Friday, September 20, 2013

In Which I Semi-Retire from Blogging

Those who have been ardently, impatiently waiting for the latest blog posting from me has been disappointed this past summer. I went to a regional SCBWI conference at the beginning of June, had a 'near miss' with an agent and the blog went dark. Not because I'd given up writing or anything, far from it. The agent was awesome and said she wants to see my manuscript....after it's shortened a bit.

So I spent the summer carefully performing liposuction, nipping and tucking and sometimes restructuring. But at the same time, I really studied my writing. 

I love it. It's good. 
I want to continue doing this for ages and ages. But I'm just now getting how Looooooong it really does take to get published. And I realized that I was okay with that. 

Why? Because I decided that I couldn't wait around for the golden egg of royalties to drop into my lap to improve my financial situation. I have other skills beside writing. And those who love me best have been nudging me to get those skills polished and marketable. 
I realized I can do both. I can pursue both dreams.

I knew it would be difficult.
A challenge. 
A Mount Everest of tasks and responsibility.
And my track record for following through has never been awesome.

Except, now that I'm back on a college campus (after a hiatus of more than a decade) I'm not the same person I was before. I don't procrastinate my assignments. I usually have them done a day or two before they are due. I'm getting straight A's (yeah, yeah, its only a month into the school year...but still!). 

I also walk a half hour every morning (*a truly happy time with my iPod).
I make breakfast for five kids.
Help five kids with homework every afternoon. 
Cook dinner every night.  
Keep up with laundry (sorta...not folding still counts right?).

And on weekends, I've been able to get something done on my novel. In fact, I've discovered a few new ideas and my writing feels fresher than it has in a long time.

Perhaps everyone should try going back to school in their thirties...we have a much better work ethic and a better understanding of priorities.

I do need to let a couple of things go, however. And guess what...the blog gets the ax. Not permanently, I hope. Who knows, now that I'm 'signing off,' I might just gravitate back here more often.

As it is, I am the author of one YA fantasy novel and several other partial novels (all yet to be published). 
I am a happy wife and a mom of five energetic boys.
I am a college student, pursuing my Bachelors in Interpreting for the Deaf.

I still love writing. 
I still love fencing.
I still love immersing myself in a good book.
I still love art.
 I still love baking.
I still love so many, many things. 
But if my week was a pie chart, some of that stuff is gets a pretty skinny slice nowadays.

And that's okay with me right now. I hope you understand.
'Til next time!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Books as a Sanctuary

It is past midnight and I should be in bed. 

I spent seven of the last eight hours at Family Night at my oldest's Boy Scout Camp...or on the road to get to its lovely location: Damascus, Arkansas. And with the four other boys in the back of the van, it felt like we were driving all the way to the Middle Eastern Damascus and possibly ready for some Peace Talks when we got there.

When we got home and carried the (very dirty) little boys up to their beds, I remembered that tomorrow is another Swim Meet. That starts at 7am. And it lasts six hours. And Daddy will be out of town. And I am on the volunteer roster.


So, I let my honey crawl into bed and I headed to Walmart. (What did we do without 24hour grocery stores?) I stocked up on Pop-Tarts, Blueberry Muffins and a box of Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches and headed home. I should have gone to bed just then. But I had to check email for the list of swimming events for tomorrow and then I found a new post from a favorite blogger.... you know how it goes.

This time, when I read that post, it opened up a tender area in my heart that I don't talk about very much. 

The post, by Fizzygrrl, is about the power of words and writing. And how it saved her from 8th grade. 

(Caution: Though I love Fizzygrrl and her messages and emotions, she does use a lot of profanity. Not for the tender reader. Caveat Lector.)

Fizzygrrl's honesty touched me and I couldn't go to sleep until I wrote a little something about books and stories and how they saved me. She was saved from the cruelty of the classroom. I was saved from the chaos of my homelife.

Now, my family sometimes reads this blog, and I'm not going to air any dirty laundry. But just the facts of our situation during my middle school years might illustrate just a little.

