Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas! (And Bonus Recipe!)


I wanted to take the opportunity today to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas! I also thought I would share one of my favorite holiday (or anytime) recipes. This is a family recipe, handed down with minimal instructions ("mix this, add that, throw it on a sheet and bake until done"), so I've done my best to make it shareable. These cookies are amazing. At least I think so. They have a very cake-like texture, with a taste similar to madelines. They are great with frosting, but equally yummy just plain. And they freeze really well. In fact, my mom used to store them in the freezer or refrigerator and we would pull them out and eat them cold. Weird, but delicious. They're also great for giving away, because a full batch will make about 5 dozen cookies. Enjoy!

With the busyness of the holiday season and family staying with us for the next week, the blog will probably be fairly quiet for the rest of the month. Plus, I'm using our winter school break to edit, edit, edit! But I'm hoping to share new and exciting things with you in the new year. Thank you for making this first year of my blog a successful one. I hope 2014 is filled with joy and brings you closer to your own goals and dreams.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year
~Ashley




Monday, December 16, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Pursue}

Dreaming is the easy part. But we all know how hard it can be to chase those dreams and try to turn them into a reality. The pursuit takes persistence, dedication, and lots and lots of courage. But isn't it all worth it? I hope you're encouraged (I need it to!) by this reminder that dreams can come true!


Friday, December 13, 2013

Verily Magazine

Today I wanted to do a different sort of review. Instead of raving about my latest favorite novel, I have to share with you my new favorite magazine: Verily.

Credit for this particular discovery goes to my husband, who stumbled upon this new magazine online and left the sample issue up on our computer for me to read. He knows me well. By the time I was halfway through the sample pages, I was hooked. I subscribed immediately. A couple weeks ago I got my first issue, and let me tell you, this isn't your typical women's magazine. It's sooo much better than that.

Verily's tagline is Less of who you should be, more of who you are. It's a perfect description. No more flipping through page after page of celebrity gossip, million dollar outfits, photoshopped "perfect" bodies, and five steps to fitting into that little black dress by Friday. Instead, you get real stuff for your real life.

I've skimmed the entire issue and I'm about halfway through reading page by page and let me tell you, I'm absolutely in love with this magazine. This issue opens with a letter from the editor, explaining why she thinks a women's magazine should be able to offer serious journalism alongside fashion, cooking, and relationship advice. And Verily does this, in an absolute brilliant fashion. From practical advice on surviving life with in-laws, to music and book recommendations, to a hard-hitting report on violence against women in Egypt, Verily gives us a magazine that is about more than entertainment--it has substance. It's everything you could want and more in a modern magazine for the grown woman, single or married. And an added bonus? They pledge not to photoshop their models, which only adds to the publication's feeling of authenticity. Verily's promise on their website is 100% true--it's a breath of fresh air. I'm looking forward to diving into future issues, and I'll definitely be telling all my girlfriends to check it out.

Take a peek inside the current issue.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Christmas}

Christmas is in full swing at our house! This is our family's favorite time of year. Family is coming to visit, cookies are in the oven, and presents are hiding in the closet. Bing Crosby and Andy Williams are playing on the radio and our favorite old Christmas films are in the Netflix queue (if you haven't seen White Christmas, you must). And of course, there's at least one bookish ornament on the tree. In honor of the holiday season, here's a little peek into my home, and some of my favorite Christmas poems. 

From our family to yours - Merry Christmas! I hope your season is filled with peace, hope, and joy.





Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman + The Dark by Lemony Snicket

Today's book reviews come as a two-for-one post! I read Fortunately, The Milk earlier this week, and then my son reminded me of the awesomeness of The Dark by picking it for bedtime last night and I had to share. Both of these would make great gifts for the kids on your Christmas list!

When Mom is away and Dad is put in charge, the inevitable happens: He forgets to buy the ever important milk. Off he goes to save breakfast--but this will be no ordinary trip to the corner store. Hilarity ensues as Dad returns to explain just why fetching the milk took "ages and ages".

Neil Gaiman's latest children's book, Fortunately, The Milk, is an absolutely brilliant work of utter nonsense. I loved everything about it. It's a very quick read--it took me about an hour (and that includes the inevitable interruptions that happen when you're trying to read with children about). I'm not going to tell you anything more because I don't want to spoil the fantastic surprise of reading it and finding something marvelous around every page. Just go out, get it for your kids for Christmas, read, and then wrap.


Laslzo is afraid of the dark and all the places it lives in his house. But when his trusty nightlight suddenly goes out, he discovers that the dark might be friendlier than he thought.

Lemony Snicket's foray into the picture book world comes with wonderful results. The Dark is a charming story with equally charming illustrations and an encouraging message for little ones who aren't too fond of nighttime. While the dark is mysterious, I love that it's never portrayed as overly frightening, and by the end it feels like you could even be friends with the dark (or at least mutually respecting acquaintances). Overall there's something very calming about the book and its simple but beautiful text, which makes it a perfect bedtime story. From a mom who has read A LOT of picture books--this one is a keeper.

What books are you planning on buying for your kids this Christmas? I bought my daughter (who is very into fashion design) Different Like Coco, a picture book biography of Coco Chanel. And for my son, something that combines his two great loves: Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary. Share your holiday purchases in the comments below!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Author Interview: Erin Healy

It's my pleasure to be hosting the lovely Erin Healy on the blog today! Erin is a best-selling author and award-winning fiction editor who has worked with talented novelists such as James Scott Bell, Frank Peretti, and Ted Dekker. She is the author of Kiss and Burn (co-authored with Ted Dekker), and several other novels, including her last book Afloat (click to read my review). Her latest supernatural thriller, Stranger Things, comes to stores on New Year’s Eve.

Library Journal says: “Serena Diaz’s teaching career came to an abrupt end when a student falsely accused her of sexual misconduct. Seeking solace in the woods, she discovers that a gang of sex traffickers has taken over a vacant house. Serena is almost captured by one of the criminals but is saved by an unknown man who has been shadowing her. He is shot, and Serena escapes with her life. But she is drawn to know more about this stranger who died for her. What follows is a suspenseful story of danger and pure evil. Whom can Serena trust in a world that seems intent on serving its own self-interests? VERDICT Healy (Afloat; coauthor with Ted Dekker, Burn and Kiss) has written an edgy, fast-paced spiritual thriller that will please Dekker fans.”

