Thursday, October 16, 2014

What's Next?

I've been spending the past few days debating about what to do about some things in my life, mostly in relation to blogging (hence my online absence for a few days).

My book is going to be published next year sometime, and I'm an unknown author.  This makes me feel a little nervous about how my book is going to sell... because people can say all day long things like "Oh, it doesn't matter if it sells or not, at least you got published!" but that's not the reality.  The reality is that I would like for this to be a source of income. Ultimately (and I'm just being completely honest), I want to do this full-time, or at least have my books be successful enough so that it will lead to full-time employment of some sort.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Board books, and the small people who love them.

I love books - reading them, writing them, buying them.  Books for adults, books for children, you name it.  But there's this one subset of books that I never knew about until I had kids - the board book.

What's the point of the board book, you ask?  Well, have you ever seen what small children do to "regular" books?

Take, for example, my Bible.  I'm actually missing the first five chapters of Genesis because of a small child.  Thankfully I already know about Creation and the Fall, but what if someone steals my Bible out of my car (this happened to my college roommate) and then tries to read it?  So sad.  This person may never know about how it all began.

Actually, if babies had better organizing skills, and could work together without pulling each other's hair or snatching toys away from each other, they would most certainly have a Baby Olympics, and Book-Ripping would be one of the events. Some other events would be Breaking-Out-of-the-Crib (it would be timed), Clothes-Change-Thrashing (the one who manages to evade his parents the longest would win), and Poop-Smearing (there would be an artistic score for this).

Back to Book-Ripping, though.

It happens a lot in our house because we are always leaving our books around.  Although ripping is only one of the many ways that small children can undermine older people's reading pleasure.  There's also the "Bookmark Pull-Out."  Oh, this is annoying.  Your book looks like no one's touched it, but then you settle into the couch for five minutes of peace, and lo! A small child has pulled out the bookmark.  Now, your five minutes turns into 2 minutes of actual reading because you spent 3 minutes trying to find your place.

This is why we buy board books for our little ones.  For although they do not keep the smallest Keen family members from tormenting the rest of us by assaulting our books whenever they can, at least they can start to learn the joys of reading with something that is a slightly more difficult to destroy.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Little Passion

A little passion, please, for a Monday!

It's a little humdrum in life sometimes, I feel. Not that we don't have anything to do - quite the contrary, we're actually very busy. But it's busy a lot of times (as I'm sure it is with most people), with stuff that is mundane and, let's face it, just life maintenance and boring.

Sometimes it's easy to lose the passion that we should have for life as we are in the midst of the everyday. That's the challenge. See, most of life is the mundane, and the key to not wasting your moments is to live them to the fullest.

Just take a cue from the kids, I guess.  Take for example the way our one year old has so much fun just watching her big sisters and trying to be like them. Or the way she belly laughs over someone swinging her around.

She's in the moment.  Not worrying about tomorrow, not regretful over yesterday, just full of happiness right now.

And, even when she's not happy, she's fully sad, or frustrated, or angry.  And that's okay for adults to remember too.

Do we always need to be happy-go-lucky like some sort of hippie?  Owning what we're feeling, and not trying to suppress or deny is a good thing as well.  Of course, there's a level of self-control that adults should be able to muster up, as opposed to a three year old who may have a complete temper tantrum.

Life is full of these moments, and it's up to us to catch them and not let them float away into nothingness.  How sad to get to the end of one's life and realize that you missed out, that you spent too much time wishing the moments away.

Anyway, it's something to practice.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Clothing Optional

One thing that our children do not lack in life is clothing.  For one thing, my wife saves all the clothing from one child to the next.  Then, because we have four girls, people are always giving us clothing for them, figuring (correctly) whatever they give us will fit one of them (or eventually will at any rate).  Then, also because they are girls, they like to ask for clothes for birthdays or Christmas gifts.

They get excited about clothes! They love clothes! They talk about clothes and discuss "outfits" to put together.  They even like to dress their baby dolls, their Barbie dolls, and their paper dolls.

Clothing is a big deal in our house, but I have one question...

How come they are naked or only partially clothed so much of the time?

Go get ready for the day, I say to them in the morning. Sometimes this task is only partially followed. Pajamas come off, but nothing goes on.  I go in the room, and there they are playing with Legos, just pants on.  Or just a top.  Or nothing.

Why aren't you dressed?!  I cry out in dismay.

Huh?  Blank stare.

Get some clothing on!!