My Dad decided to change careers when I was in 3rd grade. He was going to become an attorney. So by 4th grade, we'd moved from Iowa to Oklahoma City so he could go to Law School. 

For anyone who's never been to Oklahoma City, the place is huge. Sprawling. There are no geographical boundaries on this place, it just goes on and on, bleeding into Mustang, Moore, Midwest City.  I had already lived in several towns and states before then; the place I'd lived the longest being the well-known truckstop town of Winnemucca, Nevada. 

Yeah, I was going places.

So, we move to this huge city. My dad starts law school. Night school. Because he worked days at the courthouse as a bailiff to support our family of six. 

But its not quite enough, so my mom takes on babysitting in our home. Four little kids at first, then sometimes as many as eight. 
And the biggest house we can afford close to the university is a two bedroom rental. My bedroom was about 10' x 10' square with a set of bunks on each side. The boys' and the girls'.

It was snug, I'll tell you, but we had friends with a family of nine in a three bedroom and they had a set of bunks in the dining room, so we thought we had it good! At least we could take turns in the bedroom changing with the door shut.

But by the time I reached Middle School, the snug little house was beginning to feel cramped. We'd all grown in size and personality.

(This is the actual house. Someone spruced it up, but I bet it's still tiny inside. )

And we'd also grown in appetites. In addition to babysitting Monday through Friday, my mom picked up a paper route in our neighborhood.
She got up at 4:30 every morning, got her papers, came home and woke up a few kids to help.
Sundays everybody helped, because the papers were so monstrous. So we folded papers in our living room for a half hour, then loaded up our over-the-shoulder-paper-bags and the backseat of our Maverick. 

My mom would park it every few blocks and we'd do our side of the street and come back for more papers. It was great in the summer. The worst kind of awful in the winter.

Some days, we'd groan and refuse to get up and my mom would do it on her own.
Hundreds of papers.
She is amazing.

Then it would be breakfast and the babysitting kids would be dropped of by their parents and we'd get dressed for school and start our day for real.

School. Homework. Dinner. Family Scriptures. Stories and Bed.

Start all over again.

But that part you just read and skipped over...Stories?

That was the best part of the day. 
My mom would read to us. She was a wonderful reader. She did all the voices and would speed up or pause in all the right places. She also told "head stories". We begged her to write them down someday and publish them. Most are forgotten, now. But she would come up with tales that were exciting and adventuresome and had children just the same ages as us, doing all sorts of wonderful things that we longed to do.

But if Storytime was the best part of the day, then Saturdays and trips to the Library were the best part of the week. We'd usually fill at least one brown grocery bag with the books we'd borrow. And I know my mother must have paid a fortune in fines over the years. 

But for me, the library was my sanctuary.

I can still remember what the Bell Isle Branch looked like and its been over 20 years since I've set foot in the place. It was huge and circular with floor to ceiling windows that alternated with bookshelves. It was spacious. My family's house could fit in the open area in front of the circulation desk. 

And the stories I read...Adventures. Mysteries. Sweet Teen Romances (I loved Ned Nickerson, Nancy Drew's boyfriend). These were all escapes from the rest of the reality I faced each day.

Do any of you remember the suitcase full of books, hauled around by the heroine in "Moonrise Kingdom"?

That was me in middle school.

It wasn't the coal mines of West Virginia. I didn't live in a drug-riddled slum. But it was harsh and it was emotionally demanding. And I couldn't face it.

So I escaped.

With a book.

I still do.

I'm packing a book to the Swim Meet tomorrow, right next to the Blueberry Muffins.

Long live stories. Long live the storytellers.

These are the things that get us through. 

Was there a special book that got you through a difficult time? 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Middle Grade on my Radar

Among my typical grab-bag of library treats the past few weeks, I've picked up a few Middle Grade books that have won me over. This actually surprised me, because Middle Grade isn't my favorite genre.

I have my favorites from my own childhood, "The Westing Game" and "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler". And once my oldest kids reached the right age, we immersed ourselves in Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Ranger's Apprentice. 

