduct research, network with other writers and accomplish a hundred other items on my to-do list.

But what happened was quite the opposite. I played with my kids, I hung out with my teacher-husband, and I read a dozen books. I balanced summertime easy-living with my part-time day job, and managed only the essentials. After a few weeks, I sat down to write and nothing. The well had run dry. Completely. I panicked and cried and consumed many summertime cocktails, for a good week. Then I put my fingers to the keyboard again. This time...IT WAS WORSE! So I took a different approach: denial. I tried to ignore that uncomfortable feeling, the nagging sense of a hidden block, because it's SUMMER! You can't have have anxiety during the summer. You have to RELAX!

So I forced myself to be calm. I was completely committed to enjoying my days at the beach with the family. But come evening, when I cyber-stalked all the writers I admire and witnessed their extreme productivity, I felt guilty for my underachievement. Pretty soon, I was overtaken by a crisis of confidence and I felt like a failure.

To my always-patient husband and my stalwart writing partner, I began to say things like, "Maybe this isn't the season for me to try this writing thing. Maybe when the kids are out of the house and I don't have SO MUCH STUFF to do. Maybe that's when I can pick it up again." I tried to convince myself that the sinking sadness in my gut was just part of the writing-dream-on-hold mourning process.

Holly totally understood. EVERY writer goes through this at one time or another. EVERY ONE. My husband thought something was really wrong with me and worried for my family. He had a more holistic approach. "You NEED to write. Because you're scary when you're not writing. Writing is like your Diet Coke addiction...it would be BAD for everyone if you quit." So I decided to let go of the guilt and panic, to lower my expectations and put the stalking on hold, and essentially wait the summer out. Really, what choice did I have?

A couple of weeks before the kids started school, when they were enrolled in prep classes and working on summer assignments and getting organized, when I'd finally stopped trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the voices, I mean, characters, in my head, something happened. I wrote a list of blog post ideas down. And I even drafted one. Then I hid it because it could be an anomaly and I didn't want to get too excited. I read it the next day and made some revisions. Huh. When I took out my WIP, I made some easy edits there too. Then I added a few paragraphs. And outlined! And HOT DAMN! It all came back! Four blog posts drafted, two chapters revised, hope renewed!

The very best part of it all: I felt like ME! (My husband even noted that the borderline-crazy look in my eyes was gone.)

Today, looking back at the summer from the vantage point of a productive weekend writing retreat, I'm a little embarrassed that my resolve could be compromised so easily. I almost didn't have the guts to share this, but then I wouldn't be able to offer this take-away: With any project, whether we're thinking about going back to school or trying to switch careers or figuring out who we want to be now that all the kids are in school, we have to be three things. Flexible, forgiving and brave. We have to take things one day at a time, as long as the movement is forward. We can't let guilt for not doing enough have a louder voice than the drive. We must keep at it until we land at that ever-changing, often-blurry, imperfect finish line.

So next summer, when there's more sand in my toes than words added to my WIP, I won't panic. I'll simply remember that there's a time for leaning into the rhythm of the process and there's a time for taking a break.

{J}

(Photo courtesy of KeepCalmAndPosters.com and enhanced by the ABM app.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Our B2B Campaign, Like in the Olden Days

Okay, the other day I was writing on the beach - definitely one of the most inspiring settings for me - and my iPad lost all power. I should've known that streaming my favorite Alternative Endurance station on Pandora while doing research AND writing, would quickly drain my battery but what's a girl to do? I was in the zone!

Well this girl, with power lost, almost pitched a fit. How would I possibly write my blog post and finish editing chapter 17 without my precious iPad!?!? I felt lost and helpless and a bit pissed off. Until I made a shocking revelation...YOU GUYS! Guess what I had in my writing bag? Real paper and a ballpoint pen! The kind that writes really smoothly. Soooo...I carried on and wrote this blog post the way they did it (as Bella says) in the olden days. (See evidence in exhibit A.)

Exhibit A

Friends, please tell me when you last used a pen and paper. Was it for a list? A thank you note? A check to the PTA for the hundredth time? I so rarely write anymore. Almost everything has been automated these days and you know what they tell us? "Automation makes things easier. More convenient. It simplifies things." Guess what...that's a bunch of S#@&! What automation really does is make more room in our busy schedules (that we've piled high, by the way,) so we can shove more crap into each day. We've been conditioned to think that if we have free time, we're slackers. We're missing something critical. Life simplified makes us uncomfortable. We prefer to call ourselves "CRAZY-busy" when in fact, we're responsible for the constant spinning of wheels. We're at fault for the "CRAZY."

So when I say "WE" that completely includes me. And maybe I'm not describing you. You may have that balance nonsense all worked out. In that case, please feel free to disregard this entire post. But if any of this sounds familiar, please read on.

Now I would never suggest we abandon technology and things that make life in these modern times more convenient...no way! I love my easy-access, immediate-gratification, check-it-off-the-list-faster-than-you-can-write-it electronic devices too much to consider such a drastic measure. But what I suggest is that we preserve some of that time that we create by using our time-saving tools, to slow things down, to relax, to get back to basics. We work hard and efficiently to earn those few extra moments and they should be used to restore not detract. (Although this writing with a pen and paper thing is requiring me to sllloooowwww down, my hand is beginning to hurt from this antiquated mode of recording, so I endorse Apple products for all of your writing needs.)

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about what a "Back to Basics" philospophy entails. With the new school year underway, carpools and activities pouring in and over me, balancing family and work and writing and life, it can sometimes feel overwhelming, right? I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this. Not one of my friends has recently said to me, "Hey Jenn, isn't life easier now that the kids are growing up. Isn't the three-schools-thing a breeze? And they hardly have any homework! What are you doing with all your free time?"

Nope...NO ONE says that!

But we, as the parents, are responsible for that often-insane calendar. True, some things are out of our control but it is our job not to overcommit ourselves, or our kids. Be it volunteering, sports, work, school, social activities, whatever! It's our job to save/find/create some time, for our kids to learn about the importance of TIME. If we introduce some semblance of peace in their busy lives, they will learn how to slow down; they will understand the intrinsic value of downtime; they will learn how to evaluate what's essential; and when necessary, how to get back to basics.

So here's a small sampling of what I'm going to attempt to implement in my home as we transition into this new, sure-to-be-busy year:

1) Family dinner. It's not just for weekends and restaurants, friends! I'm going to find at least two weeknights where we can get six butts in seats, at the same time, for a home-cooked meal. (Home-cooked may come from a bag or a box...just being real here.)

2) Bedtime stories. For the young and the old, I'm bringing them back! As we tuck them in, even when we're so whooped we can barely see, Michael and I are going to read with our children, FROM A BOOK, at least a few pages. The books may be in electronic format, but they will be real books.

3) Tucking in. The love and patience will OOZE from us as we read the pages, tuck the covers, kiss the faces and share the "something specials" that happened during the day. We will listen and soak in these sentiments because friends, we are running out of time. I've done the math (WITH A PEN, not my iPhone calculator - see exhibit B) and I only have around 1460 tuck-ins with my girl, assuming she goes to college and doesn't allow me to be her roommate, or if local, let me come over every night to tuck her in, which might freak out her roommate. And I don't want to miss the opportunity to remind her how important she is to our family. So tuck-ins, with great love and appreciation...they're on the list.

