Saturday, January 31, 2015

Am I Still A....

"I recently started a new full-time job."  It's telling that I recall writing that line many times as the start of a blog article, or an email, or a text. Often those articles, emails, and texts are written to explain flaking out on a commitment, not going to something I planned on attending, or just disappearing from my previous circles of influence. 

So yeah. I started a full-time job. It's about 35 minutes away (on a good day), and I work all night. So my schedule is completely messed up. I have given up quite a few things; sacrifices that are necessary--and given in full realization of the huge blessing that this job is in my life--but sacrifices nonetheless. 

I never see my husband. If I stay awake when I get home, for an extra 45 minutes, I can kiss him good morning/good night and have a few minutes' worth of conversation. I see him when I am ready to leave for work, long enough to figure out what I'm taking for dinner and kiss him goodbye. Then we text when we can at night to try and communicate household needs. 

Am I still a wife? 

I spend some time with my two younger children, and I see my oldest for a few minutes in the afternoon. But three of my kids only see me in passing in the evening, and it's usually "did you do your homework?" "Please clean your room," "don't forget to do the dishes," "PLEASE don't be jerks to your dad tonight, be helpful," things like that. 

Am I still a mother?

My friends, my extended family, my visiting teaching sisters, all of them have gotten those "Sorry, I have to work," or "I'm just exhausted," or, in the case of some, just my absence and silence.....

Am I still a friend? A daughter? A sister?

I've not been to church for a few weeks. I've been sick, mind you, but that sickness has been exacerbated by my exhaustion from working with little sleep and trying to hold it together for my family. 

Am I still an active member of my ward?

As you read this, you're probably emphatically thinking, "YES! Just because your role has changed, doesn't make you any less of a wife, mother, friend, member of your ward, etc. etc." I have to make adjustments to those roles, but nothing changes the fact that I am all of those things. 

I now work every week night. I work, I come home and try to sleep, I get two little kids ready when they wake up, get one to school, try to nurture the youngest for a few hours until my high-schooler gets home, I try to get a couple more hours of sleep, I rise and shower, get dressed as fast as I can, grab dinner, kiss the hottie, hug the kids, and go to work. There's no time for ANWA meetings, in person or online. I won't see a conference center for a few years, until I've gained permanent status and vacation days at my job. Blogging----well, I've been (maybe) noticeably absent and totally flaky. NaNoWriMo.... hahahahahahahahaha. Enough said about that, since my job started the middle of November.  My characters, stories, poetry, everything--they (might) miss me. I miss them. When I have time to think, which isn't often. 

Am I still a writer?

It's funny. I let my ANWA membership expire. On purpose. I didn't think ANWA and I had anything to offer each other in my current "season." 

Then, I got an email telling me it had expired. Whoa. Within five minutes of receiving the email, I had renewed it on the website. I'm not ready to say goodbye.

Because, at the heart of it all, YES! I am still a writer! Writers write and all that be damned, I am a writer. My writing consists of grocery lists and amazingly competent answers to questions about SEC filing document processing, but I write. I still have the urge. The characters and stories are still there, calling out to me amidst the fog of sleep deprivation. 

In the same way that my changing role and abilities don't make me any less of a wife, mother, friend, etc., I am not any less of a writer because my role and ability to dedicate time to writing have changed. Nothing changes the fact that I am a writer. 

So, I'm back in the fold in ANWA. I'm learning how to mother my children with much less time. Adjusting things to give me better time with my superhero husband (who has had to make major adjustments and totally be Mr. Mom every weeknight now).  I will adjust and learn how to fit the what and the how of writing into the who of "writer." 

If you're a writer, you're a writer. Don't give up, and don't ever think you can escape it. It's who you are. 


Friday, January 30, 2015

Roboconjuring - The Discovery

Over the past few months, I've pontificated quite a bit about writing-this and author-that.  I've offered advice, suggestions, and ruminated about one literary point or another.  Not this time.  I've finally succeeded at doing what I had envisioned the overall goal of MMW to be: Publish a book.

Ta da!

I will now make a shameless, entrepreneurial promotion of my first, official book publication:

It started as a little contest between me and a friend. Write a book and get it published.  We each wrote a chapter of our individual books each week, traded it for a quick edit, and pushed forward to completion. The next step was to jump the hoops of final editing, cover art, formatting, and e-publishing.  


I chose the e-publishing route because it was a surer and much faster path than the print route.  While I'm perfectly aware of the limitations that publishing in this way will bring, I think I needed this 'feather in my cap' to reassure myself that I can accomplish a worthy goal and that perhaps I've opened the door to a special talent I have yet to fully develop.

The book hit Amazon Kindle on Tuesday.  It's a YA Fiction-Fantasy novella that was really just an exercise in writing.  It's selling for only $2.99.  In the first four hours since it went live, it sold five copies (No, I didn't buy them all myself, in case you were wondering.).

