Never quite thought of it this way...

I ran across this statement on another blog today in the comment section, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

"One who writes but does not want or expect publication is not a writer, just someone who writes. Writing is easy. It's being a writer that's hard."

What say you?

I mean really, how hard can it be?

    I was thrilled- I was going to be reading to the kindergarten girls during their library period.  Reading aloud to children is one of my favorite things to do, so I was thankful for the opportunity.  I had a few of my favorite books picked out and was ready to go.  The head librarian thought it would be a good idea if I employed a technique that she did sometimes - use some of the picture books that she had multiple copies of so that each student could have their own book and follow along.  I'd never done that before with a group of kids, but I agreed to try it since I figured I'd heard her do it many times and after all, how hard could it be?

     In came the kindergartners.  We divided the boys from the girls; the boys went off to their story time and I took the girls and sat down in the reading area in the library.  I got them settled, handed them their copies of the books so they could read along with me, and away we went.  I got to the beginning of the story and started reading.  When it was time to turn the page,  I looked up and saw that some of them were still open to the title page, and I said, "Oops! Let's all get on the same page now..."  I got up and went around the circle and fixed everyone's book so that it matched where I was reading.  "Okay, " I told them, "Let's continue."  I read the second page, looked up again to tell them to turn the page, and found that half of them were back on the title page, some were already at the end of the book, and some were actually where I was. (I now realized how amazing that was).   "Let's make sure all our pages match!" I announced cheerfully, as I got up once again and got everyone on page two, reread the text quickly, and we finally all turned the page together.  

  At the end of page three, we were making headway.  I was just telling them to turn to page four, and in came three little girls from the class who had been out with another teacher.  Oh.  I hadn't expected more kids to come in.   So, I quickly got them their books and found them a seat, summed up the story thus far, and had them find the page in their books where the rest of us were.  Most of that involved me getting up (again) and opening their book to the right page, quieting the waiting girls who had been there from the beginning, and making sure that the squirmiest of the girls were actually making their way from showing off their headstands to sitting upright on the furniture.

  Page four.  Success.  As we turned to page five, I checked everyone's illustrations to make sure we all matched.  We didn't.  I saw three girls who had returned once again to the title page, two who were viewing the closing text, three where they should be and two doing headstands and reading their books upside down.  I circled 'round once again, and by this time, I realized I needed to go a lot slower and that following along and turning the page of a book might come easy as pie to me, but not to these sweet little ones who were just learning to read.

   Finally - and I'm not sure how it happened- we got through the rest of the story and ended on the correct page at the back of the book.  It gave me a whole new appreciation for what the librarian does and how she makes it look so simple and effortless.  And it rings true in other areas of my life too- I'm always amazed at how I can see someone doing something, think "Oh c'mon, that can't be that hard," and then try it myself only to find out the reason it looked so simple when the other person was doing it is because that other person has what only time and hard work can give you - experience.  We can all get there, but we gotta pay our dues just like the other guy (or, gal, in this case).

  The kindergarten girls asked for another story, and then another.  My faith was restored.  I guess I hadn't done such a bad job after all - and maybe the next time we share a book together, it will all go a little smoother.  After all, how hard can it be?

New Week

   As my life took on the hue of a Monday morning, I was reminded how fresh and promising a new week can seem.  We had a rather unusual weekend with our college son getting stuck in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday en route home for his spring break.  His car broke down, but what evolved from that was a God-appointed chain of events that even he would not trade in for a smooth ride.  He saw clear evidence of God working all along the way.  That's an entire blog post in and of itself.

   Saturday was a day of storms.  These were not cozy-up-by-the-fire-with-a-book storms.  These were batten down the hatches/tie everything down you own storms.  Destruction rode on the roaring wind that pushed the heavy rain sideways for hours.  Trees that had been standing for 30 years are standing no more; most roads became closed due to flooding and impassability.

  Today we clean up the debris and check the weather forecast only to see that it will be in the mid-60's and blue skies by the end of the week.  What looks gray and dismal and dismantled around us now will soon be swept away by cleanup crews and sunshine.  And next weekend when we're out trimming the garden or taking one of the first walks of spring we'll look back on this weekend before and recall how nasty it all was; how we felt caught in the clutches of a raging hurricane that we thought surely would be the end of us all.