How was your idea for Stranger Things born?

Two years ago, during a Good Friday service, my pastor (Kelly Williams of Vanguard Church, Colorado Springs) asked the congregation: “If a complete stranger died while saving your life, wouldn’t you want to know everything you could about that person? Wouldn’t you want your life to honor that person’s death?” He challenged us to consider Jesus Christ in a new light—as a stranger, as a savior we might not know as well as we think we do. This idea has roots in Romans 5:8—“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Before I ever had the chance to know him, while he was a complete stranger to me, Christ died for me. The Message translation says “when [I was] of no use whatever to him.” Why would he do that? Have I investigated him thoroughly enough to connect my own life with his purposes? This is all background, though. Stranger Things isn’t an overtly Christian tale as my previous novels have been, but it’s a parable about these questions.

Stranger Things sounds like a pretty dark read. Why did you choose to write about sex trafficking?
Human trafficking (of which sex trafficking is a subcategory) is the world’s third-fastest growing illegal industry behind drugs and weapons. It is the most horrifying kind of modern captivity I can imagine, and my research proved that even my imagination fell short of reality. I picked it because it’s a real contemporary crisis, but also because it profoundly symbolizes the kind of bondage that Christ came to end (Isaiah 61:1-3). Freeing the captive, physically and spiritually, is a high calling for followers of Jesus who want to express their gratitude for his sacrifice and demonstrate his love through the continuation of his work.

What does all this have to do with the “thin places” that you’re always talking about?
The traditional (Celtic) definition of a thin place is a physical location in the world where the division between physical and spiritual realities falls away, a place where we can see the greater truth of our existence. In my stories I use the term “thin place” to define moments when a person experiences a sharpened spiritual awareness about what’s really going on in his or her life. Stranger Things  is the first novel in which I’ve combined both ideas. The thin place is a physical location, a burned-out house in a sparse terrain, where Serena discovers her purpose. “There are places in the world where you will encounter things so real that you will be surprised others don’t have an identical experience,” Serena’s father tells her. “But then you will realize that the clarity given to you is a gift from God. Perhaps this gift is just for you, maybe also it will touch the lives of others.”

Did anything surprise you while writing the novel?
I started with intentions to write about an Asian-based trafficking ring, but in the course of my research was distressed to learn just how close to home the problem lies. Though it’s impossible to get a precise count of how many people are victims of sex trafficking in the US, most estimates fall between 100,000 and 300,000 (mostly women and children). Since I learned this my own awareness has expanded, and I’m happy to see just how many efforts are already underway—not only in the US—to end this atrocity. The Polaris Project is a great place to begin learning about global human trafficking.

What do you hope readers will take away from Stranger Things?
I hope the novel is layered enough to meet each reader individually. Maybe some will be challenged to investigate Jesus Christ further. Maybe some will use their new awareness of trafficking to do something about it. (I’ve joined the prayer team of a local home for girls rescued from sexual slavery.) To date my favorite response to the book was from the person who found herself looking in a new way at the strangers who surrounded her. She felt unexpectedly protective and concerned, on heightened alert to ways in which she might be able to help them. In other words, ways in which she might be able to do what Christ did for her. So many opportunities! If we all moved through the world with eyes like that, what might change for the better? I love to think of all the possibilities.

Along with the provided interview, I had the privilege of asking Erin some additional questions of my own. One of the things I love about Erin is her desire to interact with her fans, which she does in such an easy going and warm way. Here's her reply to my questions:

You’ve worked as an editor for some very talented novelists. What inspired you to take up your pen as an author?
Though writing has always been a large part of whatever work (and a lot of play) is at hand, I started writing novels because Ted invited me to. (We co-authored Kiss and Burn before I wrote my solo books.) It wasn't that I'd never thought of it so much that the demands of career and family had prevented it. So to write publicly in the context of my established career was a fantastic opportunity.

Your books have had a great impact on my life, both as a reader and a writer. Can you share with us some ways your own life has been impacted through telling these stories?
That's wonderful! As for me, writing has made me a better editor. I think I'm kinder, more perceptive, and less frustrated to have my own creative outlet. I started writing in the same year of the national economic crisis, which was about the same time the publishing industry entered its own upheaval, so I've learned a lot about how to be patient, humble, and peaceful instead of anxious. I'm also learning (still very much in process) about how to be a better listener--to people and to God--and how to find my personal worth in God and not in the reception of my work.

What advice would you give to those of us who are chasing the dream of becoming a published author?
If you go into writing aiming to be successful, brace yourself for a real challenge. The percentage of hard-working, good writers who are successful from an economic, numeric, or literary point of view is excruciatingly small, though they do everything “right.”  If you go into writing because you have something to say and you believe God called you to say it, you’ll have to set aside empirical notions of “success,” because God’s definition of that word is largely hidden from us earthlings. He is the Master Creator of us creative types. We will always be His apprentices, and never the master. His opinion is the only one that ultimately counts. So you have to consider—when the rejections stack up, reviews are harsh, and you’ve only sold ten copies of your self-published work—if the ten people who bought those copies were exactly the people who needed to hear what you had to say. Maybe your book was for the person who borrowed it from the library and didn’t pay a cent. Maybe your book was just for you, to learn something about yourself in the process of writing it. Someday you’ll know. But probably not today.

Again, a huge thank you to Erin for allowing me to host her on my blog today! If you'd like to have a peek at Stranger Things, you can read the first two chapters here. Prepare to be hooked! And don't forget to fill out the form below to be entered to win one of ten copies. (A US shipping address is required and books will ship on January 1, 2014). You can enter each day through December 8th, and earn more chances to win by visiting other host blogs--you'll find those links here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more from Erin Healy follow her on:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Small Things {November Edition}

THANKSGIVING
How can I mention this month's favorite things without giving a shout out to Thanksgiving? I love baking and cooking and fall, so Thanksgiving is high on my list of best holidays. We had a very simple dinner this year with my parents and, aside from my poor little girl who wasn't feeling well, it was perfect (don't worry, she's all better now). I love hosting and all the little details that come with it (when the holidays roll around, I fall in love with our chalkboard wall all over again). It's been an amazing year and it was refreshing to slow down and think about all I have to be thankful for--definitely something that I should do more than once a year.


