Saturday, December 20, 2008

Darth Vader Christmas

I have to share this story that Jeff wrote for school. He did it without any help. It's funny because it's about Star Wars, but I am amazed by the fact that it is a complete story with a beginning, middle and end and a hint of a plot. Here it is:

Darth Vader Christmas

It was christmas in star wars land. All the people and ships were redey. All things we're redey but the Death star. Darth Vader hates christmas. So did his men and his master. The TIE fighters we're sent out. The TIE fighter's would battle the Rebel's and stop christmas.

Little did vader know that Lea was on the Death star. She gave vader a gift. Vader liked it. Darth vader likes Christmas now.

The End.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why I Hate Santa Claus

Tonight was one of those nights that make me feel like the worst parent in the world.

Mark took Jeffrey to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. They were supposed to be back fairly quickly, but didn't get home until after 9 p.m. I couldn't imagine what had taken them so long. Turns out, Jeff had insisted on standing in line for Santa. They waited over an hour! I was very surprised, because in the past he has demonstrated little interest in visiting this odd, seasonal stranger.

Jeff was very excited about his trip to see Santa, and told me that he asked Santa for a Lego Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer, which costs around $100, if you can find it. We already bought his Christmas gifts, and the Star Destroyer is not one of them. It's just too big and too expensive. So I told him very gently that we had already bought his gifts and that he wasn't going to get that, although we had some other very good presents for him. He said, eyes shining, "But I asked Santa for it!"

This is when I reminded him of what I told him when he was younger and just starting to "get" the whole Santa concept... that Santa Claus is a really fun game that people like to play at Christmas time, but Santa isn't real and that we have to buy the gifts. I told him that we don't have enough money to buy all the things he wants to get, and I want him to know ahead of time so he isn't upset Christmas morning when it isn't there.

I thought he remembered that Santa wasn't real, as I had made quite a point of it.

He didn't.

There were tears. He said he didn't want any Christmas presents and I should take them all back, and that we should take down the Christmas tree. He took the Santa towel out of the bathroom and said he didn't want to see it any more. He was angry with me for telling him. I told him over and over how sorry I was, that I thought he remembered about Santa.

I felt horrible.

But at the same time, I knew that I needed to tell him the truth. I reminded him that Jesus is real and Santa isn't, that Christmas is about Jesus' birthday. That the presents he does get are from the real people who love him. And that God loves him so much that he sent Baby Jesus into the world to be his Savior. So, we can put the Santa towel away, but we aren't getting rid of the Christmas tree or the presents. The tree reminds us of the new life we have in Jesus, and the Christmas gifts come from our love for each other. They remind us of the great gift God gave us in Jesus.

He buried his head in my shirt and cried and cried. Then he laughed because there were snots all over it, then cried some more. He didn't want to hug me goodnight when he finally went to bed.

I really hate Santa!

At a time in their lives when children are the most vulnerable, when we are trying to teach them about honesty and integrity, why do we tell them such a bald-faced lie? It's also a huge burden around the necks of parents who feel obligated to be Santa and fulfill their children's extravagant wishes. Tonight, I actually found myself thinking for just a moment that maybe I should charge that toy he wants to my credit card and put it under the tree "from Santa." But only for a moment.

The Santa myth is also spiritually dangerous, in my opinion, because Christmas and Santa are inseparably linked to Jesus in children's minds. So when a child does finally have to face the disillusionment of finding out Santa isn't real, what's to stop them from thinking Jesus isn't real either? Why isn't Jesus just another nice story that we made up?

I know I did the right thing. At least, I think so. The timing could have been better. But I also feel horrible for crushing Jeffrey's Christmas dream. At the same time, I deeply resent the cultural phenomenon that sets up such false hopes, and takes so much away from the real hope to be found in Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow I'll try to get the lights on the tree. Once it's lit, perhaps he'll want to decorate it. And I know he still wants his presents, regardless of what he might have said tonight!

Postscript (the next day): Jeff was fine this morning, back to his cheerful self. I asked him if he wants to decorate the Christmas tree tonight and he said "Yes." I told him it's okay to believe in Santa if he wants to, and he said he did. The important thing, from my point of view, is that he knows the truth, even if he wants to pretend. I told him how my dad would always pretend to be Santa and wake us up shouting "Ho, Ho, Ho!" I also told him how my mom would make doll clothes for our dolls and wrap them up, marked to us from Mrs. Claus.

I also told him that other parents want their children to think Santa is real, so not to say anything to the other kids he knows, but just to pretend with them. He said "You get what you get and you don't get upset!" I asked him where he heard that, and he said "Miss Coremin," his teacher. I'm going to send her an email thanking her!

I have to admit, I'm a bit of a novice at Santa Claus, as far as how to handle it with my own child and other people's children, since my mom told us the truth from the beginning. I knew it wasn't real, but really enjoyed the myth anyways. She told me that, despite her best efforts, I insisted on believing in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy "because Jesus loves everybody." She couldn't figure out how to argue with that kind of logic, so she gave up! But then... I also believed that there were elves in my bedroom, a witch in the attic and a secret pile of chocolate dirt in our backyard. So it's all a bit of a muddle, but I turned out all right and I'm sure Jeffrey will, too.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thursday update

As you may be able to tell, my word count has not gone up in the past two weeks. In fact, it's actually gone down a little because I did some editing.

I really want to work on my story, but life is just too demanding at the moment. It's the most wonderful time of the year... and the busiest. Finals are coming up, and my mom is coming next weekend to stay. I'm thrilled that she is coming, but I have to find the bed she is supposed to sleep on under all the junk piled there. Every day, more papers come home from school with Jeffrey and end up on the dining table, along with the daily accumulation of junk mail. I have to shove the whole pile over so we can eat dinner. But if I throw it out without sifting carefully through each and every piece, I just know I'll end up throwing away some bill or valuable receipt, so it has to sit there until I can sift.

Tonight is the Christmas program at school. I really don't feel like dragging myself and Jeff and Mark to the packed auditorium at the high school, with a couple hundred other pairs of grumpy parents. But, it's tradition and I think the kids are looking forward to it. For some reason, I can't get excited about it.

I do know I've been up way too late for too many nights, trying to get work done when the house is quiet. I need to get back on a regular sleep schedule; I'm sure I'll feel better.

It's hard to sleep, though, when so many sad things are happening. I feel very tense right now. The election was depressing enough in itself, along with all the announcements of things the Democrats are planning to do. International problems haunt the news. Plus there have been recent deaths among friends and family, and serious illnesses, and other problems. And the perennial doubts about whether I'm making the right parenting decisions, and doing enough to bring Jeff up in a Christian way. I don't think I am teaching him enough about the Bible at home, but I'm not sure how to do it, either. He hates singing Bible songs, and groans about our nightly devotions, so I'm scratching my head about what to add.

I think I'll end this cheerful rant, and go have some chocolate.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Quote of the Week

I have decided to put up some thoughts of my own for quotes. There are so many things that I observe that seem to strike at the heart of things.
So, at the risk of sounding really pompous, here is the one for this week:

Do not believe the fallacy that good cannot exist without evil. Just as war, injustice, disease, cruelty and poverty are wholly abhorrent in themselves, so also truth, beauty, justice, kindness and compassion are wholly desirable in their own rights. The sun shining down on a full summer's day is no less bright for lack of darkness.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Good news!

I did hear about next semester, and I have been offered two classes. One I had to turn down, but she offered to find me another one that fit into my schedule. Hooray! I don't have to look for work again!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A New Look

I created a new look for my blog. I have been having a lot of trouble with header in the "stretch" style of template, so I gave up and went to a regular template. I really prefer the "stretch" style because it spreads the words farther across the page, rather than keeping them in a tight column.

Anyway, it's Saturday and my husband and I are going out tonight! We're going to our favorite Mexican restaurant, and then to see "Quantam of Solace." The restaurant is under new ownership, so we are curious to see if the food is still just as good - and just as authentic. Hopefully they kept the same staff.

I have a ton of stuff to do before tonight, though. I MUST prepare my lesson for Monday ahead of time. I've been scrambling on Mon. and Wed. mornings to finish my notes before dashing off to class. We are getting down to the wire here - next week is the third test and the final is Dec. 17th, so I have about four weeks to finish everything up.

I hope I have a job next semester. I haven't heard anything yet!

I also have to prepare something for Sunday School tomorrow. My friend Sharyn asked me to teach the kids about Christmas in Germany, since Mark and I went there several years ago and my dad is German and Hungarian. One of the things that I want to talk to the kids about is the German glass Christmas ornaments, and Hungarian marzipan candy. I wonder where I can find some marzipan?

I'm still chuckling over Jeffrey's parent-teacher conference. His teacher told me that he's very good in Math, which I knew. She said that she will ask the class for ways to make a number, like 54 for example. Other first-graders will say, "Fifty plus four!" My son says "What about twenty plus twenty plus ten plus four?"