Which are all awesome!

But you start talking about literary Middle Grade, you know, stuff that tells of a typical tween that doesn't have powers, doesn't fight monsters, doesn't have a major plot point in every chapter, and I start yawning.

Or maybe its contemporary Middle Grade that I don't like. Going back to middle school with Greg Hefley is not my idea of fun. And reading about the drama and minutia of everyday life as a 10-14 year old doesn't thrill me.

But, a few recommendations crossed my path and I was pleasantly surprised.

First off is "Capture the Flag" by Kate Messner. This is a caper/mystery at its heart which is probably why it didn't lose my attention. Three very different kids are all at a party at the Smithsonian the night some thieves steal the Star-Spangled Banner. But a snowstorm locks down the city and traps the kids and the thieves at the airport (I imagined Dulles, but it didn't say) and unable to return home. The kids begin searching. Lots of great character sketches and chase scenes and as one of the kids says, "It's a lot like National Treasure." Which must be why I like it. I loved that movie. :)
Also, a follow-up book, "Hide and Seek" was just released last month. The same trio heads down to Costa Rica to find the Jaguar Cup that was stolen from their secret society. I'm thinking a kid version of Indiana Jones. Can't wait to see if I'm right. 

Another that captured my imagination is the quiet seeming book, "Bigger Than a Breadbox" by Laurel Snyder. On the outset, its about a 12-year old girl from Baltimore who's mother and father separate. Rebecca barely talks to her mom on the road trip or when they reach her grandma's house in Atlanta. To keep away from her mom, she explores the attic and finds a collection of rusty breadboxes. One, though is shiny and grants wishes. Rebecca uses this power to comfort herself in this difficult, emotional time. But things get complicated when it turns out that the things Rebecca wished for weren't just made magically by the breadbox, but acquired from elsewhere and other people. Rebecca's quest to set things right gets her into an even deeper muddle, and kept me turning pages long after I thought I'd quit.

Another book that I loved was "Plain Kate" by Erin Bow. Now this book is technically a YA, but the entire time, it felt like a Middle Grade book. Perhaps it was because the story focused on Kate's problems and coming of age and not any romance. This is a story full of magic, dark wishes and grieving, so I wouldn't recommend it to the younger set, but it would be great for the precocious kiddo or the one who has one foot in Tweenville and not quite ready for the smexy YA stuff out there. 

Plain Kate is set in medievalesque eastern Europe. (There was some language used that looked/sounded like Polish, so that's where I set it in my head.) Kate is left alone at the outset of the book and has to fend for herself from a young teen/tween age. She is chased out of town on suspicion of witchcraft and soon travels with the gypsies. Very rich description of medieval/renaissance town life, gypsy life, creepy magic and a non-gory horror show of a slow-moving plague.
I'll tell you honestly, I cried. Quite a bit. For the last quarter of the book, it seemed like. Hard choices. Sacrifice. Redemption. More hard choices. More sacrifice. More Redemption. 
But absolutely lovely. 

Changing gears, I have to tell you about an author that I am just cuckoo about: Ally Carter.
I LOVE her YA book, "Heist Society" and the two that follow. 
Heist Society (Heist Society, #1) Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society, #2) Perfect Scoundrels (Heist Society, #3)
(Seriously LOVE them!
... Picture "Ocean's 11" performed by an awesome teen cast of art thieves. 
Sooooooo goooooood.)

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls, #1) Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (Gallagher Girls, #2) Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover (Gallagher Girls, #3) Only the Good Spy Young (Gallagher Girls, #4) Out of Sight, Out of Time (Gallagher Girls, #5)
But Carter's Gallager Girl's series is almost as wonderful and surpasses any teen-girl series I've read so far. It starts with "I'd Tell You That I Love You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You". Other similarly catchy titles follow. 
The books take place in a private spy school for girls in Virginia (very easy to imagine a location near Winchester, where I used to live) and the lead character is known as the Chameleon, because she always blends into the background. I remember feeling that way as a teen and not in a good way. But Cameron, is a wonderfully understated character who succeeds at being good-girl and kick-butt all at the same time. This is wonderful for older middle graders who want a bit of romance, giggly girlfriends in the story with something more than 'conquer the mean girls at school without becoming one of them' dramas. 
Seriously, these books are wonderful! I wish I had them in ninth grade. Would have made that year soooo much better!

