Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Our Not-so-secret Gardens

Our current read-aloud book is THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This book and I have a special history. Years ago, my grandmother, who loved best to spoil her grandchildren, told my mother she had a surprise for me. I have few vivid memories and this is one: my grandma holding the green jacket face-out, her shoulders slightly bent, her wispy hair brushed back. I also remember the disappointment I felt because I wanted a doll. But she knew best. My grandmother died twenty years ago, and this book is worth much, much more than a doll.

Now, it's like sharing a piece of their great-grandmother with my kids. I love the story of Mary's transformation as she discovers the world and life anew. Admittedly, my children aren't as riveted with this story as they were by our last read aloud. They move and interrupt a lot more. The words are more old-fashioned and difficult to follow, but they always ask if we are going to read it before bed. And sometimes I attempt to throw in a Yorkshire accent, which I can't do. Not at all.

To go along with our reading of THE SECRET GARDEN and as it is Spring, my children and I planted flowers. (This wasn't a well-planned-out curriculum adjunct to this book. It was me deciding, last minute, we'd stop by Lowe's on the way home from the park to buy flowers. I'm good at last minute. Last minute ice cream stops are the best.)

I'm not a gardener by any means. I tried to grow tomatoes when A was a baby. All they need is water and sunshine, but guess who can't grow tomatoes? (Me.) I'm glad I gave it another try. My kids loved scooping out the potting mix, digging holes, pressing their flowers into the holes, and watering with the giant watering can. J did an amazing job helping his sisters once I showed him the way. I dug up some earthworms which they stuck in their pots. (A loves earthworms...to death. They are "so cute" and she wants to play with them and make them her pets. Poor earthworms.) They are excited about expanding our garden beyond the three flower pots. First we'll see if we can keep these alive. (Remember the tomatoes?)


Here are our petunias, dianthuses, marigolds (all in a row), and dusty miller (which J nicknamed "the Narnia plant" because it looked like it had been snowed on).

We also tried our hand at planting seedlings: sunflowers, cantaloupes, lavender, and petunias. There are a lot of eggs hanging out in my fridge without their carton.

I think even Mary and Dickon would have been proud.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Picky Sleeper

K is not a picky eater. She has quite the palate, ready to try anything from hot salsa to artichoke dip to hummus. But she has very specific sleeping preferences. They come and go, but whatever they are at the time...they must be followed! Some of her on-and-off again slumber specifications are...

1) The light must be on while she sleeps. If she wakes up and realizes it's off, she will scream for me to turn it on, even if it's two o'clock in the morning.

2) Her blankets must be just so in her crib. Most of the time we get it wrong (even when we get it right). "Not like that, like this!" she admonishes us in this deep, guttural voice that's really adorable. Then she fluffs out her blanket in her crib, smooths out her blanket to the crib's edge, and gently lifts the edge as she slides her feet and legs underneath.

All the times I just wrote the word crib remind me she's probably ready for a big girl bed.

3) Recently, my husband puts her to bed most nights, and we tell the same story every time(creative genius: my husband). It's about a princess, a cupcake dress, dragons, and pancakes. If we get the original wrong--there. is. no. forgiveness. (Enter: adorable deep, guttural voice again.)

4) We each have songs we sing to her. Mine are Oh Lord My Redeemer (a shortened what-I-can-remember version) and Let it Go (also a shortened what-I-can-remember version). Sometimes spiders fall down on the mountain tonight, not a cupcake to be seen, and I get in a lot of trouble for changing the words. (Pretty much bullet point number three, but to music.)

5) Right now she is sleeping with Big Minnie, Little Minnie, and Olaf. This is pretty standard, I think, for a two-almost-three year-old. But she went through a phase, not too long ago, where she fell asleep with random, non-cuddly things (for example: A's EZ-Bake Oven cake mixes or a box filled with solar-powered cockroaches) (a going-away present from a friend) (coolest things ever). After she fell asleep I would slip said objects out of her crib.

