Summer 2015

These crafts look great because no child made them.

These crafts look great because no child made them.

Yesterday marks the first official day of summer and that means making plans to survive the hotter months. It was also Father’s Day – (a huge happy Father’s Day to my dear dad who reads my blog, love ya tons Daddy!).

As much as I’d love to say I’ve got it all figured it out for this year, I don’t. Because of year-round school my kiddos only get a three-week break, which isn’t much compared to traditional, but sometimes still seems like forever.

I want to make those three weeks count and not have it turn into another lost opportunity.

The more ambitious part of me wants to plan crafts and activities for each day and be super active. I’ll teach them new skills like crochet and beading. We’ll work out in the garden and grow fun food. We’ll visit museums and go swimming. It sounds fun, and exhausting.

The more realistic part of me knows how this has gone in the past. I’ll bring out a project that I’ve spent time preparing. Before we even start, one kid will start whining that he doesn’t want to do it. While I try to convince him how much fun it will be the other two get into the materials and start opening up and pouring out and dumping things. I try my best not to lose it because now I have to help them find all the bits they each need from the wreckage and they are frustrated that it doesn’t look like how it’s pictured on the box. While all of this is happening, the third child will have to be taken potty. The second I leave the other two will wander off back to their video games. When I get back I have to choose if I want to repeat everything again or just scrap the whole idea.

Here’s to another summer. I will plan a few projects for them as well as for me. I hope that everyone has matured a bit since last summer and maybe things will go better.

Until then, wish me luck!

Careful where you click!

Admit it, you thought about clicking it, didn't you!

Admit it, you thought about clicking it, didn’t you!

The internet has tightly interwoven itself into the fabric of our lives. Many of us watched as it was born and embraced it as the greatest new thing ever, and in many ways it truly was. It still is.

The truth is, the internet is a dicey place. Casual browsing can lead to all sorts of weird and wonderful places. However, you have to be smart on how you browse. Today, I was looking for new fantasy art to perhaps feature here in the future. I clicked on an image from an unfamiliar site and my computer freaked out – or at least pretended to. It locked down the pages, I couldn’t exit my browser, and a recorded message began playing over and over. Irritating as hell.

The voice kept telling me in broken English that my computer was infected with something horrible, but if I called the convenient number on the screen they would be able to help.

Yea…right.  Not falling for it. I’ve seen this scam before.

Had I been less PC savvy, this would have been a big deal. Good thing I have a few tricks of my own. I opened the task manager and killed the browser. Boom! Problem solved.

In many ways the internet is like a big city. When you stick to familiar, well-known places and know the address you’ll arrive safely.  However, if you are cruising around looking for a good time, you are asking for trouble. Mindless browsing and following click-bait will lead you to dark alleys where people are waiting to steal your wallet. And on the internet they can disguise themselves in super-appealing, non-threatening ways that you wouldn’t expect.

Protect yourself. No one is going to do it for you. It is your responsibility to know what’s safe and what’s a bad idea.

Be smart with passwords. Don’t give them to anyone – especially anyone you don’t know online. DUH.

Install an ad blocker so you don’t see most of the garbage that is being thrown at you. If you can’t see it then you won’t be tempted to pick up any of the shiny bits.

Don’t download ANYTHING unless you searched for it yourself and are at a reputable site. Even then, after the download is complete run a scan before starting the program.

Be smart. Question everything. If something seems too good to be true, it is.

And if by some innocent mistake, someone starts talking to you and asks you to call them to fix your computer. DON’T DO IT.

You’ll thank me later.

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Have a story about the internet gone wild? Share it in the comments below!

It’s Time To Shake it Up

change1Those who have been with me for a while will know that I run two blogs, this one and also My Literary Quest, a blog geared specifically for writers. Juggling both has been a challenge and makes it harder to attract readers. Less posts per week = less readers in general.

It’s time to shake things up.  Next Wednesday you’ll find my weekly writing post both here and at MLQ in a new feature called … wait for it … Writer Wednesdays. Ok, the name is lame, but sometimes the most obvious title is the best.

Starting next week there will be more posts here for you to enjoy. If you are readers of both blogs, yes you will start seeing duplicate posts on Wednesdays. If that drives you crazy, and I don’t blame you, go ahead and unfollow MLQ and focus on the awesomeness here. I won’t mind.

If you’re a writer, stick around. Things are just going to get better from here.

Deadlines…

One of the attractive perks of being a writer is that for the most part you get to set your own hours and create your own working environment.  When you are not under contract you also decide when your deadlines are.  The only deadlines I have are the ones that I have imposed upon myself and missing them usually only means a loss of productivity.

