Friday, June 23, 2017

The Max and Ruby Birthday Party

My youngest has had two other book-themed birthdays. The first being Harry Potter. One of our physicians accidentally called her "the girl who lived" and it stuck to the point where I referred to her as that before she was born. 

Her second birthday came from her favorite show at the time called "Between the Lions". They don't show it regularly on PBS anymore, but it was about a family of lions who ran a library (it is amazing for pre-and early readers, so if you have one of those, dig up some episodes). We decorated a cardboard book prop with the show's theme and handed out little safari toys at a spray park and she was thrilled. 

This year is the year of small family birthdays, so that's what we did. But, as long as the kids let me, I always do a theme. This year for my youngest we had a Max and Ruby party since it is her favorite right now. Rosemary Wells helped my oldest with her "Yoko" books and my middle son loved reading about "Max". My toddler found some old episodes of the cartoon of "Max and Ruby" and that led to her love of the books. I kind of like it, too. There is something pastoral about the work of Wells. Something deeply peaceful and innocent which carries over into all of her books and it is amazing. 

If you are planning a celebration for a child who loves "Max and Ruby", then look at the author's website. It features an awesome amount of printables like bunny crowns, a pin-the-tail game, and even a banner. You can find all of that at under resources.

We made Max's worm cake with chocolate pudding icing and crushed chocolate icing cookies. 

I think she loved it. 

Small birthdays mean time for adventures like the water park. It definitely feels like you're fighting an uphill battle ditching some of the trappings of traditional big parties, but everyone had a wonderful time without the stress, hassle, and cash you have to worry about with big get-togethers. It made us really look forward to the day, which is how I think it should make people feel. 

Even with parties at home with the family, you can plan some fun themed games and with some footwork find exact decorations to your child's liking instead of the big box store stuff, and that's part of the fun, too. 

ESPECIALLY if it's book themed. 

I wonder if my last child will like Arthur enough for us to do this in the next few years...

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Best Fictional Dad Award in Horror.

One of the best characters I have seen in horror was via the comic collection by Scott Snyder called "Wytches". If you haven't read this yet and are a fan of scary things, you do yourself a disservice by not picking it up. 

Wytches aren't your played out Halloween spooks, either. They are almost like a natural disaster, part of the background in the creepiest way possible. Twisted-faced and bloodthirsty and unrecognizable, the monsters in this story are terrifying. And nearly unstoppable. 

The dad award goes to the character who tried, for the sake of his daughter, to fight them and the people he cared about who had aligned with them out of fear and convenience. Charlie can and will sacrifice everything for his little girl, even in the most unimaginable circumstances. 

But he's not some super hero or angel. He's portrayed as believably human and trying to be better. It's one of the best depictions of a dad and I promise it will haunt you longer than the rest of the story for that reason. 

I am always reminded that I am really lucky in who I love and who chose to love me back. My husband is a great husband, but beyond that, he is a wonderful dad. That strength he has is something our children lean on, and his heart is something we know we can always count on. That's immeasurably beautiful. It's the stuff legendary fictional dads are built on, and we have it in our real life. 

Whether this day is for celebrating the dad you were born with, the ones who came into your life by other means when you needed them, or the one who you share your children with- Happy Father's Day. 

My daughter's card for her dad. 

And, yes, Rick Grimes is on the Best Dad in Horror list. I went with a less familiar character, but he deserves honorable mention. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Landmarks On The Journey

We made it through another school year, well the kids more than made it through. They bloomed. 

There is some controversy around charter schools, but the truth is, while not a magic fix-all to our state's education problems, they are a vital part of the solution. And for our family, they have been irreplaceable. 

I try not to brag or overshare their accomplishments because honestly none of that belongs to a parent-they earned it, not us. And awards are not milestones of being a student or a kid, it won't make them successful in having them or unsuccessful not to have to a single one. But, I'm sharing these because they are finding out who they are. 

