Throwing a Christmas party for the kids

Two years ago, my friend threw a Christmas party for several of the kids in the neighborhood. She hoped to make it an annual event but the next year, no one could settle on a date for the party so it never happened. Rather than let that happen again I decided to take over and plan one for this year.

christmas invitation

Now, I have never thrown a kids’ party in my home. All birthday parties have been at a party location. But I am not a stranger to planning and throwing a party as I have done numerous ones at their schools. Of course there you have other parents helping and the teachers to keep the kids behaving.

This party next Monday will include 13 kids ranging from age 2 to age 8. So this will be an adventure. I am taking the main activity from my friend’s party and then adding a few games. This means we will start off with decorating gingerbread houses. For Jase’s kindergarten Christmas party, another friend, Stacey, and I had the kids decorate these cute little houses that Stacey built out of

DSCN2045graham crackers. She actually put the ones together for first neighborhood party too and has agreed to build them for this year’s party.

Now my original idea was to keep snacks simple – popcorn and brownies. And then I made the mistake of looking on Pinterest. There are too many cute ideas out there! But I don’t want to spend a lot of time making unique but time consuming snacks, so I am making donut snowmen and snowmen popcorn cups. I may still have brownies and Texas Gold bars (look for the recipe as my January Recipe of the Month). And of course, we will have hot chocolate,  juice boxes, and my daughter’s favorite – Sparkle Water (sugar-free sparkling flavored water).

Of course, decorating gingerbread houses and treats aren’t enough. We will be exchanging ornaments, which is another activity I have taken from the original party. My friend also did a second craft, but my kids have opted for games instead of an additional craft. Now as I said, I have run many preschool parties but my kids are just a bit older now. I felt the need to look for some better games. Again, I turned to Pinterest. And here is what the kids chose.

Game 1 involves dividing the kids into teams of two. One of them will be the decorator and make the other kid into a snowman using toilet paper, paper “buttons,” scarves and hats. The first team done wins. It should be hilarious.

Game 2 is to have an indoor snowball fight. Here in South Texas we don’t see snow too often. Most of these kids have only seen snow once or twice and then it was but a light dusting on the ground. The kids and I made these fake snowballs that are perfect for an indoor fight.

P1020986And that should wrap up the party. We bought little reindeers from Oriental Trading Company to hand out as well as made these cute reindeers that have Nestle Crunch mini candy bars inside. Overall, I think it should be a fun time, and if it goes well, I might be planning next year’s party too!

Today’s Featured Author: Marie J.S. Phillips

Today I have on my blog fantasy/science fiction author Marie J.S. Phillips. Please enjoy this excerpt of her book, The Furlites of Aroriel: Book 1 – On Matissia Wings.


Thorius proceeded cautiously, getting a feel for the controls. By the time they merged onto the main road through town, he handled the small craft smoothly. Thorius maneuvered through the sleeping town easily, passing the Fundamental School he and Murkuria attended. A pang of regret flashed through him. He would miss the school.

At Gabbruss’ central hub, he turned right, onto the street that led out of the tiny village. Ahead, the wide road wound through the snow-covered Sepur and Sunip trees of Burstal’s largest forest. Murkuria took a moment to admire the snow-swept trees. The ancient, twisted, gnarled old trees reached into the grey sky, their long needle-covered boughs thrashing in the winds. How many such storms had those old trees lived through? How many more would they experience? Many, she mused, so many she could not imagine them.

Murkuria returned her attention to the road ahead. So far, everything went well. Could she and Thorius escape this storm unscathed? She kept silent, not wishing to distract him.

Thorius guided the vehicle with feigned assurance. Every tiny buffet the small craft took from the wind tossed his heart into his throat, and flung his stomach into the tip of his tail. Iggie’s nervous twittering twinged along his nerves, and he fought his rising annoyance. To yell at the Matissia to be quiet would likely anger Murkuria, and that he did not need. He shut Iggie’s crying from his mind, concentrating on the task at hand. Ahead, the thinning forest told Thorius he approached the main highway that cut through Burstal. Thorius accelerated the craft onto the main road. The shuttle swooshed onto the thoroughfare, spinning suddenly in a strong gust of wind. Murkuria gasped, clinging hard to the riding handles. She wondered if their obeying the message of her dream would hurt or kill them. She turned to Iggie, who yelped with fear. Murkuria soothed her little friend. Iggie’s yelping turned to soft whimpers.

