#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: #revising #homeschool expectations so a #parent can #workathome and #write

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Thank goodness the weekend is here! I’m allowing the kids to wreak havoc around Bo so I can tuck myself away for a few hours to think over the past week and map out my writing goals.

So while Bo referees our very own reincarnated Marx Brothers

–let’s you and I convalesce a little over some coffee and reconsider how a weekday should go for the sake of everyone’s sanity.

Originally, I wanted the kids to have full school days; around here, that means roughly 8am until 3pm. From Monday to Wednesday, we succeeded in filling those hours with a balance of worksheets, reading, videos, crafting, and games. Blondie commented that she rather liked our setup, which felt like a start. Biff and Bash…well, they didn’t hate it. Some things they loved, like Science experiments and Art, while they bucked me on Writing of all things. Yes, Writing. All my hopes and dreams with prompts crashed hard. It’s not that they hated telling stories so much as they hated being told to write them after already copying down a few facts for handwriting practice. Their tuckered little hands were in no mood to write any longer than necessary. Looks like I better redefine my expectations a bit.

Another concern was having three kids in two very different grades. I feared I’d over-challenge the boys or talk down to Blondie. We avoided this–huzzah! Allowing the kids to work on their own creations during subjects like Geography, Art, and Writing balanced out with working together on things like Science, Bible Study, and Reading. When it comes to school time, it makes a HUGE difference when one can hold a single class for a subject instead of two or three.

But now that Wisconsin is going to keep its schools closed for the next four weeks (at minimum), the kids’ teachers will be sending more materials home for them to complete both online and on paper. Each teacher has different expectations–yes, even Biff and Bash’s teachers, while both teaching 1st grade at the same school, email us completely different things for the boys to do. And there’s still that old problem of not having enough screens to go around–three kids and two computers. Who’s going to get what done and when?

Throw my own needs as a teacher and writer into the mix, and…yeah.

So I tried a little change-up on Thursday and Friday: I condensed the school-day down to a half-day so I could get my own grading done. By dedicating roughly half an hour per class, I managed to cover all the major items along with a few rotating specials with a break in the middle of the morning to throw everyone outside for playtime.

Success! I graded, the kids learned…something, I think, and no one felt the need to strangle anyone else.

The weird thing is, part of me doesn’t like it. I feel like there needs to be a full school day in order for the day to be “proper.” Am I alone in this? Probably. But like millions of other parents, I have to accept the fact that NOTHING is proper right now. Our world’s in crisis mode, and everyone’s just got to do what they can to keep moving forward. No one’s going to have a normal workday. No one’s going to have a normal school day. It just ain’t happenin’ this spring.

I also have to keep in mind that my kids need time to complete what their own teachers are asking for; it’s awfully hard for them to swing this if I’m saddling them with oodles of other stuff. So, this coming week I’m only going to stick with the half-day schedule. After lunch I can help the boys take turns online with whatever their teachers send them while Blondie locks herself away in her room to with her own homework. Then, Lord-willing, I can tackle MY course work. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a system that has time for everyone to move forward.

That just leaves the writing.

This week I FINALLY did some storytelling–just a bit of microfiction, but something’s better than nil, right? I’ve also got a couple short stories I’ve been working on that I’d love to get out to some online mags. Yes, Fallen Princeborn: Chosen is still on the editing table, but it’s bloody hard focusing on a five-book arc with the kids CONSTANTLY at home. Perhaps Camp NaNoWriMo can help me re-discover my Writing Self! Granted, this new schedule only frees up maybe half an hour to an hour of writing time a day, but that’s still more than I’ve had aaaaaaall bloody winter.

And how about you, my friends? What are you reading? Don’t forget that there’s some great FREE stories to read through my old publisher, Aionios Books! What are you writing? What are you doing to stay sane with your children? Pass the coffee and the cookies. Time I take a quiet sip and let you do the talking.

STAY TUNED! I’ll share a few successful homeschool lessons, another lovely indie author interview, hopefully some music, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand a chance to betaread one of those short stories.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: more excellent #online and #handsonactivities for #reading, #geography, #science, and #art courtesy of @anneclarewriter

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Good day, my friends! Thanks so much for sticking with me through this week of re-calibration and preparation for the coming spell of homeschooling. I do promise to get back into the writing soon; the plan is to go quiet on Jean Lee’s World for a few days so I can work on some flash and short fiction for my university’s journal (sharing here for feedback, of course), and then also write up a few lesson plan samples (ibid).

(Yup, I do actually write when life allows! You can see some short WIPS of mine on my Free Fiction page. I’ve also got a novel, novella, and some serialized fantasy, if you’re so inclined, and most of it’s free on Kindle Unlimited. Click here to check’em out!)

For those visiting my site for all the homeschooling stuff–welcome! Please don’t forget to take care of your own creative sparks to stay sane. I’ve been writing on this site for 5 years now, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to create and communicate in order to maintain one’s mental health. Please also check out some of those wonderful folks who follow my blog or have been interviewed here. You’re going to meet beautiful songwriters, poets, authors, and photographers on both sides of the globe. xxxxx

So, let’s finish the week strong with more resources dear friend and fellow indie author Anne Clare called to my attention. As a teacher and mother of three kids under the age of ten, Anne knows all too well how tough it is to keep kids engaged while also getting her own work done. After I shared my post yesterday of online and hands on activities, Anne emailed me a whole bunch of stuff she’s found in her own hunt for things to do with her kids. Her hunt was super successful, as you’ll soon see!

