Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas letter 2007

I didn’t get to send out a Christmas letter last year, for the reason that we had a couple early arrivals – Serious & Starlet (their nicknames) weren’t due till January 23, but their birthday ended up being December 3!

Being two months premature meant they needed to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for two weeks, while I stayed in the nearby Ronald McDonald house, visiting them four to five times a day to deliver tiny bottles of milk – just about the only thing I could do for my babies the first week. I wasn’t even allowed to hold them the first week because they were being kept within isolettes (incubators, basically), and breathing with the help of respirators.

By the second week they were doing much better, breathing on their own and I could hold them for a few minutes at a time. Grace had a heart condition that is common with premature babies, but fortunately medication worked to improve it and over the next few weeks her heart had caught up to her early birthdate. There were many other babies in the NICU that were not faring so well. Babies as early as 23 weeks, as small as my hand, encased in tiny oxygen tents. At the Ronald McDonald house, we met the parents of a one month old baby that had just had a heart transplant. We met other parents with children with cancer and children on dialysis waiting and praying for organ donations. Everyday we realized how blessed we were with our healthy babies, that just needed a little extra time to catch up.
The second week my mother-in-law, Joy, came to stay with me at the Ronald McDonald house so B. could go back to work. In the meantime my parents had been taking care of our older girls, Blaze and Dreamer, for three weeks while I was on bedrest and in the hospital. The girls were finally able to come down and stay with us. The Ronald McDonald house was like a vacation for them! It had lots of play stuff including larger-than-life, fully-furred statues of two of their favorite Disney monsters, Sullivan and Mike.

Volunteers would come over two or three nights a week to make dinner for all the residents and set up special activities for the kids (making gingerbread houses, playing games, etc). Before leaving the Ronald McDonald house, we were showered with donated Christmas presents for all five of our girls (even my stepdaughter). We could hardly fit all the presents in our van!

By Dec 19, two weeks after their birthday, we got the much anticipated permission from our insurance company to transfer the twins to the hospital in Laramie – which meant we could finally go home for Christmas! (A side note: the cost of transferring two babies on the same ambulance 150 miles was almost $10,000, PER BABY! Even though the transfer was pre-approved, we still spent the next 9 months fighting with the insurance company to get the amount paid).

The twins spent another week and half in the Laramie hospital, learning how to eat (babies born before 34 weeks gestation do not yet have the ability to nurse or take a bottle). Even when we brought them home from the hospital, Grace still had to be hooked up to oxygen for another couple weeks to handle Laramie’s high elevation and thin air. Up until then we’d had nurses taking care of them round the clock, and now we had to take over. They had to be fed every three hours, and feeding both of them could take up to an hour! B. is my hero for taking the 3 am feeding every night for a month. Fortunately Serious and Starlet gained weight fast and were actually sleeping through the night by three months. The twins were basically quarantined at home because preemies are more susceptible to sickness, in fact Grace spent three days in the hospital again with pneumonia. I couldn’t have survived those first few months without tons of help from my parents, B.’s parents, neighbors and friends bringing us meals, my Aunt Margie coming for two weeks to help (and giving me time to catch up on some sleep), and the help of a part-time nanny so I could keep my sanity by getting out of the house every other day!

