Unknown

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I’m older than I used to be
I’ve learned a few things, too
Some questions have been answered
(I now know why the sky is blue)

Plus every day come new discoveries
So much more than I had planned
But still some mysteries elude me
Things I’ll never understand

Like why the sand feels so amazing
Between my toes down by the shore
But it’s the worst thing in creation
Under my feet on my own floor

Or why my favorite cozy sweater
Grows those little fuzzy balls
(Are there tiny elves that make them?
Are they living in my walls?)

And why do some people have everything
And others not enough?
And whose idea was all this junk mail?
And how did badgers get so tough?

And will we ever build a moon base?
And does a mountain know it’s big?
And how does hope make so much difference?
And will I ever own a pig?

And why on earth do you still love me
When I pass my days this way?
I know I’ll never comprehend it
And yet, you do, so it’s okay

Cause that’s the thing about not knowing
In a way, it’s the best part
What my brain can’t lay out neatly
I get to jumble in my heart

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It’s Not Stuff; It’s Stories

My parents have moved to town!  It’s a long, whirlwind story, but the happy ending is that this week they moved into a house less than ten minutes from ours, and now my children have both sets of grandparents living close.

If that sort of thing seems normal to you, then you probably can’t understand how this feels to me.  Three quick pieces of information for important context: 1. I grew up moving every year or two and never lived in the same town as my own grandparents, and 2. I went to college halfway across the country from home and then married someone local, and 3. We proceeded to move to Argentina, where we lived for nearly a decade and where I birthed two of our three children.

Needless to say, I never, ever envisioned a life in which my children would grow up around all of their grandparents. Sometimes, life just gives you those unexpected bonuses. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Cut to this weekend, to my kids helping Gramma unpack in her new house.  I was upstairs moving boxes of books to and fro, and when I came down, there were all three kids on the floor with my mom, beautiful tea cups and glassware on every available surface, having the time of their lives.

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“Tell your mom what you just told me,” Gramma said to my son.

In classic kid fashion, he was too squirmy to respond, so it was up to Gramma.

“He just said, “Hey, this isn’t really about the stuff.  This is really about the stories.”

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These are the moments you can’t plan for.  But oh, when they come.

Every tea cup has a story.  Every nick-knack is a reminder of someone, of something, of some time.

Each little treasure they unwrapped was a double treasure, an object of beauty and also a little glimpse into their Gramma’s long and fascinating life.  (Not so very long, Mom, only long to them.)

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These stories are all around us every day.  The things that fill our homes, that sit on our shelves, that hang on our walls.  They are artifacts, stories just waiting to be told.

When was the last time you let your kids in on their secrets?

Posted in The Storytelling Life | 1 Comment

He’s My Best Friend And He’s Also A Bear

Frankie Orzo was a strange boy and he came from an equally strange family.  He spent a lot of time by himself.  Too much time, his teachers all agreed, but his Great-Aunt Lela, who was his legal guardian, wasn’t concerned.

“Boys have to go their own way,” she said, placidly rocking in the old wooden chair she kept on the porch for just that purpose.

She only said that because she hadn’t yet realized what way Frankie was going.

Frankie’s grown-up cousin, Louise, who also lived with Great-Aunt Lela, wasn’t concerned, either, but that was because she was too busy with her bees.  Louse was a bee-keeper and had fourteen hives out behind the house.  This was one of the chief reasons no one ever came to the house, which of course, just left Frankie with even more time by himself.

A lot of boys would have bored living with two old women and a bunch of bees, but not Frankie.  A lot of boys would have been lonely with nothing to do but roam the woods behind the house after homework was finished, but not Frankie.  Frankie was never bored or lonely.  That’s because Frankie had a secret.

Frankie’s secret went unnoticed for a long time, but nothing stays secret forever, and eventually hints began to appear.

One day on the playground the Harrison brothers were bullying Frankie as usual when suddenly, Frankie reached his arms out to the biggest Harrison brother and wrestled him to the ground.  No one was hurt, but the Harrison boys cried anyway, of course, and Frankie was taken to the office and questioned.

“Where did you learn to wrestle like that?” Principal Mills asked.

“My friend Oswald taught me,” Frankie said.

As no one had been hurt and wrestling was not technically the same as fighting, Frankie was sent back to class with a warning to be more careful.  Principal Mills checked the school records and verified that there was no student named Oswald, but he was a busy man and couldn’t give it much more thought than that.

A week later, Louse came out the back door to find Frankie with his arm inside one of the bee-hives.  While she watched, she carefully pulled his hand out, dripping with honey, and walked away without a sting.

