Get Your Hands on a Book

computer

Let’s talk books, and the reasons why we aren’t reading enough of them.  Of course, you’re reading to your kids, but when was the last time you dove into a book just for you? You’re busy.  I know you are.  I am, too.  And we can probably squeeze in some reading time while we’re waiting in line at the BMV or after the kids have gone to bed, but who has time to actually FIND books to read?  You do.  Really.  You do.

It’s the internet age, which may mean we’re distracted by millions of soundbites and tweets and youtube videos, but it also means we don’t ever, ever have to be without good books to read.  I mean it.  Used properly, the internet will keep us in books forever.   I’m always looking for new ones, and since I don’t have tons of time for browsing (or for wasting on books I hate) , I’ve developed a go-to strategy.  Ready?

It starts with finding the recommendations.  I follow a few blogs that review books or that give recommendations, though I keep this to only a handful to eliminate clutter.  Here are ones that I”ve found the most useful.

  1. Great New Books – Only posts once a week, but I’ve found some I would NEVER have tried but was really glad I did.
  2. Green Bean Teen Queen – She’s a librarian, so not all the posts are book recommendations, but she’s a librarian, so she knows about a lot of books you haven’t heard of.
  3. Epbot – This is girly geek blog, and only very occasionally has book recommendations, but when she does, we have very similar taste.  Search her book posts.  Even the comments have good stuff.

Also, have you guys seen this website?  You just type in a book you loved and it pulls up several you might want to try.  Pretty fun.

I also use Amazon for this.  Go to Amazon, type in a book you love and see what else people who bought that book are buying.  I’ve found tons of books this way, though I always check them out pretty carefully before diving in, since, you know, they are trying to sell you something.

And I just found this post, which takes books you loved as a kid and tells you what you should read now as an adult.  It is rocking my world.  I want to try so many of these books.

Then comes (very quick) research. Once I have an interesting title, I turn back to Amazon.  I use them as a reference tool even more than I buy from them, which is really saying something.  On Amazon you can get a good description of the book plus a rating and a whole bunch of short reviews.  It’s helpful to me in figuring out if this is really going to fit my taste.  Pro tip: If you look down at the “customers also bought” strip, and you see other books you like, you should probably check that out.

Then go crazy on the library’s online reservation page.  Of course, at this point, you can just click “Buy with one click” on Amazon, and the book will be at your doorstep in two days.  That’s a good option, if you can afford the habit.  I, on the other hand, am cheap, and I only like to buy books that I love, which means I have to read them first.  So, once I’ve found the books I want to read on Amazon, I head over to the library page and reserve myself a copy (in Indianapolis, that’s here).  I go for ebooks if I can get them and hard copies if not.  If the ebook is in, I’ve just gone from no idea what to read to a book I’ll probably enjoy in under ten minutes.  If I have to wait on a hold, then…well, I’m waiting, but I usually have a whole list of books on hold at any given time, so they keep coming in a steady stream.  If you don’t have a library card, GET ONE.  When my biggest kids were little, I thought the library couldn’t help me because who has time to browse with little ones hanging on your knees? But the whole online reservation thing has changed the game.  When I’ve reserved a book, all I have to do is stop by and grab it when they send me the email that it’s in.  Five minutes, in and out, no browsing necessary.  As my five-year-old is constantly saying, easy-peasy lemon squeezy.

So there you go.  In ten of your Facebook browsing or medical symptom researching minutes, you could have a couple of great books at your fingertips.  No excuses!

It’s a heady time to be alive.  Let’s get living (and by living, of course, I mean reading).

Posted in Book Recommendations | Leave a comment

Aquiver

aquiverDid you know that no matter where you go in this city, someone within fifty feet of you is filled with anticipation?  Maybe in the house next door or walking by on the sidewalk.  Maybe eating lunch three tables down or riding the elevator past your office.  Never far off.  There’s always someone.  Usually more than one.

Sometimes it’s pure happiness. Tomorrow he comes home! Just two more days until vacation! Sometimes it’s full of hope. Will she say yes? I think they’re going to like my pitch. Sometimes it’s wavering uncertainty. I need this job interview to go well. We’ll be okay if the check comes through in time. Sometimes it’s nothing but dread. What will I do when she finds out? How am I going to tell him? 

