An Awesome time with Authors Incognito

Last Thursday morning I packed a bag with the necessities—pajama bottoms, sweatshirt, warm fuzzy socks, slippers, hair brush, & toothpaste—grabbed my laptop, and headed for a cabin in the mountains near Park City. The night before I left I had a conversation with my seventeen year-old daughter. It went something like this.

Daughter: Explain to me again what exactly you’re leaving us for?

Me: I’m not leaving you. I’m going away for a few days to write.

Daughter: Yeah, but aren’t you going to be with other people? You’re not just going to write all weekend.

Me: But I am! And so will everyone else who comes. We’re all going to sit around staring at our computers for three blissful days.

Daughter: You’re so weird.

Fortunately, I was in good, weird company at the first annual (I sure hope it will be annual) Authors Incognito Writing Retreat. Many Kudos to Danyelle Ferguson and Nichole Giles for putting together a fantastic,fun, and productive weekend. The cabin was gorgeous, the food yummy, the contests inspiring (I don’t even type fast compared to some people!)and the time spent writing was nothing short of divine. In two and a half days I plowed through a huge stack of editing (no more excuses, it’s time to start querying that manuscript now) and wrote 14000 words, most on a brand new novel.

My daughter, however, was partially correct in her assumption that I’d be doing something other than writing while I was away. Because I was determined to make the most of every second, I skipped the hot tub and foosball, but I did enjoy the company at meals. Previously, I’d met most of the Authors Incognito members at conferences (and one I even went to college with a couple of decades earlier) but prior to the retreat, I was not close friends with any of them. That said, I’d love to have all of them as my close friends. I didn’t say a whole lot this weekend, but I caught snatches of conversation here and there that left me a little in awe of many of my fellow attendees. I think it would be fair to say that just about everyone who came to the retreat has been dealing with significant and serious personal issues in their lives. Many, like my own, had to do with their children and the heartache and hardships of being a parent, especially to teenagers and adult children. Others had health concerns, financial struggles, and other simply inconceivable trials. Yet here they were, smiling and working toward ambitious dreams. When I left on Saturday, my own heart felt considerably lighter. I felt renewed appreciation for my family, along with the absolute knowledge that I wasn’t the only one who’d been wondering why life had to be so difficult all the time. I also realized that, difficult or not, it can be happy and I can still write.

With that goal in mind, I’m off to polish up a chapter for critique.

Good luck to all involved in NaNoWriMo.

UEA = Utah Escape Activities

I love Autumn, and living in Utah it is made even better by the annual fall break or UEA (Utah Education Association) days each October. In the past our family has–with half the state–headed south to Disneyland, Seaworld and the like, but this year we’re staying closer to home. We started our week early at a local pumpkin patch where we enjoyed perfect weather and my youngest got to chase a squealing pig around and around the farmyard.

After that it was time for fun without our children–and yes, we sure heard from them what dreadful parents we are for leaving them at home on their school break. I think it’s very important to be dreadful sometimes! A night at the Homestead Resort in Midway, an hour long soak in their mineral hot spring crater, a quiet dinner together—where we didn’t have to clean up any spills, cut anyone’s meat, or referee any teen arguments—and a day spent exploring art galleries and seeing the fall colors was the perfect escape. It is quite amazing what twenty-four hours of peace can do to rejuvenate the spirit.

Perhaps that is what the leaders of UEA had in mind when they first started this long-standing tradition. Teachers, probably more than anyone I know, need a break, need to have their reservoirs of patience, motivation, and inspiration refilled. How wonderful that those of us in Utah have the same opportunity to “take a break” each fall. This time of year, and this time spent with my family has become one of my favorite things.

My wish for everyone–may each of you find the time for your own autumn escape, the time to slow down and simply enjoy.


Off and Running

Last year my both my blogging habits and my blog reading habits changed quite a bit. Instead of spending what little time I had at the computer focused on writing, I found myself lurking on homeschool sites as I tried to hurriedly educate myself on the huge venture I’d undertaken. Many of those sites became my lifeline. Just knowing there were other moms out there struggling through the daily and, at times, overwhelming task of educating their children was an immense comfort. Even more than this comfort, I found inspiration in their ideas and enthusiasm. And now—a scant year later—I feel ready to share some of my own creative ideas and solutions. What a difference that year has made. Our days are certainly not perfect, and my daughter’s learning challenges continue to be many, but we are making this work. More than that, we are making the work fun.

So, aside from my monstrously big goal of finding time to write seriously again, I’ve also set a goal to blog about our homeschool at least once a month this year. It will keep me accountable, and just maybe some other “newbie” homeschool mother will stumble upon my post and find her own inspiration to keep on going.

And with that, here is a glimpse of our first month of the 2010-2011 school year. I’m happy to say that we are off and running.

