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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Reach for the Stars

A girl on stilts trying to reach the stars, by Coryn.

Wordless Wednesday Hop

Amanda’s Books and More

I Did It!

This post is going to be short on text and long on anxious excitement because I did it! I finally took the plunge and put up my first novel on Amazon as a kindle ebook through Kindle Direct Publishing.

I can't really review the KDP process yet, because my book just went up and I'm unsure how it will go. I'm not trying to make money so much as I just want someone somewhere to read it. Because of that The Ordinary Knight and The Invisible Princess: A Tale in Two Parts
 is available for only $0.99 (free to loan for Amazon Primes users). I don't want to encourage people to buy it if they don't think they would read it. It is primarily a young adult novel, aimed at a female audience: a full length fairy tale in two parts, a love story, and what I like to think of as a fun filled adventure with a lesson about character slipped in. If you ever read that sort of thing, please check it out. If you think you know someone who would read that sort of thing, please share it. 

I did almost all the work on this book unaided. I had one or two friends check over the grammar and spelling for me, but none of them were professional, so my biggest fear is that it is ridden with errors I missed during editing. My second biggest fear is that it really isn't any good. My third biggest fear is that it doesn't matter whether it is good or not: no one is going to bother to read it. 

My blog is all well and good, but I've always had a hard time calling myself a writer because my readership is so limited. Now I feel, even though no one has purchased it yet, that I can at least make a partial claim to the job title.

If this works out, I have other pieces in the wings. That would be my dream, to fill up my Amazon "bookshelf" with titles by me.

 Its Hump Day! Willamette Valley Wonder Woman  

Reading List: Cozy Reading Spot

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

My current project: EBook cover art!

I'm trying to force myself to jump into the world of ebooks. Why? Because it seems like the most obvious route to get published in this day and age. I'm not looking to make a fortune, or even a living (that's why I married the Marine, because we all know that the military makes the big bucks and I can sit back and be a kept woman/trophy wife.), but it would be nice to know that someone out there has read something I've written. I'm sitting atop four finished novels right now. I am not sure how good they are by anyone else's standards, but I  enjoy reading them, and I have to think someone else might too.

The thing is there is a lot I don't know about this process. For one thing, I don't actually read ebooks. My husband does, almost exclusively since he got his Kindle a few years ago, but I don't own an ereader of any sort, and sitting in front of a computer screen to read isn't something I care to do for long periods of time.

However, I really want to get this done. I'm investigating Amazon Direct. It seems straightforward and low risk. I have most of the formatting done, so right now I'm just struggling with the cover art. Above is my best effort so far, if I choose not to go with a stock image (they have some available, but none to my liking).

I am going to ask around to see if anyone I know happens to have an interest in some sort of visual art and would work with me to create something a little more polished. Wish me luck!

Check out the finished project here!

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

True Love: Jackets and Toothbrushes

When I was in high school the boy I had a crush on owned a plastic-blue windbreaker jacket which, for the longest time, it seemed he wore every time I saw him. I remember that that color was so associated in my mind with the object of my affections that anything the same shade would cause a pleasant jolt in my brain, a sense of well-being and adoration just remembering that he existed.

It's been roughly fifteen years since I've even seen that jacket. I doubt he even remembers it, but I know he remembers me because after a good deal of patience and persistence on my part, he now calls me his wife and the mother of his children.

But that ability to imbue objects with sentimental powers has  not abandoned me. Tonight I walked into the bathroom and there it was, my daughter's toothbrush, sitting out on the counter where she tends to leave it rather than putting it back in the toothbrush holder.

The jolt was so familiar that I was immediately taken back to the days of that blue jacket. It was the exact same sensation: he exists therefore I am happy. Now, however, it was my daughter's existence called to mind.

But the joy was the same.