Wouldn't it be nice to have an emotional forecast?  That if you felt down in the dumps on Monday, you could check and see how you'd be doing Thursday and know whether you should schedule that lunch with a friend or not?  If I've learned nothing else so far in 2010, I've learned that I never know what a day will bring, and that my life (and the lives of those around me) can change dramatically between breakfast and dinner.

I'm learning to ride the roller coaster that is life and human emotion.  I've come to learn that joy is a separate issue; it stems and gets fed from a relationship with God that does not change or waver unlike so many other things around me.  Joy, contentment, peace- these things can remain even when the rain is blowing sideways into my plans and the roar of the accompanying wind deafens my ears.  It takes the school of hard knocks to learn these things sometimes, but learn them I will.  This is education money can't just have to live it.

Home at Last

   I have three children.  Two live away at college; one is still in high school.  Last night, for just one night, my college students' spring break schedules overlapped and I had everyone home under one roof.  By 10 pm, the noise in the house was wonderful.  The kitchen was busy, the conversation was filled with items of catching up, and the hugs of reuniting were heart- melting.

    As it approached midnight and I realized I needed to get to bed due to an early morning, I went though my usual nightly "last check" routine, making sure everything was as it should be before I went to sleep.  I grabbed my cell phone to check it one last time.  It was then I remembered that I knew where all my kids were, that there was no need to keep a lifeline open in case someone had an accident or found themselves in trouble in the middle of the night.  Everyone was safely in my motherly presence, and with a smile and an air of finality I happily turned it off and placed it back in my purse.  I knew I'd sleep well.  Sweet dreams, everyone.  Sweet dreams.

Musical Books

   Today was a great day for picture books in the library.  We played a game called "Musical Books", which consisted of the kindergartners and the first graders circling around tables to music to pick out their favorite picture books before their reading time.    I conga'ed around the tables with them and when the music stopped, they took their favorite book that they'd chosen over to the reading area.  We did this a total of three times and at the end of class, they needed to vote on their favorite book they had picked from the table. 

 I am not sure who had a better time- the kids or the librarian and I.  It was fun to do something different and present the books to the kids in a different way.  What I liked most about it, though, was the opportunity to get wonderful picture books off the shelves and into their hands more readily than they would have been able to.

I am a firm believer in prominently displaying books for younger elementary children; spines of a picture book do nothing to allure a kindergartner, first- or even second -grader.  They need to see the brightly illustrated cover, hold the book, open it and rifle through it to get a feeling if they'd like to check it out or not.  I am always encouraging the kids to grab a handful of books off the shelf, spread them out on the floor, sift through them, sort through them, make a mess if necessary so they can see what they want to take home that day.  Rarely do they take me up on the offer, amazingly, and we continue to turn our heads to look at the spines and I read aloud titles to them as we walk along.

I thoroughly embraced the idea of having 35 to 40 books out, covers up, ready for the choosing as we paraded around them dancing to our little heart's content.  They were readily available to everyone, and even the slowest reader could find success in the game.  All you had to do, really, was judge the picture book by its cover and if you liked it, you'd be good to go.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, one kindergartner showed me his choice.  His reason for choosing it touched my heart -

        "This book is my favorite because of the way my dad reads it."

I hope he tells his dad that, because Dad's made quite a memory with a book for his son.  That's just the way it should be.

Not Norman

A great story about not always getting what you thought you wanted - and how sometimes, not what you wanted was the best thing you could have gotten.

I do believe there's a life lesson in there for us all.....

Can't Smile Without You

   Wednesday morning found me eating a cookie from the school cafeteria that I shouldn't have been eating...but I was hungry and it was there and after all, it was chocolate chip.  About 3 bites in, I felt a crunch.  Not recalling this particular cookie having nuts in it, I had a sneaky suspicion of what had just happened.  Moments later, witnessing my tooth laying in my hand and feeling a gaping hole in my gum, my mind went into slight panic mode as I thought quick on my feet about what to do next.

