Friday, December 31, 2010

Getting it right this year?

"Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right."

This quote was at the top of a grocery store ad.  I was just looking for meat bargains and instead found this little snippet of wisdom, or inspiration, or something, attributed to Oprah Winfrey. 

I have no idea what Ms. Winfrey means by this, if she even said it.   What is the "it" we should be trying to get right? 

Maybe I'm a slacker but I am not setting myself a goal to "get it right."  If I can't even decide what "it" is, how can I ever hope to get it right?   If "it" is life, that's a big thing to try to get right.  It can't be done, till Jesus comes back.  May as well give up.

Or maybe I'll try to get one thing right this year.  My life of prayer and serving God?   I would like to do that, but can I get it right?  Marriage?  I'd like to get that right, but... doubtful.  Parenting?  Um, no.  I'm sure to  make a parenting mistake or two... every day.   Homeschooling?  Not likely.  I'm sure to mess something up in that area.  Housekeeping?  Laughable idea.

Can we get anything right?    Maybe we're talking about learning to make flan or grilling a steak.  Building a table that won't wobble or sewing a skirt with a straight hem.  Those are doable. So is remembering to be thankful more often.  Making the effort to say something kind to someone, whether a stranger or my own child.  Taking a little more care to think of ways  - and execute them! - to please my husband.  Praying for someone at the moment I say that I will, rather than waiting for later (and forgetting).  Those are a little harder than mastering cooking or carpentry skills, but they can be done.

Maybe if people started trying to get the small things in their lives right, the bigger things would take care of themselves.

What will you try to get right this year?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

5th Anniversary Carnival of Homeschooling coming up

Henry Cate at Why Homeschool posted an alert that the Carnival of  Homeschooling will mark its 5-year anniversary with next week's edition.  He is encouraging all homeschooling bloggers to submit a post. 

Seems like I go through cycles with the Carnival.  I'll submit a lot of posts, then run out of things to say.  So I stop submitting posts but will still go read it.  Then, suddenly it seems I stop that too.  Then, I get interested again.

At one time I think I set myself a goal to post in the Carnival every week.  Or maybe once a month.  If I don't even remember the goal, you can be sure I didn't accomplish it.  But no matter; I'm going to try to come up with something for the anniversary edition.  And you should too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Is your church open this morning?

Last week I was surprised to read that someone's church is  not "open" today - not having services on Sunday because it's the day after Christmas.  A little googling showed me that that church is not unique.  I found many church websites that had a variation on "Enjoy your Christmas holiday; no church on December 26."  

The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday there was some controversy about churches opting not to have services on that day.  My church was open and we had several visitors, some of whom were really angry that their churches were closed.  At the time it didn't seem so odd to me.  I thought that so many people go to church on Christmas Eve, so... what's the difference?  A little reflection on that changed my mind.  For a church to be closed on Sunday now seems ludicrous to me.

Now, it seems even stranger to have church closed a Sunday just because Christmas was yesterday.

There seem to be two reasons put out for the closure:  1, so that people can spend time with their families, and 2, to give workers and volunteers a break.

The first reason doesn't really deserve consideration.  Worshiping together as a family during the Christmas season should not be a burden or something to be avoided.  If people feel that way, maybe they need to find a new church.  Of course people sometimes skip church; traveling or having family and friends in might be good reasons for that.  But the church shouldn't close down.

But the second reason given is really telling. Why do the workers and volunteers need a break on the day after Christmas?  Are people so burdened they need a Sunday off?  Maybe those churches have too many things going on for their congregations to support.  Maybe there aren't enough volunteers so the work is not spread around enough.  Maybe the church leadership should consider their programs and cut back so people are not overworked.  Or maybe they should be encouraging more people to step up and get to work rather than expecting someone else to do everything. 

So we are off to church this morning.  Our pastor is on vacation so someone else is filling in on the preaching. There will be volunteers for the nursery and someone will still bring food for the fellowship time after the service.  Someone will be there to play music.  We will probably have a small crowd as people are traveling and some may choose to stay home. But our church will be open on Sunday, as it should be.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Morning

It's 8 am here and I'm still the only one up.  Do I miss those days of overeager kiddies up before dawn to open their presents?   Not really.  I like the leisurely Christmas mornings.  I never enjoyed those frenzied giftwrap-ripping sessions.  Well, I guess as a kid I did.  But now a little restraint is nice.

So I've been reading the blogs this morning and am wondering how I missed the boat on stressing out over having the perfect Christmas.  I don't guess there will be a perfect Christmas till Jesus comes again.  (Hmm, will we even celebrate Christmas then?)

This morning I'm going to attempt to modify a nice breakfast pastry recipe to see if I can make it even more delicious for my family.  It might work.  Or it might not.  It probably won't be perfect, though I suppose it could be. 

What does the perfect Christmas look like?  I guess for me it looks like my family all around me.  And so since we're all together, it'll be a perfect Christmas, even if the breakfast pastry doesn't work out.

If something doesn't work out perfectly at your house today, don't let it wreck your Christmas.  Remember the one perfect person we are celebrating today.  If He came to your Christmas celebration, would He care if the breakfast pastry wasn't perfectly delicious?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

I'm not supposed to be here right now.  This morning my family was supposed to wake up in a house high in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  We were to have rolled in late last night, kissed my mother- and father-in-law hello, and tumbled into bed, tired after our 12- or 14-hour drive.

But we're home instead.  As always before we travel in snowy areas in winter, we watched the weather forecast.   And it just got worse and worse.  Yesterday we decided we'd better stay home.

It's disappointing to us all.  Christmas is a family time, and we have no family where we live.  During our married life, we've rarely lived near family.  We don't know the pleasure (or the pain) of frequent contact with parents, in-laws, siblings.  Christmas is a nice time to be together.  But not in snowy mountains in winter.  Maybe we should all move to Arizona.  Or New Zealand!

So it's a quiet Christmas Eve here. My shopping is done. I even managed to mail the little gifts my kids chose for their grandparents yesterday, so they won't be too late.  Wrapping is mostly done.   Today I will bake flan for tomorrow's dessert, and some sugar cookies - my kids like flan, but it's not a very traditional Christmas dessert and they like their traditions.

Some friends invited us to bring our lonely selves to them for Christmas dinner, but we really don't feel all that lonely and will have dinner at home.  The grocery store wasn't too bad yesterday, and there were still plenty of rib roasts, potatoes, and broccoli for our Christmas menu.  We might join our friends for dessert, taking our flan and cookies with us. 

Here is the broccoli casserole I'm trying this year.  It's quite different from my usual, which my mother-in-law gave me years ago. We'll see if we embrace this new one or stick with the standard.  Or trade off.

There are lots of posts in my brain and in my draft folder.  I always seem to have a blogging slump this time of year.  Of course I was busy preparing for travel and doing the usual Christmas preparations.  I hope to reconnect with old blogging friends and acquaintances in the new year.

But now it's time to bake, cook, watch a movie, and listen to some music!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Best Christmas Books: The Story of Holly and Ivy

I keep meaning to get to that favorite Christmas books post, but can't seem to.  So finally I had the brilliant idea to post on just one book at a time.  Less overwhelming.

Our favorite book for the past few years has been The Story of Holly and Ivy, written by Rumer Godden and illustrated by  Barbara Cooney.  It is a sweet, sweet story of family and longing and wishes fulfilled.  It is not written from a Christian perspective, at least not explicitly, but if you read this and don't see God's hand, you are trying to avoid seeing it.

Eleanor and I love this book and always read it together. James used to like it too, but he is too much of a young man now to read a book about a girl and her doll.   But sometimes I will still catch him listening in...

Barbara Cooney is one of my favorite illustrators; her picture books are ones we never give away.  I don't know that we've read other books by Rumer Godden.    I should look for some!

I could not get a better picture up than this tacky-looking ad.  Yes, if you click this link and buy the book I think I get a nickel or something.  Where ever you acquire it, this is a book every family should have.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Simplifying Christmas? Really?

Everywhere I turn on the internet right now, I see articles and blog posts about simplifying Christmas.  They are filled with lots of advice for keeping this crazy season calm, organized, and less crazy.  The writers talk about remembering the true meaning of Christmas and taking the focus off the externals... and then suggest organizational methods like making a gift inventory and stashing gifts all year long.  There are daily to-do lists that include decorating and shopping and cooking. All these things point to more work, more craziness, more complication.  It's not simpler. At least, not for me.