Blood roared in Thorius’ ears as he struggled with the controls. He struggled to concentrate over his pounding heart. Fortunately, the shuttlecraft obeyed his trembling hands, settling into a smooth ride once they pulled onto the roadway. Thorius inhaled deeply, slowly, calming his racing heart.

Murkuria glanced over at her brother. His grim expression put age into his face. His size added to the illusion, and any Law Officer, on first glance, would never guess a mere child drove this craft. Iggie’s whimpering caught her attention. She glanced back at the frightened little beast, and wondered. Should she have left her with Elia and Ceria? Both loved Iggie, and Iggie liked them, but Iggie adored Murkuria. No, she decided, leaving Iggie behind meant, at very least, her alerting the household to their getaway, and, at worst, Iggie’s death. She sighed, and returned her attention to the road ahead.

Thorius pulled back on the accelerator, noticing the thinning of trees ahead, which meant only one thing — the dangerous Floodlands lay ahead. Thorius’ heart raced, and his eyes roved from road to control panel. Blast the circumstances that forced him to take his aunt’s shuttle instead of his mother’s! On this craft, the lortzing air power control pad eluded his questing gaze. He pulled back on the accelerator again, scanning the panel, but the location of the pad remained a mystery. He reached forward, and digits popped into view from behind the steering bar.

“Ah, ha! Not a pad, but a lever!” he exclaimed, and jabbed at the controls. A sudden gust of wind jolted the shuttle, shoving Thorius against the hatch. To his horror, his wrist slapped the accelerator lever, throwing it forward. The little craft surged ahead, breaking from the cover of the forest and onto the flat, treeless terrain. The swirling white wall of cyclonic winds snatched up the wayward vehicle like a wad of shed hair. The craft careened violently.

Murkuria clamped herself to the cushion, her arms wedged into the riding handles. Her talons ripped into the plush upholstery. Behind her, the backsacks bounced wildly against their restraints, and Iggie clung like a leech to one, screeching with every milliliter of volume in her little lungs, voicing her and Murkuria’s terror.

Desperately, Thorius strove to regain control of the vehicle. He clung to the steering bar, and moved all the flap levers, but the craft did not respond. Iggie’s screeching drilled into his ears, feeding his own dread. The pull of gravity told him they dove in, nose first! The craft thudded to an abrupt body-wrenching halt. Thorius clung to the bar, his breath rasping through his constricted throat. He glanced at his sister. She looked unhurt, but the plush fabric beneath her hands hung in tatters. Iggie’s hysterical shrieking filled the craft. Thorius breathed deep, calming himself. The craft hummed quietly, but snow covered the window. He cut the engines, heartened by the sound of their smooth running. Murkuria gained control over herself, and, in response, Iggie’s screaming subsided. She unhooked the seatbelts, and sat up.

“I am unhurt,” she gasped, in deep breaths. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. We nose-dived into a drift.”

“What happened? Why under the triple lortzing moons did you speed up??”

“Blast it, I did not do it purposefully.” He frowned at her anger. “The wind hit us back there. I hit the lever by accident! Great black sucking holes, Murkuria! I did not want to race onto the Floodlands like a fool!”

“I am sorry. I did not mean to swear at you. I did not really think you did it on purpose.” She tried putting her rumpled fur into place. “Did you find the air control?”

“Yes, but right when I went to disengage it, that wind knocked us silly.” Thorius reached back for a snow scoop. “We had best dig out before we do anything else.”

Without reply, Murkuria grabbed the other scoop. As one, they thrust open the hatches. Wind and snow howled into the warm interior. Iggie pricked her ears, her wailing turning to querulous twittering.

“Stay there, Iggie,” Murkuria commanded sternly, then jumped out into the storm. The icy wind sliced into their thick coats, and, for one of the few times in their young lives, both shivered.

Book Description

On Matissia wingsOn the cold distant world Aroriel — where primate species never developed — evolution spawned a furry saurian race that now reaches for the stars. Commander Geupetus of Clan Darius, offered command of the first near-lightspeed starship, hesitates to take the job, as Furlitian Law forbids his pre-adolescent twins Murkuria and Thorius from accompanying their Clan on this historic mission into interstellar space.

