Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Shepherd's Dinner

This is my Portuguese Nativity set.
One of our family Christmas traditions is to have a Shepherd's Dinner. I love it because it's so simple to pull off, yet it still feels special.

The purpose of the dinner is to think of what it must have been like to be one of the shepherds who first visited the baby Jesus. We usually have our dinner sitting on the floor picnic-style in front of a fire in the fireplace with the lights turned low. The little kids like to wear their bathrobes.

Before we did everything gluten-free, we served pita bread. Now we serve either Progresso Lentil soup or lentil casserole (click the link for a recipe like mine) with dried fruits, nuts, and maybe a salad. Depending how brave I feel, we may have grape juice. This year, it'll probably be water.

After we eat, we read the Christmas story from Luke. The little kids usually like to act out the story, and sometimes we sing a few carols, too.

Do you have a special holiday tradition?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Anti-Bragging Christmas Letter

It's that time of year--time for the Christmas letter. I try to stay away from bragging about my kids' achievements because you already know my kids are outrageously talented and your kids/nieces/ nephews/ grandkids are too. That leaves funny, and lots of funny things have happened this year.

(Since this blog is for the world to see, I'm sharing pictures that don't compromise my younger kids' identity. These were all taken by my friend, Rachael at rachaelnelsonphotography.com . Isn't she awesome?)

So here's funny thing #1: My 3-year-old has an imaginary baby. He named it "Sit Down." We're having a lot of problems with that name: "Sit down, Sit Down; Stand up, Sit Down." He also has a stuffed lamb named "Tree Pants."
My kids are wonderful and they keep me so busy--sometimes crazy busy.

This is my oldest son. He's 15. Whenever he's behind the wheel, he's smiling.

Time for funny thing #2: One day my daughter couldn't find a belt and her pants kept slipping down. Her brother said, "Why don't you just yank on that strappy thing and put it on the next buttonhole." So many of his pants have adjustable waistbands that he thought all pants had them.

This is my only daughter. She totally rocks and is by far the tallest girl in her school.

Her funny thing is #3: "I went to the library to get a book about being tall. Wouldn't you know it was on the bottom shelf?"

My third son is going to be a teenager soon, which means half my kids will be teenagers. Wow! So far, it hasn't been so bad.

Funny #4: My son got to take a tour of the local television news station. I asked him what he learned. He said, "I learned you can get fired for farting on the air." When I asked for an elaboration, he said, "the guy told me that if you drop an F-bomb while you're on TV, you'll lose your job."

Last of all, this is my husband and me. Every year gets better--not easier, just better.

We hope you have a peaceful and merry Christmas.


The Jamisons

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Gratitude Project #6--Driving through Roadblocks

We're all addicts. At least that's what Angeles Arrien says in Gratitude: The Essential Practice for Happiness and Fulfillment. Her theory is that four universal addictive behaviors prevent us from feeling gratitude:
  • The Need to Know--some of us really want to know what's going to happen, whether it's in our relationships, our work, or elsewhere. We like to control our outcome and we have trouble trusting that everything is going to be okay. Can you see how this works against gratitude? If we wait until we know everything to be grateful, we'll always be waiting. (I am sooo guilty of this.)
  • Fixation on what's not working instead of what is working--This one's self-explanatory. It's so easy to focus on the failing grade, the bad review, the stain on the carpet, etc. Gratitude requires us to focus on what's going right.
  • Perfection--A lot of us think that if we just work hard enough, we can achieve perfection. If you have this addiction, Angeles suggests you strive instead for excellence. Be grateful that you're doing your best.
  • Intensity--Some of us fear that our lives will become dull or boring. To compensate, we make mountains out of mole hills and dramatize the bad stuff. I'm only guilty of this one during one week of the month. ;-)
Learning about these four addictive behaviors really knocked the wind out of me. It makes sense that I won't be able to feel gratitude while I'm thinking in these ways and I spend quite a bit of time thinking in these ways. Knowledge is power, right?

I've loved immersing myself in gratitude this month. I have so much to be grateful for, and one is being able to write things that people read. Thanks for reading. What are you grateful for?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gratitude Project #5--Ordinary Stuff

"Never forget how easy it is to forget.
I wish I could tell my younger self: Make a photo diary before you leave this place! You think you won’t forget, but you will! Instead of taking photos of unusual sights, take a photo of the most usual sights. In the future, you’ll be a lot more interested in seeing a photo of your dorm-room closet or your laundromat than seeing a photo of the Louvre."
—Gretchen Rubin

This week, I'm following Gretchen's advice and taking pictures of ordinary stuff. I don't know about you, but taking pictures always makes me feel more grateful.

Here are some pictures my husband took a long time ago of one of my kids who had a lot of trouble falling asleep. It used to frustrate me to have him fight sleep every single night. Now I think these pictures are funny, and I'm so glad my husband took pictures of ordinary, every day events.

Sleeping beside the bed

A boring book did the trick this time.

This time he chose to sleep in a box with his bum on the pillow
For more sleeping pictures, see this post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Next Book

I've finished writing another book, and today I'm answering questions about it.

I was tagged by A.L. Sowards, author of Espionage. Here's her website , facebook page  and twitter (@ALSowards).

So about my current project:

1: What is the working title of your book?

Emma: A Latter-day Tale

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wanted to write a book about a life coach who likes to play matchmaker.

3: What genre does your book fall under?