I like decorating and shopping and cooking too.  OK, I don't really like the decorating; I like having the house decorated.  There is a big difference.  But that's why God blessed me with a girl who loves to decorate and will nudge me just enough to get the boxes out, get cracking on that tree, get those vases full of greens!   I haven't gotten around to the battery-operated tea lights yet, though.

Here is my way to have a simple Christmas:

I don't think about Christmas every time I walk into a store.  If I see something that screams out the name of a person, I'll buy it.  But I don't actively seek gift-buying opportunities all the time.  I don't want to think about Christmas all year long.  If I'm thinking about Christmas, I'm not thinking of something that needs my attention now.  And if I buy a Christmas gift in March, I will have lost it and/or forgotten all about it by the time I need it.  In fact, right now I'm wondering where that box of Christmas cards that I bought last month got to.  I always find the gifts I need and want, even when starting my shopping "late" (after Thanksgiving).  We also keep our gift list small:  family and close friends.  Not everyone we know. 

I never bought my kids the hard-to-find, popular toy of the moment.  I trained my kids not to want the popular toy of the moment, so I didn't even set myself up for resentment by doing that.  I do ask my kids if there is something they hope to receive, and I am never surprised by their answers because I know what they like. I set their expectations:  when my boy half-jokingly mentioned an iphone or itouch, I told him not to expect either of those. He knew that, but I wanted to  make it explicit.  I focus on useful but desirable gifts for my kids:   books, of course, an xbox game that they've borrowed many times from the library so we know is a keeper, kits (electronics, crafts, root beer), and a little cash.  When they were little the gifts leaned toward Legos, more craft stuff, crayons, paper, Playmobil.  Some clothing, usually.  I order as much as I can online so I'm not being driven crazy in the stores.  

I don't decorate like crazy.  We have a tree and put some things up on the walls and on the mantel, but we don't change out every photo on the wall and every objet d'art  (ha ha) on the shelves.  I do feel a touch of envy when I see the gorgeous tablescapes and such on blogs, but... I get over it.

We don't cram lots of activities into our season.  We have church events and friend events, and we try to go to a seasonal event in the community.  This year we're going to check out the Christmas Village in downtown Philadelphia for the first time.  We don't try to see everything that's available.  We tend not to go places where there are long lines and crowds, because we don't like that anyway, but who wants to spend time standing in line?

We bake, and sometimes give some away, but honestly most people have enough of their own baked things and don't want more.  We skipped a cookie exchange this year because we didn't feel like we could make 8 dozen more cookies, and weren't sure we wanted 8 dozen more coming our way.  We had baked cookies for a church event so had sampled most of our favorites anyway.  We have a couple more things we want to make, but we don't go crazy.

We read together, see friends and family, enjoy exchanging gifts, and don't go crazy.  And I don't need to plan ahead all year for it.  I don't need a strategy.  That just complicates things.

(At least for me.  Your mileage may vary.  If you find plans and lists and strategies helpful, go for it.)


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

What we want, what we need... and deciding between the two

A few weeks ago I touched a Kindle for the first time.  A friend had brought his to a gathering and the seminarian and I got to fondle it for a few minutes.  We both wanted one immediately.   But we knew we don't need one, and it's out of our budget anyway, so we kind of forgot about it.

Then we heard that Amazon was going to be selling them for an unbelievably low price a few days after Thanksgiving. . (As it happened, it was truly unbelievable; the offer never appeared on Amazon.)  For a few minutes we were excited about the prospect of getting one.

But as we talked about it some more we came to the conclusion that neither of us have any use for one. Really, we don't.  We aren't traveling right now - haven't been on a plane since 2007 - and have access to all the "real" books we need, and more.  I found myself trying really hard to justify the purchase of something I wanted but truly have no use for.

I still want a smartphone.  I want to have access to the internet while I'm out and about.  I want to use some of those cool aps I hear people talking about all the time.  It doesn't matter that my - what do I call it, a dumbphone? - works fine for its purpose.  I just want one.

Last month before Thanksgiving break, my kids' art teacher gave them a homework assignment:  draw a picture of a gift you'd like to give, and one you'd like to get.  My son, bless him, couldn't think of a gift he'd like to give. Finally he drew a book.  But the gift he'd like to get?  He wanted to draw an iphone but thought he shouldn't.  I told him to go ahead and draw a really good picture, because that was as close as he'd be getting to one anytime soon.  And so he did.  Did a great job, too.

He has a cellphone to carry when he's out and about without us. Usually he's around other people who have phones but I don't like bumming phone minutes.  And, I'd like to be able to call him.  His phone is rather plain and dull - a dumbphone like mine.  But it works for its intended purpose.

He understands that he doesn't need anything more, but he wants one, just like I want a smartphone and a really nice ipod instead of the little shuffle I won 3+ years ago.  Oh, and maybe the Kindle for... oh, I don't know.

I would like us all to get to a place where we didn't want things we don't need.  Where we recognize that these things are fun and useful and, for some people, even necessary.   But not for us.  I want us to be content with our dumbphones and our little ipod and remember that there are people in the world who couldn't even imagine those things existing - forget about wanting them or acquiring them.

What don't you need this Christmas?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

How can this be?

Sandy at Pencil on Paper posted a list of titles in her Christmas book basket.  It made me think of our Christmas books, which are not out of storage yet, but will be this weekend.  I decided to look for my previous post(s) about our Christmas books, and couldn't find one.  I can hardly believe I have never done a Christmas book post! 

So I have to get through the church Christmas party on Saturday, and the food prep for same tomorrow, and then I'll bring out the books. Till then you can read about Sandy's books, and tell me about your favorites! 

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Post NaNoWriMo: Back to normal?


No, we're not back to normal yet.  We should be, but, not quite yet.

NaNoWriMo took a lot out of me.  I loved it and hope to do it again next year and for many years to come.   But, it was a hard month.   I'm tired.  I want to read - I barely have time to read anyway, but even less during the month of writing. Right now there are 5 or 6 books with bookmarks in them.  I've read a few pages here and there, mostly as unfinished research for the story.  What I really want to read is some fluffy novel with no challenge whatsoever.

But the house is still showing the month of neglect.  I am not a good housekeeper any month of the year; less so when I'm really distracted by something more fun than housework.  My little house reflects my family's interests:   A table covered with parts of a model plane James has been building;  a bin overflowing with fabric Eleanor and I want to make something out of; a half-finished Christmas wall-hanging ready to be sewn together; books everywhere; balls of yarn connected to partially-completed knitting and crochet projects.  That's just the normal stuff of our lives!  Then there is the good china that needs to be put back in its box and moved into the dungeon (yes, I know that Thanksgiving was almost a week ago), the stack of papers that needs to be filed, and the artwork that's piled up and needs a permanent home.  (I love the art class my kids take but I wonder why everything has to be on huge paper.)  

The kids are not feeling normal yet either.  James is still working on his book a little.  He's not ready to start editing - or maybe he's continuing to write to avoid the editing.  Eleanor is restless.   She can't settle on anything right now.  I know that feeling.

Oh, and there's the Christmas Gala at church on Saturday for which I need to cook.  We're doing appetizers and desserts this year instead of our typical catered dinner.  Our little church can't afford the caterer this time around, so people are pitching in to help.  I was assigned to make cookies.  So there are the cookie recipe books and magazines on the table as Eleanor and I look for the perfect cookies.  They must taste good, which I can do. They must also be pretty, which I'm not so good at. 

So it's another unschoolish week.  We're getting our basics in, and home ec, and lots of composition.   This is when I love having graded test prep books around, like these by Spectrum. It gives the kids some work to do that isn't too burdensome, doesn't take a lot of my time, and helps me to see how they're coming along in certain areas.  I can see today, for example, that James needs a little refresher on linking verbs.

Maybe next week we'll get back to normal.  Whatever that is now!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

NaNoWriMo: My story

I had already mentioned that my story was going to be based on Swallows and Amazons.  This book, and the 11 books that came after it, are very dear to my heart.  And since I did not want to do NaNoWriMo, did not want to write fiction at all, I thought it would be easier to start with a story and some characters that someone else had created.  I am not sure it turned out to be easier, though, for a few reasons.

