I have a lot on my mind today, but not enough time to assemble it all into a coherent blog post, so that will have to wait for next week. Also coming up next week, the reveal of the five lucky winners who will be immortalized in my novel as rats. Well, their names, anyway. Hee, hee! They will get acknowledgements in my book as part of my "rat pack." Yep. I know hump day is difficult for a lot of people, so to help you get through the week, here's a moose:
After much thought and for several reasons, I have decided to no longer accept requests for book reviews. However, when I read a book I have to share with the world, I'll post a recommendation.
When I saw Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures at the library in the new section a few weeks ago, I had to pick it up. When I flipped it over and saw the following on the back cover, I knew we had to read it aloud as a family:
"She stood at the window and watched as the squirrel was vacuumed up. Poof. Fwump. 'Holy bagumba!' said Flora."
Flora is Flora Belle Buckman, ten-year-old self-proclaimed cynic. She witnesses an accident involving the neighbor's powerful new vacuum and a squirrel. The squirrel manifests strange new powers after the incident. We also meet the neighbor's nephew, William Spiver, who afflicts us with a high-pitched voice and is afflicted with temporary blindness. Mary Ann is one of the villains in this story--despite her being a shepherdess lamp.
Flora applies advice from the comic Terrible Things Can Happen to You! to the situations she finds herself in throughout the book. There are also chapters from the squirrel's point of view, and some comic strips here and there of the action. The story was absolutely charming! We laughed our way through the whole thing and got teary-eyed through parts. While Flora has a bit of a "my parents are dumb" mentality, truth be told, they rather were, and even if parents may not approve of her cynical attitude sometimes, her situation makes it entirely understandable.
Warning: you and/or your children may run around the house speaking like William Spiver, referencing Terrible Things Can Happen to You, fantasizing about giant doughnuts, yelling "holy bagumba" and "holy unanticipated occurrences," and naming all the squirrels in your backyard Ulysses.
I also just found out that this book is a 2014 Newbery award winner. So, if you're looking for a great middle grade book to read with your children, I highly recommend this one! Do you have a good read-aloud story to share?
Flash Fiction Friday is a weekly roundup of quickly-written fiction, 1000 words or less. Our host is Suzanne Warr and her blog, Tales from the Raven. Go here to read all the entries! Flash Fiction Friday
Today's prompt: In honor of the Olympics, show someone overcoming a physical limitation or reaching a new personal best. Extra points if you can sneak some Olympics references in there.
by Rebecca Blevins
I sat down on my bedroom carpet and reached and reached and reached. I'd been working toward this goal for months, several times every day. My hamstrings trembled with the strain.
My trainer, Lisa, had told me to be careful not to overdo. "If you push too far too fast, you'll hurt yourself, Bobby," she'd said, blonde ponytail bouncing as she cracked her gum. But what did she know? Pretty much everything, I guessed, yet she couldn't feel exactly just how much I wanted this.
Okay, I told myself. I'm almost there. Just a bit more, a little more--oh, to be a kid again. A kid who didn't have all these aches and pains, a kid who could turn somersaults and do backbends with ease. When did I stop? Why did I stop?
Oh, yeah, that's right. When I became a grownup, got a real job as an athletic shoe salesman, married my wife, had kids. When I thought that being an adult meant I had to squash that kid inside flat, so flat he couldn't breathe, and surrounded him with apathy so he couldn't get back out.
What was I thinking? Those people ice skating and skiing on the TV for the Olympics--they didn't lose sight of what they had. My little girl, Jenny, dresses up in her tutus and spins around the living room like she's Gracie Gold. I bet Gracie did the same thing when she was five, and look at her now! When I was a kid, I had dreams! Big ones! But they got swallowed up in the practical, the grownup version of me.
No more. I've decided that middle age should be renamed the enlightenment age. I spent so much time proving who I was that I forgot who I could be. So what if Joe's lawn looks better than mine? I don't care anymore. I'll get a boat and park over it instead and spend weekends sailing instead of pulling out dandelions. I've always kind of liked those yellow spots in the yard anyway.