I'll never forget that blue jacket but now a toothbrush sits beside it.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

What We Tried for Reading

One of the fundamental concepts in my somewhat unconventional views on education is that if you can give a kid the ability to read, to love reading, and access to reading materials, you've done about 75% of the work of educating because about 75% of everything worth knowing can be found in a book. That said, teaching a child to read is probably the first stumbling block any home educator will encounter. You can drill; you can bribe; you can read to them, play educational games, let them watch educational videos, but until a kid feels ready, you can't really force a child to get the idea behind phonics. It's kind of like potty training or sleeping through the night. There are tricks and methods, but what really counts is whether or not your kid feels ready.

For Coryn, in spite of various promptings, things didn't click until recently (she's now five and a half), even though I started teaching her basic phonics before her fourth birthday. I'm not sure if our recent success is because of the latest in a string of writing programs we've tried or if she is simply ready (She had protested that she didn't want to read because she always wanted me to read TO her, so she may have been resistant to it at an emotional as well as a developmental level). Here is a tour of the different things we have used and my opinion on each of them.

Our first attempt came when we were in Japan and I found the Bob Books, a set of early readers I remember from my mother teaching my younger siblings (I do not believe that she used them on me, but I couldn't tell you exactly what she did use for me. It's been awhile).

Bob Books used to come with a full curriculum and I am sure that is still available somewhere, but we never tried it. The books, however, are a reasonably priced set of first readers. It is very hard to find books that don't involve a lot of sight words, magic e words, or other words that a child cannot grasp  phonetically. I do recommend these books, but I found them too early on in the process and though I swear I purchased a set shortly after, I haven't been able to find them which is weird and frustrating. 

A friend recommended Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and I have seen other people raving about it. Coryn hated it. It is incredibly structured and clinical. You are supposed to stick with the script and read exactly what is on the page, and my own nature bucked against that. It was also really boring, really repetitive, and it took forever to get to any real reading. Maybe if your child is brand new to phonics and does very well with structure, but that is neither my teaching style or Coryn's learning style. We still have it sitting in a pile of books somewhere. I should probably sell it.

For something different, I tried the Rock and Learn: Phonics video next. This video is cute, catchy, and surprisingly comprehensive in the way it introduces kids to long and short vowel sounds. Coryn, however, is not apparently an auditory learner and it didn't seem to make any difference in her long term learning. It is also hard to tell if she is listening to the actual words or just the tune. It is a cool supplemental tool, but  hardly enough to teach reading on its own.

Alpha-phonics was next. It is highly recommended by a lot of blogs and it does have several advantages. Unlike 100 Easy Lessons it fairly quickly gets into words and even sentences. It is very simple and it is hard to get distracted (Coryn is easily distracted by things like pictures, the way certain letters in a font look, or whatever her little sister happens to be doing at the moment). For the first several lessons it worked like a charm. However, as it got on further into the book and the lists of words became longer, Coryn started to get frustrated. To put it simply, this book is really boring. The long lists of phonics drills are probably good for retention, but they did not suit Coryn's temperament at all, and she would start moaning when I got the book out.

Finally someone recommended Hooked on Phonics.

I was skeptical of this product because I remember growing up seeing commercials for it and I had it in my head that it was an "As Seen on TV" rip off I'd have to pay four easy payments  of 19.99 plus shipping and handling or some nonsense like that. Actually, considering what you are getting, it is what I consider to be reasonably priced. You can get everything you need for kindergarten on Amazon for around $50. This includes dvds, workbooks, and readers. For each lesson your child will watch a short dvd introducing the letter sounds of the day which you follow up with a similar lesson in the workbook and then a story using the words that you learned that day. At the end of each three lesson unit there is a reader. It also introduces sight words.

Why I think this has worked so well for Coryn is that it isn't flashy and distracting (Coryn finds odd things distracting), the dvds are simply animated, not at all gimmicky, but it also quickly introduces the kids to reading not a list of words but a story! 

At the end of the first lesson she was excited! Something clicked and she asked to do a second lesson. She powered through that and then requested a third. I told her no, I was afraid she wouldn't be able to concentrate through another, we should take a break. She said, "Okay, I'll just read a story then." 