GIFTS WITH MEANING
Earlier this month, I celebrated my 28th birthday. My husband bought me this Cup the Ante necklace from Modcloth.com. Not only is it adorable (I've gotten so many complements on it) but it's also a tribute to my children's novel, The Fantastical Adventures of Pinkletin Frog, and Pinkletin's own dear teacup and spoon. Just one more show of support and encouragement from the best-ever husband.







CATCHING FIRE
I've been looking forward to Catching Fire for months and the hubby and I got to have a date earlier this week to go see it. I was not disappointed. SO GOOD. They did an excellent job with the novel adaptation, even better I think, than the first film. And great casting all around (Jennifer Lawrence is amazing, as usual). Catching Fire is my favorite book of the trilogy and I would definitely see the film again. If you get a chance to see this one in the theater, take it! And if you haven't read the books, put them on your Christmas list.





Don't forget to come back Monday for an interview with Erin Healy! You can find out all about her new book, Stranger Things, and get a chance to snag yourself a copy to ring in the New Year!



Friday, November 29, 2013

Literary Gifts for Book Lovers

The turkey has been carved and the pumpkin pie vanquished. Now comes the fun of checking off that Christmas shopping list. Maybe this is the year to get the writer/and or bookworm in your life something besides notebooks and bookstore gift cards. Here are some of my favorite suggestions for doing just that...


1. Modcloth.com
Modcloth is one of my favorite online stores. Not only do they have a ton of adorable, vintage inspired clothing, they also have an amazing selection of giftable items. Just search "books" and you'll be treated to a plethora of choices...unique and hilarious coffee table books, notecard sets, literary themed apparel and accessories...seriously, my wishlist is ridiculous.
Pictured: Live Up to the Type Necklace and Mermaid for Each Other Bookends.

2. Vintage Books
Chances are, your literary inclined friend or family member has a favorite classic book, whether it be a current favorite or one from their childhood. Get a list of their most treasured titles and then hit eBay, or your local antique shop, secondhand or thrift store. You'll be surprised at how affordable they can be (unless of course you have your heart set on a signed first edition). I have my own collection of antique and vintage books and I've paid anywhere from about $8-$40 per title. This is a great way to make this Christmas an extra special one.

3. Outofprintclothing.com
Out of Print celebrates the world's great stories through fashion, with products featuring iconic and often out of print book covers. They have everything from phone cases, to tote bags, to t-shirts (for every member of the family). And to make it even better, for each product sold, Out of Print donates one book to the organization Books for Africa.
Pictured: Nancy Drew: The Sign of the Twisted Candles Women's Tee and The Great Gatsby iPhone 5/5S Case

4. Give Back
Speaking of donations, making a charitable contribution in your book lover's name can be a wonderful gift with a lasting impact. Especially if your giftee is already involved with a particular organization--for example, those crazy friends of yours who participate in NaNoWriMo each November. There are lots of great literary charities out there, like First Book, which provides books to kids from low-income families, or United Through Reading, which allows deployed military parents the opportunity to be video-recorded reading storybooks to their children to help ease the stress of separation. 

Do you have any favorite gifts you love to give to the readers/writers in your life? Or do you have your own literary wishlist? Share in the comments!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NaNoWriMo Update and Special Announcement!

Hello, all! We've reached the last week of November, and for all you NaNoWriMo participants, that means winning has begun! To all of you who have reached 50,000 words--congratulations! To those still plowing ahead toward the prize, consider this a big ol' rah-rah-you-can-do-it! complete with pom-poms.

This year will be a first for me. The first time I don't reach that magical 50K. HOWEVER, I did reach those two beautiful words: THE END. I completed my first draft at about 37,500 and decided that this year, I was going to call that a win and be happy to cheer everyone else across the finish line. I'm proud of the fact that I pushed through and completed the very rough, messy, and fractured first draft of my next novel. I'm also quite happy to enjoy the rest of my November with a little less stress. (There are Christmas trees to be put up and decorated, after all.) Editing will begin soon--I gave the first chapter to my writers' group last night to make sure of that.

Now...Announcement!

Next week, I will have the immense pleasure and privilege of hosting an interview with author Erin Healy. She will be sharing some exciting tidbits about her upcoming book Stranger Things. Plus, you might just get to preview her new novel AND have a chance to win a copy for yourself. Make sure you come by the blog on Monday and check it out!

With that, I'm off to prep for turkey day. This year, I'm thankful for all of you who have visited my blog and read my posts. You've helped make this writing journey even more awesome. Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Give}

As we enter Thanksgiving week, let's remember to be thankful for all that has been given to us. But let's also remember the opportunity we have to give a little of ourselves to those around us each day.


Monday, November 18, 2013

The Day I Almost Quit

It's noon and I still haven't put up today's blog post. Why?

Because I almost quit last night.

The last two weeks have been filled with some serious ups and downs. This year's NaNoWriMo project is not going easy on me. Some days the words have flowed well, but most days it's been an uphill struggle to keep moving forward. Not necessarily because the story isn't there, but because I'm not meeting my own expectations. Last year, I averaged 2,300 words a day and I was in love with my story. I knew exactly where I was going next, and the snags were few. This year, I'm lucky to meet the required daily 1,667 by midnight each night, I have no idea what to do in my next scene, and my entire story seems like one gigantic tangled mess.

I was hoping that last year's finished novel would be some sort of magical line in my writing career. Beyond this line, everything would be easier. Every first draft would be gold. Every story and character would be loved and cherished through the entire process.

Or something like that.

Instead: Reality. In all honesty, I knew it would be hard. No dream is ever easy to reach. No passion ever really reaches perfection. There's always more learning and growing and hard work to be done, even after harvest. But I was completely unprepared for how difficult this month would be. It seems my fifth NaNoWriMo is shaping up to be my most difficult. Last night, after ignoring my novel for as long as I could (it's only 36 days 'til Christmas--I HAD to finish crocheting that stocking), I finally sat down at 10:30pm and coughed up 1,000 words before giving up an hour later.

And then I tried to convince myself of all the reasons why it was okay if I gave up completely.

After all, I've chalked up four NaNoWriMo wins--that's not too shabby. We're all allowed to have an unfinished year, right? Why should I waste my time on a story I'm not enjoying? A story that will probably end up in the trash bin anyway.

And there was the truth. Or, should I say, the lies.

The story isn't good enough. 
I'm not good enough.
I'm wasting my time.

I went to bed discouraged and defeated--and while we're being real--with a soggy pillow.

But thankfully, dark nights are often followed by mornings of clarity. I was reading some sample chapters of an upcoming novel from one of my favorite authors (I'll be sharing those pages with you in a couple weeks, so stayed tuned for more info on that!) and I had a thought. It's a thought I've had many times before that has always given me new life when I'm in the writing dumps.

This book is made of words. Simple, everyday words put into sentences, put into paragraphs, put into chapters to make a book. The story is beautiful, well written, intricate. But it all begins with just...words.

I like words. I can handle that. I can do that.

So I sat at my computer and wrote 300 more words this morning. They might not be perfect, they might get thrown to the cutting room floor come December. But if I want to be a writer, I must be willing to risk the imperfect first draft. The messed up timeline. The characters who aren't sure who they are yet. The villains who seem undefeatable.

Because I don't want to be the person who missed out on a great story because she quit in the first draft. I don't want to be the person who misses out on future possibilities because I focused on present difficulties. My story might not make it to 50,000 words (it is a children's book after all, and I'm focused on the 35K-45K range) but I don't want to stop before THE END.


So, as a reminder for myself and anyone else who needs it, here's today's picture quote.




Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's On My Bookshelf

Today's post is part of a link-up happening over at Anne Bogel's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. I love Anne's blog. She's one of those bloggers who has the ability to make it seem like you're just having a chat over coffee. Her blog has such a great variety of posts on books, beauty and fashion, and just...LIFE.

This week Anne asked her readers to share their bookshelves. If you know me (or if you've ever taken a gander at my "No Place Like Home" Pinterest board), you know what a perfect prompt for a blog post this is for me. I believe a home without books is no home at all, and someday I pledge to have at least one wall of floor to ceiling shelves. So, without further adieu, a peek into my living room...



These guys get the highest shelf, partly to be out of reach of small, dirty fingers, but mostly because it's my favorite shelf. This one holds all my vintage books, including some of my favorite classics. (Alice in Wonderland has a bookmark in it because it's inspiration for the NaNoWriMo novel I'm working on this month.) The best ones have inscriptions on the first page. You can read the most darling inscription in this Instagram photo.


What it looks like when you have more books than shelves. Confession: There's a book on this shelf that I bought this summer and still haven't read. But this shelf also holds the series I've read and re-read the most times: The O'Malley Chronicles by Dee Henderson. I met my husband, who was a firefighter at the time, right after reading The Protector. Needless to say, it's my favorite of the series.


This shelf holds some of my favorite, most magical children's/YA books, plus (randomly, I know--I'm surprised the cross in genres doesn't drive me crazy...) Blue Like Jazz and Start--two of the books I most often, and most highly, recommend. My Flavia deLuce novels get special attention with their poison bottle companion. And the thing that really makes this shelf awesome? The manilla folder you can just make out in the shadows to the right. That's my children's book manuscript, in all its printed glory.


And lastly, the overflow stacks. My bookshelves have pretty much reached their max capacity, so several books have wandered to the half wall between the living room and kitchen. As you can see, they don't always stay between the bookends. This is where the currently-being-read books (and a few favorites) live along with the novels visiting from the library and the pile of Relevant magazines.


Okay, one more (then I promise I'm done). My kids have their own shelves in their room, filled to overflowing. (Plus there's a basket tucked in next to the bookshelves in the living room that holds another pile of picture books, chapter books, and easy readers borrowed from the library.) One of the biggest goals I have as a mom is to pass on my love of reading. Yesterday my daughter finished one book she'd already started and then went on to read an entire Ivy+Bean novel. Mission accomplished.

Thanks for checking out this little peek into my world! Want to see what other bookworms are reading? Visit the link up post at Modern Mrs. Darcy and browse their shelves!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Valor}

Today I want to take the opportunity to say thank you. Thank you to all the men and women who have served the country and the people of the United States of America. I am blessed to have many friends who have, or are currently serving with the military. Some of my closest friends have watched their husbands go to war and prayed daily for their safe return. I am awed by their strength and humbled by their sacrifice. To all of you: enlisted, past, present, families...thank you for your selflessness, your courage, and your valor.

The medal pictured above belonged to my husband's great(x?)-grandfather.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Hungry Novelist

Hello, all! Sorry for the quietness of the blog this week. But when your graphic design business hits the busiest time of year AND you're attempting to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you've got to make time for basic human needs, like figuring out the bare minimum amount of sleep you can get while still being able to function.

Which brings me to the topic of today's quick post.

Writing a novel in a month would be a lot easier if it weren't for the pesky necessity to eat, sleep, and have clean laundry. (Not to mention taking care of little ones if you have kids.) When you're trying to squeeze every bit of writing time you can out of every day, its nice to have quick and easy meal fixes. Getting up early and putting in a few hundred words before the kids get up has been saving my butt (and my word count) and this year I found a recipe that's saving my breakfast: Refrigerator Oatmeal. It's easy, delicious, and writing friendly. Win, win, WIN. It's one of those recipes I've had pinned to my Pinterest board for forever, but never got around to trying until now. It's perfect for NaNoing, because you can throw the ingredients together the night before and have a magical breakfast waiting for you in the morning. Plus, when inspiration hits mid-bite, you can type to your heart's content and come back to it. No more cold eggs or soggy cereal.

You'll need the following basic ingredients:
A mason jar with lid, at least half-pint in size (Or any other container with a lid. You could use Tupperware or recycle a jar!) 
Rolled Oats (The site where the recipe is from says to use old-fashioned, but I cheated and used quick oats and it turned out just fine.)
Milk
Greek Yogurt
Chia Seeds
Fruit and/or Jam or Jelly

And here's the recipe I've been using:



Refrigerator Oatmeal
1/4 cup uncooked oats
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. dried chia seeds
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 T. jam or jelly of your choice
1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped fruit of your choice
(My combos of choice have been strawberry jam, with peaches or mixed berries. You can use fresh fruit, or thawed frozen fruit.)