“Where did you learn to handle bees like that?” Louse asked, when she was done telling Frankie off for messing with her hives.

“My friend Oswald taught me,” Frankie said.

“Who is Oswald?” Louse asked, wondering if there was another bee-keeper in town.

“He’s my best friend,” Frankie said, and Great-Aunt Lela rang the dinner bell, cutting off all further conversation.

Two days later, as Frankie was walking home from school, Mrs. Hanson’s dog dug under the fence and confronted Frankie on the street.  Frankie was pale as a sheet, but he stood his ground and as the dog approached, Frankie growled so fiercely that Ripper turned tail and scuttled back under the fence.

Mrs. Hanson, who only saw the last part of this as she pulled into her driveway, was alarmed.

“Where did you learn to growl like that?” she asked Frankie.

“My friend Oswald taught me,” Frankie said.

“What kind of friend would teach a boy to growl?”

“He’s my best friend, and he’s also a bear,” Frankie said.

“Well, I don’t know who this Bear family is, but your grandmother ought to be warned that you are associating with low types,” Mrs. Hanson huffed, and she trotted straight inside to make the call before Frankie could say that Lela was actually his Great-Aunt.

When Frankie got home, Great-Aunt Lela was still rocking placidly on the porch.  She didn’t get up or yell or do anything other grown-ups might have done, but she did say that Frankie was to invite his friend Oswald to dinner, the next night, no excuses.

Frankie did not think this was a good idea, but for all her placid rocking, when Great-aunt Lela made her mind up about something there was no changing it.

The next night, when Great-aunt Lela rang the dinner bell, Frankie came into the yard right on time.  Oswald was just behind him.

Louise screamed.  Great-aunt Lela dropped her bell.

“What is that?” Louse yelled.

“This is Oswald,” Frankie said. “He’s my best friend and he’s also a bear.”

The big black bear nodded over Frankie’s head in a friendly way and tried not to stare longingly at the bee-hives.

“He’s an actual bear,” Great-aunt Lela stated the obvious.

“And an actual friend,” nodded Frankie.

Great-aunt Lela sank into her chair, but she did not rock, placidly or otherwise.

Frankie was a very strange boy, but he was still a boy.  It was dinner time and he was hungry.

“Is it time to eat?” he asked.

Louise stared.

Great-aunt Lela sighed a very, very long sigh.  Then her chair rocked just a little.

“Better bring the dinner out here on the porch, Louise,” she said.

Louise was too stunned not to obey.

Eating on the front porch with a bear as your guest is a very strange thing to do.  Finding that you rather enjoy it is even stranger.

Fortunately, Frankie Orzo had always been a strange boy and he came from an equally strange family.

 

Posted in Frogs and Snails, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some Golden Inspiration

Because January is exactly like this, we’re on the hunt for inspiration these days.  I’m not feeling quite as earnest as I was last Monday, so let’s just float around the internet and stare at beautiful and interesting things that might inspire us to create.

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Ready?  Set?  Go:

  •  This wind map is mesmerizing, and I can’t help but feel that there are endless story possibilities here.  I’m picturing things floating on those winds.  I’m picturing the air from our neighbors blowing over us.  I’m picturing the endless motion of the world.
  • Just found this wonderful site with beautiful high res pictures offered up for free download.  This is something I can get behind.  Pictures inspire me, but I’m useless at creating my own.  Check out this one.  The stars, the water, the lonely house.  Oh, the possibilities.
  • Humor as inspiration.  I’ve been following these for a while, but here they are all in one place.  Warning:  Not safe for children!  But this is a whole new way for art to inspire us.  A way I can totally get behind.
  • Language as inspiration.  I love, love, love these concepts.  Especially hygge.  And I love all those words that exist in other languages and can’t really be translated into our own.  Language and culture are endlessly fascinating.  Definitely planning to practice some hygge today.
  • Create!  It doesn’t have to be a fantasy epic.  Even if all you are creating is a little story or sketch to amuse your children.  You’re making the world a warmer place.
  • Having a hard time getting started?  Neil Gaiman has some excellent advice.   (If you only click on one link today, make it this one.)

I’ve been reading some serious things and thinking some serious thoughts this week, too, but let’s save those for another day, shall we?  Today, let’s make something small, something that only takes the little bit of energy we have but is something.

Maybe we’ll be surprised at how big a difference a small something can make.

Posted in Links, The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment

Inside This Volcano

It’s so hot inside this volcano
I’m wondering why I came
I guess it’s the red glow that drew me
Like a moth is drawn to a flame

But now that I’m here, I don’t like it
That lava is way too near
I’m sweating so much I feel dizzy
Is there poisonous air in here?