  I work in an elementary school library, and fortunately at the moment of my loss the librarian was still reading to the 1st graders and no one was aware of my distress.  I ditched the tooth in the trash can, ran to the staff bathroom and smiled.  Ugh.  All I saw on the right side of my grin was tooth, tooth, hole, tooth, tooth.  I looked scary.  I went back to my desk, grabbed my cell phone and darted into the next room to call my dentist for an afternoon appointment.  As I went back into the library, story time was over and I quietly sidled up to the librarian to discreetly - still in my near panic state - tell her what had happened.  She was as incredulous as I, and as little pitchers have big ears, I knew my secret was out. 

  When you lose your tooth in first grade, it's a big deal.  When your librarian's assistant loses THEIR tooth and you're in first grade, it's even more spectacular.  As the students came up to check out their books, I heard quite a few " You lost your tooth?"  "That is sooo cool!"  " I lost 6 last week!"  While I was happy for their milestones,  I assured them that when an adult loses a tooth, it isn't quite the celebratory event they may have experienced.  I have nothing to grow in to replace what I've lost.   They get money from the tooth fairy; I end up writing a check to cover the costs.

  That afternoon found me sitting my dentist's chair undergoing my first root canal ever, and it wasn't anything  I would have thought it to be.  It didn't hurt; it didn't bother me at all.  I had novacaine - he had the tools to make things right.  Funny thing was, he never told me exactly what he was doing.  After I was numb and he'd been putting devices in and out of my tooth for 20 minutes or so, I thought to myself, "I think I'm having a root canal."  How much more pleasant to have stumbled upon that truth myself than to have had him present me with the diagnosis and leave my mind to wander about the ensuing procedure.

 If I had been told that I would be undergoing a root canal, never having been through one before I would have worried, maybe cried a little, and been generally quite nervous.  But not knowing what was ahead, there was no worry- I was in the middle of the procedure before I ever knew what was happening.  I need to remember this about other things that I am afraid of in life- often my fears are completely self-inflicted; they may not be nearly as bad as I've drummed them up to be.

 There's excitement in the air.  I hated that tooth; it was ugly and I was glad to see it go.  I know will have a nicer looking replica in its place very soon.  After that, I'm looking forward to getting a crown on the same tooth on the other side.  When all is said and done (and paid for), I'm going to have a nicer smile than I've had in a couple of years, which is wonderful news.  It helped get me through these past few days of adventures in dentistry.

So as it turns out, it was in my mouth's best interest that I lost my tooth on that cookie - and truth be told, I'd rather head into root canal due to eating chocolate than for any other reason.  Makes it all seem worthwhile.

What's on your couch?

I had never heard of this picture book until I came across it one day shelving books in the elementary school library where I work.  As usual (which is why it takes me so long to shelve books), I took a minute or five and stopped to read it.  I fell in love as I laughed out loud at the illustrations and smiled right through tb my heart at the conclusion.  It is the perfect scenario of a "what if?" kind of a story.  It's sweet for kids and hilarious for adults.  Go check it out at some library somewhere- you'll see exactly what I mean.

Writing from the Heart

This comes from

Words from the heart about writing from the heart - Enjoy.

I listened to a sermon by my friend JR Vassar who is planting a church in Manhattan. He talked about good trees producing good fruit and bad trees producing rotten fruit. I wonder how many of us are good trees? From what I experienced, I could tend to despair that there are writers who put words to page whose hearts are dark, whose trees are bad to begin with.

I taught at Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference on this topic: It's what inside that counts.

Good writing flows from a good heart.

Redemptive writing flows from a redeemed heart.

Courageous writing flows from an unafraid heart.

Humble writing flows from a broken heart.

Authentic writing flows from a real heart.

We can't fake it. Sure, we can try to pen important words for important audiences, but if our heart is dark, we're guilty of lying at worst, pretending at best. I don't want to be what Jesus accused the Pharisees of being: whitewashed tombs. I don't want to say deep, pithy words that I don't mean or I don't live out. If I do that, I'm enslaving others by my self-appointed rules from the outside in.