Place the oats, milk, yogurt, chia seeds, vanilla extract, and jelly in the jar. Put the lid on and shake until well blended. Stir in fruit. Refrigerate overnight, or up to 2-3 days.

Viola! You can find lots of recipes for different flavor combos, including apple cinnamon, banana peanut butter, and pumpkin pie, at the original post over on The Yummy Life blog.

P.S. I'm right on target with NaNoWriMo, at 8,806 words. The story is slowly building itself and I'm excited to see what comes about in week two as my character enters the woods. How is your noveling going? I'd love to hear your word count in the comments!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Countdown to NaNoWriMo (T-2)

When it comes to novel writing, I'm a pantser at heart. But in the interest of actually being able to finish what I start, I do have to do some planning before the writing begins. Honestly, I hate outlining, so my process goes something like this...

Figure out the beginning.
Figure out the end.
Figure out the rest as I go along.

That being said, I promised you a summary of this year's NaNoNovel in yesterday's post. Since I'm not entirely sure of all my plot points yet, you'll have to forgive me if it's a little vague and not quite dust jacket quality. Also, there's a slight chance I have trust issues am a bit paranoid about putting my ideas on the internets. (But there's also a chance that being chosen for 30 Covers 30 Days is a secret dream of mine.) All that aside, a promise is a promise, so here goes...

12 year-old Alivia knows what no one else believes: The woods took her mother. And now the forest is calling to her with two words whispered on the wind. 

Follow me...

On the other side of the trees is a carefree world where magic is real and the tea is always sweet. But once she enters, Alivia discovers a darkness seeping through the moss and golden leaves. A darkness she must stop if she's ever to see her mother again. At least, that's what the old white rabbit with the broken pocket watch tells her.

By the way, did I mention her mother's name is Alice?

Your turn. What are you writing this November?



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Countdown to NaNoWriMo (T-3)

It's here. The final stretch of that exciting and often panic-filled week leading up to the start of NaNoWriMo. As November 1st nears I am once again afflicted with what I like to call "NaNo Nesting" in which I desperately try to clean my house, plan a workable schedule, make sure all my notes are in one pile, and double check that the tea stash is well stocked. Since I land somewhere in between a planner and a pantser, my NaNo prep doesn't usually involve a lot of outlining and mostly consists of lots of boring, non-noveling housework. So today, I wanted to share a couple of fun things I've done in between buying new Sharpie pens and organizing my kids' closet.

NaNo Playlist
While I have a definite appreciation for silence (I'm a mother of two young children. Need I say more?) I'm the type of person who connects strongly with music. These songs don't necessarily have anything to do with my story lyrically. Instead I tend to choose songs that drive me creatively and carry a certain emotional feel. My soundtrack varies from year to year, depending on what type of novel I'm working on. Here's this year's playlist:

1. Pure Imagination - Fiona Apple
2. Introduction - Noah and The Whale
3. Static Waves - Andrew Belle ft. Katie Herzig
4. Your Head and Your Heart - The Saint Johns
5. Fall Asleep - Jars of Clay
6. Follow Suit - Trent Dabbs
7. The Ladder - Andrew Belle
8. I Had Me a Girl - The Civil Wars
9. Amsterdam - Imagine Dragons
10. Whisper Something - Aaron Sprinkle
11. Trees - Twenty-One Pilots
12. King and Lionheart - Of Monsters and Men
13. Pioneers - The Lighthouse and the Whaler
14. Devil's Backbone - The Civil Wars
15. Youth - Daughter
16. Alright - Aaron Sprinkle
17. Stuck - Canopy Climbers
18. Shuffle - Bombay Bicycle Club
19. Radioactive - Imagine Dragons

Give it a listen on Spotify. Like what you hear? Follow the playlist to be notified of any updates to the track list.

Pinterest
Instead of downloading a bunch of images to my computer, I decided to create a Pinterest board for inspirational/reference images for my novel. You can check out the board called "Follow Me" (the tentative title for my book) and if it piques your interest, tune in tomorrow. I might just be sharing a summary of what I'll be working on this November...

So, do you also suffer from NaNo Nesting? How are you prepping for Friday?

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Small Things {October Edition}

This month's happies...

New Laptop!
As a writer, I'm not sure there's any gadget better than a new laptop, especially when you've gotten into several verbal arguments with your old one. No matter how many times I reminded it that being a writer requires, you know, RESEARCH, my old laptop approached the internet like a toddler approaches broccoli. That, combined with its propensity for greeting me with a black stare, finally pushed me to the point of being unwilling to risk an all-out crash while in the middle of writing (just the thought gives me nightmares). I was already an Apple fan, but after using my Macbook for a few weeks, I'll never go back to PC. This thing is the bomb. And so shiny.


Pumpkin Carving
You know on Halloween how there was that one house where the blinds were closed tight and all the lights were off--except for the TV that the people pretending not to be home were watching? Yeah, I grew up in that house. (I love my parents to death, but when I was a kid, my mom went through a lot of NO THAT'S EVIL phases. We laugh about it now.) Long story short, while we've always happily handed out candy, this is the first year our kids (who are 8 and 5, respectively) are going trick-or-treating, and also the first year we decided to carve pumpkins. We had a ridiculous amount of fun. And since we've had a typical Montana heat-wave-before-the-winter-storm-warning, we're probably going to do it again next week now that the black cat and headless apparition are starting to wilt.

This Guy
One advantage to marrying a guy who is a phenomenal cook, is that he offers to make homemade pasta when you forget to buy linguini to go with the zucchini parmesan. He has now requested a pasta roller/cutter for Christmas so that this can become a regular occurrence. My heart be still. I'm pretty sure I'm the luckiest lady in the universe.






Now on to the best month of the year.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

"There once was an old man and woman who loved each other very much and were content with their lot in life except for one great sadness - they had no children of their own."

As Mabel and Jack struggle to bring life to their new farm in the brutal Alaskan wilderness, one unrealized dream continues to haunt them. Mabel, crumbling under the weight of loneliness and despair, is ready to give up, until one night a brief moment of joy changes everything. As the first snow falls, she and Jack, filled with longing for what they have lost, construct a child from the snow. The next day, the child is gone, replaced by glimpses of a young girl running through the trees. Is it possible that this girl is their snow child, made with love and longing, and born of magic and mountain air? As their love for the little girl grows, so does the mystery that surrounds her. And the more they open their hearts, the more their lives are transformed.

