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Dreamer

The theme of this year’s MOSCBWI conference was “Follow Your Dream”—quite appropriate for a bunch of writers gathered together hoping to absorb every bit of writerly inspiration available to us in a mere two days.  It seems to be a pretty logical conclusion that if you are a writer, you must also be a dreamer.  We were definitely in the right place.
Before the conference, there was a contest.  Let me just say right here and now that I do NOT enter contests, especially those that require me to put my writing out there for human beings to read at their leisure.  This opens me up to all sorts of things like, oh, I don’t know criticism, public mockery, billboards along the highway that other more conscientious writers have taken out in order to warn people about my lack of writing prowess, nightmares, cold sweats, and possibly even anxiety-induced death.
However, something came over me one day before the conference.  It was probably one of the innocent-sounding emails that made the contest sound fairly painless.  It was something like, “Hey you guys, just send in something about following your dreams, no stress, no mess, and you might win.”
As it so happened, I had been working on a very short piece.  (The requirement was 500 words or less, I believe.)  So I began a vicious slashing process that left my work in a hacked up mess, but I eventually ended up with something I felt minorly-ok-ish with.  (I know, that is a resounding vote of self confidence right there.)
I took a deep breath, considered telling my doctor all the reasons why I might need to be on anxiety medication, realized I was just being a bit of a bridge-troll writer, re-read the thing one more time, and hit send.
It was the VERY FIRST writing contest I had ever entered.  (Well, of my own free will, anyway.  My high school teachers forced me to enter some contests, but that totally does NOT count.)
And did I win?  I did not.
But did I win runner up?  Yes, I did!  I got a letter that my runner-up status had earned me a seat in the Sunday SCBWI workshop with the amazing Krista Marino.  Woo Hoo!
Without further ado, here’s what I wrote.  Please do not take out a billboard along the highway so that you can point out what is lacking.  We writers are very fragile and somewhat troll-like.
How to Catch a Star

Savannah Banana, all freckles and knees
and elbows and curls as big as you please
had one little thing she simply must do—
Catch her very own star (or possibly two)!
Each night she waited for the moon to appear
then said to herself or whoever might hear,
“Next come the stars and they’ll twinkle all night!
Nothing down here has a sparkle so bright!”
From the time she was little, from the start of day one,
Savannah Banana sought adventure for fun.
A dreamer, a jumper, a runner, a climber—
Little Savannah was a one-of-a-kinder!
But how in the world would she catch her star?
How would she get from down here up so far?
She pondered and thought and wished really hard,
But wishes alone couldn’t get her that star.
She’d need some tools and a whole lot of gumption,
a magical rope, and her dream would be spun!
When the coast was clear and the time was right,
she’d gather her things and plan her flight.
With a whispered wish and her eyes closed tight,
Her rope came alive on that magical night.
She’d dreamed up a rope that would leap with her throw,
one that glimmered and shimmered with a star-sprinkled glow.
Then she climbed through the branches and never did stop,
right up her tree to the very tip-top.
She perched on a limb that shivered and quaked
and thought for a moment, had she made a mistake?
But there was her star!  It sparkled just right!
It was her very own, and she’d get it tonight!
She unfurled the rope, tied it ‘round in a knot,
looped the end in her hand, and took her big shot.
Quickly and bravely with a flick of her wrist,
she tossed her rope with a magical twist.
It sailed over treetops and past houses afar,
way past the moon and straight for her star!
Her rope glimmered in the night.
It curled and it furled through the stars so bright.
And then as it sailed through the sparkliest sky,
it searched for her star that was hanging so high.
And then she caught it!  The rope hung on tight!
Her star twinkled brightly in that lit-up night.
She readied her feet and got set to climb—
For at the end of that rope, she knew what she’d find.
With a quick little yell, Savannah leapt from her branch,
all excitement and laughter and grins at a glance.
With her rope in her hand and her feet set to swing,
she climbed so fast, it was like she had wings!
And now every day she climbs to her star
where she can see everything, both near and far.
She kicks her feet high and smiles as she swings
for she knows that her star gives wings to her dreams.