All looking forward.  All poised on the edge of something yet to come, and even in the dread a little note of possible escape.  The worst may be out there, but not yet. Not yet.

I used to love this feeling.  The jittery, amped-up, fully-alive feeling.  Your gut is twisting, and you can feel every cell in your body at once.  All poised and ready.  Fight or flight.  Your whole body aquiver with anticipation.

That was before the accident.  When my nerves were my own and lasted only as long as I needed to perform under pressure.  When the hopes and fears of every passerby didn’t press themselves into my psyche.

It was just a normal accident.  It was no one’s fault.  There was no phenomenon of nature or evil chemical involved.  There is no scientific explanation for everything that followed.

I was crossing the street on the crosswalk with the light green.  The man on the bike was crossing the opposite way.  The woman in the car was turning left.  A bee flew in her open window.  She was understandably distracted.  She hit him first and then me.  The two of us were thrown.  I broke both arms and my collar bone.  He broke one leg.  She was distraught and apologetic.  Her insurance paid for everything. I was in the hospital for one night, in an upper body cast for six weeks, and in physical therapy for three months.  No one’s idea of fun but not particularly life-changing, either.

And yet.

The quivering began immediately.  Naturally, I thought at first the response was just my own.  I had been in an accident. I was scared and I was injured. Of course my heart raced.  Of course I felt sick.

But it didn’t pass.  The more people who arrived on the scene, the more amped I felt.  I should have been reassured by the ambulance, by the presence of paramedics calmly telling me everything would be okay.  Instead, I felt thrills passing through me.  In the hospital, I was sedated while they set my broken bones.  When I came out of it, my stomach was twisting with nerves, even while the doctors told me the worst was past and that I would make a full recovery of all functions, as would everyone else involved.  I felt no relief.  I was too worried that my kid was going to be kicked out of school.

I don’t have any kids.

For a person with my condition, a hospital is a nightmare. I’ve said before that there’s nowhere in the city to go to escape anticipation, but in a hospital, hope and fear permeate every person in every room.  Everyone is waiting for news.  Everyone is wondering how long they have to live.  Everyone is worried about how they will pay. Even the doctors and nurses are filled with adrenalin.  This feeling compounds itself.  That inner quiver became uncontrollable trembling.  After one night there, my apartment seemed like a paradise, even with my anxious neighbors on every side.

Do you have any idea what it’s like to be filled with adrenalin all the time?  That rush you get, heady and strong, making you feel invincible?  When it’s always there, you don’t feel powerful.  You don’t feel ready for action.  You don’t feel like you.  You feel desperate.  You feel paranoid.  You feel like you’re going crazy.

My skin itches all the time.

The doctors have no explanation for any of this.  I’ve seen all kinds: neurologists, endocrinologists, psychologists.  They all tell me different versions of the same story.  This is in my head.  This is a temporary result of trauma.  This will pass.  And while they tell me this, I can feel them worrying about the lawsuit that is pending and looking forward to a weekend in Vegas.

I’ve stopped seeing doctors.

I have a couple theories of my own, though there’s no way to tell which one may be true.  One is that this ability was always inside of me.  That getting thrown over the hood of a car and smacking into concrete-covered ground jarred it loose.  My mother always said I was a sensitive child.

The other involves the man and the woman who were with me.  I made a point of talking to them after.  I said I wanted to make sure they were okay, to let them know that I didn’t blame them.  That wasn’t untrue.

Over tea, they told me things.  The woman was on her way to lunch with her sister, who had news to share.  She was pretty sure that her sister was going to tell her she had cancer.  She wasn’t wrong.

The man  on the bike was training for a triathlon. He was planning to fly to Seattle the next day for the race, where he would be meeting an old friend.  This old friend was a woman he had never thought he would see again, and he had dreamed of her for years.

So now I can’t help but wonder: was it this that changed me? Am I the result of this unexpected collision of hope and dread?

Eventually I left the city.  Found a small place in the woods where no one else was near.  It’s peaceful there. No hopes but my own that I will catch a fish that afternoon.  No fears but the passing thought that someone may decide to go hiking nearby.  I can rest.