After reading this novel, I wasn't surprised to learn it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The Snow Child is a beautiful story of lost hope and second chances. It captures your heart from the very first page and holds it through trial, pain, hope, joy and every other emotion stirred by Ivey's graceful prose. While it seems the fantasy of a snow child might clash with the factual ruggedness of the 1920 Alaskan wilderness, the story is woven so brilliantly that it seems natural to believe in the impossible. I found myself gripped by the characters' emotions, empathizing with them, rooting for them, celebrating each victory in their journey. It's such a magical story, but at the heart of it is a realness, a rawness that paints a bigger picture of what it means to hold on to hope and to those you love, through even the most difficult of circumstances. And that is what makes The Snow Child a truly exceptional read.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Top 5 Reasons You Should NaNoWriMo

Imagine a place where a band of people, connected by a common passion, unite with fortitude, determination, and just a smidge of insanity, to attempt a journey of near impossible odds. A journey whose success lies not in the final destination, but in every step taken along the way. A journey which could alter the very course of history.

We call this place...

NaNoWriMo
*aka National Novel Writing Month, aka November

The challenge? Write 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November. The prize? Besides major bragging rights and that oh-so-good feeling, you'll have a novel in your hands. Sound impossible? We Wrimos laugh in the face of impossible. Here's my top 5 reasons you should start perfecting your maniacal cackle and sign up.

1. There's no time like NOW.

Whether NaNoWriMo has been on your bucket list for years or you're brand new to the idea of writing a novel in a month, to you I say, "Why not?" Somedays have a sneaky tendency to turn into nevers, so why not just go for it? If you don't reach the 50,000 word goal, there's always next year. And you're a lot less likely to make future excuses if you've dipped your toes into the water this year.

2. It's Habit Forming.

They say it takes 21 days to create a habit. After 30 days of literary abandon, not only will you be hooked on NaNoWriMo, you'll be well on your way to an established daily writing routine.

3. There's No Knowing...

You never know what will come of the words you write. Bestselling books Water for Elephants and The Night Circus both started as NaNoNovels. Whether you end the month with 500 words or 52,378, you never know where those words might take you.

4. It's a Magical Place.

We have plot bunnies and word sprints and decadent amounts of candy and caffeine. Seriously, it's like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and we all get to be Charlie. Being part of NaNoWriMo means being part of a global secret society. The cool inside-jokes kind, not the creepy sign-in-blood kind. Although, I've never been inside the Horror genre forum...

5. And in Conclusion...It's Just Plain Fun

From smack talk in cross-country (and sometimes cross-continent) word-count rivalries, to connecting with fellow writers at local write-ins, to receiving encouraging and hilarious pep talks in your inbox, NaNoWriMo is an absolute blast. Whether or not you're able to log 1,667 words a day, you're going to come away with an amazing experience, a few new friends, and a renewed passion for writing. And that, my friend, is reason enough.

So what are you waiting for?

nanowrimo.org <<click to sign up
paperpages <<click to view my NaNoWriMo profile and send me a buddy request!





Friday, October 4, 2013

Poetry and Such

Since this is a blog mostly featuring literary themed ramblings, and since I'm an author always bothering you with talk about writing, I thought it might be nice to share some actual, well...writing.

It's a little different from my usual work, since it's a poem. Most of the verses I've penned happened during my childhood, when it was my go-to Mother's Day gift. I wrote this particular poem as a Language Arts exercise for my daughter. I set out to use her spelling words in a story (making it her job to read it and circle the aforementioned words) and this is what came of it. Now, I'm by no means a professional poet, so all you rhyming masters out there will have to forgive me if my meter isn't perfect.

We Are the Books

We are the books,
We have something to say.
A story to tell,
If you say that we may.
Now if you read fast,
Or if you read slow,
It doesn't matter,
We're ready to go.
So come take a trip,
Come along and you'll see,
You can go anywhere,
See any sea.
Fly a hot air balloon,
Sit on a train.
Cut through the jungle,
Sail around Spain.
Meet lots of people,
Some happy, some sad.
Some at their best,
And some horribly bad.
Find a lost treasure,
Wish on a star,
Have an adventure,
Wherever you are.
And when you are done,
You'll love where you went,
And be ready to go,
Where you haven't gone yet.
So open us up,
And soon you will see,
A book is a door,
And you are its key.

So there you have it! I'm attempting to learn more about writing poetry, since I do have a picture book series in the works that is written in verse. I've always written by ear, so I've never really paid too much attention to the technical side of things. So if you have any advice, or links to articles or books that might help simplify things for me, please share in the comments!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Small Things {September Edition}

Now that the month is nearly over, here's my September happies. :)

The Goodness of Baked Things

Summer + no air conditioning = no baking, so once the weather starts to cool to a tolerable temperature I happily return to my cookie sheets, bread pans, and muffin tins. In my opinion, coffee/tea/chai without some sort of baked good is just plain wrong and should only occur in the most desperate of circumstances. Sometimes the only thing that gets me through this time of year's crazy days of homeschooling, design work, ballet, and soccer is that golden moment in the afternoon when I can brew a cup of coffee or tea, grab a treat and pretend for ten minutes that I have absolutely nothing else to do. Thankfully the weather has been rainy and chilly and wonderfully fall-ish so I've been able to keep up a steady stream of baked delights to satisfy my mid-afternoon cravings. You can visit my board of deliciousness on Pinterest for some of my favorite recipes.

Watership Down

I'd never heard of this book until one day I was Googling "anthropomorphic animal novels" (say that three times fast) and it popped up on a must-read-classics list. I tried to borrow it from my local library, but it was checked out. Then, in a fantastic turn of events, I stumbled upon a copy in a little used bookstore we visited while on vacation back in August. Typically I'm a very fast reader and a good book lasts about as long as Captain Jack's rum, but I found this book to be a lovely one to just meander through, picking it up here and there to read a chapter or two as I found time. It was absolutely delightful and I can definitely see myself returning to the world of Hazel, Fiver, and their stalwart band of bunnies for many years to come.