Here's the summary of 'Roboconjuring - The Discovery':

Magic is dead.  Or is it?  Young 'Lucky' Brown has the amazing ability to work magic, although he has no idea how he does it.  But the US Army can do magic too, in the form of sophisticated android soldiers, Flexbots, that can work magic, or at least good science.  But when the Flexbots are unexpectedly knocked out of action, the Army borrows Lucky for a secret mission.  Can this teenage conjurer help keep the Army, and perhaps the country, safe while staying a step ahead of the local bullies that are constantly trying to ruin his life?

Enjoy!  All feedback of any kind is welcome...but only post the good stuff on the Amazon 'customer Reviews'.  See, I told you I was shameless.

My next attempt will be something more adult-oriented, like zombies.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sick of the Mommy Wars

by Katy White

In the last week, I've read three different posts about the "Mommy Wars" (and that's only because I generally avoid reading posts about them. I'm sure I could have read three hundred, if I'd wanted to). Although I loved two of them (this post and this video), to be frank, I'm sick of the topic. Beyond sick of it. So, this will constitute my one and only rant on the subject.

Here's the thing: unless you're doing something neglectful, dangerous, or creating a bully-mentality in your child, I don't care what you do. Sure, I may think some things are weird or silly and I may see you do things that would never in a million years work for me or my child, but isn't that the point? You're raising your children! You're doing what works for you! And I'm doing the same. For you breastfeeders? I don't care. For you who use Enfamil instead of Costco formula? So what? For you who believe that having a messy house means you're a more attentive parent? That's not my style, but the fact that it's yours sure doesn't concern me. Co-sleepers? Cry-it-out? Organic-reusable-diapers-made-of-unicorn hair?

Literally every one of my siblings/best friends and I disagree about something when it comes to parenting. It could be about the most effective manner of teaching consequences, about sleep-training, or about whether or not serving pees is child abuse. Does it make me think they're lesser parents? Not a bit. Even when we disagree.  

And if others think I'm a lesser parent for *gasp* formula-feeding or thinking sharing is a con or putting my child in time-out in public or a million other things that I do differently than they do, well, I don't care. I'm confident in my parenting decisions, even when I have no clue how to respond to something. And you should be, too. Because the one thing I'm certain we all have in common is that we're all doing our best, both for our families and ourselves.

We're making our decisions out of love, (or at least we should be; if you're not, then I take back everything...). We all share a desire to make our children the happiest, strongest, best-adjusted, funniest, kindest, silliest, most hard-working, persistent, spectacular children in the world. And the only way we can do that is by being (the best version of) ourselves.

This world needs diversity, not sameness. A quest for sameness isn't just boring, it's dangerous (see Hitler). So even if I let my kid watch Peppa Pig and you let your kid watch Caillou (or don't have believe in TV at all), let's just agree that we both love our kids, move on, and go have a playdate at the Children's Museum. Cool?


(That said, Caillou is lame and I think you're making a huge mistake.)

Readers, what do you think about the Mommy Wars? How do you handle parenting disagreements?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Parent Compensation Fund

By  Lacey Gunter

1. a father or mother

2. a gym mat

Does your house ever feel this way?

I adore my kids and I love playing with them. It is great to just giggle and laugh and romp around and use your imagination with them.  But in all my preparations for being a parent, I don't remember much mention of on the job hazards beyond giving birth.  I mean there were the obvious discussions of the physical trials of lack of sleep and sanity in the early infant months and the emotional trials of parenting toddlers and teenagers. Maybe even a few jokes about risking death when teaching a teenager to drive. But I never once remember people mentioning how often they get jumped on, head butted, elbowed, poked in the eye, stepped on, whacked in the face or pinched.  I never remember seeing this in the job description.

It started really early with my kids. I remember when one of my children was about 6 months old and he discovered he could pop his head forward and collide it with mine. It didn't seem to cause much pain on his part, but the squealing and animated faces on my part made it seem like a funny kind of peek-a-boo to him.   The little guy had no idea he was actually hurting me, he just thought it was fun.  But it got to a point where I either had to hold him way out in front of me or facing away from me if I wanted to avoid a good conk on the head or a bruised cheek.

My kids are very kind and loving children. They just love to jump on my husband and me or randomly throw objects into the air or whip things around while sitting in our laps.

We spend so much time money and effort trying to help our kiddos avoid hazardous situations and like, no time at all helping parents learn how to avoid black eyes or the random kick to the stomach. Parenting is like a full contact sport. Sometimes I wish I had my own helmet and full body protective gear. If anyone knows of a great passive self-defense class, pass on the info. I'll be there with bells on. In the meantime, I say we start a Parent Compensation Fund. Are you with me?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Two Things Caretakers Need to Remember


I had a rough evening with Mom today.  She's 94 and has some dementia, and I help her shower, and tonight, she wasn't very happy.  She didn't like something I bought her, she was impatient with the fact that I've not connected with her physical therapist yet (we keep missing each other), she kept at me about helping her with a letter she's been writing, and she didn't like the towel I used to help her dry off.

