Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Certificate Glory

My boys are always asking, "Why do you write a novel in the month of November just so you can get a certificate saying you're a winner?" Ha! Of course, that isn't the only reason I choose to attempt to write a novel. But, I'm very grateful to the Nanowrimo organization for coming up with this grand enterprise and for the simple certificate which shows that I'm a winner:

As I was printing out this year's winner's certificate, Bryce caught me and said, "Don't exit. I want a certificate, too." I watched as he typed in his name, using his own special language (where he replaces vowels with an "er" sound) and then titled his book, "Ther Ermerercern Ernglersh Dercternerer." I'm pretty sure that phony certificate is the closest my number one son will ever get to writing a novel. Still, I'm glad he makes me laugh!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nanowrimo Success in 2011

I did it! In fact, this year was the best year yet. The words came easily and quickly. I finished in the least amount of time, with the highest number of words. Plus, I don't think the novel is too bad. It does need some editing and I'm hoping to find some constructive criticism from some readers, but otherwise, I feel quite pleased with this year's Nanowrimo endeavor. Yippee!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Review: The Whole-Brain Child

I cannot recommend this intuitive parenting book enough. Perhaps it was due to my love of the subject of the human brain. Perhaps it was due to my own needs to integrate more fully the various aspects of my own brain. Whatever the reason, I found myself wanting to go out and buy a copy of this book (which I had secured from our library's recent release shelf).

One of its major strengths is the excellent structure which makes the book very easy to follow and utilize. It provides 12 strategies for nurturing a child's developing mind. The strategies are easy to remember and make complete sense.

The authors explain the various regions of the brain - left (logical, literal, linear) and right (emotions, images, memories, communication) hemispheres, and upper (thinking) and lower (feeling) parts of the brain. By understanding more fully the parts of the brain, we are able to navigate the waters of life to avoid chaos, on the one hand, and rigidity, on the other. It was immediately clear where my own integration issues lie. I tend to be much more right brained and lower brained.

As I read the book, and the various suggested steps for helping children achieve better brain integration, I observed my own parent use some of these strategies. I called my parents to share with them an aspect of the future that I am greatly fearing. My father used the first strategy ("Connect and Re-direct") to help me get away from the overwhelming stream of fear and into a more rational state about the situation. He connected with my right brain and then redirected with my left brain. After talking, I didn't feel so distraught. It was a perfect example of what I was busy reading.

The second strategy could also be useful in my own life. It is called "Name it to tame it: telling stories to calm big emotions." This is a tactic used when something traumatic causes a child to get stuck in lower brain responses. The clearest example I can think of is the trauma I experienced at age three when I received 64 shots within eight days. The effects of this experience still linger to this day. Every time I talk it through, though, I become better able to construct ways of dealing with the anxieties I feel in medical situations.

Some of my favorite things about the book were the sections where they offered pictorial lessons for using with your children to explain some of the principals, as well as sections devoted to helping a parent achieve better brain integration. They also provide a reference guide at the end of the book where they break the lessons down into the various ages and stages children go through.

Overall, I find myself wanting to read the book again next year, to continue to fully learn the strategies offered here. Another thing they provide is a refrigerator sheet that breaks down each of the twelve strategies for quick reference. This is a highly practical and interesting book. It is a wonderful resource for parents who wish to help their kids grow and thrive.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Dancing With Rose

I was entirely absorbed in listening to this audio book, by Lauren Kessler, which was about finding life in the land of Alzheimer's. I cannot explain the pull I feel towards literature about Alzheimer's. I don't know of anyone close to me with the disease, and yet I find myself time and again picking up books about it.

This book was a memoir of sorts. The author's own mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she felt that she hadn't handled the diagnosis very well. She expresses the fear, denial, shock, and distance she felt towards her mother and the disease. Thus, after her own mother's death, Kessler decides to redeem herself by really getting to know people with the disease and those who provide their care. She did this by filling a job in an Alzheimer's care facility. There she discovered first-hand the tireless efforts of the minimum wage workers who serve as Resident Assistants.

Her story is eye-opening and refreshing. She comes to see that Alzheimer's is not a tragic sentence, but a disease that frees the individual to remain entirely in the present. She encounters Alzheimer's patients who are endearing and who live a full, enjoyable life. She explains the idiosyncrysies that come with the disease like hyper-sensitivity to touch and a freedom from the constraints of social dictums. It was a pleasure to hear her descriptions of some of these patients and her interactions with them.

I don't know that I could ever take on, even temporarily, the job Kessler did (I even buck at the demands of my small children, who are, thankfully, sweet enough some of the time to redeem the moments of frustration). I suppose that is how Kessler came to view these patients. I'm just glad to have been able to vicariously experience along with her something that I don't quite feel up to.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: Getting Things Done

In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen encourages readers to get to a place of "mind-like-water" in their connection to productivity. He believes that the secret to being more productive lies in assessing all that is in your psyche to do and take care of and assigning it an action to get you calmly on the road to completion of these tasks or ideas.

I will have to say that I was hopeful that the book would teach me to make better use of my time at home and end the day with more accomplished, but I was also skeptical that the lessons, geared towards professionals and business-people, would be able to be fleshed out in my home environment. Bryce kept asking me why I was listening to the book. I think he found it tedious. At times, I did, too, but I stuck with it.

I think the final section benefited me the most because it enabled me to see myself in many of the characteristics he listed of creative individuals who are often the worst procrastinators. Frankly, the whole book was like getting inside of the mind of my husband, who lives under the dictates of lists and files and is highly organized. I am a disorganized, creative sort and frankly, I fit the author's profile perfectly and recognized many of the reasons he suggested for why intelligent individuals fight this structure most vehemently.