A little more reaching, almost there . . . I took a deep breath, then as Lisa had taught me, let it out slowly and stretched my fingertips out toward the toes on my right foot. My back was straight--I would do this with proper form. My hamstring had just about reached its limit as I sat, bending over it. Just a fraction of an inch more--THERE! I barely touched my toes with the tips of my fingers, but I'd done it! Finally!
Finally. Today, my toes. In a few weeks, my heels.
I think I'll try that yoga class next Thursday. And maybe take Jenny ice skating this weekend.
This post will be long and rather personal. If you do not like long and personal, feel free to click on the label "humor" and you will find some funny stuff. Normally, I prefer funny stuff. I tend not to share a ton of my personal self with the world. Not the really deep things that I struggle with. This is partly just my personality, but also my choice. While I am true as to how I present myself online, there are things I keep back, intentionally. I hate it when people whine on social platforms, and I am not a whiner. However, I realize that sometimes holding everything back isn't a wise thing to do. There is strength in sharing struggle. I've needed to write this post for a long time, but I didn't because I wondered how people would see me. I also worried whether I should share in case any potential literary agents or publishers look at my blog, but you know what? The few things that are most important to me include my writing, and I'm rearranging my life to fully incorporate that career move. I think that's something to be proud of and would be a plus to anyone in the industry. So, here goes. I found out a couple of years ago that I have a grade three-nearly-a-four spondylolisthesis, or in other words, a slipped vertebrae in my back. I was quite the celebrity around the chiropractor's office for that one. They were amazed that I was able to move as well as I have. Apparently, my mobility is quite miraculous. (For reference, a grade five means the vertebrae has completely slipped off the spinal column.) My L5 vertebrae is longer than the other ones, and somehow it slipped forward and down. A bone hook grew up to support it. After many x-rays and an MRI it was discovered that the bone hook is naturally doing the same job spinal fusion would do, but giving me a little more mobility than I would have with surgery. I also have some abnormalities in the bones around, which, along with the double hernia I had repaired when I was a young infant, suggests that this spinal problem was set up to happen since birth. I found this x-ray example online. This will give you the general idea. Picture a bone hook surrounding the vertebrae, ensuring the vertebrae won't slip any further, and it's close to what mine looks like:
Because of this, I am always in some kind of discomfort if not outright pain. The arrangement of my spine means that if I jump around a lot or sit on hard surfaces for very long, it causes a chain reaction of pain from my hips to my neck that takes a few doses of ibuprofen and a good deal of rest to ease. Sunday, for example, I forgot my cushion to sit on the piano bench at church (I attempt to play for the little kids), and we had a prolonged singing time. I was in pain for two full days after that, until I got a massage to help release the muscles. I had to take ibuprofen to lessen the pain enough to be able to work out even mildly, and I try not to take it since ibuprofen sometimes hurts my stomach. No other medicine works for me, though. One little thing affects another. Right now, the biggest thing I can do to help myself in this area is physical therapy to strengthen my core to give stability to my muscles, which helps support the vertebrae. Deep tissue massages to help break up muscle knots from the way things pull abnormally, etc. I'm doing workouts such as the stability ball, which is easy on the joints; ballet workouts, which stretch and lengthen as they strengthen; yoga, Pilates, strength training, etc. The other aspects of my health are something I won't go into detail about right now, but in order to feel better and not like I've constantly been hit by a truck, I desperately need to reduce stress in my life so my body won't be continually in fight-or-flight mode. That is something that was made extremely clear to me. So I've come up with some ways to decompress, some time to take care of myself. I need to take the time to prepare the food I need to prepare to help my body heal, the time to recover from the workouts that stress my body, but are needed to heal. I am not looking for advice or recommendations; I know what I need to do (both from experience, medical advice, and from my AFAA fitness certification which at least is good for something now) to feel a good deal better, but I need to back off of everything so I can do it. In this world, taking care of yourself is considered a luxury by many.I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "I wish I had time to exercise, or take care of myself." Sadly, many who say this do so with pride, as if they wear that sentiment as a badge. I am not immune to this feeling; part of me still is trying to convince myself that it's okay to say no, to slow down. But I have to, because my family needs