Extra Science Stuff

  • Mystery Science: Oodles of lessons and materials! A portion of it’s for free; if you help spread the word about the site, you level up on your access level.
  • Real Wild: A Youtube channel featuring some killer wildlife videos, including the late great Steve Irwin.
  • Steve Spangler Science: tons of experiments perfect for the home setting, especially for sensory kiddos!

Extra Reading Stuff

Scholastic has created a Learn at Home site with an amazing mix of reading, video, and hands-on activity all organized by theme, time frame, and age group. HUZZAH!

Extra Geography Stuff

Anybody else remember the PBS ’90s gem known as Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? What had started as an ancient PC game with a pile of floppy disks transformed into books, more games, cartoons, and of course this game show focused on history and geography. I learned a lot from this show as a kid, and there are a bunch of episodes on YouTube.

More recently Google Earth has created a free online game to let your homebound gumshoes chase Carmen Sandiego all over the globe. Click here for more info!

More Art Stuff

  • Create Art with Me: This site is jam-packed with age-appropriate projects. Drawing, watercolor, painting, pastels, foils, charcoal–if you can create with it, it’s on here!
  • Crafts by Courtney: A really cool mix of projects for grown-ups and kids alike.
  • Fun-A-Day: Cool Crafts for the little Jedi–and Sith–in your household.
  • Pinterested Parent: More fun artsy ideas, such as this salt watercolor project, to keep kids occupied without busting your wallet.
  • Picklebums: When it comes to projects for multiple ages, simple is always best, such as this squish painting activity.
  • Easy Peasy and Fun: This one requires a membership if you want the printables, but browsing its crafts may give you ideas for adapting with your own materials.
  • Artful Parent: Creativity abounds on this site! I particularly love the focus on sensory kiddos.

What a treasure trove of ideas! I’m excited to show these to my three little Bs and see what strikes their fancy before we head off to the craft store after lunch. So long as we avoid the cart races down the aisles, we should be okay. Enjoy your own explore here, and remember–we’re in this together! xxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: balancing #screentime and #handsonactivities

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“Do you need anything else?” Biff’s teacher gestures to the table behind her. Bins of crayons, markers, chalk, and scrap paper abound.

I clutch the two black totes she gave me like they were my own kids, who are…well, damn, one’s screaming. In comes Bash from the playground. “I broke my kneeeeeeee!” Blondie follows him, waving her arms and sound way too much like me for her own good. “Calm down, you just skinned it!”

I blow a lock of hair out of my eyes, take one box of chalk from Biff, and tell him to empty his arms of markers back into the bin. “I just gotta plan with the mindset that this is how it’s going to be until June,” I say to the teacher.

She laughs. “Oh, it won’t be that bad!”

Won’t be that bad, MY ASS.

Ahem. Anyway.

Today I went through the boys’ packets–mainly math sheets and some reading activities. A few writing prompts with notebooks to write in. A yoga pamphlet. Some ideas for physical activities. A links to a dozen or so websites/databases for the kids to read and play games on. Aaaaaaand that’s about it.

Uffdah.

See, here’s the big challenge with this homeschooling thing for parents like me: we’re told to be careful with how much screen time kids get, but now with this self-quarantine and online schooling, it seems that kids need to be online a LOT. Plus this is working on the assumption that there’s enough screens to go around. I sure don’t have that amount of tech in my house, and I’m assuming other folks are in the same situation. I’m also going to assume that other folks don’t want to dump their kids in front of screens for hours at a time.

Balance. We have got to find the balance, people. But how?

To me, the key is switching up between screen time and hands-on time as we work through our day.

As you can see, I’ve got note cards for every part of the day, including a few Biff and Bash additions like “Social Skills” and “Free Choice.” I was surprised to see how excited they were by a board to organize our school day schedule, as well as work binders I made for them featuring dragons, Wall-E, and the Enterprise. My goal for the binders is to hold their work in reading, writing, math, Bible study, geography, and science. Other projects like art and music (Bash insists we have music–fine by me!) will go…elsewhere? We’ll see. 🙂

The key, as far as I see, is having a few online resources as well as a few hands-on activities for all the major subjects. To stave off the cabin fever–

–we can also take a daily virtual field trip. It won’t be quite like Miss Frizzle’s Magic School Bus, but it’s a start!

Bible Study

Faith if very important to my family, so I want to make sure we take time every day studying a few Bible stories and remembering how there is no darkness that can douse God’s love for us. This is an excellent edition to use with kids, as it’s got oodles of illustrations and some questions for discussion to get kiddos talking.

Since I was raised on flannelgraphs and puppets, I didn’t really think there was much need for online Bible Study stuff; when in doubt, go with Veggie Tales, I guess?

Reading

Thank heaven the kids like getting books as presents! We’ve oodles of books all around the house; the key is to get the kids reading things they’ve not tried before. For Biff and Bash, this includes series like The Magic Tree House or Stick Cat. Blondie has some required reading to do for school, but I’ve also gotten her to try new things from the library before it shut down, such as The Menagerie.

