Friday, August 29, 2014

Random Dinner Conversation

Last night at dinner, as we were eating our sloppy joes, we had some interesting conversation.  Here is one of the highlights:

Belle:  I can imagine Dad walking around cleaning the house if he was a ghost.
Caroline: Yeah, Daddy has a ghost!
Belle: [singing] Daddy has a ghost! Daddy has a ghost!
Three Oldest Girls:  [singing along] Daddy has a ghost! Daddy has a ghost!
Baby:  [dances in her high chair]

Sometimes I'd like to prescribe to the adage "Children should be seen and not heard" but then I'd miss little gems like that.

Also, so many conversations with our kids somehow end up going to the subject of poop. My wife or I nip it in the bud, but inevitably, that's what it comes back around to. Or a child burps and they all laugh and we chastise.

It's a real treat sometimes sharing a table with children.

An idyllic dinner moment at Caroline's birthday a couple of years ago.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

As A Reader

I’m writing this post as a reader, not as a writer. So this will not be a how-to. Consider this more of a rant… a rant from a reader. It will not be a post on how you should write. So, as a reader, let me begin my rant…

I’m tired of books trying to “hook me” in the first few paragraphs.

What does that mean?

Well, since I am an author, I’ve read many blogs about how to write the first page or first few pages of a novel. I’ve read how you are supposed to hook your reader. And this may be from just my perspective as a reader and not anyone else’s, but… I don’t have an attention span of a gnat.

I’m fine if something huge doesn’t happen in the first few pages. In fact, I prefer it. I know this may sound mean, but I am an adult, not a child. I have a bit of patience while a reading a book. Maybe that’s from having four children, who knows!

Either way, just tell me a story and I’ll stick with you through it. Don’t give me cheap action, thinking that I won’t be able to put it down. That, in itself, may make me want to put it down.

If I am to trust you as an author, trust me as a reader.

Now, I feel this is a more modern development, and there are those who may disagree with me (on both accounts). That’s fine. But I’ve developed my own theory as why the publishing industry (including agents) has pushed this idea.

With the advent of movies, books have had to become “tighter.” (Again, I’m not saying I agree that this should be so or not. It’s just my own thought). It was another form of entertainment with which books had to compete. Now, I think books are becoming more like television series. The first few pages have to have a teaser of sorts so the reader won’t “change the channel.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a story to dive right into the action. I want to build to it. I don’t want to buy a $15.00 book (or more) to read only 100 pages. Give me a novel. I want to get lost in the story, and that’s hard to do in some of the more recent books.

Now, regardless of what these websites say, I don’t read a book because of the first page. Nor do I put it down because it didn’t “draw me in.” If the story is a story I want to read, I will read it regardless. 

After all, I am an adult (not to mention that I have an OCD tendency to finish things.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Just the Way It Is

For some reason there's this weird stereotype of women being irritated when their husbands leave the seat up... I don't really understand this and for the record my wife has never been bothered with this, either.  What I'm concerned about, and maybe this comes from having four kids, but just, please, PLEASE can you flush the toilet after you've done your business?

Or, at least shut the lid or close the bathroom door?  Because we DO have a one year old whose favorite pastime is throwing things into the toilet and then stirring everything around.  WITH HER HANDS.

Yes, this kid. And those hands.
(Photo credit: my sister, Michelle)

So, our standards have lowered over the years (not that we really ever had super-high ones), but we've realized lately that there's some major slacking in some aspects of our lives right now.

Take, for instance, the whole personal hygiene thing.  My wife will be the first to admit that washing of the hair doesn't happen nearly as regularly as it once did (ponytails are a natural way to hide potentially greasy hair, after all).

Sometimes I've not really fixed my hair until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. So, recently, I just shaved it all off.  It's so much easier.

As far as the girls' hair is concerned, it's a real crapshoot as to when they get their's done (you can read more about this in my "Dad Style" post.)  I do my best, but sometimes (like a couple of nights ago), they don't really get their hair brushed and fixed until right before bed.

And then, like the other night (because I was out working on the edits to my book), it's a decision by my wife to do hair or the dishes. Which means the dishes are still there in the morning.