On the mile-drive home from my parents' ALF, I felt the pressure of tears. I've been helping my parents (Dad is 91) for five years, and I've watched them gradually decline.  Every month or so, they have a medical issue, or a further slip in mental acuity. Overall, I'm able to cope, but once in hits me that these are not the parents I grew up with.  Their lives have become very small.  Their memories are short, their complaints are close to the surface.  They are adamant that they can do everything they used to do, but they really can't.  I am usually the bad guy, the one who sets the boundaries, says no, but behind the scenes, makes sure they are OK. 

I am a caretaker.  I never thought I'd be doing this, but here I am.  I love my parents, and God sustains me.  I'm not complaining.  I'm just realizing that as we age and our awareness/abilities disappear, we are left with what seems to be simply the flesh.  And the flesh is weak and tired and grumpy.

My parents were never like this before.  They are dedicated Christians who raised four children and buried a son when he was 23.  They worked in the church tirelessly all of their adult lives. They opened their home to friends and strangers alike.  Any loving kindness I have ever extended, I learned from them.

The Mom I helped tonight is not the Mom who raised me and became a friend/spiritual guide to me.  But, it's not her intention to be testy; her brain is simply deteriorating. It's wearing down and wearing out, and frequently, misfiring.  This is what the flesh does.  It was never meant to be permanent.  It's here for awhile, and then it turns to dust.  It helps to remember this.

I will meet the spirit of my Mom again one day, when we are both gone from this life.  I believe we will be reunited in heaven, whatever form that takes.  The flesh will be a thing of the past, and we will be at peace.  It helps to remember this too.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How to Make Your Novel As Compelling As Downton Abbey

by Kasey Tross

Mary and Matthew. Because if I have an excuse to use a photo of Dan Stevens, I will.
Photo from this article in which Dan Stevens mourns the lost art of romance. *sigh*

I am an analyzer. When I find something I like, it’s not enough for me just to enjoy it- I feel a need to analyze it and pinpoint exactly WHY I like it, and once I figure that out, I want to know HOW to do it myself (this is why half of the meals I serve at my house are replicas something I’ve eaten at a restaurant). Ever since I started writing more seriously it’s gotten way worse- I can’t watch movies or TV without saying, “Hey, how did they do that?” 

And so it is with Downton Abbey*. I found myself enraptured with the sparkling gowns, the polished furnishings, the handsome men and elegant women, but it was more than that- the show seems to have this quality, this magnetic power that, unlike the majority of pop culture, is not fueled by sex, violence, crude humor, or supernatural elements (although in many ways the culture of early 20th century England does feel a bit supernatural at times). 

So what is it about this show? As per my usual fashion, I broke it down. And now, dear reader, I am blessing you with my findings.**

1. Everybody has a secret. For real. EVERYBODY. The butler, the baker, the candlestick maker. This is nothing new- it’s a well-known trick of the storytelling trade to give every character a secret, but I also noticed that in this show there are two kinds of secrets: the Sword Secrets and the Shield Secrets.

Sword Secrets- These are the stuff blackmail is made of. These are the secrets that can cut someone down and pretty much destroy their life. They are wielded by both the noble and the not-so-noble, both as offensive weapons and defensive weapons. In short, everybody in the show is armed. Which makes for some really wonderful nail-biting conditions.

Thomas has a whole arsenal of these at any given time- you can pretty much think of him as a black market arms dealer as far as Sword Secrets go. Edith’s attack on her own sister with a Sword Secret set a whole storyline in motion, the repercussions of which were felt for several seasons.

Shield Secrets- These are the secrets kept to protect, and I think these secrets can be even more powerful to the narrative than the Sword Secrets, because they introduce an element of sacrifice and demonstrate genuine love in a way that is far more compelling than mere romantic confessions. Shield Secrets are a perfect example of how so often it’s the words that are not said which say more than those spoken aloud. 

Anna’s traumatic experience is a prime example of this- she keeps it a painful secret out of love for Mr. Bates, because she knows that the consequences of telling him could lead to his ultimate downfall, and she loves him too much to risk losing him, so she endures silently, creating an emotional gulf between them. 

The beautiful “upstairs” version of a Shield Secret was when Mary chose to keep silent about her feelings for Matthew because she couldn’t bear to wreck the happiness he had found with Lavinia. That revealed something very selfless and noble in her character that might not have come out otherwise.

2. Complex characters. At the outset of the show, it becomes clear that there are some characters who are just flat-out, downright evil. *cough*THOMAS*cough* There are other characters who are obviously generally kind and good, and then a few more who fall somewhere in the middle. 

Yet as the show goes on, we see those evil characters demonstrating these periodic little hints of goodness, so as much as we want to hate them completely, we just can’t. Despite all of the horrible, terrible, lowdown things Thomas has done to the characters we love, it would still hurt a little bit if he died. He's still awful, but the tiny glimmers of humanity in him make us love him anyway. Same with O’Brien. SO annoying.