Romantic comedy with a smidgen of inspiration

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Whew, I hate these kinds of questions. My two male leads look Bob from The Biggest Loser and a younger version of Mel Gibson. The female lead looks kind of like the little cartoon girl from Brave only she's 23 and six feet tall. How's that for a realistic cast?

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Emma sets out to make the perfect match, her friend ends up with a burned behind instead of a new boyfriend; nevertheless, Emma doesn't give up, coaching her friend from one disaster to another until she makes the perfect match.

 6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I just heard that Cedar Fort will be publishing Emma. The release date is around August 2013.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A little over a year.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Books by Elodia Strain, Rachael Anderson, and Melanie Jacobson.

9: Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Jane Austen's Emma.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My book pokes fun at country music since Emma's nemesis, Jena Farley, is a rising country music star. Don't worry, country music lovers, you won't be offended. Most of all, though, it's a book about learning to overcome perfectionism and learning to love yourself.

Here is a list of authors I've tagged to join the hop for week 22 on November 21st. It's totally up to them whether they participate though. I'm a really lazy tagger. I hope you’ll visit their blogs and learn more about their books. Maybe one of them will become your new favorite author!

1 Laurie L.C. Lewis
2 Misty Moncur
3 Mandi Ellsworth
4 Mandi Slack

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gratitude Project #4--Books about Gratitude

I always love to read Christmas stories in December. Why not read books about gratitude in November? Here are a few books that help me feel thankful:

Picture Books:

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig: This is a cute story by the author of Shrek.

Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Charles C. Mann and Paul Kennedy: This book contains photos of people from different countries who are standing in front of their homes with all their possessions. The differences are a good reminder for me of how rich I am compared to most people in the world.

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. I love all books by Patricia Polacco. This one is about a teacher who made a difference for a young girl with dyslexia.

The Firefighter's Thanksgiving by Maribeth Boelts. This book is about some hard-working firefighters and how some kind citizens thanked them for their dedication.

Longer Fiction:
It's Only a Mountain: Dick and Rick Hoyt, Men of Iron by Sam Nall
(or watch videos about Team Hoyt on YouTube.com)--Dick Hoyt is famous for running the Boston Marathon while pushing his son, Rick, in a wheelchair. This is their story.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This is one of my favorite classics. It's a great reminder of how we should all be grateful for our blessings.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. This is a story of a Christian family in Holland who went to the German concentration camps for hiding Jews. Despite her unimaginable trials, Corrie fought to hold onto gratitude and forgiveness.

Do you have any books about gratitude or Thanksgiving to recommend?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Gratitude Project #3--Thank You Visit

Fifteen years ago, I woke up in an ambulance after a car accident. I was nine months pregnant with my second child and had suffered a concussion and a grand mal seizure. Without the help of EMTs, I doubt my son and I would be alive today.

Since I had a long recovery, I never took the time to thank the fire department and paramedics for rescuing me. It's always been in the back of my mind, but I had a bunch of excuses, like the fact that I didn't remember the paramedics' names. Today, my son and I headed down to the firestation near where we had the accident. We brought a thank-you note, a picture of our family, and a jug of orange juice. It felt good to finally say thanks, and I think it made the firefighters happy too.

 Vaughn E. Worthen, Ph.D suggests that a good way to express thanks is to make a gratitude visit: "Think about someone who has been kind or has done something for you whom you have never properly thanked. Consider, for example, parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, coaches, and employers. Write that person a gratitude letter, being specific about the details of the kindness toward you and how it affected you. If possible, deliver it in person, sharing the contents and expressing your appreciation. Tell the person how and what you are doing now. This approach will not only enhance your own feelings of gratitude but it will also encourage the people you visit to continue in beneficial service to others, knowing that the service is gratefully received."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gratitude Project #2--Creating a Positive Mood

Everyone wants to be happy and grateful, but some days it's not that easy. Even people who've achieved their highest goals can feel unhappy. (Just think of Elvis.) One key to living with gratitude is learning how to create a positive mood. In his book, Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins writes, "Emotion is created by motion . . . Even the most minute changes in our facial expressions or our gestures will shift the way that we're feeling in any moment."

I tried some of Tony's suggested actions, and they did make me feel happier. Here are a few:
  • Smile--Tony suggests smiling at yourself in a mirror for five minutes a day.
  • Laugh--Watch a funny movie or try to copy the way someone else laughs.
  • Skip--You'll feel silly, but it'll change your mood.
I've also created my own list of things that make me feel instantly happier. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Sing along with the radio
  • Dance
  • Run
  • Look at my kids' art
  • Read picture books
  • Decorate
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Write a Thank-You note
  • Do something kind for someone else
  • Plant some happy thoughts
What makes you feel happy?

Monday, October 29, 2012

My Gratitude Project #1--Thankful Turkey

I had a nightmare that my house was really a shack with a dirt floor. It was so small there was only room for one bed. A government inspector came by to look at my kids' underwear and declared it to be too dirty. As if that wasn't bad enough, I learned that my mortgage was very large. Then I woke up, saw that I lived in my little house with a real floor, and felt incredibly grateful for my middle-class life.

Lately, I've wished I could hook myself up to an IV filled with positive thoughts. Our world is so full of negativity. Could it be that we need a little more Thanksgiving in our lives? Like a lot of people, I usually spend a lot of time in October and November getting ready for Christmas. This year, I'm changing things up and celebrating Thanksgiving with wild abandon.

