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Archive for July, 2012

Just an Ounce

It was a dark and stormy day…for me. There were extra dishes in the sink, toys cluttered every single room, the toddler thought it hysterical to scream and watch his mother turn darker shades of red. The laundry pile touched the cieling, the to-do list went onto the second page, the phone rang again.

All I had to manage the day was an ounce of patience. That tiny teaspoon of calmness was hardly enough to fill my heart and mouth with kindness. In reality, I could speak kindly to my children every ten minutes, the other nine were filled with tight-teeth remarks.

How was I going to get through the day? How would I manage to help all my children on my own?

Then I remembered. I’m never alone. If you’re the pessimistic type, you immediately thought of the four children and the puppy who fill my life. If you’re leaning toward the optimistic side, you remembered that when we are in God’s Word, we are never alone. (I’m in training to be optimistic.)

One of my favorite Bible stories is when Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five barley loaves and 2 fish. (John 6. Btw, this is the only miracle that appears in all four Gospels!) Imagine 5,000 people so hungry for Truth that they follow him everywhere he goes; imagine the strength of his words; imagine the flavor of the bread and fish that filled so many.

The detail of the bread being ‘barley’ is not just a random addition, it’s purposefully included. The little boy with the bread wasn’t a rich child with a basket of whole wheat or sour dough or even day-old bread from the bakery. It was barely; a poor man’s meal. And yet Jesus took that little boy’s poor offering and fed thousands. Every person didn’t just nibble on a corner, but they ate until they were full.

My meager offering of an ounce of patience is multiplied to enrich my life so completely that I can fill my children’s hearts completely.

I turned to God in prayer many times during my dark and stormy day and He was there every time with a whisper of encouragement, the x-ray vision needed to find that lost shoe, the foresight to know that my daughter’s frustration would be cured with a hug.

Not only did I go to bed that night feeling satisfied that God had heard and answered my prayer, I felt his presence within me and around me. He acted in response to my prayer and was present in every word I spoke, every child I embraced, every moment of grace I encountered.

That’s what makes a Christian unique – our prayers become living, breathing beings as we are transformed into the body of Christ, practice the heart of the Holy Spirit, do all things through God.

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It’s going to happen; as sure as burning your finger if you play with fire. Those dreaded letters with your own handwriting on the envelope that arrive in the middle of a perfectly good day like a storm cloud. Rejection letters.

Personally speaking, I have a stack of these letters. More than I care to admit. The Yes! pile is maddeningly small. This, my sweet friends, is the dark side to writing. Agents, editors and publishers are all looking for the next J.K. Rowling, the newest teen beat hit, the DiVince Code to flood all the best-sellers lists. But as for me, I’m looking for affirmation that I’m on the right track. I’m looking for even a small publishing house that will put their faith in a growing writer with a growing platform.

To manage the frustration of rejection, to cast a cheery light on rejection, I decided a few years ago that I would change the rules…my rules on what a rejection letter means:

When I receive a form letter rejection, it is no longer a screaming NO! I view them as, “Hey girl! You are rockin’ on these submissions! Keep at it!”

A hand-written rejection, or a form-rejection with a hand-written note is now my Golden Ticket. To think that a busy agent or publisher actually took the time to hand-write something means that I am really on track. Perhaps not a perfect match for them with this particular story, but I make a note of it and will submit a different pitch to him/her in the future.

And for those agents and publishers that don’t reply at all…they are clearly too busy and would not be right for me, nor I for them.

Since I have change my attitude toward the rejection letters, I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to do the same in other negative situations. When my children misbehave I can see that they are learning the rules of life; a necessary skill for independence in the future. I can respond to them with a, “Hey, I see you are frustrated but you aren’t misbehaving. That was a good choice to not hit your sister. You’re on the right track!”

During our homeschooling days, when a lesson is particularly difficult, I can find the silver lining faster. My children are not only learning reading, writing and mathematics, they are also learning how to react to frustrations by my example. Through my kind words or because of my harsh tones, they will learn what love is and what it is not. “This is a Golden Ticket moment. You are learning that learning is sometimes an uphill climb. Let’s help each other up this mountain.”