6) And books. Before Daddy's Best Story, we were reading books instead, and she'd insist on taking the book into her crib with her--along with any other book she could spot in the room. She'd read them or arrange them around her crib before she fell asleep (kind of like a small child's version of feng shui). (I usually remove the books, too, because ouch.) One day, during a nap, I checked on her after she'd fallen asleep. This is what I found. The book is almost as big as her. I love it.

                                                                Be still my heart.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Sum of His Creations

With Spring come warmer days and more time spent outside. We've been to the park every day the last three days--and many more times beside that. (Another homeschooling perk: my children have more time to run and play outside.) Lately, every time I step outside, the beautiful weather and smells of Spring fill my heart with gratitude.

I'm reading about the Creation in my scriptures right now. I didn't plan it that way--reading about the Creation at the advent of Spring. But it works, doesn't it? When Spring comes, I'm always more tuned in to the world around me. Maybe Heavenly Father made the Spring as a sort of seasonal sacrament--a way for us to remember Him. It's a time to showcase the sum of His creations: a tree bent forever by the wind, duck eggs by the pond, the birds calling to each other from the trees, the blue blue blue sky, the sweet smells of blooming plants on the wind...

I believe this world He gave us was meant to soothe and lift as well. Sometime I forget to go outside. I stay inside, busy with wiping and feeding, teaching and cleaning. It's easy to get stuck in those mothering doldrums, but I find the quickest and surest remedy is to step outside. My spirits are often lifted by simply taking a walk or going to the park. And my children are the same...nearly always happy when they're outside.

My kids running along a pond with their cousins. See how happy?

I think they'd be content to live outside, and I hope they learn gratitude as I remind them, "Heavenly Father made this day for us."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Number the Stars

I recently began reading aloud to my older two before bed (while their baby sister slumbers in her crib) (or screams from her crib). And I love it! I don't know why I didn't begin this tradition earlier. The first book I read to them, NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry, was one I'd read a couple times already. We've been doing a (very casual) unit study of WWII, and this book (which I love and own) coincided nicely. It's based on one of my favorite true stories--when the Danish helped their Jewish citizens escape to Sweden during the German occupation.

The novel centers around the fictional character, Annemarie Johansen, who lives in 1943 Copenhagen with her family. When their dear friends, the Rosens, find they are to be "relocated" with the rest of the country's Jewish citizens, the Johansen's harbor their daughter, Ellen (also Annemarie's best friend). They undertake the dangerous task of helping the family escape Danish soil, and Annemarie learns about bravery and what she is truly capable of.

The author paints a good (middle-grade) description of the deprivation and loss of privacy that occupation brings to the country's citizens. And she has a way of writing so that younger middle-grade children aren't lost. She reinforces themes and character motivations more than once-- subtly enough that I didn't catch it when I read it by myself. Yet, I didn't have to stop and explain a whole lot to my children (who ask a lot of questions).

Bonus: there are a lot of cliff hangers. My son was very frustrated with all the unknowns I left him with at night, always begging me for more "hints."

NUMBER THE STARS holds a special place in my heart. Perhaps because I've walked the streets of Copenhagen myself. Or because my children and husband are part-Danish. (My husband's grandfather left Denmark just before the beginning of WWII.) Or because it's just that good. And well, John Newbery agrees. Can't argue with the Newbery (of which Ms. Lowry has two).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bead by Bead, Word by Word

The other day K, who is two, strung beads. These weren't jumbo-sized toddler beads, but beads meant for the dexterity of five or six year-old fingers. It was a little awkward. Her fingers fumbled with the plastic string and the tiny hole. Occasionally, she'd drop it all and beads would fall off. Then she'd pick it up and continue again. She refused any help, and she didn't lose her temper once (which surprised me with how many times she dropped it). With incredible patience, she spent half an hour creating this:

(A necklace? Bracelet? Keychain? I just see two little, chubby, kissy hands.)
It takes a long time to write a book. A. Long. Time. It took me a year to draft A HIGH SEAS HEIST. It took me a year and a half to revise it. (During this time I also had a baby and moved three times. Plus, I think I'm slow. Other writers can probably manage this writing-a-book thing much quicker.)

I suppose the knowledge of how long it takes to write a novel makes writing difficult now. And part of the reason (just part) I'm working between three WIP's is that I get impatient with the unfinished state of one and jump to another. (Crazy idea--if I actually stuck to one, I'd probably have a finished manuscript by now.)