And then you’ve got the good ones- and even the “good” ones you’re not so sure about all the time. Lady Cora Grantham is an endearing mother figure, but then periodically she says or does something that just makes you say, “Wow, that was really rude.” And yet, it is still in keeping with her character because of the time and culture she lives in. Lady Mary consistently struggles with pride and the internal tug-of-war between what she should do and what she wants to do, and she doesn’t always make the best decisions. Which brings me to...

3. Obstacles- This show is chock full of obstacles, and watching to see how the characters handle the obstacles is really the meat of the show, and it provides that gripping element because the characters are so multifaceted, you’re never quite certain what they’re going to do. The “right” decision might seem clear to the viewer, but we know that the character hasn’t always taken the high road in the past, so we are left wondering which path they’re going to choose- have they learned from their mistakes or will they crash and burn again?

In other situations, the right decision isn’t so clear: characters are either left between a rock and a hard place or provided with several murky choices with no clear right answer. In those situations the viewer can’t help but ask themselves what they might do in a similar situation, and then they can’t help but stay tuned to find out what happens next and whether it was really the right choice.

The best thing about these obstacles is that the majority of the time, the obstacles arise as a result of a character’s decision. On occasion problems just drop in from outside sources, but most of the issues are a direct repercussion of a character’s actions, making the characters crucial to the narrative, and making them forces for action (rather than being acted upon), which makes them significantly more interesting (I think).

Okay, that’s not all I’ve figured out, but that’s all for now. The show has many more elements I could get into- let’s not forget how the acting can play such an important role in a television show or movie as well. None of this would work with lousy acting, so let’s applaud those moments when Matthew makes a sideways comment to Mary that on the surface sounds innocuous, but obviously means, “I am still in love with you,” and glances down and away and then back at her again for just a split second with the briefest of smiles wanting her to understand but not wanting to give himself away either. And then she looks down too and smiles, and then just for a second their eyes meet, and then they both glance away and take deep breaths.

Downton Abbey: 'There’s a wedding, a funeral and a sex scene. Guess which one I’m in... - Downton Abbey's Matthew Crawley (Dan  Stevens) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery)

Gotta love it. Seriously, though- watching well-acted TV shows and movies is a great way to see what feelings look like to help you write them into your work. 

(By the way, I’ve broken Matthew & Mary's relationship down too, in all of its convoluted glory, and maybe next time I’ll dissect that for you.)

Now it’s time to study your own WIP and ask yourself:

1. Does anybody have a secret? Is it a Sword Secret or a Shield Secret?

2. Are your characters 2-D or do they have aspects of both good and bad in their personalities? How are these qualities demonstrated?

3. Are the obstacles in your story a direct result of characters’ choices? How do the characters’ actions further the narrative, either in a positive or negative direction?

There. Now go Downtonize your story. 

*Author’s Note: I am not watching Downton Abbey this month, as per my usual “Fast From the World” each January. So don’t you dare comment with a spoiler, because I haven’t seen any new episodes yet. ‘Kay? ‘Kay. And don’t talk to me on February 1st, either. Because I’m going to be...busy.

**For another sampling of my expert story analysis, check out this post: On Falling in Love and Robin Hood

Friday, January 16, 2015

Resolutions V. Goals

I’ve completely given up on setting New Year’s resolutions.  Forget it!  I’m not going to participate in this annual tradition ever again.  Why not?  Because I’m an awful resolution-keeper.  Seriously, I’m the worst.  In fact, I’m so bad at keeping New Year’s resolutions that the end result is often the exact opposite of the resolution. 

2010:  Lose 20 lbs.  <Result: Gained 25 lbs. after eating leftover Christmas treats while filling out my resolution list.>

2011:  Plant a garden.  <Result:  Planter box accidently built over a fire ant nest.  All of my seedlings were used as ant food sources and underground birthing stations.  That, and my inability to water my young plants more than once per month, probably led to my green thumb shriveling and turning black.>

2012:  Learn to play the trombone.  <Result:  There is wisdom in learning an instrument when we’re young.  My over-reliance on the ‘Idiot’s Guide to Playing Brass Instruments’ as my personal tutor probably didn’t help my efforts.>

2013:  Cook dinner once per week.  <Started well (baked chicken, string bean casserole, dinner rolls, cake).  Lasted one week.  Now, my kids are back to ramen, cheese crisps, and pbj’s until mom gets home and starts a more balanced and nutritious dinner.>

2014:  Post to MMW Every-other Friday:  <Uhm…..>

So, I’ve decided to abandon the practice of making resolutions and to set goals instead.  What’s the difference, you ask? 

A resolution is something you intend to start or stop.  It’s myopic in nature; an issue is solved and one move’s on to the next issue; whereas, a goal, by definition, is expansive. 

A goal rewards a person for pointing one’s self towards achievement, then moving in the direction of success, and hopefully, finishing one’s expectations if possible.  The main difference is that there are micro-successes along the way, as if the journey were more important than the final accomplishment.
Thomas S. Monson, a latter-day Prophet of God, once gave some sage advice regarding three goals that can serve as a reliable framework for all other personal goals (Ensign, Oct. 2007):
1.      Study diligently.
2.      Pray earnestly.
3.      Serve willingly.

While these might seem a little abstract and endless in nature, I noticed that these three goals fit nicely over my previously mentioned resolutions.  Take, for example, my resolution in 2011 to have a garden. 

I did not take the time to do any real degree of study and research on preparing, building, planting, and caring for a proper garden.  I simply built a box, filled it with mulch and fertilizer, dropped a few seeds in, hoped for rain, and sat back and awaited my vegetable bounty to grow.  I should have been researching soil preparation for my region, consulted a planting/harvesting matrix for my area, and learned the glories of soaker hoses and proper weeding techniques. 

Next, I should make my garden a part of my personal and family prayer, that the Lord will bless our efforts, inspire us to correct errors, and to show gratitude for our bounties in whatever size and shape we might harvest them. 

Lastly, I did not serve my resolution to garden.  That might sound odd, but like serving a person or a righteous cause, there is a time allotment required.  In the case of my garden, I failed to give the appropriate amount of time to watering, weeding, and worrying over my tender starts.
Wow!  Those life-structure goals from President Monson can really work. 

So, for 2015, I’m setting goals instead of resolutions.  I’ll study more diligently what it will take to make the life improvements I hope for; I’ll pray hard for help in making those life improvements; and, I’ll serve more earnestly the people and causes that I should in order to show the Lord that my care for someone or something other than myself is worthy of His care for my hopes and dreams. 

Oh, and a fourth ‘goal’ while I’m at it:  Do a better job of listening to advice from prophets.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lies I Tell My Child

By Katy White

Since outgrowing my childhood flirtation with lying (Molly ate all the cookies! Not me!), I feel like I've been a pretty honest person. I try not to lie to people or mislead them. And while I may embellish the occasional story, it's usually to make me look more ridiculous for humor's sake, not less. So I feel like that gets me a pass.

Having a child, however, makes me feel like there's not enough flame-retardant material in the world to keep my pants from going up in flames.

Here's a short list of the lies I tell my child:

-This is Auntie Em's favorite shirt. You should wear it!

-Cousin Stella sent you these shoes. Try them on!

-Daddy is going night night and Mommy is going night night and your best friend Daisy is going night night and Grandpa is going night night and Jesus is going night night and Puppy is going night night and (insert literally everyone she could ever imagine) is going night night...

-This is Nana's favorite food! I bet you'll love it!

-We only have ten seconds to get in the car, or we can't go to the store! (In fairness, I always manipulate my counting so she's in the car by the count of ten, but sometimes that's the longest ten "seconds" you've ever imagined).

-Olive goes potty on the toilet. Do you want to go potty like Olive? (For the record, Olive is like 15 months and nowhere near going potty on the toilet. But she lives twenty states away, so I'm not likely to get busted on this one).

-You have to sit in your chair, not Mommy's, for lunch, because it's Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or every day ever. (Seriously, just sit in your chair, kid.)


And you know what? I don't feel even a tiny bit bad. Sure, I suppose I need to start parenting on a more values-based system (we sit in our chair because that's respectful, we go potty on the toilet because it's part of growing up and helps us learn, etc.), but I don't feel bad. Because here are the truths I tell my child every day:

-Momma loves you.

-You are the most special, wonderful, beautiful, hard-working, determined, kind, loving girl I could ever imagine.

-I'm so proud of you for trying so hard.

-I love you.

-You can do it.

-I'm sorry.

-Because I love you, I want you to understand...

-Jesus loves you.

-I love you.

-I love you.

-I love you.

No parent is perfect, and maybe we all lie to our kids a little (or maybe it's just me.) But the most important thing I can do it tell my daughter the truth of how much I love her and how much she is capable of. Right?

Now with that said, it's Thursday. Please sit in your chair for dinner.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reading out of your Comfort Zone

by Anna Jones Buttimore

A friend joined a book club because she loved reading, and read several books a week, but all within certain same genres: sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian. Recognising that it was probably time to widen her interests, she hoped that having to read books she wouldn't usually have chosen for the book club might broaden her horizons and introduce her to some new authors. Needless to say, it did.

She later convinced me to join. Through that book club I discovered some of my favourite books, including "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series by Alexander McCall Smith, which I highly recommend but would never have chosen for myself. I am currently reading through Maya Angelou's seven-volume autobiography. Again, not something I would ever have thought I might enjoy.

If you find yourself always in the same section of the library, looking at the spines of books by known and trusted authors, why not try branching out a little? You never know, there could be some real gems just waiting to be discovered.