Things I Learned at SCBWI

I just got home from the MOSCBWI conference, and I thought I’d make a quick list of the gazillion helpful things I learned …you know, for reference, in case I start to flail around and decide to eat cookies all day instead of write.
First of all, it was a wonderful conference, and I couldn’t think of one bad thing to say.  Not even one little critique for the ‘What could we do better next year?’ section of the questionnaire.  Ok, so I would totally buy more books if they put more books in front of me, but I don’t actually think that’s a complaint or even a critique, so it doesn’t even count.
I would also listen to the speakers in 24-hour segments, but I don’t think that’s realistic, nor do I think any of them would actually agree to a filibuster of hungry-to-learn writers.  Although—not to get political or anything—I think any one of our speakers would be MUCH more interesting than some of the filibusters I’ve heard about in the news lately.  If you want to see who was there, check it out at http://www.moscbwi.org/Fall_Conference/Index.html.
But I digress.  Here’s what I learned at the Missouri Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference:
  • We are pretty cool people, HOWEVER, in order to figure that out, it is necessary to come out of your shell and actually TALK to all the awesome people around you.  And when you do, it’s completely worth it!
  • If writing is your dream, you HAVE to do it.  You have no choice.  It is a part of you, so go figure out how to get it done.
  • Your muse is your friend.  Listen to her (or him).  That’s where you will get your awesome ideas, and you will not be led astray.
  • Discover the kind of person you truly are.  Work hard to get things done correctly.
  • Go build a fort.  While listening to the wonderful Dan Santat explain this, there was a great a-ha moment.  We always encourage our kids to go outside and build forts and explore and do wonderful, creative things.  Do not lose this creative spirit as an adult.  Keep building forts!
  • Don’t ever follow the money.  Follow your style and your voice.  Follow your passion, and your path for success will come.
  • Learn from your mistakes.  They are not mistakes if you learn from them.
  • If you don’t KNOW your main character, you know have a book.  KNOW your characters.
  • Show moments of grace and character in your characters.  Make them human.
  • Make the time for what you love.
  • Add joy to your life.  Be a role model.  Achieve your dreams.  Don’t rearrange your life around work.  It should be the other way around.
  • Join like-minded people.  Find your tribe.
  • The reader can never be wrong.  Once you have written the book, your perception no longer matters.  It is how the reader perceives the book.
  • Know why your bad guy is bad.  Make your characters dimensional.  All of us have a good side and a side we would rather keep hidden from view.  What makes your bad guy so bad?
  • Revisions should be a bloodbath.  Cut ruthlessly.  If you don’t miss it, you never needed it in the first place.
  • Your job is to MAKE the reader want to continue.  There must be questions they simply have to have answered.
  • Be true to yourself.  Follow your dream.
  • Above all, just write.

So that about sums up my weekend.  It was filled with writers and agents and editors and pretty much just all-around awesome people.  What did you guys do?

