Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 12

I know ... I'm getting this one in just under the wire! It's the middle of the night, and we're in the midst of packing for a trip we will hopefully be taking tomorrow, provided the road we need to drive on to "... be home for Christmas" stays open amidst a gazillion inches of snow and freezing rain!

I couldn't think of a better book to end the Twelve Books of Christmas with than this one ... "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus". I had never even heard of it until about three weeks ago, when my mother-in-law asked if I'd ever read it. On one of her trips here, she brought me her copy ... purchased in 1972. A beautiful, well-preserved book ... with a timeless message.

Today ... this very book arrived in the mail for me. A gift from my mother-in-law. I don't plan to read it to my kids just yet ... maybe not even next year. But, I think this is the one I'll pull out when they finally look me in the eyes and asked me the question, "Mom ... is Santa real?"

"Yes, Virginia..." centers around a little girl (Virginia ... obviously), who asks that question. The older printing of the book provides a bit more back story than the new printing, explaining that Virginia's dad, upon hearing the question, tells his daughter to ask The New York Sun ... because what they say is always true.

So ... she writes to the editor of the New York Sun.

The treasured, timeless response by Mr. Francis Pharcellus Church, in the year 1897, was eventually turned into book form. And, thank goodness for that ... it is a classic and is as wonderfully relevant today as I'm sure it was back then.

Enjoy ... and blessings to you this Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Books 10 and 11

My family and I love everything about Christmas ... the joyous spirit, the generosity, the kindness that seems to be more abundant this time of year ... and, yes, Santa too! But, we also celebrate Jesus' birth as the reason for everything Christmas!

So, with that in mind, I'm doing a double-book-post today ... about two legends ... that of the Christmas Tree and the Candy Cane.

Have you heard the one about the Candy Cane? Not the joke ... the legend? It's so cool. A stranger comes into town, and sets up a candy shop (you can just hear the children's cheers!), where he introduces a mysterious, oddly-shaped red and white striped confection. The townspeople soon learn that the candy cane is a special Christmas candy because 1) it is shaped like the letter 'J' ... which stands for Jesus, born on Christmas day; 2) if you flip it the opposite direction, it looks like a shepherd's staff ... for the shepherds in the field, watching over their flocks by night; 3) it has red stripes ... representing the blood Jesus shed when he died on the cross; and 4) it has white stripes ... to represent pureness and sins washed away by the blood of Jesus.

In "The Legend of the Christmas Tree", a family in search of the perfect Christmas tree makes their way through thick fog to a tree farm, which seems to appear out of nowhere, and is operated by a kind, grandfatherly man who seems to have been expecting them.

They notice three large, beautiful ... and perfectly identical Christmas trees ... one of which has a lovely, silver box sitting beneath it.

The man explains to the family that the trees and the secret in the silvery box tell the legend of the Christmas tree. And so, we learn that 1) one tree has three corners, representing God in three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; 2) trees were first decorated with apples and twists of bread to tell the story of the tree in the Garden of Eden; 3) Martin Luther then put candles on his tree to represent the story of Jesus' (the light of the world) birth; and 4) people in Europe then added beautiful ornaments to their trees, as a way to celebrate Jesus' birth.

After hearing the legend, the family is given the perfect Christmas tree ... and the beautiful silver box, with instructions not to open it until they have finished decorating their tree. Any guesses on what was in the box?

A star ... the Christmas star ... with a note that reads, "Just as the wise men found Jesus under the star of Bethlehem, may all who see the tree that is under this star hear and understand the true meaning of Christmas."

Blessings to you and your family this Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house) - Books 8 & 9

Little did I know, until we received the first in the series as a gift a couple years ago, that Hallmark published their own Christmas picture books. The first book - "The Snow Must Go On! A Way, Way Off-Broadway Adventure" - shifts the focus away from the North Pole ... to the South Pole.

The penguins and snowpeople of Antarctic Springs are out to prove they can do Christmas just as well as that well-known wonderland up north! So, they decide to put on a holiday show to convince everyone that they, too, are joyful and jolly.

After much rehearsing, they are ready for their debut. But, it dawns on them that all the town's members are IN the play ... which means no one left to watch. No worries ... Santa and his reindeer arrive just in time to watch the show, and - to quote Santa - they prove that "... North, South, East, or West, it's the joy inside our hearts that counts at Christmas!" Amen! Oh, and parents ... make sure that - when it comes time to sing the part of the rock-and-roll penguin - you're ready to do your best Elvis impression! It's a guaranteed giggle every time!

In the second book in the series, "Snow Happy to be Here! The Slightly Silly Story of the Snowblatt Family", the story starts with little Snow-Ellen (Snowblatt Family daughter) asking the question, "Where do we come from, and why were we made, and how did we get here from there?"