When it comes to reading aloud, I know I mentioned Diana Wynne Jones (Eight Days of Luke feels veeeery promising with this lot), but I may start with something a tad shorter that’s still fun–Bunnicula, perhaps, or Basil of Baker Street. I might let them vote to see which they’ll pick!

Writing

Storytelling is NOT an issue with any of the three Bs. Penmanship, however, is another matter. It’s vital I get all three kids to work on their handwriting every day. Copying seems like easiest strategy, but what to make them copy?

Books like 5,000 Awesome Facts or Weird but True are PACKED with a wide variety of information that’s bound to strike any kid’s fancy. The key is to look at pages with tinier print, as those’ll be the pages impatient little eyes may skip. Our book, for instance has 75 facts about cats listed in 11-point font on two pages. I know I can pull some facts from that Blondie and the others likely glossed over.

When it comes to writing stories…well, I think I can let them cover that. 🙂 I may even spur Blondie into signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo for Young Writers this April. Hmmm, maybe I could join her…

Art

Oh boy. Gotta be honest–art’s never really been my thing. I’d be cool if they just played with Legos every day at this time using this BINGO sheet of challenges.

That’s not fair, though, not when Bash loves to draw pictures and Blondie loves to draw comics. It’s Biff that needs a little push.

“Can we get paint?” he asks. Hmmm. Well, I suppose we could try a few basic painting projects from the craft store. We could also use paper here at home to try making animals with this Origami site. Plus websites like We Are Teachers are full of creative activities that can help art cross into multiple subjects. I know I’ll be digging into this more over the weekend!

Math

This one doesn’t worry me too much, even though I loathe math. Biff and Bash’s teachers sent home lots of worksheets for the boys, and Blondie’s got her own math textbook to use over the coming weeks. When it comes to age-appropriate math games, ABCya has oodles of math as well as reading games for the kiddos to choose from. Blondie always loves a chance to play Prodigy, too! It’s a pretty neat role-playing game that challenges kids with math problems as they venture off on magical quests. Sure, they want you to buy in, but the free version’s great, too!

I shouldn’t forget friend Anne Clare‘s recommendation of games, too. Many card and board games utilize mathematical thinking, and they force kiddos to work on some social skills, too, which is ALWAYS a plus with my hoodlums. If you have any favorite games, be sure to share them in the comments below!

Geography

The boys have always loved studying atlases, so for Christmas I gave them 50 Cities of the U.S.A. It shares all sorts of neato trivia about major cities across the country. I hope to give the kids turns in picking cities for us to talk about. I may even put Blondie to work on her computer and have her make slideshows sharing even more information about the cities. (Heck, I may have her do that for ALL the subjects. Co-Teacher Blondie to the rescue!) National Geographic also has an amazing database of educational resources I’m sure to dig into as well so we can learn more about the habitats we experience on our virtual field trips.

SCIENCE?!

I DIDN’T HAVE SCIENCE ON MY PREVIOUS SCHEDULE!!! Well, bullocks. At least I managed to get it on the card schedule. 🙂 Thank goodness We Are Teachers comes to my aid again with podcasts the kids can listen to (no screen required!). Milwaukee with Kids has a great article on science experiments one can do at home with items you actually have in your house as opposed to, you know, oodles of plaster or skin-melting chemicals. Some of you have recommended utilizing the outdoors, and I agree! Gardening can be a lovely way to learn some important science lessons, as can activities like riding a bike, playing ball, or blowing bubbles. The birds and other critters are returning to our neighborhood, too, so hopefully we can do some sketches and discussions on Wisconsin flora and fauna. When all else fails, there’s always Bill Nye the Science Guy or Weird but True‘s website of shorty shorts!

Virtual Field Trips

Okay, so, I sort of went down the Rabbit Hole with this one. Initially I wanted to do all the virtual tours I found in these articles–

Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch

–but then I realized that the self-exploring in this 360 degree style wasn’t a great fit for Biff and Bash. Blondie might like it, sure, and if you have older kids I bet they’d love exploring the Louvre or Smithsonian this way. But with our house of limited screens and quick-tempered kids, I don’t want to risk losing a computer I need for teaching to their arguments over who gets to push buttons.

So.

Time to find a more video-style field trip.

The Smithsonian has a YouTube channel–that’s a start!

There are awesome videos put together by The Nature Conservancy, too. I know I’ll be using some of these to send my kids off exploring new habitats across the globe!

We can’t forget outer space, of course, not with my boys. Why not take the kiddos to Mars with Access Mars? Or swing by Discovery Education to check out their virtual field trips on engineering?

WHEW! I think we’ve covered a lot today! Now I must be off to prep tonight’s online class for the university. Stay healthy and safe wherever you are, and take heart–we’re all in this together. xxxxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: #Inspiring #Children by tailoring the #learningexperience with #favorite #characters

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Greetings, one and all! Feeling the cabin fever yet?

I know, I know…this self-quarantine’s only just begun, yet here I am, so itchy to get out that I willingly went to Walmart with the boys and promised them time in the toy department.

Bo, my introvert husband, is taking this all in stride, of course. So long as the local coffee shop is still open for take-out, he’s content. He and our three little Bs worked hard cleaning the house while I graded papers; at last, I can walk through the house without stepping on cars!

Thank you to those who provided me with ideas for activities with the kids to keep our time homeschooling interesting and varied. I’m going to share what I’ve gathered over the next couple of days because believe you me, there’s a lot to share! Before we dive into that, though, I just wanted to touch on an important strategy to help keep kids engaged.