The original stories took place in the 1930s in England's Lake District.  The main characters - John, Susan, Titty, and Roger Walker, and Nancy and Peggy Blackett, ranged in age from about 7 to about 12.  I moved the story to 1960, when the Swallows and Amazons have been through the war, married, and had children.

The main story started out like this:  The 6 children, now grown, converge at the holiday cottage at which their adventures began.  Captain Flint, uncle to the Amazons and friend to all, has died while traveling. They are called there by their parents, not for a funeral, but to come together to pay tribute to the dead man.  (Nancy and Peggy's mother is Captain Flint's sister and lives on the lake.  Captain Flint had lived in a houseboat there. The Walker children's parents have bought the holiday cottage and retired there.)   While there, they fix up the old boats they sailed in 30 years before, send their kids on adventures similar to those they had enjoyed in their youth, and generally have a fine time. They all realize how much they have missed the place, and all manage to find a way to come and live there.

It sounds dippy, I know.   But it gets dippier.

I ended up bringing Captain  Flint back to life, because as I was typing up the scene in which his nieces and friends are mourning his death while standing on the deck of his houseboat, I had the uncontrollable urge for him to appear.  Not supernaturally.  He rows up to his boat in a dinghy and appears just as they fire off the cannon as a salute to him.   Hey, I needed the several thousand words to tell the story about his "death" and return.  But more than that - Captain Flint had to return, dramatically.  Now I understand what writers mean when they say their story line or a character surprises them.

I also added in a sullen teen to give me a conflict point and some drama.  It is set in 1960, after all. There's got to be a rebel.  This is Titty's 15-year-old daughter, who treats everyone shabbily and wants nothing but to go home, until her actions put her little sister in peril.  Melodrama, yes.  I found that melodrama is so easy to write! 

What was not to easy to write were the details I needed to make the story come alive.  All along I kept thinking "I need to learn more about that" and "wish I had time to research that."   When the objective is to slap down 50,000 words in 30 days, and still have some semblance of a family/home life, research isn't really part of the picture.   So if I want to carry on, there are some topics I need to study.

The original books had a lot of sailing in them. But I don't know anything about sailing. I remember a lot of the words, but I can't really write about it properly.  So most of my action takes place on land, which is fine, but is not in keeping with the original story.  I suppose I could do a little studying and learn - and understand - enough vocabulary that I could fix that.  

My main characters came of age in England during World War II.  So the war has to figure in the story, even though it's set several years after.  I had to know what they did during the war years.  For example, what could a young woman living in the lake district do to support the war effort without leaving home?  Was there any military action in that part of England or was it remote enough that the was wouldn't be visible?  A quick google showed me that there is plenty to say about the war in that area.  .

Two characters, Nancy and Titty, had to be involved in codes and codebreaking.  That was obvious to me based on what I  knew of them from the original stories.  I wondered what that would be, though.  The seminarian told me about the German Enigma machine and code-breaking work at Bletchely Park in England.  This was perfect for my characters - many if not most of the workers there were women - but it really needed more research to do it right.  So that part of my story is a little blurry right now. 

So, what do I have now?  50,000+ words of a very rough draft of a melodramatic, overly-sentimental novel with little historical detail. 

What will I do with it?   For now I'm going to set it aside.  I've finished what I set out to do this month.  I loved doing it, most of the time.  But, I'm not finished forever, I don't think.  I have a few books from the library on the Enigma machine and the codebreaking efforts.   I'm going to finish reading Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint's Trunk, which tells the story of the real people and places on which the original stories were based.  I don't think that will really help me with the story but it's a fun read.  It's already given me some insecurity over my characters:  I found out that the real-life Roger, who in my story was a ship's engineer who lost an arm in the war, actually became a doctor.  But I think I'll get over that.  It is fiction, after all.

It's possible, even likely, that I'll never get back to the story, though.  I have other things to focus on  now. This month of writing has left my house and our homeschool a little disorganized. 

Even if nothing ever comes of it, it was so worth the time and effort.  It was a wild month, fun and frustrating at the same time.   Looking forward to next year!

Friday, November 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo: the end (but not really)

Well, we did it.  The three of us completed our novels today, validated our word counts on the NaNoWriMo site, and were declared winners.  We have prizes to claim - a web badge which only I can use, the kids being blog-less, certificates of completion, and later on, a coupon for a free proof copy of the novel.  (I think the kids get those, not me.  The "young writers program" is slightly different from the adult.)

The work is not finished, though.  There is a lot of editing to do.  James in particular has so many typos.  When I look over his open office file, I see so many red lines!  But there is other editing to do too.  The stories are in rough draft form now. The object of this project was not to end up with a perfect novel after 30 days.

I hope the kids' enthusiasm for their stories lingers.  I don't want the editing process to be a burden.  It will be up to me to keep it from becoming one.  I think we'll take a little break for a few days and then print them out, chapter by chapter.   We'll work on them slowly.

Then there's my story.  Mine needs a lot of work!  Not for typos, so much, though I have plenty.  It's a pretty disjointed story right now.  Chapters are out of place, I think. There are a lot of holes in it.  Continuity is poor; I know that in one case I said a book belonged to one person, then later said it belonged to someone else.  I have one episode that has two endings!  And I like them both.  Well, not really like but can't seem to choose between them yet.

I guess I never did say what my story is about, except that it's based on Swallows and Amazons, our favorite family read-aloud of all time.  But I need to go watch an episode of "Green Acres" with my kids now so I'll save my story synopsis for a little later.  I don't know if I'll be able to revive this blog after our 27 days of writing, but at least I can come back and write that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who are you thanking this Thanksgiving?

People often talk about the things they are thankful for.  Most of us have plenty for which we can give thanks.

But to whom are you giving thanks?   Who gave you all these wonderful things for which you are thankful?

God?  Mother Nature? Gaia?  Fate?

Just curious.

Update:  I should answer my own question, shouldn't I?   You won't be surprised to read that I thank our sovereign God for all the great gifts in my life - including those that may not always look like gifts.

Update 2:  If you can't answer the question "to whom are you giving thanks" but you feel thankful today anyway... maybe you need to spend some time thinking about that. 

Thanksgiving, NaNoWriMo, and sick kids

Yeah.  One kid is sick, one is threatening to get sick.   I haven't written more than 500 words in the last 3 days.  Yesterday was the first day I wrote nothing.  Not one word!  I should have at least gone in and typed a sentence.  That big red blot on yesterday bothers me.  There is one on today, too, though there shouldn't be yet.  It's only 9:20 am!  I can still write today!  Why did NaNo give me a red mark for today already?

The sickness may just be allergies.  Or a reoccurrence of last year's sinus infection. Maybe nothing communicable. Or it could be a cold.  In any case, we told our Thanksgiving guests to go elsewhere.  This is one of the nice things about having a church:  I told my friend/pastor's wife I was concerned about having sickness in the house.  Our guests were to be a pregnant woman, a 4-year-old, and two PhD students heading into finals.  Do we want to expose them to sickness?  Uh, no.  So my friend says "wait and see if it gets better. If not, call me and I'll take them."   It didn't, so I did, last night.  They will be just as happy at her house; even more so:  no one will be coughing on their pumpkin pie.

(This reminds me of a post I have brewing about Christians who shun the church.  Maybe I'll get back to that in December. Of course friends and family can have the same benefits but this sort of thing is part of what the church is for.)

Actually, having the guests out of the picture does simplify my life.  I have to admit that.  The house wasn't getting as clean as I wanted it to.  The food timetable doesn't have to be as perfect.  I am a bit of a Thanksgiving perfectionist.  I grew up with a Dad who liked his hot food hot so I still get nervous when the turkey waits a minute longer than it should.  

And, we'll have more time to get caught up on NaNo.  That isn't the priority; we'd manage with or without the guests.  We will all win, unless something goes horribly wrong at the last minute.   Still, I'd like to finish with a bang, not a whimper.  A congested, coughing whimper.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Thanks for stopping by, if you came here via google on NaNoWriMo (or any other search, for that matter).  Thanks to those of you who've been around and are sticking with me this month. I know this is boring to non-NaNoers. And I know I haven't been visiting or commenting on your blogs!  But I'll be back.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Meet Maria

I've known Maria for about two years now, I think, but when she started blogging I realized that I hardly knew her at all.  Our talk has always been in the context of Girl Scout or homeschooling or art class.   I am delighted to meet the Maria who writes Be Not Afraid.  I think you will like her too.

