Saturday, November 30, 2013

Elves and Gingerbread Men

I'll state right here: I can't see myself ever doing Elf on a Shelf. Not because I think it's wrong to motivate children by having Santa spy on them, not because I think everyone should just chill out--basically, I'm too unorganized, and I know I'll be lucky if I can even get an advent calendar going and actually stick to it.

But as I was looking at someone's Elf on a Shelf post the other day, I was reminded of a Christmas tradition that we had in my family growing up. Like Elf on a Shelf, we had a little friend who would mysteriously appear at the scene of random occurrences; he was seemingly inanimate, and yet managed to do so much.

We had Gracious George, the Gingerbread Man.

Our George was made of dark brown felt, with rickrack and buttons for decoration. He had a pocket on his back that was just big enough to fit a tootsie roll or a quarter. And Gracious George always heralded good things.

It started with a Family Home Evening lesson on a Monday night. We would tell the story of Gracious George, using flannel board pictures, I believe. It was similar to the regular story of the Gingerbread man, but before he would run from anyone, he would do an act of service for them--for example, he cleaned the old woman's dishes, and weeded the old man's garden. Things like that. He ran and ran, shouting the classic epithet,

Run, run, run, as fast as you can!
You can't catch me, 
I'm Gracious George the Gingerbread Man! 

Okay, so maybe it differed a little from the classic.

Either way, he ran until he came to . . . our house! There he continued his acts of service, but always trying not to be caught. 

Mom and dad would then take George and put everything away, but sometime that night or the next day, he would appear on a newly-folded bed, or bearing a treat, or on a straightened bookshelf. And then it would be the recipient's turn to give an act of service, leaving Gracious George as the only sign of who had done it.

We loved being ultra-sneaky and seeing what kinds of acts of service we could pull off under each others' noses. And the best part? My mom didn't have to clean up any messes George made, or figure out something new to do with him every day. She left that to us--unless it was her turn, of course.

Remembering Gracious George brought back a lot of nostalgia, and I realized that it's about time for me to start some of these types of Christmas  traditions with my girls. I'm thinking that next year will be the year that Gracious George puts in his first appearance at our house.

What's your favorite Christmas tradition? What age do you remember these  traditions being most important to you?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Answers to the Movie Game

Alright, folks. Here they are, in all their glory: the titles to the movies those wonderful quotations came from. Each of these movies made an impact on my life in some way. Most I've seen too many times to count, but #8 I've only seen once; the line just stuck with me and I've been using it for several years.
  1. "Don't make me beat you with this leg of mine that no longer works!"
    • This comes from the fantastically amazing movie Surf Ninjas. Don't believe the star-rating; it's awesome... if you're watching with the right people, and just want the hilarious dialogue.
  2. "You gentlemen mind if I take this little 'ol jug of mountain water with me?"
    • Hot Lead and Cold Feet. Jim Dale (frequently known in the U.S. as the narrator for the Harry Potter audiobooks) triple-stars in this movie as old Jasper Bloodshy and his twin sons.
  3. "You know, Joe Jr.'s still single."--"Shocker."
    • While You Were Sleeping. I've used this movie to convince guys that chick flicks are awesome. Also, I feel like I married into this family. Family dinners are awesome. (And the paper boy who accidentally eats it is one of the best moments in film history.)
  4. "Wise man say, 'Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.'"
  5. "The mouse? He's left our house! To ease the pain... he's down the drain!"
    • Ladyhawke. This one is a little more obscure, but well worth the time to find. It's the first movie I remember my mom ever buying on DVD.
  6. "I've been using fruity soaps, Maggie."
    • Waking Ned Devine. Watch this one when you're in the mood for British humor, and when you have people with you who will laugh at British humor.
  7. "Girl or not, I can still whip you!"
    • Ever After. In my opinion, one of the best Cinderella movies out there.
  8. "But the talking mice told me it was the wrong girl!"
    • Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time. This one I've only seen once, and don't really feel any need to watch again. Watching it with my college roommates was really entertaining, though, and this part of the movie had us falling off our seats with laughter. I've been quoting the line ever since.
  9. "Llama face!"
  10. "Don't just stand there, do something!"--"What for? There's only three little ones."
  11. "The hospital is fine except for this wicked nurse. She's got the face of a dragon's butt."
    • Alright, so there are three ninja movies on this list--my family was really into karate; what can I say? This one is from 3 Ninjas Kick Back.
  12. Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars. (We rarely bothered quoting the new ones.)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Inconceivable!" And Other Well-Loved Favorites

This morning I woke up with movie quotations running through my head. It happens a lot considering I don't watch very many movies.

My brothers were always the better quoters. They could watch a funny movie once and have most of the dialogue memorized; twice and they were pretty much golden. It usually took me 3 times and a movie I really loved before I'd have it memorized, but I could usually jump in on their quoting games. It got to the point that I once had a friend tell me that my family had "a quote and a song for any situation."

I've also realized, however, that some of the movies I know and love are rather obscure. Not all are as easily named as the one I quoted in the title of this post. So here are a few lines, some easy to guess, some not, which I've found myself quoting more than once over the years. How many can you correctly identify? (Without googling--that's just cheating.) Check back in Monday for the answers.