“I don’t wanna do school stuff at home!” Biff has said since the announcement. I can’t blame him. He’s got all his toys here, all his Lego and favorite books’n’movies. Distractions. Are. EVERYWHERE. How do we get kids into a learning mindset when they’re in the home environment?

To me, it starts with what they love and building from there. Take Biff, my little fan of all things cosmic, especially Star Trek.

Give this kid a book about space, and he’ll devour it. Why not make math problems about spaceships, too? Why not learn about different stars in science? Tailoring the subject matter to fit his passion promises a more engaged Biff during our learning periods as well as stronger motivation for him to share what he learns in a way he enjoys.

This is my biggest hope for Bash, too. Of all the robots in the cosmos, none hold his heart quite like Wall-E.

Bash has often gotten into trouble at school for doodling robots when he was supposed to complete a math sheet. Well, this time, his math sheet will be about robots. This time, he can write his stories about Optimus Prime and Wall-E having a birthday party. This time, he can read Transformer stories to his toy Wall-E. He can draw Wall-E and Eve flying through space. If he’s still learning, let him have all the robots his imagination can hold.

Blondie’s imagination is often filled with animals both real and fantastic. It can be soft as a puppy or as firey as a dragon–Blondie loves’em all.

Her love of learning is already very deep; it helps she’s a smidge older than the twins and is used to a heavier homework load from school. Plus, Blondie was old enough to be allowed to take her Chrome Book home (a smaller laptop issued to many American students these days for school work). She is THRILLED to have her own computer at home, and has already taken many opportunities to play Prodigy or simply explore topics that strike her fancy, like ghosts. My challenge with Blondie won’t be motivation-related so much as focus-related, as she is very prone to tumbling down the Virtual Rabbit Hole. Keeping her tasks dragon-themed is sure to keep her creative fire burning so she can show her little brothers what it means to get homework done at home.

Let’s face it–for many of us, homeschooling is an uncharted land. I’m excited to explore all the amazing resources out there, but I know that if the material doesn’t connect to something the kids care about, I’ll already be in a fog with them, waving my hands about, desperate for clarity.

No resource out there is going to know your kids as well as you. So, as you’re preparing your own teaching strategies, ask yourself: what are my kiddos’ favorite movies? Characters? Games? How can I make this math problem use those characters? Can I find a story tied to that movie? What if I had my kiddo write a story featuring his game’s favorite battle? The better we connect our children’s passions with what they need to learn, the stronger our chances of a successful academic journey.

Tomorrow I’ll begin sharing some kickin’ activities and resources to help you through your reading, science, math, and writing sessions. We can do this!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: #creating a #Homeschool #Routine

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Good evening, my friends! It’s been a day. Not a good day, not a bad day, just…a day.

I made off with several volumes of this series from the library before it was shuttered. The series has a good balance of text and illustration–a little easy for Blondie, a little challenging for the boys. If you have kids in single digits, give Dragonbreath a go!

“Mo-om, Biff whined at me!”

“Mo-om, Bash pulled my hair!”

“Mo-om, Blondie won’t let me watch her play Sonic!”

Insert a few quiet moments here and there thanks to The Lego Movie and books, and that was my day.

As I promised yesterday, I sat down with the kids at breakfast and built a schedule based on their typical school days. Since Blondie’s the most flexible of the three, I primarily used the boys’ order of the day: Reading and Writing in the morning, Math in the afternoon. Because churches are also closed because gatherings cannot exceed ten people, we’ll also have time reading Bible stories every day. Considering Blondie’s love for science–and how often schools ax science for weeks at a time–we’re going to make sure there’s some science/nature time every day, too.

But what about art? Bash loves to draw. I gotta have that.

But what about geography? Biff loves to study maps. I gotta have that.

But what about fun stories? I finally have a captive audience here. Now they’ll have no choice but to experience Diana Wynne Jones! Mwa ha ha ha!

Well who wouldn’t want to imagine life in a moving castle?

And don’t they have to have playtime somewhere in there?

Once again: Uffdah.

On the one hand, I hate overwhelming the kiddos. HOWEVER, there are certain skills we have got to maintain, like math, and others that need to stay stimulated, like writing. And I don’t want these three laying around like sloths just waiting for a movie to come on. No. There is so, so much out there to discover in our yards and on our bookshelves. We just need to be inspired to look!

So I haggled and scribbled and arrowed and switcherooed things until finally, I think, I may have a schedule for us to follow.

6:30-7:00am: Wake up

7:00-8:00am: Breakfast, get dressed

8:00-8:10am: Morning meeting–a review of what the day will hold

8:10-8:30am: Bible study

8:30-9:00am: Quiet reading time

9:00am-9:20am: Reading reflection–draw a picture, write about a favorite scene/character, etc.

9:20-9:50am: Play time

9:50-10:30am: Writing time–use prompts from school and/or encourage them to write about their favorite things. Make sure to practice some penmanship by copying neato things like Weird but True Facts

10:30-11:00am: Art–drawing, coloring, building. Gotta be creative!

11:00am-12:00pm: Lunch & Read Aloud–I’ll read aloud to the kids while we eat together

12:00-12:30pm: Playtime

12:30-1:10pm: Math–work on worksheets from school & math games online

1:10-2:00pm: CLEANING–tackle one part of the house every day

2:00-3:00pm: Outside time–park, drawing on the sidewalk, hiking, something!

3:00-3:30pm: Geography–learn a little about Wisconsin, or a part of the world that sparks their curiosity!

3:30-4:00pm: Odds’n’ends, like piano practice

4:00-5:00pm: Let’em have some screen time while I cook dinner

Bo’s usually home by this point, so all will likely turn chaotic until bedtime at 8:30. 🙂

Basically, it’s like living with a bunch of Curlys every night.

You are more than welcome to make a face at how minute-by-minute this is, but believe me, when it comes to Sensory kids who thrive on routine, having a breakdown like this can make a big difference! A time limit also helps them stay on track, a crucial skill for surviving a school day. Time limits also help me plan out enough activities to realistically fill the periods, whether it’s making a slide show of wolves, drawing Transformers planting flowers, or building spaceships to visit IO. I can’t afford to let the school structure crumble just because the kids are home, especially because there is no certainty as to whether or not schools will re-open.

In other words, we American parents have inadvertently been drafted into homeschooling.

Those who already homeschool, if you have any tips to share, PLEASE share! In the meantime, I’m going to work on compiling creative activities, books, and videos that can/will appeal to kiddos…and then maybe figure out when I’m going to get my own teaching’n’writing done…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: #parenting and #schooling while the #Coronavirus is in #Wisconsin (Day 1)

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Schoooooooool’s out, for, summer….schoooool’s out for-ever…..

Well, not quite. To stem the spread of COVID-19, many states are shutting down schools for the next three weeks. That leaves me with Blondie, Biff, and Bash every day while Bo goes to work (until they close that). I’ll need to teach online. They’ll need to do homework online. Everything will have to be done at home, period. No zoos, no museums, no libraries. Just us and our computers so long as the Internet holds. Maybe a park, too, if the day’s nice, which ain’t lookin’ too good this week.

In a word:

As a Wisconsinite who studied in Minnesota, I have no problem utilizing this phrase.

At least we managed to get a visit in at the library on Saturday before they closed today. Blondie’s got some novels on wolves, Bash gathered books on building robots with Legos, and Biff stuffed his arms with as many truck books as possible.

Don’t forget all my comic books downstairs, Bo texts me. We’ll make this work.

Not gonna lie–it’s hard to feel that all that positive right now. I’m sitting on my bed, staring out the window like I so often did during those bloody months of post-partum depression. All those people out there, the birds, the flowers. All right out there, yet another world away from what I feel in the moment. Sitting in this spot again, knowing I can’t take the kids anywhere…damn, but I can feel that depression lurking beneath my bed like a monster out of Calvin and Hobbes.

We’ll make this work.

Okay. We’ll make this work.

I know you’re out there, fellow parents, wondering how the hell you’re going to make this work, but you will because you must. We all must.

It won’t gel right away. I’ve already written today off with its lousy trips to the grocery store and dentist (“Where’s the pizza? We can’t make muffins without eggs! I want a toy EVERY DAY! I’m going to race through all the dentist chairs and spin them like crazy!”). But we can’t write off the next three weeks. Tomorrow morning I’m going to get the kids up a little while after their normal wake-up time, and at breakfast, we’re going to make a plan for reading time, creating time, play time, cleaning time, screen time, the lot. Schedules are vital for sanity around here, especially with twins who suffer from Sensory Processing Disorder. Biff especially thrives on the order he expects in his classroom, and now EVERYthing is in disarray. Bash doesn’t necessarily fear failure right now, but how will he react to online school work? And Blondie bummed because as of right now, her piano recital, her choir stuff, her play dates…all cancelled.

And then there’s me, who was so determined to finish her short fiction and share it this week, continue her Star Wars analysis.

We’ll make this work.

That starts with chucking the pessimism.

Let’em have their bears powered by fart rockets today with commercial breaks featuring poop pizzas. Tomorrow, we build the plan for a new normal. Tomorrow, we will make this better.

And tomorrow, I’ll share that plan with you.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Celebrating #5years #blogging, #writing, and #parenting! Taking a moment to #givethanks and be a #proudmom.

Pardon all the -ing words, but one look at the calendar and I realized: I’ve been at this for five years.

Five may not sound like a really big number to you, but here…well. In that time my family’s faced

When I think of how far this family’s come, five years translates into a saga of potties, doodles, and early-morning snuggles, of anxieties, holes, and well-loved stuffies.

And you, all the while, reading along, experiencing this writing mom’s life with me.You’ve shared my love of craft and music. You’ve met with me to speak of your own stories written and read. You’ve encouraged me through my own publishing adventures and continue to give me input on whatever fiction I’m able to create.

For this, “thank you” will never be enough. You are my community. You are my tribe. You are the stars in my night when depression’s clouds roll in.

You are wondrous, each and every one of you.

I am proud of my own stories developed these five years, to be sure…

…but what truly thrills me more than anything is the creativity I’ve seen blossom in my kids over the years.

Bash’s love for the robot Wall-E is as vast as the universe. He’s made stories with Wall-E meeting the Transformers, Santa Claus, My Little Ponies, Thomas the Tank Engine, and even the old Hanna-Barbara superhero Blue Falcon. This is a boy eternally creating, finding characters and conflicts where no one else does. My son, who fears failure so much, is one of the most fearless storytellers I’ve ever met.