Then, I have to decide... do I help the three year old learn to ride a bike or do those dishes in the sink?

The three year is doing AWESOME at learning to ride a bike by the way.  Yes, with training wheels, but still, she's so determined and persistent.  The other kids were at least five before they got the hang of it!

This girl is an amazing bike rider already!
(Photo credit: my sister, Michelle)

So, the dishes sit in the sink a little longer than they probably should.

And then there's the cleaning of the rooms every night. I'm not going to admit that I have ever done this, but there's a distinct possibility that sometimes instead of cleaning at night, some parents might have just cleared a pathway from the bed to the door just so that there's no injury to a child who is trying to visit the restroom in the middle of the night...

We're going to have to get ourselves together eventually, we know. But until then, we'll make our bed right before we get in it that night, and we'll deal with a wrinkled shirt that sat in the dryer for two days, and maybe we'll have a peanut butter sandwich for dinner because we forgot to take out those chicken breasts to thaw.

It's just the way it is.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pretending Impossible Things

Mostly I write in the fantasy genre, and my stories mostly fit in the Young Adult category, because the main characters are teens.  And I write that because I like to read those stories.

And it's in those stories that I feel like I can write something that will work out well in the end. Good wins over evil, that kind of thing. In real life, things don't always work out. Your loved one dies in a tragic way, or you lose your house, or you don't ever get to pursue that dream you always had.

Now, I know that ultimately Good will win, but we don't always get to see the big picture, at least not in this life (maybe the one to come, who knows). So, in a sense, writing a story that takes place in another world, or another time, is a way to have a sense of control, kind of in the same way we imagined things when we were kids.

My kids have these elaborate imaginings as they play with each other. All of their characters have names and distinct personalities and they can pretend for hours on end. My brother and I used to do this with our G.I. Joes and then we'd also play in the snow that we were fighting the Russians (This was during the 80's, obviously - the snow worked out well for our scenarios).

Not really sure what this little pretend was about, but it seems like they are rooting for the Mermaids.

But in our pretending, we never had the Russians win! Never! What kid imagines that? Things are less complicated, in a way. More clear-cut. If my brother or I died in our battles with the Communists, the other battled on anyway, making the death not in vain.

Snow. Good for Cold War pretending.

Anyway, there's not much point to this post, but to say to go imagine something today. It'll be fun.

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

Monday, August 25, 2014


Late post today.  There are many reasons.  Here are some:

So, I got my book back from the editor last week, and I've decided to make one rather significant change in the story (in addition to some other minor ones, of course), and so that's giving me some inner turmoil...

I mean, it's easy to talk about making a change in the book, but the actual changing takes time.  And, not just time for writing it, but time for thinking about it.  I have to follow the narrative and see the ripple effect of the change, and then I feel slightly overwhelmed.

So, there's that.

Then, my wife is gearing us up for school (she handles the majority of curriculum issues), and she's also sewing a lot (some things for some friends and also for the 2nd child's birthday which is fast approaching).

And, this weekend we've started prepping for winter.  It's been all over the news lately that this winter is supposed to be worse than last year's, which was pretty rough.  Long, snowy, and cold, with an ice storm thrown in for good measure.

 My Dad came over and helped me chop wood this weekend (the wife took the pictures and also chopped up smaller pieces of wood for kindling).  The girls and my niece (who was visiting) made a really strange house out of sticks and Styrofoam.

Also, because of all this, the house has been a wreck. I spent this morning cleaning it, and cattle-prodding the girls to clean as well. We've got some work to do.

So, life is happening at our house. It's the end of August, which means that school will be starting soon, the cider mill is open, and we're gearing up for apple picking.

Here's hoping we can fit it all in.

Friday, August 22, 2014

An Explanation About Our Cell Phone Situation

It's no secret, but I'm about to drop what is considered a major bombshell in today's American Modern Culture:

I don't have a cell phone.

(I'll pause while you are perhaps slightly stunned and shocked into silence)


Get ready for it...

My wife doesn't have one EITHER.

I know, I know.  How DO we communicate with each other?