Exhibit B

4) Date night. Twice a month. It doesn't have to be fancy, or at night. In fact, a trip to the beach with just the husband counts. I want to connect with the man who, half the time, is the better part of our duo. And the investment is worth it. After all, in roughly 2555 days, it will be just us. (More math with a pen. I'm pretty good at multiplication however, I'm losing feeling in my fingers from all this real writing.)

5) Slow down and savor. Family time, conversations with friends and little, everyday blessings, like the beach without my iPad. It's amazing what you see when you pause for a moment and lift your face from the screen to admire the beautiful ocean, or really look into your partner's eyes, or take in your child's face, their features change so fast you can miss it. My grand plan is that numbers 1-4 will all lend to the success of 5. It's a lofty goal...I'll keep you posted.

So that's it. My "Back to Basics" campaign. Feel free to adopt one in your home if needed. I can tell you, the change won't be too drastic. We need technology. Not only do we crave the convenience and the immediacy of the electronic age, but it allows us to be connected in ways that are invaluable. My plan is to alleviate the congestion in the airwaves, and resist the urge to fill up that precious time saved with more to-do's. Instead, we will fill it with more moments that matter.

How about it? You in?

{J}

Friday, September 12, 2014

On the Move

I am feeling melancholy tonight. My tinge of sadness and unrest stems from a personal decision we've made recently as a family. We are moving. It feels so strange to type that, it makes it REAL. Although it was announced on FaceBook a little too early (just because I wasn't quite ready to talk about it), somehow, announcing it here ON PURPOSE makes the anxiety in my chest palpable.

Our blog will continue, all from the West Coast, but once a week you'll hear from Jenn here in California and my viewpoint will be from Oregon! Quite the change of scenery. I am all at once excited, nervous, hopeful, doubtful, scared, sure-footed, and a little in denial. I love a good adventure and I think if it were just hubby and I, the sadness would still be true but without the level of anxiety. With three kids in tow, one almost 15, I can't help but wonder what this will mean for their future. Will it be the best decision we've ever made? Will they all want to move back when they graduate? It’s definitely the hardest decision we’ve ever made. I must leave the questions that pop into my head on an hourly basis in the hands of the One I trust the most. I am told to lay my anxieties at His feet and I am purposefully doing that, although I'll admit, it’s minute by minute.

This decision has been one that we have talked about for years. I can’t say why now is the right time, only that we know it is. I haven't been sure where to start. My dream was to raise our family here and I have completely immersed myself in getting involved in the community and knowing the people that make it the kind of neighborhood we love. I am slowly saying goodbye to that and grieving what will not be.

As I walk this new path, I am given little “hugs from Jesus” as a friend of mine calls them, telling me that it’s all going to work out, our blessings will be abundant and that I will find that sense of belonging again. I’m trusting in that and moving into the planning stages. Checking out schools, making sure credits transfer, deciding where to rent something and looking for a church. I've learned a lot about the area just from looking at Zillow every day, but we know that it’s best if we actually see it with our own eyes. So Mike and I will travel up there in November to fill out paperwork and take one step closer to this new chapter in our lives (knees shaking...a little).

The hardest will be leaving some of our family and best friends. I can't really think about saying goodbye. My heart breaks when I think of taking our kids out of the only home they have ever known, but expanding their knowledge of the world outside of "The Bubble" is one of our reasons for leaving. We have discovered that everything is more affordable in Oregon and that is something we need right now. We will be back for trips and vacations and feel so blessed to have already been offered places to stay. It's good here. Some of our favorite people are here, and as I shared on FB, part of my heart will remain.

I'm excited to write and share about our adventures! I'm not sure exactly what to expect, but I know it will be full of ups and downs. I'll bring you with me to the best of my ability and with a heart full of HOPE! When I look at the BIG PICTURE, even though it’s through teary eyes, I see good things.

{H}

Monday, September 8, 2014

Summer of Limbo

The Hale house was a stew of emotions over the last few months. Hope, fear, anticipation, worry, excitement...typical for a soon-to-be-high-schooler. But the roller coaster for Bella was even more bumpy. We're calling it her "Summer of Limbo."

Bella was one of the many students denied admittance to San Juan Hills High School due to the newly enforced neighborhood boundaries. The School of Choice process with CUSD had never denied a student admittance to SJHHS before, but due to its rising enrollment and the deferral of many San Clemente High (an impacted school) students to SJHHS, this was the year that much of Ladera was denied. And like many, she was devastated.

It's not that we had anything against Tesoro, it's just that SJHHS was what we knew. Almost all of our neighbors are/were students at SJHHS, her BFFs were soon-to-be-Stallions, her dad had even taught summer school there and she had performed there with her choir. We just thought it was a given. That was our mistake.

Needless to say, we did everything in our power to appeal the decision. We joined a group of other parent advocates, collected data, attended board meetings, wrote letters, etc. In July, the Assistant Superintendent met with us and explained that the numbers needed to drop by approximately 50 students for them to let anyone on the wait list in. At that time, they were down 16, and since Bella was number nine on the list, it seemed she had a good chance of getting in. We would just have to wait. So we did. And we were hopeful.

In the meantime, and because we were officially Titans, Bella went to three weeks of Tesoro volleyball camp and came to really like the school and the students. But since there was also a chance she'd get in to SJHHS, she spent two weeks with her BFFs at volleyball camp there too. We were covering our bases, trying not to get our hopes too high and trusting that what was meant to be, would be.

I must admit that at times, this seemed easier for her to do than for me. Each time she asked if we knew anything yet, it made me mad that she couldn't just have a summer of excitedly planning for the fun of high school with her besties. But that period in limbo really did turn out to be the best thing about this (originally) crappy situation. Bella was able to spend time at both schools. She met really nice girls from neighborhoods outside the Ladera bubble. She worked with coaches and upperclassmen who took the time to invest in her and make her feel welcome. And when the final decision came, she was able to just as easily, and comfortably, see herself as a Titan as she could a Stallion. And so could I.

A few weeks ago, Bella tried out for the Tesoro volleyball team and made it!! (Which is a HUGE accomplishment considering she's never played volleyball and couldn't even serve the first whole week of camp. It goes to show that you don't have to play a sport all your life to make a high school team, but that's a post for another day.) Two days later, she found out there'd be no room for her at San Juan Hills. She cried and said "high school is going to be horrible" but those feelings didn't linger. After listing the pros, one of which was (her words) the cute surfers on the surf team, she embraced her new identity as a Tesoro Titan. (Did I already mention the roller coaster?)

The benefit of being "on hold" for three months was that the final decision, any decision, was better than limbo. And as my brave girl embraced the direction that her new adventure was taking, in rushed the excitement and joy that we'd been waiting for. I'm happy to report that her first week of high school was better than she expected. Her summer of limbo proved that when things don't go your way, they can still turn out great. It's all about ATTITUDE and PERSPECTIVE. And I know with every ounce of my soul that that was all part of the plan.

Go Titans!

{J}

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Today officially marks the last day of summer. Tomorrow morning we will wake at the crack of dawn, throw snacks into a brown paper sack (or a bright pink lunch box) and fight the traffic to get three children to three different schools all by 7:55 AM. Whew!

I know that at least several of my friends have been waiting for this day for weeks if not since June 25th, our official first day of summer. I have not. I don’t understand why all of the previous mentioned horrors are something to hope for and wish to come sooner. If I could stretch the next 24 hours out for another week, I would do so without blinking. Routine can be great, but for a non-morning person like me, the 6AM alarm clock is nothing but alarming. Every. Single. Morning. I never have gotten used to it and my oldest will be a freshman this year.

