Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An urgent request ...

Would you please keep my daughter, Nichelle and her team in your thoughts and prayers today? There was a 7.6 earthquake in Indonesia today. This is a new one apart from the one that hit the American Samoa yesterday. Not exactly the news I wanted to wake up to. I've been trying to give myself a quick geography lesson on Indonesia. Apparently, the quake hit on the island of Sumatra, on the western side near the town of Padang. The last email I got from Nichelle, she said they were getting ready to head back out to Pontianak, which is on the western coast of Borneo. So, the island of Sumatra is in between the two places. However, the American Samoa quake did cause a tsunami that hit all the way up in Japan, and even though I'm reading the warnings have been lifted for Indonesia and Malaysia ... well, I'm not doing so good. I know what they're doing with Youth With A Mission is important, but I just want her home. So, if you could please keep Nichelle and her team in your thoughts and prayers, I'd appreciate it more than anything. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Telly!

I use these calendar pages for school that list fun, unofficial holidays. The boys get a kick out of them. Today is Telly Monster's birthday. I mentioned it to the boys and they couldn't remember Telly. Then I realized they didn't watch Sesame Street that much. The girls watched it and I watched it, but not the boys as much. By the time they were born, we were into homeschooling, so maybe that's why they didn't see the show as often. That's not to say they didn't watch it at all because they did. There was a time they were really into the Elmo's World and we had a big collection of Sesame Street videos. Today is Telly Monster's birthday. He made his debut on Sesame Street in 1979, so he is 30 years old today. Here are some facts about Telly ...

His first name was The Television Monster
Telly, as his name was shortened to, was obsessed with TV
He originally had a TV antennae sticking out of his head
When Telly watched TV, his eyes would whirl around
Telly enjoys playing the tuba
He's known for worrying, paranoia, and fidgeting
Telly loves triangles
He has a hamster named Chuckie Sue
Telly enjoys bouncing around on his pogo stick
Telly's best friend is Baby Bear

So, there you have it. Happy 30th birthday to Telly Monster! Whether you're into Sesame Street and/or the Muppets or not, today seems like a good day to celebrate! Have some cake and party like a big, red monster!

Monday, September 28, 2009

YNP in September ...

We arrived home today around 5pm. I'm happy to say the cats did really well. Normally, we don't take them on camping trips, but since the girls are gone I decided to take them with us. They did good and slept most of the time in the car. We only had one day in Yellowstone, but that was okay for such a spur-of-the-moment trip. Sad thing is, we were limited to one area because of some road closures. One road is being closed for repairs and the other road was closed because of the fire. If you're not familiar with the roads in Yellowstone, it's basically an 8-shaped loop that goes through the park. There are north, south, east, and west entrances, and then all those connect to the loop roads. We came in the West Entrance and had planned on going to the northern end of the park, but the main road was being worked on. Then we tried to go south and go around the lake, but there's a big fire burning at West Thumb, so they had just shut down the road. So basically, we were stuck seeing the Old Faithful area. I say stuck, but I don't mean it in a bad way. Generally, that's the main area of the park for most visitors who want to see the geysers.

However, we had just been there in July, so we hoped to go someplace new. We just made the best of it and saw things we didn't see back then. We're only 7-hours away, so I felt bad for people from out of state who could only see one area of the park. That had to be disappointing. But fire is fire and you can't get around that sometimes. Apparently the fire was started by lightening on September 13th, but it wasn't reported until the 23rd. It's amazing how those things can burn and no one know about them. They expected the road to be open on Tuesday. Plus, they are expecting snow on Wednesday, so that will really help the firefighting efforts. As disappointing as it was to be limited to the one area, it was still cool to be inside the park with a major fire burning. It's been 21 years since the big Yellowstone fire of 1988 and the forest is doing well. It's incredible to see all the new growth.

So anyway, we saw things we haven't seen in awhile, so that was cool. The most amazing part of the day was the weather. It was GORGEOUS! It was around 64 degrees, so it was perfect to be out walking -- not too hot and not too cold. There wasn't a cloud in the sky! We have never been there when there hasn't been some clouds, rain, snow, or something. Totally blue skies all day long. The only so-called cloud we saw was by West Thumb, which was the cloud of smoke. We only saw that when we drove closer to see where the fire was. From the Old Faithful area, all you could see was blue skies. It was beautiful! We also saw some things we had never seen before like Beehive Geyser going off as well as Grand Geyser. We lucked out and saw both of those, which are spectacular. And we took a hike up to Morning Glory pool, which is what is pictured at the top of this page. We hadn't been up that way since the girls were little. Last time we were in this area, there were huge thunderstorms rolling in, so we didn't get to walk around much. So, even though we were restricted, we still saw some great stuff.

I'm in the process of making a slideshow to include with this blog post. We didn't get to see a whole lot of animals this time, but that's okay. We did see some bison, elk, eagles, osprey, deer, fish, and birds. It is the rut in Yellowstone, so it was cool to see the bulls with their harems. They sound so cool when they bugle. I had to take a few pictures of the people though. People are just the stupidest creatures in the park sometimes. I can't believe how close they got to these elk -- idiots. They did the same thing to the bison. Obviously, they haven't seen the same videos I have showing these animals goring people or tossing them into the air like beach balls. I think I might have a good picture for my caption contest, so I won't include that in the slideshow. I'll try to do that in a day or so. Rick managed to do some fly fishing while we were in the park, so that was fun for him. He's just learning, but seems to be getting the hang of it. The boys and I had a picnic lunch while he fished in the Madison River. He got one bite later in the evening, but it was too small and let go of the line. I had hoped to post more while we were there, but the Internet connection at the RV park was really bad this time around. I hope you enjoy the pictures in the slideshow. I'm looking forward to catching up with everyone's blogs tomorrow after we get done with school. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Campin' Cats!

Yesterday during school, Rick called and asked if I wanted to go to Yellowstone for the weekend. We're only 6 hours from the park, so it's cool how we can plan a spur-of-the-moment trip. I didn't hesitate saying yes. However, the girls are our usual petsitters for times like this, but they're both gone. So, to Rick's dismay, I decided to pack up the cats and take them with us. The only other time they've traveled was when we drove from California to Montana. They meowed and carried on, but eventually got used to stopping each day. They quickly learned they could relax when we took them from the van to the trailer. Both Kitty and Belle did really well. They howled for a bit, but eventually calmed down and slept most of the way.

We arrived in West Yellowstone, Montana around 3pm. We haven't done much today, other than walk around town for awhile, eat dinner, and fuss with a very slow Internet connection. This is my second attempt at posting this blog. We have full hook-ups, so at least we don't have to worry about using the battery up and such. Most of Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, but a part of it is in Montana, which is the entrance we'll be going through tomorrow. There's a big fire burning, so I don't know how that will affect our plans. However, the fire is only 1200 acres and since Yellowstone covers over 2 million acres, we should be okay.

The only pictures I've taken so far are of the cats. How sad is that. I'm planning on taking more tomorrow once we go into the park. I thought it would be fun to do a caption contest if I get any interesting animal pictures. Kelly Polark recently did that on her blog and I was the chosen winner, so I thought it would be fun to do it here. That is, IF I get an interesting picture. I'm pretty sure I can find a cool prize from one of the Yellowstone giftshops. So, keep an eye out for the contest, providing I get an interesting picture. The really GOOD NEWS is that when I got my computer turned on today, there was an email from NICHELLE! She's doing great in Indonesia. It was so good to hear from her. I'll try to update everyone on her later on, but if you go back to the posts about Nicole and the one introducing the Critter Series, you'll see she was here and left comments. I'm so happy to hear from her and that she's doing well! Anyway, it should be an interesting weekend. So far, the cats are both doing good. Belle isn't used to the smaller litterbox I bought for the trip and just missed the box, so Rick's a little grumpy, but oh well. She's a campin' cat!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The aliens have landed!

It's a good thing they're only a quarter inch high or we'd be in real trouble. These little aliens are the newest fad for my boys. They get them from those candy vending machines you find at grocery stores. Give the boys a quarter, and they're happy campers. They want to make an alien movie when Nichelle gets home, so they're collecting them for that. Ironically, they fit perfectly in GI Joe's hands too, so he can often be seen riding in his Jeep holding a fistful of aliens. Makes perfect sense to me.

Now for something that doesn't make sense ...

The other day I received an email from a friend (thanks, Gale!) with an article about Neil Armstrong being removed from school textbooks. Huh? Click here to read the article. The Texas State Board of Education is holding meetings to discuss whether Neil Armstrong should be removed from current school books. Again, I say ... huh? Apparently, they don't count Mr. Armstrong as a true scientist. Okay, now I'm going to yell ... HUH? According to this article, Neil Armstrong "received an aeronautical engineering from Purdue University, and a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He later was a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati."

So please, somebody tell me -- what exactly does one have to accomplish to be labeled a REAL SCIENTIST? Apparently, walking on the moon doesn't count. I'm beginning to think maybe the aliens are running the school boards. Our kid's books can feature famous American icons like Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe, but they can't include a man who walked on the moon? Oh sure, everyone does that. What's wrong with people?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tricks or treats, Batman!

My youngest, Neil, has a love/hate relationship with Halloween. He claims it's his favorite holiday because he loves dressing up, carving pumpkins, and getting candy. Nevermind the fact that he eats only 1-2% of what he actually collects. At the same time, he hates Halloween because it's scary. Trying to take him shopping this time of year is hell. He wants to peek at the Halloween decorations in the store, but he won't go near them. I can't even get him to skip the scary stuff and go look in the candy aisle. He hates it and I've had to literally drag him to get him past some displays.

We've been getting a lot of Halloween related catalogs in the mail lately. Most are from companies like Oriental Trading or Party Express, and they all have special Halloween issues. Neil loves these, even though there are some scary looking costumes and decorations in them. He's taken to collecting them all and will sit and look through them for a long time. I don't understand it, but maybe it's therapeutic for him. Most of the catalogs aren't that bad. A few days ago we got one that's kind of out there. I opened it up and the first half of it were adult costumes. I'm not talking your average adult Halloween costumes. These are the ones you'd expect to see in a Fredrick's of Hollywood catalog. They're suggestive, but there's no nudity or anything, so I went ahead and let him look through it. Fortunately, Neil is 7 and skipped through all the adult stuff and went right to the kid's costumes.

However, even the kid's costumes are getting way suggestive, especially for little girls. It used to be the sexy costumes were for adults, but they quickly marketed them for teens. Now it seems they're marketing them for even the youngest kids. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't let my girls dress up in some of these costumes. Too many weirdos venture out on Halloween night, thinking they can get away with anything. It always blows me away to see a couple of preteen girls out trick-or-treating by themselves dressed in these adult-fantasy outfits. It's one thing to dress up as Little Bo Peep -- but it's another thing to wear platform shoes and thigh-high stockings. That's fine for adults, but in my opinion, it's too much for little girls, even preteens.

Sometimes I feel like my grandma saying things like, "When I was your age ..." I do think some of the adult costumes are cute, but I don't like the idea that they're marketed to little girls. When I was a kid, we had a dime store called TG&Y. It was like a Woolworths, or a Ben Franklin, or maybe even a Walgreens without a pharmacy. You could find just about anything at TG&Y. As kids, we'd go there to buy candy. Halloween was an exciting time at that store because they'd set up a huge display. At least it seemed huge to us. This was before the big box stores. I remember walking up and down all of the aisles looking at the Halloween stuff. There weren't all the decorations you find today. If someone took the time to decorate their house, they usually made their decorations by hand.

One thing I remember vividly were Halloween costumes. TG&Y had boxed Halloween costumes. Unless you trick-or-treated in the 1970s, you probably don't remember these. You had 2 choices for costumes back then. One, you could make your own or have your mom make one. Or two, you bought a boxed costume. By boxed, I mean the costumes were sold in literal boxes, like the picture above. There was a plastic mask of the character and then a vinyl-like cover-up of the character's body. The cover-up tied at the back, like a hospital gown, so you had to wear regular clothes under it. The masks were hot and the elastic bands always got stuck in your hair. But as kids, we loved these costumes. I'd search every box until I found a character I liked. However, I didn't always choose a boxed costume. A lot of times I'd settle for a black witch's hat or maybe some cat ears. It was up to me to get a black leotard and black tights for the rest of the ensemble. I remember sewing a cat's tail myself a few times.

Back in the 70s, Halloween wasn't about how great your costume was. It was just about getting as much candy as possible. We didn't have aisles and aisles of trademarked costumes to choose from, in every size imaginable. Boxed costumes came in one-size-fits-all. The sexy costumes were never seen, unless you had access to a Fredrick's of Hollywood catalog. There were no costumes that lit up, or used electronic devices to inflate them. We didn't have special Halloween stores pop up during the month of October. We waited for TG&Y to set up their huge display, which was probably an aisle or two, if that. As a kid, I always thought it was funny how Sally says, "Tricks or treats" in the cartoon, It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Now, I'm wondering if she was onto something ...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I received two rejection letters the other day. Both were standard form letters from the same publisher. I had to laugh because one of them was for my book, The Marshmallow Man. As you know, that one is just about complete and ready to go to print in a few months. The other one was for a book I'm currently re-writing. So, the rejection part wasn't that big of a deal. They were both, however, sent in January 2008. I understand publishers are swamped and sometimes take a long time to get back to you, so even the 20+ month delay didn't bother me. I totally understand that.

However, both came postage due and that irks me a little. When I enclosed my SASE for them, I put a traditional first class stamp on them. It wasn't a forever stamp, but it was one of those series that didn't have a monetary amount listed on it. I'm not really complaining about having to dish out twelve cents -- it's the principle. I know if I were to hold onto a SASE for 20+ months, I wouldn't mail it out and expect it to get there with insufficient postage. I'd either add the difference or not worry about sending it in the first place. That's just me. Obviously, publishing companies can't afford to make up the difference and the post office isn't going to budge on their policy. I'm not saying anyone is right or wrong -- it's one of those irks in life.

I looked up postage due on Wiki and found this. It's interesting how the process of labeling something postage due was started in France in 1859 in order to keep things honest. Up until that time, mail was delivered on the basis of trust and the postal carrier would write how much was due on the front. In order to keep the workers from writing too much so they could pocket the rest, they came out with a postage due stamp or label. It had no real value, other than keeping the postal workers from writing down the wrong amount. It's funny how we've gone back to having the workers write in the postage due on our mail, after they've whacked it with a rubberstamp. Maybe we trust them more now? Or maybe, it's just easier to figure out the amount by looking at when the letter was mailed.

Anyway, I have to go to the post office today to mail and pick up some packages. I suppose I will bit my lip and give them the little envelope saying how I owed them twelve cents for something I mailed almost 2 years ago. Twelve cents isn't going to kill me and it certainly isn't going to make the USPS better. However, *I* have to be the one to take it in because Rick won't. I don't know why, but the people at our local post office are rude as hell to him. I thought at first it was just a few isolated incidences, but it's not. They're snotty and rude to him every single time. The last time he went in and handed them a pick-up slip, the lady looked at it and then at him and said, "I can't read this!" Ummm, he didn't write it -- your mail carrier did! Then I thought maybe it was just him, but they're the same way with my daughters. I have the sweetest girls in the world, mind you, so there is no excuse for how these people treat my family. Why they don't treat me that way, I don't know! One of these days I'll have to ask or write a letter to the local paper. It's really a shame. So, after I finish up school for the day, I'll be lugging the boys to the Bigfork post office to hand them their postage due envelope. Rick was kind enough to add the money -- 12 pennies. It almost makes me wish it was more, so they'd have to stand there and count a couple hundred pennies. Why do USPS workers have to be so snotty?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nicole update ...

I just wanted to update you on how Nicole is doing. I spoke with her on the phone the other night and she sounded like she was doing really well. She's enjoying college so far, which must be quite a change from being homeschooled from 2nd to 12th grade. However, she sounds like she's making the adjustment well and is enjoying her classes, work, and other activities. Her Internet is limited, so I hear from her mostly by phone or email.

She likes her room, which she shares with two girls, both juniors. They've been a big help to Nicole, showing her around and helping her with things. They're on the 8th floor of their building. I believe the room holds four people, but there's only the three of them this year. One of them is from Texas and when she saw a little photo album I sent to Nicole, she immediately wanted to come to Montana. They both sound like really nice girls. Nicole is enjoying her classes -- she's taking math, English, speech, Bible, and PE. Of all the things she could take for PE, she signed up for ice skating! She's loving it too. The good thing is that it's definitely something she can do when she gets home. She had to give her first speech last week and that went really well. She really likes her speech teacher. Math is the one she likes the least. She mentioned the desks being crammed together and binders poking into everyone's backs. She also said the guy behind her breathes like Darth Vader. Yep, sounds like a typical math class to me.

She is also doing the work assistance program, which helps pay for her tuition. She was assigned to something called dining/special services. She thought it was going to be average kitchen work, but it turns out they get to make cakes and special occasion foods for students and staff members. They also do some outreach work with people in the area. The other day she went off campus for the first time to do an outreach at a nursing home. I didn't get to talk to her about what they did because she had to go to a meeting and our call got cut short. She's excited about coming home for Christmas to see her family and friends, but for the most part, it sounds like things are coming along really well for her. The picture above is pretty old -- taken around 2005, but it's always been one of my favorites. Nicole hates that picture, for some reason, but I love it. Since she's not here and can't access my blog, I figured I could post it without her complaining. We really miss her and are looking forward to seeing her for the Holidays. Still no word on Nichelle, so that's driving us insane, but hopefully we'll hear soon.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Yes, Virginia ...

As we head towards the first day of autumn tomorrow, thoughts of Christmas might not be on your mind, more or less Santa Claus. However, it was on this day in 1897 when an editorial was written to a little girl asking about Santa Claus. Virginia O'Hanlon was eight-years-old and beginning to doubt whether or not Santa Claus existed. Her father urged her to write to the New York Sun to find out. You can read all about it here.

In 1974, an animated film was made for television by Bill Melendez, who was known for his work on Peanuts specials. I grew up watching this cartoon. It was usually shown very early in the season, before Thanksgiving. I looked on You Tube, but was unable to find a clip from the video. I remember having a hard time finding it a few years back and ended up buying an old VHS, even though DVDs were all the rage. Of course, as soon as I bought it on VHS, it showed up as a special feature on another one of our Christmas DVDs. Regardless, it's always been a favorite. Even though I am no way ready for Christmas, other than my girls being home, it's interesting to note that the infamous editorial came out on September 21, 1897.

Does anyone else remember this old cartoon?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Curse of the pen?

Last night I was looking over some news stories online when I came across this article called, Cursive writing may be a fading skill, but so what? If you have school-aged children, you might want to read the article. It begins when a mother asks her eighth grade daughter to sign her name, only to realize she didn't know how. I can only imagine how shocked the mother was, not to mention how belittled it might have made the girl feel. With technology as advanced as it is, and everything being done on electronic devices, it's not surprising kids don't know how to sign their name. I'm not saying kids don't know how to write with a pen or pencil -- I'm talking about penmanship -- cursive handwriting, in particular.

The article goes on to say that the girl was only taught cursive writing in the 3rd grade. I'm in my 40s and I remember being taught handwriting in grade school. I switched from public school to a Catholic school for a year and a half and cursive writing was even more of a big deal there. I remember getting scolded by a nun because I didn't make my Rs right. By 5th grade, I was establishing my own handwriting, but that didn't cut it with Sister Whateverhernamewas. Looking back, I'm glad she did that. Eventually, I came up with my own style of handwriting, but the basics were instilled in me. Knowing what I know now, I needed those basics to teach my kids.

We're in our 12th year homeschooling and I've always taught penmanship. It's one of our daily assignments. By no means, do my kids have perfect handwriting, but they know how to do it. I could have them sign a form or a birthday card and they'd know what to do. Neil is just starting to learn cursive this year. He's in 2nd grade and last year he just wasn't ready. Nathan has beautiful handwriting, when he takes the time to do his best. Nicole has developed a cute signature. That's because she's always dreamed of being a famous writer and she used to practice signing her name over and over. Honestly, I don't know where she gets that from. ;)

I understand this could be a big debate since people just don't write by pen as much as they used to. Even signing your name on a check has almost become a thing of the past with credit and debit cards. However, I still think it's important. Can you imagine the embarrassment of having to sign loan documents and come to the part where it says to sign AND print your name? What if you never learned at all? How important do you think it is for people to know how to write by hand? Is cursive a big deal, or is it okay just to know how to print? What are your thoughts? If you believe this is important, find out what your child's school is doing. Is it being taught? If not, teach it yourself. You can find cursive workbooks anywhere -- from book stores to drug stores and there's tons online as well. It only takes a few minutes of practice each day.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Avast ye, bilgerats ...

A year ago on Talk Like A Pirate Day, I did a Pirates A to Z blog. Click here if you want to read it again. I love pirates. I don't love them in a sense that I think they're cool, because they're not. Pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries were ruthless, brutal people. Somehow Hollywood has managed to glamorize them. Modern pirates are the same, basically terrorists with high-tech weapons and gear. Regardless, there's still something about pirates that interests and fascinates me -- pirates of the 17th & 18th centuries, that is.

Pirates of the Caribbean has always been my favorite ride at Disneyland. It opened in 1967 when I was two years old. I'm not sure how soon I went on the ride, but I know I went on it as a toddler. I have a faint memory of seeing the first skull and crossbones right before the waterfall, and I screamed bloody murder. So, when Disney decided to do the films, I was skeptical. In fact, I was so skeptical that I didn't watch them when they first came out. I'm not usually fond of remakes, so I thought there was no way they could do the ride justice. Thank heavens I was wrong and that I finally gave the movies a watch. I love the movies now and am excited about the 4th one.

However, stories that interest me the most are the realistic ones. When I buy books on pirates, they're most often non-fiction. I like fiction, but I'm more into the facts. Obviously, the POTC films are not factual, but I still enjoy them. I read a book recently about Captain Kidd, which was really interesting. One of my favorite books is a dictionary that lists pirate terms and their meaning. And I've gotten some great documentaries on DVD that talk about pirate history. Those are definitely not for the kiddos. I also have a huge playlist on my iPod of pirate songs. If you want a fun pirate band for your kids, check out Captain Bogg & Salty. They're a fun band and the members have also done some pirate music geared for adults. Each year my family watches A Garfield Halloween and since today is Talk Like A Pirate Day, I thought this clip was appropriate ...

Friday, September 18, 2009


When is the last time you played with Play-Doh? If you still have little ones, it probably hasn't been that long. Kids love Play-Doh so much. It's amazing how we, as parents, roll our eyes at the thought of something that gives our kids so much joy. I know parents who refuse to buy it for their kids because they don't want to deal with it. It gets messy, yes, but kids love it so much. And who could ever forget that distinctive smell of Play-Doh!

I have a calendar I printed up for school that list fun, unofficial holidays. Mine is saying that today is National Play-Doh Day. When I look it up online, I see conflicting dates and some claim it's September 16th. Not that it matters -- I've got the boys scheduled to have fun with Play-Doh this afternoon. They love the stuff. Since it's Apple Week for school, we will be making apples from Play-Doh, but I'm sure other things will be created as well. Play-Doh has an awesome website. Not only will you find new products, but you'll also learn the history of the compound, how to get it out of carpet, as well as project ideas. Play-Doh was created in 1956, so it's 53 years old! Some interesting facts about Play-Doh ...

Play-Doh was originally created as a wallpaper cleaner.
It consists mostly of flour, water, and salt.
The first color was off-white in 1.5 pound jars.
A year later they added color -- yellow, red, and blue.
The Fun Factory was introduced in 1960.
Play-Doh is designed to be used over & over.

It's weird, but I don't remember playing with Play-Doh in school that much. I think we used regular clay more. I do remember my mom buying me Play-Doh along with that other modeling clay that hardened. Regardless, it's something all four of my kids have loved playing with. Anyway, I better get my act in gear with school now, so we can get to our Play-Doh apples. Have a great day -- go play and make something fun!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Painless Writing

That's an oxymoron in itself -- painless writing. Tell that to Neil when he has to write an entire sentence or paragraph. By the look on his face, you'd think his arms were going to fall off. Or tell it to a writer who's struggling with a manuscript and is worried the revisions are taking their story in a completely different direction. Or say it to me, after I've hunched over my laptop for hours. As I sit up straight and hear my back crack, painless isn't exactly what comes to mind when I think of writing.

I bought our first Barron's book a few years ago when the girls were taking algebra. They kept Painless Algebra on hand as a supplement to their other curriculum. When I saw Painless Writing, I knew I had to add it to our collection. The books were written with middle school and high school kids in mind, but adults can benefit from them as well, especially if you're a writer. The book is full of ideas how to improve your skills -- from writing more vividly to adding rhythm. I got my copy at Costco for under $10. I'm not sure how many more I'll get, as our school language program is really good, but I do see a Painless Speech book. Since Nicole is taking Speech in college, she might benefit from that. Hopefully, I can find that one at Costco too.

In other news -- Dilly has a book review up! Check out the Zooprise Party blog for a review of A New Job for Dilly. I'd love for you all to leave a comment on the blog. There's a lot of other great entries on there, so check them out, if you can. Thanks to Joy and her group of bloggers for taking the time to feature my first picture book. Lisa Oakman, 4RV Publishing, Dilly and I really appreciate it -- thank you!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, Nichelle!

My daughter, Nichelle celebrates her 20th birthday today. This is the first year she's had a birthday and not been home with us. She's on a missionary trip with Youth With A Mission and won't be home until mid-November. Right now she should be backpacking through the jungles and villages of Indonesia. Of course, it's a day ahead of us there, so her birthday has already come and gone. She's with a great group of people, so I hope she had a nice birthday. I also hope she can check in with us soon, since we haven't heard from her since they left Thailand. We knew communications would be scarce, especially now that she's on the most intense part of her mission. Considering they went to the island just days after a major earthquake, I've been a little more than freaked out. I know what she's doing is important, and I know she's having a good time, but I'm still anxious for her to come back home. I can't believe my firstborn is 20 years old!

Happy Birthday, Nichelle!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Critter Series!

I was thrilled to receive an email yesterday from Nikki Shoemaker, the amazing illustrator who is doing my Critter Series, who shared the other two covers with me. The first book, Lemur Troops & Critter Groups, is complete and ready to go to print. I don't have a date for that yet, but there is a chance it might go as early as November. The other two books, Stork Musters & Critter Clusters and Pony Strings & Critter Things, will be out in 2010 by 4RV Publishing, LLC.

These are going to be super fun books for kids. What they are is a collection of rhymes that teach children animal congregations, or group names. Most of us know a group of lions is called a pride, but do you know what a group of skunks are called? A group of swans? A group of lizards? How about a group of worms? There are 66 groups in all. That would have made for a long picture book, so we stretched it out into three books, which we now refer to as the Critter Series.

Nikki's delightful illustrations have added so much more to these books than I ever could. Her illustrations go beyond cute. I know kids are going to love these books. The hardest part for me will be having to wait for each one to come out. However, Nikki has graciously completed the covers to the series, so we can start showing them as a set. Normally, authors and illustrators don't have much contact with each other, but our wonderful publisher, Vivian Zabel has allowed us to work together on a few things to make these books the best they can be. I am just as excited as they both are about the Critter Series and can't wait to start sharing these books with everyone!

Monday, September 14, 2009

School books ...

I'm in the process of putting together my kid's portfolio binders for school. Unlike some states, I'm not required to keep samples of their work, but I do anyway. This picture shows one of my bookshelves and the girl's binders. Nichelle began homeschooling when she was in 4th grade and Nicole was in 2nd grade. As you can see, I have a lot of these binders. On the other side of the room is another bookshelf where the boy's binders are. Of course, they've been homeschooled since the very beginning, so they'll have more binders than the girls. I separate the subjects with tabs and include most of the work they've done. Also included are their attendance record, curriculum used, copies of their weekly schedule, and artwork.

Do you keep your kid's school work? I have a container in the garage with stuff the girls made when they were in private school. I've gotten rid of a lot of it because it was too big and bulky. Before we moved, I took pictures of a lot of their artwork that we weren't able to pack up, so I have pictures as well. I have absolutely NONE of my school work from when I was a kid. The only thing I have is my clay handprint that I made in kindergarten. That's it. For whatever reason, my mom didn't save any of my school stuff. I guess maybe that's why I'm so adamant about saving my kid's stuff. When we make a craft or food project for school that I know can't go into a binder, I take a picture and include it in our yearbook. Our school yearbook is basically like a digital scrapbook of all the things we've done throughout the year and these binders are samples of the work they've done.