Smoke signals?

Clicks and whistles?

Pot banging?

This fact is probably the number one conversation killer that we have with people.  It's inevitable, really.  That moment when you are talking to someone about something and the conversation goes a little something like this:

Unassuming Friend:  What's your number? I'll text you later.

Me or My Wife:  Well... we don't have a cell phone...

Unassuming Friend:  [blank look, perhaps long stare, maybe a squint of disbelief]

Me or My Wife: I mean, we have a cell phone, but it's a ten dollar walmart phone and we don't really use it, it's just for emergencies when we're traveling somewhere. We do have a landline, though.

Unassuming Friend:  Uh, okay.  Um, all right. I... I guess I could... call you later.

Me or My Wife:  Or... maybe you could message me on Facebook... if that's easier.

Unassuming Friend:  [sigh of relief] oh, yeah, definitely.  I'll just do that.

See, what I've noticed is... we've become a nation of text-ers.  And, I'm not opposed to that, I get it.  Back when we had cell phones, it was very, very easy and convenient for us to text others and receive texts as a way of communicating (except if you had one of those phones with no keyboard. Then, we HATED texting. It was of the devil trying to maneuver that stupid keypad.)

Funny and true story - A woman from my wife's work wanted to invite our kids to her kids' birthday party. She kept texting the info to our landline, and got offended we never texted back, until my wife reminded her that she wasn't texting to a cell phone.  Then she laughed at herself.

Why don't we have cell phones?  Well, the simple reason was that we had to choose (budgetary constraints being what they are). We either could have internet at home and a landline, or two cell phones (with one being a smart phone so that we could have some sort of internet access).

Well, we did the two cell phones for a while, and it made internet stuff difficult. I needed the internet to search for agents and publishers, and ultimately do this blog.

And, really, our ten dollar pay-by-the-minute walmart phone is fine for now.  We barely use it, after all.  Although, it's so flimsy, it doesn't even seem like a real phone. The baby's play phone actually feels more realistic.  A positive thing about this is that we don't ever worry about it getting stolen.

One day we will get cell phones once again, and perhaps the sun will shine brighter, the sky will seem bluer, and the texts will fly from phone to phone and I will look back at these days as the "good ol' days."

Meanwhile, don't text us.  It just goes into the black hole of cyberspace.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Minecraft Mania

Liz here, again... I'm writing this guest post for Scott because this is something that has been on my heart and mind for a while now... ;)

Our Oldest used some of her birthday money earlier this year to purchase the xbox version of Minecraft.  At the time, she and her younger sister would play it in what's called "Creative" mode.

If you've never played the game or seen it, it sort of reminds me of Legos.  Not necessarily the Lego video games, but Legos themselves.  Like, you build things out of different blocks, and the people look like blocks... it's weird, actually.  I mean, people who love Minecraft will never admit to this, but I'm telling you from an outsider's perspective... it looks a little weird.

And at first, the girls would say to me, hey Mom, come look at my house I built!  And I would look at it and squint and try to see what they were showing me proudly, and I would declare it Really Cool!  What a great idea!

If you've ever seen a screenshot of Minecraft for the first time, hopefully you know what I'm talking about.  It just looks like pixelated colors.  Mostly brown and gray.

Anyway, so this went on for months.  And they kept asking Scott to play with them.  And, so one day, he did.  Only, he played it by himself first, and figured out what's called "Survival Mode" which is more like a real game and less like just building little houses and digging to the center of the earth.

The girls never played Survival mode because they could never quite figure it out. It had a strategy, that I've since been schooled on:  you have to make a house, then find food, avoiding the zombies and creepers that will kill you.  It can get really, really, REALLY complex apparently - you gather supplies to make things that help you fortify your house and survive.  Like, you shear a sheep and then you can make a blanket for your bed.  Or, you find sand, throw it in the fire, and then you can make glass.

So, since Scott has started playing this with the girls, it is FULL ON MINECRAFT MANIA in our house.  He has even let them stay up super late with him playing this game (we haven't started school yet), and they are having a blast.

There is even talk around our house of "getting a fourth controller" so that "Mom can play with us."