As a review before our Science Unit 1 test on the water cycle, I filled up water balloons and wrote vocabulary words on them. The girls had several turns to be blindfolded and pick a balloon. If they could give the correct definition of the word on their balloons, then they were allowed to keep the balloons or pop them however they wanted to. But . . . if they got the definition wrong, I got to pop the balloons over their heads. It was a lot of fun, everyone aced the test, and I’m pretty confident they will remember what we learned for a long time.

Hannah continues to be a wonder with clay. One thing I learned last year is that it is important to have fun! As our budget is tight this year (son in college), we’ve had to cut back on a lot of the extra curricular activities we did last year. Instead we’ve incorporated weekly art, cooking, and sewing (she is a crafty type girl :D) into our curriculum. The morning is for being serious; the afternoon is still about learning but less with books and more with hands on.

Andrew is—not a baby anymore! Or at least he doesn’t think he is. Things are a little trickier this year, as he naps less and wants to do everything that we are. I’ve found it best if we let him help where he can. It takes longer to get through our day, but having a toddler around certainly keeps things lively. And no one will ever be able to tell me that homeschooled children are not able to focus like children in a regular classroom can. Have you ever tried taking a math test with a 21 month old driving his muscial fire truck around and around and around your desk?

To ease a bit of our mom stress, and to keep things fun for our girls, a friend and I are trading off teaching science and language arts this year. So far, so good. It’s nice to have friends around, and it keeps everyone on schedule. By the way, did you know that you can inflate a balloon by putting it over the top of a soda bottle and then very carefully unscrewing the lid? Just one of many cool science experiments we did during our Ocean Science Unit. Thanks Bill Nye!
Note: See my daughter with her uncombed hair and PJ’s still on? Some days are just like that—and it’s okay!

Field trip report: Took advantage of Thanksgiving Point’s two buck Tuesdays in August. The museum was crazy crowded, the farm was fun (especially when Andrew tried to climb in with the cows and sampled the goat’s food), the gardens were gorgeous.
We also attended a back-to-school picnic with Alpine Online. Now, if I could just find those scraps of paper that I wrote down all those other moms’ phone numbers on . . .

Loving Literature: I introduced Hannah to Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I thought she might be able to identify with the main character, Peter, and his frustration with his pesky little brother, Fudge. I was right on. After that we devoured (and I mean devoured, for three days straight we pretty much ignored other language arts related work so we could READ!)Robin McKinley’s Beauty. And that, I admit, was my choice for personal, writing-related reading. Since I really want to write in this genre (and want to make what I’ve already written in this genre better), I am revisiting favorites to see just what it is that makes them so great. Beauty, I am pleased to say, was just as splendid as ever. My daughter summed it up nicely this morning when she sighed and said, “I’m so sad we finished that book.” I couldn’t agree more, though it was the perfect way to spend a couple of rainy afternoons in early October.

The Learning Curve

It was about this time a year ago that I was making the agonizing decision of whether or not to pull my daughter out of her charter school (a great school that I really love) to homeschool her. Ultimately, after quite a lot of prayer and pondering, I (we, though my husband left this decision largely up to me) decided we would teach her at home. I’ll go into the reasons in a future post, but with the first year behind us, I feel strongly it was the right thing to do. That said, I have to admit the learning curve was pretty steep for both of us. Here are a few things we’ve discovered along the way.

-Starting homeschool the same year you’ve had a baby, are building a home, and will have to move twice is probably NOT a good idea.

-Once started, there is no going back (literally in our case, as our previous charter school has a long waiting list), so it’s best to dive in and plow through whatever obstacles you’re dealing with.

-Having a set schedule is vital.

-Following that set schedule everyday is unrealistic. And that’s okay. If, for example, the opportunity presents itself for you and your child to see a crane in action (as it lifts the trusses onto your future home) you should put away the science book and head outside to witness some firsthand engineering.

-Math is best done first thing in the morning before you are both too cranky.

-It’s okay to eat marshmallows while you do that math.

-It’s generally not okay, however, to wear your pajamas while you eat marshmallows and do math. What you’re wearing really does affect performance.

-P.E. is important for both teacher and student, or—in this case—mother and child. Units on rollerblading or Tae Bo are perfectly acceptable.

-Aside from unique PE activities, homeschool encompasses learning in other, unusual ways. Because Hannah learned at home this year, she finally had time to take piano lessons (and did awesome at her first recital last night) and was able to realize her dream of being on a dance team. She also learned how to make her own pancakes, eggs, and cupcakes (a ten year-old’s favorite food groups), change a diaper, and navigate her own laptop. These might be simple things for many children, but for Hannah each was a significant victory.

-Curriculum is hugely important. Saxon Math, Core Knowledge, All About Spelling, and K12 are all excellent choices.

-Field trips are fun and a real perk of homeschool. This year we . . . visited the Thanksgiving Point Museum, farm, and gardens, went to This is the Place State Park and Old Deseret Village, hiked in Provo canyon, spent a very cold morning at Hee Haw’s, attended a Utah Valley Symphony concert, attended two plays at the Scera theater—Stellaluna and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie—went rollerblading at Classic Skating, went ice skating at The Peaks, visited the children’s museum in Carson City, Nevada, visited the Rosenbruch museum in St. George, went on a space camp mission, and went to Hogle Zoo. A big thank you to Alpine online for providing many of those experiences.