Mama and Papa Snowblatt agree that the question is good and thus begins the tale of how snowmen come to be ... from snowflakes falling from the sky to the funny stuff we humans dress them in! An adorable tale with amusing pictures, that ends with a secret revealed ... it's the creator's smile that brings snowmen to life!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 7

Oh my, do we ever need our mittens these days! Ever since reading "The Snowy Day" ... the snow ... and ice ... haven't stopped!

This adorable book, targeted at the preschool age group, is a delight to read, and the pictures are so wonderfully charming.

On each page, children (and adults too ... go ahead ... feel the mittens) can feel the little boy's velvety red mittens, as he experiences the joys of winter ... catching snowflakes, throwing snowballs, licking icicles, and making a snowman.

And on the last oh-so-cozy page ... a picture of the little boy (with requisite steaming hot chocolate in hand), his red mittens, and his snoozing kitty warming by the fire.

A short, sweet, perfectly cheerful book! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Perfect Moment

This past Monday, the quote on my daily desk calendar read, "To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold." (Author Unknown).

I love it when a quote makes you stop and think, has special meaning to you on the day you are hearing/reading it, or reminds you of a special moment. For me, the quote did the latter ... it took me back to the day before. My family was acting as Greeters at church. There weren't too many people to greet, as we were in the midst of a snowstorm and many people weren't able to make it in that morning.

My kids, bursting with joy at the fact that snowflakes were falling from the sky, could barely contain themselves, and were splitting their time between greeting duties and standing outside in the snow.

My three-year old daughter came in and excitedly exclaimed that they had caught some snowflakes on their tongue " going like this!!", at which point she leaned her head back, opened her mouth, and stuck out her tongue! Our interim pastor, Pastor Wally, just as excited at the prospect, joined my kids outside. What a sight it was to see tall Pastor Wally, standing next to my 6-year old son and three-year old daughter, as they all leaned back and tried to catch snowflakes on their tongue.

At that moment, I was thinking two things ... 1) Pastor Wally is such a great sport and really good at being 'in the moment' with kids; and 2) They are experiencing true bliss!

Yes, it was necessary to stand out in the frigid air to catch the snowflakes, but - as this quote alludes - it was totally worth it. And, quite frankly, I don't think any of them were feeling the cold at all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 6

Over the past two nights, each of my kids have requested this enchanting book. "God Gave Us Christmas" is part of the popular "God Gave Us..." series by Lisa Tawn Bergren. With a lovely message and beautiful illustrations by David Hohn, I consider it a perfect read for the holiday season. I would say it is aimed at the preschool age, but my 6-year old son enjoyed it as well.

The main character, Little Cub, has a lot of questions about Christmas including, "Who 'vented Christmas?". When her mother responds that God invented Christmas, Little Cub wants to know if God is more important than Santa. Her mother responds in the affirmative, but Little Cub is still a bit intrigued by Santa, and wants to find him. Her mother explains that Santa is quite hard to find ... but, God can be found in many places. Thus begins a polar expedition where Little Cub learns that God can be seen in everything from the Northern Lights to the melting glaciers to the flowers peeking from the ground.

Santa Claus is given props for reminding us about wonderful things like generosity and care, but the main message focuses on God - and Jesus - being the reason for Christmas.

A gentle, sweet, and warmly illustrated story about the true meaning of Christmas ... what could be better to share with your little ones?!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It Worked!

We read "The Snowy Day" last night and, apparently, its magical powers are still in tact ... this is today's view of our backyard! Sledding in progress ....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 5

This book is special in our house ... because it's slightly magical. But, more on that in a moment.

I know this is not exactly a "Christmas" book, but it sort of is ... winter, delicate snowflakes falling from the sky, enough snow to sled and build a snowman ... what could be more Christmasy than that (think "Frosty the Snowman" ... "Dashing Through the Snow" ... "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow"!)?

"The Snowy Day", by Anna Milbourne and Elena Temporin, is adorably illustrated and explains - in a simple and fun way - what makes it snow! And, oh, all the things you can do in the snow ... sledding and snowball-throwing and snowman-making. And, did you know that animals hide away in warm tree hollows and thick fir tree branches when it's cold and snowy? Oh, the things children will learn, all the while enjoying a sweet story and charming pictures.

OK, back to the magical part ... last year, my son (then 5) handed us this book to read and, after we'd finished, informed us that reading the book would make it snow that night. And ... it did! We were delighted to open the curtains that next morning to find our neighborhood blanketed in white snow. After that happened, the book automatically earned some magical credits! We've read it once or twice this year, with no luck. BUT, we're going to make sure to read it again this weekend ... according to the local meteorologist, we may just see some magic happening again this year!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 4

Who doesn't love Mouse, cautiously protecting his beloved red, ripe strawberry from the big, hungry, mysterious Bear in "The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear", by Don and Audrey Wood? The sweet, simple story and vibrant illustrations easily capture the attention of a wide age range.
And, how lucky are we that there is a Christmas version featuring our favorite characters ... with a twist!