The Thankful Turkey

I found a cute idea in this month's Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The author copied an idea from Elf on the Shelf, and invented a new tradition: the Talk Turkey. I happened to have a little wooden turkey and hot-glued a clothespin to the back. I call mine the Thankful Turkey. Every night, we take turns hiding the turkey in a different place. Whoever hides it will also attach a note to help us think of things we're grateful for. I can see people using the Thankful Turkey at work, at home or at school. It doesn't have to be just for families.

I was a little worried my kids wouldn't participate, but in their signature style, they're running with it. Here's a sampling of gratitude notes they've attached. They made me laugh:

"What do other people have that you don't?"

"Why are you thankful for teenagers?"

"Why are you thankful for violence?"

And, last but not least, this one placed on the pillow of my son who hates turkey: "Why are you thankful for turkey?"

What do you think I should write on my Thankful Turkey next?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Congratulations, Karen!

Soooo, the winner for the Jane Austen Giveaway Hop is Karen Bowen. Congratulations, Karen. I'll be e-mailing you.

I also feel like I've won today because I got my first report of e-book sales, and they are much better than I thought. Thank you, readers.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jane Austen Giveaway Hop

Welcome Jane Austen fans! I couldn't resist taking part in the Jane Austen Giveaway Hop. This giveaway is open to residents of the US.

I will be giving away a copy of my book, Persuasion: A Latter-day Tale. It is a modern version of Jane Austen's Persuasion. As the title suggests, it's LDS fiction and thus reflects the values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Fill out this form to enter. If you want to leave a comment, let me know which Jane Austen character you'd choose to dress as for Halloween:

Thanks for participating. Here are the other blogs participating in the Giveaway Hop:

Comments: This Halloween, I'm dressing as Mrs. Weston from Jane Austen's Emma. If you had to dress as a Jane Austen character, which one would you choose?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Saving a Hummingbird

I don't know what it is about our yard that makes birds want to come die here. Over the summer, my kids found several different birds in the final stages of life--two baby doves who'd been attacked by a larger bird and a young robin. Each time, my boys went to the rescue and each time the birds died.

When my boys found a dying hummingbird lying beside our flowerbed, I was very skeptical that we'd be able to help it. It looked like its wing was broken, so I told the boys to let it die in peace. Fortunately, they didn't listen to me.

They mixed up some sugar water and outfitted a box for the bird. Two of my boys were going camping with the scouts that night. Before they left, they each said a prayer that the hummingbird would be okay. That was the clincher for me. Now I couldn't let the bird die.

Through some internet searching, we figured out that it was illegal to keep a hummingbird and that we needed to hand it over to wildlife rescuers. The problem was that it was Friday night and none of the rescuers answered our calls. Meanwhile, we fed the bird several times an hour through a syringe. My husband and son even woke up in the middle of the night to feed it a few times.

By Saturday, we'd learned that there was one rescuer in our state who accepted hummingbirds. About this time, my kids got hit with the stomach flu and interest in feeding the hummingbird waned significantly. I was kind of hoping the wildlife rescuers would come pick up the bird, or at least answer their phone.

 It's a good thing that little bird is cute or I might have given up on her. It was fun to watch her little tongue go up into the syringe to suck out the sugar water. She started singing a little bit--just a few tweets. I'd never heard a hummingbird sing before.

By Tuesday, the bird was still alive, and I was the only one feeding it most of the time. The wildlife rescuers still hadn't answered their phone, so I drove the bird up to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah and dropped it off. They assured me they'd do their best to help our little hummer heal. I also learned that feeding the bird sugar water mixed with soy milk hadn't been the best idea. At least it kept her alive for four days. 

Since the rescuers at WRCNU never answer their phone, I'll never know what happened to our hummingbird. It was a sweet experience for me to be so close to a hummingbird for so long. I gained a new respect for God's creatures. We, as humans, are so much more powerful than we realize.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Punishments from a Parent's World

The other day, as I helped my son with his word search homework, it occurred to me that if prisoners were forced to do word searches, lawyers might consider it cruel and unusual punishment, especially if said prisoners were suspected terrorists held off the coast of Cuba. Then I thought of all the ex-cons who keep going back to prison. Apparently, the thought of living with a bunch of murderers and rapists isn't enough to keep them from coming back. Maybe we need to change the sentences. Just imagine a judge saying one of these:
  • I sentence you to read every edition of Thomas the Tank Engine every day for the next ten years.
  • I sentence you to five years as a passenger in a driver's education vehicle.
  • I sentence you to live in a cell carpeted with Legos.
  • I sentence you to wait in an emergency room for twenty years.
  • I sentence you to ten years of potty training.
  • I sentence you to three hours a day of word searches.
  • I sentence you to paint a room with the help of six kindergarteners.
What do you think? Are these punishments too much? Or would they be considered unconstitutional?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Character Bible

I'm pretty good at the thirty second answer. That's when my husband asks me a question and it takes me thirty seconds to respond with something like, "What was that again?" I always have a lot on my mind--whether it's planning the next chapter in my novel, the next cub scout den meeting, or the next birthday celebration. My mind can only store so much information before I go into overload and forget really important things like feeding my children.

One of the best tools I've found for remembering stuff in my novel is the character bible. This is a place where you keep details about each character in your book. Without my character bible, I find myself forgetting things like a character's age or occupation.

