Friday, December 31, 2010

Plotting and Structure

Over the last few weeks, I've been pondering plotting and structure. In November, I went to the annual Prairie Writers' Day, hosted by the Illinois SCBWI chapter. One of the speakers discussed the importance of looking at your book--whatever length--in terms of its plot and structure. She used this classic diagram to help describe how structure works in an effective story.

I've read some great books over the years on this very topic, including my favorite (modestly titled): How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock. In this book, Bine-Stock describes the necessity of looking at pacing and the "beats" a repeated phrase or refrain can lend to a book. She does so by examining classic picture books, like The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Bill Martin Jr.'s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and shows how they work effectively through their structure.

For example, each story is expressed in what she calls acts, like in the acts of a play. A "three-act book" would work in this way:

Act 1 - Introduce character and conflict
Act 2 - Show developing conflict, leading to its ultimate climax
Act 3 - Quick denoument, resolving the conflict

The great thing is that any story can easily fit into this format. Even a saga like Tolkein's Lord of the Rings could be broken down in this way:

Act 1: Introduction of Frodo, the ring, the conflict--the great need to destroy it
Act 2: The journey of getting to Mount Doom to destroy the ring, rising to the climax of its destruction
Act 3: The restoration of Middle Earth, the coronation of the king, the departure of Frodo

Of course, in this trilogy, Act 2 comprises most of the text, with mini stories (with beginnings, middles, and endings) throughout the rising action. For example, their journey through the Mines of Moria is a mini story, within the larger plot of the book.

All of this is in the back of my mind because I am currently working on a project with a very short word count, which would be a young picture book. I imagine this targeting the 2-4 year old range. The stories focus on a toddler who begins to learn how to solve his own problems. What is so much fun for me is to see how short they can be, while still preserving that natural story arc. I'm striving for no more than 400 words total, and telling three little stories in which each one has its own beginning, middle, and ending, with the character figuring out how to solve his own problems. It's been a fun and challenging project, which is almost ready for submission.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The simple joys of work

Yesterday, our plumber came over to take a look at the drains in our upstairs bathroom and the garage. After he cleared out the bathtub drain and watched the water going down, he said, "Look at that great swirl!" The water was moving so fast down the drain that it created that familiar little vortex when the pipes are wide open.

It got me to thinking about those little joys we have in our day when our work pays off, when we see results, like the water swirling down a bathtub drain.

So, I thought I'd list some of my favorite "pay-offs" from a good day's work.

- a clean, shiny kitchen sink
- an empty dishwasher
- a well-stocked refrigerator
- clean laundry neatly folded in dresser drawers (can you tell I'm catching up on my housework?)
- a box of books, newly published, with my name on the cover

There are so many small joys in the course of our days that sometimes we overlook. Take time to think about your little payoffs, like the swirling water down the drain and cherish the blessings of work. What are some of your simple joys?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Justice and Hope

I've decided that it's time to read a book on Martin Luther King, Jr., not only because of his worthy cause of social and racial equality, but because I want to immerse myself in his incredible use of language, imagery, and persuasion. 

I recently heard a quote that he paraphrased from its original, which I'd never heard before. (How did I miss this all my life?) The MLK quote is about the moral arc of the universe, though long, ultimately bending toward justice, which is paraphrased from the original by Theodore Parker in the 1850s: "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice." (Apparently, there has been some controversy over the origin of the quote, which you can read about here.) I love this image of the moral arc of the universe. And I say yes to it--though it may be a slow fight, justice will ultimately succeed. That is what we hope, isn't it? 

Natural law, deep within human nature, fights against injustice in the world. We've all had that experience when we hear about an injustice and our immediate response is: "It's not fair!" Kids are great at this. They demand equal treatment. Siblings must get the same gift, the same treatment, etc. But adults are good at it too. When friends hurt us or treat us as we don't deserve, when an employer shows favoritism, or when we are punished for things we didn't do, we too rail against the unfairness of it all. We demand justice. 

On this Christmas week, I am thinking about Dr. King, moral arcs of the universe, justice, and a situation that was not fair at all. A baby, a manger, a young pregnant woman--shut out in the bitterness of that Christmas night. What would it take to right the wrongs in the universe? What would it take to fix the injustice of it all?

It would take an infant, a small, helpless infant to bring us back to God. It would take a sacrifice to fix us, broken, hurting, and in need of restoration. It would take someone to heal the broken and to balance the injustice. It would take a child who would become a man to seek the suffering and take that suffering to the cross to ultimately bring about what is good and whole. It would take Jesus.