I never knew how important rest could be.

Still, I go back.  When my mind is clear and my body has lost its tension, I make a trip to the city.  Because I need supplies?  Not really.  Anything I need can be delivered in this magical age.  Because I’m lonely? Maybe, though that word has taken on new meaning to me.

Mostly I go back hunting.  Hunting for those who need someone to share their joy.  Hunting for those who have no one to help bear their fears.  Hunting for the meaning of it all.

There must be a reason for what has happened to me.  Someday I will find it.

Someday.

 

Posted in Not what you expected | Leave a comment

Monday Morning Treasure – The Spring Edition

springgreenIt finally looks and feels like spring!  There is so much green around me right now that I could write a poem.  Except that when I’ve reached this level of happy I actually find myself wanting to say nothing at all.  (Which is good, because what would be more unoriginal than a poem about spring?)

So! More happy reveling in green and less blathering about it.

Check out these little bits of inspiration for our Monday morning.

    • Words. More delicious and satisfying even than food (and let me tell you how I feel about food…). I have this little idea that I want to take each one of these words and make it the title of a short story or poem.  Fun April challenge? Yes. Let’s.
    • More fun with words. It only takes a minute to play around with this, but I think it’s a fun idea for a way to create a story. Start with a simple phrase and expand and expand.  Where could it take you? We’re totally trying this one here soon. See how we steal things are inspired by the internet?
    • Just something magical to look at at. Because magic is worth taking a minute to soak in.
    • Just when we think maybe we’re wasting our time with all this story-telling nonsense, we get little reminders like this.  Art is not a luxury. (And are you reading Jen? Because she is worth following.)
    • More eye candy.  Magical photography AND miniatures.  Two of my favorite things.  Also a really fun sci-fi short story in here somewhere.  What if your life was really just someone’s diorama? (It’s been done, but if Stephen King could ruin it in Under The Dome, maybe you’re the one to redeem it?)
    • I’m obsessed with George Ezra these days. His voice, you guys. I never get tired of listening to this.  And this.  And of course, this.  Take the time for these songs.  You’ll be humming all day.  Also, this one makes me smile and really is a musical story-telling at its best:

Happy Spring, everyone!

Let’s make something beautiful this week.  And while we’re at it, let’s make this week something beautiful.

 

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In between

Inside
Warmth and the smell of dinner cooking
Somewhere upstairs
My sister’s radio is playing
My mother smiles
My brother tells a joke
He learned that day
Laughing I look out
At the world

Outside
Chill and the smell of damp grass
From nothing and nowhere
A furious assault of wind
The rain drizzles
Wild things huddle
In safe green places
Away from the gray
Of the world

Only this glass
In between

window

 

Posted in Poetry | Leave a comment

The Power of a Story

220px-NotreDameDeParisThe famed cathedral of Notre Dame.  It’s construction was begun in 1160 and its final elements were completed in 1345.  It was worth 200 years of work, don’t you think?

Notre_Dame_de_Paris,_East_View_140207_1 Organ_of_Notre-Dame_de_ParisBut once upon a time, someone looked at this gorgeous intersection of art and science, this monument to beauty, this feat of engineering, and saw only that it didn’t fit in with their political ideals.  This was a church, after all, and not only was it associated with an oppressive religion that had been declared dead, it was huge and had gloomy gargoyles and was in the way of modern progress.  In 1793, the cathedral was given to the Cult of Reason.  Statues were beheaded.  The spire was torn down.  The vast space was no longer used for inspiration but as a warehouse to store food.  The beautiful stained glass windows were taken out and replaced with clear glass to let in more light.  Some talked of pulling the whole thing down to make room for new buildings.

Then in 1829, Victor Hugo began writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  His main goal in that enduring work of literature?  To convince his people of the value of Gothic art and architecture so that they would preserve the cathedral.  It worked.  The book was published in 1831.  It was hugely successful.  In 1845, the government began a restoration  project.  The spire was reconstructed.  The statues were repaired.  New stained glass windows were installed.

Today, Victor Hugo is credited with literally saving the cathedral of Notre Dame.

The power of a story.