In "Merry Christmas, BIG HUNGRY BEAR!", little Mouse sets out to protect his Christmas presents from Bear, just like he did with his red, ripe, juicy strawberry. But he then learns that, while Bear would love a present, he never gets one ... not even from Santa [gasp]! In fact, Bear spends Christmas alone, with big tears falling from his big, hungry eyes.

Well ... that does it ... this make Mouse quite distraught, and we see our timid Mouse transform into a brave and generous friend, as he trudges through cold and snow to bring presents to lonely Bear on Christmas Eve. He makes it to the cold, dark cave and begins his work ... adding bling to a tree and placing presents underneath. But, in the midst of his work ... he hears a noise that sends him scurrying for cover. Is Bear coming to get him? Quite the contrary ... Bear has left Mouse a present (a LARGE one), and - though we never see Bear - we know a friendship has blossomed.

A sweet story with stunningly beautiful illustrations that make you feel warm and cozy inside! A perfect read for a winter's night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 3

My family loves the "If You Take/Give ..." series by Laura Numeroff (illustrated by Felicia Bond). No matter the animal ... mouse, moose, pig, or cat ... you find that if you give them an inch ... well, you know!

The Mouse is back as the energetic main character in "If You Take a Mouse to the Movies", with his owner - a little boy - dutifully attempting to keep up and provide all things necessary to keep Mouse content!

Giving Mouse popcorn at the movies leads to a whole string of silly, holiday- and winter-related antics, where we also learn that Mouse can create ornaments and decorate a Christmas tree like nobody's business. Of course, the story ends after coming around full circle ... with the boy and mouse heading back to the movie theatre.

This and the rest of the books in the series are simply delightful ... guaranteed to be a fun read for both children and adults! And, this one in particular - with its snowy and Christmas-y scenes - is a perfect pick for the holiday season!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 2

Santa Claus … love him and the joyful spirit of giving he brings to Christmas. I believed in him for a long time. I don’t remember the turning point when I went from a staunch believer to one who believed in the magical feeling he brought to Christmas, but knew it was my parents leaving the goodies. I do remember, over the course of several years, having questions … logistical questions that made me doubt the whole flying reindeer, down the chimney story. But, I never expressed my doubt out loud or asked questions of my parents, nor did I transfer any of my uncertainties to my three younger sisters.

Fast forward to me as a parent … still loving the magical feeling that Santa brings to Christmas, loving watching my children excitedly pour over toy catalogs as they carefully choose what they will request from Santa, and feeling just a tad bit of guilt as they ask a million and one questions about the Man in Red! After all … I’m kind of lying … which, as we’ve ingrained in our children’s heads … is generally enough to put you on Santa’s ‘naughty’ list! Did my parents feel this way? They never said anything to me. My transition was just … natural. It just happened.

So … I’m trying, gently, to weave in the true story of St. Nicholas. When I was in college, I did a semester of study abroad in Austria. I was so fortunate to be there during the holidays and experience the celebration of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. On this day, children awaken to find their shoes filled with chocolate gold coins, oranges, and other special gifts. This day is a celebration in honor of St. Nicholas, a real person who lived in the fourth century and was the very model of love and generosity. While he and his generosity are believed to be factual, they sparked the larger-than-life legends and tales of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

“Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend”, by Julie Stiegemeyer, is one children’s book that attempts, through a fictionalized story, to paint a picture of the true St. Nicholas. It’s a tad overtly didactic (I tend to prefer covertly didactic :-)), but that’s okay, it gets the message across. And, it has a great ‘Dear Grown-Up’ section at the end that nicely details the life of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

So … for now, we’ll read this book, talk about the real St. Nick … and hope that Santa and Saint Nicholas (a.k.a. the truth behind Santa) someday in the future meld nicely into one another without drama!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 1

OK, we actually read this one year-round . . . it's just too good to pack away for 11 months of the year. If you read my July post regarding Karma Wilson and her 'Bear...' books, you'll know our family is a BIG fan. And, this is the very book that started the 'Bear...' craze in our household.

In "Bear Stays Up for Christmas", Bear's friends make a valiant effort to keep him awake for Christmas. Their efforts are successful ... but all that hard work keeping Bear awake makes Mouse, Hare, Badger, and the rest of the friends VERY tired. That's OK ... Bear's got them covered, and he works through the night to ensure a special Christmas for all of them.

The rhyming text is perfection, and the illustrations are so warm and cozy, it makes you want to snuggle up with Bear and his friends in his lair. It's targeted to 4-8 year olds, but the pictures, lively characters, and catchy rhymes make it perfect for younger children as well ... my 3-year old girl and 6-year old boy both love it to pieces.

If you're looking for a warm and fun holiday picture book classic for your family, "Bear Stays Up for Christmas" is guaranteed to please ... even when it's not the holidays!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since I won't have access to my computer over the holiday, I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, by sharing an Autumn-ish/Thanksgiving-ish picture, created by my 6-year old son, Braden, that is bright, cheery, and makes me smile.

The idea for the picture came from a single acorn ... he found one, and decided he wanted to collect enough acorns to give one to each of his classmates. Our only problem ... we are surrounded by maples, not oaks!

But, in a stroke of luck, we were visiting his grandparents up in Washington a couple weeks ago, who just happen to have an oak tree on their property. So ... the collecting of acorns began ... and a few oak leaves came along for the ride as well.

When we returned home, Braden created this picture using the oak leaf he'd collected. I then took a picture of his creation and - thank you technology - created a card for each of his classmates. He then stuck a real, live acorn onto the front of each card, as if it was hanging on his colorful, little oak tree. So cute.

It makes me thankful for my budding Picasso and his 3-year old sister ... quite the artist in her own right (she has skipped the whole 'stick people' phase, and gone straight into drawing people that look like ... ahem ... a certain boy part! It makes us giggle ... and she is so proud of her work!).

I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with all things bright, colorful, and happy as well!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The BEST Brownies Ever ...

are No Pudge Fudge Brownies! Have you ever tried them? We've been fans for a long time. We made them this week when we had a friend over for dinner (brownies + a healthy-but-yummy vanilla ice cream + chocolate/caramel drizzles = YUMMY and easy dessert!). I like delicious foods, but I also like my foods to be healthy. 'No Pudge' is an angelic marrying of the two! You simply combine the mix (made up of ingredients that you can pronounce!) with vanilla yogurt and "Voila!" ... moist, fudgy brownies. Perfection! No need to make them from scratch when you've got these available. Who am I kidding ... I've never made brownies from scratch. I simply didn't eat them until I discovered this product. We've only tried the 'Original' flavor ... but I believe it also comes in tasty combos, like Mint, Raspberry, and Cappuccino. So ... next time you're craving brownies, but don't want to waste that craving on something that will simply clog your arteries ... head on over to the store and pick up a box of No Pudge Fudge Brownies. I promise you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Location, Location, Location

As far back as I can remember, my best thinking/remembering/clarity-inducing/idea conceiving-moments have come when I am 1) in the shower; 2) drying my hair; and/or 3) driving my car. They all have one thing in common ... none are the most conducive to writing down those brilliant thoughts, ideas, and things to remember!

Why am I bringing this up?

Because today was one of those days when I remembered several things I still needed to do, thought of the perfect way to structure a sentence, and got a great gift idea ... each while doing one of the above. Of course, the moment I sit down at my desk in my office (which also multi-functions as a guestroom, place for all things related to management of the home, place-to-put-anything-without-a-designated-home, and general storage area), those great ideas seem to float into oblivion. Maybe it's the warmth of the shower and blow dryer or the combination of motion and music in the car that's driving the creativity ... or maybe, it's just time when I can't do anything else, so my thoughts start flowing naturally. Yes ... maybe that's it.

So ... do you have a place, or time of day, or activity that seems to spark those creative juices, brilliant thoughts, and moments of clarity?

If so ... I hope you have some time to go to that place today!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rejection = Working Writer? Maybe ... but it's a hard sell!

Two years ago, I attended an Oregon SCBWI conference and heard one of the presenters (a published author) say she loved getting rejections because it proved she was still working. At the time, I was new to the industry and thought it a bit counterintuitive. If I remember correctly, "Huh..." was my in-my-head-not-uttered-out-loud reaction.

So ... two years later, I've received a number of those infamous rejection letters, and I have to say, I do not find them the slightest bit endearing, pleasing, or motivating. In fact, I've found they have a way of sending my stomach into fits and ruining my entire day ... which then makes me a bit wistful for my prior corporate life of regular paychecks, fabulous health coverage, and a pension plan.

Can you tell I received a rejection yesterday?

I tend to look at many things through rose-colored glasses ... and I've tried, with rejections, to grant them the same response of the author noted above. To no avail. Granted, rejections do accomplish a number of things ... they are humbling; they make you appreciate little successes all the more; and they are a fabulous test of perseverance. But, in no way, shape, or form are they proving to me that I'm still working. A contract, however, would accomplish that for me.

The rejection I received yesterday was a bit more devastating than those that have come before it. Last year, I made it to the 'final round', I'll call it, with a publisher ... I was one of the last manuscripts standing after 7 long months of elimination rounds (my term, not theirs!). Two weeks before Christmas, as I was wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin' ... plannin' and dreamin' (sorry, those Ani Defranco lyrics just popped into my head!), I received an e-mail that they had agonized over the decision and decided not to go with my book. Ughhh ... not what I'd wished for from Santa.

