Monday, August 28, 2006

Shaping Christian Character

What an excellent guest speaker we had at our church yesterday morning! His name is Roger Hillegas, and if you ever get the chance to hear him preach, I highly recommend it! He sprinkles his messages with just the right amount of knee-slapping humor and reality checks. He has a book coming out September 1st called Shaping Christian Character that will be available on and in bookstores across the nation. It's a slim book, only 125 pages, something the average person could surely get through in an afternoon. I bought two copies myself, one for my husband and I, and one as a gift for my father, and I'm looking forward to reading it tonight. Here's an excerpt from the preface:

"I am a preacher. When speaking to congregations I usually begin with the following disclaimer:
Over the last several years I have had multiple eye surgeries for glaucoma. They didn't go well. I have lost most of my vision. Most of you (actually, all of you) are just nebulous shadows. If you want to leave, feel free. I won't know the difference. Just don't laugh, I can't see my watch either...
It takes a while for that last one to sink in, but they usually get it."

He is a humble, open-hearted man of God, and I encourage anyone who would like to know more about God's love toward us, and how to become more Christ-like to pick up a copy once it becomes available. If it's anything at all like his message yesterday morning, I know it will bless you.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Topsy Turvy

Ever have days when you don't know whether you're coming or going? Run here, run there, drop someone off, pick someone up, make dinner, make the beds, though not in that order, of course!

Crazy days, that's all I can say. With this jewelry business just getting off the ground, and my oldest starting school in a week and a half, my husband in the middle of attempting to switch careers... There hasn't been much time for writing lately. Hopefully things will slow down soon and get back to their steady pace.

I'm anxious to get that new program I've been talking about and to put it to good use! I've got a couple different story ideas vying for front position in my mind, I haven't yet figured out which one I'll be going with. Research is going to have to be involved, something I always put off but then thoroughly enjoy once I get into it. Why is that, I wonder?

It's true, I am a procrastinator by nature, though oft' times it's purposeful, knowing that I do my best work at crunch time. For some reason that's when the creative juices get pressed out the most, though it's a little like playing chicken in the middle of the road. If my imagination should fail me, I'll end up getting squashed!

Ah well, back to the grind! Life is awaiting.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Whimsies Jewelry Design

Whew! It's been an exciting, action-packed couple of days! I've been remiss in posting here and I apologize. I'm now back and ready to catch up. Several months ago, I got the idea that it might be fun to design jewelry. I've always prided myself on my artistic nature, and yet I had no natural ability for the typical "arts" such as drawing, painting, and sculpting. I have, however, always loved jewelry, so after pondering on it a bit, I finally went out and bought a couple packs of beads and some earwires and decided to give it a go. And I discovered that I loved it! I showed my creations to a few friends, and after receiving their rave reviews, went out and bought a few more packs of beads, and made a few more. Next thing I know, I'm taking orders, ordering gift boxes and setting up shop on eBay! I'd eventually like to get my own webadress and online store, but for now, this'll do.

To check out my creations, you can either do a search by seller for WhimsiesJewelryDesign or go to I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Girl And The Box

Back in High School, one of the first writing exercises I was ever given was to write a short story entitled "The Girl And The Box" (the gender was optional). I still remember the creative jolt of electricity that shot through me, the quick flipping of my mind through a Rolodex of ideas, and the euphoria that flashed as the right one was chosen. I went home that night and wrote like a madman, pouring my heart and soul onto the paper.

I remember sitting in class the next day pretending to read my textbook, listening to the teacher rifle through the papers, disregarding the typical stories of birthday gifts and engagement rings. I remember my heart stopping at the same time his hands did, my breath halting as his eyes scanned the page, once, twice, three times before tugging it out of the stack. I remember the flush of embarrassed pride, knowing, just knowing that the paper was mine.

He glanced up and for the merest of seconds, our eyes met. I quickly returned my gaze to the book before me, but I knew that in that moment a mutual respect, and a love for the craft had passed between us.