me. Due to some incredibly stressful happenings in the last few years, I have realized that I need to cut out the unnecessary, to slow down, to focus on the important things. If' it's not important, out it goes. And by important, I mean that which contributes to healing my body so I can continue to teach and raise my family, write books, and tend to a very few other things. We are hoping to move this summer, so I also need to focus on getting my house ready. Undue stress is very much my enemy at this point, and I can no longer ignore that fact. It's difficult listening to the spoken and perceived thoughts of other people, and I admit to thinking or saying these on occasion myself--"Well, others are doing a lot while they have health problems" or "she should do this to fix her problems," or "does she really have those problems in the first place," or "I do it despite XYZ, why can't she?" Those are incredibly difficult voices to tune out. I've been straining to do everything I'm asked to, not wanting to come across as having a hard time myself--but the time has come for me to admit that I have to back off. I have to focus on my own health, or I'll be useless to my family, as I was much of the time over the last years. This has been a very serious post, and I thank you if you read this far. I think my littlest boy summed it up for me nicely after a workout the other day: "Mommy, I'm so glad you exercised so you don't die." Seeing me in pain and not feeling well overall has made my children afraid for me, and that is not okay. Not if I can fix the issues by taking the proper steps. I've reassured my little guy that I'll do my best not to die. In order to keep my promise, I need to take care of myself. I've ignored these issues for too many years, and I can't afford to do that any longer. In order to have the strength to take care of myself, I need to take it. No one is going to give that to me. This will be difficult, but I am not nor will ever be a quitter. It's not in my DNA. On a happy note, I'm excited to share my other blog with you soon, where I share what workouts I'm doing. I also intend to keep up my AFAA certification, and I'll keep that updated as well. I'm hoping to get all of that released this weekend, but I need to finish up my first ten manuscript pages and query to send for that workshop. The last thing I will share with you is something I posted on Facebook recently. I've pondered this a lot, and I've really taken it to heart in my courage to share this post with the world.
A few nights ago, I made something I hadn't made in years. I was already thinking of posting it, and when my sweet sister-in-law asked about some family recipes, I figured I'd go ahead and share. It's incredibly easy, and the healthful factor depends on what kind of chips and toppings you use. If you use fat-free tortilla chips, I'd recommend baking the beans and cheese together as a dip, topping with your veggies, and scooping it up with the chips instead of baking the topping on them.
Taco Salad Nachos
Bag tortilla chips, whatever kind you like (there's a whole grain kind that would be so good in this)
Refried beans (I use fat free since the chips have oil, I think baked chips would get soggy too quickly, but you totally could try it--or use the dip option I mentioned above.)
Shredded cheese, any kind. We use cheddar. Low fat or no cheese at all would work just fine.
Toppings. Onions, black olives, tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, diced cucumbers, green onions, Greek yogurt, sour cream, guacamole, diced avocado, cilantro, whatever floats your naval vessel.
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly mist a large cookie sheet with cooking spray (make sure the pan has an edge). Spread chips on the cookie sheet, covering the bottom. Stir up the refried beans (if yours are thick you can thin them a bit with some water, then dollop the beans onto the chips. (I like to use lots of beans to make this healthier.) Sprinkle on your cheese of choice, if desired. Either add diced onions here to soften them slightly, or leave until the end or do both. Put the pan in the oven and keep an eye on it. It will probably be in there 5-10 minutes, depending on how much beans and cheese you use.
While the pan is in the oven, thinly slice the lettuce (we used romaine hearts here), chop tomatoes and cucumbers, whatever you want on top. You need to have this ready as soon as the pan comes out of the oven.
When the beans and cheese have come together in a lovely blend of melty goodness, take out the pan. Quickly put onions and olives on top, then diced tomatoes, cucumbers, then lettuce and green onions, if you want them. Serve with salsa, Greek yogurt, guacamole, sour cream, whatever you want. The contrast of the bubbly hot beans with the cool lettuce and veggies makes for a really tasty meal. Leftovers don't work out so well because the beans make the chips soggy after a bit, but I guess you could just call it Corn Tortilla Mash Topped With Tasty Stuff if you wanted. I really recommend eating it soon after assembling, though. I like to heap mine with veggies so I only get a few chips and lots of the healthy stuff. Much better than taco shells. I didn't have the other things, so this one just had lettuce and onions, but lots of them!