Hugo went out of his way in the book to insert lengthy descriptions of the beauties of the cathedral and also of the travesty of the changes that had been made to it.  If you’ve read any of Hugo’s works, you know how long his rabbit trails can be.  Maybe this overt attempt to highlight the issue is what convinced people, but I don’t think so.

I think it was the image of a lonely and misunderstood man lurking among the bells in those towers.  I think it was the romance of a beautiful young woman, wrongfully condemned to death, seeking sanctuary within those walls.  I think it was the tragedy of that safe place being violated by those who cared nothing for the sanctity of the place and the heroine who could not be saved in the end, only mourned.

How could anyone who had ever themselves felt outcast or trampled upon despise the refuge of Quasimodo?  How could anyone tear down Esmeralda’s sanctuary without becoming another Frollo?

The power of a story.

I first heard about Hugo’s intentional saving of the cathedral a few months ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since then.  What do I love?  What destruction of beauty do I see in my world?  What is mine to preserve?  What is there of value for me to see restored?

The power of a story.

It’s there waiting for all of us, at the tips of our tongues and our fingers. We may not have the depth of power that Victor Hugo commanded.  We may not have the range of influence that his gifts gave him.  But we each have a small circle.  We have simple words.  We have the power to preserve what lies near us, to plant tiny seeds of nobility, to infuse insignificant things with beauty, to restore a love for what we treasure, and to keep that love alive for future generations.

The power of a story.

What will you do with that power?

What is your Notre Dame?

Posted in The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment

2015 Reading List (The First Quarterly Update)

“People disappear when they die.  Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath.  Their flesh. Eventually their bones.  All living memory of them ceases.  This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist.  We can rediscover them. Their humor their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink and paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.”

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

We’re one quarter of the way through 2015, can you even believe it? My book list stands with 17 titles so far, which means it’s more than time for an update.  The list is in the order I read them.  I refuse to rank things, partially on principal but mostly because I can’t.  I recommend almost all of them because, let’s face it, I’m wimpy and I don’t finish books I don’t like.  These are the ones I actually finished.

1. Percy Jackson and the Olypians: The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan 

percyI started reading these because my daughter and her friends are completely into them, and I wanted to check them out.  I’m an adult, but that hasn’t stopped me from liking a lot on this genre.  These books are a great pick for kids, but I found that I didn’t get into them myself.  Still, my 9-year-old daughter is racing through the millions of books by Rick Riordan and loving every one of them, and I can see the appeal. Lots of action. Lots of quips. And a bonus, you learn about Greek and Roman mythology. Not quite meaty enough for the adult audience.  Sigh. Too bad.

2. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

3. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

candles I honestly don’t go in much for essay collections, but this came highly recommended and I loved it. It mostly deals with aging, so if you’re over 35, it’s relevant.  Some chapters didn’t resonate with me as much as others, but her chapter on motherhood shone, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

4. Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg – This barely counts, as it’s mostly like reading a really long internet page, but it makes for a fun quick hour of laughing.  If you aren’t familiar with characters from famous classic novels, this won’t make any sense to you.

5. Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder – So cool. This is the adult version of her life story, which Wilder wrote first before adapting it for children.  It’s a really interesting historical read.  My husband bought me the annotated version, which has so many fascinating historical notes, but like a first grader, I skipped them all at first and just raced through the story.  Lots of similarities to the books you know and love, but the differences are interesting.

6. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt – Can you believe I had never read this?  It’s a classic, and it’s pretty wonderful.  I’d recommend it for adults or children, though kids might find it a little slow.  If you read it yourself, it will only take you a couple of hours and you won’t regret it at all.

7. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Hepperman – A collection of poems with modern takes on fairy tales.  This is written for teens and focuses a lot on body image and the pressure to be beautiful.  The opening poem was lovely, but the rest honestly left me kind of flat.  This is an important topic, but these poems added nothing to the conversation.

8. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith – Very offbeat coming of age kind of tale about a California boy.  Is that a vague summary?  Yes.  But anything else I say about it would  misrepresent. This is a pretty raw look at a teenage boy’s brain, which means I don’t even want to think about my kids reading it (just because I can’t even go there on them being real hormonal teenagers) but it was honestly beautiful even in its vulgarity.  His writing is tight and clean and has just a hint of magic to it.  I really enjoyed the book.

9. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson – This is the sequel to Steelheart, which I read last year.  You can read more about the series on the book recommendation list. It was solid, entertaining, clever without being brilliant, and I think early teens would get into it.

10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

potatopeelpie You guys.  Read this book, please. I heard of it a couple of years ago and was intrigued.  A year back a friend recommended it, and I took note of that. But for some reason (the title, maybe?) I just never hunted it down. Then I found a copy at Goodwill for a quarter.  And then I read the whole thing in two days.  It’s so beautiful.  It’s a really heart-breaking piece of history, but this book is not sad.  I mean, it is in places, but it’s so warm and full of sunlight.  Just trust me.  Read it.

11. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – Sequel to The Paper Magician, which I read last year.  This was  free borrow from Amazon, and since most of those are awful and I actually read all of this and enjoyed it, I would recommend it. It’s an interesting little world the author has created, and though there isn’t anything compelling here, it’s a fun read.

12. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

13thtale I got lost in this one, like the way you get lost in the fog.  If you love Jane Eyre you have to read this book. It has that sort of gothic feel to it, but it isn’t maudlin.  It is old-fashioned though set in a more modern age. It’s beautiful in a very specific way (a mist on the moors way, a roomful of dusty books way).  And it’s about stories, so I’m keeping a copy of it on my shelf for always.

13. Enchantment by Orson Scott Card – I found this used at a little bookstore we love. I didn’t even know it existed. We’re big fans of the Ender series, and this is Card’s foray into fantasy, taking the tale of sleeping beauty and drawing it into a modern context, so of course I had to buy it.  I read it in one weekend.  As a tale it is only moderately interesting, but Card is the master of showing the interactions of cultures and people’s reactions to encountering foreign cultures, and this book is no exception.  That’s a topic near to my heart, so this one is a keeper for me.

14. The Young Elites by Marie Lu – We absolutely loved the Legend series, so I was excited to find Lu’s newest work.  Unfortunately, it didn’t do it for me.  The characters weren’t nearly as resonant and the whole thing had a darkness to it that I could never get comfortable with.  This is a book of antiheroes, and though I salute her bravery in that, I just can’t get behind it as a reader.

15. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

stationelevenSeveral people recommended this book as the best book they had read in 2014.  I can see why.  This is a book about the end of the world and the post-apocalyptic world that follows, but it isn’t about that at all.  It’s about a group of people whose lives touched only on the fringes on both sides of the catastrophe, but it’s not about that at all either.  It’s about home.  I’m pretty sure it’s really about home.  This book is excellently well written.  It jumps back and forth through time, weaving the story masterfully, without worrying too much about the story itself.  Am I confusing you?  Just read it.  Really.  It’s wonderful.

16. The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

fifthwaveA friend put me onto these, and I couldn’t put them down.  For pure page-turning dystopian teen lit, this is the clear winner of the year. It’s not quite as profound as it pretends to be, but it’s a really fun read.  Hunger Games fans, this is the next one you should pick up.

17. The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey – The sequel.  One more comes out soon.  Kind of can’t wait.

So there it is.  Sometimes I think about all the good books out there to be read and I just feel so happy…

So far, this year’s list is pretty wide-ranging.  If you’re looking for a new read, there ought to be something in there to your taste.  Unless you want non-fiction.  I really can’t help you there.

“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.”

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

 

 

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luna

Not very far from where you live, a small island hides in the middle of a wide river.  There isn’t much to it. A thick growth of trees holds the soil in place as the swift current rushes past on both sides.  Very few people have even seen the island, placed so far from either bank that it looks like a mere smudge from the shore.  Those who float past it in boats steer clear of the tree roots that extend out into the water like claws looking to trap living things.  No one ever lands there.  There is no shore to land on.  Just a tangle of trees that looms up as you approach and then dwindles quickly as the river carries you past.

But in the middle of that island, unseen by anyone, there is a cottage, and in that cottage, there is a young girl, and she is very far from home.