If you need a little more encouragement, take a look at this 2015 Reading Challenge, or ask friends and family for their recommendations. Or you could even join a book club.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Raining cats and dogs" and other weird stuff we say

English is a bizarre language. No where is this rendered more apparent than in the faces of students who are strangers to it. I had a Swiss foreign exchange student in my English class one year.  He spoke French, German and Italian fluently, and his English grammar was perfect. You would have taken him for a native English speaker too, had he not made the occasional idiomatic blunder:

"I need an umbrella. The dogs and cats are watering," he said one day.

"You mean 'it's raining cats and dogs,'" I offered.

He frowned and put the phrase into his translator. "Either way, it makes no sense. Where does that come from?"

I didn't know. It was a phrase I had used all my life, and I had no idea where it came from. A little research revealed the following gems from our language:

"Raining cats and dogs"

The phrase goes at least as far back as 1651, where it appeared in a collection of poems. As for why we say 'cats and dogs'? One particularly disgusting theory is in these less-than-hygienic times that a hard rain would wash dead animals into the streets. More likely explanations are that the animals in question are corruptions of the Greek cata doxa, meaning "contrary to experience or belief," or the Latin catadupa, meaning cataract or waterfall.

'Saved by the bell'

For most of us, it conjures up images of the popular after school show.  However, the phrase may have a far darker origin. In the days before medical science became more science and less superstition, the possibility of being buried alive was a very real fear for many. One invention purported to prevent that included a string that ran from the deceased's finger all the way up to a bell above ground that could be rang should the dearly departed find themselves very much alive and six feet under. A more likely theory is that it originates in boxing, where a boxer is spared losing by the ringing of the bell at the end of the round.

'Let the cat out of the bag'

Back to those finicky felines:  why do we call it 'letting the cat out of the bag' when we divulge a secret? This phrase might go back to livestock fraud, in which an unwitting buyer purchased a litter of piglets only to discover, once the bag was opened and the transaction complete, that they had been swapped out for a litter of worthless kittens. This seems to defy logic, though: to confuse mewing and oinking and the weight and feel of either animal simply because they're bagged seems a little ridiculous. Another theory refers to the 'cat o'nine tails,' a knotted cord kept on board ships to punish errant sailors. It stretches the bounds of belief, perhaps, but if it had been kept in a bag and used to punish the loose-tonged, perhaps the idiom makes a little more sense.

The origins of most idioms are lost to time, unfortunately, but it's fun to think about how our wacky mother tongue developed over time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Feedback - YAY or YUCK?

One of the biggest tools in any area of career is feedback.  Why is this so important?  Because it gives us the outside outlook that we need to see where we can improve.  Most of us cringe when we hear the word "feedback" or "constructive criticism".  Why is that?  It is probably because where most people have the best of intentions, and good information to give, they lack the ability to communicate that feedback in a way that will help, not hurt them.  

The American Management Association (AMA) has a great article that really breaks this subject down.  It shows how to approach this subject better, and where one can improve.  They give four questions that really focus in on the quality of your feedback.  They ask;

Do you know how to give feedback such that the other person:
1. Wants to hear it?
    - Trying to give feedback to someone that doesn't want it is like talking to a teenager.  They think they know more than you, and whatever you say is to make them look bad or wrong.  The trick is to use your language to your advantage.  

2. Can understand it and act on it?
    - How clear are you?  Is it vague and general or specific and detailed?  Do you give examples?  By giving your input, will they know how they can change that behavior or characteristic?  We need to make sure that our language helps us to move them in the right direction.  Asking them questions on your feedback will help to know if you are achieving your objective.

3. Doesn't get defensive?  
     - The last thing you want to do is get them defensive and/or discouraged.  The whole point is to help them improve, not shut you out or kill their motivation.  

4. Respects your opinion?  
     - Respect is really important in feedback because it can help in making the difference between positive feedback and negative feedback.  They will CARE about what you have to say because they look up to and respect you.  

There is a book I recently read, that talks about the importance of getting feedback as well.  I have read a LOT of books lately, so I have to go back through them and find which one it was in and add it to this post later.  

The last part I wanted to add was the suggestions that they give on the AMA article, at the end.  They put it so well, I am going to quote it;

"Here are a few suggestions to get started: 
1. Refine your feedback skills—take seminars, read books, get coaching. The time invested will pay back handsomely in terms of increased employee morale, motivation, and productivity. 
2. Ask your staff for feedback on how you give feedback. Ask for specific examples. Ask them for suggestions on how you can make it more constructive. 
3. Make sure when you do give feedback that you think it through clearly. Avoid fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approaches. 
4. Make sure you give examples. Describe what you saw and heard, rather than abstract judgments like “unprofessional” or “didn’t act like a team player.” 
5. Don’t exaggerate to make a point. If the person has done something twice, don’t say “You’ve done this at least five or six times.” 
6. When giving the person feedback, stop and ask her for her take on what you’re saying. This not only helps you get feedback on how the conversation is going… it helps make sure it IS a conversation, not a monologue."