Star Wars

Now that I'm done waxing poetic about bunny books, it's time to get my geek on. Or would that be nerd? (According to this article, I could be both, honestly). This month marked a very significant point in my children's lives--their introduction to Star Wars. My five-year-old son is already obsessed, thanks to his love of Angry Birds, which turned into a love for Angry Birds Star Wars, which turned into a love for anything and everything related to Star Wars--especially if it involves Chewbacca. This was his reaction when he finally got to bring home the coveted Angry Birds Star Wars bedding...

Of course my husband and I have strongly encouraged him and decided he was ready to experience the wonder of the real thing. So off to the library we went, where miracle of miracles we were able to snag Episodes I-VI (with III reserved for mommy and daddy only, much to the boy's disappointment. He has now added "...and help me grow faster so I can watch Star Wars three" to his bedtime prayers). I have now heard Darth Vader's theme song being enthusiastically hummed at least three times a day for the last two weeks.
The force is strong with this one.

Be sure to check back in next week...I'm very excited to be introducing some special posts for the month of October!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Second Spring}

If you read my seasonal post a couple of weeks ago, you know that fall is my favorite season. This quote sums up why quite nicely. Autumn always seems to be a time of renewal after summer's nonstop days. And now that the calendar--and the weather--agree that this wonderful season has arrived, I shall revel in it.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Recommends (aka my 6am fail)

This week has been one of those weeks where I've been lucky to have ten minutes to do anything that wasn't part of my URGENT MUST DO RIGHT NOW list. Which means after repeated late nights, my attempt to get up this morning at 6am to compose a blog post utterly failed when I turned the alarm off and immediately fell back to sleep. However, since having only one blog post this week makes me feel really, really lame, I've decided to share a few of my favorite recent internet reads and finds...

I love reading @AnneBogel's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. Not only is her blog title awesome, but we share the same love of indie bookstores, and she's a fellow homeschooling mom. (She's also a pro blogger and huge inspiration.) Last month, her post The Book Isn't Better Than The Movie sparked one of the most interesting discussions I've ever been a part of and it goes to show how varied people's tastes can be when it comes to literature and film. Check it out and then do yourself a favor and browse the rest of her site!

J. Kent Messum's How I Got My Literary Agent feature on Writer's Digest was a huge encouragement to me this past week. His story of determination, audacity, and victory in his journey to publication gave me hope as I face the insanity inducing process of querying. Plus, he ends it with a Hans Solo quote. 

Sometimes it's really easy to get incredibly frustrated and angry over the state of the world. When we're constantly bombarded with stories of people hurting one another and spreading hate (like the recent horrible and ignorant reaction to the newest Miss America), it's no wonder we sometimes fall into the jaded opinion that people are mostly just jerks. Then there's stuff like this, that reminds us how many awesome people really are out there.




Want another video to warm your heart and--unless you're much more stoic than I--bring tears to your eyes? Look no further. You may have seen this video of a foreign cell phone ad pop up in your social media feed. If you haven't watched it yet, you should.





Have a great weekend, folks! I promise to be back next week, even if it means waking up while it's still dark outside. (Hold me to that, will ya?)



Monday, September 16, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Nonsense}

Last week I discovered (thanks to Twitter) that Friday was Roald Dahl day. Which makes today the perfect day to share this quote I've had saved on my list of favorites. And if you're looking for more words of wisdom, head on over to my friend Chelsea's blog, Little Red Chair, for her post on Dahl, what his books meant to her as a child, and a collection of more great quotes from the children's book master.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

'Tis the Season

Even though it's not officially fall yet, with the start of a new school year, it certainly feels like it's begun. Which makes me very, very happy. Fall is my favorite season. There's a reason every book I've ever written has been birthed during the fall months. There's something about autumn that reinvigorates my creative spirit. The changing colors, the crisp air, the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg and pumpkin....even my favorite music seems to take on a richer sound. (I'm listening to the new The Civil Wars album as we speak. Best. Fall. Music. Ever.) Plus, I am not a hot weather person. Me + any temperature above 75 = cranky pants. I like my skinny jeans, my scarves, my hot drinks, and my comforter. So by this time each year, Summer and I have stopped speaking and I'm ready to move on--even if Summer isn't. So what's an autumn girl to do when it's mid-September and still eighty-five degrees outside? Don the jeans (heat be damned), stockpile the apple cider k-cups that were on sale, and put up the fall decorations, of course.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book + Dice = Learning Fun!

Let's be honest. Our kids don't always think "fun" and "school" can coexist. As a homeschool mom, my kids are quick to let me know when they're not having fun. While they may not be brave enough to complain to a teacher outside of our house ("Would you talk that way to your ballet teacher, young lady?") they certainly have no qualms about whining to Mom when they're less than excited about the day's assignments.

So today I thought I'd share a project we're currently doing as part of 3rd grade History/Geography that has actually earned my almost-eight-year-old's approval. I figure any teachers out there--home or public school--can always use some new ideas! All it takes is one of Sleeping Bear Press's State Alphabet Books and an alphabet die. (By the way, I love these books! They're such a great resource for learning about the 50 states. Each one contains fun facts, from A-Z, about the individual state. And it's not just a sentence or two. Every letter has a short rhyme accompanied by a solid paragraph or two detailing the letter's subject.)

Note: We're using the die from our travel sized Apples to Apples game, but you could use one from another game like Scattergories, purchase one like this one from Amazon, or even use an iPhone app. Another free option would be to draw letters from a bag, or deck of flashcards.

B is for Big Sky Country: A Montana Alphabet

My daughter's assignment is to compile a folder filled with reports, pictures, maps, etc. on our home state. I couldn't wait to show her my own Pennsylvania folder (thank you Mom, for saving it all these years) that I put together in the fourth grade, and which would eventually become the inspiration for my first ever publication. I want my daughter to have as much fun as I did with this assignment, so I decided to make it even more interesting by turning it into a game.