That man did not deserve a painful, humiliating death. It was not fair, but it was perfect. It was not just, but it was good. God, the author of justice, the maker of goodness, knew just what we needed: a Savior, who came, wrapped in swaddling clothes, a baby crying in the night. What we received was perfect love, forgiveness, and hope from this unassuming child, tucked away in a Bethlehem stable. That moral arc of the universe bent toward the stable on that Christmas night. We got something better than justice: we got what we did not deserve. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Picture Books live on!

A few weeks ago, The New York Times printed a front-page article stating that picture books were on their way out for good. There were lots of irritated authors, publishers, agents, librarians, teachers, parents, etc. who disagreed with much of the content. Apparently, some of those quoted in the article felt their comments were taken out of context. So, I really appreciated this nice article from Publishers Weekly with a response. Bottom line: just because The New York Times says it's so doesn't mean it is.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Various movie reviews

So, here are some movies I've watched recently and my random thoughts on them:

The Road with Viggo Mortensen, the fabulous king-in-hiding in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. On the surface, this could be the most depressing movie ever made. It's set in a post-apocalytic world, where all of the trees are either a) on fire, b) dead, or c) randomly exploding and/or falling down. No animals exist. Food is scarce. Most of the population is dead. We don't know what causes this armageddon, but it's bad...real bad. So, Viggo is the father and he and his son are wandering through this wilderness, trying to survive. I promise. I will never, ever take green grass or standing trees for granted again. Or food.

Okay, so on the surface it's totally depressing. It's bad. But then, I thought about it a bit more, and with Viggo as a Christ figure it makes a lot more sense. There seems some purpose to it. He gives up everything in order to make sure the child is cared for. So, while it's a pretty bleak picture, there is some hope. A father cares for his son--no matter what. And when the inevitable happens at the end, his sacrifice gives the son everything he needs.

Lessons learned: Don't take grass for granted.  Enjoy canned pears. Keep a stash of emergency food in a bomb shelter. Know that life has purpose. 

Knight and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. This movie is cute. It's a light spy-thriller movie with lots of fun little humorous elements. Pop some popcorn and enjoy.

Lessons learned: Life gets serious. Goof around a little bit.

This next movie, A Perfect Getaway, was a perfect surprise! This seemed like the average thriller/suspense movie, but it actually had so many interesting twists and turns in the plot that I was totally engrossed. Sometimes with a little persistence, you can find those gems while mining through the boring rock pile of average movies. (There is some bad language in this movie, so parents of young 'uns should be aware.)

Lessons learned: Don't judge a movie cover by the thousands of others made like it that suck pretty bad. 

Also, I watched The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio recently. This one is a bit (okay, more than a bit) bizarre. There's some supernatural-ish stuff going on, as well as some hippie commune stuff, some pretty nasty violence and a beautiful, perfect beach. Eh...probably not worth it, but the images and the concept behind it were kind of cool. Everyone longs for that perfect beach getaway. (This one is definitely not for kids.)

Lessons learned: It's probably not a good idea to get off the beaten path when traveling in Thailand.

For those of you who know me fairly well know that I have never really liked horror movies. But when I had the opportunity to go with my husband, my son, and my son's girlfriend to see Paranormal Activity 2, I decided to suck it up and do it. Spoiler alert: Freakiest scene #1: in the kitchen when the cabinets open (those of you who have seen it know what I'm talking about). Freakiest scene #2: when the baby starts being sucked out of his crib. Not good. The good news is that I didn't have nightmares, and didn't even get freaked out until some (literal) bumps in the night woke me up. Weirdly, these movies scare my husband and son more than me.

Lessons learned: Don't make pacts with the devil. Seriously. Don't.

So, those are the ones I can think of recently. Any good ones you've seen lately?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

I hope you are all enjoying your chocolate coin cookies or whatever other goody that may have been left in your shoe this morning! I wrote about the story of St. Nicholas because of a suggestion from a close friend of our family, Todd Peperkorn. About 12 years ago (or so) at a Christmas party, we were discussing St. Nicholas. "Why isn't there a story about the real St. Nicholas?" we wondered. That little conversation, as well as my own thinking and learning about Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, led me to put together his story in a book called Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend, published by Concordia Publishing House.

The thing, of course, that is remarkable about Nicholas was his wonderful generosity, and what a wonderful virtue that is to promote--on Dec. 6, at Christmas, and all year long. 

Friday, December 03, 2010

The tricky balance...

...between pursuing creative ventures that might earn a paycheck and those that definitely do. These days, I am finding myself knee-deep in grading English composition papers without much time for writing. I'm frustrated, but working and earning actual money. So, I find myself asking the question: is it better to have the financial security or the extra time to pursue those free-lance projects that may or may not pay off.