To see Biff willing to write his own stories at all lifts my heart. This is a boy who finds what he loves and sticks with it, such as stories from the Island of Sodor, only here with the buses he rides to school: “Once upon a time in the busing company of L__, the buses were working hard…” His teacher tells me they’ll be working on “Expert Stories” soon–stories where the kids can write about things they know well. Biff is so thrilled to write about Star Trek he literally hops up and down when talking about it. We’ll see if the Sodor Style comes to Starfleet this spring!

And now, last but never least, comes Blondie, who’s written her own moment for this post. Allow me to bow and give the stage to my daughter, my heart’s smile, my Blondie.

Hello everyone!

She did, too!

I have been reading the Adventurer’s Guild book series. It is filled with unsuspecting (and sometimes a little terrifying) surprises. I am right now working on a 300-piece puzzle of the constellations. I hope I finish it today.

You know Thunder Kidz, my company? Well, it is 1 year old this year. (pull out the disco ball, get the giant speakers, turn it up, and let’s party!!!!!)

I would like to recommend some books and authors. You should read Endling: The Last and Endling: The First by Katherine Applegate because it is full of fun and exciting (and sad) parts in it. my favorite character is Byx the darine because she’s a girl and darines have things that I like, like soft, silky fur and looks like a dog, and I absolutely love dogs. It is my most favorite book series. Katherine Applegate did lots of other good books such as Wishtree, which when a tree named Red is the wishtree, and I really like the baby animals in it, and I haven’t read Crenshaw yet, but I will, and more.

Also, there’s Allan Zullo, who has done Bad Pets, Bad Pets on the Loose, and more. The Bad Pets series is about wacky and zany pets do crazy stuff, like a dog drove a garbage truck into a lake! More recommendations will be made when I write here again. I will be writing more on Alley Heroes in the future. It right now has 12 chapters ,I think, and is supposed to have 14 chapters, but I’ll probably go over 14. I would like to add that I love writing on this website to you and writing stories and drawing comics. Happy writing, y’all!

Best writing wishes to you,

Blondie (aka: Firewing) 🙂

Best writing wishes indeed! From my family to yours, may Heaven smile on your creative souls and inspire you to continue spreading the friendship and hope you have so graciously given us. What adventures await in the next five years? With companions like you and my family, I can’t wait to find out. x

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

I think it’s high time for an interview, don’t you think? Plus I’ve more music to share, and maybe, JUST maybe, a little new fiction. Fingers crossed and turn thrice widdershins for me!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Anxiety is not just a #parentproblem. It is a #writerproblem, too.

“But I don’t KNOW what to do, I don’t KNOW!” Bash sits between me and the occupational therapist, head in his hands. Tears run down his nose and splatter on “Glass Man,” the Unthinkable that blows a small problem way out of proportion.  The space after I can defeat Glass Man by____ is blank.

Click here for more on the Unthinkables, a unique approach for kids to overcome behavioral/social issues.

“All I know is ask the teacher for help!”

The therapist and I trade looks. Bash was all fun and smiles for the initial physical activities, but now that we’re talking about tackling disruptive behaviors, he’s shrinking in his chair. The kid so fearless on the trapeze and crash pad is curled up and shaking, his glasses on the table streaked with dried tears.

Inside I ache, on the verge of crumbling just as he. His hands are too small to be holding his head like that. He shouldn’t feel the Fear like this so soon in life. This is the kind of Fear that crushes imagination, courage, hope.

I should know, carrying the burden as I do now. But not then. Back then I feared climbing a tree, sure, but not reading with my classmates. I may have feared taking my bike down that vertical drop of a gravel road to the park, but I never worried so much about my math that I threw away my test and hid in the school basement, only to find out later I had gotten every answer right.

 I cannot solve this for him, I tell myself time and again as I stroke Bash’s back, doing my damndest to keep my outsides calm as the therapist tries to look into Bash’s face.

“But you did such a great job on Energy Hare-y!” she says, her voice just bubbly enough to be excited without patronizing. Her freckled face and ponytail give her the look of a high school baby-sitter, though her diplomas on the wall reflect a solid ten years of medical education.  “You said you should take a break, and that’s just the thing to help a body get the wiggles out and find new focus.”

“This sounds an awful lot like Rock Brain,” I add, pointing to another Unthinkable. “He’s got you stuck real hard.”

Yup, there’s a whole Rogues Gallery of these guys.

Stuck is right. For every tough behavior—inability to sit still, outbursts over small problems, fleeing in fear of failure—Bash’s answer has been, “Ask the teacher for help.”

Sounds like the right thing to do, doesn’t it? Ask for help. I tell my students that every week. I’ve told Blondie, Bash, and Biff to do this when tackling something new and/or hard. Never be afraid to ask for help!

This is even truer when it comes to matters of mental health. Illnesses like depression and anxiety can isolate a person and make them feel incapable of connecting to another human being. I experienced this first-hand during my years of post-partum depression. Holding one baby boy while another slept, I’d stare out the bedroom window to see other people walking dogs, grilling food, swimming in pools. They were all neighbors, yet impossibly far away. The walls of the house seemed impenetrable. I felt like I was losing my sense of Self, of hope. I’d pray to get through the day, hour, minute without succumbing to the voices inside telling me how easy it was to just walk out of the house and not come back, to make the boys cry for a reason…

Though my sons’ birth cracked open the darkest pieces of me, they were also my inspiration to hammer those pieces to dust. Now Bash is facing his own darkness, one that tells him over and over that he is stupid, that he can’t do anything, that his teacher will be mad because he’s wrong, he’s wrong in everything, that he can’t do ___ because he’s never done it before so he’ll fail and everyone will laugh.

