Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Natalie--The Lite Version

Image courtesy of piyato /
After contemplating various words as my Word for the Year 2014, I finally picked one: Light.  To me, there are so many directions to go with this word:

1. Health: Recently I visited a holistic doctor who wanted me to lower my sugar intake and increase my fruits and vegetables.  Urghhh…But I have been suffering from various esophageal problems for a couple of years.  So I know I need to do this.  So, sticking with my word, I want to eat lighter—less red meats, less sugar, less GMO-filled, boxed foods…more healthy.  If it ends up making me lighter, too, well terrific.

2. Lighting my Load: A couple of years ago, I read a wonderful Zen fable: "Carrying the Burden."  The message: not to continue carrying our burdens long after the situation has passed.  I want to forgive and forget—feel like weights are off of me this year.  So after someone honks at me on the highway, wave to them and LET IT GO…lighten up.

3. Posture: When I first heard this word as a possibility, my immediate thing to do was sit up in my chair.  To feel lighter would be to lift myself up physically.  A dance teacher once said to picture a string pulling you up from the top of your head.  That's how I want to feel.  When I stand straighter/taller, I do feel different: more confident, more fit.

4. Having a Lighter House: This one is both figurative and literal.  I want my house to lose weight—as in, if I put it on a scale right now, I want it to weigh about 40% less by the end of the year.  Time to purge.  I have way too much stuff just sitting around.  And this fits another of my wishes for the year—to be more charitable.  I have a ton of great stuff that someone else can use.  Now it's a matter of getting it to them.

5. The Sun: the Official Lightener/Lighter/Light of the Earth: And I can't leave out the science-y definition for light: the energy source.  I want to get outside more.  I'm an advocate for No Child Left Inside, so I need to get myself and my kids out more.  I love writing about insects.  Where's a better place to have an office than outside? 

That's my goal.  I hope that December 31 I can report that I have, indeed, become a lighter person.
My Word-for-the-Year brainstorming session

Starting Off the Year with Exercise--A Writing One

New Years is a time for new goals and new projects.  This year I will be participating in Start the Year Off Write: 21 days of 21 writing exercises.  The challenge is for children's writers of all sorts: picture book, middle grade, and young adult.  And, get this: there is even a prize for completing each day's exercise: the chance to win a critique by an editor, an agent, or a copy editor.  Definitely worth trying.

What I hope to gain: an incite into my novels that I didn't have before.  Sometimes it just takes looking at something a little different to get that a-ha moment.

So I hope you'll join me--it's only 21 days out of your life but might give you that new-year jump start you need.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Microsoft Word: Home Sweet Home

Here are two of my top things you can do on Word using the Home tab.  I am writing this for those who already have basic knowledge of Word.

Format Painter
If you’ve never used format painter, you will be so happy to finally know what that big paintbrush icon can do. 
This is useful when you have two different fonts, font sizes, colors, or styles in one document.  Instead of going through and fixing each, you can use Format Painter to copy that style and use it on other text.
  1. Highlight the type of text you want to copy. 
  2. Click on the Format Painter icon (a paintbrush) on the Home tab.
  3. Click the text you want to change.
  4. Note: if you have multiple places you want to change, double click on the icon.  Then you can change formats as many times as you like.  When you are done, click the icon once to end the Format Painter session.

 Change Case
Ever so busy typing, you didn’t notice you had the Caps Lock on?  Don’t retype everything!  Instead:
  1. Highlight the text. 
  2. On the Home tab, find the icon that has a cap and lowercase A.  Click on it and choose from the drop-down menu sentence case (although one of the other choices may be more useful, such as capitalize each word).   [Or can do SHIFT+F3 and it will do the opposite of what the text is in.]
  3. This button also works if you now want the whole word in caps.