Mind = Blown

Oh Mah Gawd, you guys, I don’t even know how to tell you this.  To begin, those of you who know and love me…ok, those of you who know me KNOW how tech-savvy I am, right?
Well, did you even KNOW that you can get the pictures off of your phone and put them onto your computer.  You know, like it’s a REAL camera?  I had no idea.
Let’s rewind.  I’ve been complaining about my phone for about…hmmm…ever.  Anyway, I keep running out of space, so I kept deleting pictures, because I thought I just had to get rid of them.  I thought it was like a little Etch-a-Sketch.  You know, when the screen gets full, you have to shake it and get rid of the amazing piece of artwork you just drew so that you can draw another one.  That’s crap, right?  Well, that’s what I thought!
Until…
Did you know that the little box thingie on the end of your phone cord (at least on my iphone stuff) comes OFF so that you can attach your phone to your computer?  (I’m pretty sure my children would be mortified to know that I’m just now figuring this out, so you guys cover for me, ok?)
And then, your uber-smart computer simply asks you if you would like to move the photos from your phone.  Hell to the yes, I would!
So, for any of you who may have thought I dropped off the face of the planet in the past two years, here’s a brief synopsis—in pictures—of what’s been going on:
Jordan loves his bike!
Cute boys being ‘best brothers.’
We rode an old wooden roller coaster by the ocean–last year.
Random tipis we saw while in California.  Jason thinks I’m weird for taking this photo.  He’s right.
Last Christmas.  Clearly, we are all weird.
Snow dog.  Cute, but he never stops barking.  (You guessed it…last year.)
If you are upside down, you are automatically having fun.  Upside down people are awesome.
This kid is an odd one.  Probably why she’s the inspiration for one of my main book characters.  Odd is awesome.
Chop Chop and Mario.  Woo Hoo!  It’s 2013.  See, you’re all caught up.
Technology is so great.  I’m off to the second day of the MOSCBWI conference.  Who knows what I’ll learn today?  It’s a writing thing, so probably no techie stuff, but I’ll probably be super inspired!

Oh, Piddle

On a calm, cool night in October, the boys and I dropped the girls off for trampoline practice.  Having a couple of hours to spend, we decided to go to Target to buy Halloween costumes before grabbing pizza and then picking up their sisters.  It was a well-orchestrated plan.  As oft happens to well-orchestrated plans, it fell apart.
We chose the costumes.  Mario and Chop-Chop.  If you are a Skylanders fan, you know who Chop-Chop is.  If not, you need to get with the times and get yourself some of these little video game characters, because apparently, they are the shit.
After choosing the costumes, the boys—ever so sweetly—asked if we could pretty, pretty pleeeaasse take a swing through the toy aisles to see what they might be interested in writing on their lists for Santa this year.  Being the uber-cool mom that I try to be, I thought that was a great idea, because we still had an eternity to wait for their sisters to be finished with practice.  What better way to entertain a couple of little boys than to let them peruse the toy aisles, right?  Right.
All was going entirely too well, which should have been my sign that something was about to go terribly wrong, but I didn’t pick up on that until it was WAY too late.  Approximately three aisles into the toy section, Jordan grabbed himself and announced an immediate and URGENT need to potty.
Before I could even turn the cart around, my SIX-YEAR-OLDwas creating a yellow puddle in the middle of the toy aisle at Target.  (We will never go to Target again, by the way.  Ok, well I might go, but I will have to wear a disguise.)
In the urgency of the moment, I ever-so-quietly urged him to STOP, which is the precise moment in time that I learned that boys can’t exactly stop doing that once they start.  Okie-dokie.  So, the puddle continued to grow, but in his eagerness to try to stop, he grabbed the leaking area with his t-shirt, which only allowed the pee to soak upward as well as downward.  He was officially soaked from belly to shoes.
A new outfit was in order.  Luckily, we found something appropriate on the clearance rack.  We even found a clearance pair of Batman undies, and when he got excited about the prospect of new Batman undies, I quickly reminded him that it would have been tightie-whities if those had been on sale.  As it happened, it was Batman, but I was so embarrassed at that point, I told him he better not dare act excited over the superhero underwear.  At this point, I was using my superhero mom power of speaking through clenched teeth without actually moving my lips at all.  It’s a practiced art.
Clothes were changed in the parking lot, and our night continued pretty much as planned after that.  I was reminded, however, that the toy aisles are apparently VERYexciting, and when you are 6 years old, you tend to be VERY hesitant to leave them…even if it means leaving a puddle in your wake.

Nerd Challenge

In an effort to be a better, more well-read bridge troll-slash-nerd, I have come up with a self-challenge, and I’m tossing it out there for my fellow nerds to either join in or at least hold me accountable.  Here it is.
The Challenge:
Read 26 Books
The Rules:
  1. Read one book for every letter of the alphabet (alphabetically, by author’s last name).
  2. You must go in order, starting with the letter A.
  3. You must read books by authors you have not read.  (We’re branching out, fellow nerds!)
  4. Books can be old or new, doesn’t matter.  Literary works of genius or not…you choose.  The only catch is if you read something outstanding, you have to share it with fellow nerds so that we, too, may bask in the written wonder you have discovered.
  5. Genre is your choice.