My son can do math in his head that amazes, he is learning to believe in himself (he was passed over many times in public school as being nothing but quiet, which was terrible) and what he enjoys (construction, planning, daydreaming and math). My daughter has a college reading level and is finding her sense of humor and imagination a big part of her personality. It's the best part of growing up-finding those things you are both good at and love. And I am so proud of them for that and so thankful to have a local school which has allowed that to blossom. It is more work, however. And expensive with uniform pieces, but it is worth it. 

It does feel longer somehow now, the hours which school takes from them. It might be the curriculum is more rigorous, it might be that they are just growing up. But this summer so far all I have wanted to do is hang out with them. I don't miss them being gone so long and so often and I was heartbroken to find my inbox full of school uniform coupons and supply lists already. 

I'm going to try to enjoy them as much as possible. 

Especially because my heart catheter surgery is just around the corner.

They want now to do both my left and right side, but depending on how my next consultation goes, I'm leaning toward just the right. I don't think I can handle more than that mentally, though physically it may be okay. It's a diagnostic test, but an invasive one with real risks. It is, unfortunately, my ticket to the final pulmonary hypertension diagnosis and transfer to the center of excellence in my hometown. I keep telling myself this is my best chance at survival. 

My toddler browsing the heart operation booklet we were given. 

I have written down "10". Like it's magic. Because I hope it is. I need at least another ten years with my family. Ten years to enjoy and raise my children. 10. I need that 10 at least. And though this surgery is scary, I know this is part of the journey to getting my 10. 

In the meantime, I'm hoping my heart and lungs behave.
After seeing MD after MD, I'm both exhausted and starting to be eaten away at the talks of death and illness. I need a break and something else in my life to focus on. Summer makes me happy. It's lovely to have everyone home together and be able to go out and do things. I need more of that. I really do. 

Suffering a terminal illness comes with really bad days. Often they are triggered by feeling terrible, but sometimes it's that someone in your support group passed away, or a care provider hears your diagnosis and cries (thanks for caring, truly, but you breaking down isn't doing much for my morale), or you have to have talks with those you love about what happens when you die. And each time that happens it hurts so deeply you feel like you can't breathe anymore (or, maybe it's actually my lungs, who knows...). 

I'm not a positive-thinking believer (half of that new age stuff appears to be about fighting your emotions or being in denial), but I am trying to study stoicism, and that has helped. I think some ability to look at the bright side or at least focus on goals is still helpful, at least, for me, and in the near future I am going to attempt to make an affirmation board to help me stay grounded on those terrible days. 

My kids' chalk drawings would make pretty lovely affirmation pictures...

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wrapping Your Head Around It.

I began to study covering my hair awhile back and learning some of the techniques. It's an artform, no question. 

I can think of a few more controversial topics other than head-covering, but it's definitely on most people's-most women's-top ten. Here's a pretty good article on the subject if you want some history on it. And there is a lot of history since many different cultures engage in it. Chances are if you are lucky enough to be in possession of ancient family photographs, you will see someone in headgear of some various type. Some Native American tribes like the Yuchi, Natchez, Creek and Shawnee wore turbans (though that was a boys only thing back then).

There is some argument on whether it came into practice before religion, but from the practical standpoint of protecting your head and cleanliness, I would bet that it did. 

The truth is the decision to wrap your hair probably won't be cut and dry. Many do so for religion, including Christianity. For others, it's spiritual. For some, it's illness. For others, fashion. 

I'd spent another day on a scan table for hours that couldn't accommodate a pillow, and my head was killing me, again, when someone from my support group talked about why she wrapped her hair. 

It sort of stuck as an idea. I'd covered my hair before, but not in the way she had. It was beautiful. The suggestion for those of us facing scary medical stuff is to reward ourselves for the medical hurdles we have to leap with new accessories or scarves, and each time we wear those, we are reminded of our bravery. It also saves me wasting time on styling my hair, which is incredibly thick and long enough again now to be a problem, at a time in my life where I've been told I might actually be running short of time. 

And, if you are lying down on those medical treatment or exam stations for long periods of time, it's slightly less uncomfortable. 