We’ve come a long way… Serious and Starlet are already a year old, crawling all over the place and starting to cruise. It’s kind of like having little gremlins in the house, you never know where a baby is going to pop up, usually in some kind of mischief. They have completely different personalities. The doctor’s comment about Serious when she was in the NICU was that “this one doesn’t know she was born early; she’s ready to go.” She has always been a little ahead of her sister – the first to sit up, the first to crawl; usually the first to cry, too. She is always exploring, and loudly vocalizing her opinions about the world. She is also likes to crawl over her sister (why go the long way around?), and will often pause to pummel her sister in the process. Don’t feel too sorry for sensitive, wide-eyed little Starlet, though. On many occasions I have seen her steal her sister’s pacifier. She is good at pulling her sister’s hair too.
Blaze is six now, loving kindergarten, and taking after me with a passion for “writing” books. Actually, she dictates the stories to me, or to Grandma H, we write them down for her, and then she illustrates them. She adores her baby sisters and pitched in helping with them right away, doing just about everything but changing their diapers (we let her try that once, but she hasn’t volunteered since).
Dreamer is three years old and loves to play dress-up and copy everything Blaze does. She does pretty well with her baby sisters except sometimes she tells them they are being too noisy. For a while she thought their car seats were her own personal play toys. I have found various dolls and toy horses strapped into the car seats, complete with blankets tucked in around them.
My stepdaughter, Stars, is about to turn 13 years old and is already better at walking in high heels than I am. She still plays a good mean game of monopoly with me when she comes to visit (except we play a version called horseopoly). Blaze and Dreamer can usually talk her into playing Candyland with them too – and even better yet, she’ll fix their hair fancy for them. Stars and I frequently trade books and whenever we finish a good book we call each other and tell all about it (except the ending, of course).

I am still working part time (going to my office is almost a vacation for me, so quiet and peaceful compared to all the noise at home). I still manage to find time to ride my horses once in a while and go hiking in the mountains. B. is still running large machinery, moving lots of dirt and occasionally the extra special treat of getting to tear down a building.
He is also doing a lot of plumbing on the side and is in the process of partnering up to start a new plumbing business. He still doesn’t care much for the plumbing business, but we decided we like the money it makes well enough to give it another go. As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he is working on his degree again, taking two classes a semester, and he started two new hobbies this year as well: rebuilding wrecked trucks for re-sale, and team roping.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of going to a rodeo, team roping is where two guys on horses chase down a steer, one of them ropes it around the horns and the other ropes one of it hind legs. When he first started out, B. wasn’t very good at roping steers so he would practice roping my horse, Rebel, or one of our barn cats, or any other moving or stationary target, including small children. The kids don’t mind though because whenever it snows, their dad will put a rope on their sled and pull them behind his horse (at speeds that make their mother a little nervous).

When B. got pretty good at roping this fall, he decided he needed his own steers to rope, so we are now owners of two calves. At first I threw a fit when he moved them in behind our barn. But they are so cute, I softened up (we only get to keep them for a few months, anyway, then they get moved to the ranch down the road from us).

Many blessings to you all for 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas letter 2005

Following last year’s tradition, this year’s Christmas letter is another collection of little stories and moments from our lives. B., Blaze, Dreamer and I visited my parents in their timeshare in Hilton Head for winter break. We had lots of long relaxing walks on the beach and much fun watching Blaze chase waves and sandpipers, and watching Dreamer learn how to crawl. The big adventure however was flying home with the two girls by myself (B. had flown back a week earlier). I managed to come down with the flu the day before, so the 4 hour plane trip with Dreamer on my lap the whole time was quite a challenge. At one point I was aching so much I had to put Dreamer down. Excited to be free, she crawled up and down the aisle grinning while everyone pointed and laughed as she went by. Even the flight attendants tolerated it, though one of them commented: “do you know how dirty that floor is?” There comes a point when you just don’t care anymore…

This summer the girls had great fun seeing Grandma and Grandpa B. and all the aunts and uncles and cousins in Kansas and South Dakota. Blaze got a little confused and started calling Norb her “Uncle Grandpa.” Stars and her cousin Taryn loved riding the horses, Miss and Rebel, and when it got too hot to ride, they’d come into the house and set up a “jump course” in the living room (laundry baskets, foot stools, pillows, you name it) and then they’d talk me into “judging” their jumping competition. A highchair wasn’t available for Dreamer , so we set her on an overturned pot on a chair and it worked okay for a while till she figured out that she could crawl right up on the table! We caught her a couple times halfway down the table pursuing someone else’s plate.