Clan Darius, after careful deliberation as a family, driven by their rigid sense of military honor, discipline, and duty, decide they must squelch their emotions and accept the commission – leaving the twins on Aroriel. But the paradox caused by the Clan’s traveling near the speed of light means that IF the twins ever see their family again, they will be older than their parents!

Distraught, Thorius conceives an outrageous plan to stow aboard the great starship.  He and Murkuria borrow a family shuttle, and whiz off, determined to reach the Space Center before dawn launch. With the help of Iggie, Murkuria’s pet Matissia, they sneak aboard the starship, inadvertently causing the Sunpyne to crash land on an alien world, where dinosaurian life like their own is long extinct, and strange primate beings that call themselves Human populate the planet.

Following a violent first confrontation with two natives, they race to repair the ship. A second meeting, with a family camping out in the wilderness around the ship, results in friendship, and information exchange. However, after their Human friends leave to return to a distant home, the Human military locates the downed starship, just after they complete full repairs. Geupetus powers up the ship, but suddenly realizes his twins and one Cadet are not aboard. With enemy warcraft peppering the area with arms fire, and unable to lower shields to recover his children and crewmate, Geupetus refuses to leave without them.  Will the furlites ever see their beloved home again?

Contains some sexual content.

About the Author 

Maria phillipsBorn in 1957, in Huntington, on Long Island, I’ve been driven by an insatiable love of writing, art, and the sciences since very early childhood. My love of animal tales fueled my desire to write, always manifesting in stories from the non-human point of view. I invented my very first character at six years old, creating picture books with a tree as the main protagonist. I included, on the inside covers, my very own publishing logo, complete with rainbow and shining sun!

Back in my senior year of High School, one of my teachers, Mr. O’Connor, lent me a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, which changed my reading and writing life forever, driving me into the unique and futuristic world of Fantasy/Science Fiction.

In college, I majored in Art and Earth Sciences, where inspiration fired my vivid and eccentric imagination, planting the seeds for my Furlites of Aroriel novels, Over the years, I honed the complex world of this alien family saga. My husband’s love and support over the decades proved invaluable, since his scientific knowledge and expertise quickly surpassed my own, once we graduated high school, went off to college, and entered the working world. With his help, and that of my mentor, David Ayscue, who passed away in 2010, I completed the first two of these books, On Matissia Wings, and, Earth-bred Matissia-born,which are now available. Other tales are in the works, including the third book in this series called EYES IN THE DARK, CURSE OF KORIS, and FURLITIAN TALES, a book of shorter tales featuring other characters in the prior books.

I dabbled with another tale many years ago, using my Khan as a character, when my big Maine Coon became seriously ill. While battling Khan’s insidious disease, I completed the story, which took on deeper impact far beyond my intended feline fantasy yarn. KHAN: A Maine Coon is the result, a biography of his life, with fictional elements, written from his point of view. My special furbaby’s bit of immortality has collected all 5 star reviews in this short time.

THE WHITE DRAGONS OF SUVWILUR and OTHER STORIES, is a collection of fantasy /science fiction tales from the point of view of many characters, from an Appaloosa Pegasus, a white furry Dragon, and others, including a Collie /Human hybrid created by genetic manipulation by aggressive aliens.

In OLD GENT, I return to those very roots of my writing career, penning the true tale of our beloved ancient Norway Spruce tree and his sapling son, done from the trees’ point of view, reminiscent in style to my KHAN: A MAINE COON, and, an older tale I read as a child called BIG TREE. OLD GENT is available on Kindle and on Lulu in hardcover.
One of my favorite hobbies has been collecting, showing and customizing model horses. This hobby spawned a set of stories I call THE SECRET LIFE OF MODEL HORSES and soon, Volume One will be read to publish!

Owned by two cats, one of which is a very large 25 pound Maine Coon cat, I live with my husband in the rolling hills of northwestern Connecticut.

You can find out more about Marie on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Her books can be purchased on Amazon or Lulu.

Focusing on Content Editing

I have discussed writing your first draft and even doing some editing as you write, but today I wanted to talk about content editing. This is where you aren’t fixing just wording or punctuation but looking more at the plot and characters.