For the most part, I wrap my hair because this is a new time in my life where I have to be a warrior. I have to be a queen. And there are no other options because sick or not, those of us with families have to be that. Wearing something that makes me feel that way has helped psychologically, I can tell. There is an element of spirituality for me with it, but it's more of a private thing. I was taught pretty early on to be ashamed of my hair, too. It was the first thing a lot of people made fun of. This takes it off the table. 

Every person who decides to cover has their own complicated story, all of them are fascinating. 

If you find yourself called to it, don't be afraid of it. And don't treat anyone you see in head coverings any different if you aren't. 

The beauty lies in the choice. 

I don't think anyone should be forced to either cover or bare their hair. The choice, the intricacies of how we express our souls to the world, is the beauty and power behind it. 

For me, it's armor for the coming storms PH brings. It's a marker for my growth and change... sickness forces so much negativity into life-but the growth part, the bravery, is a positive. 

A lot of the scarves I have and the headbands have come from Wrapunzel, an organization who also donates scarves to those fighting cancer, which is amazing. So, if you are looking for a good selection from a place set on doing good in the world, that's your stop. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Drawing With Skinner: The Art Show You Didn't Know You Needed.

Have you seen the new awesome that is the Youtube art show called "Drawing with Skinner"? It's worth looking at. I promise. Not just for people who specialize in that type of dark or psychedelic art, either. 

It's got a Pee-Wee's Playhouse (of darkness) vibe and a little bit of Bob Ross art expertise molded in. But this is mostly a free-form show, he won't tell you how to do a specific tree. Skinner will spin a wheel of fate to find the theme and give you steps like "INK IT!". But, that kind of instruction allows you to be really free within the confines of whatever theme is picked. 

That benefits you the same way sketching will. It's why your art professor told you to carry around a sketchbook. That time spent developing ideas and allowing yourself just to make something, anything, is invaluable to artists. It's what daydreaming is to writers. It's how you grow, it's how you find courage for new techniques or styles. 

Any show that does that and makes art an everyday conversation gets five stars from me. 

It did have some cons, I'm not really into or supportive of drug and alcohol talk. As a child of an addict, I've learned to tune that stuff out. I have literally zero interest. But...I don't control other people: they can do what they chose and talk about whatever they want, and some of that content was expected. It's not enough to skip watching the series, but keep in mind it's not for kids. Turn on Bob Ross for them, instead. 

And if you surf over that stuff, Skinner and his guest get into some important talk too. One of the first questions he asks is along the lines of "who first told you that you couldn't draw?". All of us that studied art can answer that (and about 90% of the time, it was one of our instructors...). They talk about the processes and materials, and for the most part, it's pretty entertaining. 

Combined with watching the artworks develop, I'm going to go ahead and say art fans and artists need to watch it. 

Waiting for an MD appointment, I finished a sketch with the theme of the day the Wheel of Fun picked-"hallucination." My toddler helped me fill in the color while in a waiting room, and this is the most fun I've had working on something I started on because of an art show. I look forward to doing more pieces while tuning into Drawing With Skinner. 

Drawing With Skinner piece "Hallucinate". Instead of canvas and paint
I had to use Prismacolor and paper, and some help from my toddler. The darker shades of ink are digital.
Maybe next time I can be able to use an actual canvas, but paper and Prismas are the king of accessible in my house right now...Anyway, this was fun. Try it. Watch the show, and absolutely try working along with these guys. 

Give the show a shot. You can take a look at some specific pieces by Skinner here to get a feel for the type of art he specializes in. My favorite might be the brain creatures...and don't worry, paintbrushes talk smack to everyone. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

An Angry Sponge That Stands Up For Itself.

I can remember from younger days Damon Knight's warning that listening to other people's advice on writing can really screw you up...

I have literally had to leave certain writer's groups. 
I was sitting there, reading how perfect these authors were so sure they were and seeing them tear apart other people in order to "help". I'm not sure anyone needs that kind of help. If you aren't great, you probably know it, and the good news is that is not a fixed thing. It might take practice, or a good professor, but how good you are is not set in stone. I know I'm not good enough to ever turn down those learning opportunities. But, perfect is not a thing indie authors are going to reach. No amount of belittling will change that.

It might not be a thing any of them reach, but the more money you have, the closer the copy, proof, and smoothing editors can get you. But that kind of perfection in the independant world is often chased and seldom fulfilled. 
It doesn't mean you don't have a worthwhile story.

For awhile I was pretty paralyzed, and even withdrew my first book to be released again after another edit. But the fear of failing, of never having perfection was just immobilizing. 

I had to let that go. And I had to silence the critics. I had to do that in order to try to write again. 

I can't hear that kind of talk from a distance, which is where you should hear it. Growing up how I did, I am still fighting being a sponge. You learn to absorb everything in a toxic home-you learn to walk into a room and soak in the mood to determine safety. You do it to survive and because they are telling your repeatedly that this is what you should do-be this absorbant, catering creature. 

Don't do that in your adult life. 

It's a slow process to shut that off, and until I really can, I find I just have to get out of places where negativity is being thrown around like water balloons.  

Maybe I'm still a sponge, but I'm an angry sponge that stands up for itself now. 

Also, don't let this put you off trying new writing groups. Some are the most lovely people you will ever meet and some suck lemons, you just have to try and see and be willing to leave when it's not working for you. 


Saturday, May 20, 2017

For The Love Of All Things Kind Of Scary...

I was sort of taken aback last Halloween by a young girl wearing a Five Nights At Freddy's costume. But, she was genuinely happy with it, scary as it was, and I realized I'd forgotten I was that kid at that young age...Staying up late to watch things like Vampire Hunter D because the realm of horror was my comfort zone where everything was fascinating and taught you something. 

Some kids may never feel that tug, but I think it's more common than we realize and not every person wants heart and rainbows farting from every smiley-faced package all the time-even as youngsters. 

My older kids are, well, older, and I'd always distanced them from horror stuff. It's one of those things, it can be normalized by other people but shouldn't be initiated I think. And so much of it is inappropriate for kids of any age. But, recently, they've started playing fun horror games like Hello, Neighbor and Tattletail, and Bendy and the Ink Machine (which is like the darkest of the three, so we play these together, and it may end up being too dark). They went there on their own, they loved it on their own. I won't lie, I'm sort of thrilled. Things like FNAF have a following of all ages again suddenly, and I think this is one of those times where it's more fashionable to venture into the darker realm of things. 

We're getting the influx of things like Goosebumps books, too. 

And it's just AWESOME. 

I feel proud of them for not being afraid.

So much in horror is a lesson, a discovery. a good practice run for the monsters you end meeting in real life that walk around like people. 

That said, if neither had ever had any interest in the scary, I'd of still been very proud. But, it's a fuzzy feeling to have that common thread. 

So, if you are parenting a kid who loves the frightening, here are some tips

1. Watch the movies, read the books, play the games with them. Even if you don't like them, that participation matters and you can also gauge that way if it's appropriate or too deep, dark, and scary. There have been historic happenings of mentally ill adults and children getting fixated on all the wrong stuff, you need to be the watcher for those signs and the guardian of what they are exposed to. Being involved with them will help you do that. And bonus, you can talk about and put into perspective everything you encounter. 

2. DO NOT belittle them for liking that stuff or call them weird. Please. You have no idea how long it takes to shake things like that said to you by your parents. You may not understand it, you may be that person that can't walk into a Halloween store without crying, but please don't do this. Remember that horror has been around since we were story-tellers, and it's definitely okay to be a fan of that. It won't always show up at an early age, but mine did and many others did as well. 

3. Support their interests. They like writing scary stories? Ask if they want to join an author summer camp. They like drawing monsters and ghosts? Sign them up for an art class. They like making costumes? Get them supplies to do spectacular stuff on Halloween. 

4. Pay attention to age ratings AND what people are saying about things like indie games. Make sure this is an age appropriate level of scary and the right level for your kiddo. 

So, you know, do all the parenting stuff you normally do for things your kids love.