So. There’s that. I have a freshman in HIGH SCHOOL. Middle school seems like it was a huge blur and I’m regretting not cherishing his little 6th grade self more often. He’s suddenly taller than me and his muscles are bigger than mine. I’m holding onto the fact that he can’t find his shoes in the morning without my help, but other than those little things, he is well on his way to adulthood. It really does happen too fast, and I’m not just trying to sound like a cliché. This momma’s heart sometimes skips a beat thinking of the miniscule amount of time I have left with him under my roof.

There’s also my middle who’s starting middle school. He doesn’t look old enough to be in the 6th grade. But I know that one day too soon, I will turn around and bump into the strange man-child that he will grow into over the next few years. I will mistake his voice for my husband. I will be shocked and lock myself in my room with the video camera on “play”, lamenting his little boy voice and wondering why time keeps speeding up to a pace that I cannot handle. Thank goodness he still likes Rubix cubes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

My littlest, will be a second grader. She will start reading chapter books and writing essays with “details”. She will start to care more about how her hair looks and stop letting me help her pick out her clothes. But she will still want to cuddle every night as she tells me about her teacher and her friends and whisper in secret about a boy that she thinks is cute. I am lucky. Her focus will not shift to her peers for at least four more years. Mommy and Daddy will still be the center of her universe while her brothers forge ahead, making safe passage for their baby sister. We find that we are different parents with her but that story is for another post.

My loves are growing up. While they are supposed to, it’s happening at an alarming rate. I’m not ready for it. It’s like that old saying, “you don’t know something until you know”. That’s how this feels. The first day of school, 2014, does not bring sighs of relief from me but instead, small pains of anguish as time marches forward, sometimes dragging me along kicking and screaming. It reminds me of the preciousness of parenthood and the need to move gracefully into the next phase. A high schooler who all too soon will leave the confines of our family and the memories and feelings of comfort I want to instill in him so he wishes to come back from time to time. Our middle schooler who is on the cusp of teenhood and my need to help him with the precarious balance of the desires of childhood and the independence that comes with junior high. My baby, whom I wish to keep little as she navigates her world, will refuse me and I must relent. Our job as parents is to nurture and comfort and love and then LET GO so that the world can benefit from the gifts and talents that we help to bring out in them. It is the hardest, most complicated, most aggravating, most inspiring thing we will ever do. And tomorrow, we will drop them off to their teachers and their friends and look forward to hearing how the first day went and try to savor every moment. Don't let it pass too quickly.

Have a great first day everyone!

{H}

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer Reading List/Book Review

As an introvert, I really enjoy being by myself. I love being around family and friends and getting out and trying new things, but how I fill up my soul and get back on track is by being ALONE. Sometimes (most of the time)that involves a book. Getting lost in the pages of a story and the lives of characters in another place and time makes my soul sing. I have a list of books to get through this summer and as I was looking at my library, I found a few other gems that I wanted to share in case, you're like me, and can't wait to find that perfect read. Here's our top ten:

1. Wool: Omnibus Edition (1-5) by Hugh Howey

This is an awesome sci-fi series about a post-apocalyptic United States and the people that live in it. Here is a little blurb on it from Amazon:

"In a ruined and toxic future, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside."

2. Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and Book of Life (series) by Deborah Harkness

If you haven't started this series, now is the time! Book Of Life, the third and last book, is scheduled for release July 15th. Amazing writing and LOADS of historical fiction. Her tag line is...

"A reluctant witch. A 1500-year-old vampire. A mysterious manuscript known as Ashmole 782. The story begins with a discovery of witches..."

It's SO GOOD!!

3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Anything by Gillian Flynn would be a good read for the summer but I would suggest reading this before the movie comes out October 3rd. It looks like it will be a good one but the book is always better.

4. The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman (The Magician's Land being released August 5th)

As you might be able to tell from this list so far, I really like series! This is a good one. A magical reality story and coming-of-age tale about magic learned and practiced in the real world-where good and evil aren't black and white, and power comes at a terrible price. Good characters and a strong story, start reading now and you'll have the series done by the time school starts!

5. The Wicked We Have Done by Sarah Harian

This is a quick and easy read about a college student that goes to prison for murder and is put on trial in a test called the compass room, a futuristic psychological testing atmosphere. Similar to The Hunger Games, with more adult content. Not fantastic but a good read and also part of a series (the others have not been released yet).

6. The Giver by Lois Lowry

This is on its way to being a classic that our grandchildren may read in school. It is also being released on the big screen August 15th so try to read it before you see it!

7. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

I have just started this one and have had it on my list because I heard great things! Is anyone else reading it or have you read it already? I'd love to know what you think!

8. The Line by J.D. Horn

This is the next book on my list. It's also a series (shocker) about a family of witches in Savannah. I heard it is great historical fiction with all the paranormal aspects that I love. I'm excited to start it. Feedback please if you've already turned the pages!

9. One Broke Girl by Rhonda Helms

Honestly I don't remember why I have this book but after reading the synopsis on the back it sounds fun, romantic and easy...a good beach read. I like giving new authors a chance because, well, karma and all that! ;)

I'll let you know how it turns out.

10. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I originally heard about this book after I read a review by Steven King. I love Stephen King. Then I found out that it won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction and figured I probably SHOULD read it. Everyone says it is amazing so I can't wait to find out what's in store.

I have several others that are waiting to be opened but I won't overwhelm you with choices. My sister could get through these in about a month, but for the rest of us "average" readers this list could keep us busy for awhile. I cannot wait to hear any and all comments and suggestions on other reads. Jenn and I will be starting a "To Be Read Soon" list and would love to add your favorites. Don't forget to leave a comment either here or on FaceBook. It could be like a mini book club! Happy reading everyone!

{H}

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Shoes Made All The Difference

I have a fourteen year old daughter and her 8th grade dance was Friday. It was the celebration of the end of middle school and it also seemed to signify the transition to young adulthood. It was a lot to take in for this mama.

Shopping for the dress, which began months ago, was quite an enlightening process. During our many trips to the mall, I learned these things: 8th grade girls prefer insanely HIGH shoes. They prefer short dresses, lots of makeup, gel nails and "ocean wave" curls set by professional hairdressers. They plan pre-parties, post-parties, photo-ops and sleepovers. In my house, the 8th grade dance was elevated to the same scale as the Oscars and it was hard not to get wrapped up in it all.

But I get it. I was that age once, "in the OLDEN days," as Bella says. I remember being fashion-conscious, wanting to follow the latest trends, that my friends' opinions were paramount in any decision. But what I don't remember is my mom making me prove that I could walk in a pair of covetted shoes. I don't remember strutting around the store, trying not to break an ankle. I don't remember her telling me that it was INSANE to spend $50 on a pair of shoes that would only be worn for the pictures and then quickly exchanged for Converse high tops. And I don't remember her having a panic attack at how quickly I was growing up.

But really, why are hooker shoes the trend? I mean come on! Why do ALL the "in" shoes have to stretch to the heavens on un-Godly platforms? Why do the heels have to be so narrow they make one long for the stability of "old-fashioned" stilettos?

This was the first pair of shoes to come home: (I was not present on this shopping trip.)

Bella couldn't even stand in these for more than 37 seconds. Then she thought she just needed a bigger size cuz they felt TIGHT in her toe region. Ya think!?!?!