Hmmmm.... I'm not a huge video game fan, really. Maybe I'll indulge in the occasional online Halo round with Scott, and I do like to play Super Mario Brothers or Mario Cart here and there, so we'll see.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Some Inadvertent Lessons from a Movie (A Guest Post)

This is Liz here, Scott's wife.  I'm sort of taking over Scott's blog today because he's been wrapped up with editing his book and now has an appointment today and didn't have time to write something.  So here goes nothing...

Last night, Scott went out to edit his book that's coming out sometime next year and I stayed home with the kids.

For the summer, on these nights when Scott's away, we've taken the opportunity to watch a movie together while we eat dinner. There are only a couple of stipulations for the movie:

1.       It has to be a movie the kids haven't seen yet.
2.      It has to be interesting for everyone (including me) to watch.

We've watched American Girl movies, Jumanji, The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, Beethoven, and some other ones (we're basically just hitting up Netflix).

Last night was Hook (the one with Robin Williams as the grown up Peter Pan)... anyway, it's a good one and the girls really liked it, although they groaned when I told them that we were going to watch it and complained that it would be boring (as kids usually do).

There's a lot in this movie about growing up and forgetting about what it's like to be a kid.  And how grumpy and fearful grown-ups can become.

In the movie, Peter Banning the adult is nothing like Peter Pan back in Neverland.  He's scared, wimpy, unable to imagine, and can't even really think of happy thoughts.

But... to rescue his kids from Captain Hook, he's got to find a way to become fearless, strong, imaginative, and daring.

I think when people say that life didn't turn out the way they thought it would, perhaps it's because they lost these innate qualities of children.  Kids who don't really understand the ways of the world yet think that they can conquer it.

And as they grow older, they leave behind this mentality because the world seems so daunting. They have to "be realistic" and think about pragmatic things.  Bills have to be paid, dentists duly visited, meals planned and prepared. And the scary things about this world are now real, not imagined, and sometimes worse than you had imagined as a kid.

Of course dealing with all of this, it's easy to forget.  It's easy to fall into the grown-up trap of fearfulness and safety.  But it's also really boring to live a life like that has no risk or imagination.

So, search for your adventure today!  Be daring and strong!  Imagine what could be and seek it out!

Here's a quote from the end of the movie:

Granny Wendy:  So... your adventures are over.
Peter:  Oh, no. To live... to live would be an awfully big adventure.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Parent's Greatest Fear

Two little Amish girls in our area were abducted last week... I'm sure you heard about it. It made national (and international) headlines, and rightfully so. These two girls weren't really that far from their parents, helping out at their roadside vegetable stand, and were forcefully taken.  Thankfully, they are back now, but will have to spend a long time trying to get over what happened to them, I'm sure.

 Anytime my wife and I hear about a kidnapping (especially one like this, so close to us), it makes us fearful. Most people in the world would never harm a child, but we all know that there are some who would.

There are those out there who prey on children, who want to harm them, and unfortunately that's the realization probably all parents face at some point. We like our kids to be able to run around our yard without us hanging over them all the time, but at times like this, I understand why we just can't let them be as free as they want.

It's all still so fresh in our area right now, but I know that we will all relax a bit eventually, and things will go slowly back to normal. Meanwhile, though, all of the parents of the world were just given a wake-up call reminding us that we can't control everything.

As our kids grow older, their area of roaming increases. My nephew is going away to college this fall... it's the beginning of The Great Release.  He's not going to have Mom and Dad to tell him when he has to be home at night, or telling him to mow the lawn or wash the dishes.  Except for probably doing his laundry (I'm sure he'll still be bringing that home), he'll pretty much do what he wants.

Our oldest went to sleep away camp for the first time this summer.  She's growing up rapidly, in my opinion.  And her sisters will soon follow.

We just hope and pray that they stay safe.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Trailers: Part 2

Today, I'm going to post a few more of my favorite movie trailers. This, frankly, is one of my favorite posts to do since it "forces" me to have to watch them.