-Getting through all that great curriculum and going on all those field trips took a lot of time—about 1080 hours. That’s 1080 hours that had to come from somewhere. In other words, I had 1080 less hours for meal planning, cooking, cleaning, shopping, baking, sewing, ironing, laundry, organizing, bill paying, blogging, and writing.

-The upside: I spent 1080 more hours with my daughter.

And for us, that upside says it all. I’ll be the first to admit that homeschooling is not for everyone. There were several days this year I thought it wasn’t for me. But it is, I’ve discovered, very good for my daughter. A year into this I’ve noticed her stress decrease, her confidence level soar, and her enthusiasm and love of learning take flight. To say the least, it’s been a bumpy ride, but as I look back over the past nine months, I want to pat us both on the back. We made it. We accomplished amazing things, and we’re in this for the long haul.

Just what I needed

Since the birth of my darling little boy sixteen months ago, I have posted on this blog exactly 15 times. I have been caught up on the laundry twice. I’ve made breakfast for my family perhaps 20 times during all those months (pathetic considering that we used to eat breakfast together almost every day). I’ve purchased, rather than sewn, the Christmas pajamas; I haven’t scrapbooked a page. And, after our recent move (recent being four months ago), I still have a basement full of stuff to unpack. Who knows how long it will be before I get to it? Who knows how long it will take me to finish my next novel (at the turtle’s pace I’m writing at now)? Who knows if my family will ever again have clean clothes when they need them or anything besides cold cereal for breakfast?

To be fair, our little guy is not entirely to blame for my lack of progress in writing and just about everything else. His arrival coincided with several other significant events in our lives, all of which have drastically altered my days, nights, and pretty much every breath I take.

Without going into all that, I’ll just say that I’m hard pressed to think of a time as stressful as the past several months. My husband and I have been dealing with several crisis of varying degrees with our four older children. We continue to love them all dearly, but they are draining us both mentally, physically, and financially. Added to their teen angst, learning disablities, and the like, our sweet, sleepless baby has just about put me over the edge. Since his arrival he has yet to sleep through the night. This has been new territory for my husband and I, as our other children were all pretty great sleepers (three of the four sleeping through the night by six weeks—we didn’t know how good we had it!). Since Andrew’s arrival, and our subsequent sleeplessness, we’ve read all the books, tried all the methods and come rather close to losing our minds in our efforts to get a good night’s sleep once again.

Recently, during a middle-of-the-night, rocking and calming my baby session, I had a frank discussion with our Father in Heaven about the state of my life. My purpose was two-fold. First, I recognized the many blessings he’s bestowed upon me. I have a wonderful husband and five unique, exhausting children. I’m grateful for this crazy family of ours. I love them all dearly; my life revolves around them. I’m doing the things I wanted more than anything else when I was growing up—being a wife and mother. But lovely as that is, lately my life has had its moments. And it was about these moments and our five children, specifically the one on my lap, that the second part of my prayer was concerned with. It was time, I’d decided, to call in the promise from Heavenly Father that he won’t give us more than we can handle.
Because I’m pretty sure I’m there, as in one beat away from total insanity.

It’s one thing to have a baby who keeps me up at night. It’s another to have that baby plus a fourth grader who, in spite of my year-long effort homeschooling her, spending thousands in vision therapy etc. still cannot read. And it’s yet another to have three high needs teenagers all in various crisis points in their lives. In other words—

“Uncle, already!”

And so I pled with our Father in Heaven to please let our little guy sleep so I could. So I could be well rested and level-headed to deal with the events of my days. So the tears I’d probably cry would at least be from true emotions and not sleep-deprivation.

As is often the case, this particular prayer was not answered in the way I hoped. My baby did not fall into an instant, deep sleep. He did, however, wrap his arms around my neck and lay his head on my shoulder—one of my very favorite things in the world. I’ve been a mom long enough to know that hugs like that get farther and fewer between as children grow older. I cherish every one and, tired though I’ve been these past months, I’ve cherished the time, these middle of the night moments, with Andrew.

As I felt his little arms tighten around me, the thought distinctly came that this was exactly what I needed. While I’d been yearning for sleep, Heavenly Father was giving me what I actually needed even more—peaceful moments with the baby we wanted so badly, time alone with him, reminders of the joys that really do come with being a parent. In our crazy, busy, stressful days, there isn’t a lot of alone time for Andrew and I. But for the past sixteen months, we’ve spent good time together anyway, rocking, singing, reading stories. I’ve had plenty of chances to brush the hair back from his face, to look down into his eyes, to kiss his neck. We’ve cuddled and snuggled even more than I did with our other children during less stressful and busy times of life. In short, I’ve been able to do what I promised myself I would—to enjoy and treasure the oh-so-short time when he’s a baby.