"Maybe that's because the extreme and unnatural angle of your foot is physically CRUSHING your toes!" She agreed I might have something there.

So we returned those and after trying on ALL THE DIFFERENT SHOES, we agreed on these:

I approved of this purchase because of the following, completely arbitrary criteria that I decided I could live with:

1) The heel was chunky and stable

2) They weren't sexy

3) She walked all over the store without hanging onto the rounders

4) They looked like Mary Poppins ankle boots = NOT sexy

5) The platform was an inch so it was more like she was wearing a 3-inch heel (fancy math, my husband calls it)

6) Mary Poppins was not a HOOKER!

What it came down to was that I really didn't want my not-so-little girl looking sexy. But deep in my heart, I knew a pair of sexy high heels weren't the real issue. It was just hard to admit that my little girl was growing up.

My little girl, once a kindergartener who cried during her entire "Spring Sing" because too many people were watching her, now had the confidence to don a gorgeous dress, some really high (but NOT sexy) platform heels, and dance the night away at her 8th grade dance. My sweet daughter, once so shy she couldn't easily make friends, rushed from one group to another to hug and give compliments on dresses and shoes. That my baby, once so connected to me that she couldn't leave my side in a crowd of people, happily linked arms with her best friends and boldly stepped into a new stage of life, a stage she was ready to accept. (I'll get there.)

And I must admit, the shoes made all the difference.

{J}

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Peer Pressure Anyone?

(I should let you know that my son would prefer not to be the subject of this blog post but I know in my heart that we need to know what other families are experiencing and that we're all in this together. In my crazy-busy life, it seems like blogging has replaced bunco. The blogosphere is now where the worries and fears, phases and stages are pondered. This post is brought to you for the greater good.)

Do you remember your very first crush? Mine was at the end of fourth grade and one day, he ran by me and kissed me on the shoulder. From that point on, I couldn't stand him! Not because he changed, he was still the nice, slightly short boy who made me laugh. What changed was our environment. Our entire fourth grade class knew of the drive-by-shoulder-kiss and they couldn't wait for another scandalous PDA to gossip about.

Peer pressure has existed since the beginning of time. I guarantee there was a group of cave-women who decided the jagged-hemmed, animal print, sleeveless dress was the way to catch the best bachelor in town. I'm sure they pressured even the most modest girls to "just try it." Seriously, every child at some/many points, will experience peer pressure. How will you help your kids through it?

So last Tuesday, right after school, my son told me it was "National Hugging Day" and that ALL the boys hugged ALL the girls at school.

"How'd that go over?" I asked, wondering how many kids got warnings for such "potentially harassing" conduct. But he assured me that most of them are just friends and he was happy he hugged the girl he did because she was a good friend. Sweet and innocent and friend-ly. Right?

Two days later I received an update to "National Hugging Day," which happens to be January 21, not May 27; I looked it up.

"Mom. I asked recipient-of-hug out today."

"I thought you were just friends."

"We are. But all my friends told me she liked me and that I should ask her out, so I did."

"Even though you're not allowed to have a girlfriend?" (No judgment but our house rule is no girlfriends/boyfriends until somewhere around high school.)

"Yeah. But it's not a big deal. It's just that all my friends have girlfriends and I kinda wanted to too." (Read it again. Go ahead. Feel free to replace "have girlfriends" with ANYTHING that you're terrified of your kids trying one day. Yep. That's how I felt. Jesus help us!)

"Okay...(trying to breathe)...Well...(what if he ends up addicted to crack?!?!)...Since you know the rule, I want you to think about how you're going to resolve this. You can't have crack...I mean a girlfriend!! So let's figure out a plan, okay?"

And that was just the beginning of the conversation. We've spent the last six days in deep conversation about LOTS of potential lessons, including, but not limited to:

1) How to cope with peer pressure and stand up for what's right and/or follow the rules. Whether it's a benign 5th grade "relationship" or a shot of tequila and a joint (gateway) at a high school party...I am really not concerned with what everyone else is doing.

2) How to treat your girlfriend (when you're mature enough to have one-this age may vary but I'm sure 11 is not in the ballpark): shaking her parents' hands when you pick her up, at the door, for your date; earning funds to provide for your (age-appropriate) entertainment; being a gentleman and adhering to curfews; caring about her feelings and conversing with her about all sorts of stuff...girls LOVE to talk about ALL THE STUFF!

3) How to right a wrong, even when it feels bad. Sometimes I think the more uncomfortable they are, the more likely the lesson will stick. When you ask a girl out and you really shouldn't have, you have to own up to it. When you do, one of two things will happen: she will be sad or she will be relieved. But if she's worth having as a girlfriend, she will understand you made a mistake and are trying to make it right.

Our son has been open and mature during these conversations and he regrets that he allowed himself to be pressured. But these are his two biggest concerns: he doesn't want to hurt girl-who-shall-not-be-named's feelings and he doesn't want to be made fun of by his friends.

I get it; he gets it, part of it. So we'll keep talking.

In the meantime, feel free to use this example with your children in whichever way it will support your conversations about peer pressure, good choices, consequences of one's actions and crack! If your kids know my kids, please leave names out. I don't know what I'd do if my children made me stop writing about them...they provide the BEST material.

Coming soon: Hooker shoes - the 8th grade trend.

{J}

Monday, May 12, 2014

Keep Calm...and Carry On?

I have been mulling over how I can mention this to all of you without having you feel sorry for us or shake your heads, feeling the sting of the disappointment that Jenn and I felt when we were told “No”.

It’s actually not the kind of no that you may be thinking. I mean, it was definitely a “no, we aren’t ready to publish your book right now and make you millions”, but the sentences that surrounded the “no” were priceless and heartfelt. We are ever so grateful for them. When Jenn and I started this adventure, one of the things that we read about the most was how to handle the rejection. Because there is A LOT of it. We have sensitive writer hearts so trying to prepare ourselves to hear “no” over and over wasn’t something that we wanted to practice. We have been pretty lucky so far with the encouragement and feedback that we have gotten from people that we admire. Our journey has just begun and we have been riding our wave of excitement from our very first conference back in January! Overall, we finally received the email we had been waiting for over two months. With nervous anticipation we opened it together and read the first line…(keep calm…)

“Hi Jennifer and Holly,

Thanks very much for your patience with me on POWER OF 7. There is a lot to love here, but I am afraid I am going to pass on the chance to go further with this project.”

We both sighed heavily and our hearts sank in unison. Not the first line we were hoping to read.

Then, as Jenn read on out loud, a few thoughts came to mind. We felt rushed with our first edit and should have asked for more time. Establishing a longer timeline would have given us a more thorough edit and we could have paced ourselves. In the past few months during our time of waiting, we were able to see several areas we would have developed more clearly and even some new elements that we would have added to make the story the compelling one we envision in our dreams. (so here comes the Carry On part…)

My first reaction of course was a big let-down. Should we keep at it? And then… How could we not? I was steadfast for about 24 hours. Then my doubts crept in. Am I good enough? Can I do this? Do I even have any talent? Am I dragging Jenn down? I was in a bad place for about five days. My confidence went down the toilet. I lost my voice. I had almost decided that it would be best for me to say goodbye to this dream for now. Then, I remembered why we had started writing in the first place. It was fun. It was challenging and exhilarating. It made my heart sing. Jenn and I always encouraged each other to try our best and to get up and try again if it didn’t go so great the first time. So I turned my back on the nagging doubts that threatened to pull me down and I prayed, A LOT! I re-committed to the words and found my voice again. My faith in the words and the partner, to whom I am so indebted, brought me back to what is real. I am forever grateful.