Flash Fiction Friday is a weekly roundup of quickly-written fiction, 1000 words or less. Our host is Suzanne Warr and her blog, Tales from the Raven. Go here to read all the entries! Flash Fiction Friday Today's prompt: Oh, I don’t know…maybe this is a good day for platonic friendships? No? Well, let’s go with love, then, but give it a twist if you can!
Catie lay by the pond. It was overcast, which was nice, because even though the seasons had begun changing the pond was tepid. It hadn't done much to cool us off as it had last year. There was a plus side to less swimming, though. Our romance had deepened through countless hours of conversation and not a little harmless flirting.
She didn't hear me approach. I couldn't help but stare at the curve of her dark neck, couldn't wait until she spoke to me again with her soft voice. I smiled, thrilled at my good luck that Catie had chosen me. There had been plenty of other better-looking dudes out there, but I wasn't about to analyze it too much--she was mine, and that was that.
I took a breath to tell her I was there, in the hope of not startling her, when something burst through the trees and grabbed Catie! Before I could even make a sound, a huge man was dragging her into the woods. No! Oh, no! My heart stopped for a second, then slammed into gear. My feet finally got the message as I chased after them through the trees and into a clearing. Catie's strangled cries slashed at my heart as I saw the man there, trying to hold my beloved down onto a stump. Light flashed off of the silver ax he held.
With a wild screech, I flew at the man, beating him about the head with my wings. He dropped Catie, and she coughed and choked. "Fly, my love, fly!" I yelled.
She stared up at me with her beautiful brown eyes, then grabbed a stick with her beak. Just as the man was about to catch me, Catie swung the stick around and jabbed him in the eye. The man fell back, clutching his face, and Catie and I sailed into the sky.
We flew in silence for a bit, both of us more than a little shaken. "Well," I said, "I think next year we'll find someplace else to rest on our way south."
She nodded. "I agree, Jas. Trenton said this morning that he heard there's a resort a little way off our usual path, but that the humans there like to feed Canadian geese."
"Sounds good to me." My insides ached with how close I had come to losing the love of my life. I tried desperately to think of how I could show her how much she truly meant to me. Then I had an idea! When we rested again, I'd find a large leaf and fill it with the juiciest bugs I could find. With my plan firmly in mind, and a grateful smile in my heart, we flew on in companionable silence.
My thirteen-year-old, Professor, comes up with some deep, thought-provoking ideas and subjects of conversation. So, last night during dinner, he remarks, "There are some pretty big questions out there in the world." Of course I wonder what we're going to be discussing tonight, then he continues with his questions. "Are you a gummy bear?"
"Got any grapes?"
"And, what does the fox say?" (If you haven't heard this one by now, you must be quite comfortable under your rock. May I join you?)
Did I also mention Professor makes us laugh a lot? He has the Studio C Bisque Guy impression down pat. If you haven't seen the sketch, here's the first one.
Some nights are good for discussing deep things. Other nights are great for singing silly songs about gummy bears, ducks at lemonade stands (I really love that one, actually), and wondering what the fox says. Yip.
It's Monday, but after the weekend, I was ready to get back to the routine. I leave my computer in the basement on the weekend now, so all my internetting (like my new term?) is pretty much done on my phone.
I realized how much I enjoy my new little office setup in the basement, and I began missing it by the end of yesterday. It's a nice feeling. Instead of living for the weekend, I'm finding ways to organize my life so that I am making each day work better for me. I'm learning to manage things to handle stress better, which is something I've desperately needed.
In addition to setting aside time for writing each day, last week I added another thing back into my routine: fitness. Each day right after lunch, the kids are given independent work, and I go downstairs to work out. Then I check on the kids, wrap up school, shower, then go down to my office. I got three workouts in last week, but let me tell you, today--
I. DID. NOT. WANT. TO. MOVE. MY. FANNY.
But, because it was 1:00, that meant I had to, and I wasn't sick or injured enough to skip it. (I have a pulled intercostal muscle--rib muscle strain--but if I'm careful it's okay.) So I worked out anyway. Leg day. Jellyfish leg day. Meaning I took my expensive post-recovery drink because it really seems to cut my muscle soreness and recovery time in half.