I searched all over the Internet for ideas from other authors about how to make a character bible and found . . . almost nothing. If you have a character bible, I'd love to hear how you've done yours. Here's how I made the character bible for my latest project:

First, I compiled a generic list of questions I need to answer about each character. These questions fall into several catagories:

Physical Description: this includes things like the character's age, height, hair color, clothing styles, etc.

Family Background: It's important to have a sense of the character's family background. It makes her seem more realistic, instead of something I created out of a vacuum.

Occupation: This section includes details about career, office environment, and degrees.

I don't answer all the questions for all the characters. They're just there to fill in as I go along. My character bible also includes additional information that can't be put in a question-and-answer format:

Backstory: This section can include just about anything that may find its way into the plot--scandals, traumas from childhood, dating history, etc.

Secrets: Most characters have secrets that are fun to reveal a little at a time over the course of the novel or, sometimes, mostly at the end.

Character Arc: The character arc is what happens to the inside of the character over the course of the story. In the beginning, the character will have certain beliefs and values. The incidents in the novel will cause the character to react and change their beliefs and values. It's good to map this out, so your characters aren't just bouncing around, learning nothing.

Pictures: I like to add pictures of people who look like my characters. I do this the low-tech way--printing them straight off the Internet, cutting them out, and stapling them to my questionaires.

Maps: Sometimes it helps me to draw maps of a character's home or workplace. I've also drawn maps of dining room tables, so I can keep track of who's sitting where.

As I write,  I add more and more details to each characters' pages.

I have kept my character bible online, in a folder, and in a bound notebook. This time around, I'm using a three-ring binder.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Memories of Cape Verde

I've been procrastinating this post since last spring when the Church dedicated its first stake in Cape Verde. I was lucky enough to be a missionary there almost twenty years ago, and I really miss my wonderful friends. It's ironic that the Cape Verdians are the poorest people I've ever known, yet they're also the happiest. I had so much fun with them.

One of my favorite memories is of the first New Beginnings on Fogo island. Here are the beautiful young women, who dressed in the value colors. They also did a skit, which happened to be the first skit I ever wrote for young women.

This next picture is one of my favorites because it reminds me to be grateful for all I have. These young women, who were poor even by Cape Verde standards, decorated their wall with pictures from a church magazine.

Here is a typical group listening to a missionary discussion. My mini missionary companion was braiding hair.

This woman was a teacher and the wife of the branch president. The background has a good view of her street on Fogo.

This young mother visited us regularly with her children. In Cape Verde, the government made it so difficult and expensive to marry that most people didn't bother. She and her husband were waiting for the papers to go through so they could marry and then get baptized. This picture was taken in the sister missionaries' apartment.

Here's another picture of our apartment. Manuela was our maid, and Nina is her daughter. All the missionaries had maids because we ate beans every day, and there wasn't a crock pot. Manuela also did our laundry by hand. My companion teased her all the time about men we were going to set her up with.

I wish I could post all the pictures I have, but this post is probably already going to take forever to load. So, I'll just sum up by saying I'm grateful I got to live with these people for a few short months. They didn't have hot water or running water or electricity. Most of their clothes were thrift store rejects. But they have achieved a joy that most Americans spend their lifetimes pursuing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pluck the Day

Appreciating the little things. (This is my son's creation from a mini cucumber and blueberries.)

I still feel like I was spared 11 years ago. I've ridden plenty of airplanes. I've been to the top of the World Trade Center and lived near the Capitol. I wasn't much different from the people who lost their lives or their loved ones on 9/11. How blessed I am to be alive and to have my family members with me. I've had closer calls in my life too--times when I've survived an accident, and two times when my husband avoided being in the same building as a shooter.

The phrase Carpe Diem means more than seize the day to me (thanks to my Latin teacher.) The word carpe also means to pluck, as in "I plucked the grapes." I think of each day as a ripe fruit, ready for plucking. If we don't pick that fruit now, it's wasted. Right now, I have a bunch of zucchinis in my garden that I didn't pluck when I should have, so they're enormous and not quite as delectable. Each day of our life passes quickly, and it gets so the years are flying by. I appreciate my life more when I slow down a little to talk, take pictures, or do something fun.

After 9/11, most of us appreciated life a little more. We took time to be thankful for small things, but some of us also got up our courage to do bigger things. I've heard stories of people finally deciding to marry their lifelong love or make a career change or start to sing in front of people. I'll always be grateful for the brave men and women who decided to serve in our military.

This life is a gift in more ways than one. It's God's gift to us, but it's also our gift to others.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Potty Training

One of my favorite potty training books.
My brother, the pediatrician, suggested I write a blog post about potty training. I told him I'd never do something so undignified, but what the heck! After potty training five and a half kids, I'm practically an expert, right? (I say five and a half because I haven't quite finished with child number six.) In my book, anyone who claims to be an expert at potty training isn't currently potty training or has never potty trained a difficult child. However, I have learned a few tricks as I've navigated the murky waters of potty training that I'll share with you. I'd also love any tips from readers since I'm still in the middle of potty training.

The most important rule of potty training is this: The child must think that potty training is his idea. (I'm using "he" because I have mostly boys.) He could care less about how tired you are of changing his diapers. Usually, you'll have to find outside rewards for his using the potty. I have used stickers, candy, cookies, paper airplanes, paper helicopters, special television shows, new underwear, play dough, verbal praise, and bubbles as rewards. Beware the escalating reward tendency. I had one child who decided a piece of candy wasn't enough. He wanted 2 pieces, then three, then a whole cookie. Stand firm and think of this as your preparation for the pre-teen years.