In the end, this agent that we have grown to respect, gave us some very kind words,

“I wish I had better news for you – you are clearly a talented writing team and I wanted to make a connection with this one. We would love to look at new projects if you don’t place this one.”

She also reminded us that every agent looks at a manuscript in a different way and encouraged us to keep looking. She offered to look at this story again once our revisions are what we would like them to be. So REALLY it was good news, probably the best “rejection” letter we could have received!

So please, do not tell us you‘re sorry, and don’t be sad, because this is the beginning of a really great thing. We are writers and we are committed to telling our story in the best way possible. For those of you that are waiting to be our beta-readers, it is coming! Thank you for being patient and we hope it will be worth your wait! We will continue to keep you up to date on all of our progress and whatever news we have to share. Until then, we will be hard at work getting our edits done and we will do our best at blogging and posting on FB. Thank you friends for your unending love and support! We treasure you!

Carrying On...{H & J}

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day Wish List

Mother's Day is a day of indulgence. It's the day when moms don't feel the least bit guilty about being spoiled (or spoiling themselves.) It's the time of year when I reflect on the things I want most from my kids, and FOR my kids, and my list is long people. Very. Very. Long.

For Mother's Day, I want my children to be happy. Not the temporary happy that comes from a candy bar in the check out line, or a new "must-have" on our Target run, but the real, lasting kind of happiness that they will carry with them long after they leave the nest. I want them to smile often, laugh even more and feel deep down that they have a happy childhood, the one that Michael and I are trying hard to create and sustain. I want that happiness to be planted early and deeply, so as they grow, it will provide fulfillment and gratitude during the good times and hope and perspective during the hard times, both of which they will have along the way. Happiness, hugs, smiles...I want those things for my kids.

For Mother's Day, I want my children to be full of peace. I want them to be peacemakers and peacekeepers. Not just the kind of peacefulness that keeps them from slugging that annoying kid at school (or one they live with), but the kind of peace that helps them stay grounded when their lives are filled with everyday chaos. I want their home to be a buffer from all the demands that confront them the second they walk out the door. I want us all to slow down and leave room in the schedule so they can experience the value of peace. I want them to offer peace when in an argument, to extend a hand whether they win or lose, and to agree to be kind even when it's not easy. I want them to yearn for the kind of peace that comes with a spring day when the only thing to do is lie in the grass and watch the clouds dance in the sky. Peaceful easy feelings, I want that for them.

For Mother's Day, I want my children to be confident. Not arrogant or showy, but I want them to possess a sense of self that stems from experience and wisdom. The development of such confidence is a gradual one. I want them to have the "wins" in life that help them see their potential and encourage their effort. But I also what them to have the "losses" that teach them to be humble and that it's more important to celebrate the successes of others than merely your own. I want them to have a confidence that gives them strength in the face of peer pressure, like a drink or a "just-try-it" at a party. I want their confidence to be the motivator that urges them to try harder next time, maybe at a sport, on a test, or in a relationship. I want them to always feel like they are enough. And throughout life, as that confidence takes root and grows, I want it to hold onto their hearts and stave off the ugliness of things like jealousy, mistrust, greed and entitlement. A life filled with humble confidence, that's what I want for my children.

For Mother's Day, I want my kids to have compassion. When they encounter a fellow student who's injured on the playground, or a friend with a broken heart, or a stranger in need of a smile or a dollar, I want their first instinct to be to help. I want their hearts to hurt when they witness another person's pain. I want their thoughts to turn often to those in need rather than to their own desires. I want them to experience a friend's compassion so they understand the importance of being there for someone else. When they no longer have me pointing out the needs and hurts of others, I want their own compass of compassion to do the job and reveal to them how they can offer kindness, love and support. Compassion and a heart that's driven to give, that's what I want for each of my children.

For Mother's Day, I want my children to have faith. Faith in their God, in their family, in their friends, and in themselves. I want them to believe in things that aren't easily seen or held or measured, things like love and hope and humanity. In spite of what their peers say or what society tells them, I want them to stand up for their beliefs and have faith. As life goes on, I want them to take that faith with them so they can share the spirit of possibility everywhere they go. It's an unrelenting faith and life-affirming faith. I want that for them too.

Lastly, (and bless you if you've made it this far), for Mother's Day, I want my children to have love. They will surely experience differing degrees of it in their lives and I want them to eventually learn how to give and take the kind of love that lasts forever. The kind that leaves a legacy as it's modeled and replicated and shared. My kids will always have the love of their family, but I still want them to earn that love and respect us all the same. Friends will come and go, but I want them to learn how to cultivate lasting friendships, reciprocating and compromising frequently. I also want them to one day find their soul mates, live love-filled lives and grow old with their best friends. I want them to be generous with their praise and appreciation of the people in their lives. I want them to support them, and be supported during times when their confidence has lost its luster. I want them to offer and aspire to the kind of happiness that endures the rough waters. And I want them to have loved ones all around that feed their spirits as the phases of life wax and wane. Most importantly, I want them to know that the way to truly and completely and fully love others, and to be loved back, is to simply start with loving oneself. I really want my children to experience a lifetime of having and giving love.

So that's my Mother's Day wish list. Happiness. Peace. Confidence. Compassion. Faith. Love. And the greatest of these is LOVE!

Happy Mother's Day to all you amazing moms. May your day be filled with everything that makes your heart sing. And especially to my wonderful mom, who has shaped the woman and mother that I am today...I love you forever!

{J}

Friday, May 9, 2014

Being Grateful

First of all let me say Happy Mother's Day to all my mommy friends out there! I hope you have a joyous weekend enjoying the little ones (or big ones) that gave you the title of "mom". It can certainly feel like a thankless job at times but if you can look past the monotony of the day and stop counting the times you asked someone to pick up their _______ (fill in the blank with your own daily burden) then you can focus on the beauty of the day and what being a mom really means to you. If that doesn't work, look at old video's and listen to the sweet voices of your babies and relish the memories of when they used to listen to you without asking "WHY?" or stomping there gigantic feet in the opposite direction. I hope you get breakfast in bed but no food on the sheets. I hope you get handmade something to pack away and cherish for years. I hope you get smiles and laughter and memories so good you don't have to write them down to remember.

My wishes and hopes for you include one more thing. Awareness. As moms we are usually really good at this. The whole "eyes in the back of our head" thing. I am asking for your awareness to include the possibility that the woman sitting next to you or driving by in her car, or standing in line may have a different weekend ahead of her than a large majority of the country. I heard a few horrible stories this week through social media. Heart breaking stories of loss that will, should you read them, make each and every one of you cringe with your own fear of loss that is beyond comprehension. As I click on the heading of these types of stories, sometimes I think maybe I should just click the X at the top corner before I get pulled into the whirlwind of thoughts that will accompany them. Inevitably I read on. Two in particular caught my attention as it's the week before we celebrate motherhood. We will soon be reading many blog posts and articles about being a mom. The story of the "three year old's handprint" will circulate again and bring tears to our eyes as we either, remember our bigs with little tiny hands, or we actually hold onto those little tiny hands and pray that they won't get bigger too fast. Then there are the women in my life that have prayed for a pair of little hands to hold for so long but still do not have a child to call their own. My heart grieves for you. And then, there are the moms like the ones in the stories, who are in deep mourning and I have no words for that. All I can offer is to mourn with them in silence and pray for the sickening pain to ease as they think about the children lost. These words are hard to hear and harder to write as I think about my three babies. My heart goes out to the moms who are painfully remembering this weekend (and always)and have had a little piece of them go onto to heaven before they were ready to say good-bye. As moms we have imagined the worse-case scenario and to be living through it takes something that is known only to God. I pray that their relationship with Him can offer comfort in those moments and I will not be so presumptuous as to offer any kind of comforting words or advice. I do not have them.