The good news is that when teaching writing, I can give back. I can share what I've learned from writing instructors through the years. I can give the gift of sharing my experiences with others.

The not-so-good news is that I'm not progressing as quickly as I'd like to with the 5 or 6 projects on my writing to-do list.

I liked this image because the rocks balance each other out. So, maybe I have a couple of weeks when all I'm doing is lecturing, grading, and answering student emails. But hopefully that will be balanced out by some time after Christmas to write and be more creative.

But, it's all a gift, and I'm thankful for the opportunities I have to work--in whatever form that may take.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Guilty much too often of this...

...not of blowing up cars. That would be illegal. And probably dangerous.

But I am guilty of what this writer refers to as "bore-geous" writing. Writers, and whoever else works with words, read this. Now.

Ayelet Waldman discusses the importance of avoiding pointless beautiful writing. She emphasizes how important it is to move the plot forward with each scene, each sentence, each word, and when it doesn't, cut it. It's hard to let go of my "babies"--those favorite scenes, characters, stories, whatever that don't really do much of anything.

It's so true! Let's get some action happenin!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Other sources of inspiration

My pets always inspire me--this is Penny

...and Lucy on Lake Michigan

Places inspire me--this is sunset at Lake Michigan

And Colorado, my home state is always inspiring

Colorado, near Buena Vista

Surprising places inspire me--this is the beautiful ceiling of Macy's in Chicago

My family inspires me

The gorgeous Colorado scenery inspires me

In Colorado - Rocky Mountain National Park

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My place of inspiration

 This is my sunroom where I love to work and write. Where do you like to write?

Friday, November 05, 2010

A Shout-Out to My Sisters!

So, as a virtual **hug** to all the women in my life who inspire or support me, I want to give a shout out this Friday. Yes, this reads a bit like a book dedication, but hey, let's face it, I'm never going to write a book long enough to actually include a dedication longer than one sentence. :) So, indulge me...

To my mom who can remember every detail, including all state capitols as well as my dog's birthday, and who has given support to me every day of my life; who taught me to sing every day and bloom where I'm planted.

To my sister-in-law, Jennifer, whose grace and love and understanding is always just a phone call away.

To my mother-in-law Jody who is always so supportive of my writing.

To my niece Allie, who is growing to be a lovely young woman.

To Jean who is like a big sister to me and we can always pick up where we left off, just like I saw you yesterday.

To Carol whose creativity and understanding never ceases to amaze me (and I don't think you even realize how brilliant you are).

To Pam and Sara and Rachele and Lori who always keep in touch thought we live far apart (and I'm so bad at staying in contact).

To my adopted "moms" Shirley, DiDi and Barb who help to take care of me.
To Peggy Kuethe whose work helps so many and who has been such a wonderful mentor to me.

To all of you and so many more...hugs!!

P.S. Sometimes, I have recently realized, I don't take enough time to thank those who mentored me or helped me through the years. I encourage you all to "pay it forward" and give your own shout-outs!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Haiku: moments in time

 Today, I'm going to be reading and working through the book, "Haiku: Learn to Express Yourself by Writing Poetry in the Japanese Tradition" by Patricia Donegan. Haiku, according to Donegan, is the most popular form of poetry today. Perhaps that's because it's such a brief snapshot in time which anyone can observe. But haiku takes that brief moment a step further. It can create a moment of realization or connection to nature or to others.

Here are her seven keys to writing haiku:

1. Form: Your haiku should have three lines with or without a seven syllable count. It should be one breath long.

2. Image: Your haiku should have a descriptive image--for example, not "a flower," but instead "a purple iris in the sun."

3. Kigo (season word): Your haiku should refer to nature and hint at the day's season or weather.
4. Here and Now: You should write from real experience or memory, not imagination; record the present moment.

5. Feeling: Your haiku should not explain or tell, but instead show the feeling through your image.

6. Surprise: Your haiku should have an "ah!" moment that wakes us up.

7. Compassion: Your haiku should express openheartedness toward nature.

This looks like a terrific book--not only informational, but it also gives the reader an opportunity to create poetry while moving through the book. I think I'm going to have to add this one to my Christmas list!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our birdbath bit the dust

So the high winds today in Chicago, a big branch fell on our birdbath and broke it in two. You know it's a big branch when it breaks concrete! Maybe I'll just have to replace it with a cool one like this:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why I Write

Did you know that yesterday was National Day on Writing? This is one that I appreciate someone inventing because it gives me a reason to talk about my favorite thing: writing!