Oh yeah, you may run across some doozies in your reading.  No major writer bashing allowed.  We all put ourselves out there, and our styles differ.   Critiques = good.  Bashing = bad.
Go!

Things I Can (Maybe) Outrun

Tortoise.  As demonstrated in the age-old children’s tale, The Tortoise and the Hare, these creatures may be steadfast, but they are SLOW.  I can totally take a tortoise.
Donut.  Ok, if it’s rolling down a hill, maybe not, but if it starts to outrun me, I would totally eat it.
Snail.  I have seen these things move across the fish tank, and they are SO not fast, and I am also an avid watcher of Spongebob, so yeah, pretty sure I can one-up the snail.
Manatee.  Since they are primarily water-dwellers, I’m pretty sure I would have an advantage anyway simply by throwing the poor thing onto the pavement and asking it to run.  So, yep, gonna outrun it.
Loaf of bread.  Those are pretty rectangular, so not a lot of forward movement there.  I got that one for sure.
Buddha.  I don’t know a lot about him, but I think he just sat there and had the big-belly thing going on.  So if he were here and he decided to have a throw-down with me, I would put money on me.  But I’m pretty sure Buddha would think it’s not cool to place bets.
That lady at the casino with two cigarettes who’s pulling the oxygen tank.  Chances are she’s not leaving her slot machine anytime soon, so I’d get a head start, AND she’d still be hacking up a lung by the time I crossed the finish line.  Yay, me.
So that’s my list, and now that I’ve come up with it, I’m feeling pretty damned good about myself.  Here I was thinking I was a slow-assed runner, and now that I think about it, there is a whole slew of people (and things) I can outrun!  My day just got exponentially better.
I think I’m starting to figure this running thing out though.  I’m pretty sure the trick is to work on FORWARD momentum instead of up-and-down momentum.  I seem to spend most of my energy bouncing and not really getting anywhere, and as a good friend of mine suggested this morning, I need to focus more on making running my bitch.
So I’m gonna start a smackdown.  I’m gonna kick some ass and take some names…just as soon as I can feel my legs again.

Tribute WOD

Today’s WOD wasn’t for ourselves.  It wasn’t for the sole purpose of beating up our bodies and seeing how far we could push ourselves just because.  We did it in honor of every hero who fell on 9/11—and for that reason, this workout is built to be one of the toughest workouts we do.  And it didn’t fall short.  I speak for myself when I say lungs were burning, muscles were screaming, and sweat was pouring, but I’m pretty sure all of my fellow WOD warriors would agree that not a single one of us thought of stopping.
Here’s what we did:
1-mile run
11 box jumps
11 thrusters (85 lbs. for ladies)
11 burpee chest-to-bar pull-ups
11 power cleans (120 lbs. for ladies)
11 handstand push-ups
11 kettlebell swings (50 lbs.)
11 toes-to-bar
11 deadlifts (120 lbs.)
11 push jerks
1-mile run
Here’s why we did it:

Hello, Bloggity, Blog!