Beyond Word--Getting the Most Out of Microsoft Word

Back when I was in high school, I was given a position as a computer room aide at a middle school.  I didn’t own a computer nor could be considered a computer geek.  But I learned as I went how to use Claris Works and a basic spreadsheet program.  I was willing to “play around” to figure stuff out—one of the most useful ways to advance your computer skills.

A couple years later, I temped at a large company.  They hired me just to figure out Power Point, which no one in that department had used before.  Again, I was given time to try things out. 

Now I’m an author.  I write using Word.  Whenever I wish there was a way to make things simpler, I do research (now I actually have the option of looking things up on the Internet!) until I find that there is an easier method.

And that is what I want to share with you.  I recently switched from Word 97 to Word 2013 and still miss my dropdown menus, but I’m learning that, too.  Since I need to get more comfortable with Word 2013, that’s what this is written for.  I believe it’s similar to Word within the last ten years though.

So, my latest addition to my blog are fun tips, tricks, and ways to use Word more efficiently.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Making a Memory into a Picture Book

This is my grandma and my aunt.  As you can see, my aunt has a leg brace from polio.  The question is, how much of her true life story do I use in my polio novel?
One of the main reasons people seem to begin writing a children’s book is that they have a personal story they want to tell.  It’s often a childhood memory.  What can be difficult is separating fact from fiction.  Maybe you have this wonderfully vivid memory from your childhood.  You feel that everyone will enjoy it, too.  There are a couple of problems I have noticed as I've read other people's work.

1—Number of Characters: Many times the real incident had quite a few friends or siblings or cousins or dogs.  Often, the heart of the picture book story doesn’t need so many.  Your seven-year-old reader doesn’t need Uncle Larry and Milky the Cat in your story.  Maybe the character said one funny line you just can't bear to take out.  But was that one line something someone else can say in the story?  Try melting two characters into one.

2—Setting Details: I know I pride myself on having a good memory.  When writing a story based on a real-life experience, you often want to include everything you remember, down to the color of the bathroom shower curtain.  Again, is this detail something crucial to the story?  Often the writer tries to complicate the layout of the house, yard, etc. because they want the story to take place in the house they grew up in.  This can add a lot of superfluous explanation.  Change your setting to make it detailed but simple to picture.

3—Plot: The plot can be the biggest obstacle when using a memory to create a story.  Sometimes your memory is just a moment in time—no real conflict happened.  If you’re really serious about making your book stand out to editors, you need something to happen in your book--a conflict.  This can be hard—you’ve written this sweet story about your real cousin, Melba, and her adorable kitten, Jingles.  You just can’t make something bad happen them.

I challenge you to find a book (in the same genre you’re writing for) where nothing happens.  It’s rare.  There are concept books (books on shapes, words, numbers, etc.) as well as night time books where you could argue that nothing happens.  But, chances are you pictured the book you are working on as a picture book or a novel.  Physically pull from the shelves of your Barnes & Noble, library or kids’ bookshelf books with the look and feel of your potential book.  Dissect those books’ plots.  Does something happen?

4—Character Names: Do you come from a family of all p-names? Peter, Patty, Pamela, Perry, and Patrick.  This might work for some stories, but reading off all these names each time you’re referring to the characters in a book may be distracting to the reader.  Often writers try to avoid names that start with the same letter or sound too similar—it can get confusing to the reader (wait, was Brandon the murderer or was Brendon?).  You may also have to change a character's name to fit the mood of the book.  If it's a serious book, you don't want a somewhat silly-sounding name.  If it's a silly book, make it sillier with a fun name.

What it boils down to is keeping your reader in mind.  Are the details you’re including necessary and interesting?  Are they universal enough that they automatically make sense to the reader?  If not, figure out how to cut or change them.  You want to make your memory as special to the reader as it was to you.

Monday, December 31, 2012

What to do with Your Old Christmas Cards--Reuse Before You Recycle

Christmas is over, and it’s time to put everything away. The decorations can be returned to their home in the attic for another eleven months; gifts can be put to good use; the cookies...well, those are long gone…but what about the stack of Christmas cards? What to do with them?