We, as parents, often have a piece of us that wants to make it all better. So situations like April Smith's story take our breath away because we can't. Maybe what it will do though, is make you hug your babies tighter and kiss that teenager like he was five again. Moments like these bring my gratefulness FULL FRONT AND CENTER! That no matter how much they messed up today and how many times they didn't listen, they are here, with me, getting tucked into bed with stories and kisses and hugs and "I'll see you in the morning"...God willing. I'm sobbing as I write this (which is a little embarrassing in the library) and I'm wondering what I can do so that my kids know how much I adore them right in this moment. We NEVER know how many moments we truly have here on this Earth. Am I making the most of mine with my children good and bad? I hope so. I want that.

My father in law was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. He is 77 years old and the doctors told us that with chemotherapy he could have a life expectancy of five to eight years. Getting the news about his life expectancy has got me thinking about how much I take life and time for granted. I get in the rut of daily chores and carpool and work and schedules and because of that I may forget to REALLY live each and every day. Sometimes I’m just too tired to think about anything but getting in bed and starting over in the morning. It's so easy to forget. It's so easy to not be intentional about living and having real living moments. Until you’re introduced to the scary unknown of cancer or other illness, or until you lose someone and are thrown in to the upheaval of grief. We are human. It is in our nature to get caught up in the minutiae of living when we are in the daily grind. It takes habit and AWARENESS to step out of that and enjoy the living of the moment, even the boring ones, because the laundry still has to get done (and put away, just sayin')...and even that holds the power of gratitude. Being grateful that your kids are out running around and getting those clothes dirty, or that they are growing big and strong so that favorite shirt doesn't fit anymore...the NOTICING of those things is a living moment.

So how do we do that every day? That will have many different answers. We will forget. We will have to catch ourselves and sometimes we will have to search REALLY HARD and dig REALLY DEEP to live in the moment. But we can do it. We can do it because we think about Ryan and his parents and we are reminded of the preciousness of life and just how fragile it is. (#redballoonsforryan)

We are privileged, BLESSED really, to parent these little creatures even when we are pulling out our hair and not enjoying any of it. Even the bad moments are real living moments because when we piece them together they create our life. My last mother’s day wish for you is many real living moments when you can have complete awareness, a deep breath and a mental snapshot and the opportunity to let those you love the most know just exactly how much.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Science Camp Anxiety...Mine and His

Do you remember your first sleep away camp? The excitement of packing your sleeping bag and travel-sized toiletries; the anticipation of meeting your cabin-mates and counselor and the twisty-turny bus ride? I do. It was so exciting! At least until bedtime.

When I was 11-years old I went to summer camp for a whole week. It was completely overwhelming for me. The evening routine of camp life was foreign and I wasn't ready for the anxiety that came alone with it.

My poor camp counselor. Stationed in a cabin with a dozen girls, she was probably no older than 18. She had to comfort multiple girls with tears and tummy aches those first few nights. If I could find her on Facebook and thank her for being so gentle and kind all those years ago, I would.

That first camp experience was the beginning of a series of unsuccessful sleepovers and weekend getaways with friends. It was the beginning of calls home to mom so I could be rescued and delivered to the comfort of my familiar home. It was the impetus to my childhood anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric condition among adults and most say that they experienced their first symptoms as children. Affecting one in eight children, anxiety disorders are also the most common psychiatric condition in children. But the good news is, they are also the easiest to treat. I know all this because my son has anxiety.

The signs were familiar: he had a hard time at sleepovers and was nervous about school after vacations and breaks. Sometimes he couldn't fall asleep at night, or we'd get a call from school about tummy aches. I told him he was like me - a night owl - and showed him what I did to relax. I told him I used to get nervous about those things too. Then I prayed his wouldn't grow into the same anxiety that I had as a child.

But it did. Two months ago, when we were ready to write the check for science camp, his face paled and he looked like he was going to be sick. "I'm not sure I can go to camp, mom." I immediately knew how he felt. He couldn't even talk about it, he was so distraught. My heart broke a little.

As a parent who knows what it feels like, I knew I needed help. I found an excellent book that gave me a greater understanding of childhood anxiety and explained how to help my son. (Oh how I wish I'd read this book when I was young...) First, we had to talk about his anxiety. We gave it a name: "The Exaggerator," and practiced some new relaxation techniques. We also learned that the key to battling anxiety is rewiring the brain to find a healthy thought path instead of the default, "worry" path. Makes perfect sense. The book showed us know to do that. So we practiced. FOR WEEKS!

With some successful sleepovers, his confidence grew. With "The Exaggerator" to blame, his heart began to heal. And by the final deadline to turn in our science camp check, he felt ready for the challenge. His exact words: "Mom, I'm not going to let "The Exaggerator" take away the fun in my life!" He was more secure about camp and I was more hopeful too. In the last two weeks, we've had lots of questions. We've gone over various scenarios. We've practiced all our tricks and tools in a final attempt to reinforce his sensibilities and fully prepare him for camp next week.

And on Tuesday, as I wave good-bye to my brave boy, I know in my heart he will be well-equipped to fight off "The Exaggerator."

I hope you never experience the BIG, ugly side of worry but if your child is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, don't ignore it, find help. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America website: ADAA.org has great information. The book that worked for us was Freeing Your Child From Anxiety by Tamar Chansky.

Thanks for listening!

{J}

(Published in O.C. Register 4/25/14)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

We're Baaaccckkkk!

Hi all,

Holly and I have missed our regular visits to this place of inspiration. We have been swamped with our other writing and life projects. Isn't that always the way it goes? You have to give up the FUN stuff to make sure all the other stuff fits in the calendar? I know you can relate.

Anyway, since many of you have asked, I wanted to share some of the things that have been keeping us occupied elsewhere:

We have completed our structural edit of Power of 7 and are finishing up a second round of content editing as we speak. I'm sure it sounds treacherous but it's more like a jigsaw puzzle that reveals more magic and possibility with every pass through.

We have completed the official P7 synopsis. Now this IS treacherous work! We are glad to have that behind us. (It's used for marketing and querying and searching for our "DreamAgent.")

We have upped our OC Register writing to every week! And our fabulous editor Kelli has acquired six more papers so our distribution has expanded...we LOVE that!!!

We have read a combined 27 books, mostly in our genre or close to it. It's research people! If you’ve read anything great lately, please let us know!

We have partnered with some incredible writers on projects and blog ideas and outreach. (More to come soon!)

Although we've been busy since February, we find ourselves feeling a little lost without all of you...the people we do LIFE with, the people who keep supporting our writing quest and cheering us on. So we've got a long list of blog ideas and articles and various rantings just for you!

Thanks for sharing your moments with us!

{J&H}

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Measles are Coming! The Measles are Coming!

There's a measles outbreak in Orange County. Break out the masks, lock away your children and batten down the hatches! In other words...PANIC!