NaNoWriMo: Panic sets in

There are seven days left in NaNoWriMo.   We are all close to our goals. 

But none of us have written more than a few words in the last two or three days.  One child is sick. I have a cut on a fingertip that makes typing painful and slow. And Thanksgiving is the day after tomorrow!  We have lost our momentum and it is not fun right now.  This is when we need it to be fun!

The thing that would make it fun is to have a cafe writing session.  We haven't done that yet and it would pump up the kids' enthusiasm.  They want so much to take their little  Danas into Starbucks or Panera Bread and look like writers.  (I will have to make do with pad and paper.)   We haven't had the time for it yet, and I'm not sure when to fit it in.

While the calendar says there are seven days left, I don't feel like there are. Wait!  The calendar says there are eight days left, since the deadline is 11:59 pm on November 30.  The NaNoWriMo site says seven days.  We actually plan to validate our word counts on Sunday. There are a couple of reasons I don't want to wait till Tuesday to do it.  One is the three-hour orthodontist appointment, wherein Eleanor will get her headgear, on Monday afternoon.  Nothing like an aching head and teeth to take away the fun of writing a book.  There's also my irrational fear of waiting till the last minute and having a sudden computer problem.   It could happen.  It probably won't, but my brain doesn't process probabilities well.  If there is a slight chance of something happening it, I want to plan for and avoid it.  So Sunday is our day. 

Which means our cafe writing session has to be... tomorrow.

Yes, I know we have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in there.  But what Friday is it?  No, I'm not going Black Friday shopping but half the county is and they need parking spaces too.  I've been thinking about our cafe options and all are either in shopping center/strip mall lots with... stores.  Or, they are in picturesque neighborhoods with... shops.  Shops.  And few parking spaces.  Saturday is usually pretty crazy too, in my experience.

(Why do I call some stores and some shops?  Barnes and Noble and Macy's are stores.  No Bare Walls (an art shop) and A Touch of the Old Country are shops.  Right?)

So tomorrow, on my biggest cooking day of the year, I will be taking a couple of hours to spend with my kids in a cafe writing our novels. We'll eat muffins and consume hot drinks and write, and it'll be festive and fun.  We'll get our word counts up and I will try not to think of the three corn casserole that I should be baking at that moment, or the bread I should be ripping up for stuffing.

(Why not today, you ask?  Today is already full.)

Yeah, we'll pull it off.  It'll be nerve-wracking for me.  I don't like cramming my days full of action.  But it'll be fun too.  Fun. That's what we need right now!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NaNoWriMo: The view from the middle

We're a little over halfway through NaNoWriMo, and well over halfway through our stories.   We're still finding this to be a great project and very worthwhile, even though it is taking up a lot of our time and other things are being ignored.  It's only for a month, right?

Eleanor had a slight word-count crisis the other day.  She told met that she is confident that she can write 10,000 words, but is not sure her current story needs that many.  So I cut her some slack and we adjusted her goal down to 6,000.  Or is it 8,000?  Anyway, I think we were overzealous at the beginning and don't feel too guilty about revising her goal downward.    I am still not sure of the overall plot of her story but it involves an evil Vice President of the United States, the outlawing of homeschooling, and a prison break.   It's funny and her main character is a twelve-year-old girl.

James is on track to meet his 10,000 word goal, but as Eleanor pointed out, "If he needs more words he can just add in another air strike or something."  His story is of the futuristic dystopian science-fictiony sort.  I hesitate to say "genre."  There are lots of explosions. 

My story coming along.  I'm finding it hard to keep writing more words, though, and I feel the need for more research.  Now and then I hit google to add a detail or get a general date for an event and find there is a ton of realistic history I could add, if I only had time to research it.  The seminarian gave me a book and has sent me some websites with information that would really add to the story, but I don't feel I can spare the time to look at it and use it.  I need to get my word count up. Thanksgiving looms and I am the cook, so I have to plan at least two days of not writing next week. But if/when revision time comes along, I can add those details later.

I still haven't told many people about our participation in NaNo.  Yesterday I imagined myself telling one friend but as the conversation played out in my head I realized that she would find the idea preposterous and would tell me so.  Anyone to whom I might complain about sleep deprivation, etc., would tell me to just go ahead and quit.  After all, what do we get out of this?    It's hard to explain that it's worth the sleep deprivation and the lousy meals just to do it. 

I'm very thankful that the seminarian is on board with this.  He is delighted that we're doing it and sees its value.  His opinion is the only one that matters, right?

I already hope we do it next year!

Friday, November 12, 2010

NaNoWriMo: FAQ

Not the official NaNoWriMo FAQ, but my own:  the questions I get asked most frequently.

1.  Do you really have time for this?  

No, no I don't.  My house is falling apart, meals are terrible, there is clean laundry but it is all over the family room couch rather than folded away in drawers.

2. Will you get a prize? How do you win? Do the people who run NaNoWriMo read it and judge it?

There is no prize.  Well, maybe a certificate. The kids get bound proof copies of their books which is very cool.  The prize is the satisfaction that comes with doing something hard and different.  Everyone who completes their novel wins, so it's noncompetitive.  Well, I guess we are competing against ourselves and time!  No one reads it.  We submit it only for word-count purposes.

3.  Isn't this sort of a stupid way to write a novel?  

(I have never been asked this question directly.  But I've read the question many times in other venues and I know a few people who are likely to be thinking it but don't want to ask me.)

It probably is.  I've never thought about the best way to write a novel because I never wanted to write one.  As I've said before, I'm not doing this because I want to, but because my children want me to.   I think if I was going to write a novel "the right way," I'd do a lot of planning and research and outlining ahead of time.  Then I'd write it in a leisurely, linear sort of way.   Now I'm sort of planning as I go, jumping around from episode to episode, and adding in lots of detail as I go.  It's great fun, but I don't know if it's the best way to write a novel.

But I would never actually sit down to write a novel; most people won't, even those who think they would like to.  This is just a format for people to sit down and write it. It's not meant to be a polished, finished novel at the end of the 30 days.

4.  Will you try to get your novel published?

Not at the level of quality it's going to be on November 30, that's for sure!  I don't have any desire to do that now, but I have learned that it's best not to make unequivocal statements about the future so I can't say yes or no with any certainty.

5. Will you write more fiction after this?

I am enjoying this process and can envision going on with it to make this story better (whether good enough for publishing I really couldn't say).   I could see doing more research into the subject.  My story takes place in England after WWII, but I have a lot of backstory going about my characters during the war.  I'm trying to do some research as I go along, but it takes up too much time from actual writing right now. So I think I'd like to go on with it to make it historically accurate.  If I was interested in fiction, I guess it would be historical fiction.  So, who knows?

6.  What is your story about?  

I have to feed my family and then get back to writing now so I'll answer that one later.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Willfully using the wrong word

I haven't spent much time cruising around the blogosphere the last couple of weeks but I am not so far out of it that I haven't read about calls to boycott Amazon for selling some objectionable material.  I find it disappointing, though not surprising, that Amazon would choose to carry a book advocating for deviant and illegal behavior.

But I'm really annoyed that they are hiding behind First Amendment rights and censorship to defend their selling of the book.  I've seen some of the correspondence between Amazon and complaining customers wherein Amazon says that it would be censorship if they refused to carry the book. 

People get this wrong all the time, but Amazon  knows better.  It would not be censorship if they declined to carry a particular book.  It would be a business decision.

If Amazon chose not to carry the book - and surely there are many, many books they decline to stock - they would not be preventing the author from selling the book elsewhere.   The author could peddle the book to any number of other outlets, set up a website to sell it directly, or sell it on street corners.

But Amazon is choosing to call it censorship because our reflex response is "Oh, yeah, censorship is bad!  Of course Amazon can't censor the book."  

If the government banned the publication and sale of the book, that would be censorship.  If the bookseller declines to sell the book, it's a business decision. Sorry for being repetitive but people just don't seem to get this.

I bet if I self-published my NaNoWriMo novel and submitted it to Amazon, they would decline to sell it.  It would probably be the right business decision for them.  It wouldn't be censorship.