Everything flows from our hearts. It's not so much what we put in that defiles us as what comes out. Consider Jesus' words: "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man" (Matthew 15:18-20).

Jesus is saying that it's not what we appear like on the outside that defiles us. It's not our dirty hands, in other words. It's what's inside. And eventually, what is inside will be known to all.

I hope and pray the CBA is not full of whitewashed tombs, writers parading around with clean hands and darkened hearts. I hope and pray it's not all about our own ministry, our own glory, our own brand, our own corner of the Christian market share, our own niche. I pray it's about honest pilgrims with honest hearts penning honest, life-giving words for the sake His renown, He who is the Author of all words, of all redemptive stories.

And yet, as I write this I am acutely aware of my own sins that parade themselves in front of me shouting mockery. Who am I to write anything? I am needy, terribly fragile at times, self-absorbed. I am one who loves to outwardly shun praise but inwardly relish it. My feet are clay. My heart strays. My words ring hollow. I guess the only true hope for me and other writers like me is the astounding grace of Jesus. And the strength of Him who was perfectly right with the Father. I can only run to His arms when I'm a whitewashed tomb. It's only He who cleanses me from the inside out, Who makes my words and heart coexist in harmony.

I'm reminded of the simple words, "Behold the Man," spoken by Pilate in John 19:5. Jesus stood, nearly naked, yet wrapped in a mocking robe and a slicing crown. His outside was not lovely, at least by human standards, but his heart was perfectly clean. He, bloodied, stood as the embodiment of authenticity. I wonder how many of us are that willing to be seen as we are. I wonder how many of us would pull the robe defensively around our souls, afraid to show what is inside? I know I'd be afraid.

So, yes, we should strive for authenticity from the inside out. Hiding emaciates our prose. I pray, especially as I write this, that we'd be ready to hear, "Behold the writer," whispered by the scarred Savior, who bore our evasive and hidden sins on the tree. And that we could stand covered in the robe of His grace, ready to share the story with the world.

Can you say you're sorry, please?

 This is the most adorable story.  It's one of my favorites - the illustrations are terrific and the simple story line engaging. Every child and adult will be able to relate to Martha and how she conducts herself!  A terrific read aloud you'll come back to time and time again - especially if you have someone in your household that is having a little trouble saying they're sorry.....

This book is exactly the kind I would like to be able to write someday.  A simple concept well put, with a clear beginning, middle and end.   I love how the problem is presented, it reaches crisis stage, and there is a definitive solution at the end for Martha.  Wonderful stuff!

Now, why didn't I think of that?

What's It All About?

  That's the question I ask myself about my blog.  I started it with one purpose, and it morphed into having other purposes, and sometimes I wonder where I'm going with it.  And maybe it's simply okay to have an eclectic blog; a place for serious writing, funny stuff, introspective musings and recipes all in one. If that's what you're looking for, you've come to the right place.

   Today is Dr. Seuss' birthday, and it's Read Across America this week at school.  I was waxing a bit nostalgic today remembering this time last year, when I got bitten by the "Can I write a picture book?" bug.  It revisited me again today, and fortunately lighted on me anew to juice up my excitement about polishing  some old manuscripts and maybe starting a new one or two and getting back into the submitting ring.  That was the original motivation for this blog - and it's nice to know the desire to work on writing a picture book is still there.

  I've learned a lot in this past year, and now see the picture books I work with daily at the library in a very different light.  I've come to know them as an art form in and of themselves; like ice skaters in the rink, what they are doing and how they got to that proficiency is much more difficult than it actually looks.  So, knowing much better the challenge facing me, it doesn't deter me but spurs me on to try to perfect this craft that I'm starting to call my own.  Loving everything about picture books inspires me to one day want my name in the author spot on one; and from what I've learned in the past year I now realize what a longshot that is.  Nonetheless, I will try.

  In the meantime, I come across some really great and maybe little-known titles on our elementary school's library shelves daily, and I've often thought of highlighting some of the picture books that capture my heart and funny bone.  So stop by now and again to see what's here- maybe a book review, maybe a message from the heart, or perhaps the newest way I make lasagna.  Let's have fun!