At that point, she flipped ahead three lessons and somehow read a story that she hadn't even learned the words yet (with a little help on one or two words). The next time we talked to Grandma on Skype she read her three or four stories. 

She still has some weaknesses in the reading department. Coryn has her mother's love for short cuts and likes to guess rather than sound out words, but we are definitely getting there. She has started asking to read the "words she knows" when we are doing story time, and that list of words grows every day. 

So while all of these programs/curriculum have their uses, strengths, and weaknesses, our best results were definitely with Hooked on Phonics.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

(not really) Wordless Wednesday: My Sevenly Shirt

Every so often I buy myself something from Sevenly. I've gotten two much beloved shirts that way, both of which raised money for causes I support. This shirt (which says in small print "Help girls in China" and then in large print "Live Life") and supports All Girls Allowed, a charity that aids women in China dealing with the terrible conditions brought about by the one child policy there.

I also have a shirt for the adoption charity, Show Hope (Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman's foundation).

They've recently also begun to carry adorable soft toys from Jellycat. I was already a fan of Jellycat.

 Jellycat toys are heirloom quality, super soft, unique and adorable. Coryn has a blue dog from them

and Claire actually has two of their little lambs (one that was chewed on a bit by Caen. I panicked and ordered a second, but after a washing I decided the lack of one ear and an eye wasn't terrible. I intended to put aside the new one as an emergency back up but when she saw it come out of the mail she started reaching for it and begging and she now has both of them). 

Anyway, I love my new shirt.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How to get Claire to Eat . . .

Claire has always been a difficult eater. Coryn is a bottomless pit. Coryn needs five snacks and four meals a day other wise she is doubled over on the floor moaning that she is too weak to go on. With Coryn "you won't get anything else until you finish your vegetables" is a serious threat and she will generally cave to it rather than face the dreaded hunger monster.

Claire could care less.

Claire feeds 90% of her meal to the dog, rubs 5% of it all over her body, and I like to think that she actually ingests the remaining 5% but some days I have my doubts.

She never ate baby food. She went straight from breast milk only to table foods (though she is still on the boob two or three times a day even now). This is mainly because she always wanted to hold the spoon. She always insisted on feeding herself.

I found out recently that she is a fan of yogurt. It is the first food I have seen her reliably eat a large portion of in one sitting (if you don't count "treats." She is a big fan of ice cream as well, but I try to avoid giving her that for most meals).

This evening Matt was too tired to eat which was good because I was too tired to cook, but we did have a decent amount of left overs. Coryn was coming off her fourth snack of the afternoon and Claire had just gotten up from her afternoon nap, so I figured neither of them would be hungry, so I warmed myself up some lasagna and sat down to eat. Claire toddled over and started whining for food. Even though she is not a big eater, she is a ridiculously impatient customer when she finally decides that she wants some food. I left my lasagna on the table and went in search of something I thought she would eat. We had some chicken and chickpeas which I thought she might like (she thinks chickpeas are fun to eat. . . and throw), so I started warming some up for her. The sound of fork against plate drew me back to the dining room and that's when I found this:

Apparently stolen lasagna tastes better.

I thought, okay, whatever, I guess I'LL have chicken and chickpeas then.

Claire was so proud of herself for being in a big person chair with a big person fork that she stayed in one place and ate quite a lot of lasagna (though she also spread quite a lot of it all over the table and her face and as always Caen got a substantial helping.).

After a bit she decided that chicken and chickpeas looked like a lot of fun so she reached for my plate.

Caen is Claire's devoted follower during meal times
She ended up stealing several of my chickpeas, eating one or two but just moving the rest onto her plate to play with. Chickpeas are fun food (apparently.).

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Claire is Reading?