The first trailer is from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

The second movie is also kind of an old one (it was released several years ago), but it is still one of my favorites. It is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The music, sung by Richard Armitage and the other dwarfs, is haunting.

The last movie is one that is coming out in December, and it is the one I will probably go to the theaters to watch. It is The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Of course, the song was from the The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and it was sung by Billy Boyd. It's very powerful.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Playing the "Find the Curriculum" Game

When you homeschool, invariably people who don't homeschool or have never thought about it are surprised when you talk about the costs.

For example, yesterday at work, my wife's co-workers were surprised to hear that we had to buy school supplies.  What?! School supplies?  They're not going to school, though, right?

Wrong.  School work still happens, even if it's at the kitchen table.

School happening. At the kitchen table.

And, they need school supplies too.  Although, I can't imagine having to buy a brand new backpack and lunchbox and thermos/water bottle for them in addition to the supplies we got a couple of nights ago.  We just got the basics, and it's still about $50.00 at Target.

(But, in an effort to promote organization this year, we did get them each a $6 Trapper Keeper... Remember those?  Yes, they are still out there.)

And on top of the supplies, we have to actually buy their curriculum!  Workbooks, Reading books, Teacher's editions, you name it.

School happening. Outside on the picnic table. Needing organization.

So, yesterday afternoon we trekked down to a small town about 45 minutes away to pick up a great deal - $75 for almost all of Katie's 4th grade materials.  We still have to get a few consumable workbooks and some art and music resources to go along with them, but it was a great deal, and we're thankful.

As for the 2nd grader, we found a lot of her books used online from various sources, and so this year's not going to be as expensive as we initially thought.  Probably about $400 total, which is still less than the $800+ that it would have been if we had bought new stuff.

So, even though our kids aren't going to a "traditional" school, the costs are still there.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Shuttle Driver Extraordinaire

Somewhere around the time that I was first married and still in graduate school, I had this great job of driving the University shuttle around campus.  I would start at our apartment complex, and then work my way around, stopping at the various shuttle stops, picking people up, dropping people off.

Driving this around... not the same thing.

I was a regular bus driver, and my wife thought this was the most boring job on the planet.  

I disagreed (and still do).  I would start out with a big travel mug full of coffee, get some Lord of the Rings soundtrack CDs and just think.  

People would talk to me and chat with one another (I overheard quite a few interesting conversations), but mostly I was just alone with my thoughts. I would even bring a little notepad and a pencil to jot down ideas as I had them.

Quiet. Peace. Stillness.  Three things that I need, but don't get a lot of all the time.

One time Annabelle when she was five was talking to me (I can't for the life of me remember what), and suddenly stopped and said, "Dad, girls like to talk, don't they?"  Yes, Annabelle, they do.  They do.  

My girls LOVE to talk. And discuss, discuss, discuss, and rehash, and talk some more. 

And, that's okay, that's good.  I like that they feel free to communicate with me. I want to keep that going.

But, that's also why I need a couple hours every night of time that is calm.  It doesn't have to be perfectly quiet. I like to talk to my wife or watch a movie, but that's about it.  Winding down is important. It's even an important part of writing - thinking about my story is integral to the writing process.

Sometimes I think about those days of driving the shuttle with nostalgia.  What a great job...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Diatribe on Girls and Their Shoes

"Where are my shoes?!  I can't find my shoes!"

"Not these shoes!  They're too small now!"

"I can only find one... where's the other one?!"

"I don't like these shoes! I want my pink ones!"

These are familiar refrains around our house.  Four girls means many shoes.  

Flip flops. Sneakers. Sandals. Crocs. Black boots. Brown boots. Pink boots. Cowgirl boots. Snow boots. Rain boots. Black dress shoes. Brown dress shoes. Red dress shoes. Pink dress shoes. Sparkly shoes. Shoes that light up. Shoes with Dora the Explorer on them. And don't forget the slippers!!  

People, we have all these shoes AND MORE in our house.  First of all, they are girls. Secondly, we can't throw any out (well, maybe some) because the next girl will wear them.  And finally, they actually love to wear them.

And so we have shoe bags.

And two special hanging closet shoe bag things.  Just for shoes. And they're full.