  1. "Don't make me beat you with this leg of mine that no longer works!"
  2. "You gentlemen mind if I take this little 'ol jug of mountain water with me?"
  3. "You know, Joe Jr.'s still single."--"Shocker."
  4. "Wise man say, 'Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.'"
  5. "The mouse? He's left our house! To ease the pain... he's down the drain!"
  6. "I've been using fruity soaps, Maggie."
  7. "Girl or not, I can still whip you!"
  8. "But the talking mice told me it was the wrong girl!"
  9. "Llama face!"
  10. "Don't just stand there, do something!"--"What for? There's only three little ones."
  11. "The hospital is fine except for this wicked nurse. She's got the face of a dragon's butt."
  12. [Insert any Star Wars quote here.]

Monday, November 4, 2013

Learning to See

Cim's "pet" spider wrapping up lunch.

I sat and watched an Orb Weaver spider make its web the other night. One long strand stretched up to the power line above us. Another connected to a bush at my head-height, and a third stabilizing thread connected to the grass at my feet. The web shone in the light from the streetlamp above as the spider made her way around and around. Her orange-and-brown-striped legs moved tirelessly, reach, pull, attach, cross, reach, pull...

I might not have stopped to watch, except that my daughters' fascination with spiders has rubbed off since we've come to Georgia. It's not just spiders that hold our attention, though.

One day Cim and I sat and watched the dirt in the flowerbed shift and ripple, little crumbs rolling down the sides of new mountains as a worm crawled just beneath the surface. We caught some of the worms and watched them wiggle, then let them work their way back into the dirt, seeing how they exploited tiny cracks and air pockets in the soil.

Another day we caught tan and green grasshoppers and little black-and-red beetles. We watched their antennae move, and watched the grasshoppers spring on their powerful hind legs. We counted their legs. We watched the little beetles fly away right before we could catch them.

The semester or two after I graduated college, I watched through Facebook as most of my English Major friends and classmates applied for graduate school, accepted student teaching or undergraduate teaching positions, or otherwise pursued their writing/literature studies in obvious and laudable ways. And sometimes, I got a little sad. I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom (I graduated in December of 2010 with one baby in my arms, and got pregnant with baby #2 in April), but sometimes I wondered if all the time I'd spent in college was a waste, and if all the things I'd learned about writing and literature would just fade away until I someday sat down to try to re-learn them after my kids were grown.

I've come to peace with this several times in different ways, but only recently have I noticed that I'm in my ideal writing program right now.

Several times in college I read the essay "Learning to See" by Samuel H. Scudder, in which his mentor makes him look at the same fish over and over again for days, trying to see new things about it. Amazingly enough, he finds that no matter how much he's already seen, there's more yet to describe. As writers, we then did exercises like taking one small leaf and writing descriptions of it for fifteen minutes. Once we used a sour gummy worm; I've never forgotten the little lavender line on mine where the pink and blue merged, or the way the sugar crystals sparkled. These exercises helped us remember to look beyond (and hopefully write beyond) the obvious appearance of things, to get at the details that would bring our writing alive.

And now, with my toddlers for tutors, I'm being taught to see once again.

They're also busy teaching me how to imagine. Somewhere over the years, I mostly quit daydreaming. My imagination expressed itself when I wrote, but it sometimes felt squeaky, rusty. It was also reluctant to fire up unless I was actually sitting in front of the computer or a piece of paper, ready to write.

These days, at my three-year-old's direction, I'm a ninja running around the yard fighting monsters with my stick-sword. (Those weeds never knew what hit them.) I'm the mommy dinosaur/tiger/kitty/platypus. I'm a school teacher. I'm a dancer.

And emotion--another key part of writing? Got it covered. Have you ever watched a one-and-a-half-year-old try to analyze why she's crying? Have you ever seen a three-year-old's level of excitement when handed a bucket and told to say 'trick-or-treat'? What about sibling rivalries, feelings of betrayal when mom has to help the "other" child, and anger, which always has some other underlying cause? Oh yes, with two toddler girls, we run the gamut of emotion every ten minutes or so.

Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I'm too busy with the dishes, or whatever it may be, and I don't come when I hear, "Mom, come here, you have GOT to see this!"

But sometimes I do. And my little tutors get to work.

Someday I'll get to the point where I turn my focus to publishing (after a lot of consideration and prayer, I've decided that time's not now), and where I'm finishing as many projects as I have beginnings for in my head. Maybe by then I'll have learned how to live, to see, to imagine, and to feel. And with that, maybe I'll be able to write books worth reading.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


I know, it's been awhile since I've written a good, in-depth post. There are reasons (a.k.a. excuses), but I promise I'll get one up soon. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of what I did with that crazy pile of crafting supplies.

Cim wanted to be a princess...

Mari wanted to be a dinosaur...

And we knew they'd each want whatever the other had.

So they got to be dinosaur princesses.

I didn't want to be left out!

And neither did Dad (though I didn't get his tutu made in time--that red tulle will have to be put to use elsewhere).

And who doesn't like having a family of t-rexes stomping around the neighborhood?