Giving and getting healthy feedback really is an art form.  You have to practice it and be willing to continually change and master it.  It's not easy, but I promise that you can see a significant difference as you do!  

Rock this week! ~~

Saturday, January 10, 2015


by Lacey Gunter

So, as I mentioned in one of my November posts last year, I am working on developing better illustration skills to be able to both write and illustrate picture books. After watching several drawing videos, I have heard multiple artists state emphatically how drawing and sketching are learned skills. One of the videos stressed the idea that it is great to be capable of drawing a nice representation of something, but to really master it you must practice drawing the object or thing over and over and over until it is very easy to draw the object in a very short amount of time. He emphasized the connection between practice and time, the greater the practice, the shorter the time it takes to be able to draw a good representation.

I thought about how this might apply to writing.  Does consistently writing every day help you to become faster at writing a story or a manuscript? I'm not really sure whether this is true.

While mulling this over, I happened across an article written by an experienced illustrator about her creative process.   She talked about how at the start of a project, getting those first ideas too come out was such a grueling process and it was like wrestling with the characters. But once she got a certain way into the process, things finally started to flow and eventually flood out.  Yet no matter how many times she had done this, the initial part of the process was slow and difficult.

This idea seemed to better fit the bill for me in describing the writing process. The creative process seems to always be so slow and difficult at the beginning. But once you got far enough into the process, your practiced skills and abilities take over and allow you to speed through the rest of the process.

So, yes, perhaps writing every day will help you to become faster at writing the story, conditional on whether you have convinced your creative genius to come along for the ride yet or not.

But maybe for some of you, even that is too narrow of a conclusion? Are muses as varied as writers? Do some muses show up more frequently after dedicated time and practice, while others are as wild as the wind and will never consent to be tied down?

I have yet to find a connection between dedicated practice and the free flow of creative ideas for me. If I had to describe the way my creative process worked, I would probably say my creative juices start to flow only at the last possible moment after all else has failed. 

On the outside this might look like procrastination.  But to me, all those sessions of hoping and mulling and thinking and trying would suggest otherwise, even if they only resulted in blank pages. Then again, someone might make the argument that all those sessions were simply practicing.... If only I could figure out how to get that eleventh hour to come quicker. (Cringe!)

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Grinchy Christmas


It's January 9!  Where has the year gone!?

Last time I turned round, it was December 24th, and I was at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL (three hours north of us) being evaluated for rheumatoid arthritis.  I was referred up there after some blood work came back high for RA.  My days have been up and down since, and Christmas didn't really happen around here in the usual way.  Expected family didn't come, because I wasn't home in time, and a few gifts were handed out over a week's time.

I didn't prepare a holiday meal, and we didn't have the whole family around for the 25th.  I made a cherry danish for Christmas morning breakfast, something I'd never done, and we watched Miracle on 34th Street, a movie I had never seen from start to finish. We had a meal with my parents in their assisted living facility, and called it a day.

Christmas came anyway. Without a fat turkey, pumpkin pie, or even a Christmas tree. It came without our "grab bag" activity, or trays of sugar cookie cut-outs I usually bake. We didn't even get to church, we were so exhausted from the trip up and back to Mayo.

But, you know what? Christmas came anyway.  Which made think about the first Christmas.  It had no glitz and sparkle either.  A frightened, unwed teenager spilled her blood onto hay and dirt in a cold stable with smelly animals nearby.  Her finance, Joe, was probably just as terrified.  What did he know about birthing a baby?  And then royalty arrived with some valuable oils that brought healing and restoration to aliments and wounds. They were probably exactly what Mary needed for her cold, labor-weary body.

And that was it. The King had arrived. The angels sang as a divine child entered our filthy world. The world would never be the same. But, then...time to pack up and get back on the donkey for an arduous trip.

The greatest, and simplest, story every told.

As unusual as this Christmas was for us, I loved it.  We just didn't have the time or energy for all the regular preparations, and, in the end, it was liberating. I spent more time pondering the Christ child and his humble appearance on Earth than I ever have before.  Without all the hoop-la, Christmas still came.

"It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  

The Grinch had it right. 


Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Thought on Pain

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

My six-month-old baby loves the outdoors. He can be wailing like the world will end, but when the hubby takes him outside, he sucks in a deep breath, stares around him, startled, and calms down.* This is the case even when it’s ridiculously cold, cold enough that I don’t want to go outside at all. It’s too uncomfortable. This made me wonder: Does he not register the same things as painful and uncomfortable as I do?  It seems like the experience of cold is still novel to him, something interesting and unique and beautiful instead of something to be avoided at all costs.

I’m an unmedicated birth advocate,** and so I’ve thought a lot about how we see pain. When I look at the pain of childbirth, I think of it much the same way I hear runners talk about marathons—painful and difficult, but eminently worth it. Runners can come out of the experience feeling amazing, even if they’re pathetically sore, out of breath, exhausted. In a lot of ways it’s the meaning we attach to the experience that determines how we come out of it.

