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.