By the end of class the papers were being passed back, grades affixed to the upper right-hand corner with red ink. I looked at my story, the one about the slave girl smuggled to freedom in a hope chest, and read the words: Well done! You Got the Point!

And I knew I had.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Keeping Your Balance

Life is like a balance beam. Lean too far to one side and you're likely to topple over.

I think when I was younger, I must have been a gymnast. Balancing my life back then wasn't all that difficult: school, home, friends, school, home, friends... Are you kidding me? I was doing backflips! When I graduated, I suddenly had to step it up a notch. Instead of that smooth, wide plank beneath my feet, I found myself upon a cold, biting, metal wire, juggling colorful balls of responsibility. One, two, three, one, two, three, and just when I got the hang of it, more balls would fly my way. Not only did I have to catch them without falling off the tight-rope, I also had to incorporate them into the act without dropping any of the other balls!

There are days when I find myself pitching and leaning, struggling to stay aloft. So much to do, so little time. Is there ever enough? Will there ever be enough? The balls come down and fit so neatly into the palm of my hand: husband, children, housework, prayer, friendship, writing, sleep... But each one is only there for a moment before I have to toss it up again to catch the next.

There are days when I find myself hesitating, unwilling to move forward. Wouldn't it be easier to just stand still? To stand still for one blessed, restful moment and simply breathe? But as my shoulders relax and the weight of my body settles in, the sting of the steel beneath my feet urges me on. On to new experiences, on to new growth, on to whatever lies ahead.

There are days when I wonder what would happen if I fall. Would the balls all drop and roll away, a rainbow of dreams now beyond my reach? It's true that at times they can be difficult to manage, but they are mine. And when it comes right down to it, they're all I have. Could I gather them back into my arms, cherishing each one, so very grateful for each one, and pick up where I left off?

I think that as long as I have a soft place to land and loving arms to lift me up, I'll be okay.

Monday, August 14, 2006

On My Wish List

So, I'm thinking of trying this novel-writing software called WriteItNow. It was first called to my attention in the August issue of Writer's Digest Magazine. It was one of the programs reviewed by Jack Clemens in his article "The 2006 WD Guide to Writing Software." According to Mr. Clemens, "WriteItNow, a relatively inexpensive novel-writing program, turns out to be a tremendous bargain. It's easy to navigate and filled with practical functions - everything from word processing, manuscript formatting and note organizing to a name generator and submissions tracker. It also offers, at no extra cost, online updates that provide research material on a wide array of topics."

Sounds good, right? So I went online and did some checking around. Either this program is relatively new, or just a well-kept secret, because a google search doesn't turn up all that much. What it does turn up is positive though. A couple good reviews from writers who tried it (all recommended it, saying it was a great bargain) and the official website for the manufacturer, Ravenshead Services at They offer a free trial to download, but being the paranoid person that I am, I e-mailed them and asked if they could mail me a copy instead. A few days later I got my free trial in the mail, and I have to say, this is a truly great program. It has lots of interesting features, all easy to use, and is very affordable compared with most Writing software at $57, which includes shipping and handling. For someone who has been a faithful (for some strange reason) Microsoft Works user, this would be a huge improvement. Perfectly tailored to the writer, this program offers to organize everything related to your story in one place. No more post-its stuck to every hard surface around you, and spreadsheets scattered hither and yon! There are tabs for characters, events, notes, places, ideas, locations, and submissions, and a tree view that expands for each class of information.

Some of the things you can do with this software are:
* Write and store complete novels
* Keep background details of characters, events, locations and ideas
* Display charts of events and relationships
* Generate characters, names and ideas
* Registered users can generate characters and background notes using add-ons
* Record all manuscript submissions

It also includes:
* Sample story with tutorial.
* 100,000 word spelling checker + 150,000 word thesaurus
* 100 step undo and redo
* RTF output. Create a neatly formatted manuscript with two key-presses
* FAQ. Frequently asked questions.

The feature that I'm most excited about is the Readability option. This will tell you what age level your writing is appropriate for and how difficult your story is by analyzing the words used, the length of sentences, sentence structure, and grammar using the Flech-Kincaid grade assessment scale. Perfect for those wanting to write Children's books or Young Adult Fiction targeted at a certain age group.