B. & I have given up trying to get away for our anniversary on the 4th of July – too much going on then! From now we’ve decided to celebrate in the fall instead. Mom and Dad babysat the girls so we could take a weekend trip to Yellowstone in September. It was a bit chilly but a perfect time for viewing golden aspens and snowy mountain scenery, and lots of wildlife. Once we pulled over for a closer look at two bison right beside the road. They passed so close to the car we could have reached out the windows and touched them. Which gave B. the idea that he’d like to pull a bison tail and so could I drive up to the bison again, and then drive away quick before the bison figured out what had happened to him? (I declined).

Hunting season always adds new funny stories to B.'s repertoire (he is great story-teller!) Last year it was all about his cooking at the hunting camp (some disaster involving jalapenos). This year the hunting misadventure involved his poor borrowed horse, who somehow ended up impaled by a branch sticking out of a log. The horse recovered quite well, fortunately, but he’s no longer borrowed – B. felt so bad about his injury, he ended up buying him! My favorite hunting story is from when B. was about 14 or 15, out bow hunting. He hid himself near a pond, and a big old buck came out to drink. He started shooting arrows at the buck, but the animal was such an old pro that he didn’t run away; he just calmly side-stepped each arrow, waiting patiently for the next one to come till B. ran out of arrows. Then B. did a great imitation of the buck shrugging “well, that’s over,” continuing on his way as if nothing had happened at all.

Funny moments with Blaze: at a friend’s birthday party at the city pool, Blaze got so excited when it was time to go swimming that she couldn’t wait to be escorted to the changing room; she started stripping down to change into her swimming suit right in the middle of the party room!

Once when I was leaving for work, I called out as usual to Blaze, “Bye honey, I love you and be careful.” Blaze responded to me, “Bye Mom, I love you too. Be careful and don’t drive too fast.”

Blaze was being too quiet in her room one day, so I peeked in to check on her. She was lying on a blanket on the floor, her hands folded on her chest, looking peacefully asleep. It wasn’t her nap time, so I was curious. “Are you awake, Blaze?” “No,” she replied, without opening her eyes. “I’m playing Sleeping Beauty.”

Our year has been full of fun, especially with our three girls, but there have been times of frustration and discouragement too. I had my usual battle with seasonal depression during the winter, but this year for some reason it went on much longer, well into May. B. has had many struggles with his excavation business, resulting in a decision to sell out and look for another job. It is often easy to lose sight of all our rich blessings when faced with some of these issues. But B. & I try to remind ourselves that there is a greater purpose in these times of trial, for God works all things for the good of those that love Him. We pass our love on to all you, our family & friends, and wish you many blessings this Christmas season – and that we all keep “looking at life through heaven’s eyes” (one of my favorite movie lines).

Christmas letter 2004

2004 has brought us darling new little girl, Dreamer (her nickname), who is nearly seven months old already. Blaze is 3 years old now, and she adores her baby sister. It has been an interesting and challenging year with Blaze, learning to talk (and talk back!), discovering Barbies (oh woe is me), potty-training and all sorts of other adventures. Instead of writing a traditional Christmas letter, I thought this year I would try something new, and share a few “vignettes” from the past year.

Stars spent Easter with us this year – sent her and Blaze on a treasure hunt all over the house to find eggs, each egg with a clue about where the next egg was hidden, with their easter baskets as the grand finale. After Stars left to go back home, we’d ask Blaze where Stars went, and she’d say, "up in the airplane." We think she thinks Stars is permanently up there, just flying around, until it’s time for her to come down and visit again.

Mom and Dad’s favorite restaurant in Laramie is called Elmer Lovejoy’s and it’s down by the railroad tracks: we love watching the trains go by while we eat (Blaze especially loves the chu chus). We are also fascinated by one server who works there, who has Viking runes tattooed on her back. One evening we saw a train go by carrying hundreds of army tanks, a grim reminder that we are at war.