It was a revelation that left me uplifted and gave me the energy to pull myself out of bed the next morning and face another day. Our lives and our family are certainly not perfect, but I am grateful for the sweet, middle-of-the-night reminder that Heavenly Father is aware of each of us and knows and provides what we truly need.

Ironman and Ironwoman

Saturday marked the culmination of a year of training and preparation at our house. My husband competed in (and completed!) the St. George Ironman, swimming 2.4 miles, then biking 112 miles, then running 26.2 miles—all in about fourteen and a half hours. Way to go Dixon!!!!

It was an exciting, thrilling day, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of his hard work and success. I am so happy for him. And honestly, I am so happy it’s over, because it was also a difficult year and an exhausting day. Saturday as we stood at T2 (transition area where competitors finish the bike and start the run)for an hour and twenty minutes, I noticed a woman wearing a shirt that said, Ironmate.

No kidding, I thought. Not to diminish my husband’s spectacular accomplishment—something I could never in a million years do—but it also takes a “woman of iron” if you will, to hold it all together while he is training and triumphing. To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s a brief overview of competition day.

4:30 am

IRONMAN—leaves to catch his shuttle out to Sand Hollow Reservoir where the race will kick off (no pun intended) with the swim.

IRONWOMAN—begins packing everything but the hotel sink into the backpack she will wear today. Come to think of it, the sink would be useful too. When traveling with a toddler, it’s always good to have a source of running water.

5:30 am

IRONMAN—begins the arduous task of getting into his skin tight wetsuit.

IRONWOMAN—begins the arduous task of dressing everyone in three layers—a t-shirt for later when it’s hot, a sweatshirt for warmth now, and a jacket to keep out the wind that will inevitably come and go throughout the day. “Layers keep you warm, plus I don’t have to carry a bunch of heavy coats,” Ironwoman explains to her screaming toddler as she wrestles a sweatshirt over his head.

6:30 am

IRONMAN—is psyching himself up for the swim. “I can do this. I can do this. I’ve trained hard, and I CAN DO THIS.”

IRONWOMAN—is psyching herself up to step on the bus that will strand her and her children out at the reservoir for the next three (ended up being four) hours. “Did I pack enough diapers? Did I remember the baby’s leash? I should have brought something for us to sit on, but there is no way I could carry the camp chairs–maybe a large towel would have worked. I can’t believe I left my sunglasses back in Provo. I hope Andrew will keep his hat on today. I need to watch Hannah’s skin too. She is so fair and burns easily. Did I bring enough water? Did I remember to pack . . .”

7:00 am

IRONMAN—is off and swimming.

IRONWOMAN—is staring out at the sea of 2000+ matching swimcaps and praying for the one that is her husband. The swim scares her. People have died doing this event. She will be grateful when he is out of the water.

7:30 am

IRONMAN—is winning the mental battle and getting into his groove.

IRONWOMAN—is feeling pretty good. She packed well. So far she’s fed the kids Mcdonalds scrambled eggs and hashbrowns for breakfast, made a blanket tent for her daughter and set her up inside with a new DVD on the laptop, played bubbles with the baby, and is getting out the puzzles and books to keep him entertained.

8:30 am

IRONMAN—Is hauling. He owns the swim today.

IRONWOMAN—is positioning herself and the kids at the swim finish to see her husband, though he’s told her he won’t cross until at least 9:00 am.

8:42 am

IRONMAN—gets out of the water and runs toward the transition area. He’s stoked at his record time.

IRONWOMAN—is shocked to see her husband so early. He totally rocked the swim!!! She is so happy for him. She knows the hard part is past, and he’ll do great on the bike and run. But because he is so early, she doesn’t have the camera ready for a picture.

10:00 am

IRONMAN—is flying. On some of the downhill portions of the race, he’s clocking 44 mph. He knows Ironwoman would be upset with him if she knew how fast he is going. He goes fast anyway. He is the Ironman. He is invincible. He will be in trouble later.

IRONWOMAN—is still stuck on the bus, waiting to return to the fairground parking lot. The baby is losing it big time. Singing the “Wheels on the bus’ song has lost its amusement value. The bus driver has compassion and allows the baby to pretend to drive the bus while they wait, and wait, and wait . . .

1:30 pm

IRONMAN—is realizing he shouldn’t have pushed it so hard on that first bike lap. All those people he passed are passing him now.

IRONWOMAN—is so impressed and happy with her teenagers for driving down to see their dad compete that she doesn’t freak out at them for making it from Provo to St. George in THREE HOURS AND FIFTEEN MINUTES!!!!

3:30 pm

IRONMAN—is having technical difficulties . . . with his left knee. It is slowing him down considerably.

IRONWOMAN—is at T2 with her kids. She is holding her baby who is hot and tired and arching his back and screaming his lungs out. Ironwoman is developing some seriously iron arms holding this kid. Her youngest daughter really needs to go to the bathroom. She is standing next to Ironwoman and hopping up and down, repeatedly stepping on Ironwoman’s toes. “You have to hold it,” Ironwoman tells her. “We’re not missing Dad finish the bike and start the run. We’re ALL in pain right now.”