Claire is my sweet little reader. She loves books. She loves stories. From a very early age she would sit on my lap and listen to a board book and then turn the pages back so I would start again when we got to the end. Her adoration for books leads her to carry them around, seek them out, and pull them off shelves. She imitates her sister's reading practice by pointing to the words and making sounds. Sometimes she'll even read a story to herself. She'll sit with a book in her lap, turning pages, and babbling in baby  talk as if she is telling the story out loud. She is too darn cute and so incredibly  sweet. 

I tried to catch a video once of her reading to herself, but she stopped when I got out the camera and I only caught a few seconds. Still, that little baby voice is too precious.

The library has their baby board books in baskets, which is very practical  considering how hard they can be to keep sorted. I always try to draw Claire's attention towards them (and away from the bigger kid books which she will inevitably pull off the shelves and pile up on the floor), and she'll bring me one after another, sometimes sitting through a reading, sometimes getting distracted by all the options before her and going to get another one a few pages into the first.

This time I picked out Time for Bed by Mem Fox and this is an absolutely adorable book. So much so that I'm probably going to end up placing it on her amazon.com wishlist or getting it for her for Christmas. The pictures are beautiful and the rhymes sweet and calming as one by  one each mother animal says good night to her baby. 

I hope Claire keeps up her love of reading. She's the sweetest little bookworm ever.

Missing Teeth and Mommy Expectations

About a month ago I posted about Coryn's first lost tooth. At the end of that post I explained that the tooth-fairy would be delaying things because Coryn wanted to save her tooth to show her friends, so we put the tooth in a box and left it on the desk over night. The next morning she comes to me, upset, because she had lost it. Yes, she lost it. When she woke up she had been so excited about her tooth that she had to get up and look at it, and somehow in the process she lost it. We combed the carpet (not literally, but close to it) in the  den. I emptied the canister on the canister vacuum, vacuumed the area, and then combed through the dirt and pet dander I vacuumed up looking for that little white tooth. We never found it.

I was torn at this point. We had had some issues with her being careless and losing things which had resulted in lost privileges, her crying because she couldn't find whatever item it was that she had lost that I insisted she find before she went out to play, stuff like that. I kind of wanted her to live with the consequences of the lost tooth. It seemed the perfect lesson. . .Still, this was her first lost tooth. It was supposed to be a special time.

So I left her a note from the tooth-fairy explaining that she had found the tooth using her magic, but please be more careful next time, and put it in a little box with a dollar coin. She was so excited about the coin that I was glad I had relented, and about a week ago it looked as if we were going to have our chance at a do-over. The tooth adjacent to the lost one was good and loose.

it is weird how her new teeth start to grow in before the old ones fall out 

Today we went to the library and I found a couple of loose tooth themed books for Coryn (They didn't have One Morning in Maine; I was disappointed), and on the way home she started moaning in the back. I thought she was playing a game but then she started saying, "My mouth is bleeding! My mouth is bleeding!" I guess she had decided to start wriggling the tooth and had finally dislodged it. I  passed her back a napkin to stop the bleeding and she held onto her tooth all the way home.

Of course, the first thing she wanted to do was to show it to her friends across the street, so she ran over there to show them. 

That's when the trouble began anew. 

When she returned to our house and opened the door (she says) Caen scared her and she dropped the tooth. Now why Caen, who she generally rolls around on the floor with, suddenly turned into a scary monster right when she opened the door with her dislodged tooth, I may never know, but I do know that, five minutes of tearful  searching later, the tooth was no where to be found. I started to get frustrated with the whole situation at this point. I told her that this time the tooth-fairy wasn't going to come. She got upset and said she thought the tooth-fairy could use her magic to find the tooth again. I reminded her that this was the second time this had happened. That I had told her, repeatedly, not to lose this tooth. That she had just been asking for trouble carrying around a tiny tooth. 

Caen was jumping all over me at this point so I shoved the whole group inside and, on my own, got down on my hands and knees in front of the door to scan for anything that looked small and white. 

