Look! The opened door,
Like Kirke's wardrobe to a magic world,
Sunlight gold on grass of green
That gives it such a lovely sheen.
Look! The window clear,
The sky is bold and full of cheer,
Pink and myriad shades of blue,
There's some red and purple, too--
The door is shut,
I'm called away.
My prison cell is beckoning.
I'm not sure when freedom will come for me,
But it will be after dark.
Fresh air, at least, never dies.
Hey, guys! Before I get started on today's blog, I want to remind everyone that we've got another book signing coming up this Saturday the (18th) from 10:30 to 3:00 at Kaboodles in Denison. TX. If you're in the area, I hope you can drop by!
Summer is almost here. My college classes, thank God, wrapped up last week, and now I just have a few more days of mayhem tutoring my middle-schoolers before I get a nice two-week break.
And then life goes back to hectic.
I'm teaching summer school.
The good news is, I'm getting paid for it. The bad news is, the kids don't like me and I can't get them to do much of anything. There are a few good moments when everything seems to look up. Like the time I got the kids to clean the entire classroom by bribing them with chips. Or when I got my test results in to see that many of my kids have improved drastically in some areas. Or the time they got upset at another teacher for telling them to stop playing monkey-in-the-middle and had an unexpected outburst of loyalty to me, their teacher.
And then there are the funny moments. I guess you just have to laugh when the kids tape your stapler shut, or when they throw blueberries on the whiteboard, or when one kid says something moderately embarrassing and turns red. One time, one kid distracted me while another stealthily stuck a piece of tape onto my pants. I don't know how long I walked around with a tail, but the kids got a laugh out of it.
There are a few sweet moments, too. When a kid is crying or not feeling well and I offer a hug, they normally refuse, but sometimes they accept. Those moments really make my day.
Unfortunately, the good, the funny, and the sweet are rare. It's mostly chaos.
If they were my own kids, things would be easier. I'd have the authority to swat them if they got out of line. Like the time they had a flat-out roasting session on me. Or even yesterday, when everyone said they were bored and couldn't wait for class to be over and were never coming back.
This is what hurts my heart, because I feel like I'm single-handedly making them hate education. I'm doing my best. I'm eighteen with no formal training, and middle schoolers are apparently the toughest class to teach. Some days, I've gotten in my car after a particularly harrowing day of work and just cried.
Actually, I take that back; I've had a very little bit of formal training. I once went to an A.C.E school, which is set up very differently from a normal school. The students are all in one room at their individual desks. They have little flags that they can raise if they need to leave their desks for any reason, or if they need help with a particular subject. One year, I finished my work two weeks early and decided to be a monitor--a person who goes around, checking on the people with raised flags, seeing what they need. After one day of monitoring, I was wiped out. It was at that moment I realized how much harder it is to teach than it is to learn.
Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. One of the kids from the neighboring class brought cupcakes to celebrate. I'm not sure if no one in my class was aware of it, or if they just decided I wasn't worth thanking. But then again, I've never really celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week either. Not with my mom, who taught me for ten years. Not with the teachers at the A.C.E. school. Not with my homeschool co-op leaders.
Teachers aren't the only ones with thankless jobs. Working in the food industry--or any service industry, for that matter--is tough and not well compensated for. People tend to take you for granted most of the time. You think it's tough dealing with customer service people? They probably have it worse. They're the ones who have to deal with everyone from the People of Walmart website.
This week, try thanking someone you normally wouldn't--a waitress, the clerk who helps you find a relocated item, a teacher, a janitor. It'll make their day, and maybe it'll help make yours a bit better, too. Who can you thank this week? And do you have any teaching tips? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
White, fair, breast of peach,
Coattails long and polished. Each
step of the dance you are performing
brings the beauty of a morning's
sunrise, with clouds of peach.
Wings spread, angel flying.
Your frame, like a phoenix never dying,
sails through sky like flags unfurled
or arrows from their bows. The world
is better through your flying.
For those of you wondering what happened to the snake I mentioned in last week's blog post, I found him the next day. He was much smaller than I anticipated and actually kind of cute. He tied himself in a knot around my finger when I picked him up, and I let him go in the front yard after a lecture. We think he came in through the dryer vent.
Additionally, I'll be having a book signing next Saturday, May 18, at Kaboodles on Main Street in Denison, TX. I'll be there from 10:30 or so until 3. I hope to see you there!
Finals week is wrapping up, and I'm excited to have two weeks off before summer school starts up. I'm not attending summer school, mind you. I'm teaching it. The theme of the six-week program is The Human Body, so I have to find work--math, reading, writing, social studies, and science--all based on the human body. I'm pretty sure we'll just take a few hours a week to play multiplication games. The kids seem to enjoy multiplication games.