4:07 pm

IRONMAN—coasts into T2 and is glad to be done with the bike. His first step on his left leg does not encourage him about the run.

IRONWOMAN—has been standing at T2 with her family so long, that they are all somewhat lethargic and do not spring into action for the coordinated yell and sign waving. Still, Ironman sees them, and that’s something.

4:14 pm

IRONMAN—starts his run, pauses to say hi to the fam.

IRONWOMAN—trying to be encouraging tells IRONMAN he only has a marathon left now. He does not look encouraged. A cheer, a photo, and she waves her husband off. Next order of business: finding a bathroom before daughter wets her pants.

8:45 pm

IRONMAN—is pleased his knee has held up for most of the race, but it is starting to hurt again now.

IRONWOMAN—and her family are as close to the finish line as they can get (in the huge, swelling crowd of people). The cameras are ready. The sign is ready. Youngest daughter has fallen asleep on the ground. She is shivering. Ironwoman puts daughter in the stroller and tucks blankets in around her. Ironwoman holds the baby, who is tired, cranky and all around disgruntled with the situation.

9:15ish pm

IRONMAN—the finish line is in site.

IRONWOMAN—Here he comes! He’s still alive! We’re almost done!!! Both the video camera and the camera suddenly have dead batteries.

9:30 pm

IRONMAN—is sitting on the ground on the finisher’s area. He is not feeling so hot.

IRONWOMAN—finally fights her way through the crowds (while pushing an overloaded stroller carrying a sleeping, possibly sick, child)to her Ironman. She is alarmed that he does not look well. Her teenagers spring into action, getting their dad up and moving toward the food and massage tents.

10:30 pm

IRONMAN—is getting a massage and some pizza.

IRONWOMAN—is sitting on a park bench nursing her nearly inconsolable baby (he was almost weaned before this weekend, but that plan’s out the window for now). Her daughter is still in the stroller, shivering uncontrollably, though Ironwoman has placed every blanket and article of clothing she can find on top of her. A kind volunteer offers one of the ahtletes’ mylar blankets.

11:00 pm

IRONMAN—is feeling like he is going to live. He is gathering his things.

IRONWOMAN—is very relieved to find out Ironman is okay. Aside from simply being glad he is okay she wasn’t sure how she was going to get him, two sick, tired little kids, the stroller, his gear, and his bike the three blocks to the car on her own. Ironwoman bids farewell to the teenagers who have to drive home tonight. She lays down the rules (no going over 75mph; at least two of you awake at all times)before they leave. She knows she will not be able to sleep tonight until they are home safely.

11:30 pm

IRONMAN—is taking a hot shower.

IRONWOMAN—is nursing the baby again while coaxing her daughter out of her clothes and into PJ’s.

2:45 am

IRONMAN—is relieved to hear his kids made it home safe. He is worried about his knee.

IRONWOMAN—can finally sleep now that her kids are home safely. She is out cold in about 30 seconds.

8:00 am Sunday morning

IRONMAN—casually mentions to Ironwoman that he might want to do another Ironman competition someday.

IRONWOMAN—as she is changing the baby’s third messy diaper in the last hour—the result of trying very hard to keep him hydrated with lots of bottles of applejuice the previous day. “Now is not the time to discuss this.”

The Slothful Blogger

For the past few months I have been a slothful blogger, neglecting to post even a sentence or two as the rest of my life has been so crazy and complicated that I literally haven’t found a minute to spare—until tonight that is.

The house is quiet right now. Four are asleep, one is at work, one is at her first Homecoming Dance. While I wait up for her (and try to banish BYU’s depressing score from my mind), I thought I’d do as Rob Wells suggested and blog twitter style. No doubt writing something so short will be a challenge for me, but as it seems to be the wave of the future as well as my only possibility for blogging at all, here goes . . .

Summer is officially over, and I’m not quite sure where it went. But I’ll never forget one week that was spent at Lake Powell with my family. Best moment of the trip? When my nine-year-old said, “you were awesome Mom!” as I hauled myself back into the boat after skiing. After all, how often do we hear that from our children???

After Lake Powell I headed to California and had the privilege of witnessing love at its very best as I watched my grandmother’s devotion to my grandfather, who is suffering through the last stages of Alzheimer’s. This deserves much more than a twitter post, and I hope to write more later about the tender feelings I both saw and felt on this trip.

Love was also at its best in August when my husband worked incredibly hard to get our family moved. It was grueling, exhausting—a literal nightmare as we moved out of our home of 13 years and into a small rental house. Worst moment of the experience: When I returned alone to our empty home to clean. Thirteen years of memories—bringing babies home from the hosptial, first day of school pictures by the front door, family dinners, holidays, and all of the other precious moments of everyday living—assaulted me. I sat on the floor and bawled for a good, long time.