I laughed very hard when I heard that, and then apologized to her. Now I know how my mom felt raising me. He also reads on a fifth-grade level and is writing books in his spare time. What in the world am I going to do with him? He's going to run out of appropriate reading material before he's ten. Ah well, it's a good problem to have.

I'm just very glad he's in the public school that he's in, because the little Christian school he attended last year didn't have the variety of resources that the public school does. His teacher is able to challenge him more than I know the other first grade teacher would have, dear lady that she is!

I didn't write yesterday, and probably won't have time today. But that's okay. If I get everything done, then I can work tomorrow with a clear conscience.

Well, I better go feed the boy and get started on my day here. I have to clean, as well. Jeff has a new friend coming over for a playdate tomorrow, so I want the house to look nice. We still haven't finished putting everything back in place in the basement, and I know the boys will want to play with the toys and trains down there.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

12:35PM Nevermind! I went back to "stretch". I couldn't stand seeing everything squeezed together with all that blank space on either side.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Note to My Characters

Dear Marenya, Faldur, Norry et al,

I have devoted more hours than I can count to your welfare over the past several days. Since none of you is currently in a crisis, I would like to suggest that you take it easy for a while. Have a nap. Make some hot chocolate. Play a couple of games of Parcheesi. I know you don't celebrate Christmas, but surely there is some shopping you could do. Faldur, go find some boots without holes in them!

I have other matters to take care of today, less exciting than yours but no less important. If you are truly bored, you could come over here and help rake leaves.

The Author

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I just finished rewriting one of the most crucial scenes in the book. I am utterly drained. I just gave myself chills; I couldn't help reading the dialogue out loud because it was so real it seemed meant to be spoken. This is when the characters take over; they truly come alive in a way that is completely inexplicable but just as completely compelling.

This is what writers live for! This is what it means to really write.

Tuesday Update

Miraculously, I have managed to get to 43,000 words since Friday, which means I am caught up. The problem is not using just any words, but good words. This is the difference between writing normally and Nanowrimo. But, I still think I'd like to do it next year. It sounds really fun!

I was talking with Michelle G. last night about plotting. She said that she has realized that she is a tight plotter, and needs to work everything out before she starts writing. I know a lot of writers work that way. I remember hearing one author say that you should not only plan what will happen in each chapter before you write it, but in each paragraph.

However, I have come to realize that I work in a completely different way. I have been gently accused of not planning enough before I start writing. (Not by you, Michelle.) The thing is, I don't get ideas in a vacuum. I have to start writing - pick a character, a place, a situation and just go with it. As the characters move around and interact with each other, the ideas for the plot take shape. It's more of an organic process. So, I end up going back to change things to make them fit, or even rewriting the whole thing from the beginning, but I just find that is the way it works for me. Both ways are good.

Personally, and it's just a preference, I've never been a fan of very tightly plotted books. I feel as if I'm being carried along on a whitewater rafting trip, without any chance of getting to know what the people in the boat are like when they're not fighting for their lives. I sometimes get to the point where I just don't care anymore and jump out (stop reading.) (Again, this doesn't apply to you, Michelle. I really enjoyed Eldala.)

It really annoys me when the author assumes that just because someone is in a life-threatening situation, I care about them. Well, I don't! Maybe they deserve to be in the predicament they're in, or maybe they're just stupid. There is one writer in particular who opens each of her books with a scene of such shocking violence that it makes my mind and emotions shut down. I've read two first chapters of her books and never want to pick one up again. She's a Christian author, to boot. Apparently, her books sell well. As I said, it's just a matter of preference.

I am aware, however, that the best plotting is invisible. Books that feel constricting, do so because the author hasn't taken the time to make the action seem natural enough. Diane Mott Davidson's culinary mysteries are an example of really good plotting that also feels really human. I am totally consumed when I pick up one of her books, which is not just rare for me, but emotionally exhausting.

A lot of books are written in that nervous-system pounding way because it's what readers want. I think it's kind of like movies. The audience gets so accustomed to the adrenaline rush of a thriller that anything less intense seems boring. For example, we are planning to go see the new James Bond film this weekend. I'm looking forward to it for the vicarious thrill, but I'm going to have to also brace myself emotionally for the non-stop violence, noise and special effects.

That's perfectly okay in its own way. I just hope there's an audience for my style of storytelling, too. I prefer books that are exciting, but also give me time to savor the characters and the setting. I have to keep in mind that, like many authors before me, I am writing something that I myself would want to read. I have to believe that I am not so unique, that there isn't a bunch of other people out there who would enjoy it as well.

At least, I hope so.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Halfway there!

Hey, I broke 40,000 words! I am still 1800 words behind for the weekend, though. But I have to clean up the house and start dinner and do my notes for tomorrow's Algebra class. I have to stop for now.

At least I'm halfway there!

Friday, November 14, 2008


November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. The concept is to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month. It doesn't matter how bad the story is, you just have to keep writing until you hit 50,000 words. Participants are judged solely on word count, and get recognized for meeting the goal. The purpose is to encourage writers to be creative and write freely, without worrying about the finer points. Just get the ideas on paper!

I am not participating, because one of the requirements is that it has to be a new project, not a revision or continuation of something you've already started. However, I really want to finish The Golden Gryphon by the end of the year, so I'm setting a goal for myself, like a mini-Nanowrimo. I need about 40,000 words, so if I can write 1,000 words a day (on average) for the next 40 days, I should be basically finished with my book. Of course, there will be a lot of editing and revising to do. I may end up writing significantly more than 80,000 words in the process, up to a third of which will likely be eliminated before the final draft. But the important thing is to keep going, and to pace myself. I tend to get frustrated if I can't devote as much time to writing as I would like, but if I give myself permission to do 1000 words a day, at least I know I can come back to it tomorrow for sure.

1000 words takes me about 2-3 hours. I expect many of those will be late at night and early in the morning. I haven't done anything today, so I better get cracking!

Have a great weekend, everyone. It's pouring rain here, and we have to go to a birthday party tonight. Yuck! At least there will be cake to reward us for venturing forth into the dark, wet, wildwoods of New Jersey.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coming Alive Again

I have been feeling depressed this past week, about many things. Not just politics, but problems my son is having with friends at school, people I know who are ill or struggling, and about our own financial situation. I feel this black cloud hanging over me and can't sleep. I even don't feel like eating, which is rare!

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.-Howard Thurman

Anyway, I put up a quote from Howard Thurman this week. I don't know who he is, but it's a great quote. I borrowed it from Michelle G. Thanks Michelle!

It's hard sometimes to come alive again when one (or several) things hit. But there are many things to be happy about. Our "cottage" has new windows that make the whole house feel different. We sold a lot of popcorn for Cub Scouts, and Jeff will get a little prize. He caught his first fish this weekend at the lake near our house. My husband is still employed, despite months of dire warnings that the job might be closed down. There are rumors now that funding may be approved to continue the project for another whole year. My students did very well on their last algebra test. By George, I think they've got it!

But the thing that really makes me come alive is doing the thing that I know I was made to do... writing. I still can't understand how this little story of mine is at all important, but somehow it is. I've stopped for a week or so in order to take care of Things That Must Be Done. And to sleep at night. Sleep is good, when you can get it. (see the Zombie Writer post) And after finishing a difficult segment, it seems necessary for me to step back for a little while and give my creative juices a chance to stew. But this morning I was worrying and couldn't sleep, so I got up at 5 a.m. and did some editing of the last couple of that chapters I wrote. The manuscript definitely won't be done by Christmas, but perhaps my house will be in some kind of condition that will allow me to write more and clean up less after the holidays. What a burden material possessions can be! What consumers we Americans are. Ugh.

And when I write, I come alive. When I teach, I come alive. And when I help my son reel in that little wriggling sunfish, I come alive. It's not such a bad life, if you can find a way to create your own life apart from everything else. As somebody said, "Everybody needs their own spot."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I hope...

Barack Obama is president-elect of the United States. I am very glad that we have finally overcome racial barriers in the White House and have elected a black President.

I just wish it had been a different black President.

Obama ran under slogans of "Hope" and "Change." I am trying to be hopeful that the changes he will bring to the United States are good ones. My concerns have nothing to do with race, but with his policies, his past voting record, and his associations.

He has demonstrated in private, although he denies it in public, that he is strongly pro-Arab and anti-Israel. He has associated with terrorists inside and outside the United States. I can't help wondering where some of that $700 million in campaign money came from that put him in office. I hope that it wasn't from anti-American Arab groups seeking to buy the Presidency. I hope that he won't jeopardize our relationship with Israel, our only solid ally in the Middle East.