I was angry at this point. This was something that was supposed to be fun and memorable that was turning into tears and awfulness simply because she couldn't be bothered to be careful. I couldn't keep letting the tooth-fairy bail her out of these predicaments. How would she ever learn? Why couldn't she have kept hold of the silly little tooth? Oh please, God, please make that tooth reappear, please, for my sake, even though my daughter messed up, give me that tooth. 

It was about this point that I realized that I was mad at Coryn for ruining my idealized loose tooth scenario. To me that tooth shouldn't matter. I know there isn't a tooth-fairy, believe it or not. Whether or not I chose to let her live with the consequences or not wasn't the issue at hand. The issue was that, instead of forgiving and moving on or gently reminding her about being careful and allowing her to deal with her mistake, I was angry. I was using my harsh voice. I was stewing inside. Why? Because she had ruined my perfect moment that I was supposed to photograph. Because I felt she had stolen something from me.

I remember years ago hearing a woman give a talk that involved her reaction to her son getting kicked out of school before graduation for drug use. At the time I didn't understand it at all. She spoke of how angry she was at him, not for endangering his life and future, but for stealing that moment, that high school graduation she had been looking forward to attending, and about how it had been hard for her to let go of that anger. At the time I thought, well, that's a self-centered way to look at your son's problems. . . But now, in this smaller scale test, I was feeling exactly the same way. I wanted that moment she had squandered by  losing that perfect little pearly tooth. I wanted the box of baby teeth. I wanted the memory and the photograph and the cute story. I was unable to distance myself from the loss of the ideal to deal with the reality of the moment. 

Anger started to dissipate and I said one more, sincere prayer, asking for the tooth's return, though at this point I doubted that either Coryn or myself merited the return.  

But in His infinite grace, there it was. Sitting on the grout between two bricks in our walk way. It hadn't fallen into the grass or down one of the cracks. It was just sitting there, waiting for  me.

Coryn was delighted to put it back. I told her to bring a box to put it in and she went and fetched a full sized shoe box. This was a bit much so I got her an empty McCormick spice container (I am still hording these things), and crisis averted. The tooth is sitting in the kitchen, waiting to be placed for tonight's exchange. The moment will be achieved, but I also got a little bit of clarity today. Sometimes parenting is about letting go of the wonderful things we want for our children and showing them the grace that God has given all of His children. It is about accepting the imperfection. It is about using moments to teach and not to shame.  It is a dang lot of hard work, actually, but okay. It's all worth it.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Two Recent Crochet Projects

It's hard to get into crocheting when everything is just piling up in my stash and not selling. I've had some limited success on Etsy, but I get most of my sales from word of mouth, and I just haven't been able to tap into that here. For one thing, for most of the year, no one in Florida wants to wear warm, fuzzy yarn hats.

Tonight, though, I finished two projects. The first is my attempt at cow. . .I'm not sure how successful it is. It kind of looks like a stripe-less zebra. The next I'm more proud of but it really needs a model to fill it out, and I don't have a baby of the appropriate age. It is another mermaid tail:

I really like the color combinations. Here is a close up of the fins:

Willamette Valley Wonder Woman

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Enchanting Rose: Tea Cup Exchange

The Enchanting Rose: Tea Cup Exchange: It's a beautiful day and I have splendid news to share with all of you..... I am having a tea cup exchange! If you have been foll...


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Wordless Wednesday: Naval Museum Fun

Wordless Wednesday Hop
Amanda’s Books and More

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Playing with our potion set

I recently shared my home made Potion Kit Play Set, a collection of old bottles and jars filled with stuff I thought my girls would enjoy mixing together. Here are some pictures of the girls playing with the kit. Coryn preferred to just dump everything in all at once, so it didn't last as long as I had hoped, but next time I'll see if I can get her to go a little slower.

Dragon Venom and Fairy Dust fizzles
Oooh, sparkly!
both girls loved stirring it up
Of course, Claire had to taste it.
Coryn tasted too. It wasn't very good.