Don’t misunderstand, there are plenty of rainy days in the Schaub house. But the more I practice the sun-shiny way of responding to the dark moments, the less hold those moments have.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthed you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NIV

It is that strength promised in this verse that I fall upon often. Yes, sometimes I just fall – which means that my faith was not strong enough and I didn’t fully trust in God’s love for me. Sometimes I fall because I need to learn what it means to feel that sting. Other times I don’t even blink at the Dark Side of life. It is those days that I have started out with prayer and scripture. Those are the days when falling to my knees is the only posture to have.

I’m preparing for another round of queries for a short story for magazines and a novel. Whether I recieve Golden Tickets or Form Rejections, I will submit everything knowing that the Force is with me – God’s Force, that is!

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I don’t understand reality shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. I realize I am in the minority in this opinion and that frightens me. When this show was first released, I was certain that it wouldn’t last. Boy, was I wrong! What is the attraction to watching a dozen different women fight over the same man? What compels a person to participate in this program? It certainly does nothing to their reputation, unless they are trying to come off as easy and desperate – neither quality is attractive, by the way. And I guess that’s the point that attraction is only skin deep, therefore we need everything they sell during commercials to lessen wrinkles and lose weight.

What about compassion and unrelenting forgiveness? Those are two qualities absolutely necessary in any successful relationship. Do these bachelorettes really compete to be romantic for a few hours and expect that to lead to a good marriage? FYI: Romance is a sad measuring stick for a good spouse. It takes devotion to the Sacrament of Marriage, dedication to be with one person forever, love beyond comprehension to get past the obstacles that are certain to come, and forgiveness – loads and loads of forgiveness. Communication and sacrifice should always be in stock as well, right next to patience.

These types of reality-programming are obviously great for ratings, but explore for a moment what it does to real people. It uses promiscuous behavior to sell souls. Sure, “if you don’t like it, don’t watch it.” Anyone can sling that excuse around to cover anything. To be honest, there is no need to watch the program when the commercials have such juicy teasers, all of which are seen by young minds. What about the people participating in it? What about their parents? What happens to their resume when they apply for a job and are seen as a symbol of sex-selling entertainment? That image doesn’t end when the program is over.

Where did our society lose its interest in protecting our souls? When did innocence stop being a desired quality for children’s upbringing? Turning on the T.V. has become synonymous with opening your front door and inviting in a murderer. That may sound extreme, but compare the status of moral integrity in our nation a hundred years ago to today. Those statisitcs don’t lie.

What are we – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors and community leaders – willing to do to protect Innocence from further destruction? It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Luke 17:2

Entertainment ratings are killing innocence. When 12-year old girls are giving birth, something is seriously wrong. When 9-year-olds are members of Alcoholics Anonymous, we should ask, “What is going on?” Giving our children free run of the internet becomes as risky as giving them infected syringes to play Spoons. All the issues that have stricken our country stem from the same source – and it’s in every house. Television.

I have three daughters. I protect them from images on our TV by not subscribing to cable. We rent and go to movies that have been approved by http://www.pluggedin.com. I have been accused of being a helicopter parent, but that doesn’t scare me because I know that it’s not true. I don’t hover above my children, shouting out commands and directing their lives. My husband and I are side-by-side with our children, having discussions about choices and doing our best to listen to their thoughts and ideas.

When new issues arrive, we turn to our faith for the answer. What Would Jesus Do? What does Jesus think of his beautiful sisters selling their futures as brides on national TV?

I have happy for my daughters as they have grown up seeing a great husband and father – so watch out future boys who come to the Schaub house! The standards are very high.

My daughters don’t even know there is a show called Bachelorette. They are protected for even knowing the reality of Reality TV because there is nothing true about those shows. Want truth? Open the Bible. Want reality? Go to a mission kitchen and help serve dinner. Looking for an entertaining story about falling in love? Read Sense and Sensibility. Want to protect your kids from dangers? Unplug and see what happens. Worse-case scenario… your kids will thank you for spending extra time with them and being a Real Parent.

