Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Worked For Me This Week

Sometimes it's good to take stock of what worked this week instead of dwelling on what didn't. 
Here's what worked for me this week... 

The newly bloomed magnolias-- they aren't just gorgeous, they smell so good. There is one part along my walk where the scent just floats on the air. That makes the walking worth it! 

And speaking of walking... Walking worked for me this week. It's funny how some weeks I'm more in the mood to do one form of exercise over the other. This week was all about walking and listening to audiobooks. I finished up Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen and moved right onto Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal. Another thing that worked for me this week? My Audible membership! 

I read this quote in Annie Dillard's book The Writing Life and promptly created this image for sharing. I sent it directly to a few writing friends, who all politely thanked me but I could tell they weren't feeling it the way I did. Then the next day I just got this urge to send it to an acquaintance, so I did. Minutes later I got the most heartfelt thank you-- saying it was exactly what she needed to hear at that moment. 

Maybe you need to hear it too, whoever you are... 

And speaking of writing, I am really enjoying the new book I am writing. I like the story, the characters. That is a good feeling. I sincerely hope one of these days this story makes it into your hands. 

A day that is filled with one child's prom and the other child's test for her driving permit is a busy day indeed. The kind of day you both celebrate and dread as a parent. These are my middle kids... but no one has told them they are middle children yet, it would seem. Trust me when I say no one's going to overlook them! 

When you intend to make a recipe that was on the back of a bag but then accidentally throw the bag away, you can always go to the store and snap a photo of the bag with the recipe so all is not lost. (And if you would like to try this recipe, it was very good and quick and easy to throw together. Just a warning: it's spicy. So either ease up on the chili garlic sauce or, if your people love spicy, heap it on.) 

And speaking of recipes... Sometimes the best thing you can do on a Monday is spend the hours it takes to plan meals and make a grocery list, then spend the time to get all the items. My week has gone so nicely because all the items for these meals are present and accounted for. 

What worked for you this week? 

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Quick Lit: Read Alouds For Kids

For this month's quick lit I thought I would share some titles I found in an old notebook that I had jotted down to read aloud to my kids. Since I haven't read any of these I am not vouching for them, just saying to put them on your radar and see if they would be a fit for your child. I thought perhaps some of you could put them on hold at your local library or independent bookstore!

Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett 

When the Germans attack their Romany encampment during World War II, Andrej and his younger brother, Tomas, flee through a ravaged countryside under cover of darkness, guarding a secret bundle. Their journey leads to a bombed-out town, where the boys discover a hidden wonder: a zoo filled with creatures in need of hope. Like Andrej and Tomas, the animals—wolf and eagle, monkey and bear, lioness and seal, kangaroo and llama— have stories to share and a mission to reclaim their lives.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton

Ten-year-old Persimmony Smudge lives a boring life on the Island in the Middle of Everything, but she longs for adventure. And she soon gets it when she overhears a life-altering secret and suddenly finds herself in the middle of an amazing journey. It turns out that Mount Majestic, the rising and falling mountain in the center of the island, is not really a mountain - it's the belly of a sleeping giant! It's up to Persimmony and her friend Worvil to convince the island's quarreling inhabitants that a giant is sleeping in their midst and must not be awakened. The question is, will she be able to do it?

Bigger Than A Breadbox by Laurel Snyder

A magical breadbox that delivers whatever you wish for—as long as it fits inside? It's too good to be true! Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents' separation, as well as a sudden move to her Gran's house in another state. For a while, the magic bread box, discovered in the attic, makes life away from home a little easier. Then suddenly it starts to make things much, much more difficult, and Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be. Laurel Snyder's most thought-provoking book yet.

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his crazy aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for a long time. . . .

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends-not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is a tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

A hilarious Southern debut with the kind of characters you meet once in a lifetime 

Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known. 

Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster. 

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town . . . and her mother's broken heart.

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff 

Told in multiple viewpoints, A Tangle of Knots is a magnificent puzzle. In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born.  And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever.  However, these encounters hold the key to Cady's past and how she became an orphan.  If she's lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent. 

Lisa Graff adds a pinch of magic to a sharply crafted plot to create a novel that will have readers wondering about fate and the way we're all connected.

