Friday, December 05, 2014

Charlie Brown Speed

If it's almost Christmas time, you can bet we have Charlie Brown Christmas music playing at some point in our house. A certain family member has even been known to panic if we start to decorate the tree without this soundtrack running in the background.

I think it's the simple sweetness of this movie and this music that gets me every time. It makes me want to stop and drink hot chocolate while staring at the twinkling tree, instead of running through a drive-thru and rushing to one more basketball game, which is what usually happens.

This year, I can't change the schedule or change the fast food meals, but I can change my attitude. I can take time each day to look my children in the eye and tell them I love them. I can stop snapping my fingers at them and speak with grace.

I can refuse to do every. single. thing. on my Christmas to-do list.

I want Charlie Brown speed, but if I can't have that, I can at least keep my heart warm and tender to all things Advent. That's the Christmas I want.

How about you? What helps you "slow down" during December?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Make-up and Mirrors

In the latest issue of WORLD magazine (Nov 15 2014), Andree Seu Peterson writes about vanity and the heart's condition in her essay, "The New Photos."

Like many magazines, WORLD includes photos of the writers with their work. In this particular issue, it was time to update after five years of the same photo. Peterson laments this fact:

 "What's bothering me is that my last picture in WORLD was pretty nice because it happened to be a good day when the photographer came. My hair was uncharacteristically thick and I had not lost my right incisor yet, and the blue shirt made me look as if I had azure eyes instead of dishwater color."

I can relate to Peterson. Aging is something that sneaks up on a person like a common house cat. You know the cat is in the room, but you are still surprised when you feel him weave his way between your feet or purr behind your chair.

You knew this was coming, but still.

Every year as a teacher, I get the same mug shot as all the students. It's slightly agonizing. There is no make-up or special mirror to change what the camera records. This is who I am. This is reality. Will I obsess over the details and cringe at the inevitable signs of aging? Or will I embrace my moment in this journey - my age and all the experiences I've had - and "laugh at the days to come?" (Proverbs 31, oh yeah!)

I want to laugh.

I want to look at that mirror and smile at the woman I've become, no matter how many lines she has on her face.

And as for my photo on this blog? You'll have to decide if it's really me or not...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

You Are Enough

I work with many teenage girls on a daily basis, so I am always looking for books and writers that speak "their language."
Kate Conner is hitting the center of the target with this one: 10 Things for Teen Girls is a book I wish I could put in the hands of every one of my girls.

And if you are someone who strives to love teen girls by speaking truth into their lives, check this out for yourself:

What books are encouraging you right now in your circle of influence?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Interview with Brock Eastman - Part 2

Thanks for sticking around for Part 2 of this interview with author Brock Eastman, author of Howlsage, one of the favorites in my classroom!
As of this writing, it looks like the KickStarter campaign is 90% funded right now with just over a day left! If you haven't checked it out, click here to see how you can help get some great books published!
Here is the rest of my interview with Brock --
5.       How has KickStarter changed the book/publishing world?
Crowdfunding platforms like KickStarter have done something really amazing and exciting for the publishing world, or for that matter, creators in general. KickStarter brings the consumer and the creator into a partnership unlike before. In the case of book publishing, authors rally their readers with exciting opportunities and special editions of their latest series.

In this way series that might be turned down by a publisher come to life because an author’s readers get behind it and fund the creation, which might include editing, typesetting, cover creation, printing, and distribution. It’s true teamwork.

Most books come to be because an author’s work somehow finds itself out of an agent’s slush pile and onto their desk, then the agent takes the work to a whole lot of publishers and hopefully the manuscript and proposal find their way in front of an acquisitions team, which then selects what books will get published, finally it goes through extensive editing and will be given some sort of promotion to get it on to bookstore shelves. It involves a lot of competition and a lot of people’s opinions.

But with Crowdfunding the author and their readers create something together. The readers will always remember they helped make it happen and therefore the series means even more to them, and the author will always be grateful to their audience who made it all possible. It really is a win-win for everyone.
And that’s why I chose to launch a KickStarter to finish Sages of Darkness. HowlSage came out back in 2011, and my readers have been left in the lurch since then waiting to read what happens to Taylor and Ike. I’ve received so many questions and comments in regards to the series and the next book, that it was finally time to do it. But I needed funds to commission the editing of the books, so I turned to KickStarter.
The fun thing is, I got to come up with all sorts of rewards for my readers that get them involved in the creation. From something as little as $5 to get your name listed in the back of the book, to $250 and having a minor character named for you, or even $750 to have one of the remaining two books dedicated to you. There are of course many other rewards, like e-books, paperbacks, and dust jackets of the series as well as Skype conversations and Novel Proposal reviews.