I LOVE this publisher ... I adore their books, and I admire the way they communicate quickly and continually with their potential authors ... via e-mail! And, I so wanted to work with them. Early this year, a new book idea - that fit this particular publisher's genre - made its way to my head. And, I've been working on it ever since ... writing it with this publisher in mind. So, after writing and editing and polishing and editing and cutting and polishing ... and then fighting the paranoia that seems to accompany me sending anything to any publisher even after I've researched it to death, I've been rejected.

So, today ... I'm trying to look at my rejection as proof that I'm still out there working ... writing, researching, editing, perfecting, learning. I have to admit, though, my glasses on this one are still a bit grimy.

A Veterans' Day Tribute

... by one of my all-time favorite artists - Steven Curtis Chapman. So very talented ... he wrote and recorded this song in just two weeks, in time for a release today, Veterans' Day, via this link:

I believe the link is only good through November 15th. SCC wrote the song after meeting Corpsman Thomas McBride, the subject of the song, after he was critically wounded while fighting for our country in Afghanistan.

Thanks to all Veterans ... including my Grandpa Don, and my brother-in-law, George, who is currently on his second tour in Iraq ... so far away from my sister and their son. Be safe.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Perfect Christmas Album ... Again!

Yes, I know that Halloween just passed us by, and we haven't yet celebrated Thanksgiving; and I know that I generally make recommendations on books, not CDs. But - technically - songs are just a compilation of writings put to music; and, now that it's November, I feel I can kinda sorta get away with writing about a Christmas CD!

Last week, my hubby and I attended the Amy Grant "Lead Me On" 20th Anniversary tour. It was AWESOME ... as always ... Amy Grant is one of my all-time favorite artists. Her songs are made up of words and melodies that I consider absolute perfection. After the concert, I couldn't help but purchase Amy's new Christmas CD, "The Christmas Collection", made up of a bunch of her favorite songs from previous Christmas albums, plus four new recordings.

One of the new recordings, which she co-wrote - "I Need a Silent Night" - is right up there with "Breath of Heaven" and "A Christmas to Remember" for me ... the words and the music are amazing and so very relatable, and I can listen to it repeatedly (literally!!!).

As for the kids, Amy's "Jingle Bells" is the one they ask for repeatedly (yes, we've been playing just this Christmas music in the car over the past few days ... after all, it's a new CD ... we can't just let it sit there, waiting for the 'official' day to begin playing Christmas music!) ... and I have to agree, it is an awesome arrangement that goes so fast you can barely take a breath if you're singing along! It puts a big smile on the kids' faces, and makes for a very fun ride to school in the morning!

So, if the clouds and rain and cold weather are getting you in the mood for the holidays, and you're looking for a new Christmas CD to enjoy, this one comes with my high recommendation!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Autumn Colors

I know I'm biased, but you just can't beat this time of year in Oregon, especially when you're blessed with gorgeous weather. It seems to make the fall colors all the more vivid. It's also much more enjoyable to be out and about enjoying the colors and activities under sun-drenched blue skies, rather than in drizzles and downpours! A few of my favorite fall shots thus far ...

Back yard fall plantings ...

A special birthday ...

Picturesque Sauvie Island Pumpkin Patch ...

Finding the perfect pumpkin ....

But not necessarily the most perfectly orange one ....

Finally getting to take that long-awaited jump into the pile of leaves ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Arachnophobia at its very best ... or worst!

In honor of Halloween, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on my extreme case of arachnophobia. It has been with me since I was a young child when, in the middle of the night, I woke up to find a spider crawling up the wall beside me AND another crawling up the wall behind me. I haven't been the same since. It's in my DNA as well ... from my mother's side ... and she quite-successfully passed it along to me and my three sisters. My dear sister, Heidi, is fabled to have sprayed a bleach-based cleaner on a spider ... which just so happened to be located on my parents brand-new blue carpet ... which, after that, was blue with some white squiggles in one little section.

Anyway ... now that it's Halloween, all the big blow-up spiders have been going up on houses around town. One business, in particular, has upwards of twenty attached to its building right now. Every time we drive by, my 3-year old daughter says, "Mommy, you not like those spiders!" Amen to that, sister ... even the blow-up ones are creepy!

I've been thinking, though ... is it me, or does the gigantic spider population seem to grow exponentially each year? I know that we in the Northwest don’t have anything compared to the likes of jungles … and, from the pictures I’ve seen … Australia (I had a friend who was an exchange student who lived with a family who kept a hand-sized spider in their home as a pet … it apparently also served the purpose of eating other bugs … but I digress). But still … as a person who is truly haunted by the very thought of spiders … the years of dealing with them are starting to take their toll.