So can we stop crying censorship all the time?  Please?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A single homeschool moment that beautifully illustrates our days

Eleanor, who is supposed to be doing math:  "Mom!  You know how you get brain lock sometimes?  I totally just got brain lock and can't remember a fact."

Mom:  "Yeah.  Yeah, I get brain lock all the time. What is your missing fact?"  [I'm thinking it's a math fact.]

Eleanor:  "I can't remember where Plimouth Plantation is."

Mom:  "Uh, why do you need to know that right now?  Aren't you supposed to be doing math?"  [Wondering if she is supposed to figure out the area of Plymouth Rock or something.]

Eleanor:  "Yeah, I am [supposed to be doing math] but it just popped into my head and I just have to know where it is right now."

Monday, November 08, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Things I am learning

1. Fiction is harder than it looks.

2. 1667 words each day is a lot.  Really, a lot.

3. If this blog wasn't dead before November, it sure is now.

4.  I have glanced at the blogs in my reader but have barely clicked on any and certainly have left no comments, because my online time is best spent slapping down dialog.

5.  My kids are having a blast.  James came home from a big scout weekend full of outlandish ideas for his story and can't wait to get writing this morning; Eleanor says she loves the time we spend together, silently working on our stories and occasionally reading bits aloud. She wishes Daddy could do it too. 

6. I'm tired of pretending my kids don't have names, and figure that none of the handful of people who read here are going to start stalking them just because I call them by name.

7. Typing skill improves the more one types.   Spelling skill improves the more words one spells.  Who knew?

8. I am really, really glad we are doing this.

9.  I thought I could make this into a Top Ten but can't.   Another meme opportunity  lost. If you have an idea for #10, let me know.

Added: Oh, here is number 10:  Menu planning?  What's that?   I am truly thankful for a freezer full of meat and a family that enjoys eating same.  And pasta!

Update:  linked to Top Ten Tuesday!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Naysayers and cheerleaders

Last night I was procrastinating needing some inspiration so I spent a little time on the NaNoWriMo site cruising the forums.  There I came across what appeared to me to be an unnecessarily nasty Salon opinion piece,  Better yet, DON'T write that novel.   It was really a rant about the time-wasting, foolish folks who have the audacity to try to write a novel in a month.  The arguments were not very convincing to me:  I am not planning on submitting the fruits of my month of labor to a publisher, nor are my children (though they do ponder occasionally the joy of someday seeing a novel published - and that is a bad thing because...?).  I won't be nagging friends and loved ones to read it; in fact I don't expect anyone to read it, ever.  We still read books; apparently many people believe NaNoWriMo participants spend all their time writing crummy novels and never, ever read.

That forum thread lead me to the antidote, 12 reasons to ignore the naysyers: DO NaNoWriMo.

Reading the comments on both pieces could take the better part of a day, which is time better spent writing.  One comment on the Salon piece really made me laugh.  The commenter was agreeing with the author's premise that NaNoWriMo is a waste of time, because one year some friends of hers did it and thus were unavailable to socialize with her during November.  Poor neglected one, eh?  I love people who make everything all about them.

In any case, I will carry on.  I haven't done a bit of writing today, preferring to work on a wall quilt side by side with my daughter, rake leaves, supervise cookie baking, and other homey sorts of things.  I also received in the mail today a book I'd been wanting for a while and finally had reason to buy:  Arthur Ransome & Captain Flint's Trunk, which is all about the real people and locations behind Swallows and Amazons.   Surely this will help with the needed inspiration!

Saturday morning journal

What I want to do today:

  • write 1600 words for NaNoWriMo.
  • finish sewing a small quilt wall hanging in fall colors and get it on the wall before fall is over.
  • watch a Jane Austen movie with my girl (my boy is away camping.)
  • figure out how to get spaces between these bullet points so it's not all squished up.

What I need to do today:

  • go to a going-away party for someone who doesn't want a going-away party, and to which I don't want to go.
  • bake chocolate chip cookies and prepare snacks for church fellowship time tomorrow.
  • fold and put away the huge pile of laundry that is on my couch.

What about you? Look, here is Mr. Linky again!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Uh oh.

I did almost no writing today.  I'm not sure how badly I missed the daily goal of 1667 words because I never did record my ending count last night.  As of this minute my total is 8826.

But, I knew there would be days like this so I purposely got ahead of my required daily word count.  I should still be able to get to 12,500 words by Sunday night, which will be the end of the first week. 

At least, I hope so.  Saturday night could be a long one...

Kids are doing fine on their stories. My boy is going camping this weekend so he may end up behind by Sunday night. But he'll pick up again next week.  My girl is cruising along and is probably close to 30% done already.

We haven't been doing a good job keeping up our daily record-keeping.  This was supposed to have a graphing project attached to it.  Tomorrow we'll do it.  Yeah, we will.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Miscellaneous election ramblings

This bit from Commentary cracked me up last night:

From GOP tech-meister Patrick Ruffini: “The racist teabaggers have elected Marco Rubio, and Susana Martinez, and Tim Scott, and Nikki Haley, and Bill Flores, and Allen West, and…”
While liberals scream "racist" at everyone who disagrees with them, conservatives are going about their business, electing the people they believe are competent, and trying to build the color-blind society everyone says they want.


I lived in California when Jerry Brown was governor.  I don't remember much about him - I wasn't really paying attention then - but I am pretty sure he was governor the year I got an IOU instead of a check for my state tax refund.

But I wonder about feminists who complain about the lack of women in high office.  I bet there are a few in California (insert snort of derision here).  They had a chance to elect a competent woman governor last night.  Why didn't they?

My email to my new Republican governor this morning:  "Congratulations.  Now call Chris Christie."  I bet I won't be the only one.  I'd love to see some of what's going on in NJ happen over here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

NaNoWriMo: End of Day Two

6,399 words.

That's mine; I don't know the kids'. They took their keyboards to bed with them and wrote as long as I'd let them.

Here are some words that are music to a mother's ear: "I am having so much fun writing this! My book is getting exciting and I can't stop writing!"

That was my nonwriting boy talking. Now I doubt I will like his novel; it's a science fiction story set sometime in the future. There are weapons and weird things like body-function monitors embedded in the spinal cord. Or something like that.

The point is, he's enjoying the process of writing. So that helps me to carry on.

NaNoWriMo: Why I am doing this

A few people have asked me why I am doing NaNoWriMo when I have said:

1.  I really have no desire to write fiction.  Never have.

2.  I don't have time in my day to write $1600+ words of fiction!

So to borrow a trite phrase:

It's for the children.

My children.    

When I asked them if they were interested in doing this project for our homeschool, they were enthusiastic about it. The girl has always enjoyed writing; her participation was a no-brainer.  The boy has not.  He has always struggled to write anything: fiction, nonfiction, a thank you note, a sentence.  But he wanted to try this. He got excited about this.

They were up for it.  And they wanted me to do it too.

So what was I supposed to say?

"No, I don't want to write a story.  I don't write fiction."    Now they can understand that preference. My boy doesn't write stories either.  But, um, what do you write, Mom?  Other than grocery lists and blog posts and comments?  Huh?   If you want me to try it, why can't you try it too?

"I don't have time."  Right.  We don't either, Mom. Of course they know that my word count is a lot bigger than theirs. And they know I don't have as much free time in my day as they do.  But still.  I'm asking them to sacrifice free time for something I want them to do. 

How about this, which might be just as valid as my other reasons:   "I don't think I can do it and I don't want to embarrass myself by trying."  Huh.  OK, Mom, got it.  We don't think we can do it either. Why bother trying then?

So I could not say no.  Last night as I cleaned the kitchen after neglecting it all day I wondered if it was worth it.  I asked the seminarian if he thought it was a good use of my time.  After all, it's not like the time he spends reading and studying.  There is a purpose to his.  My purpose is a little hard to see.  I'll get a certificate that says I wrote a crummy novel.  The kids may get paperback copies of theirs - I am still a little unclear on that.  But he agreed it was worth it.  Even after frozen fish fillets for dinner.  (From Aldi, and actually pretty good and cheap too.) 

Now if you are a mom whose kids are doing this and you are not, don't think I'm pointing my finger at you.  Your kids are not mine; I'm living my life and you are living yours.  So there is no criticism here.  I'd rather not be doing this.  And yet I am so glad I said yes.  And that they said yes.