A couple of other titles that have caught my eye (that I haven't read yet, but plan to in the near future) are "The Humming Room" by Ellen Potter, which supposed to be like "The Secret Garden" but with sci-fi/fantasy elements. I bought it at a school book fair and lost it, only to find it two days ago. On the top of my TBR pile.

The other is, "The Zebra Forest" by Adina Rishe Gewirtz. Annie and her brother, Raw, have been taught by their Gran to do whatever they do with excellence, perhaps even lying to their social worker. Gran says little about their father, only that he was killed by a very angry man. Then a prison escapee breaks into their home and the kids find out that Gran sure didn't tell them everything.
Seriously cannot wait to read this. But my library hadn't even ordered it yet last time I checked. Grrr. Will have to check in with them this week. 

Until next time. Happy Reading, and may you never run out of good books!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Read-Aloud Faves We're Raving About

I am a Mom first. My title of 'blogger' comes somewhere around 8th or 9th on the list of badges I wear. That is the only excuse I'll give for my month-long absence from the blogging world. I'm a Mom...'Nuff said.

As the weather's been (finally) warming up the past month, my preschooler and  I have been taking lots of walks to the library. We live within walking distance of a LIBRARY!!! (Dream come true, I'm telling you!) So we load up the hefty canvas bag of picture books, Middle Grade books, YA books, and kid movies and pull out the little guy's "motorcycle" (envision tough looking plastic tricycle) and walk the half mile to our new library.


Isn't it cool-looking! And it has lots of awesome-sauce inside!

Today, I wanted to share some of the super gems we've found inside these walls. First of all is one of our staples: Elephant & Piggie books by the ever-funny Mo Willems.

If you haven't read these books, stop right now and go pick up one. These are great for any kiddo between the ages of 2-6. But I find these are especially great for the fidgety kind. The words are multi-sized with lots of emotion. Its not just reading at a monotone. But shouting and whispering and groaning and crying. For example:

All these emotions in one book. And there are a TON of them! I couldn't afford to buy them all, so I'm reallllly glad that Libraries are around to foot the bill and make them available to all of us.
These are also great for early readers. Lots of simple words. But NOT BORING....AT ALL!
My older kids still pick them up and laugh. 
Real humor, real humanity (even though they are animals), real emotions. 
'Caveat Lector'...after reading a couple, especially at full volume, you might need a Big Gulp to rehydrate your vocal chords. :)

Another fun couple of books are two I brought with me to our elementary school's Reading Is Fundamental  winter program. Let me tell you, the kids Looooooooooooved them. They wanted tons more time with these books and had a hard time going to pick out their own free book. 
Our theme for the day was "Let your Imagination go Wild" and these two really fit the bill.
(Images via

In the first book, author/illustrator has Jack telling his dad all about the awesome car, HE would build, and boy, does he pull out the stops, from gel-filled bumpers that don't crumple to a snack bar to a robot and beyond. Just watch the eyes of a kid reading this book for a the first time and you will not bemoan the future of the next generation. Promise.
The next book, Jack has a conversation with his mom about their boring, run-of-the-mill house and the ideas he has for improving it. Again, it is filled with lots of pink and turquoise and mid-century kitschy-cool blended with Jetson-esque remodeling.

The kids really got excited about this, as each room becomes more outlandish and outstanding. Here's an image of the kitchen, the FIRST room that is described.

It gets really does. And there are glimpses of the car from the first book, which are fun 'Easter eggs' for the kids to find on their multiple readings afterwards. Which there will be. I promise.