All The Answers by Kate Messner 

What if your pencil had all the answers? Would you ace every test? Would you know what your teachers were thinking? When Ava Anderson finds a scratched up pencil she doodles like she would with any other pencil. But when she writes a question in the margin of her math quiz, she hears a clear answer in a voice no one else seems to hear.  

With the help of her friend Sophie, Ava figures out that the pencil will answer factual questions only – those with definite right or wrong answers – but won't predict the future. Ava and Sophie discover all kinds of uses for the pencil, and Ava's confidence grows with each answer. But it's getting shorter with every sharpening, and when the pencil reveals a scary truth about Ava's family, she realizes that sometimes the bravest people are the ones who live without all the answers...

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What Worked For Me This Week

Every Wednesday I try to post a few things that worked for me in the past week. It's fun to recall what worked-- no matter how small-- instead of dwell on what didn't. Here's my list for this week:

This post I wrote, then had to go back and re-read for myself after a particularly bad mothering day. This is called preaching to oneself, something I have to do more than I'd like to admit. I am the worst about forgetting the things I should remember. (See Sherlock Brain post from Monday.) 

Stopping to inhale this just-bloomed honeysuckle. No candle or fabric softener or perfume can replicate this smell. 

This shot of a street I walk down almost every day. I love the arching trees and all the green. Looking for and capturing this kind of beauty on film helps me keep things in perspective. It's also good to look up at towering trees and remember just how small you really are. 

Going on a little photo scavenger hunt while I was walking. This time I kept my eye out for purple flowers, which I found in abundance! 

Snapping this photo of our dog and then sending it to my college daughter in the middle of her exam week with a note that the dog misses her. She was like, "Mom, you're crazy." But I know it made her laugh and took her mind off her stress for a moment. 

This lake (glorified pond) is in our neighborhood and I've been making more of an effort to route my walk to at least go see it. Being near water always makes me feel more peaceful-- like all is right with the world. This particular view of the bench by the water is one of my favorites. It's ridiculous to live near something this lovely and not partake in it with some degree of regularity. 

So what about you? What worked for you this week? 

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Sherlock Brain

It is a phenomena my best friend and I discuss often. We call it "Sherlock Brain," (derived from the clip at the bottom of this post):

Sherlock brain- the brain's tendency to discard the things it doesn't need in order to retain the things it does. This includes all kinds of info that, for some people, seem paramount but to others, extraneous. It varies according to your profession, your stage in life, your personality, etc. 

For instance, I know lots and lots about women's fiction-- authors, new titles, backlist titles, upcoming release dates, themes and premises and lots of other things that other people do not know or care about. This is important to me because I am a women's fiction writer and because of the coverage we provide on She Reads. I need to know these things.


This means that there's not room in my brain for other things-- things like the political climate in our nation, headlines, the latest gossip at my kids' school, and yes, the solar system. (That will make more sense once you watch the clip.) My brain sloughs off anything not pertinent to my work or family. It is on a "need to know" basis. If I don't absolutely need to know it, it's gone.

This is also why I love lists-- because once I make a note of it, my brain doesn't have to hold onto whatever it is any longer, leaving more room for the things it does. Things like writing ideas, children's schedules, family needs, etc.

So the next time you feel addled, confused, overwhelmed, etc. don't beat yourself up about it. Just remember the Sherlock Brain concept. You're not being forgetful, you're choosing to remember the things that are most important to you. Sherlock is brilliant-- and I think what makes him most brilliant is that he knows what to let go of, what to hold onto, and most importantly, not to apologize for it.

(Here's the clip that brought about the terminology. The part you're looking for occurs at about minute 1:32. But watch the beginning because... well... it's Sherlock.)

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

What Worked For Me This Week

This week a lot of things worked... It was a good week.

This fun printable list to kick off May. I am challenging myself to do at least some of them. (It's an easy challenge, considering all of them are good things to do.)

My best friend, She Reads partner and official other half of my writer brain, Ariel Lawhon and my list of what we were into in April, which is always so fun to pull together.

This humorous look at how hard May can be-- and some good tips for surviving it.

Saying yes to time with a friend on a Saturday. Most of my ordinary Saturdays are spent at home putzing around with home and family stuff. I rarely leave the house on Saturday unless it's to run errands or take a walk. So when my friend Tracy invited me to a benefit event for the afternoon I nearly said no, reasoning that I need my Saturdays. In the end we had a lovely, memorable day and I was so glad I varied my (boring) Saturday routine! We even squeezed in a trip to our local indie bookstore and a glass of wine at a nearby pub with outdoor seating on a gorgeous spring day! 