My grandmother, Alfaretta Smith, celebrated her 100th birthday this year in March. I’m so thankful I was able to make it to her gala birthday party. At first she didn’t recognize me because I was six months pregnant! She passed away in May, just a couple weeks before Dreamer was born. I will always treasure memories of her reading me fairy tales, and dancing with me with silken scarves swirling around us. “Grandma, are fairies real?” “Of course they are.” She was so firm about this that to this day I still kind of believe it, myself.

Stars is 9 years old now and is no longer interested in playing with her Barbies, so this summer she gave them all to Blaze. She likes to make beds for them with the washcloths in our bathroom vanity and tuck them away in the drawers and under the sink. One afternoon I heard her heard her sigh, oh so romantically, and exclaim “Oh where are you, my son Barbie?” Her son?

B.'s Dad, Norb, stayed with us for a couple weeks this fall, helping us remodel our bathroom. To avoid confusion between two Grandpas, I told Blaze to call him “Grandpa B.” Except one time she called him Grandpa Beer by accident (or on purpose? He does like to relax in the evenings with a bottle of beer in hand!)

Went down to the county treasurer’s office to get B.’s truck registered, and noticed that there was a nun working in the office, dressed in a black habit, complete with a white wimple. Well isn’t that neat, I thought, a nun working at the office and she still dresses the old-fashioned way. Then I saw another nun come out from a back room, and then another one down the hall. Boy did I feel silly. It was the Friday right before Halloween.

At church one Sunday I was proudly holding my beautiful little baby girl, all dressed up in pink and frills with rosy cheeks, as cute as cute can be. And then right when the pastor paused during his sermon, Dreamer let out a belch that only her Daddy could be proud of. Everyone turned and stared at us, and I never felt so red and embarrassed in my life!

On a cold, snowy day in November I let Blaze go outside in the backyard to play, all bundled up in her winter clothes. Distracted for a minute (Dreamer had just spit up all over herself), the next thing I know is that my father-in-law is calling to me, “your daughter’s running around outside naked.” She had found her little wading pool in the backyard, and a watering can with water that hadn’t frozen yet, so she dumped the water in her pool and proceeded to strip down to go swimming.

Thanksgiving day – 27 members of B.’s family all crammed in one house. We spent the evening doing what every family should do on the holidays – killing each other in a friendly game of “Mafia”. Whoever draws aces get to be the mafia, jacks are cops, everyone else just plays along, hoping not to get killed before they discover who the killers are. Some creative deaths in this round: 7 year old Briana was licked to death by puppies; 15 year old Danielle was killed by a barrage of basketballs after a basketball game; Navy seaman Nathan was hung off his ship and drowned; I was killed by my horse; B. was knocked into a hole he had dug, and buried in dirt with his own excavator!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

lame excuses

This is really sad... I haven't written at all since Nanowrimo. My excuse is, okay, last December I was down in Denver either in the hospital awaiting the birth of my twins, or in the Ronald McDonald house, waiting and praying for my twins to be out of the hospital. I didn't get to go to any Christmas parties, put up any Christmas decorations, listen to my favorite songs... yadayada. So THIS year, I've already been to four Christmas parties (with another yet tonight, and another on Friday night, and another Sunday night), and three Christmas concerts, plus a Christmas tree auction.

But, my conscience nags me. And, I get writers' groups emails and newsletters in my inbox that nag me too. Like one newsletter with an interview with a recently published author. He had some good stuff to say, so I'm pasting it in here, so I can re-read it at leisure for inspiration.

Also, discovered several more writer's life blogs. When you're procrastinating at writing, a good thing is read about other writers who are also procrastinating! Or faithfully plugging along.

Excerpts from the interview:

What was the best advice you ever received that helped you reach that next level of success?
The best advice I've ever received as a writer was to be willing to accept criticism and change things. It's always a lot easier to see what's wrong with someone else's book than it is to see what's wrong with your own, which is why I think it's very important to find reviewers you can trust. They'll spot the flaws in your story a lot more easily than you will.

What's been the best part of your career so far?