One thing that I've struggled with teaching them is, surprisingly, writing. I suppose it comes so naturally to me that I have a hard time toning it down. I'll dance around the whiteboard, telling kids to add -ly adverbs as openers and throw in prepositional phrases and vary their sentence structures, and these poor kids barely know their parts of speech. They're in fifth and sixth grade. They should know. But they don't.
Anything you write--from essays to novels to children's bedtime stories--can improve through your use of these following stylistic tips.
An adverb is a word that tells how (or when, or where) something is done. Most adverbs end in -ly--think quickly, quietly, spitefully, suddenly. Starting a sentence with an -ly opener helps vary the tone of your story a bit. "Friendly" is one exception to this rule--it's an adjective even though it ends in -ly.
Since "friendlily" is a rather unwieldy word, it's helpful to stick it in a prepositional phrase--for example, "in a friendly manner" or "with a friendly smile." A preposition, simply put, says where something is in relationship to something else--note the word "position" in the second half of the word. Staring a sentence with one of these is also a great way to vary the tone of your story. "Into the house she went" sounds so much nicer than "She went into the house," don't you think?
Finally, varying your sentence structure is a great way to not only vary the tone of your story, but also to help set the pacing. Short sentences are great for conveying a fast pace or worry on your character's end. Longer sentences help slow things down a bit.
My laptop is lagging like crazy, so I think it's time for me to end today's blog. I'll see you on Monday with another poem! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
I count myself lucky,
For I only have two finals,
And only one is hard.
But pressure mounts and worlds collide,
And all my stress is multiplied.
"It's dinner time!"
I slam my books,
And my face wears a dead man's look.
"How was your day?"
"And how are you?"
At least for now, but the bounty on my head
Will not rest for long.
Casey Cox and the snake I found in my laundry room this morning have one thing in common: they're hiding from people who want to kill them.
Unlike that snake, though, Casey Cox was framed for murder and is now trying to hide from a rogue police officer and his gang of high-ranking cohorts. In the first book in Terri Blackstock's edge-of-your-seat trilogy, If I Run, Casey is chased not only by the corrupt offices, but also by Dylan Roberts, an ex-military private investigator. But when Dylan hears Casey's side of the story, he's torn. Does he do the job he was hired to do? Or does he help a fugitive escape the clutches of the murderous officers Keegan and Rollins?
For months, I didn't know. I'd gotten the first book for Christmas. I'd gotten the third book at LifeWay, but they didn't have the second book. Typical. I kept coming back until the store went out of business, and I finally found it at Books-a-Million. But once I got the book, I finished it in less than 24 hours. It was riveting.
If I'm Found is basically a rehash of the first book. There's a new setting and a few more characters, but the plot is basically identical. Casey finds a town to hide in, meets the victim of some crime (kidnapping in the first book, child molestation in the second) and vows to help them despite her own troubles. The endings are remarkably similar. Along the way, Casey and Dylan gather evidence about Keegan and Rollins and the growing list of people they're associated with. And, of course, they fall in love.
It might be the same plot, but I don't care. The storytelling is that good, and there's enough change to make it interesting. The dynamic between Casey and Dylan, for example, changes between the first and second books. The evidence they gather grows, and the lengths to which Keegan and Rollins will go to silence their witnesses increase as well. Eventually, the stress of hiding--and all the injuries she amasses along the way--take a toll on Casey. But I'm not here to spoil the entire book for you. I really want you to read it for yourself.
I recommend reading the first book, If I Run, first. It lays out some information that is, I'll admit, reviewed in the second book, but it's still beneficial. Plus, If I Run is a great book in and of itself. But if you can't find If I Run, don't worry--you won't feel lost if you pick up the second book first. That's the way a good sequel should be. I read If I'm Found about a year after finishing If I Run, and I didn't skip a beat.
I have three criteria for rating a good book. First, it must be interesting. Second, it must be well-written. Third, it must be clean (with bonus points if there's a Christian theme involved). If I'm Found meets all three criteria and even gets those bonus points. It talks more about God than the first book, and it's better edited--I didn't find a single typographical error in all 350 pages, whereas the word "Caucasian" was misspelled in the first book. Just once. The rest of it was great. And I've noticed some type-o's in my own books, so I'm definitely not judging.
Now, I'm debating if I should risk eating lunch in my snake-infested house today, or if I should just use those coupons I got for Taco Bueno...