One more thought…When these former Bachelors and Bachelorettes have children, what will they say when they are asked, “What did you do before you met Mom/Dad?” Just wondering…

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In the movie Pleasantville, the students in geography class arduously study the layout of their city. When asked what happens if you go passed the East end of Main Street, the teacher laughs and says, “Why, you’ll end up at the beginning, of course,” and she points to the West end of Main Street with her yard stick.

While real-life streets actually can go on forever or end in frustrating dead-ends, our tasks and goals certainly can feel like Main Street in Pleasantville.

I am nearing the completion of another novel…writing one, that is. Again I am amazed that no matter how much work I put into it, another series of things to do jump up at me like some To-Do list jack-in-the-box. After months of planning scenes, working out plot issues, character sketches and tweeking the dialogue, the completion of the last line becomes the beginning of a new task before I can announce that my novel is truly finished.

Revision.

Starting next week, I’ll go through the novel again, looking at it as a whole. Plot weaknesses will need mending. Bland dialogue will require a dash of seasoning. Gaps in the story, weak transitions and spelling errors must be patched up.

Then the novel goes to my four most trusted critics: my husband and three daughters.

They will circle, comment, laugh, shake their heads in sad disbelief and tell me where I missed the mark and where I was spot-on.  After the first round of critiques, I will return to the revision process and do it all over again. And again and again until they deem it worthy for submission.

And thank goodness for them. Without their knowledge of stories, their experience between the lines of fantastic tales, if not for their incredible honesty, I would never succeed. That implies that I have succeeded already as a writer. And by gosh I’m going to convince myself that I have! I write every day because I want to be a writer. I blog, read the latest issue of Writer’s Digest from cover-to-cover the moment it arrives, and I read as much as possible, both about the craft of writing and young adult novels. But my greatest success is accepting criticism from my family. It’s an honor to know and love a group of people who know and love me no matter what kind of dribble I try to pass off as a good story. I hope that my daughters see me improve as a writer. I also hope they will someday have people in their lives that will speak to them honestly and that they will listen.

Another beginning I’m working through is the marketing of my first book, Gateways. And so, in an effort to share my stories and step out into the world as a ‘real’ author, I encourage you to check it out at http://amzn.to/KSAlyb (in Kindle and Paperback).

Another plug is for the on-line critique group I’ve started. Have a children’s or young adult story you would like feedback on? Check us out: http://bit.ly/KOL5hU

And so, as I cross one finish line I will also begin another. Isn’t that they way of life? Just when you think you are “There”, you find yourself right back at the beginning with a fresh start or a second chance.

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Sending Thank You Notes can be a tedious job, but we all want our loved ones to know how much they are appreciated. Why not make the cards fun? Use some creative writing to jazz up the notes. Here are a few ideas:

1. Change the Point of View. When my daughters were young, I would write the Thank You Cards as if they had written them.

Dear Aunt Becky,

I love, love LOVE the’ Sings Outrageously Loud’ doll! My SOL Doll likes to play hide-and-seek because I keep finding her in strange places. Her best hiding place yet was the cupboard above the refrigerator. Oh, and mom said to tell you “thank you” for inheriting your balance and climbing skills. It took a chair, a cooler and three books to reach the top of the fridge, but I did it! Anyway, can’t wait to see you again!

Love you bunches,

Emma.

2. Or, if you are old enough to write your own Thank You Notes, write it from the Point of View of the object you received.

“Dearest Frank,

Life as a gift card for Jessica is proving to be quite interesting. Barely was I out of her birthday card when I was whisked away to the bookstore and used several times during one stay. Our first purchase was a cup of steaming hot milk and coffee. She ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ and enjoyed the relative silence of the bookstore. After perusing the shelves for two unbelievably relaxing hours, she finally selected a hardcover, gold-edged copy of The Complete Works of Mark Twain. Sadly my duty as a gift card is spent and I am now retired in the recycled cards bin, but I’ve met a lovely Happy Graduation gift card and our relationship is going nicely.