But ask me again at the end of week two. 

Monday, November 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo: End of Day One

It was a great day.  Fun, exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating, boring.  No, not really boring.

We did spend a lot of time writing today.  And reading to each other, and trying to get on to the NaNoWriMo website, which is apparently not up to the task right now.  We assume things will get better soon.

We made up charts of our required words per day and week, and then exceeded today's goal.  I had told the kids they should at least do two day's worth of writing, more if they could manage it. They did.   My word counter (on the sidebar) is not correct as of this moment; maybe it's not even showing right now. I couldn't get on to the site to update it.  As of now, and I think I am done for the night, I have 3380 words.  That means 46,620 to go.  In 29 days.  My girl wrote 953 out of 8,000; the boy 680 out of 10,000.  (Kids can pick their own goals; adults required to write 50,000.) 

Mostly what I've written so far is banal dialog.  I'm trying to put more description in; after all, the story is set in England's Lake District so I ought to be able to find a few things to say about that.   But not yet.

I'm learning a lot but am too tired of typing to say much right now.  I will say that I found it amazingly easy to lapse into cliches and trite phrases.  They just slip right off the fingers.  Now I understand why so many books are so bad.  Mine included.

Tomorrow we have to add back in some of our regular activities.  It'll be interesting to see how the kids' spirits hold up.  Mine too.

NaNoWriMo: Day One

It hasn't actually started yet because the kids are still asleep.  But here is our plan for the day:

- A hearty breakfast of oatmeal and cheater's cinnamon buns (made with biscuit rather than yeast dough).

- Bible study time, because we can't throw everything away today.  But that is the only schoolish thing we will do. 

- Gather by the computer to write our first sentences.  The kids get the cute, fun, Dana keyboards and I get the desktop.  We will start off together, then most likely the kids will find cozy writing nooks of their own.  That's how things tend to go, anyway.

- A festive lunch.  Of what, I don't know yet.  I may run out for a frozen pizza.

- I'm sure they'll want to update their word counts frequently.  You can see mine on the sidebar. The kids are signed up with the Young Writer's Program which doesn't have a widget for the blog.   Too bad, and something I'll suggest for next year.

- We'll be making lots of tea.  And since we can't write all day I'll do some reading aloud, we'll go for a few walks to stretch our legs, and I'm sure someone will be asking for a little x-box time.

I'll update again at the end of the day!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday morning joural

Piles of papers and books. Baskets of miscellaneous stuff.

That's what I'm focusing on this Saturday morning.

All this week I've gotten up at 5:45.  Today I slept in:  set the alarm for 6:15.   I love this getting up early.  It had been so hard for me for a couple of reasons.  First, it's just hard to get out of bed.  I wanted to be up early, but I didn't want to make an effort to do it.  It's like my kid wanting to know how to play piano, but not being willing to actually go through the effort of lessons and practice.

But then there's the spousal unit.  He doesn't have to - or want to - get up really early.  I didn't want to set the alarm and wake him up unnecessarily.  Sometimes I would pray that God would wake me up when He wanted me to get up, but that didn't always work.  I'd wake up, maybe, but tell God to go away, that I was just kidding. Not a good way to start the day.

Then I discovered the alarm on my cell phone.  It's quieter than the clock alarm, and easier to deal with when it goes off.  I just pick it up, slip out of bed, and leave the room.  It wakes him up a little, but not enough to be troublesome.  He can go back to sleep.  I can be up!  Reading, writing, sorting papers, walking the dog.

Today the dog was anxious to go out.  It was still completely dark outside when we left for our walk. The darkness of early morning is so different from the darkness of night.  We walked quickly - it's finally cold! - and he romped in the leaves.  We saw two people on our walk:  the newspaper delivery lady, and an ancient-looking man out picking up his paper.  I get the feeling he was waiting for her to show up.  He didn't notice me, and I didn't speak.  It was so beautifully quiet; all I heard was the slight hum of the Turnpike and the rustling of the leaves when the dog jumped in a pile.

Do you look forward to the morning paper?   Or do you skip it and get your news elsewhere?  

Look, here is my first "Mr. Linky" for your blogging pleasure. Tell me what you're doing today.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Almost ready?

Only a few days till NaNoWriMo.   Monday morning we start!

Our second wireless keyboard is on its way from West Viriginia.  Now we have one keyboard per person.  The kids are very excited to have their own.  My girlie asked if she could have the original Dana because... she doesn't know why.  Sentimental, I guess.

We've been going through the middle school workbook a little.  But we're also busy with other things so aren't spending a lot of time talking about our stories.

The kids set their word counts and now I need to have them figure out a words-per-day goal.  The boy has a camping trip early in the month that he has to account for.   Of course there will be other days we don't have time to write.  I frequently remind them that other schoolish activities will go on next month too.  I think they're picturing a creative writing extravaganza with breaks for x-box and Dr. Who.

My word goal is 50,000 - set by NaNoWriMo, not by me -  so that's about 1,700 words a day.  Frightening!

I'm feeling like we should have been doing more preparation:  more character development, more plot outlining. We're doing it the way we do most things:  just flying by the seat of our pants.

Where did that expression come from, anyway?

So I'm scared and excited.   And trying to figure out a festive way to kick off the month on Monday.  I hope the 2nd keyboard will be here so we can go to a cafe and write.  The kids are just dying to do that.  Me too!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meet my new friend Dana

Dana is a wireless keyboard. A laptop word processor, you might say. 

You can type things into her. Grocery lists, the Bible passage you're trying to memorize, a novel. Then you hook her up to the computer and transfer what you've typed into a text file.

She's wonderful.

I first heard about Dana in an indirect way. Barbara Frank introduced me to Neo, Dana's sibling. Or cousin, maybe. I thought that was interesting but not really relevant to me. But then came NaNoWriMo. My kids and I are going to write our own novels next month. Exciting!

But we are three people who share one computer. Please. Tell me how we can each spend an hour-plus each day writing with only one computer, unless one of us (me) does all the writing in the middle of the night.  The boy said he would write his out on paper, but really, how long will that last?   And at some point it has to be typed up anyway. 

Then I remembered Neo, and started looking around. Being broke cheap frugal, I was searching for a  bargain, and found one on Ebay.  I think Dana had belonged to a school and was being replaced.  There were quite a few available. 

Of course now the kids and I are fighting over Dana.  No one wants to use the "big computer."  And there are still three of us sharing two keyboards.  I'm toying with the idea of another Dana, but then the kids will claim both of them and I'll just have the stodgy old desktop.  Who wants to use that?  Sometimes I get the feeling we are the only people left on earth who use a desktop and don't have a laptop for each member of the family.

Maybe I'll just have to buy three. I can picture the three of us looking oh-so-authorly, hanging out and writing together in a coffee shop. Or out at our favorite arboretum.

Who wouldn't find inspiration here?

If the seminarian came along, he could bring his laptop.  See, we do have one.

One of the nice things about Dana is the lack of distraction.  There is no internet, so in the middle of writing, I can't say "oh, I need to look that up."  I can't see that I just got email.  I can't decide to take a break and go check my reader to see if there's a blog post I must read now.  It's just Dana, me, and the written word.

Don't you want a Dana of your own?

I'm linking up to Works for me Wednesday because even though NaNoWriMo hasn't started yet, Dana works for me.

UPDATE: I just found another Dana on Ebay.  So each child will have his and her own to use.  If we do any writing in a cafe or park, I'll just have to use actual paper and pen!  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ten observations from my morning walk

An impromptu Top Ten Tuesday post, inspired by my early morning walk.

1.  The best time for a morning walk is just before sunrise when it's light enough not to stumble along but not so bright the sun is shining in my eyes.

2.  It's hard to pray while walking an active, curious dog.

3.  I need one of those shrubs that turns bright red in the fall.

4.  High school boys ought to know better than to sit in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing cranky middle-aged ladies to step into the street.

5.  People who don't clean up after their dogs are at best rude, at worst sociopaths.

6. I need to actually plant some mums rather than just keeping them in pots on the porch.

7.  The scent of fallen leaves takes me right back to West Seneca, New York, where I was born and lived for my first 9 years.