Which brings me to the subject of writing. For most writers seeking publication, there is a lot of rejection, pain, growth, difficulty. A couple months ago I got a rejection letter I’m still reeling from a little; the other rejections haven’t hurt the way this one did—and that has been partially because of the meaning I attached to it.***

But I’m thinking that maybe I—and the rest of us—can try to learn to take it the way my baby does. To him, it just adds to his life experience; the cold is just input, something to learn from and enjoy for its sheer novelty. Granted, rejection isn’t going to be a rare occurrence for most of us, but I think maybe we can learn to appreciate it as part of the process—painful and difficult, but eminently worth it.

* Well, most of the time.
** Yes, I think it’s awesome and a great way to go. No, I’m not going to look down at anyone else for doing something different.
*** But let’s skip the therapy session for today and just say ouch.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Your (Likely Nonexistent) Writing Place of Solitude

by Kasey Tross

I don’t have a place of solitude, but if I did, it’d look like this. :-)  (From the TreeHouse Workshop)

I am in the middle of reading “Write From the Heart” by Hal Zina Bennett, and last night I hit Chapter 3: "A Place of Your Own." Just the title of the chapter started the hitch in my heart, the slight lump forming in my throat. Just those words: "A Place of Your Own.” Something about those words struck a chord in me and I immediately thought, Well, that’s never going to happen. I’ll just skim through this chapter rolling my eyes the whole time at this senior-aged man who probably has loads and loads of solitude and peace and quiet. NOT OVER HERE, MISTER! (At the time I was trying to read this chapter, incidentally, I had had to move twice to try to avoid my jabber-mouthed 5-year-old who starts EVERY sentence out of her mouth with the words “Mom...Mom..."It’s like I’m the sun and she’s an orbiting planet. She just. doesn’t. leave.)

But I decided to just plow ahead, figuring I could take mental notes for someday when I didn’t have 3-foot-tall people talking my ears off and using me as a jungle gym every five minutes. Then, something he wrote resonated with me:

“[Solitude provides] a certain sense of safety, not safety from physical danger, such as being struck by lightning or being abducted by space aliens, so much as a guarantee against insensitive interruptions. The creative process requires that we leave the external world and go into the inner one. And while in that inner one, we don’t want to be reminded of the external one. A telephone ringing, a spouse rushing into the room in search of the car keys, a child shrieking in your ear, demanding your attention- all these  jerk you out of that inner world that is the life force of the writer. These are not just simple interruptions; to the person thoroughly immersed in the work of writing, they are assaults. Solitude nurtures us, respects the process that we need to follow if we’re to fulfill our dream.”


Okay, just had to get that out of my system. Mr. Bennett further won my appreciation and admiration with the following:

“I used to believe that this nurturing place of safety we call solitude was an easy and natural thing, that everyone knew what it was and experienced it in their lives at least once in a while.” He then went on to share an experience he had doing a guided visualization on finding solitude with a group of people at a writing workshop, and how people- especially many women- began sobbing, because they had discovered that their lives were so lacking in solitude. And then he said this: “The men in the class reported fewer problems with solitude. Most of them had not only experienced it many times, they almost took it for granted, demanding and getting it from the world.” He went on to say, “The people who dream of writing but can’t, who complain of ‘writer’s block,’ or of simply being unable to begin, are the same ones who have no place of solitude in their lives.” 

Ladies, this is the problem. After I read this, I realized why that lump in my throat had been there when I’d read the chapter title, “A Place of Your Own.” Because it’s something I crave, something I need for my writing, and to see another writer lay it out so plainly like that, and to have him acknowledge that solitude can be a hard-won prize for us women- well, it just made me feel validated somehow. I kind of wanted to start singing, “I can’t get noooo so-li-tuuuuude!” (Like “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”? Get it?)

So anyway, now I feel validated, and now I know that hey, guess what? I can ask for solitude. I can make a conscious choice to go away for a little while, because it is what I need to have in order to create. And I can tell my husband and my kids that it’s what I need. I can take ownership of that need for solitude and I can ask for it and that’s okay.

Author’s Note:

While writing this I had a toddler covered in chocolate ice cream from head to tummy tell me that she needed a bath, a daughter asking for help with her church homework, the five-year-old asking me at least 17 questions (right now it’s “What does this SPEECH BUBBLE say??” while shoving a book in my face. Just a second ago she was poking at the keys on my computer) and then the toddler coming back saying, “I TOOK A BATH MOM!” Now the 5-year-old is back asking me, “Mom...Mom...what do you do with THIIIIS?” and shoving an activity book in my face, and my older daughter saying, “Mom, do we really have to go to bed right now? Dad says we have to go to bed right now and it’s only 6:30. Do we really have to?” And the toddler just came and tossed “A Writer’s Heart” off the chair where I’m sitting and squeezed herself in next to me saying, “Hi, Mom. How you been?” *sigh* You’d think I just ignored them all the time, but I really don’t. I promise I don’t. 


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