School started—too soon as usual. But this year not everyone went back. For the first time in a long time, I am not alone. Baby Andrew keeps me on my toes and by himself could easily entertain me all day. His older brother, graduated now and working nights, is also home during the day. And our fourth grader is here as well. After months of prayer and researching and more prayer and more researching, we made the difficult decision to remove her from her charter school and teach her at home. It is wonderful. It is hard. It is all consuming. It is what she really needs. I am throwing my whole heart and soul into this, and we are still praying—that it works.

Our rental house is a blessing. It is three blocks from our old home. Our children still ride the same buses. They go to the same schools and dance studio. Their friends can still come over—except that there is no room for them. Our rental house is a nightmare. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, no dishwasher, no air conditioning, and lots of mosquitos. Enough said.

Every morning, bright and early, we hear—through the same open windows that are letting both cooler air and mosquitos in—the sounds of construction. Backhoes, concrete trucks, hammers. It is the most wonderful sound to wake up to. We hear it all day long, and in the evening we go over to see what has progress has been made during the day. We take pictures. We walk through the rooms and dream about the day we will get to move into our new home. What a blessing it is, especially during these difficult economic times, to be able to build our dream home.

No one will have to share a room in our new home, and the timing couldn’t be better. Andrew is now a twenty-pound force to be reckoned with. He moves—fast! He eats—everything! And he is one of the most curious babies I’ve ever had. Oh, for the day I can put up a gate and he can play safetly in his own room. Except that by then he may have learned how to climb over the gate. He is Mr. Mischief, and he is a ton of fun. We all don’t know how we ever lived without him.

Thirteen is a difficult year. It’s worse when your parents make you move to a little old house, when your room in this house is a cubicle made from office dividers, when you don’t make the dance team you wanted to, and when the girl who bothered you at your old school transfers to your new one. As our oldest daughter approaches seventeen and leaves some of her teen angst behind, I’ve been dismayed these past few months to see our middle daughter moving into it. What’s a mom to do except provide lots of chocolate and hugs.

Eighteen is a difficult time. Especially if you’re a boy whose parents reallywant you to serve a mission. Especially if you have a girlfriend who is a great person. Especially if you are working full time and didn’t head off to college in September. Life is full of huge decisions and responsibilities. Everything has changed and keeps changing. Friends are getting married. Friends are entering the military. A year ago our son was a kid. Now it seems he’s expected to be an adult. What’s a mom to do to help him through this strange and hard time of life? Our favorite four letter word. PRAY. A lot.

My daughter is home now. Her date came to the door and thanked me for the opportunity to take her out. Major bonus points for that boy 😀 Carissa looked beautiful tonight. She has always been beautiful, but this past summer between her sophomore and Junior years, she’s really started to blossom—losing thirty pounds, getting her braces off, discovering things she likes and is good at. She’s a different girl than she was a year ago. She’s happy, self-confident. Delightful. I am happy for her and with her.

Being a wife and mother often takes every minute of my day and every ounce of energy and emotion I possess. Though I may be slothful with blogging, my days are a blur of activity from their very early start to their quite late finish. It seems there is no time for blogging, promoting my books, or lately, even writing. I am behind on my email, my checkbook, and my laundry. Yet my life is overflowing with blessings. I am never bored. Each day is full of challenges. And, as a wise character in my current work in progress explained . . .

“It’s all about joy.”

Heading to bed now, so I can cope with the joys tomorrow is sure to bring.


Last night our baby slept from 8 pm to 3 am—SEVEN HOURS!
Unfortunately I didn’t sleep much, as I was worrying about Andrew’s older brother, working his first night shift at the Sam’s Club in South Jordan. Thankfully, he arrived home safely this morning and said it was cake to stay up all night (guess if I was 18 again, I might think so too).
The seven hour milestone—as opposed to the up-every-two-hours program we’ve done for the past six months—gives me hope that sleep may soon be in my future again.

Happy, happy. Joy, joy!

If You’re Bored Tomorrow

If you need a break from the kids, the heat, the rain—or all three—consider heading out to Seagull Book this weekend or next.

Tomorrow I’ll be at the Spanish Fork Seagull from noon until two. Next Saturday, June 27th, I’ll be at the Provo East Bay Seagull from 12-2 as well. So if you’re in the area, stop by to visit and for another chance to win my new book.

Here’s hoping for a whole day of sunshine.

A contest winner, thank you’s, a book review, and the prologue—oh my.

As usual, I am behind on life. This time I’ll blame it on my son’s first ear infection :( and bronchitis. He needs to be held a lot right now, which means everything else must wait—and rightly so. As all mothers know, the stage where our children want to be held goes all too fast.

But while he is taken in a rare moment of sleep (may literally be a moment, we’ll see) I thought I’d announce the winner of the book. My daughter pulled this name from the bowl this morning, and the winner is . . . Moddy! Many thanks to all who commented on my blog. I’ll try to get creative and do more contests in the future. Moddy, please email me your address, and I’ll send your book this week.