Luna was born among the stars.  Her father was a solar flare and her mother a glimmer of moonlight, and Luna herself glowed brightly in the night sky.  When she was very small, she darted about, winking and twinkling and delighting everyone who saw her.  As she grew and began to shine more brightly, she took her place near to her mother.  From the surface of the earth, she appeared to be a star, though in reality her glow was much more dim.  But like her mother, the moonlight, she loved the Earth and kept her light only for those who walked its surface, while the stars went their own way, busy with their own concerns.

Still, there was one star who noticed little Luna: the Morning Star.  Morning was used to being the brightest star to fill Earth’s sky, and she was not pleased at the attention that Luna received from astronomers and small children alike.  Morning went to Luna’s mother and demanded that the girl be sent to live near her father, where her light would be eclipsed by the day, but Luna’s mother refused to be parted from her daughter.

It is not wise to refuse a star, for they burn with the intensity of a sun, and their anger is fearsome to see.

So it was with the Morning Star that she radiated rage, and calling on all of her immense power, she cast Luna out of the night sky and down to earth, imprisoning her on a little island in the middle of a rushing river.

On the island Luna is neatly trapped, for though here on the ground she appears to be a normal human girl, still inside she is made of fire.  The trees of the island fear her and will not let her near them, and she herself fears the water of the river.

Luna’s parents, of course, still shine on her from above, her mother keeping her company at night and her father during the day, but both are distant and though she speaks to them, they cannot answer back, and Luna is very lonely.

Still, moonlight and sunlight are not without power, and though they cannot rescue their daughter themselves, they have formed a plan.  Men once walked on the surface of the moon and men could do so again if they chose, so Luna’s parents are looking to men to bring their daughter home.

First she must be found.  Luna’s father pushed hard on a passing meteor and sent tiny fragments of metallic rock to land on her island.  Each day he pulses with heat, causing the rocks to glitter and shine.  Nothing attracts men so much as the glistening of precious metal.

Then she must be flown to the moon.  Luna’s mother, beautiful as she is, has very little power of her own, but she still has the power to intrigue and bewitch.  Each night she turns her glimmer toward the earth and causes it to flicker in an obvious pattern.  Nothing makes men want to investigate so much as a mystery that no one else has solved.

How Luna is to get from the treasure hunter who discovers her to the scientists who will study the moon is up to her.  She watches the sky and sees her parents’ plan and thinks of all that she learned in her years of watching men on Earth.

So Luna waits, not for a prince to rescue her but for ordinary human curiosity to give her an opening, a chance to rescue herself.

The water rushes by, and her parents smile down on her, and Luna waits.

Posted in Magic | Leave a comment

Don’t Think

My brain has been foggy lately.  Maybe it’s Spring Break at home with a houseful of children.  Maybe it’s the lingering effects of winter’s cold, which is only now letting go of us.  Maybe it’s all that Easter candy.

Let’s face it, it’s probably that last one.

In any case, it’s time to bypass the brain and pull stories from somewhere else.

(If I were a certain kind of person I’d say it was time to take them from the heart.  I am not that kind of person.)

Instead we’re going to take them from the nether.  We’re going to take whatever is buzzing around our atmosphere and cram it into words.  The best stories mostly come from nowhere anyway, right?  So.  We’re going to kickstart some new stories with a simple one-line prompt and just write without pausing to think even once.

Ready?  Set?

Go.