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Homemade Horror

Mari was asleep in her bed. Cim was asleep in my bed... or so I thought.

Because she kept waking up her sister, Cim has been relegated to my bed for naptime. She's gotten in trouble several times for touching things on our headboard shelves, but she hadn't done it in awhile, and everything was oh-so-quiet... which would normally be a warning sign, but this time I thought it meant sleep, so I was busily working away on Halloween costumes.

Then Ryan came home, and at the sound of his voice, I suddenly heard sounds from the bedroom as well. We opened the door to find this.

All that's missing from this classic horror scene is the weapon.

Or maybe this white marble Chinese Medicine ball is the culprit? It carries fingerprints, at least.

What made this massive mess, you ask?

The contents of this little container. It's wax-based red ink we brought back from China, meant for use with Ryan's "chop," a stamp of his name cut from a piece of marble. I hadn't even realized it was in our room.

But I have a permanent reminder now.

Cim went straight to the tub of course...

Where we discovered she'd pulled her jeans up and painted herself a pair of red knee-highs.

Dawn dish soap helped some.

The tub, a spot on the counter (she climbed out of the tub and grabbed the white counter before we could catch her), the mattress, and several spots on the carpet are still bleeding waxy substance, no matter how hard we try to wipe them up (dry cloths work better than wet, due to the wax, but our stain removers are proving totally ineffectual). 

We tried really hard not to let her see us laughing when we first opened the door, but the more we got into the clean-up, the more we were holding in yells instead. This stuff is so bad. Because it won't just dry out and stain like a marker or something, if we step on a spot on the carpet, we spread it, and if we put new sheets on our bed, they'll pick it up from the mattress.

Chalk another one up for life experience. This day has won. We're exhausted.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Costume Time!

Halloween is coming.

You don't say...?

Good thing I had coupons,

Because I was feeling ambitious.

And now slightly overwhelmed.

(But still very excited. This will be awesome.)

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Bubbles

I decided it was time for me to post something humorous, so here's an embarrassing moment from my past. Enjoy.

Was this what a tension headache was?  I guess I’d never had a real one before.  We’d just taken Mandi to the airport.  The glorious cross-country trip we’d planned together was over.  Finally. Apparently tacking a trip like that onto the end of a semester was bad for me.
“Why don’t you go take a bath?  They have a hot tub, you know,” my mom suggested.
“Yeah,” chimed in our friend Paralee, at whose home we were spending the night, “make it a bubble bath.  There’s nothing more relaxing.”
At this point I was ready to try anything.  With some help, I found a towel, and Paralee showed me how to work the hot tub and pointed out where the bottle of bubble bath solution sat.  I was ready.
I played with the temperature, making it just hot enough that when I started to climb in I had to ease myself in slowly.  I watched as the water level rose up the side of the tub.  Now it was at the bottom of the jets.  Now the middle.  Now they were covered; time to relax between the pounding streams of air and bubbling water.  Wait, bubbles!  Paralee had said I should use bubbles, and I hadn’t had a bubble bath since I was a little kid.  Gleefully, I poured a small stream of lavender-scented bubble mixture into the steaming water.  Then, thoughtlessly, I pushed the button to turn on the hot tub jets.
Think back to the last time you took a bubble bath.  Remember the thick clouds of foam, which you stuck to your chin for a beard and put in your hair so you could be Santa Clause?  Remember how when your mom poured in the bubble liquid, you beat your arms and legs spastically in the water to make the bubbles as big as possible?
Within five seconds, the bubbles were up to my chin.  In ten, I was fighting them away from my mouth and nose, trying to get them off my face while at the same time trying to hold the growing mountain from spilling out of the tub.  I pictured the headlines: “19-year-old girl smothered by lavender bubble-bath.”  Frantically, I turned off the hot-tub jets and began shoving bubbles under the water, trying to drown them. 
After about five minutes, I managed to reduce the pile to a size which allowed me to breathe without threat of suffocation.  I sat back in the water and contemplated the remaining bubbles.  I lifted my hand under a two-inch pile, bringing it toward my face and studying the way the bubbles clung to one another.  Then I clenched my fist around the pile and thrust the bubbles under the water, watching them fizzle into nothing.
Five minutes later I had managed to subdue the remaining bubbles.  Looking at the water, I gloried in my total triumph over my foe.  Then, stupidly, I reached once more for the button which would activate the hot-tub jets.
When I stumbled from the bathroom fifteen minutes later, shaking and on the verge of tears, my mom and Paralee stared at me.
“What happened?” my mom finally asked.
“The bubbles ate me.”  I shuddered, and, without further explanation, retreated to the cushion on the floor on the corner—my bed—and curled up in the fetal position, where I stayed until dinner.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On Dreams

I began this post June 14, 2012. I even posted it for a few hours, then took it back down because I hadn't followed my thoughts through to a satisfying point; I had started to explore it, then dropped off with a cheap ending.

Let's give it another try.

I have a poster my mom made for me a couple years ago. It features the above picture, and below that the quotation,

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
that cannot fly...

...Langston Hughes t.