For further implications of his Muslim heritage on U.S. foreign relations, see the following article: Barack Obama Through Muslim Eyes

He says that he will be bipartisan and bring the country together, but his campaign has been very divisive, pitting poor against rich, blue collar against white collar, employers against employees. Until pressured to change his position, he approved of the reversed racism preached by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I hope that he really meant what he said in his acceptance speech and will truly bring America together.

I hope that he really believes in the right of everyone to medical care... including babies born alive despite attempts to abort them.

I hope that he won't drive businesses and entrepreneurs out of the country with his high taxes, and bankrupt the coal industry, and prevent us from drilling our own oil or building new nuclear power plants to create energy independence.

I hope that he won't tax the rest of us into another Great Depression. I have to say that I have lost much of my incentive to go back to work full time, because if I do, we will be in the "wealthiest American" category with a combined income of more than $120,000.

I hope that he can truly reform the health care system. I hope he'll start with clamping down on the trial lawyers that drive everyone's cost up.

I hope that he won't appoint radical judges that will re-write the Constitution from the bench according to popular opinion, rather than the law of the land. I hope he won't appoint judges who will oppress religious freedom, by taking away the freedom of speech of pastors in the pulpit, and the tax-exempt status of churches who refuse to perform gay marriage, and take away our right to keep and bear arms.

I hope that our enemies don't feel emboldened by his inexperience, and that he doesn't reduce our military to a feeble shell the way Clinton did. I hope he doesn't destroy our diplomatic powers by making the kinds of foolish statements he made during the election about his foreign policy plans, basically announcing to the world what he intends to do, without even giving our allies a chance to sit down and discuss it first.

I hope that the steps he has taken towards a less radical point of view aren't just a facade he is using to get him into the White House. I hope that after the glow of the election fades, he doesn't suddenly become Nancy Pelosi's, Barbara Boxer's and Harry Reed's best friend.

I hope that he keeps his future promises longer than he kept his promise to accept matching public campaign funds.

I hope.

(Comments on this post are welcome from all sides.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Publication Panic Attack

I was reading another writing blog, where a hopeful author is fretting over getting her first manuscript accepted by an agent. She was talking about query letters and how when you send one and it's rejected, you really don't know why unless they take the time to explain, which is rare. So the author has no idea whether to change the proposal, change the query letter, change the book, or just try the same package on someone else.

When I read stuff like that, I get a painful constricting feeling in my chest, just under the sternum. I have to remind myself to breathe. My stomach also clenches and I think I might lose my breakfast. So I take deep, slow breaths, fix a cup of hot tea and write about it.

This all goes back to the eternal question: Is what I am writing interesting enough for someone else to read, let alone publish? The answer to the first part of the question is undoubtedly "Yes," because my friends, at least, will read it and perhaps even enjoy it.

The answer to the second part is "Who knows?" From what I hear, publishing is the ultimate crap shoot. You just keep putting yourself out there and hoping for the best. However, at least authors get to do it from home, while actors, singers, etc. have to face personal humiliation day in and day out. Okay, it's not the ultimate crap shoot, but it feels like that at times.

The other question is, why in the world do we DO this? What makes us so goddamn sure our writing is so important that we have to sacrifice our time, happiness, self-worth and lots and lots of postage to try to spread it to the world? In the ultimate picture, does anyone really care, besides us? My mom will always encourage me in my writing, because she's my mom. (Thanks, Mom!) My husband will ask how much all this is going to cost and will we ultimately lose money in the process? He isn't being mean, just practical... the bills come in each month regardless of my word count, and it's not like I'm contributing a lot financially.

My six-year-old just wants me to get off the computer so he can play Dino Attack.

Writers are either supremely egotistical, or supremely driven. I have met some egotistical ones, for example the author/writing teacher (now very successful) who discouraged me in college so much that I didn't write a thing for nearly thirteen years. But most of us are just driven. We can't not write.

But why publish? Why not do what my friend Michelle Gregory did, and self-publish a few copies to share with family, friends and Internet buddies? Why not publish for free on my blog? It would probably draw an audience, which is what I want, but no income. No publisher would want the book after that because anyone could just download the whole thing for free. But is income that important? Yes, I have to admit it is. I need to be able to justify all this time and effort to our family finances.

And, I have to admit, there is that teeny little part of me that is just dying to see my name on a glossy cover at Barnes and Noble, or an airport news stand.

But, I am also terrified of the whole publishing house process. For example, book promotion. How in the world am I going to do book tours and signings when I have a six-year-old who has to go to school, Cub Scouts, etc.? My husband can't take off from his job to do Daddy Daycare. So it seems hopeless, and I go round and round in circles of nail-biting, chocolate-chomping, coffee-slurping frustration.

What I keep coming back to... and I apologize because this is really, really corny and even a bit wierd... is that I really believe God wants me to do this. I don't know why. I find it very hard to believe that in His eternal Plan, my little book has any impact whatsoever. I just know that over and over again, He has put it in my heart, "Just write the book! Just do it." Perhaps its a simple matter of obedience. Like Abraham sacrificing Isaac. Nothing really came of that (fortunately for Isaac!), other than that Abraham proved he was faithful and God was pleased. Perhaps this is all just about pleasing the God who gave me this little gift of making up stories.

And yet... and yet... those tremulous little fingers of hope reach out in spite of my own misgivings... Did C.S. Lewis think that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, written for his niece Lucy, would ever have the impact it has? Did J.R.R. Tolkein ever think that his Lord of the Rings trilogy would be so successful, even though I believe most of the success has been posthumous? Did Beatrix Potter really think her simple little stories would affect generations of children?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But oh! What a venture!

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians something: something)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Finding my Inner Faldur

Okay, I lied in my last post. I am going write about writing today.

This weekend, we watched the movie Nim's Island, in which an adventure writer has to overcome her own fears to help a little girl who thinks she is the heroic character she writes about in her books.

One of the scary things about the movie... because it hit home... was the two-way dialogues that occur between the fictional hero and the writer, played by Jodie Foster. (Incidentally, I adore Jodie Foster and have been told on more than one occastion that I look like her. :Grin: ) I haven't quite acquired that level of schizophrenia in my writing life, but I can see it as a distinct possibility in my future.

So who is Faldur? He's the male protagonist of my book. The thing that has been bothering me the past few weeks, is that getting inside Faldur's head is making me uncomfortable with myself. You see, he is one of those disciplined, alert, self-controlled people who does everything with such annoying perfection, that it makes the heroine want to punch him in the nose just to see if he'd say "Ow." He is everything I'm not: athletic, self-disciplined, discreet, used to sleeping outside... you get the picture. He can eat anything he wants, because he burns up so many calories hunting down bad guys, slaying evil creatures, and being cold, hungry, uncomfortable and wet. He's attuned to every facet of his surroundings and always knows the right thing to do. He's the kind of guy everyone turns to in a crisis, and whom they definitely want on their team.

And he does all this without magic. Well, maybe just a little.

Anyway, I find myself thinking at times... Faldur wouldn't be here blogging and eating popcorn when there is work to be done. Faldur wouldn't have eaten that chocolate bar. Faldur would have exercised for at least an hour today. Faldur would not have hit the snooze button eight times.

My life is turning into WWFD: What would Faldur do?

The thing that is so troublesome about this is that I know, deep down, that I could be that way if I only tried. I am better than this sloppy person I have become. Okay... that I've always been. Part of this is due to my messy creative side, which I have gladly embraced, but there are limits to everything. At least, that's what Faldur would say.

True, Faldur has his shortcomings. He has spent so much time with his fellow Rangers and his horse, that he tends to be a dry stick in company. He doesn't like opening up to people, let alone admitting he might actually care for them. He's so out of touch with his emotions that he doesn't realize he's in love with the heroine, although it's perfectly plain to everyone else. And of course, he has the benefit of a clear purpose in life: Defend the border. Serve the King. Protect his men. That's it. If he ever became a civilian he would, like many soldiers, be at a complete loss for a while. And he never has to worry about domestic problems. His horse is his family. For now, anyway.

So, I can't say I really want to be him, but I would like to be like him in certain ways. And, I wouldn't mind sleeping outside once in a while either. Camping is fun. "Where are the outlets, Mr. Ranger?"

P.S. Let me try to clarify this a bit, because I'm afraid I gave the wrong impression of my hero, whom I really admire. The heroine, Marenya, is pretty ticked off with him in the beginning of the book for being so perfect and so indifferent to her. But he is actually a very complex person. Like many people who are good at what they do, he makes it look very easy when in fact he has worked very hard to hone his skills and is constantly reassessing each situation, as well as himself.

As well, he has paid a high personal price for his commitment to duty. He has given up any idea of a personal life because he doesn't want to leave a widow behind some day when he finally comes to that point where he makes an error in judgement, or is simply outmatched. As she moves out of her safe, familiar environment and is drawn into the dangerous world he lives in every day, she comes to appreciate him more and more.