Each week, she gets to roll the die. Whatever letter it lands on, she looks in the book and finds out what that letter stands for. Then it's her job to find out more information about that particular subject and write a report. For example, this week she rolled "N". N stands for Native Peoples. To help her narrow down the subject for her report, I asked her what she would like to know more about regarding Native American culture. She decided she wanted to learn how Native Americans used to hunt buffalo. It's been so awesome to see how proud she is of all the notes she's collected so far! It's also been a great lesson on researching and learning more computer skills. And as an added bonus, we'll be making buffalo burgers for dinner next week. Home Ec, anyone?

Check out the list of books (there's one for each state + Washington D.C.) and the accompanying FREE teacher's guides on the Sleeping Bear Press website. I'll definitely be picking up more from the library as we move on to study individual regions and states throughout the school year.

What about you? Any fun tips, tricks, or projects that have been successful in your classroom? I'm always looking for more new ideas, so I'd love to hear from you!


Monday, September 2, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Library}

I always said I wanted to instill a love of reading in my kids. The fact that the library is one of their favorite places makes me very happy.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Cold Water in a Hot Pan

FYI, this is what happens when you add cold liquid to a hot pan.

Don't worry, only my pride was wounded.

It was the middle of a busy weekend and we'd spent an entire day running errands around town. Dinner was supposed to be done in twenty minutes. The chicken looked and smelled delicious, but the Asian sauce was starting to overcook and turn into a bubbling, black glaze in the bottom of the baking dish. No biggie. I'd just pour some chicken broth in the pan to deglaze it and keep it from burning any further while it finished cooking. Without thinking, I did what I've done a dozen times in my metal roasting pan - I grabbed an open box of broth from the fridge and started to pour.

The second the pan exploded with an adrenaline inducing BANG! I realized my mistake. Epic housewife fail. My dear husband (once he recovered from his near heart attack) was sweet enough not to tease me, and immediately took charge of ordering and picking up take-out from the only restaurant within ten miles of our house while I swept the glass off the floor.

The next morning, equal parts embarrassed and annoyed, I set to work cleaning out the inside of the stove-turned-blast-zone. Like any good writer trying to build a platform, I thought to myself, "How can I use this in a blog post?"

As I carefully dropped chunks of Anchor Hocking into the trash, I landed on an idea. The perfect analogy. (Okay, maybe it's not perfect, but bear with me).

Have you ever been in the middle-lands of your story and found it wanting? Nothing is happening. The highlight of your last chapter was your main character's grocery list. Or maybe the story is progressing and things are going smoothly - but that's the problem. Smooth is boring. Smooth has no pizazz. Smooth is the opposite of that story-sustaining thing called conflict.

You need to throw cold water in a hot pan. Create an explosion.

There's a commonly hailed rule of thumb among those of us who participate in NaNoWriMo: Story lagging? Kill someone off! But it doesn't have to be that drastic. Chances are, somewhere within your story is something you can use to catapult your tale to the next level. What can you make go wrong? Do it. Which character is supposed to be your MC's ally? Make 'em go dark side.

My very first NaNoWriMo, my story was chugging along, but I was seriously beginning to doubt my ability to sustain it to 50,000 words--not to mention whether it was interesting enough for someone to want to read it to that length. I needed something unexpected to happen. And then one day, as I sat at my desk typing away, my main character's contact in the realm he'd just entered--the person who was supposed to be his only ally in a foreign land--poured him a cup of tea. Spiked with a drug that would render my MC unconscious. I would love to tell you this was a brilliant and intentional strategy, but the honest truth is, it wasn't planned at all. I literally looked at my computer and said--out loud--"You weren't supposed to do that."

But...BOOM! It worked. The heat was already there, it just needed the cold water. And the resulting conflict gave me exactly the twist my plot needed and carried my story through to its conclusion.

Sometimes we get lucky and the story writes itself. Other times you have to search out the solution. Either way, don't be afraid to do something unexpected, even if it wasn't what you originally planned.

Because a burger and fries can taste really good even though you planned on having chicken for dinner.

What about you? Do you have a kitchen disaster story? Share in the comments! Maybe there's an analogy in there somewhere. Or the beginnings of a "What Not to Do in the Kitchen" handbook...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Learning}

In honor of back-to-school week in our house, a reminder to never stop learning.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Long, Dark Night of the Squirrel

Today your Saturday morning funny is brought to you by the amazing Becca Rose of @bookwormbeaut Twitter fame. And squirrels. Seriously, read ALL THE PAGES. This is why Twitter is my absolute favorite form of social media.


Friday, August 23, 2013

The Small Things {August Edition}

My end-of-summer happies...

Family Vacation

This August marked our 2nd annual trip to church family camp. We had a blast heading to the beautiful Flathead Valley for a relaxing week filled with sunshine, great teachings from a hilarious couple visiting from across the pond (the Irish accents were glorious), and plenty of sightseeing and shopping. We made stops at all our favorite places, like Red Caboose Frozen Yogurt + Coffee, and Whitefish Beach. We also discovered some new favorites in Sweet Peaks Ice Cream and the best used bookstore I've ever been to: The Bookshelf (seriously folks, I could spend all the time and buy all the books). We also got to hang out with some awesome people, including our friends Jeremiah and Rachel, who besides being a really cool couple, are also amazing photographers (you should click on their names right there and check out their stuff). We wrapped up the week with an evening at Fresh Life Church and a stay at the charming and wonderful Kalispell Grand Hotel. All in all it was a wonderful way to spend one of our last summer weeks.

The Mason Bar Company

In our house we unashamedly use mason jars as our drinking glasses, so when I found out about these mason jar tumblers, naturally I had to have one. I picked up this beauty at the Red Caboose while we were on vacation, but no matter where you happen to be, you can snag one from their etsy shop. Today I tried infusing my water with fruit for the first time, with a combo of strawberry and lemon slices, and I must say, the result was delightful. It's also great for iced coffee. Who am I kidding...it's great for everything.


School Supplies

School is back in session next week, and for us that means the Martin family schoolbooks have arrived. As a homeschool graduate myself, I can still remember the excitement of thumbing through the year's worth of textbooks as soon as the mailman delivered them. I'm glad my kids continue the tradition and are always eager to find out what they'll be learning. I give it about a month before the newness wears off and they're no longer quite so thrilled at the prospect of school, so I'll enjoy their excitement while it lasts. I'll also bask in the joys of cheap notebooks, index cards, and post-it notes. And don't forget the bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils...