Thursday, July 31, 2014

Trick Your Kids Into Thinking They Are Rich

Note:  This post was an idea of my wife's and she helped me write it... 

When you have one parent who is a stay-at-home person, and lack the benefits of the dual-income family, you have to sort of trick your kids into thinking certain free or cheap things are completely awesome. Here are some things that my wife and I have come up with:

1. Teach them that used book sales are the coolest way to buy books – see this post about it, but basically we try to hit up as many of these as we can and find as many great books as we can. (We like to buy new books too, but we prefer to do so from authors from small presses or authors who have self-published.)

2. Feed them rice and beans until they learn to love it (or any cheap, healthy dish) – Food is expensive, and so black beans and rice is a common lunch (and sometimes dinner) in our house. And, it’s actually the one meal that everyone likes equally. And you can always add cheese, salsa, guacamole, or meat to it if you want. It’s a flexible meal.

3. This sort of goes with #2, but think up cheap recipes with peanut butter, like these – cheap(er) protein that is uniquely American, so you’re also being patriotic when you eat it.

4. Limit your trips to the park so that they become a special treat – I’m kind of old-school in that I don’t like to go on a lot of outings, just to go. I think we have enough toys and outdoor playing stuff, like a swingset, bikes, a little kitchen set, etc., to keep them occupied. Also, my wife’s always telling them to go make a fort out of sticks and pretend they’re homeless like she did when she was little (true story, and a blog post of its own for another day). 

5. Go to libraries that are far away so that it seems like you are going somewhere special – I don’t know about your area, but we have a lot of little libraries within a 30 minute drive. And, they all usually have some sort of unique thing that is interesting to kids – like a cool playground, some different toys, etc.

6. Make a big deal about it when people give you hand-me-downs so that it becomes as exciting as buying a new outfit – Our kids have been massively blessed with people giving them great looking clothing and shoes. It helps that we have four girls and any piece of clothing will eventually be worn by at least one of them. Anytime someone gives us a bag, it is like we hit the jackpot in our house – excitement, a fashion show, sometimes tears of jealousy – it’s all happening simultaneously sometimes.

7. Go thrift shopping occasionally and treat it like a treasure hunt – I’m not really one to do this with the kids (because I hate shopping), but my wife does, and the kids love it. They will come home with the strangest things sometimes.

8. Make free events that are local a tradition experience – Every year we carve out time to go to a certain annual festival every summer that has a great parade and a lot of fair food and even a library book sale. Also, there’s an event locally every year that celebrates Maple Tree tapping for maple syrup. These are two of the things our kids look forward to and talk months in advance. The tradition of going to these becomes almost more important than the events themselves. 

I think one of the main things is to treat free/cheap things like you would an expensive thing. So, we’re not going to Disney World anytime soon, but you know what? Our kids get as excited about our annual day trip to the water park a couple of hours away (they start talking about it in January). 

And, this is not to say that these things aren’t completely awesome. It’s just that as humans we’re wired to think that things that are bigger or more expensive are naturally better. However, it makes sense that you will be a happier person if you have an easier to please (read: cheaper) sensibility. Also, when your kids get older, there’s no telling what the economy will be like or what they will feel led to do with their lives (like, become starving artists or something). It’s better to learn to be happy with the little things in life at a young age.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Writers Writing about Writers

Does anyone else feel like there are a ton of movies out there about writers?  I think that writers have a lot of stereotypes (and I'm not saying these are wrong), and I think writers like to write about themselves, and since writers are the ones writing screenplays, well... you can see why we might have a lot of movies about writers.

The latest movie I saw about writers was one I watched on Netflix recently.  It's called Author's Anonymous, and it seemed to incorporate many of these stereotypes in the characters. The gist is that a bunch of people are in a writer's group, and the story is about what happens when one of them makes it big.  And... it made me think about something.

There's a funny scene where the members of the writer's group all of a sudden assume that the newly-published writer's feedback is the most important. It's kind of assumed that she's a better writer than the rest of them, simply because she was published, even though a week prior, she was considered the same as everyone else. And, when it's her turn to share something that she's written, they won't give her any feedback - it's as if they assume that anything she writes is brilliant because of her publishing deal.

This scene is mostly funny to me because I've experienced it at a writer's conference I attended several years ago.  I saw people worship agents and published authors and hail their opinion as fact because they were sort of established in the industry. (Please note that these were not famous industry people - you would probably have no idea who they were if I told you their names, which I won't, mostly because I can't remember them.)