Another fun read, we only discovered this year was "Traction Man". If any of you have sons into action figures or who had action figures yourselves or had brothers, buddies, or friends who had them, then you will enjoy this wonderful book that takes a look into the life of the new Christmas present and his exploration of his surroundings and heroic activities that day.
But what happens when Granny gives Traction Man a wonderful gift???

You have to read! There is a sequel that takes place at the beach with some new Barbie-esque friends. And it looks like there is another one out that I haven't read yet:

Looks good!!!

I'm noticing a trend here of Author/Illustrators. Well, we shall keep that up with my last recommendation with the ever-wonderful, Lauren Child. My family hadn't heard of her until 3-4 years ago when some friends introduced us to the fun TV series, 'Charlie and Lola' based on Child's books. We watched all of them available on DVD at our local library. We were hooked. And I polished my British accent so I could read the REAL books aloud to my crew without making them protest, "Say it right, Mom!!!" My all-time favorites are the one about picky eating and the one about Lola's make-believe friend, Soren Lorenson. 

The way the book was printed to make Soren there, but not there in the illustrations was simply amazing. You have to check out the book to see what I mean...I'm not spoiling. :)
Below is another book I love, just because I am a bibliophile and I HATE it when the book I want from the library or bookshop is NOT there! Child totally captures that feeling.  

Lauren Child's 'Clarice Bean' books are great. At least one is a picture book, and I believe the rest are upper elementary chapter books which are great for the almost-tweener.
But one of my favorites of hers is "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book?"
I am planning to share this one for next fall's RIF day. (Shhh! Don't tell.)
In this wonderful read-aloud, Herb has been cutting the pictures out of his books and when he is sucked into his fairy tale book one night, he discovers the consequences of messing about with good books. Its' like a fractured fairytale/fairytale retold with wonderful illustrations and story line. And lots of humor. I mean, Goldilocks is the Antagonist!


Made my Happily-Ever-After heart go pitter-pat. Absolutely loved.

So what about you? Do you have a favorite author or illustrator or storybook series? Please share? I love to get new recommendations. :)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poetry Floaties Keep Me From Drowning

After the bombings in Boston a few days ago and the explosion in West, Texas at a nearby fertilizer plant last night, I feel as if we've been hit by a terrible double-tap of tragedy.

Miles away, folks are facing their worst nightmares and I'm here, safe and sound in my home, my biggest immediate concern being sure the kids take raincoats with them to school.

If I let myself watch and listen and think about either event too long, I will be a puddle of tears before mid-morning.

Words help. 
For me, words can help shape reality into something I can handle, a shape I can "see" in my minds eye. Then somehow, I can process the indescribable and wrap my prayers around something more concrete than the gut feelings of fear and dismay.

When I heard of the amazing marathoners who, though entirely spent, continued onward to help others and donate blood, I couldn't help but think of these lines from Rudyard Kipling's "If".

'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs ...

'If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

'If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - what is more - you'll be a Man, my son!'

To be able to face the terrors in life, grit your teeth and keep on going, that is strength. We cannot do it alone. We need more than a British stiff-upper-lip. We need friends around us and moments of grieving and moments to stare into nothing. We need something to occupy our hands, so it feels like we can DO something; put our hand to the plow, fist to the punching bag, face to the wind. 
We want to FIGHT against all that darkness and evil in the world.

At least I do.

When I hear of those who've misused power or abused others, or committed acts of terror, I recall the poem, "The Man With the Hoe" by  Edwin Markham. It was written after Markham saw Millet's world-famous painting of a brutalized worker.

In the poem, Markham scolds, in ringing tones, those whose actions bring pain, numbness and all other brands of brokenness to fellow human beings.

I won't share the entire poem here, much as I love it, just the lines that I feel apply to whoever might be the dark soul behind the awful acts of terror.

"...Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies.
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?"

What of us left behind, hurting, aching for the wounded and the lost? Not sure what to do, how to help, what to even pray for. Feeling angry and hurt and violated and wanting to turn from those dark feelings, to beat our swords into something beneficial. What can we do?