Once upon a time there was an unusual sea…

seaOnce upon a time there was an unusual sea.  It was made of peanut butter and jelly.  The fish that swam through the sea had to be very strong to make their way through the sticky mess, but since they had so much deliciousness to sustain them, they grew big and fat and had all the strength they could need.  The animals loved the sea.  They came from far and wide to lick at the salty wonderful peanut butter and slurp up the delicious sweet jelly.  All the creatures that lived by the sea were as happy as happy could be.  Then people discovered the sea.  They marveled at it.  How could such a thing exist?  Scientists came and studied the wonder.  Where was the peanut butter coming from?  Why was it grape jelly and not strawberry or orange marmalade?  How could fish breath with only peanut butter and jelly and no water to provide oxygen?  Studies were conducted.  Tests were run.  The results were inconclusive, so more studies and tests were planned.  Businessmen also arrived at the PBandJ sea.  They saw so much marketing potential.  They immediately began plans for a resort on the shores of the sea.  Children would love it.  Women could be convinced that bathing in peanut butter and jelly would do wonders for their skin.  Genius salesmen convinced the world that this sea was the only source of truly natural peanut butter.  They put it in jars and sold it all over the world.  It fetched very high prices.  In a matter of time, the sea was all but empty.  A few concerned activists came and began to rescue the giant fish.  They put them into the real, salt-water sea, but they did not thrive there.  The sea emptied and emptied until it was all gone.  Everyone blamed everyone else.  Many fingers were pointed.  In the end, everyone shrugged and went back to normal life.  No one ever figured out how the PBandJ sea had come to be.  It was just there.  And then it was gone.  The animals found somewhere else to eat and play.  They weren’t as happy as before, but they survived.  And one very big, very fat, and very strong fish swam in a tasteless ocean and plotted his revenge.

Once upon a time there was an unusual sea.  Everyone who swam in it dreamed dreams of special magnificence.  One minute you were swimming along and the next you imagined yourself as a princess or an astronaut or a super hero or a horse.  You were convinced that what you saw was real, and as long as you stayed in the water, everything turned out exactly as you hoped.  The dreams were lovely.  You never wanted your swim to end.  Naturally people came from far and wide to swim in it.  They stayed in the water until their fingers and toes were all pruned up and their mothers forced them to come out and eat something or sleep for just a few hours.  Cassie came to the sea of dreams for the first time when she was ten.  She dreamed the most wonderful dream in which she found a secret garden full of fairies.  They welcomed her and showed her the magic nectar that could turn her into a fairy.  She played with them and learned their dances and helped to save them from an evil cat named Gruel.  They made her their fairy queen.  Then her mother came and dragged her out of the waves and they all went home.  Not long after, the family moved far away, and Cassie was never able to visit the sea of dreams again.  But she couldn’t stop thinking about the secret garden and her fairy friends.  No matter who she met or what she did, she always felt that her fairy friends were more real than anyone else around her.  Everywhere she went, she searched for the secret garden.  She knew it couldn’t be real, but she couldn’t get rid of the feeling that she just hadn’t looked in the right place yet.  Cassie grew up, and the dream grew with her.  At eighteen it felt even more real than it had at ten.  At twenty-five, she had finally saved up enough money to visit the sea of dreams again.  This time when she went into the sea, she looked around carefully as she went into the garden.  She took note of where it was and what the door looked like.  The dream was wonderful, even better that she remembered.  The fairies recognized their queen and threw a huge party for her return.  A visiting fairy prince asked her to marry him.  She said yes.  Then a lifeguard, seeing that she had no mother to make her go home at night, came and pulled her out of the sea.  People could drown if they stayed in their dreams too long.  Cassie went home determined to come back and swim the next morning.  She knew the dream would be waiting for her.  But she couldn’t sleep.  She tossed and turned and though how she wished the dream was real and not just in her head.  She thought about the way that door looked and suddenly she thought she knew just where it was.  Cassie got up and packed her bags and bought a plane ticket with the last of her money.  She flew to a special place she knew of, right on the edge of an old forest.  She walked the trails for hours, searching for the door she knew couldn’t really be there.  Then she saw it.  It was the door from the dream.  There could be no doubt.  Cassie went over, sure the door would be locked.  The handle turned.  She went inside.

Time’s up.  Two stories.  Not terribly original, but I’m pretty sure my kids will get a kick out of them.

What did you come up with?  What kind of unusual sea popped into your head?

Want a few more prompts for this week?  I’ll list a couple below.

Remember, the rules are simple.  Don’t think.  Just start talking (or writing).  Once you’ve started down a path, make the best of it.  Let your kids toss in some ideas if you get stuck.  (They are especially good at endings. Kids know what they want to happen.)

Once upon a time, a man lived in a tall, tall tree…

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom where no one could speak…

Once upon a time, a cowboy came upon a sheep with its wool tangled up in some bushes…

Once upon a time, a squirrel was crowned king of the forest…

Ready? Set?

Go.

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Superhero

Are you guys watching The Flash?

You should be.  It’s our family show these days, as in schedule a time, everyone on the couch, riveted for 50 minutes.  Finally a show all five of us can get into at the same time.  It’s 100% satisfying every week.

The Flash has been one of my favorite superheros for a long time.  He has the perfect combination of naive idealism with serious kick-butt abilities.  He can run across water.  He can stop a tornado by running circles in the opposite direction.  He can turn back time and save all the universes.  You have to take this guy seriously.  But he never does.  (Take himself seriously, that is.) That’s the best thing about him.

Okay, enough fangirl.

Let’s talk superpowers.  When my kids were little, I used to say that if I could only have one super power, I would want it to be the power to instantly make anyone sleep by just touching them.  Yes, I was sleep-deprived.  But think about it. Someone is attacking you, and all you have to do is just reach out and touch them and they instantly fall asleep.  You tie them up and haul them off to jail.  No need for killing.  Plus, bonus, you can make small children sleep.  Parents would pay a fortune for this. You would be so rich. This is a very useful power.

Less of my life revolves around getting people to sleep now, so I’ve started to think maybe I could branch out a little.  These days Flash’s super speed is looking pretty awesome.  Think of how much I could get done!

My kids don’t agree, though.  The house is full of them, eight kids ages 2-11. (WEEK 2 of SPRING BREAK!)  Here are the results of my informal survey:

WHICH IS BETTER, THE POWER TO TURN INVISIBLE OR SUPER SPEED?

Invisible: 5

Super speed: 1

WHICH IS BETTER, TO BE SUPER STRONG OR TO HEAL YOURSELF?

Super strong: 0

Heal yourself: 6

WHICH IS BETTER, TO CONTROL ANIMALS OR TO CONTROL PLANTS?

Animals: 6

Plants: 0

IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY SUPER POWER IMAGINABLE, WHAT POWER WOULD YOU WANT (AND WHY)?

5yo: For every animal in the world to like me. So if you were in trouble you could be like, “Hey, animals! Come help me!” And they would. Like how Toby [our beagle] is so good at balancing. So if I was falling off a cliff, I could be like, “Help, Toby!” and he would save me from falling.

6yo: Web-slinging, because it’s fun, but it would scare me to go really high heights.

8yo: To bring back the dead. Fully alive. So I could see great-grandpa and other people.

9yo: Mind control because I could make people do what I wanted them to do

10yo: Mind control [This came with an eye roll because I was taking her away from more important things.]

11yo: Time travel because it’s awesome [I suspect this had something to do with the Dr. Who that was being watched minutes before.]

What do we learn from this scientific research?

1. Kids don’t have any idea how awesome plant control could be. (But they would find out when their silly wolves and tigers were all tied up with vines.)

2. Kids do not have enough to do, as they still think being sneaky is more useful than being fast.  This makes me want to give them more chores while they are still visible and too slow to get away.

3. I need to make sure 5-year-old Lucy gets a chance to see Toby scrambling at the edge of my bed unable to jump up.  She seems to have an inflated idea of his skill level and usefulness.

4.  Don’t ask preteen girls any more questions than you absolutely have to.  It’s just a more harmonious way to live.

What do you think? What power would you choose?  Are there any totally new ideas out there?

I feel some superhero stories coming on.  I’m thinking these would be perfect to make up along with kids.  Grown ups supply the problems, kids supply the superpower fueled solutions.  I’m going to try it out today.  Who’s in?

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Under the Kitchen Sink

I couldn’t say what’s under there
Old mold? A hibernating bear?
It’s not well-lit. Pipes fill the air.
My visits there are very rare

If I need the special spray
I reach in quick and look away
The back’s not been seen since moving-in day
Whatever was there was there to stay

Except. Except there was yesterday.

Yesterday, my fears I hid
To set an example for my kids
“No job’s too tough!” “The grunge we’ll rid!”
(I hope there’s not a giant squid.)

I knelt on the ground. “In I go,” I said.
I looked around. Wait? Why the dread?
No insects, no growths and nothing dead.
Just castoff bottles and dog food instead

Why are all the fun terrors just in my head?

IMG_0626

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