The book clearly taught me that when I don't take care of things which need to be handled or completed, it lingers in my brain as unfinished business and keeps me from being calm and fulfilled. My own procrastination shoots myself in the foot, because it keeps those numerous plates still spinning, instead of finishing their rotation and moving them off the sphere of consciousness.

I doubt I'll be able to incorporate all the lessons (and I did find myself wishing I had read the book instead of listening on CD, since it came with bonus organizational charts and explanations) from the book. I won't become a type A person just because I listened to someone who champions the behaviors of the type A individual. To some extent, that is just not me (I cannot imagine going through every inch of my house and psyche to list and gather things that need my attention - I think my brain would go into overload!), but I will try to be more productive. Plus, I will be more thankful for my husband's lists and files mentality. At least one of is highly productive!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Godly Heritage

One of my friends posted this photo on Facebook today and tagged me. She found it on e-bay, where they are selling press photos of The Salvation Army.

This is a photo of my Dad. If the picture were larger (showed a wider frame of reference), I'm pretty sure I might have been in the picture, too. My dad and I used to get up early and, before school started, head down to the elevated train station near us in Chicago. We would play duets from the Christmas carol tune book. I can see the bell of an alto horn in the side of the picture. I'm guessing it is me.

This photo brings back such wonderful memories. I loved playing duets with my dad, even if it did mean rising extra early (something I've never been fond of). And seeing this photo reminds me of what a godly heritage I've been given. My dad is a man after God's own heart and what a gift that has been.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It's Nanowrimo Time Again

November has come around again and I am passionately plugging away at another novel. I can't say that it is my best work to date. With the other two novels (written in 2009 and 2010) I had already ruminated on the ideas for a good many years before writing. This year I had a novel idea that I had been tossing around in my head for many months. But then a few days before the Nanowrimo challenge began, I came up with another idea.

Although the writing is flowing fairly easily (I ended the first day with 3643 words, the second day with 6,216, the third with 10,509, and the fourth with 12,696), I still think my characters are coming off as flat and the pacing is too stiff. Of course, these are things which can be edited and worked with later.

The main thing that I'm finding is that the writing is so completely energizing for me. When I am focused on writing, I feel like my days matter and I look forward to accomplishing the best I can.

What's more, I receive accolades from my kids. Every day they guess what word count level I have achieved. Bryce said he cannot believe I can write 4,000 words in one day. It is something he could never imagine doing.

I don't get those kinds of positive reinforcements for my regular mothering role. It's not like he comes to me and says, "Wow! Mom! I'm so impressed that you were able to get that ketchup stain out of my favorite white shirt! Thanks so much!" or "These toilets are pristine. Didn't I just spray all over in here a few hours ago??" or "This meal is the best meal I've ever eaten in my life!" Nope, those kinds of comments never come.

Last night, Bryce gave me the best encouragement yet. I remarked that I thought the pacing was making the novel boring and if a teen were really reading it, they might get bored and stop reading. He replied, "Well, if Golding can win a Nobel Peace Prize for Lord of the Flies (a novel he is reading for class), and it is the most boring novel I've ever tried to read, then you shouldn't worry so much!" Ha!

Heck, if it weren't so much strenuous work - cranking out all these words - I might wish Nanowrimo took place every month!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Weekend in DeKalb

Since I'm going to be fairly busy writing a novel during the month of November (NANOWRIMO), I thought I would save some family updates for later. A few weekends back, the little boys and I drove all the way up to a friend's house in Wisconsin to pick up a picture, then drove down to DeKalb for a day.

Trevor's favorite part of our time in DeKalb would have to be the time we spent at the skate park. He is sincerely wishing that criminal activity hadn't closed the one closest to us (a half hour away - but that seems close when you live in the country). Here are some shots of the boys at the skate park:

It cracked me up when, in the middle of skating, Trevor decided he had to stop for a moment to get his black book and draw something cool in it. So Trevor!

After our time at the skate park, we stopped in to visit with our old friends, Andy and Renee, and their five children. The boys had a wonderful time playing with the kids and I enjoyed some quiet conversation with grown-ups.

Friday night, we drove out to Waterman, IL, to ride Pete's Train. This was a tradition I used to keep with my oldest son for years, back when we lived in DeKalb. Back then, the train was free. This time, we were charged a $7.00 per person fee for the pumpkin train (including picking a SMALL pumpkin from a patch mid-way through the ride) and a walk through a small, boring haunted house. It seemed like there were less lights than there used to be. Plus, it was definitely not worth $7.00 ($3, maybe, but $7??).

Here you can see that Trevor was none to excited to start with:

Plus, he felt compelled to do the thinker pose for the final picture!

On Saturday, we rounded out our visit with a trip to the free STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) conference at the DeKalb Convocation Center. The advertisements had shown one of those large balls filled with electricity, where the slightest touch causes your hair to stand on end. I had lured them into this activity with promises of seeing this hands-on display. Sadly, we never found such a booth or exhibit. Rats!

Still, the boys enjoyed the various booths:

Robots lifting inflated tubes to place on a pole.

Sean dressed in the full regalia of a scientist in the Antartic.

By the time we were finishing walking around and seeing tons of cool things (balls that balance in mid-air, foil boats which hold numerous pennies, optical illusions, light-up sticks, etc.) the boys were exhausted and ready to head home.