Okay, I have to admit, when I got the letter from our elementary school illusively stating that someone with measles had been there, two things ran through my mind. One: "Shouldn't they close the school?" And two: "What's the real likelihood my kids will contract measles?"

Now, for those of you who know me, you know that I can certainly worry with the best of them. In fact, I often do that first-WORRY, then I investigate and look for sound reasoning second. This order of emotional response eventually makes way for rational thinking that reminds me that everything's okay. But it's definitely a process. My friend Glennon Doyle Melton at momastery.com calls it "putting on perspectacles" (perspective-spectacles). She is so right!

Back to the measles outbreak...once the email blast made its way through Ladera, the moms got busy, myself included. We're really good at that. As a self-professed, well-intentioned mama bear, I may even argue that we believe it's our calling, our responsibility, to share information. If that information happens to bring with it a little fear, or even some community hysteria, so be it. We would be negligent to keep the facts to ourselves, right?

But this time, along with the information exchange came some pretty harsh finger-pointing, particularly at the parents who have chosen not to immunize their children. I completely understand the urge to find out who's responsible, to find the origin of an outbreak; the cause for our worry, to have more information in order to protect ourselves, but blame isn't productive people. It separates us from that which connects us in the first place: our common parental motivation to do what's best.

Part of living in a close-knit community and espousing the "it-takes-a-village" approach to raising children, brings with it a deep and unavoidable caring about others: other parents who hurt when they can't take away their babies' pain, and children who may suffer from the high fever, miserable rash and other symptoms that the measles virus is notorious for. We worry about members of our community - the immunocompromised, the elderly, the yet-to-be-fully-immune (for whatever reason), and anyone else who may be exposed to such a contagious disease. But the worry is no excuse for being unkind.

The reason parents panic over things like measles, the stomach flu, lice, and other contagious childhood afflictions, is because we're hard-wired to protect. The fear comes from the heart...the caring, feeling heart. But throughout life, parents need other parents. When we're vulnerable and scared, we need each other for strength and perspective. And as we navigate all the different, "do-what's-best" waters, let's remember one thing: we are all in the same boat. Grab an oar and let's keep moving forward.

{J}

By the way, this picture is Logan at one. Isn't he cute? And no, he didn't have measles, just a good case of roseola. I'm bringing this one out for his first girlfriend. #funrashfromthepast

(Article posted in the O.C. Register on 3/28/14)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Humble Pie on PI Day!

It appears that the Golden Rule doesn't apply to social media. We cast stones over the internet and pass judgement of others in ways we wouldn't if we had to see the hurt in their eyes when the mud was slung. Amidst the e-harshness, I rarely see apologies. I almost never see someone write "I was wrong," or "I'm sorry I hurt you," online. Have we forgotten how powerful our words are?

A few weeks ago, my son came home from school and he wasn't himself. He was quiet while he did his homework, he wasn't in the mood for playing in the neighborhood and he was somber at dinnertime. But as we got ready for bed, (BIG things are always revealed at bedtime) it happened.

"Mom, something really bad happened today." His wide eyes filled with tears.

"It's okay...we'll work it out. What happened?"

His story unfolded slowly. Each detail he shared pained him. We had to take a couple breaks to reign in the emotions just to get through it. In the end, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared, but to him, it was devastating and that's what mattered. His experience is ALL that mattered.

Here's what happened: After school while walking past the playground, he'd made a comment to a friend about a man sitting on the swings, waiting for his own child. The comment wasn't kind and the man heard it. He was hurt...my son saw it in his eyes.

"I don't know why I said it. I feel sooooo bad! I wish I could take it back..."

I was disappointed in his choice and I told him so, but my disappointment was no match to his. He was literally sick over the encounter. Among the review of various applicable lessons, I told him that he needed to remember this situation - especially how it made everyone feel badly, including him - and then he had to promise not to do it again.

And then we talked about forgiveness, from God and from himself, and about how some hurts can be made better. While I knew he might not feel comfortable apologizing to the stranger, I wanted him to consider how saying sorry would feel. I wanted him to make the connection between accountability and reconciliation and peace of mind. It seemed like just having the option made him feel better.

The following day after school, my son greeted me with a great big smile. It was the kind of smile that told me that the previous day's burden was gone...that he had owned it and he had fixed it.

"Mom...I did it! I told the man I was sorry about what I said yesterday and he forgave me. He smiled at me. I feel so much better!!"

I couldn't be more proud! He explained his thought process from the night before: if he didn't apologize, whenever he saw the man at school he would feel bad, like he hurt the man all over again. But if he said sorry and made amends, he wouldn't have to feel that way. They would both feel better.

I was so grateful that he got it. He knew that his regret came from hurting someone else. He knew that in seeking forgiveness, the pain he caused the man and the resulting shame that he felt, would be lifted. For him, it was a simple demonstration of cause and effect. And he was empowered.

The ripple effect is real, people. This is simple proof. Our actions, our WORDS - online and in person - make a difference. Whether it's truth or exaggeration, praise or criticism, love or hate. We are responsible for the things we do and say and the way those actions and words make others feel. When we release negativity into the world, it travels much farther than we can ever know. And the same goes for POSITIVITY, except the resulting ripple is much better for us all.

So follow the lead of a brave young boy and remember the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be considerate. Be kind. And don't forget, when you mess up, OWN it, then make amends.

{J}

(Adapted article published in O.C. Register: March 14, 2014.)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Quit With The Condemnation

(Expanded version of O.C. Register article-2/28/14)

"You should know better" with its unspoken "shame on you" is a damaging phrase. I have found that parents of teens overuse this pointed remark, myself included. This is the problem: teens are children in almost full-grown bodies. That's confusing. They are as tall as us, they borrow our clothes, their voices sound mature, and if you took a saw to their skulls, you would find their brains are practically the same size as ours. But we need to be careful not to equate size with knowledge. Studies show that the brain of an adolescent is still under construction.

The brain, the complex organ responsible for "knowing better," goes through quite a bit of growth during the teen years. Before a person enters their twenties, the parts of the brain involved in managing impulsive and emotional responses are underdeveloped. Add to that the heightened reproductive and stress hormones coursing through their bodies and you will find an unpredictable, self-critical, roller-coaster-of-a-teen. Should we really be making them feel worse for their medically-proven inability to know better?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we should just throw up our hands and leave them to their own devices. We must parent on: reminding, lecturing, spelling-it-out, teaching. That's our job. But don't be surprised, or overly critical, when what seems so obvious to you is completely shocking to them. Yes, we have spent YEARS repeating the same lessons. NO, the rules haven't changed much. But our competition is great. Teens are consumed by things of their world: a comment they heard at school; a picture on Instagram; and the overwhelming feeling that they might laugh/cry/scream/throw up/hit something, every day. It's hard on them and on us. I know...I live with one. But the job of a parent doesn't end until their brains are fully developed, apparently when they are safely in their twenties.

As parents, we need to lay off the shame and regularly remind our kids that what they're going through is totally NORMAL. They need our compassion, love, guidance, support, patience and protection. We need to check our expectations and help them navigate this overwhelming and confusing time. When we use those four condemning words tainted with the tone of disappointment, we stoke their self-doubt and communicate to them that they aren't intelligent. When we scold them for lack of control over their impulses (which, again, have been proven to be uncontrollable), we ignite their defensiveness instead of aiding their understanding. When we mistakingly expect our adult-sized children to act with the discretion and wisdom of an adult, we set them up for failure.