K's beads hang over my computer now (next to their twin which was strung by A). They remind me that just as she patiently created something bead-by-bead, I can do the same word-by-word. It may take some time and fumbling through. It may fall apart a few times, but in the end I'll have my book again.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Creativity Sparks

J has always been creative. Ever since I began homeschooling him, his creativity has exploded. (Literally exploded. I find pieces of his creativity all over the house.) I attribute this largely to time. Time is one of the reasons I chose to go the homeschool route for now. From my end, it's more time to spend with my kids. From my kids' end--it's more time to Be Kids. (And they are really good at being kids.)

He loves to draw, and he's talented! Neither my husband or I are artistically inclined--so we're not sure where the talent for drawing comes from. I bought him a sketchbook which he has filled with drawings. And lately, he's been creating his own comic book. He even made two (full-color) illustrations for a chapter book I've been working on. I keep these in my desk and look at them now and again. Inspiration for when my mind gets stuck.

Ten points if you can guess what my book is about.

He enjoys writing, and he's been working on his own I Survived story. (He loves the I Survived books by Lauren Tarshis.) Today he built a tooth fairy house out of Duplo Legos for his sisters. Yesterday he directed a play with his sisters. He's working on a book about trolls (inspired by our recent troll escapades from yesterday's post). He made himself an ipad out of paper (with all the app icons). And the make-believe scenarios (time travel, Bigfoot, Jurassic Park) he creates and plays with his sisters are impressively detailed.

For a mom who values creativity as much as vegetables and sunshine, this makes me very happy.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Better than a Caterpillar

We recently moved, and we are now in the process of discovering our new city's parks. Last week, my daughters and I visited a park for the first time. J stayed home with my husband because he didn't feel well, and we were left to discover alone. I felt like I found a treasure that day. This park had the usual playground fare, but it had a giant metal caterpillar for my girls to climb and hang from. It had a merry-go-round. I haven't seen a merry-go-round in a playground for years. Maybe they are disappearing with the metal slides and wooden playscapes of yesteryear. And well--disappear it did...

We told J about the very fun playground we'd visited, and I promised to bring him back. Three days later, we drove across town, pulled up to the playground, and...nothing. There was no playground equipment, only a big sandy pit. It looked like a giant had come by and plucked everything up. (Or a city had come by and removed all the outdated equipment for a remodel.) (The giant theory is much more exciting.)

My children were disappointed. I looked up a new park on my phone, plugged in the address on my GPS, and this is what we found when we arrived.

Disappointment resolved. That's a three-story slide. It also has swing shaped like a bowl and this wavy ride-on...thing. (Yeah, yeah. I'm sure real, technical words exist for these play structures.) J kept calling it the playground from the future. What started out as a setback to our afternoon ended up being pretty amazing. (Cue analogy for life.) In fact, I kind of feel bad for that old caterpillar and merry-go-round. My kids recovered so quickly. (Moment of silence for dead playground equipment.)

Another bonus: there's a duck pond. And a bridge with a troll under it. (Really, a big, hairy troll that chased my children across the football field.) (Okay, the troll looked like me.)*

*Disclaimer: While I spend LOTS of time with my children and write creative children's books, the make-believe-play part of me doesn't surface very often. However, my kids are bosses at playing make-believe with each other. BOSSES.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Simple Math of Scriptures and Prayer

This morning, I taught my son a formula for subtracting '9' from any number. "You subtract ten and add one," I told him. "You are very good at subtracting ten and adding one. You can do it." But he couldn't. It was just too hard. I was asking too much.

Sometimes I feel that way with the simple commandments the Lord has given us to read our scriptures and say our prayers. "Just open your scriptures and read," He pleas. "Just hit your knees at least once today. You already know how to do these things. I know you can do it."

However, stubborn Jessie thinks, "Not right now. I am too busy. I have to teach this lesson or clean these dishes or take this much needed nap. Later. Later I will read. Later I will pray." Then later comes, and I'm too tired. It's just too hard. He is asking too much.