This poster sat in the box it was shipped in for three years, because I couldn't face it. I was fighting the demons of my dance dreams, and all I could think when I saw the poster was, "How am I supposed to hold fast to dreams if they contradict what I know I'm supposed to be doing with my life?" I felt quite literally like the broken-winged bird--I had been used to flying through the air in gravity-defying dance lifts, and now I was grounded. 

I've shed a lot of tears over those dreams. I once even wrote melodramatic poetry about my dreams talking to me as I tried to kill them. (Not very good poetry, in case you wondered.)

I always knew that my ultimate dream of being a mother superseded all my dance dreams, or all my educational or literary dreams, or all my craft dreams--yet, when I finally achieved motherhood, I struggled to accept the world-altering commitment of all my time and resources to one thing and one thing only. And I didn't understand why I was struggling.

I still don't understand all of it, but I'm starting to put some of the pieces together. In the movie "Tangled," there's a part where Rapunzel asks what to do if something actually is "everything [she] dreamed it would be." Flynn replies that she'll get to "find a new dream."

That resonated with me, but it still seemed to only partially apply, because I hadn't fulfilled my old dreams--they were just sitting there, still hoping to be pulled back out, and it was hard to reach for new dreams when I was so tempted to reach for the old ones.

Then I read a wonderful little novel called "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making." (Yes, it actually manages to live up to the title.) There's a part where the main character has to be bathed before entering a city, and one thing that gets washed is her dreams. The person bathing her explains that sometimes people don't recognize when they should launder their dreams, and so they hang on to old dusty, grimy dreams. That felt like exactly what I'd been doing, and it made sense to me that dreams, like everything else, might need to be "washed," or re-examined and reworked sometimes.

But I didn't know how to do it.

Three weeks after writing the above post, I wrote this:

I don't know how to wrap words around what dancing means to me.

Two weeks ago I went to a beginner's Salsa class. My mom told me I needed to go dancing while she was here, and that was what was available that week.

The steps were simple, less complicated than the classes I taught when I was 14. But it was a studio. The floor, the mirrors, the music--it shook me straight to my center. I danced that evening, and then I cried the whole way home.

When I pulled into the garage, I turned off the car and sat, sobbing, not wanting to go in and face my mom, my husband, my children. I looked upward, and through my tears, announced, "I can't not dance anymore."

And over those next few weeks, I learned an important lesson: I could be a mom and still dance. Not all the time, and not to the level I had in college, but I could, thanks to a loving, supportive, trusting husband, go to a Friday-night class and party and dance for two or three hours.

This seems so obvious to me now, but it was an epiphany at the time. Here I had two little girls, one almost two years old and one five months old, and I had done almost nothing but mother since I had graduated from college a year and a half earlier.

And there was nothing wrong with that.

The problem was when I started to feel like a martyr instead of understanding the period of life I was currently in. When I first made the decision to get pregnant, I chose to cut ties with my dreams of dancing at Nationals, or getting on a team that year--but more than that, I somehow adopted the idea that choosing to be a mom meant letting go of everything that made me "Shannon" instead of "Mom." This idea grew as I muddled my way through the early stages of baby-raising--because honestly, chasing one baby while pregnant with the next really was all I could handle for awhile. And then, when I found myself with two babies within 18 months, I was even more overwhelmed. People told me it was just part of the "baby" phase, and that I'd have more time for projects later on, but my struggles were so in my face at that point that I honestly thought it would never end.

But when my girls got a little older and I hit that emotional wall mentioned above, I started dancing again. And as they've gotten even older, they can suddenly play on their own sometimes, or entertain each other now and then. And over the last few months I've gradually realized that my choice to sacrifice certain dreams at one point in order to choose motherhood does not mean I have to, martyr-like, forever give up my right to dream.

Of course, then we get into the mysteries of balancing motherhood with personal goals. I still miss being able to dance the way I used to, and sometimes I get nervous about pursuing new dreams--nervous that I'll let them take time away from what really matters, because I value my family above all else. But with the help of perspective granted by a little more time in the mothering zone, as well as a supportive husband--who has even told me we'll hire a part-time housekeeper if necessary so that I don't feel guilty for using my free time writing novels--I'm working on both finding new dreams and washing the old ones. And I must be making progress, because it's no longer painful for me to look at the poster my mom gave me.

In fact, I bought it a frame.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Awakening" by Christy Dorrity -- Blog Tour

(I've read this book twice now, and you can check out my review for it on Goodreads.)

About the Book

. . . because some Celtic stories won’t be contained in myth.

A little magic has always run in sixteen-year-old McKayla McCleery's family—at least that’s what she’s been told. McKayla’s eccentric Aunt Avril travels the world as a psychic for the FBI, and her mother can make amazing delicacies out of the most basic of ingredients. But McKayla doesn't think for a second that the magic is real—it’s just good storytelling. Besides, McKayla doesn’t need magic. She recently moved to beautiful Star Valley, Wyoming, and already she has a best friend, a solo in her upcoming ballet recital—and the gorgeous guy in her physics class keeps looking her way.

When an unexpected fascination with Irish dance leads McKayla to seek instruction from the mute, crippled janitor at her high school, she learns that her family is not the only one with unexplained abilities. After Aunt Avril comes to Star Valley in pursuit of a supernatural killer, people begin disappearing, and the lives of those McKayla holds most dear are threatened.