This morning while I was drying my hair (always my best thinking time), I was pondering why I do what I do. I often joke that I have about 4 jobs. That is literally true. I am an online writing instructor. I tutor ESL students at a local high school. I write picture books, and I write materials that are assigned to me (curricular, etc.). And, occasionally, like this weekend, I speak and present materials to school groups or other groups. all of those jobs, I basically have one role: to communicate ideas.

When my son was a toddler, I often felt like I was a translator. First, I was my son's translator because when he was learning to speak,  he could usually only be understood by me and my husband. But it was my translating for him that I did most often. I explained concepts to him in his language, with words he understood. From that was born my first book, Things I See in Church. This little book, showed in very simple language what was happening in church. "Bells -- Jesus calls us." "People -- Jesus gathers us." The concepts were simple (tied to a tangible object), but the "lesson" was deeper. But through simple words and pictures (hopefully), the child could learn a little bit.

When I teach or tutor English as a Second Language, I encourage students not to use a translating device, but rather, to listen to an explanation of the concept in simpler language. So, the other day, I was helping a student understand the concept of the electoral college from her U.S. History class. Tough stuff, but I think we succeeded in the end.

A writer is all about making those connections--taking an idea and telling it in ways that the audience can understand. So, I'll take a concept, like counting, and turn it into a silly story (like Gobble-Gobble-Crash). Kids count while reading the story, but also just enjoy some goofy turkeys flailing around a barnyard.

That's how I see what I do: I communicate ideas to people and make connections that bring us together...and maybe publish a few books along the way. :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Katie Luther Presentation: What I'm doing this weekend

This weekend, I am traveling to Grand Rapids, Michigan for two presentations on Katie Luther, the wife of Martin Luther of the Protestant Reformation. I find Katie Luther, more technically called Katharina Von Bora, to be an immensely interesting woman of faith. She was placed in a convent at age 6, lived there and took her vows, and then began hearing of the reforms of Martin Luther. At age 21, she and some other nuns decided to escape their vows and their cloistered lives.

The escape story is dramatic. On Easter Eve, 1523, Katie and several other nuns escaped in empty herring barrels with the assistance of Leonard Koppe, a local merchant. They shimmied down into the barrels, tucked away out of sight, as Koppe's wagon rolled away in the middle of the night, away from the convent, to freedom.

After two years, Luther finally proposed to Katie, and they married. He was 42, she was 26. She had 6 children in the span of 8 years.

What I find incredible about her was her energy, her devotion to the people around her, and her ardent faith. She and Luther were given an abandoned monastery, the Black Cloister, as their home. She whipped this place into shape and prepared not only a peaceful and hospitable home for her family but also for the many theological students, royalty, and the downtrodden in Wittenberg.

There is so much I could say about Katie, but this just gives a taste of what I'll be presenting this weekend on Friday at Our Savior Lutheran School, and on Saturday at an LWML zone rally in Grand Rapids.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Do Men and Women Write Differently?

Here's an interesting article from the New York Times suggesting that it's not the subject matter or the style or content that shows that men and women write differently, but actually the linguistic choices we make between words like "among" or "myself." Intriguing, eh?

Then, you can go to this website to plug in your text and the algorithm will determine whether you are a male or female writer.

Monday, July 12, 2010

When Someone Dies: Find Comfort in Jesus

Whew! It's been a looong time since I've posted. I hope to get back to regular blogging, but for now, I'll just announce my other new release for 2010, When Someone Dies: Find Comfort in Jesus. This is a book for children on the subject of grief, published by Concordia Publishing House. Through the text, I tried to show that children may be comforted by the love of Christ in times of loss. The illustrations are gorgeous, and a lot of people are responding to the beautiful cover showing the reflection of the boy and his dog with Jesus alongside him. What a wonderful pictorial interpretation of this scriptural truth. Thank you so much to Peggy Kuethe at Concordia for her wonderful editorial guidance. She is awesome!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Seven Little Bunnies!

This new book, published by Marshall Cavendish, is a prime story (pun intended) of how wonderfully the revision process can produce a great result! This book began with a set of 10 mice and ended up featuring seven sweet bunnies, illustrated by Laura J. Bryant.

Here's the book description from the publisher: About the Book
It’s bedtime for seven little bunnies, but each bunny is busy having fun! Will they stop? One by one, each bunny gets . . . cozy, then dozy, then drowsy, then . . . drops into bed! Soft illustrations rendered in watercolor by Laura J. Bryant bring this bedtime readaloud to a quiet ending. Count the bunnies as they fall asleep.

Enjoy your little bunnies!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Creative Process and Matisse

Last month, I went with some new friends to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the new Matisse exhibit. The exhibit focuses on a short period of his work, from around 1914-1919. It was a fascinating exhibit which highlighted the influences on his art and an extremely creative and prolific period in his life. A few things stood out for me.