But I'm not doing it justice. If this sounds like something you might be intersted in, please go to their website and check it out for yourself.

I've got a birthday coming up in less than a month. I already know what I'm asking for! Hopefully this will be just the kick in the pants I need to get me going.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What's in a name?

It's like this: I'm lying awake at night, listening to my husband's gentle breathing beside me, and it happens. A new story idea pops into my head. Thoughts weave together, possible scenarios present themselves, and I fall asleep anxious for morning to come. It does, and once my kids are dressed and fed, and playing happily in their playroom (if you don't have one, I highly recommend it!), I sit down at the computer ready to write. But I can't get more than a sentence or two before hitting that familiar quandary: what do I call this character? Without a name, the person isn't real to me. It's like being at a party full of strangers. You can't really get to know someone unless they come up and introduce themselves. Oh sure, the host might stop by and whisper little tidbits about this person and that in your ear, but they're still people you don't know. You might know a little bit more about them now, but you still don't know who they are, what they wish for, what they fear, what they dream.

For a character to be believable, you have to really get to know them. Understand them. Be them. Even the Evil Mad Scientist will not seem like a real person to your reader unless you know a little bit about what makes him tick. Why does he love science? What caused him to go mad? And when did that madness take on a more sinister bent?

Our name plays a fundamental role in who we become. Hence the popularity of the "information icebreaker" games that hosts often subject their red-faced guests to. "Hello, my name is Sally and I like Scrapbooking." "Hi, I'm Tom and I'm into Transcendental Meditation." That's not to say that every person just happens to have an interest or a hobby beginning with the corresponding letter of their first name, but I think you see where I'm going with this.

For most people, just the mention of a name brings up certain images. Lauren, for instance, is a sweet, attractive, cheerleader-type, while Howard is a businessman whose idea of relaxing is to remove his suit jacket (with the exception of Howard Stern, of course). Jim-Bob is most likely a mechanic with permanent grease-stains under his nails, and Francine, a bubble-gum chomping, leopard-print wearing hairdresser with a southern drawl. Most of us are fortunate enough to be labeled for life with a decent, middle-of-the-road moniker, and for those who aren't, there's always legal name change.

So as a writer, choosing a name for our characters is a big deal. The right one, and the character grows and thrives in all the ways we hoped and dreamed for them. The wrong one, and they might change and develop into someone we barely recognize, let alone should be considered an authority on. And where would our story be then?

Kinda makes you wish they came with name tags, doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Girls Night Out!

There's nothing like a Girls Night Out to shake off the doldrums! This summer had gotten off to a slow start for me. In the year since we moved back to my hometown after spending years abroad, I hadn't managed to make very many new friends. Being a SAHM with 3 kids ages 4 and under doesn't give me cause to leave the house much. Then toward the end of June, I ran into my former childhood best friend at the library. It had been years since we had seen each other and life had taken us both in new directions, but that connection was still there. A few days later the idea to start up a Girls Night Out popped into my head while I was taking a shower (I do all my best thinking in the shower) and I got so excited about it! I made some calls and all the girls I talked to jumped at the idea at once. So last month, on July 11th, we all met to go see the new movie "The Lake House" and then went out for coffee at Tim Horton's afterward. I thought a movie would be a good ice-breaker for the first time, since some of us didn't even know each other, and the others hadn't seen each other in years. If we had trouble starting up a conversation, we could talk about the movie! Anyway, it was a smashing success, and I went home feeling mighty proud of myself for aranging the whole thing. :)

Last night we had our second monthly GNO, and we met for dinner at Olive Garden. I figured that was a relatively quiet place where we could really talk and get to know each other better, and we could stay and linger over coffee and dessert if we wanted, so there was no need to feel rushed. All 6 of the original girls came, with the exception of Jess, who had to have a tooth extracted earlier that day (ouch!) and as much as she wanted to come, thought that the sight of all that yummy food (dentist said no solids for two days) would be too torturous to bear.