When the janitor reveals that an ancient curse, known as a geis, has awakened deadly powers that defy explanation, McKayla is forced to come to terms with what is real and what is fantasy. A thrilling debut novel based in Celtic mythology, Awakening is a gripping young adult fantasy rife with magic, romance, and mystery.

Awakening (The Geis, #1)

Praise for Awakening

"AWAKENING is a wonder and a delight. Christy Dorrity is a talent to watch."
~David Farland, New York Times bestselling author of Nightingale

"I thoroughly enjoyed AWAKENING, a captivating and unique debut novel that creatively integrates Irish dance."
~ CHRIS NAISH, Riverdance member and Creative Director of Fusion Fighters Irish dancers.
About the Author

Christy Dorrity lives in the mountains with her husband, five children, and a cocker spaniel. She grew up on a trout ranch in Star Valley, Wyoming, and is the author of The Geis series for young adults, and The Book Blogger’s Cookbooks. Christy is a champion Irish dancer and when she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably trying out a new recipe in the kitchen.

Purchase Awakening by Christy Dorrity:

Purchase Kindle Book Purchase Nook Book 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nap Time

Oh, Nap Time; how I (used to) love thee so.

Since our current house is smaller than our townhouse in California, we have the girls sleeping in the same room. At bed time this isn't usually a problem, and it used to not be a problem for naps, either. Lately, however, it goes something like this.

  • Read two books, one long, one short. Mari will shout for "Muffin," which is "If You Give a Moose a Muffin." Cim will sometimes argue.
  • Put Cim in bed, turn off the light.
  • Sing to Mari.
  • Stop to acknowledge Cim's demands that you close the door "some" (as opposed to all the way).
  • Finish singing to Mari and put her in bed.
  • Begin to sing to Cim.
  • Stop to give Mari the kisses and cuddles she's demanding.
  • Resume singing to Cim.
  • Give Cim a kiss.
  • Give Mari the kisses and cuddles she thinks she needs again after seeing her sister get a kiss.
  • Promise Cim again that you'll close the door "some," with the stipulation that if she leaves the room, it will be closed all the way.

  • Leave the room for ten minutes. 

  • Come back, put Cim in her bed, and fix the mattress she's pulled half-way off and has been sliding down. Tell her to go to sleep right now.
  • Give Mari more kisses and quick cuddles.

  • Leave the room.

  • Catch Cim in the playroom and escort her back to her bed. Tell her if she doesn't lay quietly and let Mari go to sleep, she'll be in big trouble.
  • Empty Mari's crib of the toys Cim has given her.
  • Give Mari kisses and cuddles.

  • Leave the room, shutting door all the way.

  • Wait ten minutes. When giggles get too loud or Mari begins to cry, go and remove Cim from Mari's bed. 
  • Take Cim to the corner in the living room, and tell her she'll be staying there quietly until naptime is over.
  • Try futilely to accomplish anything you'd had planned, while Cim keeps up a continuous stream of questions and comments from the corner.
  • Tell Cim repeatedly to be quiet so she doesn't wake up her sister.

  • Decide you're not doing this anymore, and that Cim can just stop napping.
  • Listen to Cim beg for a nap from 4:30 p.m. on and cry and/or yell all evening because she's too tired.
  • Decide you're not doing that anymore and that the child. must. sleep.

If Cim were physically/emotionally ready to stop napping, this would be easier, but she's not. I've tried putting her in a different room for naps so she doesn't keep Mari up, but then she just gets into everything in that room while I'm in another room. Yesterday it was her dad's shoe polish in our room. Sometimes she'll sleep for the last 40 minutes or so of nap time, sometimes she won't sleep at all, and sometimes she'll fall asleep immediately and sleep for two hours.

But as many mothers know, nap time is a haven, a precious block of time in the middle of the day when you can breathe and actually get something accomplished. 

And that's my biggest problem. I'm definitely not ready to give that up. 

Luckily, this particular post took less focus than working on my book, and thus I can feel I got something done during nap time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The View From my Hammock

Looking straight up from my hammock today.

I hung my hammock up today.

I bought my hammock when I was 14 or 15. It's a blue Eagle's Nest backpacking hammock, which stuffs into a tiny sack and has straps that can hang it almost anywhere the two straps can be wrapped around something.

I have a lot of memories in this hammock, and as I lay there in it today, holding one of my daughters and being rocked by my very excited other daughter, those memories started flashing through my mind.

I hung it up in the woods at the Funny Farm to read in. I have more ties to that home and that area than any other place I've ever lived.

I took this hammock to girl's camp in Pennsylvania when I was seventeen. Three little 12-year-olds managed to fall asleep in it.

Luke and I sat sideways in it together that same summer when I went to visit him for a week. So did his brother Ty. And my brother James. We took turns a lot, but I generally had company when it was my turn.

We hung it from the ceiling cross-beam in our student housing my sophomore year of college. On one side was the loft we'd built, with its bean bag chairs tucked up by the vaulted ceilings, and on the other was a 12-foot drop to the hall with a bathroom vanity. The man I would eventually marry spent hours in it while I sat on a beanbag chair and we talked in a mixture of English, Spanish, and Chinese.