Soon I'll be keeping record of some of my workouts and progress on another blog I reserved a long time ago, I'll be posting the link to that blog within another week or two, so if you're interested in what I'm up to, why I'm doing what I'm doing, and how I'm doing it, look for that reveal soon. I know some of you wonder why I'm not teaching classes at this point, and I'll talk about that and all fitness-related info there.
I will leave you with one last thing for today. Hopefully it's not what I'll look like when I get out of bed tomorrow morning.
Flash Fiction Friday is a weekly roundup of quickly-written fiction, 1000 words or less. Our host is Suzanne Warr and her blog, Tales from the Raven. Go here to read all the entries! Flash Fiction Friday
Today's prompt: Show someone fighting for their freedom. BONUS if there are no visible constraints!
by Rebecca Blevins
"NO!" I shout at the vile wreck of a thing grinning at me--if what essentially looks like a trash heap can grin. A person can only take so much, and I have finally reached my breaking point. "I won't, I can't, I WON'T!" It sits there, daring me, mocking me. Gravy from its last meal drips off cold lips; half-chewed potato, soggy broccoli pokes between holes in the stench of crusty teeth. It holds my gaze as if Medusa herself holds me prisoner, the glinty-eyed and slimy-tongued monstrosity poised to snatch me up in its cold, Machiavellian grip, stuff me into its gaping maw, and with painful prods and pokes from sharp claws, drown me in the moldering heat of its belly. I can't look away. I'm trapped, doomed to suffer an interminable fate, one which gets more terrifying the longer I try to break free day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Even after all this time, something inside me rebels, burns brightly. Then, the sound of softly-padded footsteps crack into my frozen terror. "Mommy!" My tousled red-headed son plods into the kitchen wearing his fluffy dinosaur foot slippers, rubbing sleep from his eyes with pale fists. "What's for breakfast?" Before I address my fate, I clear off the table, pick some bits of ham off my son's booster seat, wipe it with a washcloth, then watch him climb in because if I don't I'll hear, "I can do it myself!" I bang around the cupboards before finding a small, plastic pumpkin tray left from Halloween, scatter some Toasty O's on it, and put the tray in front of my son. He shoves it away and cries, "I don't want cereal. I want pancakes!" The monster grins, beckons, smiles with silver teeth. My carefully-built defenses shatter. I plug the sink, run the hot water faucet, and squirt in enough pomegranate-scented dish soap to float the weight of my defeat. "I'll make some pancakes in a few minutes, honey. Mommy has to do the dishes first."
Late at night, just as the children were finally going to bed, my eight-year-old daughter came up to me and said, "Mommy, can we spend some time together tomorrow? I haven't seen you very much." She tried not to let her lips tremble as she gazed up at me with sea-blue eyes. I told her yes, hugged her tightly, and sent her to bed.