A couple of additional thank you’s are in order as well. Once again, the amazing Tom and April Dalton team have provided their talents for this blogsite. On short notice they added the cover for All the Stars in Heaven and gave poor, computer-challenged Michele the help she needed. I so appreciate you guys. The cookies (and a book) are in the mail and should reach you by the end of the week. Remember—pace yourself on the Grannie B’s. Too much pink frosting can make you sick!

Thank you also to Jennie Hansen who reviewed All the Stars in Heaven for Meridian Magazine. A good review from Jennie is like gold, so I’m feeling very rich right now.

And finally, for those who haven’t read an earlier version of this prologue (as with the title, some things were changed during the editing process), you can enjoy it here. This comes before the first preview chapter in the back of Counting Stars. If you’re on my email list, I’ll be sending out the second chapter of the book later this week.



December 1986
“Hurry up, Sarah.” Grant Morgan lifted the collar of his overcoat as wind whipped through the cemetery, causing the twenty-eight degree temperature to feel even colder. Frowning, he looked down at the little girl—with thin sweater, short dress, and bare legs—standing three feet in front of him. The child wasn’t shivering, wasn’t moving at all, despite his attempts to get her going and this over with.
He looked around uneasily, wondering if the feeling that he was being watched was ever going to leave. He tried to shrug the worry away but, like the cold, it seemed to have seeped through his coat, through the pores of his skin, into his soul.
Another gust of near-arctic air swirled past them, stirring up the late-fallen leaves at their feet. The wind ruffled the back of the child’s dress, and Grant detected the slightest movement from her—an involuntary shiver as the cold danced around her legs.
So, she is human, he observed, feeling both relief and regret. He’d hated that in the few hours they’d been together he’d seen nothing of himself in her and no possibility of any connection between them, but he realized a child who displayed such little emotion would be that much easier to deal with.
A corner of the astro turf lifted, revealing the cavernous hole in the ground beneath the casket. Grant watched as Sarah leaned forward, then looked back at him, her blue eyes wide with fear and . . . questions.
“I said, hurry up.” He gave her a none-too-gentle push that sent her stumbling forward, her scuffed Mary-Janes barely stopping at the edge of the grave. Knees shaking, she continued to clutch the single flower in her hands as she caught her balance. Her small fists stacked over the slender stem, between two protruding thorns of the blood-red rose. She straightened and stood with natural grace and then remarkable stillness for a child of only five years.
“Please get her out.” Sarah’s voice, though tiny, was calm and surprisingly full of authority for someone so small. “Roses are her favorite.”
“I know,” Grant snapped.
“She’ll wake up when she smells this one.”
Grant felt a minuscule stirring of pity. A very dangerous feeling—for both of them. Stepping forward, he plucked the rose from Sarah’s hands.
“Ouch,” she gasped.
“No flower is going to wake her up,” Grant said as he tossed the rose on top of the casket. “Let’s go.” He looked down at Sarah and saw the shock on her face. She held her hands open, drops of blood welling on each, where the thorns had pricked her skin. A matching pair of tears gathered in her eyes.
He turned away and walked toward the car, feeling those hurt and betrayed eyes on him the whole time. Other eyes might be watching too, he reminded himself as he retrieved his keys from his pocket, opened the door, and climbed inside. A quick glance out the window told him Sarah still hadn’t moved.
He started the engine, put the car in gear, and rolled down the passenger window to call to her. She didn’t come after him, and he watched with growing concern as Sarah turned away from the car and threw herself across the casket, tiny fingers trying to pry it open.
“Mommy! Mommy! Wake up, Mommy.”
“Sarah,” he barked. “Stop this nonsense and get in the car.”
Tears tumbled down her face as she looked at him, the imploring in her eyes reaching out across the twenty feet between them to sear his heart. The pity swelled. He fought it, taking his foot off the brake to let the car idle forward.
Sarah turned back to the casket. More anguished cries came from her throat. Grant pressed his lips into a thin line as the car nudged nearer the cemetery gates. The door to the caretaker’s shed was ajar, and Grant wondered if the man—or someone else—was inside watching him.
I can’t just leave her.
His glance strayed to the rearview mirror as he turned the dial on the stereo, pretending to be searching for a station, pretending that he didn’t care about his daughter.
The car rolled half-way through the open gate. Grant’s foot edged toward the brake. He was going to have to go back and get her. He’d be swift, stern. He’d spank her and show anger. But anyone watching would still know he cared enough not to leave her behind. Anyone watching would realize they’d found his new weak link. His hand went to the gear shift as Sarah began running toward the car. Relief washed over him.
Pasting an irritated, impatient look on his face, he put the window up and waited for her.
A second later he cringed as she slipped on the gravel and fell face first onto the road. His hand automatically gripped the door handle, but—remembering the open door of the caretaker’s shed—an inner restraint stopped him before he could get out and go after her. Returning his fist to his lap, he clenched his teeth and silently counted the seconds it took Sarah to get off the ground and begin walking again.