In the past, I kept some and recycled the rest. But I’m not big on instantly recycling everything—recycling should really be used as a last resort. Although I’ve thought about sending an e-card rather than a printed card every year, I’m not ready for that. Obviously, my friends aren’t ready to stop sending printed cards either. So what to do with all of these lovely cards…

Solution 1: St. Jude’s Ranch for Children is an organization that helps abused, abandoned, and neglected children. They take the fronts of greeting cards and turn them into new cards, which are sold in bundles of ten for $10. The profit is used to support programs and services.  Here are some quick facts if you're interested in sending your cards to them:
  1. They cannot accept Hallmark, Disney, or American Greeting cards.
  2. They do take all types of cards (birthday, Christmas, Easter, etc.).
  3. Right now are in need of more birthday and thank you cards.
  4. They only take cards without personal writing on the back of the front of the cards. 

Solution 2: You can cut your Christmas cards into gift tags. Obviously this works better for cards with a smallish image on the front. You can either punch a hole in the tag and tie it to a gift bag or you can write in an open white space on the front. The rest of the card (such as the inside) can be used as notepad/scratch paper. (I used my wedding RSVP cards as notepad paper.  It was fun to reread the responses as I used them.)
A cute card sent to me.
A gift tag for next year.


Other Ideas:
Solution 3: You can create a collage of cards placemat.  Simply arrange the photos and laminate or cover with contact paper. I plan to try this with photo cards we received—maybe using the same family through the years in one placemat. [I have a feeling my children will enjoy these holiday placemats as they love looking at photos.]

Solution 4: You can also use your own leftover photo Christmas cards to make placemats—one of each year per placemat.

Solution 5: As I’m writing this, I came up with another use for photo cards. I remember as a kid sorting through a shoebox of photos my mom kept of her friends’ kids. It was fun to try to find the same child through the years and see how he or she changed. I might do the same with my photo cards. I can gather ones from families through the years and allow my children to sort through them—match the families, put the pictures in sequential order, etc.

Solution 6:  You can also make little boxes or ornaments from cards. (Personally, I’m trying to cut down on bulk, so this isn't an option for me, but it might be a good option if you give small gifts that need little boxes). If you google Christmas card origami boxes, you should find directions for these.

Any other ideas you can think of?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Giving (or Getting) a Gift That Gives Back

Are you a parent that struggles every year with what to get your children’s teachers as an end of the year (or holiday) gift?

As a former teacher, the parents were very generous around the holidays and at the end of the year with presents of appreciation. I would actually have to make multiple trips out to my car to bring them home. Although I was very happy for such generosity, I also felt a little guilty. I often would get things I didn’t need or use and give them away. Lotions and candles are great, but you can only moisturize your hands so many times a day.

Then I got an idea. I knew parents wouldn’t stop altogether with sending a gift, so I that if they wanted to give a gift, a donation to a charity would be wonderful. I even gave suggestions of charities I liked.

On that last day of school, I still received some presents, but many of the families followed my suggestion and donated instead. Some even had their child choose a charity they thought I’d like (I’m into nature, so I received one for the Audubon Society, which was great!).

So parents, if you want to give your children’s teachers a gift they can really appreciate, consider donating. Not only does the money go to a worthy cause (instead of scenting the house with the waxy smell of sugar cookies or lavender), but it teaches your child a lesson in giving. You can also get your child involved by having them think about what charity the teacher would like (or give to a charity your child or family personally supports).

Most charities have ways to easily donate online--simply google the name of the charity. Just think—no more having to shop around for a last minute gift!

And teachers, I hope you’ll think about offering this idea to your parents. All I did was send out a note to the parents in my newsletter. I would recommend doing it about 3 weeks to a month in advance, as one year my parents had already pooled money together for something else.

Below is a list of types of charities I have suggested to my students’ parents or donated to myself. Happy giving!