3. In the event that the Thank You Note is for an event, try a Top Ten List.

My Top Ten Memories of the Bridal Shower you gave me:

10. Meeting my fiancé’s Aunt Fanny and learning the origin of her nick-name.

9. Eating chocolate cake shaped like a bridal gown.

8. Opening silky pajamas and slinky undergarments in front of my mom and Aunt Margie.

7. Playing the ‘How well do you know the Bride?’ game when my entire life was whittled down 20 moments of joy (and embarrassment).

6. Becoming the new owner of three sets of kitchen towels and four cookbooks, none of which are on our registration.

5. The beautiful meal that must have taken you days to prepare.

4. The invitations you hand-crafted.

3. The careful way the tables were set with stunning flower arrangements.

2. The little notes from everyone who attended, sending my fiancé and I prayers and blessings.

1. The fact that you love me enough to do so much.

Bonus Memory: I love you too!

4.  Wedding Gifts. The pile of gifts that all require a hand-written note. Combined with a new marriage, a honeymoon and the entrance back into life as a newlywed, and the chore of writing a stack of thank you notes is enough to strain even the most gifted writer. Take a picture of you and your new spouse using the gift and add a short note:

Making breakfast with the toaster “A Toast to you for the hot gift!”

Waffles with the waffle iron “This kind of ironing we like!”

Doing dishes (happily!) with the new dishes “A cup, a plate, a fork, a spoon, we hope to share a meal with you soon”.  (My apologies to the real poets!)

 

Have any more creative Thank You ideas? Please share! And happy writing!

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Welcome to Writing Critique #1. What follows is Chapter One from a book for Young Adults. Please take some time to read and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the story and the writing. Even if you are not a writer, you are likely a reader and your opinion is extremely valuable! It is for readers and writers write. Using the comment feature, post a note to the writer and he/she will return here to gather the thoughts and ideas about this story to improve it.

Questions to answer to write helpful comments : Is the main character’s voice believable? Does the idea of the story inspire you to want to read the next chapter? Was there anything in this story/chapter that made you smile? Was there a phrase or sentence that you really liked? Why did you like it? What image or memory did it stir? Was there a moment in the story where the writing felt weak and you lost interest?

(And a note of apology to my blog followers: Apparently there is a keyboard combination that will automatically post a post whether it is ready or not! I had to quickly delete the previous post to add this paragraph. Sorry if that caused any confusion! I’m still learning:)

Traditions

The world feels scary. I’m not supposed to think that; with our house tucked in a nice neighborhood, the award-winning school I attend, my friends, and with the continental distance between my front door and the war, I should feel safe. There are days I don’t think about anything but my own life. It’s usually on those days when reality sneaks in like a panther and pounces.

In the past few years there have been tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes that leveled cities, oil shortages, the War in Iraq, the debate whether we should support the troops or bash the President for sending the troops to war. Closer to home, I have to study for tests, practice the violin, remember to bring gym clothes on Monday, and to shower or not to shower after gym class. It’s enough to drive a kid to hide above the ceiling tiles; that secret place up high and dark and away from the wandering eye of the quick-judging eighth grade world.

My name is Jefferson Sherman Newton. Quite a name, huh? My parents had big dreams for me and gave me a big name to live up to. Sherman Newton is my father. He owns his own copy machine business. My mother, Mary Ellen Newton, works part-time, but you’d never know it. She is what my father calls a “professional volunteer”. Between church, the Junior League, my school, and her new job, my mother is in charge of everything.

“It’s a tradition, Jefferson,” my mom tells me when I ask her why she’s going to be gone again after dinner. “My mother was a volunteer too. I know the sacrifices you make because I’m gone at night.” She is referring to the dishes I will have to do before I can finish my homework.