First, I loved how the exhibit spotlighted how he revised his paintings and sculptures. The audio recording which accompanied the exhibit (which you must use if you go--it's worth the money) pointed out how he left sketches in his paintings which showed multiple outlines for the arm, for example. These lines blended into the background, but showed how he changed the shapes for his finished studies. In earlier times, as I believe was the point, he would scrap the canvas and begin again. But he learned to make revision part of his work. It was also fascinating to see four "drafts" of the same sculpture (I believe this was entitled "Back" or something like that. It was a roughly chiseled torso of a man).

Whenever I talk about writing, I always focus on the writing process and how revision is absolutely essential to any decent work that will be published. A rough draft is rarely--if ever--publishable. It is the spark, the promise of what the work can evolve into. But it is the layering effect of draft upon draft which strengthens and solidifies the work into something that not only communicates effectively but makes it complete. 

Second, the exhibit showed that this was an extremely creative and prolific period in his life. As I am learning, writers, as well as painters and sculptors, go through periods in life which are more prolific than others. During this time for Matisse, influences of Cubism appeared in his work (which makes his portraits appear geometric and slightly unsettling) but he forged through those influences to create his own unique style.

This also has direct application to writing. There are times in a writer's life when ideas dry up, desert-like. Creative writing, like all arts, reveals something of the self, some inner thoughts or feelings which rise to the surface through the story. And at times, we, as writers, pull back, unsure if we want to reveal that inner core. We hide away for a time. And then there are others times when ideas flow fast and furious and, creatively speaking, we are prolific and uninhibited.

But it's all part of the process, and I am very grateful for all of the writing opportunities I have--even in a time when book publishing is almost exclusively focused on YA vampire novels. As my family has often told me, I need more zombies in my stories. Maybe I should take the hint.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

10 Things Everyone Needs When They're Moving

So, here's a list of 10 things everybody needs when a move is imminent. These things could be given as a goodbye gift for the person moving. If you're the one moving, make your own moving kit.

1. A box cutter. You thought I was going to say tape, right? No. Having many, many box cutters (preferably one that can be attached to one's body) is absolutely necessary. Many times during this move, I packed boxes which then I had to open before they were actually transported to the new house. For example, I needed a lampshade the night before we moved because I absolutely could NOT stand the idea of reading my novel by the light of a naked bulb before I went to sleep. But I had no box cutter, so I was using kid scissors and a pen to try to get into a box. Not pretty.

2. Packing Tape. Don't get that wimpy yellow-y kind. Get the super thick durable kind. The scotch clear tape is about $2 at Walmart. That's the best.

3. Many writing utensils and notepads, preferably sticky notes (again, having these items on a key chain is a good idea, if possible).

4. A cell phone charger.

5. A flashlight and extra batteries. These are necessary in the old empty house and in the new empty house. There are no nightlights left.

6. Dare I say it? Instant coffee or tea bags and a tea kettle (preferably borrowed from the neighbor).

7. The dog's leash and kitty crates, along with dog food, cat food, kitty litter, and a litter box. Some sort of bowl is handy too. Oh, and tuna in case your cat decides to go under the foundation of the house and you're trying to lure her out.

8. Many cleaning supplies. These are again necessary in the old and new houses, so bring all types along. Throw in some tp and paper towel while you're at it.

9. Air mattresses (again, for old and new houses) on those weird nights when you're camping out indoors.

10. Beer, wine, or Xanax. No further explanation needed.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Palate Pleasers

I've had a new idea for my blog. Since moving here to Chicago, I have been slowly getting to know some of the people in our new congregation, Redeemer Lutheran Church.

In the spirit of a "getting to know you" project, I've decided to start with some cooking. I was given the newest church cookbook on the day of my husband's installation. It is called "Palate Pleasers." What better way to get to know some of the cooks in the congregation than by using their recipes?

So, I pulled the book out today, and decided I could try some recipes. This all may sound very "Julie and Julia"-like, and I guess I mean it to. I read the book, Julie and Julia by Julie Powell several years ago, and loved the concept. She decided to make all of Julia Child's recipes (in her Joy of Cooking book) over the course of a year and write about it on her blog.

However, my version will use the church cookbook for my inspiration. Tonight's recipe: Savory Beef Strudel.

Any time a main dish recipe has a dessert term in the name, it's going to be made in my kitchen. I have a terrible sweet tooth. I don't dive head-first into a bag of Doritos, but Oreos at 4 pm sound like a terrific addition to my diet. (Sad, I know.) One of my other favorite main dishes is the classic Bisquick recipe called cheeseburger pie. I mean, burgers, cheese, and pie--how can it get any better?