What I envy about this character is his focus and discipline. It makes me very aware of my lack of both. What I have to face, though, is that in order to know this character as intimately as I do, there must be some of those qualities in me that are yet undeveloped. That is the challenge I am facing for myself... finding my inner Faldur.

1 Peter 5:8
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Hello, out there!

Hi Everyone! I know I haven't posted anything for a while. I have been working really hard on The Golden Gryphon. I'm trying to finish the first draft by the end of the year. So, instead of writing on my blog about writing, I'm just... well... writing.

I have created a blog for my math students. It's boring, just lists of homework assignments and test information, so I won't bother to link it here. But one feature I put up is a quote of the week. I thought that some of them would be nice to post here, so I'm going to add that feature to this blog as well.

Have a great week everyone!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Zombie Writers

I am falling victim to a commom malady called "writing zombie-ism." The Zombie Writer is recognizable by a number of clear symptoms:

1. Walking stiffly, as a result of spinal compression due to sitting most of the time

2. Clenched hands, which have become gnarled from using a pen or keyboard

3. A perpetually glazed expression, and the tendency to speak in monosyllables, if at all, in response to well-meaning attempts at conversation. This is due to the fact that the zombie is not actually present with the speaker, but is living inside his or her imaginary world

4. The tendency to mumble to himself or herself while performing mundane tasks. See above.

5. An unkempt appearance, including rumpled clothes and wild hair, as a result of rushing to his or her desk immediately after waking, and then subsequently losing all track of time.

6. The tendency to eat nothing for long periods of time, and then suddenly be overcome with the urge to eat, at which time s(he) either empties out the refrigerator, or orders and consumes an entire large, deluxe pizza

7. The tendency to prowl around at night, unable to sleep but also too exhausted to write, resulting in daytime sleepiness, paleness and optical sensitivity to sunlight.

8. Lack of communication with family and friends

These symptoms, however, can be relieved in several ways.

1. The sudden arrival of friends whom the zombie invited over, and forgot all about

2. The sudden arrival of friends who want to make sure the zombie hasn't fallen and can't get up

3. A sick child throwing up on the computer

4. A child who is not sick, but positions himself on the writer's lap in such a way that no matter how the writer moves her head, she cannot see the screen

5. A dog (or cat) who throws up on the writer's feet

6. Spousal yelling (not recommended)

7. Being "kidnapped" for a dinner out by said spouse (recommended)

8. Completion of a manuscript (rare)

9. Publication (even rarer)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The First Sick Day

Today was Jeffrey's first sick day. (I'm sick of calling him DS=Dear Son. I'm going to take a leap of faith and assume there are no stalkers reading my blog.)

He caught the virus that everyone else has had at school, and the nurse called me yesterday afternoon to pick him up because he had a low fever. He threw up in the car, laid on the sofa for a while, then crawled into his bed and slept from 4 pm to 8 pm. I thought he was out for the night, and Mark (DH) and I were happily in the middle of watching "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" when the son rose and announced he wanted to play Webkinz. He played computer games, ate some pizza which we had ordered for his Jesus Birthday (that never got celebrated), and went back to bed at 11 pm.

This morning he seems fine, true to the course of this particular virus. At least, his fever's gone and he's playing happily. He clearly has a cold, but he's not lying on the couch. My friend Sharyn is going to come over and babysit so I can teach my class this afternoon. Her daughter Carolyn already had the virus, and can't wait to play with Jeff.

But I realized that this is his first sick day! God is so good... he did not miss one single day of school last year when I was teaching. I missed school several times for illness, but Jeff was never sick. Amazing!

I just feel so fortunate to have such amazing friends who will babysit for me even when my child is sick! When I married Mark, I knew no one in New Jersey. I tried to get him to move back to Ohio, but he couldn't because of his job situation. I was really depressed about the whole thing, but God told me that if I would commit myself to this marriage and to Him, He would provide a home for me here, and He truly has.

So I want to say a very heartfelt "Thank you" to Sharyn and Michelle D. and Marci and Toi and Wendi and Erica, and my Internet friends Michelle G. and Kristal, and my long-distance friends Kimberly and Alison, and my teaching colleagues Terri and Jackie and Sharon C. and Rose W., and even Linda, the fabulous secrectary of my new math dept. at CCC.... for giving me a HOME!

God is using you, even if you don't know it!

"Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life." - Matt. 19:29

Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday morning

Ugh! Normally I love the peace of Monday morning, after a busy family weekend. But today was Just Awful, and it's only 9:30!

We got up late, because I stayed up until 11:30 writing and chatting with Michelle G. and Kristal on Yahoo. (Thanks, girls, for your encouragement!) I didn't notice that DH, in a fit of zealous dishwashing, had taken the filter basket and coffee pot off of the coffee maker and washed them last night, leaving them in the drainer. I know, I know it's stupid of me, but I can't tell you how many times I've stumbled into the kitchen in the morning, filled the pot with coffee and water and turned it on, only to have the coffee cascade over the counter and floor. It happened again today!

DS is getting worse and worse with his pickniness with food, probably because I'm pushing him to eat a wider variety so, like a mule, he's digging in his heels. I had no idea what to put in his lunch, so I tossed in the ubiquitous cheese stick, which will probably come home untouched, and a packet of pretzels and some juice. My hair is disgusting because I haven't washed it in two days preparatory to coloring it, so I put makeup on and stuck my hair in a ponytail under a ball cap and we left for school.

DS wanted to race, and ran down the sidewalk, his backpack bouncing on his shoulders. I didn't discourage this - hey, he's exercising! - but I should have, because he tripped and fell on the cement, prompting tears and protests that he didn't want to go to school. I promised him a Band-aid from the nurse when we got there, but he dug in his heels - literally - and I had to threaten and drag him the rest of the way, feeling like the worst mom in the world for not stopping him from running. Not to mention the fact that we drew stares from all the passing neighbors. (The crossing guard, however, was sympathetic.)

So I walked back home, thinking about all the things I have to do and the loan we're signing tonight for the new windows and the fact that the Caravan is making funny noises again, and wondered for the umpteenth time if it is really worth the struggle to write this fantasy novel and if I should just go get a job. I cleaned up the coffee and made a fresh pot of REALLY STRONG caffeine, had a couple of the delicious homemade cookies that DS refused to eat last night (oatmeal-chocolate chip-walnut-raisin-cranberry), and read my Bible. This is what I read:

Then I said, ‘I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain;
Yet surely my just reward is with the LORD,
And my work with my God.’”
-Isaiah 49:4, NKJV

I just have to keep reminding myself that, for whatever reason, God has put this story on my mind and heart to write. I was telling K. and M.G. last night that the characters don't even resemble the actors I had in mind when I first started writing it a year and half ago. They are their own people, so real, it's almost frightening.


P.S. I take that back. Faldur still looks like Hugh Jackman, I just forgot that it was Hugh that he looked like! I mostly think of him (Jackman) as Wolverine from the X-men, all moody and withdrawn. And besides being incredibly sexy (the hard-to-get ones always are), that's an important part of his character: his reticence. Like Aragorn, he's got a lot of secrets and has to be very careful what he reveals and to whom.

P.P.S. DS ate the cheese stick, and seems to have recovered from the emotional impact of his mishap. And my class went really well this afternoon! We got into the beginning of the pre-calculus stuff: namely functions and the difference quotient
Call me wierd, but I love that stuff!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Candlelit Morning

It's not quite 5 a.m. I've been awake since 4 and decided to get up and write. I turned the brightness on my monitor way down and lit a candle in the office, so as not to give myself a headache. It's pouring rain outside. I've left the window open so I can hear the rain pummeling the leaves and dripping off the gutters.

My characters have been blessed with good weather so far. Mainly because even Hanorja, who have excellent eyesight, can't see through raindrops, which would seriously dampen the action. There's been a lot of action, (well, not a LOT of action, but a lot for me), and some blood, and now everyone is recuperating before the next stage. I better go find out what happens.

See 'ya!

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Autumn is here, with cooler temperatures and that sense of latent excitement that always accompanies the change of seasons. The colors haven't changed yet; I'm hoping that since we've had plenty of rain, we'll have an atypically glorious Fall. I saw a few red birch leaves on the ground when I was walking Teddy yesterday. Of course, they start dropping red leaves in August, so that's no biggie. This is Ted's favorite time of year, because the squirrels endlessly forage for acorns in yard, and he loves to dash out and catch them by surprise. They go streaking and squeaking for the fence with his fluffy white person in hot pursuit. He would go in and out the back door all day, if I let him.

Teddy is in Heaven, having me home again. Last year he was miserable with our long days away from home and started chewing things in the house. One thing I can say for that... our living room is a lot cleaner now that we have to pick it up every time we leave! I haven't made much progress with the house yet. I've done a few things, but with starting my new teaching job at the college and getting DS started in a new school, plus Eti's funeral, and working part time for Marci and Steve, I've been plenty busy. I still can't believe Eti's gone, but I know she's in a better place, waiting for us to join her one day.

The book is weighing on me. I always feel this horrible tension between wanting to just work on it all day without interruption, and feeling that I need to be doing other things. The sink is full of dirty dishes this morning and the house needs cleaning, as we are having friends over for dinner tonight, and I have to go to the store, and help at in my son's classroom this afternoon. But I'm going to set aside a couple of hours this morning to write, because I have to, and if someone drops by and sees the dirty dishes or the books and mail piled up on the table, too bad.

It's really true, that saying that "Being a writer is like having homework every night." Sometimes I dread writing and put it off, other times I can't wait to get working. Most of the time, I'm excited about the book. I just pray that others will be excited too, when it's finally done. I feel so blessed right now to be able to stay home and work on it, like God knew exactly what I needed. DS is in school, and I have a couple of little jobs to get me out of the house and add a trickle of income. It's Heaven for me! The only drawback is the loneliness. I do find myself blathering on to the checkout girl at the supermarket, or the other parents at the school, just because I need someone to talk to. But that's okay! That's what blogs are for, right?

PS I was just looking over past posts, and saw in the "Random Stuff" list from May that one of my wishes was "windows." That wish has come true... we're getting new windows for our house! Hooray!!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Next Stage

Summer is winding down; it's been a long, glorious one. Not as hot as past years, which has been a blessing. Lots of rain, but not too much. I've hardly watered the flowers at all.

Right now my son and his friend are swimming in the pool, diving for toy animals and playing with the shark ship toy. DS is holding his nose and swimming underwater now. He's thrilled with himself and so am I. I thought he'd never overcome his reluctance to get his face wet. I bought him some goggles and he's diving under the surface like a little fish. He told us today he's going to wear his goggles forever. "Even to bed?" asks his friend. "Yeah!" "Even to school?" I asked. "Yeah!"

I feel as if I am on the verge of the third stage of my life. Don't ask me what the first two stages were. School and my career, I guess, and then the first six years of motherhood. Now I will have time to write while DS is at school, and will be teaching one math class at the community college. Part of me feels incredibly guilty as I hear DH leaving for work at 6 a.m. every day, and part of me just feels blessed beyond belief. I don't know if I'll ever go back to full-time employment. If I could get published and continue to write steadily while teaching part-time, that would be ideal. But I'll never know until I finish the blasted thing!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hopelessly addicted to Webkinz

Hi Everyone! Just a quick update. Things are ticking along with my novel... the writing is starting to flow again after a long hiatus. I haven't done any more on the Elfin Chronicles yet but I'm planning to. The whole thing is already planned out in my head, I just have to write it.

I am starting to interview for teaching jobs. I'm trusting the Lord to help me find the right position.

We are addicted to Webkinz, thanks to my sister! She bought DS and me each a pet and now we are online all the time to play the games, win free food and hunt for the Gem of the Day! The whole thing is just too cute for words and very entertaining. (A little too entertaining, sometimes.) I have been resisting the urge to get another real pet for years now, and this satisfies that, in a way. It's also like a virtual dollhouse! You get to purchase items for your pet's room using money you earn by playing games in the arcade or working in the employment office. So my two doggies have a nicely furnished bedroom, a kitchen and living room, as well as a yard with a virtual garden. I harvested my carrots yesterday! Yippee!!!

I know, I know, it's a little strange for an adult to get so caught up in this. But there's a little kid in all of us that just wants to play!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Prayer for Eti

I have a dear friend who is fighting a serious illness. She has been sick for a long time and now she may have cancer. Her son-in-law says that she is ready to go home to the Lord and will not take any treatment if it is cancer. She has been through so much, and is such a beautiful, loving soul, that I am praying that God will be faithful to her as she has been faithful to Him all these years and take her home quickly, with a minimum of suffering. She has suffered so much already and with such a beautiful spirit. Surely her life has been a sweet fragrance unto the Lord.

But if it is not her time to go yet, I am praying that she would recover quickly and that it would not be cancer. And also, of course, that He would hold her and her family in the palm of His hand.

"The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down." Psalm 145:14

Dear Father in Heaven,

I thank you for the gift that Eti has been to me all of my life. I thank you for her patience, her optimism, her intelligence, and her understanding spirit. I know that She loves you and is eager to be with You forever, and that our parting, as sad is it might be, will only be for a little while.

I pray, Father, that you would spare her any more suffering. If it is her time to come home, please take her home quickly. If it is not her time, I pray that you would strengthen the cells of her body and of her bones to resist whatever infection or disease is there. You are the Great Healer; you have only to say the word and she will be healed. All of us who are praying for her are like the friends of the paralytic, carrying her tenderly between us with our prayers and bringing her before You with utmost faith. Please be faithful to her and honor your promises in Scripture to lift all those who are bowed down and to be gracious and compassionate to all that You have made. Please enfold her and Andy and Jess and Andrea and the rest of the family in Your loving arms. May they feel the peace that passes understanding the midst of this time.

I thank you, God, and praise You for what You have already done and for what You are going to do.

In Jesus Name,

She is a big fan of the Elfin Chronicles that I started last summer. I learned that she was very upset with me when I stopped writing them. So I will have to finish them for her!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cottage Wanted

I have decided that I need a cottage! After all, that is what the blog is called, but I don't have any nice photos of cottages to put on my blog header. So, can you help me? Post a comment to a link with a cottage photo. Let's see how many we can collect! I will pick my favorite to be on my blog header.

Thanks in Advance! I know we'll get some fantastic photos.

Friday, June 20, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I was in a gloomy mood this morning, and not even looking forward to our upcoming family trip. So I had devotions and then went outside to water my flowers. For some reason, gardening instantly soothes me. I feel very close to Jesus when I work with plants, remembering all the parables he told about them. I'm quite proud of how the border is shaping up after six years of work, although I have some things I still want to change. I thought you might like to see it, so here is a photo essay of my garden.

Here is a photo of the whole front border, as of this morning. You can see all the junk on the porch... the cooler, potting stuff, etc. How embarassing!

A close-up of the sedum, Autumn Joy, which will have reddish-orange flowers in fall. I love the shape of sedum leaves.

Some more pansies, peeking out from under the trailing mass of Coreopsis "Moonbeam."

Oriental lilies and zinnies around the bird feeder post.

I am hoping that if the other bunnies see this one, they will think my yard is taken!

My Stella D'Oro daylilies have finally bloomed... I wonder if they will continue all summer as promised? I love the lemon-yellow color against the Bird's Nest spruce.

Coneflowers against the brick wall.

The purple liatris is preparing to flower. I can't believe how well this plant has done in my border. Along with the coreopsis, sage and chrysanthemums, it could easily take over the whole bed. These are the plants that seem to do best in my southeast-facing border that gets lots of morning sun.

The basis of my color scheme is blue, pink and pale yellow. This photo didn't come out as well as I had hoped; the colors are kind of washed out. It's too bad the hybrid sage is past its first bloom. This one is called "May Night." It's one of the first plants I put in and has done very well, but the flowers are a little too dark against the brick wall. I recently found another variety called "Blue Hills" that I like better.

Along the driveway, I put in some barberry, which turns bright red in the fall, and some begonias to fill in the empty spots while the bushes grow. However, I discovered that barberry has some wicked thorns in it! Since this is right where we get in and out of the car, I will probably move these plants and put something friendlier along the drive.

Here is a photo of the Blue Hills sage, along with the peony that came with the house. This photo was taken last month when both were in bloom. You can also see my jockey windmill. I used to hate those tacky garden decorations, but I fell in love with this one on a trip to Connecticut and hubby gave it to me for my birthday. The yellow daisies were a Mother's Day gift from him and DS this year, along with the zinnias by the bird feeder.

Sometimes you have to water the dog as well as the plants.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Random Stuff

It's about 4:30 on Thursday morning. My second to last day of the school year, perhaps of my teaching career. I went to bed early last night but woke up about an hour ago and decided that since I couldn't go back to sleep I might as well get up.

My heart has been so heavy lately. I feel like a cartoon character with a little black cloud following me everywhere I go. I spent some time reading my Bible and praying, and I do feel better. I wish I could be like Lucy Pevensie and have Aslan appear and breathe strength and courage into me when I need Him.

It's funny, but the one thing I wanted most was to be home and not have to work, but now that I'm almost there - at least for the summer - I feel like the walls of my house are closing in around me. Well, not the walls as much as the Stuff. There is just so much Stuff! Stuff to do, Stuff to clean, Stuff to organize. It's like my home is this great big closet that I've shut my mind to for the past year, and now I'm trying to open the door again carefully so that all the Stuff inside doesn't fall on my head.

I guess that's really a metaphor for life. It's why people become workaholics. If you can focus on Work rather than Stuff, you can ignore your Stuff for a really long time. Whether it's emotional Stuff, spiritual Stuff, financial Stuff, or even just real, physical Stuff. I know I'm very lucky to have this break, and that many people have to put off their Stuff indefinitely because they just have no choice. They have to work two or three jobs to survive. I thank God I'm not in that situation.

However, part of my Stuff is the fact that once again my husband's job is threatened. It didn't used to be this way; when we first got married he had steady employment. In fact he was working so much overtime that I barely saw him for months at a time. Now he's struggling to keep each job and it's not because of the economy. It's because of the way people act. What has happened to society? Has it always been this way since the beginning of time, or does it just seem worse the more I grow older and learn about the world?

Anyway, I know that my little black cloud is being caused by a few specific things. I just need to keep praying and trusting that each of those things will get worked out in God's time. After all, He has been faithful to bring me this far. I'm not going to lose faith in Him now just because of some Stuff. But I really think it helps sometimes when I'm feeling overwhelmed to just stop and identify the Stuff that's bothering me. Somehow, classifying and labeling it helps me stop feeling that way.

I can hear the birds waking up. I'm going to try to write a little. And today should be a really good day; I'm going with the Kindergarten class on their field trip to the Cape May Zoo. Our heat wave has broken and the weather is gorgeous!

Have a blessed Thursday, everyone.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rain and a writer's dilemma

It's raining today. One of those sudden summer thunderstorms that sweep dramatically through and leave the air feeling moist and warm and promising. The kind of storm that makes you want to put on your old raincoat and stand outside, catching raindrops on your tongue, and leaves the garden all fresh and dripping.

Anyway, here's my dilemma. I'm working hard on my novel, not writing as much as stewing over it. I'm hoping maybe you can help me. I'm trying to decide how authentic the setting should be. It's a fantasy, so I can make it whatever I want, but the question is... how much like real life should it be, and how much crediblity will I lose if I take liberties? Or am I just obsessing over details that no one will notice anyway?

Here's what I mean... I have set the story in the distant past, somewhat like Tolkein's Middle-Earth, so that it is pre-industrial with an idealized feudal system in place. The location is what I personally have dubbed the "Scotch-Coloradan Alps," a mountainous region combining elements of the Scottish Highlands, the Rocky Mountains and the German Alps. Here's the tough part. If my race of people, the Hanorja, live in this area and do not have trade with people from other parts of the world, then all of their clothing and foodstuffs would have to be indigenous. There would be no cotton, linen or silk; everything would have to be made of wool. It makes me itch just thinking about it! There would be no tea, no coffee, no ginger for gingerbread, no lemons or oranges, no sugar and no corn. They wouldn't have Mediterranean fruits like figs, dates or olives. They would not get enough hot weather to grow grapes for wine. There would be no tobacco, either.

They would be restricted to the dreaded British diet: meat, potatoes, vegetables, herbs, tree-fruits like apples and cherries, berries, cider, bread, nuts and honey. And since I have decided not to allow them to kill animals, their diet would be further limited to fish or fowl. They would also not be able to tan leather for saddles, boots, waterskins or anything else, nor use furs to keep themselves warm. I may have to rethink that decision!

My question is, if you were reading a story set in such a place and read that they had gingerbread with their tea, would you stop and say "Hey, wait a minute, where did the tea come from? And the ginger?" Or would you just accept it without thinking that deeply about it?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

It's amazing how many troublesome incidents have occurred since I started teaching last September. Most of these were expensive, as well.

For example, the dog getting fleas just before we were due to go on vacation, causing allergic dermatitis to set in. I spent several nights up with the poor suffering creature, trying to kill these fleas with some product that wouldn't aggravate his skin and praying we would not have to cancel our trip. Not to mention that the house got infested as well, which required repeated applications of highly toxic chemicals to our home.

Then, at the very start of school, I got the flu so badly I had to go home sick the first week. A couple of weeks later, I woke up to find water all over the kitchen floor. Turns out, the compressor on the refrigerator had stopped working, causing the freezer to melt during the night. I spent a lovely Saturday running back and forth to a friend's house with boxes full of foodstuffs to put in their basement fridge, and then to Lowe's to buy whatever fridge I could find that they could deliver the next day and would fit into the space we had. The new fridge is black; the rest of our appliances are almond. Oh well. At least it fits.

Then there were the plumbing problems involving our only toilet, and all of the car problems: the bad fuel pump, the mysteriously ailing power steering, the "check engine" light that was some expensive part of the emissions system that needed replacing, and the slashed tire on Valentine's day.

Oh, and did I mention that the boiler blew up and flooded the basement in January? It's amazing how you can't get a repairman for love nor money for small jobs, but when you have a $4500 boiler to replace, there's one on your doorstep in 30 minutes.

Tonight it was another car problem. I was at Sears and when I came out to the parking lot, I saw that I had a flat tire, due to the inexplicable placement of a bright silver nail in the tread. Since the tires are all somewhat worn, hubby predicts we will have to replace all four of them. Great. Another $400 out the window.

This is just the physical stuff. I won't even go into all the problems I've had at work, nor that hubby has been going through with his job lately. It seems the Devil is really out to get us.

However, God is on our side, too. Tonight I happened to catch a friendly manager at the Sears Auto Center just as he was closing up shop. He looked at the tire for me, said it was a slow leak and put air in it to get me safely home. When the boiler blew up in the basement, we were home and able to take care of the water before any serious damage was done. Since I was working, we had the money to pay for the new boiler and the new fridge and all the car repairs, even if we did have to pay some of it in installments. And the dog did recover from the dermatitis and the fleas just in time for us to go on vacation.

(However, I will never forget hunting through his fur for those horrible black insects at eleven o'clock at night trying to spray them directly with pesticide, or roaming through the aisles of the 24-hour grocery store searching for some remedy that would soothe his poor skin. Nor will I forget those calls to Frontline in which they told me the product should kill the fleas within 24 hours and the fleas I had must be new ones. I said "They are getting bigger every day... they have to be the same fleas!" So the Frontline guy says, "Well, it sounds like you want a product that will repel fleas." I said "I just want something that will kill them. Tell me how to kill them!")

But I digress.

My husband and I had another one of those discussions tonight after I got home and told him about the tire. The "why is all this stuff suddenly happening to us?" discussion. The "can we afford for Christine not to work full-time if disasters keep occurring" discussion. I told him that I don't mean to sound superstitious, but I have been so busy lately that I have slacked off on praying over our family and our home. I have slacked off on devotions most days; I slow down to pray only when I have a need. The rest of my prayers are usually said in the car on the way to work. I also have been wondering if we should be giving our full tithe, even though I really don't see how we can afford to do that.

So, while DH was in the shower tonight, I took a few minutes to actually pray and open my Bible. I wasn't even asking for an answer, just letting God know I was sorry and was thinking about Him. The response from the Holy Spirit was graciously immediate and blissful. He told me to tell hubby that the reason all of this is happening is that we have been depending too much on ourselves to take care of things. Not that it is bad in any way to be responsible and independent and use the abilities God has given us to provide for our family, but that we need to remember that we can't depend on ourselves alone. We have to trust God for our daily bread, meaning that we have to remember that all we need for each day comes from Him alone. All that we have comes from Him and ultimately belongs to Him.

I read out loud to him the verses that my Bible opened to:

Psalm 37

3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this...

7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Postscript: The day after I posted this, another really upsetting thing occurred at school. I am struggling with my thoughts right now because I feel so angry and humiliated. So it was good to come back and read this even 24 hours later, to remind me of these noble sentiments that slipped my mind so quickly.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Feeling Elfish?

I picked up "The Spiderwick Chronicles" at the library, just for fun. These books are way too short! Anyways, I'm starting to feel a little bit elfish. So there may be some new installments of The Elfin Chronicles soon. But I want to put up a disclaimer: The Chronicles are a writing exercise for me. They are not planned in advance or edited. I just write whatever pops into my head that day. So don't expect too much, okay?

Have a lovely Memorial Day weekend. It's sunny, cool and green here in Southern NJ today and we are headed to a birthday party. But first I guess I should clear those piled-up dishes out of the sink!

The End of an Er

The first year of teaching is coming to a close. Only 14 days of school are left before summer vacation. My contract was not renewed for next fall; the principal cited financial constraints. In teacher lingo, I've been "Riffed." RIF stand for Reduction in Force.

I can't say it's been an era. It's more like an "er." Picture a cartoon dog with his head cocked and a confused look on his face, with a thought bubble above his head. "Er?" What just happened this year? And what am I supposed to do now?

The obvious answer is "Look for another job, stupid!" But wait a minute, not so fast. Teaching jobs aren't that easy to come by. There are many more qualified appliants than jobs even in middle school math. I am hampered by the fact that I am an "alternate route" candidate. In other words, I didn't go to college and get a teaching degree. I got a math degree, then a master's degree in math, then I went and worked in industry for a salary and made mucho bucks. Now I'm coming in by the back gate, doing a one-year certification program by going to school at night.

I made a lot of mistakes this year, but I also worked my tail off. Rather, I should say, I worked ten pounds on. I feel worse physically than I've felt since being pregnant. The stress and late nights and early mornings and all the hours working at the computer and the night classes and all the junk food eaten on the run have taken their toll.

I have heard that the retention rate for new teachers is less than 50%. I can understand why. The kids are really draining. I love them and I love teaching, but I have very little left over for my family or my writing at the end of the day. Some days I have nothing at all left over, and it's all I can do to remain conscious until bedtime. My own son gets less attention from me than my students do; he's usually in front of the television while I work on the computer in the evenings. My husband feels like a monk, without the benefit of three square meals a day.

Every teacher I've talked to says that the first year is horrible. I would be encouraged by the fact that the first year is behind me now, but if I have to start all over again at another school, it will be just like having another first year. New students, new curriculum, new administration. Assuming I can even find a job.

The thing is .... I really, truly felt called to do this. Teaching middle school was the last thing I ever imagined myself doing, because I never considered myself good with kids. I was terrified to step into that classroom and face those kids all by myself. But I gave it my all and looked upon it as my missionary work - a way to serve the Lord with my talents. I discovered that I really enjoy it. Despite the way they suck the life out of me, the kids also provide a vicarious excitement that I am really going to miss. And it is not a thankless job. I have such good relationships with my students and many of the parents, as well. I've substituted for almost all of the grades in the school, and have been told that I'm the best substitute ever. Kids are already starting to ask me if I'll be their math teacher next year. I haven't told them that I'm leaving; I don't know how to explain it to them.

I still can't quite believe that it's over. I really thought when this whole situation arose that this was God's way of providing for us. I would have a low-key job with summers off and my son would get a Christian education. The benefits made up for the low pay. Now my son will be going to a public school and I have no idea what to do next fall. I told my husband that I'm taking the summer off because I am so burned out. It's kind of late to try to find another full-time teaching job; they've all been filled. I might try to find a part-time office job somewhere, or maybe part-time teaching, but I can't afford to work for too little as we do have bills to pay.

The really confusing thing is that the paperwork for my teaching certification has disappeared into the bowels of the state department of education. The school has re-sent it five times now, and every time I call the NJ Dept. of Ed., they don't have it. I can't help wondering if this is a sign that God really doesn't want me to be certified to teach full-time. Perhaps this whole year and a half of effort (including the nine months prior to the school year that I spent studying for my state exams and going to summer school) was simply an exercise in obedience. Perhaps God just wanted to know that I would obey Him no matter what, even if it meant facing adolescents alone and unaided. Perhaps He knew that this little Christian school needed a math teacher for one year and I was the person He chose to do it. I don't know.

I do know that He has a plan and that He has promised to bless me and my family for our faithfulness this past year. I don't feel very blessed yet, but I am holding onto that promise.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Random stuff

I copied this from Michelle Gregory. This is one of those narcissistic lists of trivial stuff about Numero Uno... but I think they're fun to do once in a while.


Not as easy as you might think. Now copy, forward, or post this and change the answers to yours and pass it on. It’s really hard to only use one word answers.

1. Where is your cell phone? purse?

2. Your significant other? shower

3. Your hair? head (Am I crazy or is this really dumb?)

4. Your mother? Ohio

5. Your father? Ohio

6. Your favorite thing? bedtime

7. Your dream last night? stressful

8. Your favorite drink? cappuchino

9. Your dream/goal? published

10. The room you’re in? messy

11. Your ex? none

12. Your fear? offending

13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? best-seller

14. Where were you last night? here

15. What you’re not? quiet

16. Muffins? English

17. One of your wish list items? windows

18. Where you grew up? Ohio

19. The last thing you did? email

20. What are you wearing? cotton

21. Your TV? Phillips

22. Your pets? dog

23. Your computer? Dell

24. Your life? educational

25. Your mood? rushed

26. Missing someone? Carolyn

27. Your car? Caravan

28. Something you’re not wearing? Who is writing these questions!!!!! tiara

29. Favorite store? dollhouse

30. Your summer? beach

31. Like(love) someone? hubby

32. Your favorite color? cobalt

33. Last time you laughed? today

34. Last time you cried? 9th

35. Who will re-post this? nobody

Monday, May 19, 2008

Back from Lancaster

I just returned from a weekend retreat in Lancaster County, PA, also known as Amish Country. I attended with some of my fellow teachers and we stayed at the Willow Valley Family Resort. I didn't get much writing done, only a couple of pages , but I had a lovely time. Here is a photo of the beautiful stone house by the golf course.

I discovered the wonderful German springerle cookies at The Springerle House
in Strasburg, PA. Here is a photo of the cookies, a traditional German recipe that is pressed into molds to make edible works of art. I can't decide which flavor I like best: raspberry, almond or lemon-lavender. You can order them online... I think I will be doing so in the future! Springerle House

The funny thing is I actually have some miniature molds like this that I bought in Germany several years ago. I thought they were gingerbread molds. They are too big to be to scale for the cookies I bought this weekend, but the woman in the shop said that there are bigger springerle molds so the miniatures I have might be springerle. I had used some of that Crayola Magic stuff... the white puffy clay that hardens... to make imprints of the patterns so I actually made springerle for my dollhouse and didn't know it! How cool is that!

Here are photos of the hotel and chapel. The resort is very nice inside and the food was terrific! There was a prom Saturday night so we got to see all the youngsters in their pretty dresses and tuxedos.

I wish I could say I had some major spiritual revelation from the weekend, but I didn't. It was just a very nice, relaxing weekend away from home and work. Which was just what I needed. I only wish I could have stayed for the rest of the week! I'd love to go back again for a writing holiday and spend more time in the little shops, as do some sightseeing as well. Maybe next year!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Is writing a gift or a calling?

Yesterday I got involved in a discussion of writing and whether it really is a "calling" from God or not. I apologize for getting a little defensive on the topic. It is one that I have struggled with mightily over the years. I was asked whether, if God asked me to stop writing and serve Him another way, I would obey or cling to what I perceive as my "calling."

The answer is Yes. Yes I would obey Him in whatever He asked of me for a season, but yes, I would also cling to my calling because I know it is a lifetime call. How do I know this? Because it is not just what I do, but a part of who God created me to be.

I think it is safe to say that there are at least two kinds of writers - those who write for intrinsic reasons, and those who write for extrinsic reasons. (There are probably others who fall somewhere in between.) Intrinsic writers like myself have been scribbling stories since we were old enough to hold a pencil; it is as essential to us as breathing. Extrinsic writers pick up the craft at some point in their lives in response to some external stimulus or need. They may write for the rest of their lives or for a season, but for them it is more of a choice than it is for the intrinsic writer.

As an intrinsic writer who spent a decade denying my gift in order to focus on my other responsibilities, I can attest to the fact that doing so makes me miserable and unfulfilled. God has consistently placed people and opportunities in my path to draw me back into using my talent. It has taken a lot of convincing for me to accept that such a seemingly selfish activity, which takes so much time and energy away from other things and has such an uncertain outcome, could ever be of value to God. But He has never stopped "calling" me. There is no more appropriate word for the clear, consistent urging of the Holy Spirit over the years. Therefore, while I would agree with the person who originally posed the question that we are called to obey God in all things, including how we use our gifts, I would argue that sometimes the gift itself contains a call - a call to obediently develop that gift throughout our lifetime.

One thing that encouraged me was a comment from a pastor friend, who observed that whenever we use the gifts that God has given us for no other reason that the pure joy of doing so, we are actually worshipping Him!

So these stories of mine are an act of worship, strange as it may seem. The obedience part, for me, is not a question of whether or not I should write, but in having the faith to keep at it no matter what. Even if I only manage a paragraph a week. Even if it's garbage. Even if I never get published. I need to cling to what I know I have to do, because God has placed within me a call I cannot extinguish. However He chooses to use my work in the end is fine with me.

But He can't use my writing at all if I never write.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It's a gift... and a curse

For those of you who are fans of the TV show "Monk," you may recognize the way that Detective Adrian Monk describes his abilities. In a pseudo-modest voice he intones "It's a gift... and a curse."

I've been feeling the same way about my writing lately. It's definitely a gift. People respond so eagerly to stories. They want to wring my neck for keeping them waiting for the next installment of whatever I'm working on. I have friends and family members who are still waiting for me to finish the romance novel I started in 2004. What amazes me is that they still even remember the characters' names and care about what happens to them.

The creative process itself is completely mysterious to me. I don't really know why sometimes I have good ideas and sometimes I don't, or where these people come from that live inside my head. My characters are as real to me as the people I live with every day. I remember hearing a quote from Michaelangelo about sculpting, that he just removed all the little bits of rock that didn't belong there, to reveal the figure inside.

The problem with this - the curse - is that I can never fully live in the present world. My stories are always there in the back of my mind, and as soon as I have a little quiet time they come to the front and start begging to be written. Since most of the time I can't sit down and write, they just rattle around in my brain playing scenes over and over, a little differently each time as the plot and characters fine-tune themselves. The only way to make it stop is to either write it down, which only causes me to start thinking about the next scene, or to ignore it so long that the ideas burn themselves out. (This is what happened with the romance novel.) I recently said to my husband, "I wonder what it would be like to live in only one world at a time." His reply was, "Well, you'll never know!" This was revealing; after ten years of marriage he finally understands!

My friend Michelle Gregory recently went to the Mt. Hermon Christian writer's conference and wrote this on her blog: "It was encouraging to see that there are many other people in this world who have stories and characters living in their heads, perhaps even keeping them up at night."


Sunday, March 9, 2008

I need some fun!!!!

Hey there everyone... I was just thinking how desperately I need some fun!!!!! I know Easter break is coming up and I'll get to spend some time with my long-lost family over there in SnowLand. My sister said they got 13" Friday and were stranded in the house. We have only gotten two snowfalls this year, one 1" deep and one 3" deep. My poor son hasn't even gotten to build a snowman! All the poor kid wanted to do this winter is build a snowman. I'm actually starting to believe in Global Warming. Okay, I don't believe in global warming. I learned from the NOAA that our weather is due to the Gulf Stream which brings warm tropical water past the eastern seaboard. See why science is important for everyday life?

But what I really need is a "Girl's-Night-Out" kind of break. A "Laugh-out-loud, Be Obnoxious, Have too many Cokes" kind of break. A "Play Cranium Until Midnight" break.

Yesterday DH took DS to his sister's house so I could have some quiet time to get things done. I did manage to clear off the dining room table and get the Christmas tablecloth changed to the Easter one. And I gave the bathroom a good scrub. And did the grocery shopping. Woo hoo. Now I just need to borrow a steam shovel to clear out our office/guest room. And I have tons of papers to grade and lesson plans to do today. I'd rather go to Longwood Gardens and look at flowers.

The point is, I wish I could have gone along with them and hung out for the day with the kids. But no. I had to stay home by myself, nose to the grindstone. Whine, whine, complain, complain! Okay, I'm done now.

My son just wanted to spend time with me Friday night. I was seeking solace in a book; my brain was so fried it was all I could do to stay alert until bedtime. So he climbed into the recliner and read next to me. It was rather squished but really, really nice. He is so awesome... what a great kid! I know I'm being a mom now but he is really, really doing well in school and is well-behaved to boot. People say I must be a great mom but the truth is, he just came that way. God knew how much I could handle, I suppose.

Anyway, enough rambling. Have to rouse myself to get to church an hour earlier today.

Have a blessed Sunday! Easter is coming! I love Easter even more than Christmas... It always makes me want to climb on the roof and shout "HE IS RISEN!!!! JESUS IS RISEN!!!!!" Corny, but true!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Oh my goodness!

I just popped in here and checked my statcounter. You gals are still checking in regularly to see if I've written anything. I'm so sorry!!!! I can't wait until summer when I'm done teaching for the year. This has been such an overwhelming school year... I can't even begin to convey how consumed I have been with school stuff. But I promise I'll be back eventually!

It's great to know I have such wonderful friends!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Deathly Hallows

I finally finished reading "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." I know I'm a little behind the times. I purposely avoided reading the Harry Potter books before now because I knew they would be all-consuming until I finished them and I didn't have the time to spare. But a month ago I decided that I really needed some escapist reading, as well as just wanting to know what happened in the books (I've seen all the movies so far.) So I have been carrying these huge library books around with me everywhere, hoping to snatch a few minutes of reading on my lunch break or after school, staying up at night until I can't keep my eyes open, reading, reading, reading....

First of all, I have to say that Joanne Rowling deserves all of the credit and fortune she has gained. She has created a fictional world just as shining and real and tangible as Tolkein's or Lewis's. I also have to give her a standing ovation for including powerful Christian themes woven within a tapestry that the post-Christian world can understand and accept. That is her greatest accomplishment in the books, I believe. Her Christian detractors (including my beloved Dr. Dobson) should be ashamed of themselves, for they know not of what they speak. Everyone who has worked on the movies deserves a standing ovation as well for bringing these works to life so amazingly well.

I am grateful to Rowling for showing me, once again, that It Can Be Done. Sometimes it seems that Lewis and Tolkein are standing up on such high pedestals, no mere mortals can climb up to their height. But she has done it, and more recently. So perhaps, just perhaps, I might be able to do it too. It is Encouraging. Not terribly, for the books are so very overwhelming in their finished form, but I have to keep reminding myself that all of them sat down with a blank piece of paper or blank screen in front of them and Just Kept Writing.

Some of my thoughts on the actual book (in case anyone cares):

I find Harry to be one of the most frustrating dolts I have ever come across. I was really, really getting annoyed with him in the last two books, but finally he grew up and shouldered his responsibilities like a man. I kept reminding myself that he is only a teenager, only seventeen by the end, and so I can't expect too much of him. Still, it was a relief when he finally stopped following emotional rabbit trails and Stuck To It. I also have to remind myself that Harry's flaws underline his role as an average guy - the Everyman we can relate to rather than some untouchable golden hero. Except when he's acting under pressure, he isn't really that smart, and it is his friends, mentors and a lot of luck that pull him through.

I wanted to wring his neck when he took Mad-Eye's glass eye from Umbridge's door. I was literally muttering at the book: "Stupid, stupid, stupid!"

Harry's outburst at Lupin when he came to offer his help was extremely upsetting... I hated him for doing that... however as an author I can see why it was essential for this scene to happen for two reasons: 1) Lupin's character had to offer to help them because it was both his nature and his role to do so, but that 2) Lupin could not go along because Harry, Ron and Hermione had to complete their quest without the help of a mentor. It was Show Time for the three companions. No grown-ups could come along. Using Harry's anger at the loss of his parents to drive Lupin back to his own family was brilliant.

I was relieved that Albus Dumbledore did not come back from the dead. The whole thing with the blue eye in the mirror had me worried. I couldn't believe it. My only thought was that perhaps, somehow, by nature of his violent and untimely death and Harry's dependence upon him, Albus's soul had somehow made an unintentional Horcrux inside of Harry, and it was Albus peeking out of Harry's own eyes in the mirror. It didn't make sense with all that we know about Dumbledore - he would never have done that intentionally - but it was the only explanation I could think of. When I found out it was really his brother using the other mirror, I was immensely relieved.

I was also relieved to find out that Albus wasn't a complete saint. This was quite reassuring and made me trust the story - and the author - even more. It also emphasizes the theme of redemption - that people can change and become more than they originally are.

I did think Hermione and Harry were more than a little dense for falling for the trap laid for them in Godric's Hollow, when the snake disguised itself as Bathilda Bagshot. How stupid can you be? Not the situation itself, but the fact that the house was so clearly decaying around her and that she wouldn't speak except to Harry, in parseltongue.

I am extremely relieved that Snape wasn't a betrayer, and that Dumbledore was not wrong in his judgement of him. Snape as a tragic hero suits me much better. I never quite believed he had killed Dumbledore without his permission. Perhaps because I am such a fan of Alan Rickman, who plays him in the movies. That is one of the complications of seeing the movies first.

I am also glad that Malfoy didn't kill anyone, and that Harry rescued him in the end. I just loved Ron's line in that scene... it was truly classic... "IF WE DIE FOR THEM, I'LL KILL YOU HARRY!" I'm glad that not all the main characters lived. Nothing bugs me more than a battle in which all the main heroes miraculously survive unscathed.

What else did I really love? Let's see... the redemption of Kreacher, the house elf. Fleur and Mrs. Weasley making up. Percy returning to the fold. Luna being so essential. Neville facing Voldemort and killing the snake. I just wish Hagrid had had a chance to do something really heroic. I do wish Sirius had lived longer, though. He was such a complex character... there was so much potential there for an author to play around with. I also wish we had gotten a final glimpse of the Dursleys. I suspect that she wrote it and had to edit it out.

The whole Room of Requirement thing, where all the Order and D.A. members and their families started pouring into Hogwart's, was also brilliant. The search for the Horcruxes. The fact that Harry himself was the final Horcrux. All the stuff with the Elder Wand and who was master of it... Dumbledore? Voldemort? Harry? Malfoy? Snape? The plot was spectacular, unexpected, brilliantly clever, just too too amazing for words (hear me sobbing into the sleeve of my bathrobe with jealousy?)

In short, it was the most exciting and satisfying thing I've read since "The Return of the King."

*sigh* *sniffle* *sob*

(deep breath)

I'll get there. One day. Really I will.