True, it’s neat I’m inside of a mountain
Liquid rock’s an amazing sight
But some things are way better in pictures
From this close I’m afraid I’ll ignite

volcano

Photo by Sudiono Muji, courtesy of unsplash.com.
Posted in Poetry | 1 Comment

Be Inspired (Stephen King On Writing)

It’s a new year!

New is wonderful.  New is fresh.  New is inspiring.  In this case, new is also cold.  Very, very cold.  But that’s the way it goes.  New is unpredictable.  It’s uncontrollable.  That’s the whole point.  It’s new.  Equal parts scary and exciting, uncomfortable and inspiring.

Let’s talk about inspiration.  Inspiration is what we need.

I’ve never understood why we take a look at a fresh new calendar and make RESOLUTIONS.  (They always seem grim and all-caps to me, just like that.)  I am DETERMINED to do better.  I am RESOLVED to grit my teeth and do all the things.  No wonder they don’t last.  Gritting your teeth is terrible for the jaw and in time will lead to headaches.

Why make RESOLUTIONS when we can make aspirations?  Aspirations (always written just so, of course, with emphasis because we are serious about this and leaning just a little bit forward because we are yearning for it, stretching out to take hold of it) are those things we pull out of the wish bin, dust off, and decide to make a reality.  We are setting our sails in this direction, and what we need right now is the wind of inspiration to spur us on, not a list of rules to beat us about the head.  I’m not saying it won’t be hard work.  I’m not saying there won’t be times of calm where we have to choice to but row until our hands blister.  But the more inspiration we have, the quicker we find ourselves where we want to be.

What inspires you?  Who inspires you?  Let’s take some time this winter and fill ourselves up with inspiration.

Some of my aspirations may not be the same as yours, so some of my inspirations may impact you less than they do me. Others I think we’ll find are universal to us all. In both cases, I hope you are spurred on to find your own inspirations, to tilt your sails into the wind.

Today I’m starting small.  I’m starting practical. With this little book.

I’ll tell you straight, I’m not a fan of horror, and I would never have thought to look to Stephen King for inspiration. I grant you that The Stand is a classic worth reading, but most of his other stuff (including all but a few portions of The Dark Tower has left me flat.

But.

I read On Writing when I was first daring to write for real, and it made this whole ridiculous aspiration seem just a little more doable. I read it again recently, and it inspired me to stay on the long hard path. And whenever aspiring writers ask me about writing, this is the book I send them to. It has impacted my own writing process more than any other, including lovely, quotable books by authors I love, like Madeleine L-Engles (whose book Walking on Water is like music to read).

Stephen King taught me about writing the first draft all the way through without stopping to edit and then letting it rest several weeks before picking it up to do the hard work of cutting and rearranging. This bit of advice has made it possible for me to actually finish books instead of just starting them.

Stephen King taught me about the importance of cutting out all my beloved and unnecessary adverbs. He taught me to keep it simple. Other people had told me these things, but he mocked them so mercilessly, that I finally saw the light. My writing is so much better for it. (The stuff I edit, at least. This old blog doesn’t get such tender brutal treatment.)

Stephen King gave me permission to use my talented friends as an editing team, which is why my books have made it to publication instead of staying locked up in my computer files.

And this. This blurb from the back cover is the real reason I love this book.

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“For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room…. In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study in the rear of the house. For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind….
A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity and put in a living-room suite where it had been…. In the early nineties, before they moved on to their own lives, my kids sometimes came up in the evening to watch a basketball game or a movie and eat pizza…. I got another desk – it’s handmade, beautiful, and half the size of the T. rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave…. I’m sitting under it now, a fifty-three-year-old man with bad eyes, a gimp leg, and no hangover. I’m doing what I know how to do, and as well as I know how to do it. I came through all the stuff I told you about…and now I’m going to tell you as much as I can about the job….
It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

That inspires me, people. That’s real and it’s true and it’s absolutely what I aspire to be about this year and in my life moving forward. And you don’t have to be a writer for the truth of that last line to ring through your day to day life.

Sail on, friends, and may even the cold, cold winds be ones of inspiration.

 

 

Posted in Book Recommendations, Inspiration | Leave a comment

You’ll Freeze Solid

Roly Rabbit hated winter. Winter was cold, which meant winter was boring. All of the rabbits huddled in their den, sleeping in warm piles of snugly fur. His mother said it was her favorite time of year. Roly shuddered. It was nice to be warm and snugly sometimes, of course, but not day after day.