Getting the kid to go: Sometimes, when the rewards have gotten old, the child will need an extra incentive to go in the potty. For boys, you can try having pee pee races with an older brother or having him hit targets like little squares of toilet paper or cheerios. For boys or girls, you can dye the water with food coloring and tell them their pee will change the color. You can give them books, play dough, a special drink, or bubbles while they're sitting on the potty. Sometimes a book or dvd about using the potty will help motivate a child. I like to get children's potty training books from the library because who really wants to own a potty book?

Getting the kid to keep going: Just because the child learns how to go in the potty doesn't mean he'll go on the potty every time. It takes a lot of patience. Most kids have a lot of accidents. I try to make accidents as inconvenient as possible. The child can help clean up any puddles and helps transport clothes to the laundry room. You can also says things like, "That's too bad you didn't get to watch your special show for going on the potty. Maybe next time."

If you have any tips for me, I'd love to hear them. My patience with wet pants is running out faster than my laundry detergent.

Honesty Skit for Cub Scouts

Our cub scout value for last month was honesty, so we wanted to do a skit on honesty. We couldn't find one on the internet, so our smart Bear den leader came up with one that was really simple and funny. You don't really even need a script.

She lined up all the boys in chairs as if they were in school, then she handed out papers, acting like she was their teacher in school. Each test had the numbers 1-10 along the side of the page. She said, "Okay, children, we're going to take a test. You can start now."

The three boys in the middle are the only ones with speaking parts.

Boy #1: "David, what's the answer to number one?"

David: "I'm not going to tell you. I'm not a cheater."

Boy #1 then turns to another boy: "Jacob, what's the answer to number one?"

Jacob: "C."

Boy #1 goes on, asking what's the answer to number two, then three  . . . all the way up to ten. Jacob always says the answer is "C."

After boy #1 writes down all ten Cs, the teacher says, "Okay, your time is up. Trade papers with the student next to you, so you can grade each other's papers." She then lists the answers, and you guessed it, none of the answers are C. At the end, boy #1 covers his face with his hands and groans loudly. The End.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Disaster Date

You would think that since I've been married for so long, I wouldn't have any new disaster date stories. Well, thanks to last Friday, I've got another one to add to the books.

My husband has been dying to go out on the Great Salt Lake and rent a paddle board. It's kind of like riding a surfboard without any surf--that's why you need the paddle. I thought it sounded like fun. Why I thought it sounded like fun I don't know. Anyone who has experienced the Great Salt Lake knows that it's kind of a gross place to be. It smells like rotting flesh and there tend to be a lot of bugs along the shore.

When we got to the marina, it didn't smell too bad. The college kid who rented out the paddle boards informed us that it was too windy for paddle boards, so we rented a kayak instead. He took us down to the shore, where he washed the bugs off of our kayak before we took it out. That should have been our first clue. "The bugs are really bad right now," he said, "but once you get out a little ways, there aren't any more bugs."

We hopped on board the kayak and paddled, our only goal being to get past the little flies that were everywhere. We could see some red buoys that were really far out, and we set a goal to get out past them. As we approached the buoys, I saw they were covered with little flies. My husband splashed at the buoy with his paddle, thinking he could kill some of the flies. Instead, they all flew right onto me. "Stop," I shouted, then I choked because those flies were inside my mouth and heading down my throat.

"Put your arms in the water to get the flies off," my husband suggested.

The salt water on my arms was like an adhesive. The flies stuck to it. "Maybe if we go out a little further."

The further out we went, the worse the flies got. Eventually, we turned around and headed back to shore, where there were fewer flies. Yep, that was our date. It cost all of $8 because we only stayed out for a half-hour.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Art Collection

This picture fell down the stairs this morning. It's exactly what it looks like, a drawing of our house.

Last week, I finished painting my living room. It's one of those rooms that never ends. It blends into the entryway, the upstairs hallway, and the downstairs hallway.  One wall is really tall, so I've avoided painting it since we moved in seventeen years ago. Now it's done, and I'm hanging pictures. I wanted to share some of my kids' art I've framed recently. We have other art in our house, but these are the only original pieces we own.

Preschool dinosaurs in the kitchen.
It's sometimes hard to find frames to fit the art work. With my dinosaur pictures, I used some old frames I had around the house and painted them to match. It I were more OCD, these would probably drive me crazy because the placement isn't exactly perfect. Oh well. They make us happy.

Eighth Grade watercolor tree in the hallway
My oldest son is really talented in art. I like to keep a lot of his work, even the bloody swords and scorpions. This tree picture isn't his best work, but it's peaceful. It's in a frame designed for a scrapbook page. I put it on top of a piece of scrapbooking paper so it looks like it has a mat.