It's silly, really. The Lord doesn't ask for much of my time--a few minutes a day even. The truth is, the days I set aside time to read and pray (which is best done in the morning before the children wake up), my day is different. As in worlds different. There's more patience and love and grace.

I recently read this great talk by Brother Ridd of the Young Men's General Presidency. He addresses this very thing.

So why doesn't everyone do them (scriptures and prayer)? Perhaps one reason is that we don't necessarily see dramatic negative consequences if we miss a day or two--just as your teeth don't all decay and fall out the first time you don't brush. Most of the consequences, positive and negative, will come later, over time. But they will come.

                                                               picture from lds.org

It's so easy to fall into the trap of not believing such a small thing will make a difference. It would almost be easier to believe if it was a BIG thing. A big thing equals big blessings, right? But as Brother Ridd reminds us,

There is great power in the compounding effect of little things done each day...The compounding effect of daily disciplines, with purpose and real intent, can make a big difference in all areas of your life. It can mean the difference between struggling through an ordinary life or being immensely successful and filling the measure or your creation.

I love that quote. I'll pass on the ordinary life, thank you very much.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Ugly Pumpkin

Yesterday, for the Twitter picture book party (#PBparty), we tweeted our favorite picture book. I have many, but the first that came to mind was The Ugly Pumpkin by Dave Horowitz. It's so funny, and there's one phrase in that book my son and I used to quote over and over. (I'd share but it would spoil it all.)

It's The Ugly Duckling with a twist, only it's a pumpkin who believes he's ugly. For all its silliness, there's a sad little moment there in the pumpkin patch at the end...just before the pumpkin discovers the radiant truth about where he comes from.

I bought it for J when he was three or four. Now he's eight, and he still remembers the book--even though we haven't read it for awhile. (Note to self: read The Ugly Pumpkin again to my children.)

I hear a lot of "please, don't send rhyming picture books!" from agents. I realize they know the market and I don't, but I declare that some of my favorite books are rhyming books. I don't think this book would be the same without its clever rhyme.

Another bonus, it's a Halloween book and a Thanksgiving book. Two holidays in one. You don't have to put it away until Christmas. (But really, I don't put it away ever.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It's a Picture Book Party!

I've been participating in a picture book contest and its accompanying Twitter party this week (#PBparty). I love writer Twitter parties--everyone comes together and shares similar ideas, or they pitch to agents. (Now the pitching-to-agents parties are really exciting. I've had two requests for queries come out of #PitMad, and one even turned into a partial request.)

 picture credit Michelle Hauck of Michelle4Laughs

My official foray into writing actually began with a picture book--a new sibling story with magic called CHARLIE NICKEL GETS HIS WISH. Then the desire to become the next Stephenie Meyer interrupted my picture book scribblings, and I attempted to write the YA novel that was heard around the world. (I did write a novel--it was read by me, and I'm not sure I want to read it again. So much for being heard around the world.)

Once I got the whole Steph Meyer thing out of my system, it was onto middle grade and picture books (and no turning back). I'm still querying my middle-grade novel, A HIGH SEAS HEIST. I keep thinking I'm finished, and then another wave of belief in my book will hit. Or an agent will pop up on my radar who I think may like it. Regardless of whether she ends up in print or not, Liza and her high sea antics will always hold a special place in my heart.

I'm working on three middle grade projects now. (I can't decide which one to stick with because I love them all.) And every once in awhile, an idea for a picture book will take hold, and I'll run with it. Now I have a few picture books I'm proud to call my own.

Next week I'll know if I made it to the agent round. While I think my entry is good, I'm sure I disqualified myself by not reading the entry directions carefully enough. (And here I am, always telling my son to read all the directions.) But contests always come with a little adrenaline and a lot of fun.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Here at the End of the Rainbow

Before I began homeschooling my children (a whole two months ago), I had grand ideas of how my days would go. (And I'm loving these laid-back, carefree days of homeschool. LOVING IT.) But, as life goes, reality doesn't always quite match up to expectation.

For example, I imagined I would suddenly have the time to do all those cute themed activities I'd pinned on Pinterest. Not so.