Currently I have a deadline to submit a fiction piece to an anthology.  They close the submission window at the end of the month and will accept nothing outside of that window. The piece I’m working on is a thirty page fantasy that I’ve submitted before without success.   When I reread the story for this anthology I realized that it had several fundamental weaknesses that had to be fixed.

The problem is, when I revise something and am not careful I will end up rewriting the whole thing.  This not only takes huge amounts of time but it also requires more editing passes to correct any new passages that I end up writing.  I had hoped to have the revisions done by today so that I could have a friend give it a test read, but I still have 18 pages to go.

This might have been easier had I not gone on a family camping trip this weekend. I had envisioned sitting back with my tablet as the kids played around the campsite whittling away at this story and having plenty of time to get it finished, but that wasn’t the case. Every time I sat down a family member would come join me that wanted to talk. In the spirit of niceness I obliged.

Now I’m starting to sweat a little.  I’d love to have this piece published and to have some real writing credentials under my belt, but I can’t submit something that’s not ready either.

With luck I’ll find a few large chunks of extra time today to finish it!

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

The Finish Line is in Sight

back to school sign owlNext week marks the magical and wonderous time where I send the oldest two children back to school. This is the first year when they will both go for the full day and I can’t contain my excitement.  The last six weeks of summer vacation have been exhausting, the house is a mess, and the unending chorus of “I’m bored!” has grated me down to my last nerve.

I’m looking forward to spending more uninterrupted one on one time with my youngest. With the other two around it’s been hard to focus on just him because brother and sister come and need me to do something, or want to do what we are doing, or start arguing and force me to divide my attention.

I’m also hoping to find more writing time.  With all three in the house it’s been too chaotic to sit at the computer and focus.  At the beginning of the summer I had finally reached the part of my draft that didn’t need extensive renovation. Not being able to work on it has been sheer torture.

Writing with a two-year-old in the house will still be a challenge, but it’s got to be easier than having all three rattling around.

Heck, I might even finish the Man in the Cupboard series!

Petroglyphs at Parowan Gap

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The clan. You can see some of the petroglyphs on the rock on the left.

For a moment this weekend the past and present collided as my family visited the petroglyphs over in Parowan, Utah.  This remote place has been essentially untouched for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  No one is sure what the meaning behind the pictures are although some have made guesses.  They could be instructions to hunting grounds or nearby settlements.  They could be accounts of important events. Parowan Gap Zipper Petroglyph

Whatever they are, they must have been significant and special.  There are miles and miles of rock in the area and yet the petroglyphs are only found in this one very localized place.

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I can’t help but think what stories are hidden within these cryptic drawings.  It gives me all sorts of cool ideas for my own stories.

Unlikely Things in Unlikely Places

Not my garden. Heck, a girl can dream can't she?

Not my garden.  A girl can dream can’t she?

There’s nothing more breathtaking than a garden created and kept with care.  I’m talking about gardens with flower beds overflowing with harmonious color, wandering pathways, and secret nooks that beg for someone to come and hide away with a good book.

My garden is still a work in progress.  The few flower beds I have spring up with weeds the second I’m not looking and are home to a bizarre variety of plants that have made their way to my home over the years.  It’s an eclectic mix of pinks and purples that isn’t entirely unappealing, but it has the potential to be so much more.

In comparison, my neighbor across the street has a gorgeous garden. I try not to let it ruin our friendship, but it’s hard not to be jealous.  I suppose if I had her life with no kids and working as a photographer, I might manage to get my flowerbeds in better condition as well. She was smart enough to move into a house that faces south which gives year round sun for the plants in front and shade for the patio in the back. The front of my house, on the other hand, is engulfed in shadow year round. While this makes for pleasant shade on summer afternoons and I can watch the kiddos play and not die of heat stroke, it also means that come winter our entryway turns into a solid sheet of ice.

Nature is a wild thing and my garden reminds of this fact every day.  There’s nothing like discovering a baseball bat sized zucchini hiding in the garden or a six-foot tall weed in a neglected corner. This spring we found yet another family of voles living in the grass.  If it’s not voles, it’s gophers, or wasps, or gutter birds.

Last week I found something entirely out-of-place.  Out near the front entryway in the shadow of the house I found a tomato plant hiding among my petunias.  I can’t fathom how it got there or how it was able to grow.  We grow tomatoes in a vegetable garden clear in the back of the backyard and even then we have to buy plants instead of starting seeds, the growing season is too short.

Hey, that's not a petunia!

Hey, that’s not a petunia!

I haven’t decided if I will let it stay there. Tomato plants don’t stay small for long and I’m sure someone will notice it doesn’t belong where it is.  I’m not saying that produce can’t be among the petunias, but tomatoes are a bit of a stretch.

 

A Weighty Issue

Writing is a sedentary activity.  Although there are several clever ways to make it less of one, the fact is most people do it while sitting. There are treadmill desks where writers can walk slowly while they tap away at the keys. There are standing desks where instead of sitting you stand which is supposed to be better for the core and all the supporting muscles, and then there are a variety of balls and other sitting things that are supposed to encourage movement.

I’ve tried the standing desk and found that I avoided working at the computer because of it. It made more parts of me hurt than simply sitting.  My back hurt, my feet hurt, my neck hurt, it wasn’t worth it, even if it was “healthier.”  I must have been doing it wrong.  Perhaps I should have tried it while wearing shoes.

I tried sitting on an exercise ball and liked it but mine was not large enough and a bit under inflated to boot so that when I sat on it my chin was level with the edge of the desk. Even if I had the right one and it was perfect I just know that my kids would steal it every chance they could and use it to bowl for their little brother.

Exercise-Ball-Office-Chair-Paper-Notes

Ergonomic, yes. Too tempting for kids, heck yea.

The problem with needing to spend extra hours at a keyboard is that you don’t have those hours to do healthier things.  And if you’re any bit like me you also use that time to nibble.

Because of this I’ve found stray pounds being attracted to me little lost puppies.  The first few didn’t bother me, there were even kinda cute in a way. Well, not really. The problem started when they started inviting friends to come and hang out around my midsection.

Now, it’s time to declare war. I’m tired of finding that half my pants no longer fit and want my old belly back. This means sneaking in more activity and exercise during the day and watching calories.

Bring it on.

Tomorrow.

 

Oh, the Distractions!

A recent study came out comparing the quality of writing by people who were allowed to work uninterrupted vs. those where were interrupted every few minutes. It’s not surprising that those who were able to work without distractions did much better than those who were distracted.

I could have saved them a lot of money.

The majority of my writing time happens when there are small people in the house. Despite their best intentions and all my efforts to keep them entertained with projects and games, they still come to me every few minutes.  Even when they don’t come to me I have to keep my ears open and listening for sounds of destruction or distress.

Needless to say, I’m a distracted writer.  It is very rare when I have the house to myself, so rare in fact that it takes time to adjust.  The silence is jarring. I continue to listen for problems to be solved, even though there is no one home. This time is vital to work through difficult scenes that require focus, but no matter how much it doesn’t make sense, part of me feels there is something wrong.

It gets worse.  Even without the kids around there will always be email, Facebook, Pandora, and Pinterest just one click away.  While I do turn notifications off, the temptation is always there, especially if I’m working on something that’s hard.  A small break can easily turn into a dive into the rabbit hole of social media that can last anywhere between 5 minutes to the rest of the evening.

Is removing distractions a good idea? Yes.

Is it possible? Yes, but it’s tough.

Now let’s go see what’s on Facebook… 🙂

A Case of Too Much Fun

When school got out the week before last I didn’t imagine that we would end up doing something big nearly everyday. Somehow between family, friends, and the 4th of July holiday, we’ve been to the water park twice, the dinosaur museum, camped in the backyard, had a sleepover, gone to lots of playgrounds, watched a parade and a firework show, and attended a luau.

It’s been exhausting.

I can’t deny that the kids have had a great time. We don’t normally do as many fun outings in the course of a week.  All that fun comes at a cost. As much as they deny it, I can tell that they are getting pretty tired as well.  Late nights and long days will wear anyone down , and kids have shorter fuses. Yesterday my youngest had a meltdown at church. He was mad at everything and we couldn’t figure out what he wanted.  I ended up having to take him from his class. After he had a snack, he curled up in my arms and fell right asleep. He has never done this before. In fact, the only way I’ve managed to get him to nap for the past 5 months is taking him on a car ride.

As parents we’ve had to deal with the other dark side of too much fun.  If my youngest gets too tired during the day or takes too long of nap then he wakes up in the middle of the night and it takes anywhere between 10 minutes to over an hour to get him back to sleep. We’re already getting less sleep because of everything going on, losing that much more is the proverbial kick to the head.

As for me, I’ve tried to set up that holy grail of a summer routine that allows for both fun and work. Late nights paired with trying to wake before the kiddos has caused all sorts of issues with my sleep rhythm and now it feels like I’m waking up half zombie.

It’s the beginning of another week. My shoulder aches from hauling around my youngest and my head is already throbbing.  Thank heavens at least for today we don’t have anything big planned!

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