It’s been a long summer, and I’ve missed you so.
After sitting on my butt for a while (and doing some writing…while sitting on my butt), I’ve joined the exciting world of retail again, and I have some observations I’d like to share, starting with a couple little experiences from today:
  • If you enjoy shopping, that is wonderful.  If you shop and have to pull shit out of your bra, you should possibly shop for a handbag.  I’ma just makin’ a suggestion here, ladies, but when you hand me a paper coupon that is soggy as a syrup-soaked waffle, I’m thinking a coupon wallet might be in order.  Also, if you have to dig UNDER-FLIPPIN’-NEATH your triple-Ds to fish out aforementioned disintegrating paper, it’s time to air those puppies out.
  • Your bra is not a tool bag.  If you pull out a cell phone, money, coupons, AND car keys, I am officially scared shitless of what you are going to pull out next.  Leave the damned kitchen sink at home.
  • It’s not the Oprah Winfrey Show.  I don’t need to know about your great-great-great grandma’s trek across the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro with nothing but a pair of flip-flops and a box of graham crackers.  Holy crap, just buy the socks already!  Or hell, I’ll buy them for you.  Just decide on something, and let’s get this show on the road.
  • If you call me on the phone and ask me what size your 8-year-old wears, I will automatically think you are an idiot.  And then I will attempt to freak your shit the hell out by saying something like, “Hang on a sec.  Send her over to the window so I can see her better, would you?”  As if I have a clue what your 8-year-old looks like.

Also, here is a quick reference chart to some commonly-asked questions (you know, just in case you are feeling snarky):
Q:  Will my daughter keep this headband on her head?
A:  Probably not, but it will make a great slingshot.
Q:  Do you have REAL shoes?
A:  No, ours are definitely fake.
Q:  Will you watch my kid for me?
A:  Sure, but I lost the last one.
Q:  So the ENTIRE store is on sale?
A:  Well, we actually define the word ‘entire’ differently here.  It’s really very complicated.
Q:  (8:59 p.m.)  What time do you close?
A:  As soon as I can manage to get your ass out the door.
Ok, so really, as cheeky as I am, I am honestly having a great time in my new retail adventure.  People are FUN!  (And funny!)

Hello, Summer

Well, hello there, blog.  It’s been a while.  That’s because my children have been home…as in up in my beeswax for weeks now, and I’ma having to be all crafty and fun and summertime-mom-like.  Anyway, here’s a quick recap of our summer so far.
Micaela and Marissa just ROCKED it at Trampoline Nationals.  Marissa and her synchro partner took home the bronze medal!  Woot!  Micaela is 18thin the nation in the Junior Elite level, which pretty much rocks.  Marissa took 10th in the nation at Level 9.  So pretty much, my girls are looking at a bright career in the circus.  But before that, we are of course heading to the Olympics, right Coach Carl?
Thanks to a lovely Mine Craft tutorial and our summer school (delinquent) friends, Jadon and Jordan have learned many fine curse words that we have to un-learn before the school year starts, lest we have a fun-filled First-Grade year spent in the principal’s office.  Also, I fear that other parents will start to shun us and look upon our parenting skills as less than satisfactory if we don’t get this particular problem under control.  I have considered claiming a Tourette’s problem, but it’s highly doubtful that people would believe that BOTH boys suffer from the same ailment.
Savannah, our lovely and sweet rescue dog, has learned to poach wildlife from our backyard.  While this is a fascinating pastime for a dog, I find it less than appealing when she brings her conquests into the house and plops them onto my lap as little gifts representing her love and affection for me.  On one particularly nice day, I left the door open so that she could come and go as she pleased, and she plopped a very dead bird onto my lap.  It was one of those things that took a couple of seconds to register, as no one really expects to receive a DEAD FREAKING BIRD on their lap, so you know, it just took a while for my brain to catch up with what was really happening.  And then when everything clicked, I screamed, “Dead bird!  Ewwww!  Dead bleeeeepppping bird!!!”  (Except I didn’t say ‘bleeping,’ and that may also be where my kids learned one of their unacceptable vocabulary words.)  And so Micaela had to come and get the dead bird off of the couch, and I had to disinfect the couch, and all the while, Savannah was looking at me like I was the most ungrateful gift recipient EVER.
Also, Rudi, our white dog, is red.  I don’t know how he got red, but I suspect the kids have colored him with Kool-Aid, although no one will confess to this particular crime.  I’m telling you guys, I’m being overrun in my own home.  Is it back-to-school time yet?
Jordan found a ‘box of stickers’ in the bathroom, or at least that’s what he told me when I asked why the entire wall was covered in panty liners.  It was really a nice summertime chic look, and if we’d had guests, I’m sure they would have appreciated the creativity in our décor.  Holy hell, I had a wall covered in feminine products, you guys!  I’m pretty sure that’s when I realized I was outnumbered.
I found Jordan pretending to brush his teeth with the toilet brush, which was pretty gross, so I made him go brush his teeth for real.  He thought it was funny, so I didn’t tell him that brush had everyone’s microscopic SHIT remnants on it.  I’m not sure what runs through these kids’ heads sometimes, but I do know they will have the best immune systems around.
The boys left an entire bucket of crayons out for the dogs to eat, which is probably why they make those things non-toxic.  You know, so that family pets can munch on them without too many consequences.  Jordan may have eaten some, too—I’m not sure, and I’m not asking any questions at this point.
So that’s our summer in a nutshell.  Everyone keeps asking to go to the pool or to Target or to ANYWHERE BUT OUR HOUSE, but I am standing firm by my convictions to avoid anywhere that involves taking my children in public, because just no.  No public places.  Ever.  The End.