Growing up in Washington, I remember daddy long legs and what we referred to as ‘garden spiders’ … the kind that look like they hail from some faraway, exotic land (even with all the interesting markings, I STILL think they’re hideous). About 9 years ago, I moved to Oregon … expecting the spider situation to be similar. It is not. They grow them bigger here. I don’t care to know the names … I just know their bodies are far too plump and their legs are far too long. Generally-speaking, they’re just far too hideous. And, while they start showing up in August, their grand debut seems to be in September and October.

When I first moved to Oregon and was met with our first late summer/early fall crop of hideously-large spiders, we lived in an apartment building. I would literally feel trapped as I attempted to leave for work in the morning. They were so big, I could hardly bring myself to walk past them for fear they would either fall on me, follow me, or see that I was leaving and figure out a way to get into our apartment. I would literally begin shaking and sweating. I was a wreck by the time I made it to the office.

Then we purchased our first home … a ‘new build’. I quickly learned that a newly-built home equaled many spiders. It started with smaller ones … still creepy. But, they would burrow their way into MY space. Let me give you an example (just one of many) … I went on a 3-day business trip. When I returned, I went to turn down my side of the bed and found that – in the 3 days I’d been gone – a spider had created a nest under the fold of my sheet and was living there … right next to my unsuspecting hubby, who’d been sleeping with it all along. It came to a point where I couldn’t just walk through my house … I was constantly inspecting as I moved … my eyes surveying up, down, and to the sides.

My dear friends, Suzy and Paul, tried to help me one year by giving me a 'pink flip-flop on a stick' ... I think it came about after a discussion about me not wanting to step on a spider to get rid of it. I needed to be much farther away from the creature and I didn't want its remnants on my shoe. So, one day, the 'flip-flop on a stick' arrived in the mail. That manifested into its own ridiculously-silly story when, one day, I was walking into the house holding a mocha, dry cleaning, my purse, and a bag, and discovered a gargantuan daddy long legs on the garage wall by the door (which I needed to enter). I switched everything to one hand (no place to put it down and couldn’t walk past the spider into the house) and prayed my mocha wouldn’t ‘spout’ out of that little drinking hole all over the dry cleaning. I grabbed my ‘pink flip-flop on a stick’ and half-squished the spider so it was hanging off the flip-flop. I swiftly walked it out to the curb, where a puddle of water had accumulated in the road. I dropped it in the water . . . shivers going up and down my body. It was then that a car drove by, driver and passengers watching intently, and I realized I was standing on the sidewalk with dry cleaning, a purse, bag, and mocha precariously balanced in one hand, while holding a pink flip-flop-on-a-stick in the other.

After my son was born and while I was holding him, one of the hideously-large ones referred to above quickly crawled through our open front door and headed for the living room couch. I screamed, likely scarring my child into the same fate of his mother. It was at that point that we decided to start spraying the outside of the house, in an effort to curb those getting into the house. I’m sorry … I know spiders are beneficial for the garden, yadda, yadda, yadda. But … unfortunately, that whole concept is lost on me. I don’t want them in my garden, and I really don’t want them in my house. So, over the past 5 or so years, things have been much better ... until recently.

I feel, at times, that I'm being hunted down by them ... as if they know about my irrational fear and want to test me. Just the other day, we were having our far-too-close-to-white carpets cleaned. As I was chatting with Mr. Stanley Steemer (about them being 40 minutes early, and, sorry, they wouldn't be able to start yet because I needed to go pick up Braden at school, which is why I originally scheduled it for the 3-6 PM timeframe and even told the guy on the phone who called just an hour earlier that 3PM would still be the only workable time...), I felt something on my foot and looked down to see the biggest, nastiest, black spider. Mr. Stanley Steemer guy even kept repeating, 'oh my goodness, that is a REALLY big spider!" Anyway ... I ran ... and told him he needed to get it (I think I said 'please'?!)! I did my part … by handing him a paper towel. However, with horror, I realized it was looking as if he was going to preserve the darn thing by picking it up with the towel and putting it outside. I INSISTED on it being squished. He was a bit leery, because of its size ... but I finally won the discussion … or maybe he finally just succumbed to the ‘customer is always right’ theory. I have no idea where it came from ... I don't know if it happened to be walking across the door when I opened it or what ... which brings me to my next question ... is the spider spray we put on the house doing ANYTHING?! Ughhh. My hubby, Jeff, laughed and said, "See ... that all happened, and you're still alive ... even after a big spider walked on your foot." I wasn't amused.

So, in the mean time, I keep watching for them ... with cleaning products and the vacuum cleaner being my extermination-combo of choice. We really don't have that many that actually get into the house ... it's just that one is too many for me!

While our son talks about liking spiders, our 3-year old daughter is the one to actually squish them. The other day, there was a small one by the front door … she excitedly told Jeff SHE was going to get it, ran to the bathroom to grab a tissue, and proceeded to do just that. We all jumped up and down with glee in celebration of her bravery. Thank goodness that strand of Jeff’s DNA transferred to her!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Golden Rule ... Kid-Style!

"Treat others the way you want to be treated."
"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."
The Golden Rule ... perfect for any and all occasions. And, so important to teach children. And, how do you do that in a fun way? Read to your children (or have them read to you!) one of my latest favorites ... Do Unto Otters - A Book About Manners, by Laurie Keller. I have to admit, this is the first book I've read by this particular author ... but I'm looking forward to reading others. This book is goofy, hilarious, filled with perfect puns (that the adults will enjoy even more than the kids!), and purposeful ... all wrapped up in one little book that's a kick to read.

The premise of the book? Mr. Rabbit comes home one day to find that new neighbors have moved in next door ... otters! He doesn't know anything about otters ... what if he doesn't get along with them? And, so he learns - from a little bird-like creature dressed in plaid pants and a bow tie - about the golden rule ... "Do unto otters as you would have otters do unto you." Mr. Rabbit's imagination takes over from there, as he envisions all the ways in which he would want to be treated by otters. It's brilliant.

I believe it's targeted at the age 4-8 set ... with which I would agree. My 3-year old liked the pictures, but much of the humor was lost on her. My 6-year old son got a kick out of it ... and, I suspect, within the next year he will 'get' even more of the subtle humor that is woven through the story line.

Do unto others ... or otters ... a perfect rule to live by, a perfect book to enjoy with children!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Perfect Fall Day ...

for boating? Not your typical autumn activity ... but, the mid-seventies isn't your typical fall temperature ... and it's not a typical boat, but the radio-controlled (R/C) variety. The boys in my family love their R/C toys ... Jeff with his heli; and Braden with his boat. Since it was such a beautiful day, I decided to take my camera along to take a few shots of Braden and his boat in action. Little did I know, I'd also have the joy of photographing a baptism of sorts ... Keiya decided her doll needed a nice, cool dunk in the river.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Skippyjon Jones!

A couple years ago, Braden's Godparents gave him and Keiya one of the funnest children's books ever written ... "Skippyjon Jones". Remember the "test" I spoke of in an earlier post? It passes with flying colors! It's a kick to read aloud ... especially when read at a quick pace with the best Spanish accent you can muster. Skippyjon Jones - a Siamese cat - has a vivid imagination ... which often gets him into a bit of trouble with his mother - Mama Junebug Jones. And, her nicknames for Skippyjon (Mr. Kitten Britches, Mr. Fuzzy Pants, Mr. Cocopugs) never fail to leave children in fits of laughter. Author Judy Schachner has created a loveable, laughable, entertaining little character in SkippyJon ... guaranteed to please readers of ALL ages!

I was reminded of this book and author yesterday, at the birthday party of our friend Ethan, who is now a big 3-year old! As he tore off the wrapping paper to unveil not one, but TWO Skippyjon Jones books, I think our family was more elated than anyone! My 2-1/2 year old daughter exclaimed, "We have that one!!", and my hubby and I excitedly began chatting with the gift's giver, who I was pleased to learn was also a big Skippyjon fan! Isn't it amazing how children's picture books can not only entertain and enlighten, but also create such wonderful connections!

If you'd like to visit the Skippyjon Jones website and join the Skippyjon craze, the address is listed in the links along the left column.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Summer Torture Plan Enters ... Dare We Say ... "Fun" Territory!

Yes, it is true ... as of late, Braden's been enjoying his summer journaling. OK, OK, I admit ... I do have to, sort of, 'drag' him to the point of actually sitting in front of a table with journal and colored pencils at the ready. BUT, once he's there, our recent experiences have actually been quite enjoyable. He gets excited as we go through the process of drawing what we will be writing about; he tries to spell some of the words on his own before asking for help; and, he's not rubbing his poor eyes to bits with the palms of his hands. All very good signs, in my book!

Recently, we completed a journal page, which I then turned into a 'thank you' card for his grandparents ... THIS, he liked. So ... we're rolling with that ... this week, he drew a picture of himself playing soccer at his school's soccer camp. We'll be turning that into a thank-you card for his soccer camp coach! And, in the midst of many less-than-shining parental moments, I savored just a taste of parenting success when Braden told me, "I'm writing a lot of words on this one [the soccer journal page], because then my writing will get better!" After a brief fainting spell (or maybe it was just my heart leaping with joy), I delightedly agreed, "Yes, Braden, that is absolutely right!"

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Since I'm Not Yet Published ...