I hung it in the backyard of our first apartment, at what we called the "Tetris" house. I was the only one out of the 3 couples living there who ever seemed to venture into the usually-overgrown yard. I spent hours in it one day devouring Juliet Marillier's "Cybele's Secret."

It was amazing to me how strongly those memories came. The leaves I saw above me seemed to mix with the shades, textures, and smells of other leaves, other places. The rocking motion was the same, the smells of nylon and grass and air--and this time I got to share it with my beautiful little girls.

I'm changing constantly, and so is my world; but now and then something like the hammock snags a thread, and it pulls through the fabric of my life, puckering up memories I'd thought forgotten. I'm glad the memories are still there, and that I can tuck them back in and keep adding more memories to that line.

Memories like this one.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Autumn Hunt

I was cleaning out boxes (what, you thought I'd be done unpacking after a month?) and stumbled across this gem from my second year of college. The assignment was to take a "low" or mundane subject matter, and elevate it to "high" by writing an epic poem about it. 

'Twas on a brisk, late Autumn day--
When leaves along the lane did play,
When empty stalks stood left alone--
We set out from our humble home.

Setting out on noble quest
At our dear grandfather's behest,
We sought a means of sustenance
As noble forbears were wont, once.

Like them, our tools were few and plain,
Yet we did hope great things to gain;
And so we entered edifice grand,
Fear betrayed only by a trembling hand.

This task would much of us require:
Courage, and toiling without tire.
We did not know if we were ready,
But my trembling hand I forced to steady.

We began to stalk our prey,
(The youngest of us looked most fey
With face hid 'neath a mask of black)
And as a group we forced them back.

They scattered--we each chased a victim;
They probably never knew what hit them.
First one, then two, until all ten
Had been grasped tight, and taken in.

On to their dismal fate they rode--
Though if they realized it, never showed--
And we, feeling villains all,
Began to regret Grandfather's phone call.

But committed now, and turning not
From this course with horrors fraught,
The bravest our one weapon did wield,
And to the blade a neck did yield.

No Gothic terror from period of Romance
Could frighten more than this macabre dance.
Now to old phrase new meaning was given:
"Running round without head, like a chicken."

We pushed on through the ugly task
Until one soul exclaimed at last:
"Through all days which to me remain,
I ne'er shall taste of chicken again!"

Words uttered in haste were quick forgot
When two weeks later mother brought
To the table fresh chicken pot pie,
Which not a soul chose to deny.

We only had to catch and kill ten chickens that day--my brothers would later have to do a couple hundred in 2-3 days. Nate says he still has nightmares from that one.

While it was a gruesome experience, those ten chickens were a huge blessing, because we had just used all the money we had to move to Pennsylvania, and we needed food to last until the next paycheck. I guess God just wanted to see if we really wanted to eat...

Friday, August 23, 2013

"Feeling Beautiful" revisited for my daughters

Me, age 11
When I was five years old, the left side of my face was bitten by a dog. All that's left of the scar today is a little dent beside my eye and a tiny dot on my cheek, but it was a very defining thing for me when I was younger. My brother would tell people I'd been bitten by a crocodile. I remember being stopped in the store one day by a mom and her teenage daughter, and them exclaiming that the daughter had a scar just like mine, but that it was almost gone now, and so I didn't have to worry, because someday I wouldn't even notice it. It gave me a little hope, but it also made me realize just how noticeable it really was.

At age nine, I carried a 4H Fair brochure to my mom, in which I had circled all the categories I thought it would be fun to enter.

"And the baking, and the crocheting . . . and the beauty pageant. I think I'd like to do that one, even though I know I'd never win because of this scar."

I was totally matter-of-fact. I knew that I'd never be beautiful, and I was okay with that--this was still at the age when I thought I should be a boy, anyway, and scars were worth more than beauty; scars earned you respect, and showed you were tough.

I've never forgotten the look of helplessness on my mom's face, and the way she tried to tell me no one would care about the scar. I shook my head, pitying her for being so delusional as to think someone disfigured could win a beauty pageant. I thought she was just trying to make me feel better, and I walked away.

As a mom now, I understand. I understand how she must have felt, wanting to take my scar away for me, while also wanting to teach me to love myself with it. Wanting to scream at a world that had already taught a home-schooled nine year old that she couldn't be beautiful unless she was flawless. Wanting to take her little tough girl into her arms and hold her and tell her she could win anything she wanted, whether it was a beauty pageant or a spitting contest.

These bodies we have are so wonderful. And yet we all, at some point, don't like what we see in the mirror. I've read a lot of posts about bodies and body image lately. Posts about things to say to your daughters, things not to say to your daughters, and things you should never let them hear you say about your own body--especially your crazy post-pregnant body, with its droopy extra skin, stretch marks, and extra pounds.

Frankly, as a mother of two little girls, reading all these things is terrifying.