What book have you read recently and enjoyed? And how the heck do you get a snake out of your house? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
So! We've wrapped up "Street Rats," which I had a great time writing. I hope you enjoyed it, too. Unfortunately, it's often difficult to churn out new short stories every week. Since I want to give you my best work and not something Hollywood comes up with because they need cash and don't have a creative cell in their office, I need to take some time to think up something awesome.
I know, I know. You're heartbroken.
To help ease the pain, I've been thinking about putting up some poetry for the next few Mondays. I do dabble with poetry, and this is the best time of year to write it. I'm no Robert Frost, but I've been featured multiple times in anthologies and wrote a first-place poem for an ACE Regional Student Convention. So I think you'll enjoy what I can come up with.
Leave your thoughts in the comments below! God bless, and happy Monday!
It's Monday night. My parents are out of town. My sister is with my grandparents. I'm sitting at the kitchen table, Mom's birthday flowers my only company, a bowl of peas and corn before me. I'm not hungry. Actually, I'm freaking out inside.
"You can always talk to Me," God says.
I nervously take another bite of peas and corn. "I'm too nervous."
"That's exactly why we should be communicating."
I pull out my phone and open YouTube instead. "Just give me a second. My brain's going everywhere. I can't focus."
God knows that YouTube isn't exactly going to help that problem, but like the gentleman He is, He waits for me to finish eating. And watch one more YouTube video. And see if my sister wants to go to Walmart to get a new phone case. Anything to distract me from the fact that I am alone in a very large house.
Then I realized something.
As a writer, I know a lot of what happens before and after the book takes place. I can see what Alynn's family used to be like before her mother was kidnapped. I can see who she marries and how many kids she has. I can also see Lukas as a young man, eating alone in a large house for the first time, and I feel like a monster.
Most of my characters have tragic backstories, including Lukas. His troubles start long before his fifteenth Easter, but it's then that things really start to go wrong. Right before Easter, on Maundy Thursday, the monks of St. Anne's Monastery run into a horde of Norsemen. Violent Norsemen. After watching everyone he loves die, Lukas is beaten three-fourths of the way to death and left to fend for himself.
He pulls through and, after lying still in the woods for a while, makes himself stand up and limp back to the monastery. He'll be the only soul to enter it for the next thirty-nine years.
Not even my imagination wants to picture what Lukas went through for the first few months. He had too many broken bones, too many bruises, to do much of anything. And even after he healed, he was alone. Every bad thing that happened to him, every illness, every storm, every poor harvest, he went through it alone.
I had a hard enough time spending a single night by myself, with multiple friends and relatives just a phone call or short drive away. In fact, I ended up going out for the evening with my sister. We stopped by Walmart, then Sonic for ice cream, and called our parents while we were waiting for our carhop. It turned out to be a good evening.
I have a newfound respect for Lukas now. But, perhaps more importantly, I'm more comfortable being home alone. I'm mentally preparing myself for the day I strike out on my own, and every experience is good for me.
What's the longest you've gone without seeing another person? What are your tips for being home alone for an evening? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
"I drew you a picture," Isao says, pushing a coloring page across the cluttered table towards me. It's a green and blue puppy with red ears playing with a pink and purple ball. I have to admit, my little brother's already got a handle on color theory.
"That's beautiful," I say. "What's its name?"
"Mitchell the Rainbow Dog. Very creative." I turn back to the table, sorting through Kleenex boxes and Clorox wipes. I check the school supply list again. "Okay, these three packages of wipes are for you, Isao, to take to kindergarten next week. Are you excited?"
I break open a new package of mechanical pencils and put some in my pencil case. Aunt Sharon hands me some pens. "Aren't all the girls decorating their notebooks in duct tape this year?" she asks.
"I don't know."
"Would you like to?"
Aunt Sharon smiles. "What do you say we go to Dillard's tomorrow? You need an outfit for the first day of school."
"You already bought me a whole closet full of clothes."
"I know, but you need a special outfit for your first day of junior high. And maybe some shoes."
Uncle Pat chuckles from his armchair, where he's drinking coffee and reading a novel. "She'll settle down after a while, Keiko," he promises. "There's lights in the driveway. I think your friends are here to pick you up."
Sure enough, a car honks at me. I hug everyone good-bye, grab my backpack, and head out the door.
The car is packed. Brook's dad is driving, and her mom is riding shotgun. I squish in the back between Brook and Landon, taking care not to step on Brook's crutches. Soon, she'll be graduating to a walking boot. "Hey, Mr. Richard and Miss Vivian," I say. "Hey, Brook. Hey, Landon."