8. Why can't we just wait till all the leaves are down and rake then?

9.  I'm sick of seeing skeletons hanging in trees.

10.  I love fall and love my pretty neighborhood.

See more top tens and post your own at Oh Amanda.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday morning joural

It's a girls' day here!

The men are out camping so in a minute my girlie and I are off to pick up a friend for brunch. We had to squeeze this little social event into a few hours this morning so we arranged a brunch date. Pancakes, raspberry syrup, tea.

After we take our friend home we're going in search of some new yarn. I finished a scarf last night and wanted to wrap up in it. It was so cold in the house. So I want to make a shawl.

Yes, I am getting old.

What is happening at your house this morning?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Just one of those little God moments

It's another camping weekend for the Boy Scout.  I love and hate these weekends.  As he gains more responsibility in Scouts, he has more to remember and more stuff to take.  He used to take money for food; now he's the one bringing the food.  This weekend he needed his bike and helmet.  He needs his housekey and some cash, just in case.

So I'm trying to train him to make a list that he can print and use and update as needed. But he won't do that.  He will never do that.  And I should stop worrying that he'll forget something and let him forget it, even if it means all the boys go without breakfast because he doesn't have the eggs.  (He'll never forget the chocolate and cheetos so we're OK there. And there are worse things than chocolate and cheetos for breakfast.)  I don't really do all that much for him.  Sometimes I toss out little reminders.  Sometimes because he's running late I'll pack the cooler, but not usually.  I do worry about those eggs breaking.   Yeah, worrying is what I'm best at.

The other thing I'm trying to get him to understand - unsuccessfully, so far -  is that while there are a lot of tasks that can wait till the last minute, if he leaves too many he will be rushed just when he doesn't want to be.  But he comes by that trait genetically so I don't guess there's much I can do about it. 

Yesterday I asked him to be sure he had all the clothing he needed so we didn't have a laundry emergency.  He assured me he did.  Yet, 30 minutes before he was to leave, I found him rooting through a pile of laundry that hadn't been sorted yet.  What was he looking for?  Socks.  Not the everyday white socks he wears all the time.  The warm hiking socks.  There weren't any there; I hadn't seen any for a while.  We checked the dirty laundry and they weren't there either. He was getting a little frantic; he doesn't like having cold feet.  Then I thought of checking one last place.

Some people will understand the misplaced clothes pile.  I don't think I'm the only one who has one of those. It's just clothing that gets into the wrong room - my room - when laundry is being sorted.  My pile is kind of big.  I was going to get to it tonight, honest!  But I figured the socks must have been there.

But when I got to my room to check the pile, I saw the socks - two pairs! - laying neatly on my bed.  As if they had been placed there on purpose.  But not by me, because I hadn't known they were there.  No one else admitted to putting the socks so nicely in that spot.  They should have been in the pile.  So I handed them to the boy and he went on to pack the next last-minute item.

My life is very easy.   I don't have a lot of problems; I have a house where mostly everything works; I don't stay up nights wondering how we're going to pay the light bill; my family is healthy; we have good friends and a good church.  But sometimes, when something goes wrong, or even when something just seems uncertain, I  wonder what God is doing.  I don't mean things like socks going missing; bigger things than that.  But we know we are to trust that everything will come right in the end, and to hang tight, even though sometimes - even with an easy life - it's a little hard to do that.

And then God sets your missing socks right in front of your eyes.  It's like a little wink or a squeeze of the hand; a little reminder that yes, I'm still here and watching over things, and it will indeed all come right in the end.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NaNoWriMo: I knew this would happen

We're getting excited about NaNoWriMo here. I was not enthusiastic about writing a novel but now I can't wait.  Actually, I had gotten started.   I had my story figured out and even had some notes down to get going.

Then I changed everything.  That is an old, forgotten habit of mine.  I'm having flashbacks to my last couple years in college, when I'd stay up half the night writing a paper, then trash it, start over, and spend the second half of the night writing the new paper.  So I should have expected it to happen.

And as much as I've said I don't want to write fiction, I'd forgotten that this idea had been kicking around in my head for a few years; I don't know how I forgot it, because once it came to me today, it was so obvious.

I shouldn't post this because... I don't know why I shouldn't.  There are only 5 or 6 of you to read this anyway so it's not as if I'm revealing some big secret to the world. 

To those of you who have been reading here for a while, what books am I always nagging you to read?  Right. Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons and all the books following.  It's all over my sidebar and I post about these books as often as I can. 

Those books end when the main characters are teens/children.   What if the story went on?  What if someone picked up the story after several years, when the Walkers and the Blacketts were grown and married and had their own kids? 

Could that work?

I guess I will find out!

Visiting John Newton

One of our sentimental favorite books is Mr Pipes And The British Hymn Makers by Douglas Bond. It's the story of an English church organist who befriends a couple of American kids temporarily living in his village. They have adventures and learn about hymns and the people who wrote them. It is a sweet, fun book. There are sequels but none was as well-loved as the first.

When we went to England and Scotland in 2005, we took the book along to reread. We wanted some reading that "fit" our surroundings and we thought we needed something to fill time. As it happens, we barely read anything on that trip.

But there was another reason I took the book along. We wanted to surprise the kids at the end of the trip with a visit to Olney, the real village in which the fictional story takes place. We wanted to visit the church and John Newton's grave. Of course "Amazing Grace" and John Newton's story is in the book.

Two days before our flight home, we stopped in a nondescript town near Olney and stayed at a utilitarian businessman's hotel, much different from the inns we'd gotten used to. We told the kids we had one more fun place to go the next day.

I don't remember exactly how or when they learned where we were. Did they see the "Welcome to Olney" sign? Or did we tell them?  I wish I could recall.  But they were very excited when they figured it out!
The town is the stereotypical English village we'd been looking for all month.  We spent some time walking around looking at the landmarks.  William Cowper's house. The site of the pancake race.  There was a Cowper and Newton Museum which we were anxious to visit, but it was closed.  We saw some women inside and lurked at the windows trying to get them to take pity on us and open up, but it didn't happen.

John Newton's church.

So we went to the church.  It's a beautiful place, full of stained glass.   We spent a long time exploring it and the grounds around it.  I think we ran into one person while we were there and he didn't speak to us. No tour guide, or even the pastor of the church greeted us. It was so quiet and lovely.

Cute kids smiling by a grave.  Tacky?

Newton's story in stained glass.

 It was one of the highlights of our trip.  We all enjoyed the day though it didn't make it any easier to drive to the airport to go home.  We haven't read about Mr. Pipes again but it is one of those books we will never give away. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Old photos and kitchen excitement

Tonight I spent some time looking through old photos on a computer I rarely use (the seminarian's laptop). That is always such fun though I really didn't have time for it tonight. I spent most of my time looking at the photos from the trip we took to England and Scotland in September of 2005. Hard to believe that was 5 years ago now! I'm sure I'll be posting a lot of those photos but I got a kick out of this one.

For the first week of our four-week trip, we had an apartment in London. The kitchen was quite exciting. I loved the electric kettle which had water hot for tea in about 30 seconds. No kidding. It was fab.

But the kids were just fascinated with the toaster. At home we have a toaster oven so this might have been their first experience with a pop-up toaster. They just couldn't stop watching it, waiting for the toast to pop, and there was fresh excitement, every time.

NaNoWriMo: Gearing Up

The kids and I are officially signed up now.  We all came up with user names, read all the FAQs, and browsed around the sites a bit.  They chose the length of their novels (50,000 words is not required for the Young Writers Program), and we all have a general idea of our stories.  I'm sure they'll change a lot over the month.

I have been thinking about the logistics of this project.  How will we fit in writing every single day?  How will the three of us manage with just the one computer?  The boy plans to write by hand - somehow after years of struggling he's found he's pretty quick at it, and it no longer hurts - but at some point it'll have to be typed up. And there will be a lot of spelling to be corrected, but I don't want to think about that right now.

I saw Barbara Frank's post about the Alphasmart Neo portable keyboard and did some exploring online. I have a similar product by the same manufacturer (ordered used on Ebay) coming my way and I can't wait to see it.  That will give us two keyboards, and if it's as super fab as it looks, maybe we'll get another.

Oh, my user name is Mrs. Blackberry, if you are NaNoing and want to get in touch there. Thanks for the messages of support about that.  That name has nothing to do with the well-known mobile device, by the way.  It has to do with the fruit.   And nothing to do with my book, so far at least.  Hmmmm......