Roly tried to liven things up in the den. He told jokes and turned somersaults (his somersaults were spectacular, as you might have guessed from his name). His father said to settle down, and his mother gave him rose hip medicine to “soothe his fidgets.” Roly hated rose hip medicine. Almost as much as he hated winter.

“Go away,” said his sister grouchily when he poked her in the side and asked to play.

This seemed like a good idea to Roly. He crept up the tunnel of his family’s home and poked his nose up into the frigid air outside. The cold smell prickled his nose and made his whiskers tremble. It smelled like freedom.

Roly hopped out into the snow.

“You shouldn’t be out here, little bunny,” said an owl on a nearby branch. “You’ll slip on the ice.”

Slipping on the ice sounded quite fun to Roly. He tried it. He slipped and slid and careened wildly across the icy meadow. It was fantastic!

“You shouldn’t go this way,” said a passing fox. “You’ll fall into the icy lake.”

Falling into the icy lake sounded quite exciting to Roly. Anyway, he couldn’t really stop himself now. The ice was whooshing him along too quickly. With a final fast flip off the frozen bank, Roly splashed into the icy cold water.

“Don’t go out in the wild wind,” said a fish as it sank down deeper, “with wet fur in the wind, you’ll freeze solid.

Freezing solid sounded quite interesting to Roly. He wondered if his whiskers would freeze, too. Roly hopped out of the lake. His fur instantly iced over in the winter wind. Roly found that it was hard to move his legs. In fact, it was more than hard. It was impossible. Roly was frozen stiff.

“Don’t let those bear cubs play hockey with you,” said a raven flying by. “They’ve been looking for a hockey puck.”

Roly thought being a hockey puck would be very uncomfortable, but at least then he would be moving. He started to yell as loudly as his frozen lungs would allow. Soon two bear cubs came. They thought Roly looked like a splendid hockey puck. They began to bat him back and forth across the meadow. It really was quite uncomfortable. But after a while the friction thawed Roly’s legs, and he was able to hop toward his rabbit hole.

“Don’t go underground!” Yelled the bear cubs. “We can’t follow you there!”

Roly thought it would be very nice if the bear cubs couldn’t follow him. He slipped down the tunnel and into the cozy den where his family lay piled. It was warm and snugly there, and no bear cubs hit him back and forth.

Cuddled up and feeling sleepy, Roly thought back over his exciting day. Maybe winter wasn’t quite as boring as he had thought. Still, he thought maybe he would just rest here and wait for spring.

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Stories Actually (Are. All Around.)

Happy New Year!

We did it. We had our break. We were Christmassing all over the place. We recovered from that. We flipped over the calendar. We’re still trying to recover from that. And here we are. Back to work, back to school, back to winter.

Oh, winter, whatever are we going to do with you?

Tell stories!

In the spirit of bracing ourselves for long dark nights, for afternoons too cold to play outside, for snow days (and sick days) that hit when you weren’t prepared, I give you a short list of things that can be transformed from ordinary use into STORY TIME! And, guess what?  You don’t have to be the storyteller. This one is all on the kids.

1. Pencil toppers!
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You know those annoying things kids get as prizes and love passionately for ten minutes but never use as erasers or actually keep them on pencils so eventually you end up finding them on the floor and secretly dispose of them? (Please tell me you do know what I’m talking about.) They make great storytelling devices! Something about their weird/cute faces suggests interesting ideas, especially if you combine the space man from the library with the Easter bunny from Grandma with the smiling flower their teacher gave them. Put them on pencils finger puppet style or just tumble them in a box like story cubes.

This really works. Lucy happened to get a whole set of these as a Christmas present, and we’ve just kept the pencils unsharpened, in a cup, and she’s been telling me stories while I wash the dishes (and sometimes while I play Playstation, since we’re being real here). She was particularly bored this winter break, so this was awesome.
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2. Stickers!
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This particular sticker pad makes faces, and though Lucy was excited to make a few pretty princesses, she was at a loss until I told her she could tell stories with them. Aha! Now she changes them out, they lose their glasses, then find them! They talk to each other. They go on adventures and meet strange disfigured people. Sets like these can be found at any craft store or even Target or Wal-Mart.

But! You don’t even need a book like this. Cheap $.99 stickers can also work. Especially if you have a bunch of random ones to put together. Something about that randomness encourages creativity. How could a little reindeer meet a mermaid? And why would the two of them be collecting stars? Boom. It’s a story.

3. Legos!
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Obviously, building with Legos is one of the all-time best indoor time fillers. It’s already creative, it’s tactile, it’s a mini lesson in engineering. And once you’re done building, you have a toy to play with! But I’ve found that as my kids get older, they run out of gas on the “sit and play with Lego ships” front pretty quickly. That’s where making a story can extend the fun.

