Sunday, September 20, 2015

Small Acts of Service Matter

I don't know about you, but when I think about ways that I can serve others, I usually think big. I want to help pull people out of poverty. I want to send foster kids to college. I want to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, etc. When we thinking of service and volunteering, these acts are held in high esteem and with good reason.

But lately, I've found myself more and more thankful for small acts of kindness. I've found myself grateful for the chance to serve within my family. No, I'm not alleviating poverty, or helping someone in another country, or, I don't know, fighting for social justice, I guess. But is it somehow less than?

The service I give within my family, to my children and to my extended family, is important. It's something I need to stop downplaying and feeling like it somehow pales in comparison to sponsoring a child. When I have the chance to bring in a meal to someone who is sick, I need to stop feeling like that's just "JV" service, or not as good as working at the soup kitchen. In both situations, aren't I feeding the hungry?

I have been the beneficiary of food brought to the grieving, I have walked in after mourning a sudden, devastating loss to find my home clean and yard taken care of. And it was a burden lifted. A clean home gave me space and time to grieve. It was no SMALL act of service to me.

My sister's husband was recently diagnosed with cancer. He was about to start at his first job after finishing school, but instead he will be beginning chemotherapy in the next few weeks. And so, for the next several months, I will not be sending money to the migrant crisis in Syria. I will not be giving to international charities at Christmas. I will be sending all the help I can to my sister and her husband. And that is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter, even though it's within my own family.

Their church family is stepping up to the plate. Finding housing for them during chemo treatments, and will be bringing in meals and helping with childcare. I can tell you right now, that each one of those meals or times helping with the baby, is no small act of service. To me, while I am so far away and can't help as much as I'd like to during this time, they are not just God's hands helping my sister and her family, they are my hands too. And my mother's hands. They stand in place of us when we can't be there and I cry just thinking about it. Just knowing that she will be okay.

When my mom was in DC with my sister and her husband during his surgery, she received the smallest act of service, but it made such an impression on her. She was on the shuttle to the hospital and began to cry. She was the only one there, and the bus driver noticed. She asked what was wrong and when she heard, told my mom, "Don't worry. The NIH works miracles. They work miracles there!" A few sentences that made all the difference to my mother on a very hard day.

Never feel like you aren't doing enough because the service you give doesn't fit the normal, "big" ways we think about giving. Serving means showing up and doing what you can with what you have when you are needed. And "small" acts do not feel small to the receiver.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chalkboard Drawings for August

I'm trying to use the container story for my big chalkboard drawings and just do one a week. I'm also trying to hide each week's letters and form drawing in each picture. Above you will see the letter M,V and this week's form which is similar to letter M. Below you sill find lines, curves, and a sort of wave.

Real Life Waldorf Homeschool: What Real Life First Grade Art Looks Like (Also, learn from my mistakes.)

I think it's important to realize that your child will not be turning out these beautiful Main Lesson Books right off the bat and to get a feel for what real best work looks like for children. So with that in mind I've decided to show you what we are doing for our art. And along with showing you my daughter's work, I'm going to take you through my work and my reflections of what went right and what went wrong. Okay, ready? Let's go!

Here are our paintings for the letter M. M is for mountain and that's what we painted. Jane decided she wanted yellow fields at the base of her mountains so it could be like California right now. I had practiced this painting before and decided to get fancy. "Hey, let's shroud our mountains in just a touch of mist and fog. That would be cool, right?" Yeah, I went a little over board on the mist and fog. Next time, one little ring of mist will be plenty and I'll remember that. The other thing I will do differently next time is have Jane wait a little longer for the rest of her painting to dry before adding the red letter over the top of her painting. We did it too early this time and her M sort of spread out.

This is our very first block crayon drawing. It's a garden. Above, you can see the retelling for the container story from that week. I'm giving Jane lines to write with right now because without them she writes everything really huge and we only get a couple words on the page. I made these lines a bit too far apart and she still couldn't quite fit all her words on one page. This morning I made the lines closer together and she fit her whole narration on the page.

A side by side. My garden picture on the left. Jane's on the right. She though the mixing crayons were really cool and kept saying, "This is fun."

This is our painting from last week. The blue sky wasn't wet enough when I had Jane add her red. It was supposed to be a purple dawn. Next time I'll check the wetness of her page. We put the blue on first and then added all the hills and it was just too long inbetween.

This was my picture of hills at dawn. I'm not sure where all those white splotches on the hill came from. I kind of suspect some young picasso's got a hold of a wet paintbrush when I left the table. We now call them sheep.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dear 2015 Pitch Wars Mentees

Dear 2015 Pitch Wars Mentees,

Congratulations! Your writing life is about to completely change...for the much, much better.

One year ago, I was in your shoes. I had completed and revised and polished my manuscript for two years and when I saw my name on that list, my hopes and dreams skyrocketed and left earth's gravity for a while. Look at the numbers, this means I'm among the top 5% of queriers, right? And with a mentor my ms is going to go above and beyond. This was it. This was my ticket to success. It had to be. I could feel it.

It's a year later and I don't have an agent or a book deal, but I can still say, hands down, Pitch Wars has been the single greatest thing to happen to my writing, and it has nothing to do with my mentor or any sort of feedback, but everything to do with a Facebook group of 83 writers, dreamers, and fellow pitch warriors.

For the past year I have been part of a community of writers who all struggled through the crazy and exhausting revisions of Pitch Wars, the nail-biting agony of the agent round, the triumphs and heartaches of querying. I've been able to get an inside scoop on all the highs of this business. Getting the call, choosing from multiple offers, book deals, pre-empts, auctions, and being a PW mentor.

I've also been part of a community that bands together and lifts each other up through the absolute lows of this business. Losing an agent, firing an agent, failed R&R's, getting zero requests in the agent round, and the absolute hell that is querying and getting rejection after rejection after rejection.

We've brushed each other off and encouraged each other to keep going. We've celebrated the amazing successes, each book deal, offer, contest win, and request.

And through all of this past year of being in this community, the most important thing I've learned is this: It doesn't matter where you are on your writing journey. Agent, book deal, querying, never-ending rejections, nothing but CNR's, inbetween manuscripts, editing the never finished project, or working on a sequel. You will never feel like you've "made it." You will never be rid of that doubt lurking in all the corners of your mind. Getting into Pitch Wars won't get rid of the doubt, getting an agent won't get rid of the doubt, getting a book deal won't get rid of the doubt.

Every time you email your mentor you'll worry that they secretly are sick of you and your book and wish they picked someone else. Every time you sit down to write that first draft you will feel like it's garbage. Even after you get that three-book deal, you'll still worry that your sequel won't live up to the first. Every time you get editorial feedback, whether from a CP, your agent, or your editor, you will still feel nervous enough to throw up. You'll worry they secretly hate your book. You'll wonder if you can deliver.

But doubt is not your enemy. The doubt is what binds us together. It's what makes it so we can all say, "I know what you're going through. I understand how you feel." It's also that little voice that drives us to write it better and better. To not give up at "good enough," to put out our best work.

But alongside that doubt that you will always experience as a writer is another equally important emotion. HOPE. As long as you have words in your head and stories in your heart you will always have hope. It weaves itself into the words you write. It's what drives you to sit your butt in that chair and type and type and type. It's that voice that whispers, Maybe the next agent. Maybe the next manuscript. You can not survive in this business without it. And when you feel like you can no longer go through the pain of hoping, your PW community will keep hope alive for you, and wait for you to come back and realize that there are still stories to tell and characters to redeem.

You just got into Pitch Wars. And yes, you got a mentor. But more importantly, you just got a community that has the opportunity to take the next two months to form an amazing bond of shared experience and go out and conquer all the highs and lows of the writing world together. That's the true gift of Pitch Wars. Open it.

Read from other PW 2014 Mentees and Alternates!

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Look Inside Our Homeschool Schedule

I have been planning and planning for first grade since January! Jane will be starting Grade 1 and Max begins his first year of Kindy.

Kinergarten in the Waldorf philosophy is very laid back. So Max's schedule will go something like this.

Monday - Circle time, painting, music, and story
Tuesday - Circle time, music
Wednesday - Circle time, music, bread baking, story
Thursday - Circle time, music, story, and craft/recipe
Friday - Service project, homeschool sports and park day

Pretty chill life, right?

Jane's school just stepped it up a notch. This year we begin a foreign language, knitting, narration/writing, lots more art, spelling, recorder and form drawing. It sounds like a lot (and it feels like a lot some days) but I have been slowly adding each of these things in for the last few weeks to work into the rhythm of it, and it's amazing how much I can get done during our anchor points like circle and quiet time.

So, Jane's schedule.

Monday - Circle time, which includes songs and poetry memorization, Spanish lessons, beanbag math/spelling, and jumproping. Then we go straight into recorder practice (right after her recorder I do a quick "music lesson" with Max. He plucks a pentatonic lyre and we learn a new song to sing.) Then the Fairy Tale, Watercolor Painting, and Form Drawing. After lunch we have 15-20 minutes of knitting time while listening to a sparkle story, and then reading (I read a loud and Jane reads aloud).

Tuesday - Circle time, Recorder, Jane Retells the story and we add her narration to our Main Lesson Book. Handwriting. Knitting, Reading

Wednesday - Circle time, Recorder, New Fairy Tale, Block Crayon Drawing, Reading, knitting and Afternoon Science Co-op!

Thursday - Circle time, Recorder, Retell and add to MLB, Reading, knitting, and homeschool classes

Friday - General Free Day, but we try to do the following. Service project, catch up (if needed), homeschool sports and park day, play practice.

I can usually start circle time around 9:30 or 10 and be done by 11:30 or 12. Some days will be longer. Mondays definitely, with the form drawing. Other days will be shorter. Those are days when we'll add in some cooking or projects to go along with our stories.

You may notice there is no math in this lineup. I promise we're teaching it. But Waldorf teaches subjects in blocks. So some weeks, instead of new fairy tales we will have math lessons. All social studies and science/history will be done through homeschool co-ops/classes and our daily read-aloud time.

Phew! We begin on Monday with EVERYTHING!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Getting The Most Out Of Disneyland With Young Children: A Paradox

Did you know there's an entire blog devoted to picture of kids crying at Disneyland?

There is.

For being "The Happiest Place On Earth," you'll witness a lot of kid meltdowns there. And you can't really be surprised because after you spend all day in the hot sun, eating nothing but junk food, and being blasted with loud music, bright lights, you most favorite princesses ever are walking down the street but you can't touch them because there's a huge line, and you missed your nap, and tea cups made your head swirl. Well, I think we get it.

This past year our family got annual passports to Disney. We are Disney fanatics. After Rob's dad died, it kind of became an escape and we used it on an almost monthly basis from September through March. So now I consider myself a bit of an expert on how to do Disneyland with young kids and actually have a good time.

Here's the secret to getting the most out of Disneyland with your kids.


I know that may sound like it doesn't make sense, especially after you just ponied up $90 bucks for a ticket. You may think you HAVE to get your money's worth now and so we are going to cram as much Disneyland into one day as possible. And all I can say is, I get that feeling. But don't do it. You want to get a FUN Disneyland experience. You want to be there after dark for the fireworks and World of Color. You don't want to be dealing with a nuclear meltdown at 6 O'clock and end up all fighting at the "Happiest Place on Earth" and then push a bunch of grumpy kids from show to show or ride to ride. So here are some of the tricks we use to make our Disneyland days, and we have had a lot of them, long, full days, how we make them enjoyable and workable with young kids. These tips are for everyone, even if you are only going for one day. Perhaps I should say, ESPECIALLY if you are only going for one day.

1. Keep Your Anchor Points The Same.   If you don't have an established rhythm or schedule in your home, this might be a challenge. But for us, we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at pretty consistent times. We also have a very consistent nap/quiet time. These are the most dependable parts of our schedule, if we miss them or are late on them, all hell breaks loose. So even at Disneyland we stick to them. Breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time. Nap time is NOT missed, which brings me to point 2.

2. Definitely Take a Break from the Park. Not all young children will be able to take a nap after lunchtime. But even my kids who have outgrown naps still fall asleep at least 50% of the time on Disneyland days. Lunch is the perfect time to return to the hotel room, get a bite to eat in the quiet, draw the shades and take a snooze. It doesn't have to be as long as usual, especially if you are only there for a day. One hour will be perfect, and you really won't miss that much at the park I promise. What a nap ensures for you is being able to see some of the really fun nightly offerings with your kiddos. All we have to do these days is promise to stay at the park late if the kids take a nap and that's enough motivation to get them to sleep. This routine works best if you follow tip 3.

3. Get a hotel within walking distance of the park, and WALK THERE. Don't take a shuttle. Don't drive and park. These add TIME whenever you need to leave or return to the park. They can add an hour onto that afternoon nap. Get a hotel within 1/3 of a mile of the gate and you are golden.

4. Get to the park right when it opens. This is prime time. So many people seem to mosey through the gates an hour or two later. First thing in the morning is when it will be the most dead and the lines will be shortest, use this time wisely and try to get on as many rides as you can.

5. Whichever park is having it's Magic Morning with early entry...GO TO THE OTHER PARK! I know, that sounds confusing. You paid all that money, you want that extra hour, dangit! No, everybody else is thinking the same thing, and with the cheaper one park per day tickets, that is the park everyone will choose to go to so they "get their money's worth." We've experienced it time and time again. The non-magic morning park is the place to be. It is far less crowded for the first half of the day at least. I promise, the extra hour isn't worth it anyway as your access to the park is very limited.

6. Go in the off-season and on a school day. I know this is a no-brainer, but it really does make a huge difference. Kids have a hard time in lines, your stress level is higher when the park is at capacity. It is well worth your money to pull the kids out of school for a day or two and go then. I would be lying if I said this thought wasn't part of our decision to homeschool.

7. Set expectations early about all the stuff. Let your kids know long before you go (and several times) what they can expect as far as buying things go. Will you allow one souvenir? Will there be any snacks? You can set this up how you want. Some families have a certain "churro budget" and that's what they get at the park. We let the kids pick out a toy for their birthdays. We take snacks into the park and make it clear that we will not be buying any there (we occasionally do, but these are surprises and they are big deals.) We've already spoken about how excited we are for churros and cotton candy when we go this next time, so I am gearing up for knowing I will be buying that. On other trips when we've made it clear that nothing will be bought, or that the kids can "earn" mouse ears or something to that effect, we have had almost zero problems with them asking for things we can't or won't buy them. Occasionally Max will freak out as we pass cotton candy stalls, but that usually only happens when we've been late on getting lunch. Along with all of this, avoiding the stores is probably just a good bet in general.

8. Do a character dining experience. This is extra cash and if it is out of your budget then don't worry about it. But if you know your kids will want to see all the princesses or characters, it is worth it to see them all at once and then not have a freak out or stand in line later to see Mickey and Minnie. You'll be in enough lines. Don't stand in one for a picture.

9. Use the freeplay areas. It's tempting to just focus on rides, rides, rides at Disneyland. But these quiet areas where your kids can run and play will save both your sanity and theirs. Everyone needs some times rejuvenate and kids often do that through free play so make sure they get some of that at the water play area in Bug's Land, Wilderness Adventure Area, and Tom Sawyer Island.

10. Go see the shows! There are so many fun shows to see and not only are they fun, but they get you out of the heat, sitting down, not in a line, and give your kids a little time to relax and recover from overstimulation. Some of our favorites are the Frozen sing-along, Turtle-Time with Crush and all the other offerings in the Sorcerer's workshop, and Mickey's Magical Map.

BONUS TIP: A lot of following these tips has to do with your mindset going into all of this. Be aware, that you CAN NOT see everything at Disneyland in one day. We go for three or four days at a time sometimes and still miss things. My advice is to discuss beforehand what are the "must hit" rides and then make sure to hit those. After that, do what you can without running everyon into the ground. Go in with an attitude of having "enough" rather than one of "scarcity." Disneyland will be around for a long, long time. This is just one visit, and you want to remember it as a happy time even if you don't DO EVERYTHING!

Friday, August 7, 2015

3 Things Journal Prompts

On Sunday, I challenged my Sunday school class to write in their journal every day this week. Just a couple lines. I said that I would try to do the same.

I've never been great at journal writing. I've been able to do a little bit better with photos and blogs, but as far as giving a window into our family and days and my heart, I just never seen to get around to it. And yet, I think leaving a journal to help you remember things later or for your children to read is an amazing blessing. After Steve died, his missionary journal has become a family treasure. I don't want the things I've loved and learned and experienced to die with me. They are part of my greater family story.

BUT, journal writing is SO HARD for me. The blank page is super overwhelming. I feel like I have to fill it all up. And then I feel like I have to give a total run down of EVERYTHING going on in our life, and then it takes forever and makes me feel like I don't have time to write in my journal every day.

Well, I decided to change my style and viewpoint on it. I'm trying to write every morning, and all I have to write are three sentences. I can elaborate if I feel like it, or not. It just depends how my day is looking.

So here is a list of journal prompts asking for three sentences or responses. If you want to try it out, feel free to use them! But, I'm putting them here for me too, on mornings when the creative juices just aren't flowing yet.

3 things I'm thankful for
3 things I need to do today
3 things I'm scared of
3 things I love about my kids
3 things I love about my husband
3 things I love about my job
3 things that bother me
3 people I miss
3 friends I'm thankful for
3 favorite traditions
3 traditions I'd like to start
3 ways I find peace
3 things that make me angry
3 things I believe
3 favorite books
3 favorite quotes
3 favorite movies
3 big dreams
3 small dreams
3 things I wish everyone understood
3 things I want to get better at
3 things I'm really good at
3 things I'm working on
3 memories
3 things from a child's birth story
3 dreams for my child
3 blessings from that day
3 ways I've seen the hand of God in my life
3 favorite foods
3 smells that always bring back a memory
3 memories of my mom
3 memories of my dad
3 memories of my grandparents
3 things I don't understand
3 things that always make me cry
3 favorite scriptures