Preschool Fish in the bathroom
My latest discovery is 3M Command picture hanging strips. They keep the pictures in place, so I don't have to straighten them all the time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer with the Boys

I woke up to find my boys rappelling out their bedroom window. That's how I know it's the end of summer. Things are getting a little crazy around here. Everything in the house that used to be "butter flavored" has now become "butt flavored." For example, I am the proud owner of a box of butt-flavored grits. I really need to hide the Sharpie. I guess I should look at the bright side because there's one box of cereal in the cupboard that they still haven't devoured.
This is my son rappelling at camp.
At the beginning of the summer, I had an organized list of all the things I was going to accomplish. I got it about half-way done, which means I am only about half-way through potty training. Preschool starts on Monday. I'm crossing my fingers. We have also done a bunch of scout stuff. Last night, I slept out in a tent in the backyard to help my 10 year old complete the camping requirement for his Webelos badge. Has anyone else noticed that the crickets this year are really loud?  Now all I have to do is cram in ten more hours of driving with my 15-year-old.

It's been a fun summer. I'm not looking forward to the start of school. How about you?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Husbands' Top 6 Most Romantic Statements

This is my husband and me on our wedding day.
How do you like my veil?

After a couple is married, the woman prefers her husband to use a whole new type of romantic language. Here are some of my favorite things for my husband to say:

1. Why do those celebrities in the tabloids have so much cellulite? You don't have any.

2. I feel like making dinner . . . and cleaning up afterward.

3. It's not PMS, honey. It's me.

4. If I had it to do over again, I'd still marry you, only I'd save up for a bigger ring.

5. You should be on one of those workout dvds.

6. I wish my mom would learn to cook like you.

Okay, so my husband has only said some of these things. Can you guess which ones he's actually said?

Monday, July 30, 2012

You Can't Please Everyone

In high school, I was criticized for my lack of athletic skills, for being too enthusiastic, and for having a big nose. I never did fix the big nose, but I worked really hard not to be too enthusiastic. No one could accuse me anymore of being too enthusiastic. Today, I wonder if that's really a good thing. It would've been better if I'd just ignored that criticism and gone on with my life. On the other hand, becoming more athletic was probably a good choice. I'll bet I could beat most of the girls from high school if we all had a race today. I could probably beat some of the guys too.

My daughter has this quote from Bill Cosby on her wall : "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone." So true! One of the best parts of growing older for me is that the older I get, the less I care what other people think. I still try to correct myself if I think the criticism is valid, especially in my writing. If I don't think it's valid, I move on.

Breezing Up by Winslow Homer Photo Courtesy of National Gallery of Art

One of my favorite paintings is "Breezing Up" by Winslow Homer.  I love the waves and the sky. Once while I was looking at the painting in the museum, I noticed it has a huge flaw in the background. It looks like the artist once painted another ship then removed it. If you look closely between the sailboat and the ship, you might be able to see it too.  Noticing such a big flaw in this beautiful painting was a moving experience for me as a young college student. It meant that even with my imperfections, I could still be beautiful. Everyone is beautiful in his or her own way, and the fact that we're all imperfect only adds to our intrigue.

How have you learned to deal with criticism or imperfection?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vacation Pictures

I wanted to share some pictures from our vacation to Virginia. My brother, who volunteers at the Smithsonian, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the Museum of Natural History. In the picture above, we're walking past dinosaur bones encased in plaster. Not many people get that kind of tour because there's a lot of things people could pick up and steal. I told my brother we'd like to get a behind the scenes tour of the gems next time. ;)

I had a signing in Maryland at This is the Place bookstore. I met so many interesting people and sold all but one of my books. I also happened to meet a couple of people I already knew. It was one of those times when I wanted to sing, "It's a Small World," but I didn't because it would've been really bad for publicity.

My parents' backyard is so beautiful with lots of trees and wild animals. We caught a glimpse of some deer, but the boys' favorite was catching fireflies. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot keep them in a jar as a nightlight because they will be dead in the morning, even if the jar has holes in the lid.

My parents pamper their birds. This is their bird bath. It's heated in the winter.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Writing help from the National Rifle Association

If you want boys to read something, tell them not to read it. That's what I did with a huge stack of National Rifle Association magazines the boys found after their grandfather passed away. You know what happened--they read each magazine in the stack cover to cover.

I decided I'd try a different tactic next time we encountered anything gun related. So when we drove past the NRA museum on our trip to Virginia, I told the boys we were definitely going.

Believe it or not, the NRA museum was not crowded, and it was free. I was excited to see that the exhibits were arranged to teach American history. The boys were excited to see the light saber used in Star Wars.

After about a half-hour of walking around looking at guns, my younger boys got bored. That's when they escorted Grandma to the gift shop. "I hope you didn't buy them anything," I told my mom when they got back. My three boys whipped out the fancy pens Grandma got them and showed me how they light up.

Later on, when we were checking out the pens at home, I realized that those pens could solve one of my biggest problems--writing down ideas while I'm in bed. I get my best ideas while I'm trying to go to sleep. I keep a notebook beside me at night, but sometimes in the morning, I can't read what I wrote.

I snagged one of the pens and tried it out that night. It cast a blue glow over a page of my writing notebook, but it didn't light up enough to wake my husband. I've never been so grateful for the NRA.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What's a derecho? You don't wanna know.

I take it back. I don't like thunderstorms that much. I must have jinxed myself with my last post because the day after it published, we had the mother of all thunderstorms in Northern Virginia, where I was visiting my parents. The weather service is calling the storm a "derecho," pronounced da-Ray-cho. It's a rare storm event with strong winds that moves straight along its path(unlike a tornado that turns.) All I knew was that it was pretty scary to hear an enormous branch fall on the roof above our bedrooms.