"How are you liking your new home, Yank?" Landon asks me.
"It's great. Aunt Sharon spoils me, Uncle Pat's really nice, and Isao is cute. He's always drawing me pictures. How are you all doing?"
"We're good," Brook says. "It's kind of weird being home, but it's nice, too."
"I feel the same way."
We get to Comerica Park, and Landon helps Brook out of the car. She's deft on her crutches, like a bird hopping down a branch. "Can I try using your crutches?" I ask. "Just for fun?"
"Maybe once we find our seats," Brook says. "I'm so excited! I'd watch baseball on TV at Jetta's house all the time. I've always wanted to see a live game."
"We're glad we can take you to a game," Richard says. "Keiko, you won't guess who they're playing against."
"The White Sox?"
"The New York Yankees."
I laugh, pulling my Yankees cap so the brim faces forwards. Landon smiles at me. "How'd a Detroit girl end up a New York fan?"
"My dad went to med school in New York after he moved here from Japan. I guess I liked whatever he did."
"That's very sweet of you," says Vivian. She has dark hair like the rest of her family, not a strand out of place, and she's better dressed for a state dinner than a baseball game. I hope she doesn't spill mustard on her blouse, not that she strikes me as the kind of person who would eat hot dogs. But she has a nice smile, and Brook says that living with her again is like heaven.
We have decent seats pretty close to the field, but Vivian brought binoculars for us anyway. It's fun to watch the players' facial expressions as they concentrate. The players in the dugouts laugh and make faces at each other, and a couple of them are really cute.
I stand up to cheer when one of the Yankees players makes a home run, and a child's voice from the seat behind me says "Daddy, she's confused!"
Everyone laughs. Then comes halftime, and out come the kiss cams. A few older couples kiss--disgustingly--and a young father kisses both his wife and his little girl. Suddenly, I see half of my own face, and Brook and Landon are on the screen, the entire stadium watching.
They both turn red, but they lean towards each other and kiss, and everyone claps. Richard and Vivan look at them, then at each other, and agree to be alright with it.
I'm tempted to use what's left of halftime to rummage through trash cans for half-eaten hot dogs and pizza crusts, but then I realize I don't have to. I'm not a street rat anymore. For the first time in a long time, I've got a family.
Maybe this is just part of the whole "getting older" thing, but I haven't been thinking much about Easter recently. Or maybe it's because my mom's birthday is--oh, today, actually. Happy birthday, Mom! We're celebrating tomorrow at dinner, so I still have about 33 hours to wrap her present. And get her a card. I don't have a card yet.
On top of the birthday celebrations, my parents are celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary and are going to Hawaii to celebrate. They've been packing and scheduling excursions and all that, and I've been trying to figure out how well I'll survive two weeks with my grandparents. Oh, and on top of all that, I'm playing piano on Easter Sunday and have to practice the set list. And I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow. Nice relaxing week we've been having.
I was reminded of Easter recently when I went out to lunch with my Catholic cousin, who ordered fish because it was a Friday during Lent. She said that fish wasn't considered meat because, back in the day, it was a widely-available poor man's food as opposed to chicken, beef, and other meats. That still doesn't explain why some of my vegetarian friends eat fish, but that's a question for another day.
When I was younger, we had something called Resurrection Eggs. Over the course of twelve days, we would open a plastic egg and find something about Jesus' crucifixion. The first day was a little plastic donkey to remind us of the Triumphal Entry. There was a die (which is the singular form of "dice," even though I personally think it should be "douse") to remind us that the soldiers gambled for Jesus' clothes. There was a crown of thorns, a little wood cross, and a spear.
To go along with all these objects (which we continually lost over the years), there was a short devotional. We would take turns reading it; my mom would read one paragraph, my dad the next, myself a third. I don't know if my sister ever read anything, or if we stopped doing the Resurrection Eggs before she was old enough to read fluently.
But this year? The only thought I give to Easter, besides at church where people actually talk about it, is when I practice the songs for the Easter Sunday set. And, of course, all the advertisements for candy and baskets and that stupid plastic grass that gets absolutely everywhere and hides from the vacuum for a week and a half doesn't help anything, either.
I feel like America is undergoing a religious holiday detox. Anything to do with God gets pushed aside to make room for marketing. We're trading the Almighty God for the almighty dollar, and this might be the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals, maybe ever. But I'm not here to give you a soap box sermon. I haven't eaten breakfast yet this morning. And I haven't done anything school related, either. (The website is down after a bad storm last night, so I at least have some excuse.)
What are your plans for Easter? Do you have any traditions you're following this year? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear reader, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.