We can honor those who have fallen. 
We can turn our back on human frailties and celebrate our God-given Humanity.

Just a little bit of kindness.
After the dreadful shootings in Newtown, Conn., NBC correspondent Ann Curry encouraged others to do 26 acts of kindness for those 26 victims. Now, in honor of the 26th mile of the Boston Marathon, we are again encouraged to do 26 acts of random kindness. 
If we like, we may share on Twitter under the hashtag #26Acts2.

This call to action, good, righteous action, recalls the classic poem written during World War One by  Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, "In Flander's Fields".

"We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders field.

"...To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."

The torch is given. Pass it on. Pass it forward.
Break a sweat. Break a Twenty. Break for a pedestrian, a biker, the jerk who cut you off.
And then, just smile and wave and know that maybe they didn't see you. Maybe they were wiping a tear. Maybe their friend, their aunt or cousin is in Boston or Texas or some other Flanders field of woe. 
Give them a break, a little kindness, and go about your day with gratitude that there is good in the world. For, if enough of us act, speak and share, the light will overcome the darkness.
Every Single Time.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Real Life Inspiration: The Man From Snowy River - Banjo's Poem

All of us have iconic images from our childhood or teen years that just take us back like a time machine to a certain era or place or feeling. Something, whether book, movie, scent, activity that goes right for the gut of our emotion.

Today, I'm starting a series exploring some of those things in my life. 

When I was a child, my parents went out a couple times a month for a date. But movies were always expensive (at least on our budget) so they went about four times a year as a couple. After one of these dates,  my sister and I would bug my mom about the movie. 

"What was the movie about? Did you like it? Was it exciting?" 

My mom was sooooo cool! She'd sit on her bed and we'd sprawl across the King-size quilt, close our eyes and imagine the scenes as she told us the story. I watched some of the films later, and they weren't nearly as awesome as mom made them. I mean they were good, but not as good as what Mom had described. 

Or maybe Hollywood just couldn't compete with my imagination? 

Eventually, my family got a VCR and we'd trot down to the video store (remember those dinosaurs???) on Friday night and pick out a movie. 

One of the few films that completely lived up to (and surpassed) my mental version of my mother's storytelling was the Australian movie, "The Man from Snowy River"


Did you all see that movie?
Did you fall in love with Jim Craig? 
My sister and I sure did. 

I imagined myself as Harrison's daughter Jessica soooo many times.
I wanted to be fiery and smart and beautiful just like her!

The budding romance.
Forbidden love.
Forbidden love as the hero and heroine ride horses.
Match made in heaven.

That's what I remembered as a preteen.

Then I watched it as an adult.

The music!
The plot.
The horses.
The Aussie accents.
The wry humor.
The long-lasting feud between Harrison and his twin. 
(Kirt Douglas is awesome!)

But one thing was still as powerful as when my mother told it, as when I first watched it on our grainy 18" TV:
Jim Craig's breathtaking leap over the ridge and down the near-vertical mountain slope.

I thought nothing could top that.

Then I found the original poem.
This is the essence of the movie, the story:
The stripling from Snowy River proving himself, pitting himself against the other men and against nature itself as he chases down the Brumbies. 
(The love story, as much as I swoon over it, is secondary.)

 I envy Banjo Paterson his words. 
He uses jargon and common words to deftly  illustrate characters, describe a horse outside and in, paint a vista and offer you the opportunity to ride with the stockmen on the ultimate chase. 

Go ahead. Watch, listen, and envy. I know I did.

Special thanks to my sister (fellow Man-from-Snowy-River-groupie) who found this on You-Tube and shared.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Graffiti, Tagging and other Unauthorized Behaviors

 When I first read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" at the age of ten, I immediately labeled Edmund as the bad one. I knew he was trouble before he ever entered Narnia and spoke with the White Witch. 