And you would think that having all these shoes would make it easy for the kids to find something to wear on their little feet as we try to leave to go to Target for school supply shopping.

You think wrong.

Last night, we made said trip to Target, and the getting out the door was incredibly hard for a couple of reasons, all of which were shoe related.

The Baby, who mostly goes barefoot, was the first problem (well, not her, but finding shoes for her).  She's so little, she only has a few pair, and they are easily wedged down in the couch cushion or buried in the blocks.  So, the search for that took a little bit of time, finally we found some that (spoiler alert) she ended up taking off and continually throwing on the floor in Target.  Searching for her shoes is often time wasted.  

Then, there's the three year old, who has some sensory issues, and so is a little weird about socks and shoes.  She has this one pair of incredibly ratty sneakers that are a size 9 that she loves. She claims they are not too tight, although I am a little skeptical of this, because we tried to put a pair of size 10 and size 11 shoes on her and she cries that they hurt her feet.  I'm not sure what to believe. I normally just let her wear what she wants (choose your battles), but my wife wants her to stop wearing the ratty sneakers, so there was conflict over this while there was trying on of new shoes (which were summarily rejected).  She ended up wearing some black boots (sort of like Uggs says my wife. I don't know about such things).

(SIDENOTE: My wife has this habit of going through shoes or clothes as we're trying to go out the door. So, she's downstairs going through shoes while the perfectly good ratty sneakers are on the floor waiting to be worn)

The older girls usually have a problem of not being able to find a shoe.  The ONE PAIR THEY MUST WEAR is minus a shoe quite often.  This shoe is usually found after some crying and yelling. Mostly this is aimed at nothing in particular although sometimes hatred is spewed at the missing shoe in funny little monologues that go something like this:

"I hate you pink shoe!!  Why do you have to be missing?!  Nobody likes me!!  [note that no one has said anything to her] Why isn't [insert sister's name] helping me?!  [note that other sister is looking for her shoe]  She never helps me look for anything. It's all her fault [a very mean point with the finger in the direction of sister] Ohhhhhh!  What am I going to do?!  I hate all shoes!!  Why do we have to wear them?!  Why can't we all just go barefoot?!  Where is this stupid shoe?!  I'm going to--  Oh, here it is.  Okay, I'm ready."

Ahhh... doesn't it sound relaxing? The house of four girls.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Death & Depression

My wife was putting kids to bed last night when I found out about Robin Williams.  I crept into the bedroom where she was laying down with the big girls and whispered to her that he died, presumably from suicide.  The big girls immediately wanted to know the details (they don't miss anything).

My wife told them, "The guy from Jumanji, the older guy." (They watched this with her last week.)

"The one with the gun?" my oldest asked.

"No, the one who got sucked into the game and then came back an older man," said my wife.

"Oh, Alan. That's his name.  Alan died.  How did he?"

Not wanting to get into a discussion about suicide at 9:00 at night, my wife just said he'd been sick.  I think we've briefly explained suicide before to them, and, unfortunately, I'm sure there'll be another chance to do it.

Besides, he was sick. By all accounts, he struggled with depression, and that's a sickness.  I know, because I've struggled with it as well.  It's something that can take you over, and even steal your very breath if you let it.

I remember feeling hopeless, alone, unable to see any good in the next moment.  Everything I loved seemed pointless. It was a dark, dark time.

I remember. It’s like a limp that stays with you.

And then, with each child of ours that we welcomed into the world, I saw the fragility and miracle of life.  They're not to be taken lightly, these lives that we call our own.  God gave them to us.

It's a lie that says it's not meaningful, and so it's good to struggle. It's good to fight for your life, even if it's against yourself.

I'm sorry about Robin Williams. He was a great comedian and actor, and by all accounts, a good man.  He just lost the fight.

I’m reminded of Samwise’s speech to Frodo in The Two Towers. Though it wasn’t about suicide, his encouragement still seems apropos, for it involves a similar struggle.

“But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

And if I had allowed depression to win when I was younger, I would’ve missed out on the five blessings that entered my life in the following years.

My 5 Blessings