I know, at some point, I will feel what my mother felt. I will look at my beautiful girls, and I will see them in all their radiance, full of life and potential and pure beauty--and they will be frowning over the curl of their hair, or the crookedness of their noses, or the squishiness of their stomachs. Or feeling self-conscious about a scar.

I don't know what I'll say. I don't know if they'll listen. But maybe I'll have them read this post. And then I'll have them read this one. I'll give them a big hug and tell them they can do it; that I know they're beautiful, and that someday they'll know that too.

And I'll pray that's enough.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Happy birthday, Cim!

Cim got pizza for her birthday dinner. Lots of it. Heaven.

We went out for dinner with some of Ryan's classmates. We were invited by a classmate who shares Cim's birthday. 

She brought Cim presents. Huge princess coloring pages, a box of 120 crayons, and a Lisa Frank sticker book. Cim, pulling the tissue paper off each one, cried, "Just what I ALWAYS wanted!"
(Cim gave her a card on which she'd drawn a face and a spider using a Sharpie. It was awesome.)

On the way home, Cim said, "Where's my cake? 
Having planned to do cupcakes at a birthday get-together with some friends later in the week, I said, "We'll have cake another day."

Cim, lip quavering, and in a smaller voice than usual, replied, "But it's my birthday... I have to have cake on my birthday... Isaac had cake at his birthday, and today is MY birthday. I have to have cake."

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home.

Three candles and one extra for luck. She was so excited.

Ice cream cake on the special sparkly heart plate from Miss Stacy. What could be more wonderful? (We took one look at her face and removed her white shirt.)

Cim wasn't the only one excited. Mari jumped off a bar-height kitchen chair trying to get to the cake, which was sitting on the counter a couple feet away. Luckily the trash can broke her fall. We put her in her chair and let her have fun.

Dear Cim,

I can't believe you're three. What a crazy three years it's been. You have, in turns, made me laugh until I cried, cry until I had to laugh, and frequently just left me shaking my head (and then later posting the moment on Facebook). 

You have such a sweet, sweet spirit. Everyone who meets you is overwhelmed by your intelligence, your charm, and your vocabulary. I'm daily reminded just how much you're learning, and just how quickly. Mostly I just hope I can keep up. 

Happy birthday, my big girl. I love you so much. 


Monday, July 22, 2013

Good Samaritan Moments

I've been a little uptight this week. (Alright, my husband could rat me out, so let's be honest--I've been REALLY uptight this week.) Today was supposed to be the climax of a lot of that stress: the moving truck was coming, and I would finally have all my stuff . . . along with the task of finding a home for everything.

And it didn't come. And then they said it would. And then they said it wouldn't. And then they said it might. And then it didn't.

Let's just say I was not very happy.

So, at the end of this mess, I'm driving home from picking my girls up from a friend's house (who had kept them from 7:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. while I was stuck waiting around for the no-show truck), and I notice the rush-hour traffic slowing down near the light ahead. I'll be turning left, but I see a couple of cars in the "straight" lane swerve into the left turn lane and then back out of it to continue straight. "Either a newbie driving stick shift who stalled, or someone's car's broken down," I think. 

As I pull into the turn lane, there's one car ahead of me. The light's green, but traffic is thick from the opposite direction, so I know we won't be going any time soon. Accordingly, I turn my attention to the car causing the trouble.

It's an older, tan sedan, a little ahead and to the right of me. I can't see the driver, because I'm right in his blind spot, but I can see the smoke coming from under the hood. "That'll ruin your day."

Suddenly, the passenger door of the white car in front of me opens, and a man gets out. He looks to be in his early twenties, white t-shirt, jeans, flip-flops, scruffy cheeks, and a long cigarette dangling from his teeth. He comes back and motions for the driver of the other car to open his door. The door opens, and I see the arm of an old man, spotted and wrinkled and thin, gesturing as they talk. The young man nods once, then goes to the back of the car and starts to push. His own ride pulls out of the intersection, leaving space for him to push the tan car into the left-turn lane. 

I watch as he slides in his flip-flops, takes them off, and proceeds in bare feet to push the car into the lane in front of me. Seeing a gap in traffic, he bends down to start the car rolling once more, hoping to make it through the intersection, but the ground there is no longer level, and he struggles to get it rolling.

Just then, jumping out of a hastily-parked mini-van on the corner and running across two lanes of traffic, comes a woman, twenties or early thirties, dressed in knee-length hot-pink shorts and an electric blue t-shirt. She smiles a quick greeting and gets ready to push, but the light turns red. 

In my rear-view mirror, I see the couple in the truck behind me hop out, the wife running around to the driver's seat, and the man, in a plaid button-up shirt, walking past my van to take a spot beside the neon woman. 

And then, last but not least, jogging across the crosswalk from the other side of the intersection comes a soldier in full uniform, who arrives just as the protected-left light comes on. Together these four strangers lean into the car and easily roll it around the corner, laughing as the car picks up speed and they have to stop pushing or fall on their faces. The old man lets his car roll off into the grass, out of the way of traffic, and as I roll past, the young man with the cigarette is going to talk to him once more.

And just like that, all the stress of my day is gone, purged by witnessing this moment of humanity, of strangers reaching out. 

Those four people, such a contrast in appearances next to one another, stood together not because they were friends, but because each chose not to say, "Oh, someone will help him," or "I bet he has a cell phone." They simply got out of their own vehicles and did what needed to be done.

It didn't change the world. But I smiled the rest of the way home. 

I tend to avoid the news, because it always makes me depressed. I need stories like this to help me keep my faith in my fellow man. What "Good Samaritan" moments have you witnessed lately?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Starting Again

I wander through the mostly-empty rooms, stepping over plastic Easter eggs the girls found and scattered all over. I see a few bags of clothes, some pots and pans loaned us by our landlady, a couple of camp chairs. We're in a new home.


This is our eighth residence in the five years we've been married; the eighth place where I've stood, looking around, wondering just how our life will mold to fit this new living space.

This time, though, for the first time, I'm not starting a new semester, pregnant, both of those at once, or holding a young baby. As I look around at this adorable little house, the first place we've ever rented where we didn't share at least one wall with neighbors, I'm both nervous and excited.

I could actually unpack all the boxes. I could hang curtains. I could MAKE curtains.

For the first time in our moving history, I'm seeing these types of things not as things I should do, or wish I were the type of person who would do, but as things I can and will do.

I know myself. I tend to get overwhelmed when faced with a large project, such as unpacking/organizing a house. But this time, part of me keeps saying, it'll be different. Not just because circumstances are different, but because I'm different.

With every move I've done a little better, become a little more of a homemaker. With every move I've felt a little more drive to actually hang pictures on the walls, or put clothes into drawers. And with this move, more than any other, I can feel myself stepping into the role of keeper of the home.

I'm sure I'll still get overwhelmed when our things get delivered (tomorrow morning, yikes)--but I'll work through it. I've gotten a taste, these last weeks in an empty home, of what this place could be. Now I just need to make it into that.

I bought fabric for the girls' curtains. Purple and sparkly. I'm going to do this.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Looking for readers

Cover credit: Nate Hebbert -- Drawing/inking; Ryan Cooley -- Coloring/cover design

Dear friends,

I've been working on this book for the last 2.5 years, and I plan to eventually start pitching it to agents/editors. Before that, however, I'd like to do at least one more round of 10-or-so readers. If you're interested in being one of my guinea pigs, please leave a comment either here or on facebook, and I'll send you the file. Here's what I'm asking as far as feedback:

1. Where did you lose interest?
2. Were there things you didn't understand?
3. Were there things you just didn't believe?
4. Who was your favorite/least favorite character?
5. Was there anything you particularly liked (so I don't accidentally change that in a rewrite)?

Thanks! (Now here's hoping I get some takers...)


Friday, June 28, 2013

"Why Lightsabers are Better than Blasters" -- A look into my early education.

I found this essay tonight. I wrote it in late 3rd or early 4th grade. It's just one example of a multitude of 5-paragraph essays that I wrote in my early childhood, which effectively prepared me for the SAT and sundry other standardized tests later in life. Thank you, home schooling. (Note: all spelling/grammatical errors are transcribed with exactness. Also, you should picture this written in my best cursive... which of course is terrifying.)

Why Lightsabers are Better than Blasters

Lightsabers, were the acient weapon of the jedi. jedi often made their own, but some were passed down from jedi to jedi. They were sacred weapons, while blasters were ordinary. That's why it's my opinion that lightsabers are better than blasters.

Lightsabers were more powerful, they could deflect blastershots. They were much more dangerous, though.

They're also more elegant, though harder to find, unless you make your own.

They can go through more, in case you need to remove a panel, to get at some wires, though it might go too far, and slice those wires.

I hope you will agree with me, that lightsabers are better than blasters, despite the difficulties.

Here was the reaction from the first people to read this essay in 16 years:

Dad: "Pretty persuasive, wouldn't you say? Would you ever choose a blaster after reading that?"
Ryan: "Depends. How big is the blaster?"

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Story Time

This is Daddy's Father's Day present.

Daddy's home now, and that means more exciting bedtime stories for Cim. Last night her request was for a "chomping food" story. It went something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who liked to chomp her food. She would chomp food all day long if it was available. 

One day, her mother approached her and said, "You chomp your food like a goat. You chew your cud like a cow. You nibble like a horse. And frankly, it's disgusting.

And the little girl said, "Why, whatever do you mean?"

The mother said, "In polite company, we chew with our lips closed."

The little girl considered this, and then protested, "But if I close my lips while I'm chomping my food, that places my lips dangerously close to my teeth. How will I keep from biting them?"

The mother replied, "That, my dear, is one of the dangerous orthodoxies with which we live. So from now on, you will please chew your food with your lips shut."

So the little girl began to chomp her food with her lips shut. At first, she was nervous, afraid that she would bite her lips. But she didn't. And in the end, she realized that chewing with her lips closed was not only more couth and polite, but it prevented her half-chewed food from falling back out of her mouth again. From then on both she and her mother were much happier at mealtimes--which, at this house, were frequent.

The End

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Colors of Spring

Our spring has been changing colors. 

First it was yellow.

Her sister decorated her head with dandelion shreds.

Then it went white.

And then purple.

And we're enjoying every minute of it.