After that lovely Saturday, followed by a very full Sunday with church, lunch, and then a friend's daughter's play at her school, the house was showing my neglect big time. So I got out my trusty wipes and went to town. It took most of my Monday morning but when I was done the house felt so much better. When my house is disorganized and unclean, I am completely at odds until I get it back in order. 

Playing tooth fairy. This is my youngest showing off the loss of the tooth that seemed like it was never going to come out. She's nearly ten and my time of playing tooth fairy isn't going to last forever. In light of that, let's just say the tooth fairy has gotten increasingly more generous. (Sorry older kids.) 

Taking my phone with me when I walk. Now when I pass gorgeous flowers like this one I can capture them to enjoy later. 

I have used the same kind of lotion (Suave or Vaseline Aloe) since I was 15 years old. Let it never be said that I am not a creature of habit. So when I saw this new Suave Sea Mineral lotion I broke out of my own mold and gave it a try. It smells really good, in my opinion-- fresh and clean without being too floral or cloyingly sweet. I have enjoyed the nice new scent this week and it feels good to try something different. And also, since it's Suave brand, this little splurge didn't break the bank. 

How about you? What worked for you this week?
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Monday, May 04, 2015

Ten Tips For Writers

I stumbled across these notes from an old workshop I gave on writing and thought that, instead of letting them molder in my files, I would share them here. (And even if you're not a writer, there's still some good tips in here.)

1. Notice. Pay attention. To smells, colors, sounds, tastes. Compare them to other things-- similar and different.

2. Listen out for interesting words. Look for alternative verbs and other ways to say things. Get an old thesaurus and thumb through it. Words are your friends; make some new ones.

3. Keep a list of first lines as you think of them. Even if you don't have a use for them yet. The best first lines immediately draw the reader into the story question-- inviting them in by intriguing them so much they simply must read on. When you're reading, notice first lines that do that for you. Why?

4. Watch people. Potential characters-- and character traits-- are all around you. The young. The old. The beautiful. The undesirable. Soldiers. Teachers. Librarians. Cooks. Artists. Service people. How do they carry themselves? What do their faces tell you? What tics or idiosyncrasies do they have that you can steal borrow?

5. Keep a journal. Write down quotes that capture you for their poignancy or spot-on observation about life, God, writing, story, etc. Use the journal to capture your life as it is right now. There is no right way to journal. Pick a journal that doesn't feel too formal, too big, too official, etc. Make it work for you. And find a good pen that writes well so you will actually want to write.

6. Read widely. Fiction. Nonfiction. Memoirs. Cookbooks. Biographies. Newspapers. Magazines. Let the reading inform you on everything from what other people are concerned with to story ideas to what good writing looks like, as well as what bad writing feels like.

7. Ask yourself "what if?" often. The what if is a muscle and it gets stronger as it is worked out. Ask yourself "What if?" after you read a newspaper story, a Facebook status, a blog post, a story a friend tells you, a tv show you watch, etc. This two sentence question can generate more ideas than you can ever write.

8. Go to live writer events. Pay attention to who's coming to your local indie bookstore for a signing, what literary events might be going on in your town or a nearby one. Subscribe to stores' newsletters so you can stay informed or subscribe to your favorite writers' blogs or follow them on Twitter or Facebook so you can stay up to date. Other writers can encourage, inspire and inform you, injecting that shot of enthusiasm at the perfect time.

9. Eavesdrop. Listening to the flow-- or lack of-- of real conversations can help your dialogue read better. Most every writer I know admits to eavesdropping.

10. Pay attention to good grammar. Good writers know the mechanics of language. And if you didn't pay much (any?) attention in English class back in the day, well then get some books like The Forest For The Trees or The Elements of Style and teach yourself. It's never too late.

I hope these tips encouraged and inspired some of you.
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Friday, May 01, 2015

A Friday Song

Today I thought I'd post a song (and fun video to go with it) to kick off your weekend. If you're on Facebook you might've seen this pop up on your feed a time or twenty thousand. For good reason.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I hope your weekend is excellent. See you back here on Monday!

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