How to Ruin Your Teen’s Life

I’ve put together some helpful tips and hints in order to make it easier for my friends and acquaintances to easily ruin the lives of their teens.  I have been so successful at this endeavor recently that it’s only fair I share some of the things that have helped me achieve this high rate of success.  So if you find yourself feeling stuck, or if you see that your teen is suddenly acting too happy or content, try some of the following to get things back on track:
  • When the teen in question asks for permission to get a nose piercing, immediately deny the request.  It also helps if you say something sarcastic like, “Oh, absolutely…if you want your face to get infected and rot off!” or “I think that’s a great idea!  We’ll do that right after we get your tattoos!”  Then very quickly follow your sarcasm with, “And by that, I mean HELL NO.”  (You know, just in case the teen in question is a little slow to pick up on the sarcasm stream.)
  • When roaming bands of teenage boys randomly appear in your driveway to socialize with your teen and her friends, put on your best tube top and short-shorts, grab a plate of cookies, and head outside to join the party.
  • After you have scared off the roaming band of teenage boys, demand that your teenager and her friends stay in the house after you have gone to bed so as to avoid being targets for midnight stalkers and creepers and such.  This will make her really mad, because as she will tell you, she is invincible, and (eye roll) ‘Duh, MOM, nothing is going to, like, HAPPEN!’
  • Insist that your teen do things around the house during her summer break—really horrific things like unloading the dishwasher or sweeping the floor.  It’s important that you really work the Cinderella angle if you want to achieve total life-ruining status.
  • It is also important that you make your teen get out of bed before noon during the summer time if you are going to be successful at ruining her life.  Her inability to sleep the summer away is a pivotal aspect of the downfall of her life.
  • You will also need to remind her where she lives.  It may seem a little odd, but approximately 1.5 days into summer vacation, your teen will attempt to spend every single night at any house EXCEPT for her own house.  It will become necessary to remind her that she does, indeed have a home and a family and that, no matter how lame we may be, we are the ones she is stuck with.  At this point, your teen may roll her eyes so forcefully back into her head that it will appear she is experiencing a medical emergency.  DO NOT PANIC.  She is not having a seizure.  This is merely a sign that you are nearing your goal of total life ruination!
  • Finally, and this is the big one, you MUST remember to require your teen to interact with siblings as much as possible during her summer break.  She should be seen in public—taking her little brothers to the park, for example, or accompanying her sister to the library.  Visits to the community pool are also wonderful, because she will typically run into a slew of her friends (whose lives are also undoubtedly being ruined by their own parents) while she is forced to keep her little brothers afloat instead of lying on a chaise and tanning.

WHAMO!  Your teen’s life is ruined—easy as that.  I know, I’m a professional.  It has taken years of practice and experience, but if you follow these easy steps, you, too, can go down in history as one of the most famed, life-ruining parents EVER!  (Can’t you just hear the door slamming in your ear as you read this?)