The best part of my career so far? Walking into Barnes and Noble the day my first book came out and buying a copy right off the shelf. I get goosebumps just remembering that.
Do you have any suggestions for our readers on how to pitch to an agent?
When it comes to pitching an agent, I suggest pitching the characters rather than the story. There are only about a dozen stories out there, but there are millions of characters. Characters are what make books unique. So, rather, than highlighting the quest or the love affair that's central to your book, talk up the protagonists instead. I know quite a few writers who found agents, and subsequent sales, that way.

Any last words of wisdom?

Last words of wisdom requires having said something wise before this, so I'm not sure I qualify. But, just in case, I'd have to say that writers need to learn patience above anything else, especially novelists. It takes a year or so to write a good book, and then it takes a year or two to find an agent, and then it takes another year or two for the agent to sell the book, and then it takes another year or two for the publisher to put the book out. By which point you've probably written three or four more books. And even if you don't publish the first, or the second, or the third one, you have to keep trying. Reiffen's Choice came out 29 years after I wrote my first novel, and was the sixth novel I'd written (and the 9th I'd started). So be patient. And persevere.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Back in the real world again

The National Novel writing month (November) is over now, and I am slowly catching up on my sleep. The challenge was to write 50,000 words, approximately 150 pages... and I managed to achieve 38,000. I was doing really good until week 3, Thanksgiving week. My stepdaughter spent Thanksgiving with us, and we spent many evenings staying up late talking - so my daily word count dropped from 1600 down to 600-800 words. No problem, I knew I could still catch up during the final week. I didn't want to miss out on the time with my stepdaughter because for the first time ever, she was really interested in and asking questions about the Bible, about different religions, and spiritual matters. She has been going to a Christian youth group with a friend of hers from school, even went to a weekend Bible camp. I gave her a "teen study Bible" and she was really pleased with it because she said she'd been trying to the read the Bible, but a lot of it was confusing to her. The teen study Bible includes questions teens frequently ask and Biblical applications for problems teens frequently face, so she really liked that. I am thrilled! It is so exciting to see her interested in spiritual matters and searching for the Truth. I wish she could have stayed longer so we could have talked some more.

But after Thanksgiving I had almost 5000 words to catch up on, and only a week left! If I averaged in those extra 5000 words, my daily word count needed to get bumped up to 2100 words a day. I was excited though, because I'm the type that can really perform when the pressure is on... and if the pressure is only for a short period, like a week. Writing like crazy caused my imagination to go into overdrive, and my novel was really taking shape... by week 4, I was in the homestretch, with about 90% of the novel behind me, just a few chapters left to go!
Then, I got sick!! The nasty stomach virus thing caught up with me, plus I was already running on severe sleep deprivation... my motivation to meet that 50,000 word goal quickly evaporated. I ended up only writing less than 1,000 words that last week.

But despite the disappointing end, NANOWRIMO was an incredible experience, and I'll definitely be trying it again next year, plus I'll be trying to talk all my writing friends into trying it, as well. The NANOWRIMO organizers would send out great motivational emails every week, plus lots of tips and tricks to "keep writing" and make your daily word count goal. One tip was to get together with a writing buddy and have "word wars". That's where you race against a stopwatch to see who could produce the most words in say, a half hour. Then you do another word war, and another, till 2 hours have passed and you have miraculously written over 2,000 words (even though your buddy still beat by typing 2002 words, so what? You just exceeded your word count for the day).

I have promised myself I'm not going to look back over what I've written until I've finished the book. I only have a few more chapters to go. FINISH IT! Then I will take the time to go back and start editing it. When you are racing to create vast quantities of words in a short period of time, there is sure to be lots of junk that needs to edited, or perhaps even deleted. But right now, I'm still in production mode. I'll save editing mode for 2008. And, hopefully sometime in 2008, I'll be able to get a good start on my NEXT novel. (and finish it by November, thanks to NANOWRIMO).

Now... I need to reaquaint myself with my husband and my kids and my poor neglected horses... oh yeah, and my poor neglected vacuum cleaner.