... and you can't yet get my stories in lovely, polished book form complete with beautiful illustrations (*sigh* ... someday!!), I'd like to share with you one of my favorite children's picture book authors ... who does have books, available for purchase, complete with phenomenal illustrations (by talented illustrator Jane Chapman)! Actually, her books are a favorite of my children as well ... especially her books about Bear and his friends! Her 'Bear' books ("Bear Snores On"; "Bears Stays Up for Christmas"; etc.) pass my picture book test ... that is to say ... my children want to read them over and over and over again, and I'm WILLING to read them over and over and over again. In fact, I sometimes find myself SUGGESTING we read them over and over and over again.
The talented author is Karma Wilson. Her website - - is fantastic, and includes a great blog ("Good Karma" ... love that title!). And, she seems like a genuinely wonderful person. In a recent blog, she writes about her family's sponsoring of children in Third World countries through Compassion International. We sponsor a cutie-patootie through Compassion as well ... his name is Amilcar, and he lives in El Salvador. What a wonderful experience it has been for all of us ... including Braden, who prays for his safety every night without fail ... and what an amazing organization!

Anyway ... check out Karma's books if you're in the market for a picture book ... you and your children/grandchildren/nieces/nephews will find yourself thoroughly entertained!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Summer Torture Plan

Colored pencils, paper to draw and jot a few journal notes, a warm and breezy outdoor setting surrounded by flowers and frequently visited by butterflies and hummingbirds (we won't mention the dive-bombing, mating maple flies because that would completely ruin the pleasant image I'm trying to create ...) ... THIS is the setting of my Summer Torture Plan.

It wasn't intended to be torturous ... it was clever! creative! fun! And, the intent was to ensure that Braden didn't conveniently forget everything he'd learned in Kindergarten ... thereby making his entry into First Grade all that much easier. Sounds perfectly reasonable, right?

As part of Braden's Kindergarten graduation gift, his lovely Aunt Heidi and family gave Braden a drawing tablet/journal and colored pencils (for Braden's sake, the gift also included an R/C car!). I had an 'aha' moment when I saw that gift ... it was our ticket to summer learning ... in a fun way, of course. I mean, what child doesn't like to draw? And, I figured, the drawing would make bearable the fact that he would have to write about what he had drawn.

It started out fine ... our first entry was easy enough ... he enjoyed drawing the picture, and I helped him spell out what he wanted to write about the picture. However, this learning experience has progressed into a painful exercise ... for both of us. He's reluctant to be pulled away from his bike/skateboard/trucks/cars/dirt piles; and I'm equally frustrated as I watch him start aggressively rubbing his eyes, which is his signal that he doesn't feel like trying to spell a word, sound out a word, or figure out which way the 'bump' on the 'p' is supposed to go! Please don't misunderstand ... this is a bright kid we're talking about. We are constantly in awe of his observation & reasoning skills, memory, and initiative! But - obviously - if it's a toss-up between playing and learning (even if said learning is accompanied by colored pencils and drawing) ... well ... you know which is probably going to come out ahead!

Nonetheless, we have persevered. And, as a result, we have a lovely collection of 'memories' of our summer thus far. His journal entries aren't as frequent as I'd dreamily envisioned ... but, they exist nonetheless, and I'm happy for that. I'm attaching a few of my favorites ... which, as you can plainly see, describe his true favorite summer activities! Maybe someday ... he'll draw a picture of and write about us sitting in the backyard, surrounded by flowers and butterflies, journaling together ... then again, maybe not!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Eau de Chicken Manure

We’ve gone organic with our outdoor fertilizer. After reading an article that all but pegged the rise in childhood leukemia cases to the use of common lawn fertilizers (no joke … certain ingredients are linked back to ‘Agent Orange’ and other crazy stuff!), we switched cold-turkey … or should I say ‘cold-chicken’(I’ll explain shortly).
We’d been moving in the direction of organic gardening treatments, but this article made us move much faster. Fast forward to this past week … a well-known lawn care company was going door-to-door, offering a special introductory offer for lawn services, including fertilizing. They offered an organic alternative, so we decided to take them up on the lawn fertilization portion … just to see if it made a difference.
They came today. There’s a nice breeze, so I have the windows open, and – as I made my way down the stairs – noticed a stench that I couldn’t quite place. There’s no one else in the house except me (I’ve showered and – as far as I can tell – do not have a stench) and the fresh air is blowing through the windows …. oh, oh, wait … that’s not exactly fresh … that’s the smell of … chicken manure? By the way, chicken manure is the organic treatment. So, now we’ll have to see if we ruffle the feathers (no pun intended) of the neighbors with our, um, au naturale fertilizer!
By the way, I have the upstairs office window open as well … and just heard a young voice, fairly close to our house, say, “Ooooh, it smells like dog poo!” Oh my … please don’t let that be our house to which they’re referring. I’m off to get the mail, which will allow me the covert opportunity to investigate the smell from outside!