We'd spent the afternoon at the Air and Space museum, where we'd seen an IMAX film about tornados. That evening, as the kids were out catching fireflies in their jars, I thought it felt like the weather right before a tornado. It was very hot and very humid. Sure enough, within a few hours, we heard the thunder and lightening, saw stuff flying around in the wind, and watched the lights flicker out.

I thought the lights would be back on by morning--in time for me to curl my hair for my book signing. Nope. It turned out the damage was worse than I'd realized. The power was out all across Virginia, D.C., and Maryland. There were trees lying across the roads, and no traffic lights were working. After driving through all the disaster areas, I was expecting the This is the Place Bookstore in Maryland to be closed, but they opened for a little while that morning. Since the power was out, we decided to postpone my signing until the next Saturday.

It took us 50 hours to get the power back at my parents' house. During that time, my kids gained a new appreciation for electric lights, air conditioning, refrigerators, and stoves. It wasn't really what I wanted them to learn on vacation, but I'll take what I can get.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Word Count and My BMI

It's been a while since I've done a post about writing, so here goes. For the past month, thanks to my husband going to a couple of camps, I've written a ton. After I'd finished my first book, Persuasion, I couldn't believe that I could have as much fun with any other novel. Well, I guess my books are like my children because I love this one as much as I loved the last one. I'm now writing the final chapters, and I'm totally in love with the characters. I cannot stop writing.

Last year, when I started along the path to publication, I didn't think I had a lot to learn about writing. (Yeah, I'm humble like that sometimes.) Little did I know. Once I got published, started going to conferences, and read a lot of the reviews of my book, I decided I still have a lot to learn. My voice is about the same as it was last year, but I've tweaked a lot of little things. And I am still learning.

The only bad part about writing so much is that my weight has been creeping up all month. I don't know how other writers do it because most of them write more than I do and still stay skinny. Obviously they aren't sitting at the computer with a box of chocolates. Not that I'm doing that . . . although I've downed a lot of Chocolate Cheerios lately. I love those things. Maybe if I did some jumping jacks instead of reaching for the cereal. Hmmm.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Doing Hard Things

It seems like there are two types of people: those who decide that if it's not easy they're not going to do it and those who like to challenge themselves by doing hard things. My teenage sons generally fall into the first category. They prefer to take the easy road and play a video game along the way.

It's a good thing my boys have scout leaders. The scoutmaster came up with an idea to hike 20 miles then bike 30 miles in 12 hours. That's why my husband and our two oldest sons spent last Saturday hiking and biking. (They did 20 + miles on foot and 15 on bike.) I was so proud of them all for sticking it out.

Back in the eighties and nineties when I was growing up, adults used to teach us about self-esteem by having us list all our good qualities. But I'm now sure that passing a driver's test, getting a good grade in a difficult class, finishing a 5K, or completing an Eagle project will build confidence faster than a list of qualities.

Braden Bell wrote a blog post last week about his attempt to write a novel. He compared his experience to the Bible story of Peter walking on water. Peter, in his excitement, rushed out to walk on the water, then realizing what was actually happening, he started to sink. Like Peter, those of us who try to do hard things often come face to face with our imperfection. As Braden notes, people often criticize Peter's lack of faith instead of applauding the faith it took to step out of the boat.

I'm lucky to have friends and family members who are positive about our attempts to accomplish hard things. When my kids were younger, I was all about them avoiding failure. (Yes, I'm a little type A.) But I've learned to let go of my fears a little. It's a good thing.

Monday, June 4, 2012

No Manure in The Secret Sister's Club

If you know me, you know I'm not a farm girl. I'm all for drinking milk, but milking a cow is a little too intimate for me. The same goes for collecting eggs from the chickens. That's why reading books is so great. We can enjoy all the wonderful things about farming without stepping in manure or being chased by an angry rooster. (You can tell I speak from experience, can't you?)

Last month, I met Monique Bucheger, who writes the Ginnie West Adventures. She gave me her book, The Secret Sisters Club to review. It's a middle grade reader about a 12-year-old girl named Ginnie. Ginnie lives on a farm with her widowed father, her twin brother, and some extended family members. She's the quintessential tomboy, who loves to ride her horse.

The plot revolves around Ginnie's plan to get her father together with her best friend's mother. Complications arise when Ginnie realizes that even though she wants a sister, she doesn't want a new mother. In an attempt to get to know her real mother, who died when she was three, Ginnie starts to read her mother's journals. This is one part that I think a lot of middle grade girls will love. The journal entries are just revealing enough to fascinate middle grade readers while still remaining pretty tame by adult standards.

Monique does a great job with Ginnie's character. I could tell she's had a lot of experience with middle-grade girls. Even though Ginnie's a tomboy, she is all girl, meaning she's got some major drama going on. I think a lot of girls will relate to her. At the same time, parents will be thankful that Ginnie still maintains a healthy respect for her father and other authority figures (most of the time at least.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Embarrassing Kissing Cave

I used to try not to be an embarrassing parent, but no matter what I did, I still wasn't cool.  So, I've given up trying to be a cool parent and strive to be an embarrassing parent. It's a lot easier.  How do I embarrass my kids? I wear sunglasses. I stretch at the gym after I work out. I write romance novels, a hobby which my son considers to be extremely embarrassing. Even worse, I named a character after one of my children, which I guess is also extremely embarrassing.