I've been hunched over on the floor for days, ripping out pages and punching holes, so I can put everything into the kid's binders. My back is killing me, but it's a big project and I have to do it on the floor to scatter everything out. I'm a little late doing this, as I like to do it in the summer, but with Nicole starting college, I had other priorities. It's a weird feeling because it makes me realize that there's so little I remember from school when it comes to school work. I remember incidents and doing certain things like reading programs or plays. Actual school work I don't recall much of -- at least not for grade school. I remember a little more for high school. One thing my kids love doing is pulling out their binders and going through them. They see how much they've learned and progressed. A lot of times they laugh at silly things they've done, like draw devil horns on pictures of people in their workbooks and such. And now that the girls are done with school, I'm finding myself going back to their binders to get things I did with them so I can share them with the boys. I guess it pays to be a packrat!

So, how much do you remember from school? Do you have any old school work that your parents kept for you? And finally, do you keep your kid's stuff from school now? If so, where or how do you store it?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Funny --

I need to work on my school binders today, but just wanted to put up this video clip. I usually don't like remakes all that much, but they did an AWESOME job with The Little Rascals. This is a really cute clip from the movie. Have a super Sunday!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Is Dilly a ...


I know, I know -- A New Job for Dilly is a children's picture book. However, after watching a recent show on Fox about what's in children's textbooks, it got me thinking. They discussed how certain words have been removed from books, especially ones with the word "man" in them. You can't say "craftsman", for example, because it's sexist and excludes women.

How do you feel about this?

Basically, what I got from the show is that a lot of people think it's ridiculous and that it hasn't made any difference by eliminating these words. I can understand certain things, especially religion and politics, because those get people's blood boiling. Some words just aren't a big deal to me -- not as a reader, not as a parent. It doesn't bother me to read about someone being a "policeman" verses "police officer", or a "fireman" verses "firefighter". I don't know. I'm old-fashioned, so maybe that's why it doesn't bother me. It seems petty. There are a lot of bigger issues to worry about.

However, in my book I did use words like "mailman", "garbage man", and "weatherman". I guess my book could be considered too sexist for the school system. But, I'm fine with that, if it ever got to that point. I suppose I could have used "mail carrier", "garbage collector", and "weather reporter" if I wanted to be politically correct. In all honesty, the thought never even occurred to me. As a child, I wouldn't have thought twice about the terminology. I wonder if today's kids think of these things, or if it's just brought on by adults. What are your thoughts?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bittersweet times ...

According to Wiki, the term bittersweet means "a combination of the standard tastes of sweetness and bitterness, and is often used as a metaphor for experiences which have binary elements of happiness and sadness, or pleasure and pain." I think bittersweet is a somewhat appropriate description of September 11th. It was a horribly, bitter day for America. At the same time, the sweet element came from people coming together for their country, their communities, and for each other. On that terrible day in US history, we weren't black or white, male or female, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor -- we were just Americans.

Life has been bittersweet for me lately. I miss my girls, but I know they're doing what's important to them. Having to let your children go, especially in times like now, isn't an easy thing to do. First, Nichelle went to Hawaii, right as North Korea was on their rant about wanting to send missiles there. Then she went to Borneo, just days after a major earthquake. Now Nicole is in Florida, in the height of hurricane season. All I have to do is watch the news if I want to stay completely insane. Another bittersweet moment for me this year was going back to California and visiting my mom. I'm not sure if I'll get another chance to do that. That thought flooded my mind as I stood by her bedside saying goodbye. That was definitely a bittersweet moment. Another one is coming up on the 16th, which will be Nichelle's 20th birthday.

When I hear the term bittersweet I think of chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate is a form of chocolate that does not contain milk in either liquid or dry form. It's a mixture of chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla. Regardless of the name, chocolate liquor contains no alcohol, but is a process of grinding cocoa beans down into a liquid form. According to the FDA, bittersweet chocolate has at least 35% chocolate liquor. The higher the percentage, the more intense flavor it has. Even more interesting is that the higher the percentage is, the less sweet the chocolate is. I love the 88% dark chocolate bars from Endangered Species. Recent studies claim that eating small quantities of dark chocolate regularly might benefit your heart because of the antioxidants it contains. That's good enough for me, and in light of today being 9/11, it seems like a good day for chocolate.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sticky, gooey honey ...

Did you know that September is National Honey Month? Honey is produced by honey bees, obviously, and is pretty complicated. Well, at least it is for me at 6:30 in the morning! So, if you'd like to learn how honey is made and all the details, click here. I love honey. My favorite thing to put it on is peanut butter sandwiches. I especially like it on a really grainy, whole wheat bread with crunchy peanut butter. I also love honey on cornbread. I buy a lot of huckleberry flavored honey too. That is good stuff! Bigfork is a big cherry producing area and I see cherry flavored honey in the stores, but I haven't tried that yet. Here are some fun facts about honey ...

Bees have to tap into 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey.
A worker bee visits 50 to 100 flowers per trip.
In a bee's lifetime, they only make about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey.
A honey bee can fly 15mph.
Utah is known as the beehive state.
A honey bee has 4 wings.
Bees communicate with each other by dancing.

The National Honey Board has lots of interesting information about honey, including more fun facts, recipes, health information, and more. National Honey Month has been proclaimed by the US Secretary of Agriculture. Of course, when I think of honey, these things come to mind ...

Honey Bees
Crunchy, Munchy, Honey Cakes by The Wiggles
Honey Pie by The Beatles
Honey Baked Ham
Honey Hush by Foghat
Honey Crisp Apples
Money Honey by Elvis Presley
What Do You Do For Money, Honey by AC/DC
Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
Sister Honey by Stevie Nicks
Honey Bunches of Oats
Wild Mountain Honey by Steve Miller
Honeycomb by Jimmie Rodgers
Honeycomb Cereal
Wild Honey by The Beach Boys
Violet Crumble Honeycomb Candy Bars

What comes to your mind when you think of honey?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

1st day of school!