On the menu last night was a too-die-for seafood alfredo, hot-and-spicy zuppa tuscana, as well as a slice of white chocolate raspberry cheesecake that I would have been insane not to order. All of it was delish, though I took about 3/4 of the alfredo home and 2/3 of the cheesecake. Not to worry, the cheesecake made a lovely breakfast and I'm looking forward to a steaming plate of pasta, shrimp and scallops for lunch in place of my usual peanut butter sandwich.

I came home last night all geared up to write. Nothing like a night of laughing, joking and swapping stories to get your creative juices flowing. Unfortunately the light over our dining-room table was burnt-out and my husband was already fast asleep in our bedroom where we keep our desk. It was late anyway, so I decided to head to bed and try to get a decent ammount of sleep before dawn signaled the start of a new day. Gotta love kids who are early-risers!

All I can say is thank God for nap-time!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Small Steps

I guess technically I could say that I am a published author. The summer before I was married I submitted a story to my local newspaper that ran in the Living section. It was a non-fiction article on how I met my husband, and it was spread over two pages and included a photo of the two of us. I was working two jobs at the time, and I was amazed at how many people recognized me from the article! I felt like something of a celebrity!

And yet, I'm still hesitant to apply the term "published author" to myself. That little newspaper article is so far from my ultimate goals that it seems a little like being a kid and telling people that you are fifteen when you are actually a day past fourteen-and-a-half.

That story was printed six years ago, and I've had nothing published since. I haven't submitted anything since. Life overpowered me like an upturned canoe, and my dreams of writing went bobbing adrift. It's taken me a while to climb back in the canoe, locate my paddle, and start going after them. I can see them now, right there before me... all I have to do is reach. And hopefully not upset the canoe in the process!

I need to start looking for opportunities to submit my writing. I need to get my name back out there. Small steps still move you forward. If there's one thing I've learned these past few years it's this: dreams don't just fall in your lap. If you want something to happen, you've got to get out there and make it happen.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Welcome to Penciled Whimsies, my very first blog. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm a going-on-thirty aspiring writer, wife and mother, sister and friend. These posts will be dedicated to celebrating life and love in all their wonderful complexities, and the faith that gets me through each day with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. I hope that you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them!

I have loved writing ever since my sixth-grade teacher Miss Barnes gave the assignment, “Go home and write a poem…” I knew somehow that this was important, essential, even. I holed myself away in the corner of my room, red, spiral-bound Mead notebook and number 2 pencil in hand, gazing out the window and waiting for inspiration to fall from the sky. Then the fateful words began to scratch themselves pleasantly across the page, “There is a cloud, away up high, above the trees, way up in the sky…” And I was forever changed.

From that time on the blank page became my haven. A place where I could store all my imaginations, my hopes and dreams. And though I later traded in that number 2 pencil for a blue Papermate pen, the words continued to seep onto the page faster than I could write them, a constant flow long after the cramps in my hands reduced my careful penmanship to a scrawl. Oh, how I loved the look of a blank, white, wide-ruled sheet of paper! It spoke to me, called to me, so that I would scramble through my homework and chores for the chance to pick up that notebook and pen and find a quiet place to hide and unleash my thoughts. Always later I would emerge with starry eyes and ink-smudged fingers.

Later on, as my life filled with marriage and babies and added responsibilities, the demands on my time increased. Writing was forced to the back burner, though it has never for one moment been out of my mind. I've been keeping careful watch on it, allowing it to simmer, stirring the pot occasionally, trying to fill that nagging hunger with mundane things that never completely satisfy. Not that the rest of my life isn't good. It is. It's fabulous, actually. But the truth of the matter is, if I'm not writing, I'm not complete. It's such an integral part of who I am, a defining aspect of my personality, that I feel more than a little lost without it. So lost, in fact, that I almost feel as though I'm withering away. And I know that if I don't grab hold of that illusive shadow of my former self, I'll never evolve into the person I was meant to be.

It's time. Time to begin again. To live, to learn, to grow. To write.
Until next time,