When his nerves had just about worn thin, she reached the car then spent several seconds fumbling with the handle before her little hands found enough strength to pull the heavy door open. Again, Grant resisted the urge to lean across the seat and help. But when she climbed inside and he took in her bedraggled appearance, he wavered, reaching into his suit pocket for a hanky so she could wipe away some of the bloodied gravel embedded in her knees. He tossed the white cloth at her.
“Clean yourself up,” he ordered in his sternest voice.
Without looking at him, she snatched the hanky and swiped it across her face. Tugging at her thin, too-short dress, she managed to cover one of her knees. Then she realized blood was also dripping from her chin, and she pressed the handkerchief to the wound. Staying well on her side of the seat, she turned away from him and looked out the window.
The car started forward, and from the corner of his eye Grant studied Sarah’s reflection in the glass. Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks, though she didn’t make so much as a whimper. Her hair was in need of a good brushing, and it hung long and wispy half-way down her back. He thought perhaps tomorrow he would take her to get it cut short; it would certainly be easier to care for. But then he thought of Rachel and reconsidered. Sarah’s golden hair, when washed and brushed, would no doubt be as beautiful as her mother’s had been. It was comforting to know there was something in her to remind him of Rachel.
Sarah shifted on the seat, tugged her dress down again, then removed the handkerchief from her chin and placed it carefully across a four-inch tear down the front of her dress. She wiped a dirty hand across her cheeks, drying the last of her tears, and turned to her father with a positively mutinous expression.
Grant nearly smiled. “Yes?”
“I’m hungry, and I want my kitty.”
“I’ll feed you shortly, but there will be no kittens at my house.”
“Kitty—isn’t real.” Her eyes were hopeful.
“I can’t sleep without her.”
“Too bad.” Grant stopped at a light and caught the driver in the car beside them looking at him.
Unnerved once more, Grant eased the car into the intersection when the light turned green. The car in the other lane moved ahead and turned three streets later. Grant headed toward the Boston University Bridge, thick now with rush hour traffic leaving the city.
“Kitty is at Mommy’s house,” Sarah said.
Grant heard the desperation in her voice. “We can’t ever go back there,” he said with a note of finality.
“Why not?” Sarah demanded. “That’s where I live.”
“Not anymore it isn’t.”
“I don’t want to live with you,” she said.
“Yeah? Well I don’t particularly want to live with you either,” Grant lied. He’d wanted nothing more for the past two years than to have his wife and daughter back in his life. Every time he and Rachel had tried to patch things up their differences became more apparent, but he’d never stopped loving her.
And now she was dead.
“Then take me home.” Sarah’s voice was quieter.
He glanced across the seat and saw her blue eyes filling with tears again. He suddenly felt helpless. “Listen, Sarah. We can’t go back there because the police won’t let us. They have to look at everything in the house and see if they can find out why Mommy died. How about you tell me what your kitten looked like, and we’ll see if we can find you another one.”
“No.” Sarah shook her head and turned away from him. Her shoulders lifted up and down in a dramatic sigh.
Grant thought he saw her lip quiver again, but she remained silent. His daughter had his wife’s coloring and features, but she wasn’t schooled in how to use them to her advantage. And she never will be, he vowed. Sarah need never know how beautiful she was—and would certainly be when she grew older. She would never learn what could happen to a man when she tossed that halo of hair over her shoulder and looked up at him with those baby blues filled with tears.
He would keep her away from men. He’d raise her to be strong and sensible.
What am I thinking? The safest, most practical thing would be to ship her off to a secure boarding school—as far away from him as possible. As he drove, he mulled this over—the pros heavily outweighing the cons—and made up his mind to do just that. For the remainder of the drive he ignored her, thinking instead about his recent job change to the small police department in Summerfield. It was his chance to start over. To keep things honest, simple.
Pulling into the driveway, he cut the engine and looked over at Sarah. Her eyes were closed, and she was curled up in a ball on the seat. Grant got out of the car, made a point of slamming his door, and walked to the box at the curb to retrieve his mail. He shuffled through the envelopes as he came back up the drive, then rapped his knuckles against the car window. Sarah didn’t stir.
So much for not being able to sleep without Kitty.
He stuck the mail in his coat pocket, opened the door, and carefully lifted Sarah in his arms. She stirred for a second, turning her face into his chest.
He froze, a sudden deja vu overtaking his senses. She weighed next to nothing and still had that same little girl smell he remembered. It seemed just yesterday he’d cradled her like this when she was a baby.
Walking toward the house, his lips were set in a stern line. He opened the front door, kicked it shut behind him, and carried her to the couch. He placed a pillow beneath her head and covered her with a blanket, tucking her slender arms inside.
Stepping back, he watched as her tiny chest rose in a shuddering breath. Her lips puckered for a brief moment, and Grant wondered if she was having a bad dream. Something much more than pity stirred deep inside, causing his throat to constrict. Leaning forward, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
“It’ll be all right, Sarah,” he whispered, praying it would because he suddenly knew he couldn’t send her away—just as he knew he already loved his little girl even more than he had once loved her mother.