It's official -- the 2009-2010 school year has begun! I'm taking a break for lunch right now, but soon we'll be back into the swing of things. I'm always amazed that we get anything done, to be honest. As a tradition, on the first day of school I have the kids fill out a sheet called All About Me. On this they practice their address, phone number, list their hobbies, collections, their favorite foods, books, songs, and so forth. It also has a place to glue their first day of school picture on it. Well, to show you how distracted we get -- this form led us to iTunes to listen to a song by Smash Mouth, then out to the family room to search for a book on Montana flowers. Like I said, I'm surprised we get anything done.

I have to tell you a story about Nathan. Last night Rick and I were in the office working when Nathan came in. The conversation went like this ...

"Daddy," Nathan said. "Do you know our Guitar Hero drum set?"
"Yeah," replied Rick.
"Well, the part on the side where the sticks go broke," said Nathan.
"How did it break?" asked Rick.
"We don't have accurate information on that," Nathan replied.

And of course, Rick and I both burst out laughing, while Nathan proceeded to tell us to be quiet so he could finish explaining his dilemma. I never know what they're going to say, nor do I know where they get these sayings. Rick said he was going to use that one at work the next time he doesn't want to tell the truth -- "I don't have accurate information on that." Too funny! Neil is asking for lunch, so I better get going. I should eat too, or else the boys are going to whoop me at badminton later on. Have a great day!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Our classroom ...

I'm happy to say I've finally got my classroom organized! Well, for the most part. I still have some binders to work on and some books from last year to sort through, but I pushed all that out the door so I could take some pictures. In order words, I'm cheating. I also still have some things to print up, but am waiting for Rick to get home with more ink cartridges. We were going to start school today, but I pushed it back for Wednesday. I had some last minute running around to do for Nicole and that was a priority because she needs things for school and work. However, we're all set to start bright and early tomorrow morning!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Got worms?

I'd like to introduce you to -- WORMY! Pretty silly, huh? The book chart is pictured below and these are the worms that will be glued to the apple. Not exactly the best piece of artwork I've ever done, but it will have to do. This is what the boys will be using to keep track of what books they read this year. The apple is huge, by the way, and takes up a full sheet of poster board. By June, we should have one very wormy apple!

I had different ideas for our book chart last week, but this one just came to me the other day. I was thinking about book worms when I thought of the apple. And since we usually do an "Apple Week" at the start of school, this seemed appropriate. For those of you who don't know, I despise worms with a passion. I have a rhyming picture book called Too Many Worms. I've read it to Neil so many times that he goes running at even the suggestion of me reading it again. It's cute, but I haven't submitted it much. The boys will also be doing the Pizza Hut Book-It reading program this year, so they'll keep track of books for that as well. Guess we better get reading -- go WORMY!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The feeder is hopping!

One of the first things I do each morning is put out my bird feeders. I keep them inside at night because of the bears. We haven't had any problems with bears this year, though they still cruise by. I put them out right by my bedroom door. One hangs from the roof and the other hangs from the deck railing. It's always a bundle of energy out there, but today things are really hopping. It's like a little airport with travelers coming in and out. It's common to hear a thunk or even a loud crash when they smash into my windows. Sometimes they bounce right back, but other times it can be fatal. They need to build a little birdie control tower for their flight paths.

I've seen red-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, mountain chickadees, and house finch. In addition, the chipmunks keep visiting to load up their pouches and then run off to their dens. Right now as I type this, a squirrel has joined the action and is pigging out on the feeder on the railing. If a squirrel is in there, the birds won't go to it because the squirrels will attack them. The chipmunks are more easy going and don't care if a bird tries to get a seed. Not a squirrel -- they don't like sharing at all.

The red-breasted nuthatches are fun to watch because they often land upside down, with their heads facing the ground. They move really quickly, grab a seed, and then fly off. If you click here, you can hear what they sound like. This is a sound I hear all day long at my house. The black-capped chickadees are another popular bird at my feeder. Click here to hear them. I love how they sound. Just like the nuthatches, chickadees won't hang around the feeder to eat. They'll grab one seed and take it elsewhere. I've read they jam the seed into tree bark and then open it that way. Mountain chickadees have a white stripe on their head, which distinguishes them from other chickadees. They have a really cool sound too, if you click here. We also have a lot of house finch here. I haven't seen too many males (they have a lot of red), but I've seen what looks like females and/or chicks. Click here to listen to them. These are noisy birds. They like to sit at the feeder and eat. Another bird I see a lot is the dark-eyed junco. Click here to listen to them. They like to sit at the feeder and eat, but if another bird comes close they chase it away. They must have learned from the squirrels.

Speaking of squirrels -- she's still in my feeder, stuffing her face. The chipmunks take the seeds to their den because they hibernate in the winter. The squirrels will be out all winter long, so they just sit and eat. The baby finches have resorted to finding what they can on the railing below the squirrel. Never mind the fact that the entire deck is covered with seeds that have been scattered. There was just a scuffle between two squirrels and things went flying. As I look now, the squirrel has hopped off and has been replaced with SIX house finch. The other birds are coming by to grab a seed and leave. And, I can hear the squirrel scolding them from the distance. It's never a dull moment around here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

So much to do ...

So little time! Why is it that a story idea comes to me on the busiest weekend ever? Does that happen to you? As soon as you have something to do -- BAM -- here's a story idea to stress over! Fortunately, mine isn't as hard as it would be starting from scratch. What I want to do is take something I've already written and change it from an early reader to a picture book. That can't be too hard, right? I can hear you all laughing from here.

Thanks for all your nice comments and wishes for Nicole. I'm happy to say she made it to Pensacola Christian College in Florida. She had 3 different flights to get there, but it went smoothly. We wished we could have gone with her, but between money and time off, it didn't happen. Rick had taken time off so the boys could visit with their grandparents this summer in California. With their age and poor health, I think that was a good move. I also got to see my mom, probably for the last time. Nicole understood and I'm sure she's glad we're not standing around like dorky parents anyway. She'd never talk to me again if I asked if she had enough underwear in front of her roomates. It's probably a good thing we're not there.