Then, they come out a few minutes later.  Only pants on (and not the same ones they had on earlier)...

What is going on, girls?

Daa-aaad!  (They whine as if I am asking them to do something unreasonable.)  I can't find anything to wear!  [Note that we are actually caught up on laundry, and so the closet and dressers are filled with clean clothing.]

You have a ton of clothes!  There's no excuse for not putting any on your body.

But Daaa-aaaaaad!!!  I can't find my sparkly, hot pink, ruffle-y skirt or my black and white puppy dog shirt that goes with it!!  I wanted to wear thaaa-aaat!!  (This is where my children bring out the southern accent that lies dormant within from the gene pool of their mother.)

Thus begins the Search For The Hot Pink Ruffle-y Skirt And Black And White Puppy Dog Shirt.

Which ultimately ends 30 minutes later with me pulling out a wadded up ball of clothing from under a bed.  This ball o' clothing is said skirt and shirt, and are still bearing the stains of last weekend's cookout when a big blob of ketchup fell off the daughter's hot dog and onto the shirt and skirt.

It has to be washed, I say.

NOOOO-OOOOO-OOOOOO, wails the child.

The lecture comes. That's why you PUT YOUR DIRTY CLOTHES IN THE DIRTY CLOTHES BASKET!  Find something else to wear.

Big, big sigh from the child, combined with some tears.

Okay.  I'll just wear this [she pulls the first thing she sees out of her drawer].

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Few Quirks

Oh, my four girls... (Not my three girls... in case you didn't notice, a few days ago, I wrote a post where I mentioned that I had three girls... who caught that?  Not me, not my wife.  My Mom. Well, she mentioned it first, I'm sure others noticed it also before I could change it.)

Anyway, what was I saying? 

Oh, my four girls... they are something. Some funny stories:

  • The oldest, in her gym class is one of the youngest, smallest ones - she got picked to be a team captain in dodge ball, and instead of picking all the big, athletic kids to be on her team, she just picked all her friends, who are not the most athletic.  Well, at least she's loyal!  And apparently not very competitive. 

  • The youngest doesn't speak English yet, but she does babble and make a lot of fun sounds that sort of make you feel like she's playing a secret game of MadGab.  She also likes to add appropriate hand motions and facial expressions (which usually involved sticking out her lips for a few seconds after the sentence is complete) to help us in our translation attempts.

  • The three year old has learned how to fold, mostly hand towels and washcloths. Also, instead of disposable wipes, we use flannel squares, which we usually just stack one on top of another. Last night while helping my wife fold laundry, she proceeded to fold each one, and put them in a little pile. There were easily 30 little wipes there.  It's also interesting to note that if my wife or I need something to get done, we can usually count on her to accomplish it before her older sisters.  Watch out, World.  Caroline's going places, and she's probably going to be supporting us in our old age.

  • Our seven year-old is such a skeptic. She trusts no one, not even her math paper. I know I've relayed this story before, but I will revive it to show her skepticism. There were two boxes, and each had dots in them. Well, one did. One had four dots and the other box had no dots. She was to count the dots in each box and then add them. Well, the first one was easy. There were four. But the second box, she couldn't get past it. I said count how many dots there are. She was like, "I don't know. It doesn't tell me." I asked her again. "How many dots are in the box?" She was like, "I don't know. There could be three, five, seven. I don't know. It won't tell me." I don't remember how many times we did this before she realized the answer was zero. Always the skeptic. She even thinks her math paper is trying to pull one over on her. 

Oh well, we love our children and their quirks. It's what makes parenting interesting.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflections On Round One

I finished the first round of edits of my book and sent it back to the editor this weekend.  

It took me almost 6 weeks to do it because I had some significant changes to think about and work into the story. And what's funny about those changes is that in the end, those changes made the story more like my original idea.

I guess, after all, I went with my "gut instinct."

I drew from the well that was created a long time ago.

I wondered if I could have just left things the way they were.  I mean, I took a rather circuitous route to get back to the original, I guess.  But, then again, I picked up a lot of things along that "circuitous" route. 

This is how writing a book mirrors life as well, I think.  The first time I wrote the story that is now Scar of the Downers, it was years ago. I was in another place then, spiritually, mentally, and yes, even physically.  I can say with confidence that I'm not the same man I was back then, and that my writing is different now.

Things always seem to change, don't they?  Even though I'm writing similar plot points, it didn't come out of me the same way.  Also, I can tell how going another way with the story slightly altered these plot points, and I think made them better, more rounded.  Maybe it's like a stew... you let it simmer enough, the flavors meld, and the end product is vastly different than when you first threw everything in the pot.

There isn't much to this post except to say this:  We're never what we once were.  We keep growing, we keep changing, and life moves on with a rapidity that is unbelievable at times.  

But there are some things that stick, and some things that you know to be true, and whereas you may veer away from them for a while, you always come back to them in the end.  But when you come back, it's with more in your pocket, sort of.  It's like visiting somewhere you lived as a child, or meeting up with someone you haven't seen in years.  Only now, you're an adult, or you've gotten married, or something big has happened to you and so your feelings or your conversation is not exactly what you thought it would be.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Boosting Your Child's Creativity, One Deprivation at a Time

Sometimes we feel like we want to provide more for our children. More experiences, really.  Not more toys. They definitely have enough toys.

Too many toys.

More like music lessons, maybe a vacation.  You know, stuff like that.  Experiences. Things that will stay with them and shape them. I'm sure every parent has this feeling at some point or another.

But something happened recently that made me rethink this.

So, we are doing that thing where you clean out the pantry.  Using everything that we have before we go grocery shopping. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, as it were.

And I'm noticing that creativity is happening. In the absence of excess, we're forced to think.  We have to imagine new combinations of food, and perhaps become a little more open minded in what we eat.

We've also moved the majority of the toys to the basement (we really need to do some sort of toy purging soon), and so last night when my wife was playing blocks with Caroline and Emily, she noticed that they played really well and creatively with just the blocks and few little matchbox cars that were in the box bin.

It seems that our brains may respond well to the challenge of making something out of nothing. Which makes me think that maybe it's the same thing with our lives. Suppose, if we lack something, it works to our advantage in the long run. Perhaps we have to imagine more, or maybe it helps us to strive toward something, or it's possible it's just good for us to not be indulged.

Really, it's relationships that will really enrich our lives, and will make us feel more fulfilled and enlivened than any vacation would.

Sisters, and Friends

I guess my answer to the question of how to boost your child's creativity would be to increase the amount of deprivation in your child's life.  See what your child can do when all the excess is stripped away.  See what great things could be accomplished by making something... out of nothing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Apple Picking

We went apple picking with my parents this year, and these are some of the images of that wet event.

That time of season! 
The apple was almost as big as her head.

Beautiful eyes.

The good child (as long as she is warm).

Someone was not happy about having wet feet.

They were growing these things on trees this year as well.

Look at those two cuties. And yes, they are sisters.

Doing a bit of stretching before the picking.
The bouncer of the orchard.

Working hard!

It was a little wet to pick apples, but the sun did come out... eventually.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Take Revenge On Three Older Sisters

First, pretend to go along with whatever plan they may hatch.

Yes, I believe those are stickers all over her body.

Then, do something a little unpredictable and funny to draw parental attention to yourself, which makes the sisters have to "clean up" whatever it was they were doing to you.

Find a baggie of cereal belonging to one of them and empty it out so that they get into trouble.  After all, there are only so many times that Mom and Dad will believe "it was the baby's fault."

Finally, make sure to grab the xbox remote any chance you can, and push all the buttons, causing instant mayhem and potential death to whatever characters are on the screen. This is ultimate payback.

The icing on the cake is to laugh about it. Always. And I mean always laugh.

It's hard to be mad at a smile like this.

Friday, September 19, 2014


I used to think, what if I don’t get published? I faced this question a lot at one point. When I sat down to write, when I was laying in bed, or when I went grocery shopping with my family. 

Well, thankfully, now I have a publishing contract. So the new questions start (because this is how my mind works): What if no one wants my book? What if no one thinks I am a good writer?

As a father of four, I can already see a glimmer of my legacy in my oldest daughter, which can make my possible failure somewhat bearable. When she was in first grade, she wrote a story about a prince and princess that she created all her own. 

Some of the story

She and my second born also have notebooks that they draw and write in, creating stories with no help from me or my wife. The seeds that were there are being watered, and the ones that may not have been there, have been planted.

This got me thinking. What if my writing wasn’t for me? What if my desire to write was in me, so that I could pass it to my children? I am by no means rich in terms of money, so maybe that is their inheritance. They might be the completion of that dream, and writing may be one of the few things I will be able to pass on to them.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blog Post Ideas, Thanks to the Children.

I was at a loss for blog post ideas, so I asked the kids what they thought should go on a blog post.  Here's what I got:

From Katie:  She wanted me to post about this "Silly Parade" that happened at our house this weekend.  The girls and their cousin walked around the house in silly garb and yelled out things like "Come and join us on our silly parade!  Welcome to the Silly Parade!" It was... inspiring.
Silly Parade picture
 From Annabelle: It was her 7th birthday this weekend, and so she wanted me to write about that.  "What specifically?" I asked. She wanted me to write about the gifts she received which was: Anna and Elsa dolls, a Lego set, a journal, a pair of boots, socks, an Olaf shirt, a handmade rabbit stuffed animal, and a small makeup kit. She also wanted to mention that she received a personalized makeup bag, a hairbrush, a Nerf Gun for girls, Money, a Target gift card, lip balm, candy and gum.  (Basically, she got a lot of gifts from family). She also suggested we talk about the games that she played: a candy hunt, apple bobbing, balloon races, and tag.
Happy Birthday, Annabelle.
From Caroline: She said that she likes to burp and tootle (A tootle is passing gas in our family. Girls don't fart, they tootle, according to my wife.). This was mostly said for the shock factor, so I don't really know what she actually would say, I think she just wanted a laugh. Which she got.
Getting a Laugh
From Emily: Nothing here. She doesn't really say words yet. However, she does cry a lot when her sisters pick her up, which they do a lot.  She doesn't like to be toted around like a sack of potatoes. She wants to do everything on her own (who doesn't?)

By herself (that's how she likes it.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Thankless Job

For those of you who follow my blog, I’m sorry I didn’t post yesterday. The day seemed to escape from me before I got to it. Here it is, 2:00 in the morning and now sleep is escaping from me. I know I will regret it in the morning when I must begin teaching my two oldest children, which brings me to my post for today.

Homeschooling can be a struggle. It is, for the most part, a thankless job. I’ve chosen to partake in a child’s most hated “profession” – School! And what my children hate more than anything is math (and that of course takes the longest to get through).

It can, at times (like yesterday) be a downright emotional battle, which usually takes its toll (not posting is the smallest of casualties). This isn’t to say that all days are bad; there are good ones as well.  But overall, it’s tough.

As a father and a teacher, you can’t just turn yourself off no matter how much you want to. I can’t send the kid home and have his or her parents deal with it. You are tied and bonded with this child like no other.  Their successes and failures work through your heart with intensity.

And when the day becomes a struggle, you don’t have lunch to gather your thoughts or yourself. You don’t have a free period to recoup. You don’t have other teachers or colleagues to help you through the day. You are there until the end. (Not to mention you still have a 3 year-old and a 1 year-old to take care of.) You don’t even have an end to your workday. You are still there at six o’clock, sitting at a picnic table with your child doing math.

It is a lonely job.

Well, let’s face it! Being a stay-at-home-dad is pretty lonely as well. There is no recognition, raise, bonus, retirement, perk, award, or benefit (unless you call having a sip of coffee at the counter before you are summoned in tears by one of your children a benefit.) If so, then yes, I have a benefit.

This job is just you and your children working and learning together, which sounds idealistically great. That is until you do it. Things in this world don’t work as they should. They work as they do. (If that makes sense.)
I love my children. I love them dearly. But children are people, and people have wills. Strong wills. And sometimes those wills clash. With a house full of girls, clashes always end in tears. To be honest, most everything ends in tears.

I don’t like tears.

(SIDENOTE: I just once want to run to my room crying and throw myself onto a bed and see how the world reacts. It might be worth it. Though if I do it, my children will probably just laugh. “It’s always funny when dad does it,” he said, bitterly.)

Anyway, while some in this world may applaud fathers that stay at home with their children, the echoes of clapping can fade quickly, Usually to be replaced with a lot of crying.  

I’ve worked a lot of different jobs. I’ve worked in media, in offices, in schools, in colleges; I’ve worked manual labor, in factories, and on a farm. But this is the most difficult job I’ve ever had.

I know this post is a bit pessimistic, but this is the kind of thing you get when it is now 3:00 in the morning. Nothing is ever happy this late in the night (or early in the morning).

Now I know most people will expect some sort of pithy statement at the end of this post, something that says it’s all worth it. Well, there’s not going to be one today!

Is it worth it? Who knows. I’ll find out twenty years from now when no one wants to come home for Thanksgiving.

Monday, September 15, 2014

For The Sake of the Story

There is pain in editing. Pain in the cutting.

It is not an easy thing to take what is already dear to you and change it. Sometimes you have to throw away ideas or plots that you liked, passages you loved, and it’s all done for the sake of the story.

That thought can be carried with you into life as well. Sometimes there are things we need to change or cut out for the sake of our story.

I write this because it is what I am forced to deal with now as I edit my novel.

Unfortunately, changing one thing, however small, can have an effect on the whole story. Soon other beloved passages, chapters, or plot points are disappearing, ones you never wanted to leave.

It can be devastating, even heartbreaking. But in this industry your heart needs to break (that’s why they invented query letters).

Whenever you change something though, you hope it will make your story better and stronger.

The process of editing allows you to keep enough distance from your work so that you can view it objectively. You cannot be married to it.

If you don’t edit your book, it’s like finding the first girl or guy you meet on the street and then asking them to be your husband or wife. What could you possible know about them? Well, the same goes for your story.

Editing vets your story just as communication vets your future spouse. Before you can say, “I do,” you must edit (the book).

There lies the pain. Though it is difficult, you must always remember, always tell yourself this one little fact: it’s for the sake of the story.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Trip to the Pizza Place

A couple of nights ago, the weather was nice, the girls were behaving, and we had a free pizza coupon from the pizza place down the street.  We usually just get take out from this joint, but the girls had been begging for us to walk there to eat in for a while, so we decided to just go for it.

A couple of the girls wanted to ride their bikes and Liz pulled the baby in the wagon. It was idyllic, a moment of parenting perfection: a family night with  all the makings of a "How to be an Awesome Parent" blog post. After all, it involved exercise, a local restaurant, AND a free coupon.  Doesn't that encompass about 85% of all blogs written on the Internet?

Anyway, I decided to take the van down, and ride slowly beside them. That way, I could just leave from there to go out and write.

Well, the way there was pretty unremarkable.  The kids who were riding their bikes, Katie and Caroline, did so excellently. The child who was walking, Annabelle, skipped happily beside me and helped my wife pull the baby, who was buckled sweetly in her wagon.

Then... we sat down at our table.  

Well, the first little hiccup was the baby. She most decidedly did NOT want to sit in the little high chair. There was some screaming and squirming. Then, Liz told Annabelle to go get ONE packet of crackers from the soup and salad bar for Emily.  So of course, Caroline ran over with her.

Kids came back then, with EIGHT packs of crackers, a variety of oyster crackers and saltines. "Just one!" my wife said, "That's all we needed!  Go put the rest back." 

They grabbed four packs from the table and ran back before we could give them the rest, and came back with two.  Oh, well, good enough.

So, then we ordered And waited. It's wasn't that long, but the kids were getting twitchy, and loud. It didn't take long for those cracker packets to disappear.

We were actually sitting in a booth where we could see our bikes and wagon outside the restaurant. So, we could clearly see if would try to steal them.  No one did,  but that didn't stop Annabelle from announcing multiple times that someone had stolen Caroline's bike.  (SIDENOTE: Because Caroline doesn't have a kickstand, it rolled away from Katie's bike. So, it was out of Belle's view, which means that someone had to have stolen it.) However, it never happened. But even after I said this, she kept saying it. I'm not sure why (probably just to antagonize), but it made Caroline upset every time. And then we had to chastise Belle.

Finally the food came. Everyone ate. It was fine. There was a huge mess, but that's to be expected.

Then, we began the journey home...

I got in the van and followed the big girls, who had taken off, Belle running and Katie on her bike.  Liz was with the two little ones.

As soon as Caroline saw the two big ones ride off, she started crying. Hard. "Why are you crying?" my wife asked.  "Belle and Katie won!  They beat me!" she wailed. She has this incredible competitive drive and MUST. WIN. EVERYTHING. (And if the older girls let her win, she still gloats.) 

So, she was wailing and not pedaling her bike, and meanwhile, Katie's shoelace got caught in her bike and she fell off. By this time, the big girls and I were on our little road, that is thankfully low-traffic. I got out of the van and helped her up and untangled her.  Then I thought, where the heck is Liz?  I jumped back in the van and drove back and there she was, trying to help Caroline (who was crying) push her bike. Meanwhile,  the baby was just sitting next to her in the wagon watching it all go down.

I parked the van on the side of the road, jumped out and got Caroline going again. The big girls came back to us and Caroline stopped crying when she saw that she could pass them and WIN. 

We finally made it back to the house.  "What a great time!" Annabelle said.

Yes, it was great. And, getting in the van to drive to Starbucks to write was great too.