So tonight's recipe involves strudel. Interestingly, the word "strudel" comes from the German word for whirlpool, apparently because if you take a cross-section of a strudel you can see a sort of spiral shape. Apple strudel is the most common recipe consisting of layers of strudel dough and filling. The strudel dough is very labor-intensive to make, and my recipe, while it still took about 45 minutes to prepare, saved me the labor of making the dough. Instead, it called for phyllo dough (puff pastry dough).

The first time I used phyllo dough in a recipe, I thought the dough itself was the packaging. The sheets are so paper-like that I kept picking up layer after layer trying to get to the good stuff. Alas, the "good stuff" was what I was ripping through and tearing to shreds.

Tonight I knew better, remembering that foray into phyllo dough in my younger years. This recipe is sort of like lasagne. I made a meat mixture with ground beef, celery, onion, garlic, salt and pepper, and layered that between buttered layers of the phyllo. Over the top of the layers went a milk and egg mixture. The whole thing is now in the oven cooking.

Well, the timer's about to ding, so I'd better sign off. I'll let you know how the recipe turned out!

My flowers are in bloom

As promised, here are some photos! Everything is a work in progress, but I do feel like we're MAKING progress, so that is good. Here is a photo of our "icon wall"--the idea we got from Dr. D. Scaer. These are our hand-painted and favorite icons from various places: Ethiopia, Greece, and one commissioned by us by a Russian icon painter. That was pretty awesome (it's the one to the left of the cross of St. Nicholas).

This is my Jasmine plant that I bought at Trader Joes. It's now in bloom. Love it!

Here is a photo of our new living room furniture (which, of course, Lucy just HAD to sit on).

Next are some odd ceiling pictures, but let me explain. The first is our ceiling fan which we now have put up in the kitchen, in place of the green pool-table-esque light fixture.

The second photo shows a much more reasonable placement of our dining room fixture (and I haven't hit my head on it once since it is now over the center of the table).

Next, we have the non-racing stripes in the bottom of the bathtub. Again, this may seem an odd photo, but when we moved in there were these stick-on white non-skid stripes in a zig zag pattern. It took me some elbow grease, but I got rid of those, and now the coral bathroom looks a tad bit better. Also, our wonderful handymen installed a bath fan yesterday, so now it's much better.

This is a photo of our new carpet on the stairs. Love it! We're also getting runners for the upstairs hallway and the area in the living room from the front door to the kitchen.

We also had a really plush shag carpet put in the master bathroom. I could sleep on it: it's that soft and wonderful!

Next, is the new fabulous kitchen sink faucet. The older one was gold/brass and was leaking and not looking all that great. This is the new update! I'm going to switch all of the cabinet pulls to silver/chrome and see how that works.

This is the fabulous table/chairs I found on Craigslist.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Finally a few pictures

Admittedly, these are not the best photos, and I have many more to add, but they capture at least a couple of things.

1. The installation of the new dishwasher. Yay! This day we also had a garbage disposal put in. Much needed upgrades, and I am so thankful for them (those can be my Valentine's gift). :)

2. Below are some pictures of the recent snowstorm that hit Chicago. It pretty much snowed for 36 hours straight. We don't have it nearly as bad as farther east, but still, it is up to Lucy's belly. Also, I've added a photo of our sunroom (still very much in transition, as you can tell). The sun is streaming in the window, brightening up the room. It's not captured well on film, but it looks cheery this morning.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The fun part of unpacking

One of the best (only?) things about unpacking is the decorating. We've gotten to the point where much of the house is unpacked. The bedrooms are finished, the linen closet is filled, the laundry room is organized, the kitchen is mostly done, and my work space is functional--oh, and the family room (maybe most important!) is comfy and cozy. Today I was working on the the living room. In every new space, the decor fits in a little differently. I'm trying to use what we have in a new way. Which candles fit where? Where should we hang the tulip picture? etc. It all takes time, but it's nice to see things coming together.

Monday, February 01, 2010

February already?

I can't believe how quickly the last few weeks have passed during our relocation process. Each day, each hour, something else gets unpacked and put away in our new house, so things are definitely settling down as the house gets in shape.

Scott's installation and dinner reception were last Sunday. It was a lovely service, and the dinner was magnificent. Wow--what an incredibly warm welcome! We are just so thrilled to be here. We know that moving is a roller coaster, and we'll have up and down days, but we've been so pleased and thankful for all of the warm and generous gifts the people of Redeemer have given us. Thank you!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The lost and the found

So here are things I've found in the last couple of days:

1. my wedding ring (yay! -- I had put it in a "safe" place so it wouldn't get ruined up with all the messiness of the move, but then couldn't find it right away).