However, she is getting settled in. Her dorm room sleeps four, but I believe there are only three girls in it this year. The other two were there last year, so they've been really helpful to Nicole. One took her to dinner last night and helped her get her ID card, so that was really sweet. It's definitely strange not having the girls here. None of those baby books I read when I was pregnant prepared me for this. We went to the grocery store today and it was weird not buying stuff for the girls.

I'm starting school with the boys on Tuesday, so I have between now and then to get the office finished. It's starting to shape up and when it's done I'll snap a few pictures to show you. I need to do that before we start school because it gets pretty cluttered throughout the year. I've decided what book chart I'm making and it was none of the previous ideas I had. I'll post a picture when I make it, so I'll leave you hanging until then. Like I said, it's none of the ideas I had before. You'll laugh when you see it, especially those of you who know me well. Anyway, so I have my work cut out for me this weekend, and of course, have a story idea I want to start working on. I wish I could be like Belle in this picture -- just curl up on my tiger slipper and not have a worry in the world. Have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Nicole is on her way!

Nicole just called -- she landed safely in Salt Lake City, Utah and is awaiting her 8:30am flight to Atlanta, Georgia. From there, she has a 1 hour, 15 minute flight to Pensacola, Florida. She said her flight was good, uneventful, and that everyone was sleeping. Before I go on, I want to thank you all for your comments on my blog and Facebook page yesterday. I really appreciate them and I know Nicole saw them, so thank you very much for those.

It's hard to believe Nicole is on her way to college. This is the kid who struggled with reading after she switched schools and had different phonics programs to learn. This is the kid they wanted to put in a special reading class so she could catch up. I said no to that, by the way, and began teaching her myself. A year later, we started homeschooling. This is also the same kid who insisted all through school that she never wanted to go to college. Now here she is -- on her way. Not only that, but she's majoring in Commercial Writing. Special reading class indeed ...

I'm really proud of Nicole. She's had her ups and downs in life, just like everyone else, but she's turned into a remarkable young lady. She treats others with respect, she has great friends, and her faith is very important to her. I hope she enjoys her college experience. Rick & I really wish we could be with her, but the cost for us to fly out there was just too much. Rick doesn't have any time off he can take either, so we couldn't drive. Just one of those sad situations where we just have to let her go and pray for the best. That's all we can do at this point. I took this picture of Nicole this morning. It's hard to smile and look cheerful at 4am, but she managed well.

I'm really going to miss her -- the Holidays can't come soon enough for me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Parenting is hard ...

But ... letting go is harder! My eighteen-year-old daughter leaves for college tomorrow. Nicole's flight is early and Rick has to work, so he'll be taking her to the airport in the morning. That means the boys and I have to say goodbye to her tonight. That's going to be hard. I know she'll be fine and I'm sure she'll have a good experience at school. It's just hard. I don't know how else to describe it. Being a parent is hard. You have all these worries. Are they eating the right foods? Are they healthy? Are they too skinny? Are we raising them correctly? No one prepares you for that. You have to learn it as you go and just pray you're doing the right thing. Rick & I used to worry about everything with the girls. We're a little more relaxed with the boys, but we're still very protective, probably way over-protective.

I am so proud of my girls right now. Nichelle is in Asia with YWAM doing what God has called her to do. Nicole will be attending a very strict Christian college. Both are making huge sacrifices for what they believe in. Letting go is the hard part -- at least for me. If I had my way, I'd keep all of my kids at home forever. That's not going to happen, nor would it be good for them, so off they go. It's still hard. Nichelle has probably landed in Malaysia by now and in a few days will be bussed into Indonesia. As you know, the island just had a major earthquake, so things are in shambles. Being the protective parent I am, I want her home. Knowing their mission, I suppose them being there couldn't be at a more perfect time. The same goes for Nicole, going to college in Florida, right as hurricane season starts. Pensacola is often hit hard by these storms. Talk about being a little stressed right now -- both my girls are going directly into the eye of the storms. I have faith they'll be fine and I know what they're doing is important. But, I'm still going to worry and be freaked out a little. Not to mention praying for their safe return.

Nicole -- Good luck, sweetie. I know you've been looking forward to this for a long time. Study hard and just do your best. We will miss you, but will be anxiously awaiting for you to come home for the Holidays.

Nichelle -- Stay safe. I'm not sure how the earthquake will affect your plans, but my thoughts and prayers are with you, your team, and also for the people of Borneo. I hope to talk to you soon and we will see you in November.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I used to love this song when I was little. I watched the original Little Rascals all the time. The talent in those kids was amazing. I needed something cheery today. This morning I woke up to two great emails from Nichelle. Then I went online to the news and saw a 7.0 earthquake in Indonesia, which I really didn't need to see. She's still in Bangkok, but leaving either today or tomorrow for the island. Please keep Nichelle and her team in your thoughts and prayers -- thanks. I'm trying not to worry too much. I think I need either a lollipop or a box to hide in ...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Logs, frogs, and fun ...

We went to Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park yesterday afternoon. After kayaking awhile, we went to one of our favorite beaches and spent a few hours. Rick paddled around and fished a lot, while the boys played in the water, had water fights, floated on logs, and caught frogs. The weather was warm and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. In the third picture where Neil is holding the rock, you can see the little beach we were on. Nice, huh? Even though I'm right there enjoying it myself, I really envy my boys sometimes. I would have loved to have grown up in Montana. Where I grew up was okay, but it was nothing like this. I certainly couldn't go to a national park for a few hours on a Monday afternoon. I hope the boys grow up with an appreciation for being able to do that and hopefully, be able to share the national parks with their families.