Today is St. Patrick's Day. A leprechaun did not leave green foot prints on our toilet and green pee in our toilet. We did not have green eggs and green pancakes (Sam I Am). Our beverages did not have cute little shamrock-shaped apple slices perched on the glasses. We did not make rainbow crafts or do St. Patrick's Day word searches. (And to mothers who did these things, you are amazing.)

We did make shamrock-shaped pancakes, which I perfected the flipping-of without the breaking-of by the third pancake. I did give my kids a quick history lesson on St. Patrick and discuss our Irish heritage. (This comes from both sides--even the Peruvian side!) And then we moved onto the regularly-scheduled home school day.

(Well, J, in the spirit of things, did hide the girls' shamrock pancakes while they were changing and left a note from a leprechaun. A was very upset about this, so the shamrock pancakes were procured from their hiding place and all belief in leprechauns probably shattered. This might be a good thing. Aren't leprechauns supposed to be naughty little creatures?)

Just like my ideas of having cute theme days (which still may happen if I can figure out how to clone myself) so goes my "ideal" homeschool schedule. I find making schedules for myself fun (wait, doesn't everyone find this fun?), but sticking to these schedules doesn't always follow. While I was in the preparation stages of homeschool, I mapped out our days. This included two hours of study in the morning and two in the afternoon (and lots of other things like exercising during nap time, but that's fodder for another blog post).

In the end, I've found we need to finish our schooling in the morning. By the afternoons, I've lost the attention of my son. I've learned we have to start early, as in the moment he wakes up (breakfast excepted, of course). I've learned J's brain turns off after a few hours of school. And I've learned it's okay to take breaks. The "take breaks" one is important. Most days he can sit and listen during our schooling hours, but there have been times his mind and body need to run, shoot hoops, play make believe with his sisters, or draw in his sketchbook...instead of math or grammar or science. I've tried to plow through lessons on those days, but this has always proven grueling and unproductive.

No green sensory slime making here, but my kids still learned about St. Patty. No "ideal" schedule, but I'm learning every day what's best for my kids. Reality doesn't always match up to expectation, but expectations give way for our own, tailor-made reality.

And I love that reality.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Let's Start with a Fairy Tale

Tonight we took the kids to see Cinderella. I loved the movie. I want to own the movie. While I do like the sword-wielding, arrow-fighting princesses of late, I loved that this movie showed there are other ways of being strong and brave.

It was K's debut trip to the movie theater, and at first it terrified her. I suppose if I put myself in her two year-old shoes, I would feel like the television had swallowed me. She clung to us until I took her out, but when we returned during the Frozen short, she smiled her shy smile like it had been made just for her. And while I'd like to say she remained enraptured for the entire feature-length film, this would not be true. Red vine bribes were necessary. Also, she wanted to scale the movie theater seats. I consider ourselves lucky K didn't burst into song.

A declared her favorite scene was "when she got her new dress" and her not-so-favorite scene...well, I know it had something to do with the stepmother. (Yes, I wish I was the type of mother who remembered everything my children said, but mothering comes at the expense of remembering things. It's a conundrum.) What I do remember is afterward, at Chick-fil-a, A and I spent most of the time in the bathroom. (The forgetful parts of my mothering brain exclude poop. This is also a conundrum.) She asked when we could buy the movie. Sweet girl, maybe I'll take her to go see it again, just she and me.

And J--well, I believe he liked it. He was more concerned with eating the red vine bribes I bought for his baby sister than watching an epic love story. Also, at every sad part or sort-of-sad part, he would look at me and say, "Don't cry!" He HATES it when I cry, and cry during movies I often do. However, I didn't cry during this one...although there were many parts that merited a cry (like when Prince Kit curled up next to his dying father and wept)(so sad). J did write a "diery" entry when he returned home. While a night of wrangling a two year-old and the Chick fil-a bathroom was still fresh on my mind, he reminded me...

The day was asome (awesome) here. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A New Theme

This blog post marks the beginning of a new blogging theme. Whereas the previous posts (recently few and far between) have been primarily on writing, the future blog posts will be on writing, faith, and motherhood. And so it begins (without any fanfare)...okay, maybe a little bit of trumpet would be appropriate.