Have them prepare a story to tell you, a little play that their Legos perform for you. Inevitably the preparation for this involves building a few more accessories or men or ships or buildings. Then when it’s ready, you can have a performance. If you know what you’re doing, they can stop motion video it, but you don’t have to go there. You can just sit and be their audience. You can just video it on your phone and send it to grandparents. They’ll eat it up. Winter happiness for everyone!

Yes, winter happiness is a real thing.

For a little extra help, refer to the following pep talk as often as needed:

Winter isn’t going to beat us. It isn’t. We’re parents. We provide warm coats and hot chocolate. We tamp feet into boots and tug fingers into gloves. We bundle them up and send them out to get fresh air and work off energy in the snow and then mop up their messes and tumble snow clothes into dryers when they come back inside after ten minutes.

We’re parents. We’ve got what it takes.

And our kids? They’ve got energy enough to warm us all. They’ve got creativity enough to brighten every day.

And darn it, we’re going to make them use it.

Posted in The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment

The After-Christmas Crazy House

One day past Christmas
What a sight
The house is trashed
My hair’s a fright

Wrapping paper piled on high
Empty boxes by the door
New toys scattered everywhere
Those pesky tags litter the floor

Dirty dishes fill the sink
Leftovers fill the fridge
Cookie crumbs on the plates (and floor)
Wine cups empty of all but a smidge

It’s the after-Christmas crazy house
The Christmas present maze-y house
And what’s a mom to do?

Four days past Christmas
Goodness me
Still tons of messes
Plus one dead tree

Wrappers gone but toys remain
On all sides signs of play you meet
Lego creations are proudly displayed
(Watch out for the stray pieces under your feet!)

Open books on the arms of chairs
A baby doll snugged in a blankety nest
Pieces of games and of crafts and who knows
New things jumbled, dust covers the rest

It’s the “we’ve been tired and lazy” house
The “sugar’s made us hazy” house
And what’s a mom to do?

I know I should pull it together
Bring this craziness under control
After all it will soon be the New Year
Time for order and discipline full

But one kid says, “Come play the Playstation.”
The other says, “Please paint my nails.”
And this cup of new tea is delicious.
Could it be I am happy to fail?

I can take down the dead tree tomorrow
I can clean out the fridge next week
I’ll get mopping the floor in a few days
For today, I’ll admit that I’m weak.

It’s the “my eyes got quite glazey” house
The “I needed these days-y” house
And what’s a mom to do?

Posted in Christmas, Poetry | Leave a comment

Silver and Gold

Because it’s Christmas, and you can’t just have gold on Christmas.  A snowman told me so.

It’s a busy, people, parties, presents, cookies, drinks, and family kind of week.  I thrive on chaos, but we’ve reached a new high around here, so I may possibly have upped the stress eating more than is recommended.  (Is there a recommended amount of stress eating?  If the answer is none, please don’t tell me.)

Don’t worry, though.  I still have your back.  I know that (the ten of) you are counting on some distraction.  Your kids are off school for two weeks.  You need this  Check it out:

  • I do this ALL THE TIME, but, you know, in my head.  Making it into an Instagram account was genius, especially since they’re highly entertaining. Also, this could be a really fun game with kids.
  • You might find the rest of these entertaining, but you absolutely HAVE to watch the first one.  With your kids.  There’s this one moment…you’ll know it when it happens.  It made my girls gasp and giggle.
  • Fascinating little story about a dude who built a theater in the desert and then, surprise! never got to use it.  It’s abandoned now.  It’s the pictures that make this worth while.  I want to make up all sorts of fun stories about that place.
  • And when I’m done writing mysteries about the desert, I’m writing something very dramatic that takes place here.  (But I don’t want to go there, thank you.  Weather that could make those ice sculptures is not my kind of weather.)
  • Ever since we saw Mockingjay, this song keeps getting stuck in my head.  I’m haunted.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet and this song doesn’t make you want to, we need to have a long talk.
  • Not to let the real world into this space too much, but this was one of my favorite reads of the last couple of weeks.  Chris Rock is a smart and thoughtful man.  And that stands even if you don’t agree with his politics or like his comedy.
  • Joy is a choice (yes, I’m annoying and actually say things like that).  Choose joy by watching this video.  Walk off the Earth always makes me smile, so if this isn’t enough to lift your stress, click the links after the song and enjoy more of their delightful work.  You won’t be sorry.

Feliz Navidad, everyone.  Happy, happy days to you all.

Posted in Links, The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment