Friday Favorites

Did you catch Hemingway & Gellhorn on HBO this week? I loved it. Martha Gelhorn is one of the reasons I became a journalist. I used to read her work and dream of being a war correspondent (I know–a far cry from the type of writing I ended up doing!). I thought of her when I got to visit Finca Vigia in Cuba and while on safari in Africa (back when I had the freedom to travel). Her memoir Travels with Myself and Another is a great read. Next week I’m going to climb up into my attic and pull down some of her books and feel inspired all over again.

Once again a post from Alexis Grant resonated with me. This one is on creating more moments that matter. 

This is an interesting article on women writing op-eds. 

I love this post from Imagination Soup about simple ways to help your children learn to read. 

My baby girl is turning two soon and we’re celebrating this weekend with these cake batter blondies. I know that isn’t related to writing or reading, but everyone has to eat.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Writing Inspiration Courtesy of Orlando

Mindy and kids with Chip and DaleWe are back from a jam-packed spring break trip to Orlando. I love travel because I always come back enthused (even if I am exhausted!).

I found writing inspiration in so many places throughout the trip. If it weren’t for the amazing imaginations and willingness of so many to put pen to paper, Evan wouldn’t get to battle Darth Vader and Miss Madelyn wouldn’t get to give Minnie Mouse a hug.

Evan at Jedi Training Academy at Walt Disney WorldEvan, Bryan, Mindy and Madely with Mickey and MinnieAt Universal Studios we wandered through the Harry Potter section and I stayed up late each night to read the Hunger Games Trilogy.

The trip reminded me how grateful I am to those who create the fantasy worlds we all love to slip into and enjoy.

Today I’ll embrace the structure of real life. I’ll unpack our suitcases and prepare for the week ahead, but I’ll also sneak in a few minutes with my Kindle and do some writing of my own. I’ll read books with talking fish, trains and animals to my kiddos, because they love the little escape books provide, too. And, I’ll continue to be grateful for the writers who create them.

Digging for Dinosaurs

My little guy has been studying dinosaurs in school for the past few weeks, so we made up a bunch of treasure stones with dinosaurs hidden inside for his class. Each of the kids got to take a stone home from school and unearth the dinosaur.

Evan loved breaking his apart.

Evan loved breaking his apart.

Treasure stone with dinosaurThe stones were easy (but messy) to make.

Here’s the recipe:

2 cups flour
1 cup coffee grounds
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup sand
1/2 cup water

Mix it all up, shape into a ball and insert a dinosaur (or other treasure). I let mine dry for several days, but you can also put them in the oven on low for a few hours. I had to make five batches of dough to get 20 treasure stones, but I made my stones a little big because of the dinosaurs I bought.

Also, I’m not a coffee drinker, so I called up one of my seven local Starbucks and asked if I could have some used coffee grounds. They were more than happy to share them with me. The stones did smell a bit like coffee, but Evan didn’t seem to mind.

The Squirrel Channel

Evan Watching a SquirrelLately when I need to entertain my kids for a a bit in the mornings, all I have to do is open up the front door so they can watch what I call the squirrel channel. After we made our bird feeders, we had some bird seed left. Evan sprinkled it across the front porch and squirrels stop by for breakfast each morning.

Kids Looking at Squirrels

They’ve gotten quite friendly and spend as much time watching us as we do them. Opening the front door is so much better than flipping on the t.v.

Writing Lessons from Angry Birds


Angry Birds Image

I’ve heard about Angry Birds for years, but I had no interest in it until my four year old came home from preschool sharing stories about the game from his friends. In the name of good parenting, I had to download it. Who am I to deprive my preschooler of an apparent rite of passage, right?

As I feared, I’ve spent more time playing it than I should. In the game, you use a slingshot to fire birds at pigs that are either on or inside structures. The goal is to destroy all of the pigs, and I’m addicted. Getting bumped up to the next level is as gratifying as getting my Master’s degree.

I’ve been knocking off the levels like gangbusters, and that kind of success requires a strategy: If I’ve tried to destroy the pigs a few times and failed, I switch gears and try a completely new way of doing things. If aiming the bird low doesn’t work, I aim high. If I’ve been aiming high with no success, I aim low, even when it doesn’t seem like the most logical approach. But you know what? It works. As I’ve been thinking about it, I realize I apply the same tactic to my writing.