I want so badly to lift the Fear off his shoulders and carry them myself. I want to hold his hand and guide him to the right answers at the right time. I want to see him succeed…

But he will not succeed if I do everything for him.

Some battles must be fought alone. We can provide the tools, the support, the whatever-else-needed, but in the end, the fight is Bash’s and only Bash’s.

It’s not an easy truth for writers to face, either.

Fear looms over us with every submission and book review. For some of us, Fear grips us before we even put the story to the page. I don’t have the time to write well like real authors. I can’t afford to spend time on something that’ll fail. It will fail. No way anyone could like something I write.

It’s a Charlie Brown moment—we just can’t do anything right, not even what we love.

Better to run and hide our creative selves from the world than face the disapproval and derision sure to come.

The therapist gently tugs on Bash’s arm. “Let’s do another break, huh? How about riding the scooter down the ramp five times, and then we’ll try beating Glass Man?”

Bash slowly rolls off my lap. His body’s bent forward so low his hands practically touch the floor as he approaches the scooter. He flops belly first onto the scooter, his legs crooked up into the air. He grunts little grunts, his fingers tap little taps on the scooter, floor, ramp.

He pulls. Just a little. Pulls more. Just a little. Pulls the first two wheels onto the ramp. Just a little.

“Let me help you,” the therapist says, but Bash moves past her hands. Back toward her hands. Away from her hands again. The ramp’s only four feet, and Bash covers those first three feet a lot—up and down, side to side. Yet he does not give up. When he slaps the sticker at the top of the ramp with his palm, he gets there himself.

Bash and Hoppy almost gave me bunny ears for this pic, the goofs 🙂

It’s just a few seconds down the ramp and across the room. But it’s enough to crush the sadness and fill Bash with wild and happy giggles. He runs back to the worksheet, “I can breathe!” he says, and shows us how he can fill his tummy with air and blow out his fingers like birthday candles.

The therapist claps. “That’s great! Say, that’s the perfect way to beat Glass Man.”

Bash grins and hops over to his sheet. He writes BELLY BIRTHDAY BREATHS so big it covers the picture of Glass Man completely.

It’s another Charlie Brown moment, when one’s determination finally eclipses the Fear.

We find the breath in us to move forward across a land of glass and rock and discover we are not such fragile stuff at all. We are capable of incredible feats of imagination and bravery, for there is no greater Fear than the Fear we carry within. Only when we shirk that Fear can we share stories from the deepest, truest places, the kinds of places readers yearn to find.

So take up that kite, writers. You may get tangled, the kite may get torn, but there is always tomorrow and the promise of another chance to fly, and fly far.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

Shall we try a little music by Max Richter? Or an interview from yet another lovely indie author, mayhaps? There’s always the difficult discussion of character traits and thrusting abnormal changes upon established characters for the sake of corporate whimsy. Or maybe, just maybe, Blondie will finally get off her duff and WRITE SOMETHING!

Oh, I kid the kid. She’s been working very hard at school and on the piano. Considering she has a few days off coming up, though, I may very likely put her to work here. Mwa ha ha ha!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#seasonsgreetings! Let’s #celebrate #Christmas with the #Gift of #ChristmasStories, #Fantasy #FreeFiction, and Whatever #Storytelling You Love Because this #December, #LiteracyMatters.

Greetings, greetings, one and all! I hope you have your health this season, because right now that’s lacking in the Lee house. We did manage a trip to Watertown to visit Santa before a virus grabbed Bash, then Biff…

Bash (with hat), Santa Claus (with different hat), Biff (with hidden hat), and Blondie (with hat hair) in Santa’s house in Watertown.

…just in time for our Christmas church service, no less! At least Blondie’s ready and raring to recite Luke 2 and sing oodles of carols.

But enough whinging over fevers.

Firstly, I wanted to thank you for supporting me through what’s been a very bumpy year. My publisher discontinued my series, which meant I had to pull my free short stories Tales of the River Vine and overhaul my platform. You held me up when I felt like the game was over, and you encouraged me to write on and fight on.

So I did, and got a novella published in the process.

It seems so bloody easy to walk away. To give up the battle because the world says we’re just not good enough. I’ve seen these faces of defeat in many classrooms over the past few months: eight-year-olds who still cannot connect letters to sounds. Twelve-year-olds who’d rather throw books than read them out loud. Eighteen-year-olds who’ve never learned to use an index, let alone critically dissect a few textbook paragraphs. And the teachers? The teachers will move them onward and outward whether the students are ready or not.

We live in illiterate times, my friends. You may know proficiency rates are low where you live, but do you know how low? I learned last week that in the public schools of Wisconsin’s capital, only 36.6% tested proficient in reading.

Think about that for a second.

Only three in ten can read at grade level. And that’s just the basic stuff without all the critical thinking skills to go with it. These kids are graduating high school without the skills to read literature appropriate to any profession, let alone write a resumé. They’re simply dumped into the workforce and expected to survive.