In a content edit you might…

1.)    Flesh out a character’s back story – in appropriate places, of course.

2.)    Flesh out setting and character descriptions. You add the details that will make your world a little more real. You explain your character’s actions so their choices make sense.

3.)    Adjust a line of dialogue so it sounds more like the character’s voice or stays on target with the conversation and you ensure that all characters don’t talk alike.

4.)    Double check which characters are in a scene and where they are located in that scene. (Val is on the couch by the fire, and then he is leaning against the wall or pacing.) If you have a large cast of characters, you can keep a spreadsheet of where each is located at any point in the story. I did this while writing The Elemental trilogy since the protagonist, her cohorts and the antagonist were almost always in different locations.

5.)    Add in a subplot or flesh out one in your current draft. This of course can change MANY scenes and will require a lot of attention to what happens where and when but can make you novel more complete.

6.)    Make sure that there is a substantial conflict in your story and that the tension rises as the story progresses.

This round of editing is not the final round. And with each read of your novel, you will probably find more content edits to make. (This is one good reason to use Beta Readers as they routinely catch these types of errors.)

I find it easiest to do content editing in stages by chapter. I have a checklist I go through that helps not only with content editing but helps reduce wordiness and stuff like that. (Check back next week and I will share that revision outline.)

Just remember not to become overwhelmed with editing your novel. Each round of editing, each draft of your novel is hopefully bringing you closer to having a well-written, well-developed novel.


Deciding when to take the kids to the doctor

One November morning, Jase came down the stairs, coughing. It was deep, unproductive sound. I got him a glass of milk. As soon as he took a sip, he started coughing more and sounding like he might throw up. But in fact, I think he was just coughing so hard that he couldn’t get air back into his lungs. This of course set him into a panic which made the situation worse.

Finally, my husband was able to calm him down. He had him lie on the bed and just focus on breathing. Jase sounded like Darth Vader. There was no way we wanted to send him to school sounding like that so I took Lexie to school and when I returned, I called the doctor’s office to see if we should bring him in.

sick childThat is always a quandary for parents – when is your child sick enough to need to see a doctor? I am not the kind that takes them in at every little sniffle or fever. In fact, I would rather NOT take them in unless I believe it to be serious. Heck, I don’t even medicate a fever (see my post last year on that topic) unless it is over 102 or causing the child discomfort.

Of course if the fever persists or there are other symptoms, I will take my kid to the doctor. I just don’t want to be one of these over-protective parents. I have friends who take their kids in whenever they start to feel bad, so they can “get ahead” of whatever is wrong.

Now I will admit that I have taken the kids in for minor things right before we plan to go out of town. I don’t know what it is but as soon as we have trip plans, one of them will run a fever or get sick. Since I don’t want to be out of town and discover they have an ear infection or something that needs treatment, I have taken them to the doctor. And each time it has turned out to be nothing serious. It does give me peace of mind, but I always feel slightly silly as I would have never brought them in if we hadn’t been getting ready to leave town.

So back to Jase and his breathing, I received a return call from a nurse from the doctor’s office. Since it was a breathing issue, they would want to see him, but they don’t have any openings for the next four hours. She suggests we take him to Urgent Care so off he and my husband went. They did a chest x-ray and had him breathe with a nebulizer. They gave him a steroid and sent him home with a two-day supply of steroids and the nebulizer. It turned out to just be a virus and by that afternoon, he was feeling better.

There are all sorts of lists online or in books that give you guidelines about when to take your kid to the doctor. But I think the best course of action when you are in doubt – and the one I use the most – is just call and talk with a nurse or doctor who can determine if they need to be seen. When in doubt, it is always better to err on the side of caution and take them in – even if you feel silly for doing it when nothing turns out to be wrong with them.

Today’s Featured Author: Jaime Baywood

Today I have author Jaime Baywood on my blog discussing her debut book, Getting Rooted in New Zealand.


Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Savannah, Georgia, but raised in a small town in northern California. For over three years, I’ve been disassembling and reassembling my life by moving to different countries. I’ve lived in five countries; America, American Samoa, New Zealand, Scotland and now England. Next year I plan to move again internationally. I’m not sure where yet, but I hope it feels like home.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

My education is in fine arts. I had a lot of art shows in California and New Zealand and even managed an art collective in Auckland. I was bored with the fine art scene. Everything has already been done before in painting, but I am the only person that can tell my own story. Writing feels like a more honest form of art than any other method I’ve tried. While I was in New Zealand I met a director named Thomas Sainsbury, he asked me what I was doing in New Zealand. My everyday stories made him laugh and he asked me to write a monologue for him. I had never done anything like that before. I was shocked by the adrenaline rush that came with storytelling and making people laugh.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

My book is a true story. My life has been so strange it sounds like fiction, but it is really too weird to be made up.

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?

I love making people laugh more than anything else. I love hearing from readers that my book is making people laugh out loud. I feel very grateful that for the most part readers understand my sense of humor. I’m always surprised and grateful when I receive a positive review.

The main criticism I get about my book is “it’s not a representation of the entire country of New Zealand.” I don’t consider myself a representative of America and I don’t consider my book a representation of New Zealand. It’s my dairy, not a travel guide.

The hardest part has been when people don’t understand my humor. I have been in a lot of situations where I had two choices: laugh or cry. I’ve chosen to laugh. I write my experiences from a purely personal standpoint. Compared to other travelers who worked abroad in NZ my experiences have been very unusual. I would highly recommend everyone goes to New Zealand to experience their own adventure.

Please tell us about your current release.

Getting Rooted in New Zealand is a funny travel memoir about my time living in New Zealand from 2010 to 2011.

What inspired you to write this book?

While living in New Zealand, I had funny experiences that I had trouble believing were true. I wrote the stories down to stay sane. I wrote situations down that were happening around me and shared them with friends.  Most of the book was written as the events happened; it just took me a few years to work up the nerve to publish. Publishing my book was my way of transforming poison into medicine. I hope that it can help people that have had bad dating experiences or bad work experiences – make them laugh and not give up hope.

How did you come up with the title?

In New Zealand, I had a lot of culture shock. One of the most memorable moments was learning the meaning of the Kiwi slang word “rooted.” One night I was brushing my teeth with my flatmate and I said, “I’m really excited to live in this house because I have been travelling a lot and I just need to settle down, stop travelling and get rooted.” He was choking on his toothbrush and asked me if I knew what that meant because it had a completely different meaning New Zealand than it does in the States.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

All of the characters are based on real people. Some of the names of individuals and organizations, but not all, have been changed to preserve privacy.

Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?

Some of my closest friends that I met while living in New Zealand are described in the book. I miss them terribly.

There also were characters that were challenging to deal with in real life. They will be obvious if you read the book. I hope they have found inner peace.

If this book is part of a series, what is the next book? Any details you can share?

I plan to divide my books by the countries I’ve lived in.  My next book will be about attempting to settle in Scotland.

If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?

It would be fun to be Grant for a day and see how he sees me.

Tell us a random fact about you that we never would have guessed.

My life is literally an open book, but Jamie Baywood is a pen name. I haven’t told my family that I’ve written or published a book. They think I’m just living in the UK working on a MA in Design studying book covers.

I am rather enjoying leading a double life. I am living in a different country from my family and my husband’s family so that aids the author secret. I have a few relatives on both sides of the family having babies this year, so both sets of families are mostly talking about the imminent arrivals and not questioning what I am doing.

Book Description

final book designCraving change and lacking logic, at 26, Jamie, a cute and quirky Californian, impulsively moves to New Zealand to avoid dating after reading that the country’s population has 100,000 fewer men. In her journal, she captures a hysterically honest look at herself, her past and her new wonderfully weird world filled with curious characters and slapstick situations in unbelievably bizarre jobs. It takes a zany jaunt to the end of the Earth and a serendipitous meeting with a fellow traveler before Jamie learns what it really means to get rooted.

About the Author 

jaimeJamie Baywood grew up in Petaluma, California. In 2010, she made the most impulsive decision of her life by moving to New Zealand. Getting Rooted in New Zealand is her first book about her experiences living there. Jamie is now married and living happily ever after in the United Kingdom. She is working on her second book.

You can follow Jaime on Facebook and Twitter.

You can purchase Getting Rooted in New Zealand on Amazon.