If I’m stuck on a story, I often will save the file under a new name and begin experimenting until I find my stride. I’ll strip the piece down to its bones. I’ll rewrite the lead with a whole new angle and completely reorganize the story. I cut out large chunks of info and save them in a file labeled cuts. More often than not, trying something completely new is exactly what the story needed.

In writing, you can’t be afraid to kill your darlings. You also have to be willing to change your strategy when you find your approach isn’t working. Sometimes a slightly different approach can yield big results.  

The same applies to life. Experimenting with Angry Birds or a Word document is far easier than switching gears within your career or family life, but it can sometimes be just as necessary. Although the new year is officially underway, I’m still thinking over my goals for 2012 and I’m especially pondering the small changes that will allow me to work smarter and find more time for more projects.

I’m curious. Have you ever made a change that seemed small that ended up making a big difference? 

Channeling Christmas Excitement in My Kids

Are your kids abuzz with anticipation over the holidays? Mine are. Even Madelyn seems to know something special is going on. All this excitement can make it hard for busy mommas to get anything done. Luckily I’ve been able to channel my little ones’ creativity. I don’t know about you, but I have a to-do list that is a mile long, so I need all the help I can get over the next few weeks.

Our top go-to activities right now:

Santa’s Workshop

All it takes is some in lumber from Home Depot, wood glue and craft

s from the craft store to turn my son’s tool bench into Santa’s Workshop.

Evan has spent hours creating Star Wars ships, necklaces and other creations. He dons his Santa hat each time he gets to work.

Felt Christmas Tree

Miss Madelyn loves rearranging the ornaments on this felt Christmas tree. I just cut a triangle out of green and multi-colored circles. I taped the tree to the wall and the felt sticks to itself, so she can move the ornaments anywhere she pleases.

I also made a felt nativity using patterns from the blog Under my Polkadot Umbrella.


Admittedly, adding my kids’ help to kitchen activities means we spend more time accomplishing our tasks, but they enjoy the one-on-one time that can buy me time to myself a little later in the day. A great acitivity is making cereal treats, as I can have Evan measure and re-measure the cereal at least five times. This treat made with Chex cereal was fun to whip up with the kids. 




How Many Shopping Days are Left?

The Christmas countdown is on and there are just over two weeks to finish whittling away at your gift list. If you're like me and need to mail your gifts or if you're heading out of town for the holidays, time is even shorter. Here are a few of my favorite gift ideas this year. 

For the writers on your list:  

Every writer needs a subscription to Writer's Digest. It is a little dose of inspiration that is delivered right to your mailbox every other month. Even if your writer friend has one, I'm sure she'd be happy to have you extend her subscription. 

My two favorite books about writing are Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamotte's Bird by Bird. These books have been out for years, but that doesn't mean the writers in your life have read them.  

For the writer who has everything, give notepad-themed dishware. There is also a line of crossword puzzle dishware that is perfect for any word lover.

For little ones that need to be entertained while mommy proofs a final draft, or does the dishes or sends a quick email:

Magformer Building Block Sets are colorful little magnetic blocks that have been a lifesaver in our house. Both kiddos love them and Bryan and I don't mind playing with them either. Madelyn and Evan fought over them so much, my mom sent us another set. 

Bob Books are perfect for novice readers that are learning to sound out words. My little guy was able to read the first few without any help from me, which he thought was great. 

For your mom or daughter: 

The children's book Someday is a sweet book about the love between mothers and daughters. I adore it and wrote a blog post about it months ago. 

For the readers on your list: 
An Amazon Kindle or Amazon gift cards are sure to please. 
The Book of Awesome is an awesome gift that you can make even better by adding personal notes. See my blog post about it here. 
I am going to be spending a good part of the day today trying to wrap up my shopping. I'm still searching for ideas for a few people on my list. What are your favorite go-to gift items this year? 

Pizza with a Side of Phonics

We livened up our usual pizza making by pulling out the alphabet cookie cutters and creating a fun canvas for sauce and cheese. 

Pre-made dough from Trader Joe's made it even easier. My little guy is totally into letters these days, so he loved it. I love fostering some early reading skills.

Sounding out vowels over dinner…what could be better?