Come on, November!  We're ready for you.  I think.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NaNoWriMo: the beginning

NaNoWriMo begins in 16 days.  My kids still want to do it. They still want me to do it.  I still am not into writing fiction - I never even made up stories for my kids when they were little; I just read to them.  At least, that's how I remember it. They keep telling me I made up stories about a mouse but no one remembers anything about them or even the mouse's name, so I think they created a memory.  Will they be in therapy in years to come because I didn't make up stories for them?

But anyway, I'll go for it.  I tried to take the first step yesterday by signing up on the website.  But my preferred login name was taken!  Who else would be Marbel?  (That's pronounced "marble" by the way, and is an old family nickname.)  So now I'm stumped.  I can't come up with a name. 

And if I can't come up with a user name, how will I write an entire novel?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On my meme-free week

So last week I didn't participate in any of my usual memes.  Oh, I guess I did one that just fit in with what I was blogging about anyway.  I noticed:

I didn't miss it a whole lot.

I didn't visit as many blogs as I usually do.  Just the ones in my reader, no new ones.  I didn't go to the memes since I didn't post. 

Traffic is way down (not to say it was ever high), but comments are mostly up.

My house is a little cleaner.

My laundry is a little more caught up. 

Memes are fun.  They give something to write about for those of us who like to write but don't always have anything to say. They bring people to the blog, but those people don't always come back.

It's fun to see the sitemeter numbers go up.  Not so fun when they go back down.  I'll admit that. But I like it that people are talking back to me more.   So keep talking! 

Why do you blog? Is it in the hope of becoming well-known, or making money, or promoting a cause, or simply as a venue for writing?  They are all valid reasons.  Tell me about your blogging philosophy.   If you read blogs but don't have one yourself, what stops you from jumping in?

Saturday morning joural

Mornings have been a mess around here.  I've been sleeping too late and feeling rushed every day, even if we didn't have any place to go.  (Though stay-home days are pretty rare right now.)  I'd let the kids sleep until the moment I felt like they should be up and ready to be productive, and expect them to jump when I called them.  It wasn't working,  They wanted a little time in the morning to ease into the day.  Why shouldn't they?  I always do.

So we made a deal:  on "school" days their time is mine at 8 am.  (Yeah, I know, pretty late by some folks' standards.)  If they want free time at the beginning of the day, they need to be up earlier.  They asked me to call them at 7:30.  I did, and it worked.  We actually ended up having a nice breakfast together with a lot of discussion.  It turned out to be a pretty productive day.

That shouldn't have been so hard to figure out!

They asked me to do it again this morning even though it's Saturday and we have no agenda other than chores and watching Shane.  So I have about three minutes to finish this up.

This morning I've been reading about a golfer who was born male, went through the gender-reassignment process, and now is suing to compete as a female.   Wow.

From that I skipped over to an article about the new "Democratic Free School" that is hoping to open in Philadelphia soon.  I was talking about that with a friend over coffee last night (actually I had hot cider with way too much whipped cream); she is a fellow homeschooler and has more positive feelings about the concept than I do.  I feel even less enthusiastic about it after reading this:
Loucas said the Free School would begin its pilot program in January. He said all students enrolled in the program would receive additional schooling each weekday from a separate certified education program. The students will be homeschooled, take online courses, or be enrolled part-time at a public school so they meet their legal requirements.
So, the parents will spend $9 - $10,000 a year but still have to homeschool or otherwise acquire classes for their kids to meet state requirements.  Doesn't sound like this program is going to be very helpful for the typical Philadelphia public school student.  

Oh, my three minutes are up!  What are you reading about and pondering today?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reading the Bible in a year

In my Bible reading plan, it's July.

I am so conflicted about my Bible reading.  Everywhere I go, people are telling me I must, and my children must, read the Bible all the way through every year.  I am told of the great spiritual benefits of doing this.  I don't disagree with that, exactly.  But when I try to do it, it feels like cramming.  I'm just reading as quickly as I can to check off the day, but not getting anything out of it.

But last December I decided to at least do my reading systematically, if not yearly.  I found a chronological reading plan.  I thought about it and prayed about it and came to the conclusion that I'd read daily, but wouldn't try to finish in the year.  I'd take my time and read deeply, but not quickly.  (I am sure some people can read both deeply and quickly, so if you are a yearly Bible reader don't think I'm telling you you're not doing it right.)  But as we approach the year's end, I am starting to feel the guilt come back. I find myself trying to catch up, even though it's impossible at this point, unless I go away to a hotel for a weekend to read.

And so I think of Janet.  She is a dear woman who gave me a lot of encouragement (and, yes, guilt, though I don't think she meant to) about reading the whole Bible every year.  She was not proud, but she frequently ticked off the years she'd been doing it herself. Last time I talked to her, I think it was 26.  26 times through the Bible in 26 years!  Wow. That's impressive.

And then I thought about Janet's age. She must have been in her mid-70s when I knew her.  Let's say, 75.  That means she started her reading habit when she was 49, thereabouts.  I am pretty sure her kids were up and out then.  I am pretty sure she was not homeschooling then.  I don't doubt that she was busy, but I think she was out of the thick of childrearing by that time.  (Some of us, at 49 and above, are still in the thick of it.) 

So maybe I'm just rationalizing my own lack, but I am resolving to put this guilt aside once and for all. I'm going to keep following my Bible reading plan, but not worry about the date.  Some days I might read many chapters; some only a portion of one.  I'm reading Isaiah now, and taking it slow.  I have a commentary I'm reading along with it so that slows me down, but adds much to my reading.  I have a commentary on Esther that I'll pull out when that time comes.

My kids will continue their slow pace in their own Bible studies, which, in effect, I'm doing with them, since we discuss everything.  

Do you read the Bible in full every year?   Do you follow a plan, or just read from start to finish?  Or are you a slacker like me who can't seem to manage it?   Tell me about it. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blog List

I've updated the blog list in my sidebar.  It now reflects what's in my reader. There are a lot, aren't there?  I can't keep up with them all. 

I also took out a few blogs that had gone inactive.  I almost feel like I'm being disloyal but, hey, it's a tough blogging world. 

If you serve in a women's minsitry...

I would love to hear about it.

Somehow I am now on the women's ministry committee at my church.  I didn't exactly sign up for it; but I'm happy to participate.   We are a small church and our congregants are friendly but we don't have a cohesive group of women.  Yet.  We're working on it.

I just finished reading, for the second time, J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt's wonderful book, Women's Ministry in the Local Church.   I received it five or so years ago while at a leadership conference.  This is a practical book with real ideas for starting and maintaining a useful, lively women's ministry.  It is also the place I first encountered the term "complementarianism."   This is the idea that men and women are different, with different gifts, skills, and talents, and thus have different roles in the church and in life.   Here is Ligon Duncan on the concept:
Complementarianism gives the relational framework for men and women to live out their covenantal privileges and responsibilities. The complementarian position acknowledges that God created men and women equal in being but assigned different - but equally valuable - functions in His kingdom and that this gender distinctiveness complements, or harmonizes, to fulfill His purpose.
He contrasts this idea with egalitarianism, which "asserts that there is no legitimate difference of role and function between men and women in the home and church..."   I also  love this:  "[Egalitarianism] wrongly equates any acknowledgment of role distinction with inequality and discrimination." 

This forms the basis of the book:  a church needs a women's ministry because women and men are different, with different needs and different gifts.  The book expands on that ("the apologetic") and then goes on with practical help for leaders, but is also written for the male leadership of the church and explains their role in it as well.

Both Dr. Duncan and Mrs. Hunt are part of the Presbyterian Church in America, which assumes male headship in home and church.  You will not find a female pastor or elder in a PCA church. Nor will you in my denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  (They are very much alike; we were members of the PCA before we moved and the seminarian could serve in either denomination when he graduates.) People in denominations where women do serve in leadership might not like everything this book says, but it might still be valuable for the information specific to women's ministry. Or who knows?  Maybe it will change your mind about the roles of men and women in the church.  I found it very useful, and plan to pass it on to my sisters as we work together to serve the women in our church.

Tell me about your women's ministry!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Who is doing it?

Who has already done it and has something to say about it?

November is National Novel Writing Month.  My kids want to try it.  They want me to try it. 

How about you?