Sure, he was a little snarky in the opening pages,  and I suspected he was going to be a nuisance like my little brothers; the kind that stole your Barbie right off the pink plastic couch on the third story of her Townhouse and ran around the house laughing maniacally when they were bored or hyped up on red Kool-aid.  
That first day in the Professor's house, before they play hide-and-go-seek, what was Edmund doing? He was using his penknife (the ubiquitous tool of English boyhood) to carve into the underside of a chair. 

The nerve! The naughtiness! He was the Troublemaker!

My pre-adolescent moral compass was whirling with righteous indignation. 
I was such a girl!

When I watched the movie adaptation a few years ago, I was absolutely THRILLED when Edmund ducked out from under the chair and slammed his penknife onto the trunk/coffee table when the kids decide to play hide-and-go-seek. He was doing it then, during the argument! He was vandalizing the Professor's furniture! 
I was ready to high-five director, Andrew Adamson. 

He hadn't "sanitized" Edmund 's character. He let him shine in all his frustrated, sneaky, cheeky glory.

I thought it was awesome!

Then, my own son vandalized my dining room table.

Yup. A skull. With an eye patch. With another skull sketched on that.

And it wasn't on the underside like that weasel Edmund chose. 

Or in the middle where I can cover it up with a centerpiece or basket of rolls. 
Nope. Right along the curve of the oval in all it's glory.

I bought a tablecloth. A few of them.

Not too long afterward, it was time to wash said tablecloth. (Did I mention I have five sons? Lots of opportunities for laundry with five boys)
When I lifted the tablecloth away, guess what I found...This:

In case you can't tell, (I couldn't at first,) this is a smiling robot head.  

I yelled at my skull-carving boy. He was eight and had just barely unburied himself from the heap of trouble this graffiti had brought down upon his head. (No Old English or Pledge has yet to cover this baby up!) The kid should know better than to do it again! Right?

"I didn't do it." Straight face.

I yelled some more.

"I didn't do it!" Indignation.

I demanded who he thought did it.

Finger pointing at the next brother down the line. Typical.

"But Mo-ooom! I carved a skull! This is a robot. A smiling robot."

Okay. Point taken. 

The five-year-old did that.
He got in trouble too.

Its been over a year. Guess what. I hardly ever use a tablecloth anymore.

I look at those carvings and I shake my head. Then smile. 
When no one is around to see.

Each is so totally typical of the boy who drew them. The skull was the product of my sweet-but-sometimes-rebellious middle-child after I had placed a ban on all skulls in my household...not on shirts, hoodies, shoes, sheets, posters or even doodles. 
So, why was I not surprised. Sigh!

And the next son in the pecking order is curious and daring. If his brother could get away with only that much punishment, then maybe he should give that enticing naughtiness a try.

My dining table, though once a dignified piece of furniture, was third-hand when we received it...with bits of irremovable green glitter on one corner and lots of dings and scratches. The deeply-carved illustrations of my boys only adds to its character (I tell myself anyway).

Then I cringe at the motherly thought: What if they move on to other surfaces? 
So I do my darnedest to teach my kids respect (for themselves and others). 
And I pray their penchant for permanent art doesn't migrate to other people's property
...or their own skin.  
* suppress a shiver*

But having a house full of crazy boys does have its upside.

As I was writing a scene for a new Work-In-Progress the other day, I was fleshing out a character and suddenly I mischievous, thrill-seeking hero was a bit of an Edmund. He had a hefty slice of rebellion and longing for naughtiness just like a particular son of mine.
He would defintely be there with a penknife scratching away on the underside of a chair or making his mark on a table top.
He was perfect! 
In the circumstances, I needed a daring fellow who wasn't afraid to thumb his nose at authority. The heroine needed a guy who wouldn't just shut up and sit down. The story needed a hero who would make the Hail Mary pass and then take the consequences, win or fail, with equanimity.

Such a rush! 

Weaving a story and sculpting a character out of words is absolutely the best fun! 
(Revising on the other hand is a monster. But a thrill in its own way.)

Well, folks, gotta scoot. 
There are some tablecloths I need to pack in mothballs.