I'd talked to the children about this, that Mommy felt very strongly she needed to do this writing contest thing, and that I'd be holed up typing a lot for a week or so. They were supportive, but I knew it would stretch them a bit because they were used to having me around almost constantly. I figured it would be a good experience. After all, it would only be for a week or so. Not forever. We made it work. After the more time-consuming school subjects in the morning were done, I headed downstairs to my corner of the office and pounded away on my laptop. The kids came in as needed, but only if it was important. Occasional hugs were classified as important. Now and then I read them part of what I was working on and basked in their smiles and giggles. Late one night my four-year-old son snuggled with me in my office chair for a bit, then curled up next to me in his beanbag and blanket and fell asleep to the sound of my typing, and my daughter sat with me another night. We were with each other a lot, even though I was more inaccessible than usual. The interesting thing is that the whole setup felt very comfortable. With a little tweaking (and set writing hours), I'll be able to keep on doing this--working on my writing career and teaching my children. Between that and what I need to do for my health (which is a whole other post, but vanity is very much the least of it), I will have precious little time for anything else at all, but I am all right with that. I've been feeling the push to write and to take care of myself for a while, but when you have the rest of your life screaming at you that your talent is just a hobby and you should sacrifice it for other things, then you don't always listen. However, when you receive spiritual nudging that begins to feel more like shoving, you'd be pretty dumb not to. I think this experience has helped the children learn that Mom needs to be respected more as an individual. That I have thoughts, feelings, dreams of my own. I talked to them about how being their mom is the most special thing I've chosen to do, but that I also have this deep desire to work on my author dream. They nodded their sweet heads and were very supportive. My daughter even hoped I'd continue on working on a story I'd started for her a couple of years ago. It's good for them to see me as not only Mom who cooks dinner and makes them clean their rooms, but Mom, a happy person with talents and a fuller life. Here's where I could start out with saying, "if you are a mom," except this applies to everyone. Mothers notoriously neglect themselves, but they aren't the only ones. If you are a person, you need to take care of you. Otherwise you become an empty husk of a soul because you've neglected yourself until that husk is so dry it begins dissolving and floating away on the breeze. I know. I've been there. After that exchange with my daughter, I tried thinking of what I could do to make her feel extra loved. Then, the other day, I was sitting on the couch, on the phone with my mom, when my very tired-looking, chilled daughter came into the living room. I motioned to her to get the BYU fleece blanket and come over to me. She snuggled with me, and I stroked her hair as I chatted with my mom. After about twenty minutes, she had fallen asleep. My chest filled with warmth. I remembered being young and listening to the soothing sound of my mother's voice as she talked on the phone once in a while. I remembered feeling loved and taken care of just because she was there. The lesson was very well-driven home to me as I snuggled with my sleeping daughter and listened to my own mother's soothing voice. So, there is, indeed, room for both things. It is a difficult thing for me to stand up and claim a block of time for my own dream every day, but it is necessary. The time I spend with my family will be a lot better overall if I don't neglect what I need to do, and I will be a lot more present for them the rest of the time. Last month I read a book that made me realize I had not only been shortchanging myself by putting my talents dead last, but shortchanging God. If you are a person with a dream--no matter what that dream is--you need to read Drawing Out the Dragons by James A. Owen. I don't read many inspirational books, but this one was absolutely life-changing. As in there was the me before reading the book, and the me afterward. So, there you have my deep thoughts for today. It's difficult to change, difficult to make hard choices to change your own life, but those changes are critical. Make a hard choice today. (And read that book.)
Today is the due date for the first chapter contest. I have been editing over and over and over, and when I get so sick of looking at my stories and decide that they're a mash of paper, not unlike spitwads, I throw things.
What really happens, is instead of doing laundry or dishes or anything else I should be doing between typing bleary-eyed on my computer (except helping kids with school because that's a have to as well as a constant thing into the afternoons), I wax poetic. So, here you go. I'm not promising this piece is any good, but when I'm in this mood poetry becomes more about expressing as quickly as my fingers can allow than it is about iambic pentameter.
(How many of you just Googled iambic pentameter or planned to when this post is over? Confession: I had to. I didn't remember if I'd used or spelled the phrase correctly.)
So, um, poetry. So if you hate this, then print it out, chew it up, and spit it at a target. I may be doing the same thing with a couple of chapters.
i write trees
the seed of an idea drops on fertile soil takes root and grows, inky tendrils weave in and around the page sucking up white space into a sapling reaching for the heavens and becomes an explosion of ideas and leaves of passion and excitement.
at the peak of frost leaves drift away, pages hibernate for the winter, stark bare bones remain every bump and knot silhouetted against blue-gray sky as sap drains leaving empty twigs, words rest blanketed in ice cold sticky silence.
scrivener sings and wakes sleepy sap which thaws, creeps as thick honey to each warming branch, buds of ideas poke out phrases and carve their way through pointed pen tips, showing in careful caution, adorning dark bark with the beginnings of setting, character, and shade.
then comes pruning, then come blossoms
then comes fruit. slightly speckled with relief, sweet-tart, and subtle hints of bitter tears.