I'm not saying we shouldn't respect what people have to say about their area of expertise, but to automatically assume that everyone who works in the industry is spot on with advice, or is a wise soothsayer with the ability to accurately predict the market trends is a little foolish.

These people are humans. They have good days and bad days. They are able to hit something out of the park one moment, and the next, strike out completely.  Not every book that an agent picks up or a publisher publishes is a success (I think this is the GREAT SECRET that is out there, though).  Publishers turned down Harry Potter, I've heard agents laugh about the fact that The Lord of the Rings wouldn't be published today, and books that are touted as the something amazing end up at the bottom of the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble.

So, take it all with the proverbial grain of salt. Including this blog post.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview: Author Sam Reese

Today's post is an interview with Sam Reese, an author and a friend of mine.  We met when we were in graduate school. He was working on his Masters in Divinity and working with my wife at the University Library at the time.  Earlier this year, his book Immolation was published by J. Ellington Ashton Press.

Visit his website to read his blog and find out more about his book, and you can find him on Facebook and Tumblr as well.

Thanks, Sam, for taking the time to do this for me.

What is your book about? 

Well, there’s a long answer and a short answer to this question. The short answer is that it’s about a young teenaged girl who has been abused by her father for four years. On her 14th birthday, she discovers she’s pyrokinetic. Now she has to decide whether or not to exact vengeance or show mercy. To know the long answer, you’ll have to read it, as I think only the reader can properly answer that question.
What aspect of your life has influenced your writing the most? 

Hmm, that’s a difficult one, as I’ve never really thought about it. I think my interactions with people over the years have influenced me the most. I’ve come to realize that human beings are not simple creatures, but rather are creatures of immense beauty and horror, and that you never know how either of those things will manifest themselves, or when.

We met while you were in Divinity school. How has that part of your education influenced your writing? 

In a strictly academic sense, I think it has influenced my writing by helping me understand things like how to research and how to get my point across most effectively. In a deeper, perhaps more spiritual sense, I believe it has helped me to understand concepts like revenge, grace, mercy, love, sacrifice, and hatred and the human need for all of these things more clearly.

You could spend your time doing many other things. So why write? Why do you do it? 

I write primarily because I have no other option. I think only a writer can really understand what I mean by that statement, but I’ll try to explain. Writing-and most likely any creative endeavor-is something like being possessed. Or maybe being schizophrenic is a better term. Something takes hold of you and compels you to tell its story, and it won’t go away and will drive you slightly insane until you get it out. I write because I love it, to be certain, but I also write because I am compelled to do so.

You’re now published. This is your first book? What next? What do you hope to accomplish as a writer? 

Being a New York Times Bestselling Author would be amazing, and I won’t deny that I’d be thrilled to be one. But I think ultimately I want to be able to have a career that meant something to people. I want to write works that people hold dear to their hearts, that they share with their children and grandchildren. I want to write stories that matter, in some way. As for what’s next, I have lots of things in progress. The closest thing to being completed at this moment is another novel that’s some sort of weird Neil Gaiman/Christopher Moore hybrid of fantasy and mythology. It’s likely a YA novel, but with a wider ultimate appeal. At least, I hope it has a wider appeal.

What do you say to those people who are not interested in the horror genre? Why should they read your book? 

Because “Immolation” isn’t just a horror novel. There’s an element of the supernatural, and of course the cover is pretty creepy. But the book is about so much more than being scary. It’s about love and loss and growing up. It’s about family and the damage we do to one another. Many of the people who have left me reviews don’t really care for horror so they say, yet they seemed to enjoy the book. As one of my reviewers said, “I thought this story was going to be about one thing, but it ended up being about something totally unexpected - love. When I was done reading, I was reminded that love is a choice and that it overcomes the evil and hate which is always seeking to consume humanity.” That quote, to me, is why people who don’t like horror should read my novel.

The next question is similar to the last one.  Your book contains adult themes/content. If people are uncomfortable with those elements, why should they read your book? 

Because sometimes we have to face uncomfortable things to grow. I had a lady who read “Immolation” tell me that she had been abused by her father and that if she had known what the book was exactly about she would never have read it, but that she’s glad she did because it made her feel better. I like to think that it helped her heal in some small way. The book does contain adult themes and content, but guess what? So does life. I think we do a disservice to ourselves and to others by trying to act like these things don’t exist. I’m not saying you should go out and, say, watch porn if you have strong reservations about it. But at least understand why people make porn, why they perform, why they watch it. Same for the themes in this book: they’re there because I couldn’t tell the story without them, but I hope that I’ve done it in as respectful a way as possible.

What is your favorite part of writing? 

Creating the worlds. I love telling the story and seeing characters come alive on the page. It’s funny, until you write something, you think it’s all about putting words on paper and making your little puppets dance. But once you start writing, you realize that the characters aren’t puppets at all. I wonder if this is how God feels sometimes: trying to tell a story but the characters keep taking it in weird directions.

Throughout the process (writing the book, editing, submitting, editing, and finally publishing), what is the one thing you’ve learned? 

Perseverance is key, as is having people who believe in you. You have to be willing to be rejected, you have to be willing to deal with things that seem to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. But you also need people who can pick you up when you fall and help you make it through. I often think of the story of Stephen King and the first draft of Carrie, where he threw the first few pages in the trash, thinking it was crap. His wife was emptying the trash and she found them, read them, and told him to keep going. Think how different his life, as well as the horror genre, would be if he didn’t have someone who loved him and told him, “Don’t give up on yourself.”

Within the world of writing, how would you want to be remembered? 

I would like to be remembered as the guy who wrote the stories that mattered to someone. That’s really all I want, is to help people with stories, because stories can tell truths that no other discipline can tell, at least not as effectively.

Friday, July 25, 2014

From My Wife's Perspective...

Tomorrow’s our anniversary, and so Scott asked me if I wanted to write my perspective of how our “Love Story Beginning” went down.  I loved what he wrote, but it is always nice to be able to tell “my side” so here goes…

First, though, to clarify:  when Scott was moving in and my roommate and I were just waving from another apartment porch, it was because he had four other people with him (his parents, sister, and brother-in-law)!  We didn’t think he needed any extra help – we’d just be in the way, really.  ;)

Back to the real story… Scott and I did become close friends really quickly, and yes, I actually did kind of like him.  However, I’m not the type to let myself fall head over heels for someone who thinks of me only as a friend. There was this weird, cool moment though a week or so after we first met, though:

My job was working in the scene shop on campus which was, at that time, being moved to a new location and so all the tools were packed up.  My boss had asked us to bring in our own measuring tapes until we got everything unpacked.  I didn’t have one at the time, but I was talking about this with Scott, and he mentioned that he had one and said that I could borrow it.  I went over to his room with him to get it, and while he was rummaging for it, I had the strangest feeling.  It was like the Holy Spirit was speaking to me and what I heard was “There is going to be more to your relationship.”  It was so strong, it was unnerving.  Then, Scott gave me his measuring tape, and life went on.

Fast forward a few days, I think, and Scott and I are walking somewhere, and he says to me, “I think I like someone.”  Well, you can imagine that I was thinking it was either me or my roommate, and sure enough, it was my roommate.  He asked me if he should ask her out on a date, and I told him he should.  After all, you should always follow your heart, right? Be true to your emotions!

Well, he did do that, and then our lives became sort of like an episode of Saved by the Bell, without getting into too much detail.   And let’s just say that my emotions weren’t always “in check.”  After all, I did like him. I’m not much into believing that people of the opposite sex can “just be friends” if they have such a strong friend connection like we did.  They’re either going to get together or they will stop being friends.

In fact, at one point, I told Scott that. I said that if he ever started dating someone, I really couldn’t be his friend.  I did not want to be THAT GIRL who is best friends with the guy who has a girlfriend.  My opinion is that if a guy is dating, then the girl he is in a relationship with should be his best friend.  Just my opinion, though. I’m sure there are those who would disagree with me.  And, I’m not talking about just friends… but the kind of friendship Scott and I had would not be characterized as basic friendship.

Okay, rant over.  So, you can read Scott’s post to get the (heavily-glossed over) details, but basically fast forward about 6-8 weeks and one night I’m eating dinner sitting on my couch, getting ready to go to a dress rehearsal, and Scott comes over.  We’re sitting there, talking, and then all of a sudden he says, “I think I like someone, but I don’t know if I should tell her.”  Well, remembering back to what I encouraged him to do a couple of months prior, I took the opposite approach.  I said, “Well, don’t tell her.  Don’t give into your emotions.  Just let life go and take it really slowly.”

I think this took him aback somewhat, because he paused for a moment and then said, “Well, it’s you. It’s you who I like.”

Well, then I was taken aback.  I paused, then told him I liked him too!

And then I had to go to rehearsal for 4-5 hours.

Yeah, I don’t remember ANY of that rehearsal, and I’m sure I called every cue wrong (I was stage managing) but I do remember telling my Assistant Stage Manager everything, and I think she cleaned up for me so that I could leave the theatre earlier…

Then, Scott and I talked and talked (if you know us now, you are probably not surprised by this) and talked about this… I had never dated anyone, and I really only wanted to date the person I was going to marry, and so I had to really think and pray about this. This discussion went on for a few days (not straight, obviously we had classes and rehearsals and whatnot).

So, then there was that moment when we were talking about what to call our relationship, and I was like, “Can’t we just be nebulous for a while?”  As you may know from reading this blog, Scott doesn’t really do well with nebulous relationships and so he said, “okay, so if a girl asks me out, can I say yes?”  And I was all, “No! Of course not!” and he was like, “then we’re dating.”  So, then we agreed to call ourselves “Dating.”

So, that’s our basic “How we started dating” story.  From my perspective, obviously. And with a lot of dramatic details left out (this is a blog post, not a novel).

Anyway, I’m so glad that this is my love story, and that I got my wish of only ever dating one person! And, I’m glad that Scott liked my roommate first, and that we started out as friends.  It made it so much easier for us to get to know one another in a safe environment where we never hid our true selves from each other the way you might be tempted if you just "start dating."

 Well, happy anniversary, Scott!  I love you!  And thanks for letting me take over your blog for the day!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Our Names Written in Sand

“Our names written in sand
By the finger of God’s hand”

These are lyrics to a song I wrote. And in honor of my wedding anniversary approaching (this weekend), I will tell you these words came to be.

Yesterday, I mentioned that sometimes our subconscious leaks through, revealing what we really feel, even if we don’t yet know it ourselves.  

So, like I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Liz and I became really good friends, really quickly. I had never met someone who I felt like I could just be myself with in such a short amount of time.  I could tell her everything, not only my dreams, but my fears as well. I trusted her (which is a big thing for me)And when we would hang out with other people, they could see how close we really were.

We met in graduate school in Virginia, and we were only about 20 minutes or so away from the beach.  One day we went with a group of friends to just hang out, and I was bugging Liz about guys… who she had a crush on (note that this was before I realized that I loved her). She was demure (she told me to shut up, probably) and then proceeded to write in the sand “Liz loves (but in a heart, of course)” and then left it blank.

I promptly filled in the blank with “Scott” (partly to irritate her, partly because I thought she might like me).  She WAS irritated (but not too much, of course), and tried to play it off by saying that there were plenty of Scotts in the world and plenty of girls named Liz… it was irrelevant. My response was to fill in her last name.

A friend of ours (actually, the same friend who first invited me to Liz’s apartment) had her camera and got a picture of it.  What was so cool, also, is that we had no idea at the time that she took the picture, but she framed it and gave it to us for our wedding.

Little did we know what our future held, and looking back, this was clearly a moment of foreshadowing, a look into our future lives. So, single people out there who are looking for “the one”: Pay attention to your subconscious. You never know what it might lead to.

And, writers … don’t forget that your characters have a subconscious as well.  Just like real people, they may SAY they want one thing, but deep down may want something different.  I think that playwrights and screenwriters know about subtext and will incorporate it into their manuscripts, but I think novel writers forget about it sometimes and the powerful statement it can make.

Liz Stumhofer



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Beginning of a Love Story

My wife and I have a sort of funny little love story beginning...  

An inconspicuous beginning, really.  

It was the Summer of 2002.  I was moving into the on-campus apartments, just about to start law school. My family was with me, and as we're moving my stuff into the apartment, one heavy box at a time in the unbearable heat of Virginia, I look up and see these two women, sitting on the porch of their apartment, waving to us. Oh, how nice, I thought, cute girls waving to us, not offering to help or anything like that. But waving, so I guess they figure that's nice. Sweet.

Not a "Hey, do you need help?" or "Hi, can we help you carry some boxes?" or "What can we do help?"

Just a wave.


A few days later, a law school friend asked me to go with her to a little get-together with some people she met.  Oh, here we are at the Apartment of the Welcoming-Ladies-Who-Didn't-Offer-To-Help-Me-Move-In.  So, I then meet these girls, who both turn out to be nice and fun, despite their unhelpfulness. 

Fast-forward a few weeks, and these girls and I are going everywhere together (except when one has play rehearsal... I bet you can which one that is...)  I start getting interested in one of them, the asking-out-on-a-date kind of interest (hint, it's not the one who's at play rehearsal all the time), and the other one I'm starting to think of as a best friend since I find I can talk to her about anything.

Meanwhile, we're all still hanging out together all the time, and people are starting to ask questions about this situation. (I found this out later through the play-rehearsal-girl). It's funny because they don't think that I'm interested in the one that I was trying to date, they think that I'm actually interested in the one that is quickly becoming my best friend.

(This just goes to show you that your subconscious will sometimes be more evident more to others than yourself.)  

The thing is that my best friend and I have such a great chemistry, it's impossible to ignore.  We connect so well, we feel at ease, and people who watch us interact think that we're dating.

As you may imagine, this scenario is kind of like shaking up a can of soda... it's only calm until someone pops the lid.  And the lid did pop eventually. There is an argument between me and the girl I am interested in dating.  My "best friend" takes her "side" (yeah, they're roommates, whatever), and I'm left trying to wipe up all the soda off the wall.

So a few days later, I get a call... from my friend!  Oh, wait, not an apology or a how are you doing... she wants to know if I'll still be in her scene for her directing class (which her roommate is in, also, by the way)... okay, okay.  I committed, I'm still in, I tell her.  Things are fine, if not a little strained at our in-class performance, but Best Friend gets a decent grade so that's good, I guess.

Young and dating

So, now Best Friend and I are sort of back to normal when a thought hits me. If I were to date someone else, I would lose my Best Friend. It would be inevitable that me and play-rehearsal-girl would eventually cease to be. We would drift away from one another, our own lives pulling us apart. But what if I don't want to be pulled apart from her? What if I don't want this girl out of my life? 

I must make a decision, and I do, one my life has been leading me to ever since I met her. I decided to tell her I liked her, and that I didn't want her out of my life.
 I bet you can guess what her response was... eventually. (That may be another post!)

(To read my wife's version of events, read this post.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Inklings of Introversion... And Summer Camp

Yesterday we sent our oldest daughter off to camp for the first time. It's only a week, but it's the first time she'll ever be away from us for that long, so it's sort of a big deal...

And it got me thinking.  I went to camp once when I was her age. It was a Christian camp, but unfortunately the kids that were in my cabin weren't really interested in Christian things, in fact, they actually were really bad. I didn't know anyone who was there (it wasn't a church camp), and because I was actually a pretty good kid (at that point in my life, I wasn't interested in rebelling), I was ostracized. I had imagined that the week would be a fun one, but sadly, it was horrible.

As I thought about this week at camp, I realized that it was one of a few big incidences in my life that kind of pushed me into my shell. And, perhaps even led me down the path of writing (which we all know is a solitary, somewhat lonesome profession).

The thing is, I was a show-off when I was a kid. I would do anything to get some attention or make people laugh. I remember I could pop open the button of my pants by pushing my belly out. I would also just fall to the floor flat on my face (without bending my knees). I have no idea why I would do this, but anything for a laugh, right?

Look at this kid - what a comedian!

Somehow that changed over the years.  I went from being a fairly trusting kid to really not trusting anyone.  I was talking about it with my wife, and whereas she'll generally give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I think I put everyone on a trust probationary period.  I'm not distrustful yet, but I haven't fully committed to the actual trusting.  

That's why I was so bad at dating. My wedding anniversary is coming up this week and I have a couple of blog ideas for it, but here's a pre-cursor.  Dating, for me, was like gambling with my heart.  I always felt very insecure in my dating relationships because of my trust issues.

Ring Bearer... Not Frodo, but pretty close.

It was a little different with my wife because we started out as friends, but what helped me finally fully trust her is when I married her. I figured that since she actually legally committed to me, she must really mean what she said.

So, all that to say... I hope that Katie has fun at camp. She is sort of like me in her personality, and so I hope that she has a good time and it's not a scarring experience for her like my first time at camp.  We've tried to coach her on some things, just in case some of the girls aren't nice, but you never know what will happen when you send your child off for the first time... You can't protect them from everything, but you can be sure that I'll always try.

I think she'll do well at camp... I mean, she's not afraid of this worm!