For Memorial Day, we took an embarrassing day trip. We visited the place where Grandma and Grandpa had their first kiss.  Here it is:

That's right. My in-laws had their first kiss in this cave.  Cool, huh?  Well, I thought so.  The grandkids did too, but they didn't want to admit it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Love in Bloom Giveaway Hop

The winner will receive a copy of a clean Romance book.  You can choose from among the following three books:

Persuasion: A Latter-day Tale by me

Or Olivia by Julie Wright

Or Of Grace and Chocolate by Krista Lynne Jensen

Please fill out the form below to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Life History Video Interviews

One of the smartest things my husband and I ever did was to videotape some of our relatives telling us about their lives. My dad (shown above in a YouTube clip) loved his two-hour long interview.  My kids have loved watching it and learning more about his life.

My grandma told us she didn't want to be videotaped.  She only wanted us to audiotape her.  Fortunately, grandma thought the camcorder my husband held was a tape recorder. Now that she's gone, we treasure the beautiful video of Grandma telling us about her life.

My husband's father passed away unexpectedly three years ago.  I'm glad we'd taken the time to do a short, informal interview with him, so my kids can remember him better.

Here's some lessons we've learned about Video Life History Interviews:

Just do it. Don't wait for the perfect time.  You also don't need perfect equipment. 
Choose a simple background.

Provide enough light.  Bring in a couple of extra lamps if you're indoors.  Outdoor shots generally work best right after the sun rises or right before it sets.

Try to minimize background noises.  This means turning off appliances and making sure the kids stay quiet. Of course, sometimes a little background noise makes the video better.  In my grandma's interview, it's fun to hear the sounds of sandhill cranes interrupting part of the interview.

Provide a list of interview questions before the interview.  We found a list of interview questions in the book Touching Tomorrow by Mary LoVerde.  My relatives chose the questions they wanted to answer and thought about what they were going to say before we did the interview.  Here are a few sample questions:

What were you like as a child?

What was your school like?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

What did you do for fun?

What were you like as a teenager?

Tell me about your grandparents.

How did you meet your spouse?

What is the hardest thing you ever had to go through?

What was the happiest time in your life?

How did you choose your career?

What is something you'd like your loved ones to learn from you?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Interview with Amanda Sowards

I've recently gotten to know a new author, A.L. Sowards, who wrote Espionage.  I'm interviewing her on my blog, and she's interviewing me on hers. Her real name is Amanda, not Al like I thought at first.  (Hey, she wrote a book about war, so Al would make sense wouldn't it?)

I read that you like to swim. What are your other hobbies?
Reading and writing are big. I also spend a lot of time entertaining toddlers with horsey rides, board books, and megablocks.

Espionage takes place in the 1940s at the time of World War II.  Where did you find inspiration for your details and settings?
The idea actually started in a high school history class. Our teacher told us about the D-day deception schemes the allies were using to throw the Germans off and I thought it was so cool (like something out of a Tom Clancy novel, only real). The rest of the story grew from there. Most of my research came from books, but some from the internet too.

How do you find time to write?
I honestly wish I had more time to write (I’m sure most authors say that). I try to write while my children are napping or in bed at night.

What books have you read lately that you liked?
I just finished The Bicycle Runner, by G. Franco Romagnoli. It’s not a completely clean read, but it was an interesting story and I loved his writing style. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, is another recent read, and it was amazing. Not long ago I picked up Night of the Fox, by Jack Higgins, and that was an enjoyable read. I used to read a lot of Jack Higgins, so it was fun to pick one of his books up again. I also really enjoyed some of the books that were Whitney finalists, especially: Rearview Mirror, by Stephanie Black, Bloodbourne, by Gregg Luke, Smokescreen, by Traci Hunter Abramson, and The Pharoah’s Daughter, by N.C. Campbell (I wasn’t able to read all the finalists, so I’m sure there are other fantastic books among the nominees). I’ve also read A Bridge Too Far, The Longest Day, and The Last Battle, all by Cornelius Ryan over the last two years. I highly recommend all of them if you like WWII military history.

What are your favorite movies?  World War II era movies?
I love The Hunt for Red October, Stardust, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the original Star Wars trilogy. I do really enjoy WWII movies. Among my favorites dealing with that era are Where Eagles Dare, The Great Escape, and Saints and Soldiers (I’m excited for Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed to come out in August, especially since I hear it deals with the 1944 southern France campaign, which happens to be the same campaign one of the characters in my second book is involved in). I also have a small collection of edited WWII movies, and I think Saving Private Ryan and Enemy at the Gate are excellent (at least the versions I’ve seen).

What advice do you have for other writers?
Don’t give up! But don’t feel bad about putting a project on the back burner for a while. Sometimes a little space from the manuscript will make it easier to ruthlessly edit and improve it. And read books on writing, attend conferences, or join a critique group.

As the mother of twins, you’ve probably learned a few tricks to save your time and sanity.  Do you have any you want to share?
You know that primary song that says “Saturday is a special day, it’s the day we get ready for Sunday?” I never really got that song until I had 9am church and two new babies. We’d get clothes out the day before, pack two diaper bags, and pray really hard for a decent night’s sleep.
I had hubby do the grocery shopping for a long time after the twins came along, so I guess my trick is to make my husband do it! I do more shopping now, but I keep mostly to stores that have shopping carts with two places to strap kids in.
Other than that, sometimes you just have to take it one day at a time. Or one hour at a time.