So, the more we know and understand the abilities and vulnerabilities of our teens, the better equipped we are to safeguard this critical stage in their development and in turn, their life-long mental health. If we are their advocates, their support system and their guides, they will come out of it with their hearts whole and their sensibilities intact. And don't we owe that to them, especially since we know better?

{J}

You can find more cool info about the teen brain at www.appsych.mrduez.com.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Evolution

(Published 2/14/14: OC Register-Ladera Post)

When you're a child, Valentine's Day means decorating a shoebox to collect fun notes and cards and sweet treats from your classmates. There may even be a lunch exchange or a party. And whether you like all of your classmates, you'll bring enough Valentines to share with everyone in your class. It's an "equal opportunity" holiday.

When you're a teenager, Valentine's Day has a little more at stake. The girls hope they get some sort of acknowledgement from the boy they like and the boys just hope that the girl likes them back. The communication about "the liking" is typically carried out by the friends of the supposed "likees." It's a "socially conscious" holiday.

When you're a young adult, Valentine's Day is about over-analyzing the level of investment of your first serious mate. Your expectations are high and the pressure's on. Your gift needs to represent exactly how you feel for him or her without overshooting or underestimating, either of which could be deadly. It's a "make it or break it" holiday.

When you're a newlywed, Valentine's Day is about indulgence. Fancy dinners, elaborate gifts, extensive foreplay and lingering passion. You and your spouse are completely into each other and demonstrating your undying love is paramount. If it's Facebook worthy, even better...you'll score major bonus points. It's a "more is better" holiday.

When you're a parent to babies or young children, Valentine's Day is about falling deeper in love. You never imagined your spouse could become more attractive but seeing them love your little ones--changing a diaper, singing a lullaby, kissing a boo-boo, telling a bedtime story--fertilizes that deep-rooted emotion you have for the person you've chosen as your partner in all things. It's a "count-your-blessings" holiday.

When you're a parent to tweens and teens, Valentine's Day is about remembering the reason you fell in love in the first place. Life is less about your marriage and more about your all-consuming, completely exhausting, totally thankless job of parenthood. Even though you're tired and the newlywed luster has faded while the business of life has settled in, it's more important than ever to sincerely demonstrate what a loving relationship looks like. Your children are watching and they need to see that the terms "unconditional" and "everlasting" are attainable and worthy of the work. It's a "put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is" holiday.

When you're an empty-nester, Valentine's Day is about a more refined level of indulgence than during your newlywed bliss. You enjoy life at a slower pace and have discovered a true understanding of what your lover wants and needs. On a daily basis, you act out your vows with more intention and promise than ever before. It's a "slow and steady" holiday.

So on this Valentine's Day, please take the opportunity to surround yourself with the people you care about, sharing your love and fostering relationships that will last throughout all the seasons of your life. In fact, the same goes for the other 364 days of the year. After all, there is no limit to love. Valentine's Day really should be a year-round holiday.

{J}

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Are You Ready For This?

So remember a few posts ago when we told you that we were almost done with our book and ready to find an agent? Well, we are back from the first step in that process: a whirlwind weekend at the San Diego State University Writers' Conference. It was AMAZING! An awesome collection of talent, inspiration, professionals, tips and tools. We learned more than we could have imagined and have retained most of it (there was A LOT). For the stuff that overflowed out of our filled-to-the-brim brains, we have our notes...pages of them!

We arrived on Friday with great excitement and hungry for the experience of our first conference. We didn't know what to expect and our "best case" scenario was that we would get good feedback from the agents that were reviewing our work. Let's just say that it FAR EXCEEDED our expectations! Most of the time I think we both felt as if we were floating around (on cloud 9...oops I used a cliché!) We were affirmed and encouraged to the point that we kept waiting for someone to say, "Oh, we were just kidding!" But that NEVER HAPPENED! What did happen was a weekend full of what we LOVE to do and great people that turned our burning passion into a roaring bonfire! We CANNOT WAIT to get started on making our finished first draft the best that it can be. So you locals out there, when you see us at CP with our noses in our computers, if we don't look up and say "Hi," it isn't you, we are just hard at work and on a deadline and only have so much time away from the kids!

If you have an interest in what a writers' conference looks like, here's a snapshot of our weekend:

ONE "Conference Choice Award" (see above)

TWO networking mixers (we met so many great writers, agents and editors!)

THREE "Ask the Agent" panels (i.e., the pages of notes...)

FOUR advanced reading appointments with literary agents (pure gold people!)

FIVE workshops on writerly topics (again with the notes...fingers cramping and all)

SIX "New Adult" genre writer friends that we met (forming a new writing group as we write this!)

SEVEN hours of sleep (each night) in a fabulous house with gorgeous views, water and chocolate placed lovingly by our beds, and TIME to discuss our day without interruption

EIGHT outfits each, just to cover all our bases

NINE dollars for each "Happy Hour" cocktail...we sipped them slowly as we networked

TEN is the rating we give this FABULOUS conference!

We will see you again SDSUWC and we can't wait!

{J&H}

Monday, January 20, 2014

Never Fear a Good Challenge

VS.

This cookie photo courtesy of Cinnamon Productions, Ladera Ranch...world's best bakery and writing spot.

(Article published in OC Register on Friday, January 17)

Happy New Year! Well, I guess so. I’m on a diet and it’s hard. Like many, I spent the period from early-October (when Halloween candy hit the shelves at a low cost) through January 1 (when greasy food hit the spot from the eve’s festivities), eating whatever and whenever I wanted. Most of that three month period of indulgence has landed around my waist and it’s time to reel it in.

This year, one of my dear friends inspired me to join her with a two-week healthy eating challenge. There’s a book, a Facebook page and a support group to make sure we are successful. I’m sure at the end of it, I'll be one of the success stories but right now, this is how I feel: HUNGRY.

Though I've cut my intake of calories, I’m really trying not to starve myself. Something that's become very clear to me is that my need for food is psychological and it’s causing a very physical reaction in my body: cravings, hunger pains, heightened sense of smell (I swear I can smell the cookies from Cinnamon Productions a mile away), and crankiness. My poor family. I’m safest to be around pretty much only when I’m sleeping. My kids have been fairly warned and are being as sweet as pie...so sweet I might take a bite.

In all seriousness, I’m told these symptoms are completely normal and will subside by week two or three, if I make it that far. When I complained about the diet to my mom recently, she asked why I felt compelled to suffer through it. That gave me pause to think. Why am I depriving myself? Why am I allowing the desire for what I can’t have affect my moods? Why do I need to adhere to the diet’s rigidity? (Love her...my protective mama!)

But then I asked myself, well, why not? I’m the one who got myself into this position: addicted to sugar and craving carbs, not to mention the extra pounds of padding I've added around the middle. I'm the one who's moody because I can't have what I want when I want it. I'm the one whose self-indulgence landed me here. So I really am the only one who can change my position and perspective, and that takes work.

I may not enjoy every step of the way and I may growl on occasion, but I will appreciate a healthier me when I get to the end of this challenge, and I'll be proud that I did something good for my body. Isn't that what every challenge is about: hard work, good results and a rewarding sense of accomplishment?

As you evaluate your plans for the rest of the year, don't shy away from the tougher jobs that take more of your effort to fulfill, for they are well worth the work. They humble us and help us grow. Whatever your challenge may be, stay the course, and don't forget to celebrate at the end of the race, preferably with something sweet. As for me, it'll be a CP chocolate chip muffin and a Diet Coke. I can't wait!

{J}