“It’s traditional to abandon your family and work for free?” my brother, George, mumbled. I know Mom heard him because her face grew a shade of reddish-purple that meant she agreed with him, but was trapped by the tradition her mother had started. Her mother, my grandmother, had been the president of every volunteer organization created and as a result established in her children a sense of duty to the less fortunate. The problem was that we were becoming one of the less fortunate.

Traditions. They get you every time.

Some traditions are good. For instance, I have nothing against Halloween or Christmas because, honestly, how can free candy and presents be a bad thing? It’s the coming-of-age traditions that I’m talking about. Those traditions that mark one’s passage from kid to teen, from nerd to awesome, from phone-less to smart phone. The line between child and adult has been extended from the duration of a Vision Quest to the length of time it takes to complete Junior High and High School. We no longer venture into the wilderness seeking our guiding animal like the Native Americans did. There is very little wilderness around here and no vacation time for us to go. Instead, becoming an adult is accomplished through a series of small accomplishments scattered over eight years and judged by everyone who has an opinion.

At our school, there is one such tradition. Ceiling tiles.

Yes, you read that correctly. Ceiling tiles.

The art teacher, Mrs. Spaglio, is one of those progressive teachers, always thinking of the bigger and better ideas that suck the life out of the student because of the longevity of the aftermath of potentially failed projects. We, of course, call her Mrs. Spaghetti due to the fact that her hair is long and blonde and thick like cooked noodles, but never to her face. Byron Homes did that once and is still cleaning toilets after school every Wednesday and Thursday.  Mrs. Spaglio, had a crazy idea years ago that the eighth grade students would paint a ceiling tile as part of their final art contribution to the school. Mr. Retsim, the principal, loved it. The ceiling tiles were already paid for. The only expense would be the paint. This is really a result of the flopped economy, but everyone loves the idea and the school really does look better with all the colors and scenes along the ceiling.

The custodian, Mr. Moppet hates it. He spends hours each week climbing up the ladder to pull out a ceiling tile and carefully balance it as he climbs down. He dropped one once and the mess it made upset Mr. Retsim, who knew that the budget would be off because of the cost to replace it.

Mr. Moppet and the Unfortunate Ceiling Tile. Sounds like a bad title to a book.

More than that, Mr. Retsim doesn’t like the gaping holes in the ceiling while each tile is being painted, so Mr. Moppet needs to constantly change them out.

The ladder is his other nemesis.

“Can’t leave the ladder out, Mr. Moppet,” Mr. Retsim said. “It’s a hazard for these young ones. Never know who might climb up into the ceiling to make a break for it.” It’s statements like this that leads all of us to believe that Mr. Retsim was formerly a prison warden.

That’s why it’s common to see Mr. Moppet carrying the ladder like some overgrown child. He mutters to it, complaining about the tiles and students. Mr. Moppet is not allowed to carry the ladder in the halls between classes. That’s how Cecilia Bunkle got her dentures.

Another tradition in our family is the complete absence of an artistic ability. My older brother and sister’s ceiling tiles were tucked away in the corner over the emergency exit in the science hallway. Their paintings were so awful that when the light nearest that science hallway emergency door burnt out, Mr. Retsim didn’t work the replacement into the budget until both my brother and sister were in high school.  If I can break this tradition and win, my tile will be hung over the door to the main office; I will get an ‘A’ in art and will be guaranteed a place in the advanced art class in high school.

I know what you’re wondering…Do I have any artistic ability? Compared to my brother and sister, I’m a Picasso. No, he was too abstract. I’m more like Van Gogh. But compared to Caitlin Amore, I draw as if I have two left hands and paint like I hold the brush in my mouth. Caitlin Amore will be famous someday for her art work. She’s my main competition for the main office tile prize.

She’s also my best friend.

If I win the contest, I’m worried that we won’t be friends anymore.

If she wins, I’ll be happy for her, but I’ll feel bad.

Should I be a gentleman and let her win the Ceiling Tile contest?

Is the age of chivalry dead? Or will the new tradition of men and women, boys and girls being equals spare me?

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