2. my jeans!

3. my speakers for my office (so right now I'm listening to Pandora, and my speakers are working!).

4. the bus stop for Jacob--his first bus ride to school ever today.

The missing:

1. most of our drinking glasses...I haven't gotten back to unpacking more of the kitchen yet. Most of everything else for the kitchen is unpacked, however.

2. The batteries (AA and AAA type). So for now my clock is just going to say 4:00.

3. My extra chapsticks and lotion. Ooh! I need those!

Okay, will try to post photos later...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another update

So, this morning I've been grading (for my online course), filling up the crawl space with storage stuff, and cleaning the upstairs bathroom and emptying boxes for the linen closet. I think we'll be okay as far as storage goes, but I'm still early in the unpacking process. It's a good house; it just needs some TLC and some replacement "parts."

Jacob got off to school today (his first day) and then called to say it's an early dismissal day. So, that's probably good. He had a peer "ambassador" meet him for the day, so hopefully that will help acclimate him to the school.

Cool news! Scott is featured in this article in what looks like a local edition of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

At last

Well, as you may have guessed, life has been hectic and crazy the last few days. I've carved out a little quiet spot amidst all of the boxes and chaos in the new house. I'll take a photo and post it soon. Right now I just wanted to give a little update.

Jacob is all set up for school tomorrow, and he's adapting surprisingly well. Probably better than I am. But all is well. We're slowly becoming more organized and figuring out what will need to be fixed/replaced in the house. We're also finding nooks and crannies for storage. The house in Fort Wayne had tons of storage space. In this house, it's just different. We have a big crawl space, but closet space is hard to come by. Figuring out where everything goes is just different. I have a lot more storage space in the utility room, for example, but less in the bedrooms, etc.

I had lots of help on Friday and over the weekend. The other pastor's wife, Jan, came and helped for HOURS on Friday, cleaning and scrubbing out the new kitchen. It was so awesome. I don't think my refrigerator has ever been as clean as it is right now. Even when it was brand new, it was dirtier. :) She was a huge help. My sister-in-law also came down with food, quick decision-making ability, and a get-to-it-quick attitude. My brother David shoveled out our ice-packed driveway for us, and my niece and nephews helped with emptying boxes and generally boosting us up.

What I've struggled with most during this entire process is the weight of the anxiety and stress of it all. Every afternoon, I feel like I just need to take a nap. Some days I do. I know that people have much bigger problems in the world, and I'm so glad that we can be a part of this new community to share God's good news with others.

Had a lovely sunny day here. It got up to 37 or 38 degrees. We took Lucy for a walk and found the bus stop for Jacob for tomorrow a.m. I'll try to write more updates tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Going, going...

This is a photo of the moving truck pulling away from our house, on its way to Chicago (well, actually, on its way to Scott's office, and then on its way to Chicago). The house is empty and echo-y, but I've set up air mattresses in two of the bedrooms and snagged a couple of lamps to make the place at least a little bit homey.

The movers were really excellent. Very hard workers, pleasant, funny, and they took good care of our stuff. They wrapped every piece of furniture in pads and taped them, around and around until the pad would be in place. That may not sound like much, but we've moved several times now and while all movers do some padding, this is the most and best I've seen. It would be extremely difficult to ding or scratch furniture when it's so carefully prepared for the move. I highly recommend Bekins.

I'm dreading the time when the unpacking will come, because it's like a mini-explosion with every new box. They pack the items so well, with so much paper that it's a huge amount of rubbish at the end of the unpacking process, but I am confident things will arrive safe and sound.

So, tonight Jacob's basketball team decided they should all meet at Pizza Hut for a going-away bash for Jacob. Then tomorrow morning, I'll bring some treats for his class to have a mini-goodbye before we leave for Chicago around noon. I've been in contact with the new school district, and it sounds like they really do a lot to help transition new students, so I'm grateful for that. But it's not easy for a 14-year-old to leave his friends and school.

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to starting afresh with a new (to us) house, a cleaned-out frig, walls ready to paint, and a new place to call our own. But goodbyes are always difficult--and I suppose that's a good thing too because it means we have friends we love.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Packing, Day 2

The house is now officially in total disarray. I find I'm looking forward to the time when all the boxes are gone, but I also know how strange it feels to live in a house with no furniture. But it's probably best with the animals to stay here and camp until we head off to Chicago on Thursday.

It's unsettling, to say the least, to see the house being dismantled around me. Unsettling, but because I've been through it before, not devastating. I at least know what to expect.

Our movers are professional and great workers, so we certainly can't complain about not having to do all of the intensive labor ourselves.