Not for lack of trying, mind. Teachers in Madison, Wisconsin, and anywhere are in a terrible place. When I see what they’re up against, I can’t help but think of World War 1: embedded in trenches dug by faulty philosophy, living with almost no resources, struggling through the barbed wire that is parental criticism with little support from administration, their very livelihood determined by the results of tests created without their input.

But let’s save education for the new year.

Right now, we must step up. If you can’t turn the little ones’ screens off without a meltdown, then switch up games with storytelling apps. If they’re dyslexic or have difficulty focusing with their eyes, then turn their ears to audio books. According to the US Department of Education, Children who were read to at least three times a week by a family member were almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading compared to children who were read to less than 3 times a week. If they’re seeking escape in games of adventure, mayhem, fantasy, or all of the above, then give them the authors who tell such stories. Thousands of stories of every genre are within our grasp thanks to e-book publishers like Kobo, Nook, and Kindle. It is our duty as readers and writers to give these stories to those too small to reach them on their own.

And what better time to give these stories than the winter holiday break?

This week, Night’s Tooth will be free on Amazon.

As for the novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, the e-book copy will be $2.99 until New Year’s Day.

This Christmas, let’s tell our kids stories by the light of the Christmas tree. Let’s enchant them, spook them, tickle them. Let’s engage them with characters and places realer than real. Whether it’s a story about Christmas or a story to love all year long, it is time to give the sweet gift of story…with cookies. Never forget the cookies!

Don’t Bo’s Christmas tree cookies look scrumptious?

From our sniffly house to yours, may you have a most blessed Christmas and an adventurous new year!

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

It’s so exciting to see my author interviews fill up for 2020! I can’t wait to share these wonderful writers with you. I also got an early Christmas present of music I MUST share with you next month. First, however, we need to discuss a serious writer’s problem, one which has gotten lots, and lots, and LOTS of press lately.

Oh yes. Next week, we are going to a galaxy far, far away to discuss what went wrong with Disney’s sequel trilogy…and no, I’m not just going to bash Rian Johnson and/or JJ Abrams for a thousand words.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#writing #music: #PolarExpress by #AlanSilvestri

Hullo hullo, everyone! While most of the Midwest is buried beneath vast amounts of the white stuff, southern Wisconsin remains primarily bare. Cold, and bare. Cold, drab, and bare. Cold, drab, starless, and bare.

Whether you love Christmas for Christ or Claus or whatever else, the music of the season always carries an extra touch of magic. This year, I want to take you on a ride with that music, but not through carols or reindeer. This year, let’s take a train.

I first learned of The Polar Express via its Robert Zemeckis film adaptation in 2004. I got kids, and those kid love trains, so borrowing this film from the library was a no-brainer. The film came out during the 3-D craze, so there are several roller-coaster style sequences thrown in for…reasons.

Still, there’s a lot to love here. The original illustrations in the book are simple and elegant, so when the film brings those illustrations to life, the story glows on the screen.

From the book…
…and the film.

The brightest star, however, has got to be the score. Zemeckis recruits a composer with whom he’s been successfully collaborating for decades: none other than that time-traveling, alien-hunting, legend-wielding genius Alan Silvestri.

Silvestri utilizes the caroler element of Christmas music to build a majestic sound to compliment the orchestra: like “Carol of the Bells” or “Deck the Halls,” a portion of the choir sings onomatopoeia bell sounds while the others maintain a traditional harmony as they sing “Spirit of the Season.” When you combine the choir with a bit of brass and bells on top of sweeping strings, you have a song of majesty unbounded.

Of all the tracks, however, my favorite comes from near the film’s end. Will Santa Claus appear to these children after their adventures on the Polar Express? Do these kids truly, truly believe in the magic?

Unlike the opening to “Spirit of the Season,” Silvestri starts low, almost ominous. The bells aren’t quite traditional harmony–more like playing in fifths, perhaps, with the same low note playing over, and over, and over, so when the percussion and low brass begin it feels like a train slowly building steam to go. Something is building to happen…it picks up speed…and a melody. And drums.

Oh, those drums at 1:52 are my favorite. Like the pounding of reindeer hooves, the drums signal a change to a smashing of Christmas songs galloping by us, around us, spinning us like tops for Santa’s toy sack. While the choir dances in and out of these songs, the brass are the heroes in this track. Those trumpets nail the intense run from carol to carol with precision so perfect I fear many must have needed ice packs for their mouths after playing. 🙂 But back to the music. After the fantastic gallop of carols we return to the sweeping theme of majesty and flying magic. Santa cracks a whip made of the Northern Lights, and color splashes across the sky as his sleigh snaps out of sight into the night.

As you embark on your own seasonal adventures real or imagined, always keep the right music ready to transport you to the furthest reaches of snowy magic…or to return you to your home’s hearth of warmth and laughter.

~ STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK! ~

Blondie’s excited to share her writing and reading updates with you! I’m also eager to share more music and storytelling joys. Oh, and if you’re interested in one of my 2020 Author Interview slots, let me know!

Lastly, if you haven’t written a review for your favorite writers in a while, please be sure to do so. No gift is as meaningful to any writer, indie or mainstream, like a review from a reader. I‘ve got my two books, sure, but this is a gift that means to world to ALL writers. x

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!