6.       What authors do you currently enjoy reading?

The last book I read was The Rule of Three by Eric Walters, but I also like Patrick Carman (Skeleton Creek and Thirteen Days to Midnight), Donita K. Paul (Dragon Keeper Chronicles), Veronica Roth (Divergent trilogy), Aaron Becker (Journey and Quest), Frank Peretti (This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness), and also Carl Hiaasen (Chomp and Hoot.) But really I am so busy editing and writing, that it can be hard for me to dig in and read a book. I tend to get so into a story I can’t stop until I am done.
7.       Any advice for young authors?
Number one: JUST FINISH! I think the biggest problem I see is kids have great ideas, but they don’t want to write the whole story. One chapter isn’t a book; ideas on paper aren’t a book--you need to write the story from beginning to end. Don’t even edit the first time; just write your whole story from start to finish. When you have the full story, it’s easier to pull it apart and revise it into a great story. It’s like most anything you buy, version 1 is usually not as great as version 2 and 3. But version 2 and 3 wouldn’t be possible without a complete working version 1. There will be plenty of time to go back and clean it up. JUST FINISH!
I’d add, don’t let your first critique get you down; don’t let any critique get you down. Use criticisms positive or negative to dig in and make your story better. I received some hard criticism when I first started writing; I took it to heart and stopped writing. Eventually I shook it off and continued to finish my book. And what do you know, I got published. I believe that if you tell the story God wants you to, then it’s going to find its home with a publisher. If God is in it, success will follow.



Thursday, October 09, 2014

Interview With Brock Eastman - Part I

Years ago, authors were like characters in their books -- people who seemed real, but untouchable.

Enter the world of 2014, my friend. I can tweet, email, stalk an author and actually get a human response.

This is what happened with writer Brock Eastman.

He just looks like he's got a story to tell you, doesn't he?

You may know his work from Focus on the Family books such as The Quest of Truth series.

These books are great adventures for the middle grade years.

A few of my students read another book by Eastman called Howlsage:

They loved it! And when my students get excited about a book, I do my best to connect with the author and let them know. I made sure to write a quick review on Amazon and connect on Twitter.

Here are a couple excerpts from my Amazon review:

My students couldn't wait to read the next book in this trilogy, but when I realized that the books weren't available yet, I discovered we could play a part in helping Brock publish and finish the set.
The publisher of the Howlsage book made a decision to no longer publish fiction. So as a writer, Brock had to find a way to publish them himself. His Kickstarter Campaign is almost 70% funded.
There are only a few days left in his Kickstarter Campaign  - would you consider helping?
Brock was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and my students. Here is the beginning of this interview:

1.       What kind of books did you read when you were in school?

This is a big regret for me from my school days. I really didn’t read much at all. I read required books and my Bible, but that was primarily it. I missed out on so much and it wasn’t until college and the Harry Potter series that I fell in love with reading. Now I have bookshelves filled with books I have read and books I can’t wait to read. Seriously--to any kid reading this, read books. If you aren’t, you’re missing out on a lot of amazing adventures through the wild world of your imagination.

2.       When and how did becoming an author happen for you?
 Well, I was officially published in 2011 with the release of Taken, but it was in 2005 when I wrote the manuscript for Taken and Risk (The Quest for Truth) as one book called Evad that I became an author. I say this because being an author is more than getting a contract and having your book printed and sold. It’s about committing to writing a story from beginning to end. How I became an author is simply put an act of God. When I look back at my path to publishing, there’s no way I could have done without it being part of God’s plan. From choosing my career in marketing, to writing a 100k word manuscript in 2005 with no plans to publish, to marrying my wife and moving to Colorado where I worked for Focus on the Family, and then got involved with Adventures in Odyssey and marketing kids’ products, which taught me about publishing and opened up lots of doors and relationships for my book to become a reality.

3.       What does a “normal” day for you look like as a writer?

Well, I, like many, have a full time job. I currently work for a wonderful ministry called Compassion International. This job keeps the lights on and my family fed. My family comes before writing so when I’m not working, I’m spending time with them. Then in that small percentage of time I have left over, I write, and I write like a madman. I like to just let my imagination flow down from my brain and through my fingertips to the keyboard. After I’ve let myself explore and capture the story, then I go back and revise and edit. So when I write it’s intense and involved, it’s a lot of coffee and soundtracks. Sometimes I’ll write until 2 in the morning.

4.       What do you do when the story just isn’t coming together?

I just sighed when I read this question, because it’s a tough reality when it happens. When the story doesn’t come together, it can really slow me down or discourage me. Because I write by the seat of my pants and write rapidly, a disruption can cause me to take long breaks from the story as I try to ponder what to do next, or how to fix the problem. Though I have developed a few methods to help with this, some are short, some are long. The short ones are going and watching a movie or television show completely unrelated to the topic of my story. Playing with my kids also helps; their imaginations are inspirational to me. Some longer commitments are digging into a good book that I’ve been waiting to read (again unrelated to my story topic) or sometimes I’ll switch gears and start planning or writing an entirely new book. If you could see the amounts of starter stories or ideas I have, you’d know I’ll be writing until I’m 120.


What books is Brock currently reading and what advice does he have for young authors?

 Brock's Kickstarter Campaign  - Let's go!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What I've Learned This Year

It's getting crazy up in here. 

There are only days left of school, family weddings and graduations looming around the corner, and it's been in the mid-80s for a few days in a row. We might be a little distracted, people.

I recently took students to the Walker Art Center, namely the sculpture garden. Have I mentioned how GORGEOUS it's been outside?

I would like to say learning outside is highly underrated.

Spoon Bridge - Walker Sculpture Garden
It takes all my self-control not to skip around in the sunshine.
As my students reflect over the school year through various projects, it's only natural for me to reflect, too. Here are the top THREE things I learned over the 2013-2014 school year.
1. If You Give Them Books, They Will Read -  I instituted a huge read-fest this year with my students. I required my 7/8 graders to read 15-20 books and my 9-12 graders to read 20-25 books. Over the summer, I accumulated as many books as I could, and planned on getting more.
I read Book Love by Penny Kittle and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer, as she's better known in teacher circles.) I was so pumped, but unsure what to expect from my students.
I was blown away. I'm not kidding when I tell you that some of my students read 100+ books. On their own. They inspired me, astounded me, and motivated me to keep looking for titles they would love.
Now I know almost every single student's "book personality." I know Kenzie will want romance and Brandon will want military. I know Chris will want fantasy/adventure and Tim wants action and suspense. It's so fun to find a book and know the exact kid to match it with.
When they leave my classroom, I will have given them the tools to become life-long readers, and that makes me eternally happy. It all started with collecting books in my classroom. We have an AMAZING school library here, but unless I have great titles at their fingertips, they won't be as excited about reading.

Here are a couple of my students' favorite trilogies:
2. There Is Enough Time -  I used to think there was not enough time in the day to do everything I wanted to do or to be everything I wanted to be. I'd whine about how I didn't have enough time to make dinner or finish laundry or read or write on this here blog o' mine.
The thing is: that's an excuse. There's enough time. I have as much time as the next person, and I am the only one who really gets to decide how to use it. Like I said to my students today:
I've never looked back on my life and thought,
Man, I wish I'd watched more television .
 I have enough time. I might not manage it as well as I should, but there is enough of it.
3. Act the Way I Want to Feel - This is something I think I first realized in my 20s, but then I forget and have to remind myself. If I want to FEEL happy, I need to ACT happy. If I want to FEEL energetic, I need to ACT energetic. For some reason, this works!

For example, after school is a classic bad time for me. I'm snippy, frustrated, and just plain tired. But when I smile and act silly intentionally, suddenly I become lighter in my mood and am generally more pleasant to be around! (This thought is also talked about more in a great book by Gretchen Rubin called The Happiness Project.)

I dare you to try this. I'm always amazed when it actually works.

What about you? What have you learned this year?


Friday, May 02, 2014

What I Read in April

I am coming to you LIVE from the first week of May, where I am pondering the reading I did over the past month. Here is the skinny:

Let us first begin with the children, since after all, they are our future. (Sing it, Whitney!)

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman is a funny, clever story about a father going out for milk and coming back with a raucous good story about the adventure he had while holding onto the milk for dear life. The illustrations really make this book, I must say. My kids giggled reading it, so there you go.
My favorite pigeon is still up to mischief in this latest from the genius that is Mo Willems: The Pigeon Needs a Bath! My 7-12 grade students love it when I read these pigeon books. Someday, I hope to have the complete collection. They also said this was probably the best pigeon book out of all of them!  Good to know!

Blessed fiction - that escape from reality. I read Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen, which was a bit of a departure for me. I don't usually enjoy historical fiction or "old-fashioned" novels, if that makes sense. But I am intrigued by Edgar Allen Poe and his life, so this was fun for the English teacher side of me.


If you enjoy suspense and romance, this book is for you. Taking snippets of reality from what we know of Poe, the author suggests a connection between the infamous writer and another woman who captures his attention. Although I wouldn't recommend it to my students, I enjoyed the suspenseful pacing and description of the time period.

I would say my favorite books this month were in the non-fiction category. Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider and Restless by Jennie Allen.

Pretty safe to say I loved both of these books -- these are women I understand and connect with.
  Tsh Oxendreider takes us on a journey with her family across oceans and continents, trying to live life ON PURPOSE instead of chase a middle-class syllabus of predictability. Although we all can't travel like Oxenreider's family did, we can learn to stop reacting to our circumstances and start creating the life we desire.

Have you ever wondered how to make sense of your life's journey? Do you feel restless in your faith, wondering where to go from here? Restless by Jennie Allen helps readers line up all those loose threads of our lives to see a bigger picture.
This is a book to mark-up! YES! As I filled in the pages with different moments, places, and people, I could see my purpose coming into view much more clearly than before. It confirmed some callings in my life, and opened my eyes to other possibilities.
This is a great book to do with a friend or a small group because sometimes we're too close to our own lives to see a pattern. A good friend can come along and give us a new vision.  

What have you been reading lately? Are your kids into a series right now or have a favorite picture book?
Stay tuned! I feel a book giveaway coming on!