A primer for moving in January:
Pro - cold food can come with us in a box in the trunk.
Con - having to haul giant trash bags through mounds of snow.

Pro - having clear skies (at least right now)
Con - shoveling the driveway before we can get into the house

Pro - avoiding at least a portion of the winter blues because life is so chaotic
Con - having to get used to everything new in the cold

Pro - don't have to mow the grass next week
Con - hoping that our one surviving plant won't freeze in the trunk

Pro - knowing that God is taking care of us, in all circumstances

Thanks for all of the offers for help and concern. We're going to miss our Ft. Wayne friends, but I'm confident that our paths will cross again--and hopefully soon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The view from where I sit...

What more is there to say? I now have floor-to-ceiling boxes in my house. Hopefully, I pulled out everything we'll need in the next couple of days. If not, there's a Wal-mart not far!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Moving, part 5: Chaos

From now until--I don't know--three or four weeks from now, the house will be in total disarray. (As one of Jacob's friends put it: "Your house looks like a tornado went through here.") I've accepted that fact. So, amidst the chaos this morning, I thought I'd jot a quick note before going to late service.

The last few days have been a whirlwind. Everything went spectacularly well with the closing, and Scott and I are now homeowners! It's going to take some time to absorb that fact, but we're really excited about owning our own home and making it ours. We got into the house on Friday and brought in a few things after shoveling a path through about 8-10 inches of snow.

Yesterday, was a basketball day for our son. His team is fun to watch, especially when they are well-matched to the opposers. Sadly, he's not quite going to be able to finish the basketball season, but he'll be able to play in most of these last games. It's going to be a tough week for him. I know he'll enjoy our new home, but it's always difficult to say goodbye, especially when you're young and haven't yet lived long enough to know that God provides everything that you need--including new friends--wherever you are.

The movers are coming tomorrow for packing, so today is the last-minute surge to get everything sorted and cleaned. I need to separate the things that we're going to take with us in the car, etc. The packing will take a couple of days, and then they'll load the truck on Wednesday, drive to Chicago on Thursday, and Friday the 15th will be our unloading day. I also need to clean out the big freezer and frig today, so if I show up on your doorstep with some random food item (like a package of frozen chicken thighs), don't be surprised.

Thank you for all of your good wishes and prayers during this transition. I have to apologize to my friends who may not be getting quick responses from me via phone or email. I miss you and can't wait to catch up soon (you know who you are!).

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Moving, part 4

So today, I'm paying bills, changing our address, and getting ready to go to Elmhurst tomorrow for the closing. I'm also starting my online class this session, so I have a little work time and errands to run today before enlisting help from the teenage boy in my life to help with moving boxes.

On a different, slightly more random note, I keep thinking about John Lennon's song, "Imagine." For those of you who watched the live coverage of Time's Square on New Year's Eve, you may remember that they played the song one minute before the crystal ball started to drop before the new year arrived. This song seems to have evolved into a sort of "gospel" anthem of our time, for our culture. Imagine that everyone gets along and people everywhere have everything they need. It's a nice sentiment, and basically, I think the song is brilliant in its simplicity. I take issue with the line about getting rid of all religion as well as heaven and hell, but notice that he doesn't say to get rid of God. Maybe that's a slight concession to believers in God.

Scott reminded me of David Archuletta's amazing performance of this song on American Idol from a couple of years ago. Here's the link on You Tube in case you're interested (I'm sorry--I'm really having trouble with posting links on Blogger):

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Moving, part 3

Today is a day to finish up things in the garages and move onto the freezer. Blech. First, though, I shined (shone?) my sink. So, if you have heard me talk about Flylady, you can tune me out. If not, it's a great website for anyone who takes care of a house to look at.

Flylady helps you gain control of housework and CHAOS (which stands for Can't Have Anyone Over Synodrome). She suggests simple, quick solutions to making sure your house is at least somewhat neat and tidy. Her rule of thumb that has always stuck with me is to have a shiny sink. Start there. Make sure your sink is free of dirty dishes, and shining clean. To do this the first time, fill up your kitchen sink with a combination of bleach and hot water. Let it sit a little while, and then drain. Wipe out with a clean towel, and you have your first shiny sink. Then try to keep it clean all day. Before you go to bed, wipe it out, shine it up, etc.

This philosophy to me says: start simple. Start with the little things (a made bed, a clean sink), and those little cluttery things won't stress you out.

So, here's my shiny sink with my pretty angel figurines (from my girlfriends and sister-in-law and mom). During the move, I'm trying to keep some areas of the house relatively normal. The sink is one of those.

Below are some cute pictures of the kitties and Lucy.

P.S. Sorry the spacing and font are so weird. I don't have time to fuss with Blogger! Grr!