Keeping the kids busy this summer

It is always a challenge to keep the kids busy during the summer so they don’t spend all their time squabbling or watching hours of TV. I usually try to have something planned most days. If you are looking for some ideas, here is what we have going on.

Free Activities

The best things are always free but there aren’t too many things nowadays that are free. We will spend some time at our neighborhood pool, visiting my parents or stocking up on books at the library (which sometimes offers a craft). If it isn’t too hot, we also may hit one of the parks on our way to the library.

Paid Activities

IMG_0022With season passes or memberships to a few area attractions, we will also be going to the zoo, Sea World and the Doseum, San Antonio’s new children’s museum. As a family we also finally made it to Natural Bridge Caverns in June. We also have a Groupon for an afternoon at Pump It Up, a local inflatable/bounce slide place, and Lexie is signed up for mermaid camp in July.

Home Craft Activities

What better way to stop the TV/iPad watching then a few afternoon activities. I have a few plans I have pulled off the Internet, including – sponge ball fights and chalk rockets. I found lots of great hints on this list for June and this one for July. Many of the activities are aimed for the smaller kids, so I am going to have to find those that will interest a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old. If I need more ideas there is always Pinterest.

School Work

Yes, I am one of the moms out there that makes my kids do some school work during the summer to avoid that summer slide (where kids spend 2 1/2 months forgetting most of what they learned.) We will be doing reading, math and writing each week to keep their minds active.

Home Projects

We have some projects we want to get done this summer. In June, we have been cleaning and organizing the kids rooms. All the broken and and unused toys were out and the rest of their belongings organized. This is all in preparation for July’s project of painting each kids’ room.

Lexie has chosen two different pinks (with sparkles, of course). The dark pink will be on the bottom half of the room and the lighter pink on the top. We have also bought an awesome Elsa decal for the wall.

As for Jase, he is going with just blue walls. His current walls are blue, but the paint job is 12 years old so time to freshen it up with a newer shade. His big thing will be getting a huge Star Wars wall mural. It will be quite the focal point.

Free time 

And it wouldn’t be summer vacation without some down time where the kids can play in their rooms, read a book or even perhaps just veg in front of the TV for a little while.

Not every minute of the summer needs to be planned, but it helps to have options to keep those kids busy rather than bored.

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Looking for #authors to feature on my blog

Well, today is the day that I typically feature authors but my guest flaked on me. It seems to be happening more often lately. So if you are an author and are serious about being featured on my Featured Author spot (Fridays), please let me know. I have dates open in August and beyond.

I host any genre author and both those that are traditionally and self-published.

The post can take one of three formats: author interview, book excerpt or a guest post on any aspect of writing, publishing, and book marketing.

I fill spots on a first-come-first-served basis, though I do have a few Tuesday openings to accommodate special requests for dates related to promotions such as book tours or book releases.

If you are interested, send me a message along with any date requests, and we’ll take it from there.

Technology’s effect on writing

laptopWriting a book today is not like it was twenty or thirty years ago. Technology has brought us a long way. No longer are authors writing their novels out in longhand on notepads or typing them on a typewriter. Nowadays, most writers use a word-processing program on their Mac or PC.

Actually, you don’t even need a desktop computer. You can write your novel on a laptop or tablet which allow you to write not just at home but anywhere.

Having your novel in a digital format makes it easier to rewrite chapters or to edit. No longer do you have to type the whole thing over or use correction tape. You can just click your mouse and delete or add whatever you need.

In many ways, technology has helped authors.

If you have problems typing, there is voice-recognition software where you can simply dictate your novel. (Of course, there are companies that will transcribe your dictated work but to me this isn’t the same thing as being able to rewrite or change something right when you think of it versus waiting for your transcribed document to be returned.)

I even have used a voice recorder to take down ideas for my novel as I am working around the house or driving in the car.

But the biggest advancement (besides the word-processing programs would be using the Internet for research. Yes, you can still go to the library to do your research, but the Internet lets you do it quicker and from the comfort of your own home.

Simply type a few words into a search engine, and you can find huge amounts of information on pretty much any subject. So now instead of sifting through heavy books, you can spend hours reading different sites on the various topics.

This of course brings up a problem. There is a lot of misinformation out there. There is no filter for what is published here. You will have to decipher what is the truth about what is posted on the Internet.

But if you want to know how something works or view pictures of videos of a foreign location, it is quite easy to find these things on the Internet.

E-mail also is a big help with being able to converse with experts in the field quicker than sending a letter and without being as intrusive as a phone call.

The Internet through websites and social media outlets also allows readers to better connect with their readers. This allows for greater communication and feedback than ever before.

But being connected, also had its disadvantages. There are so many things that can distract you from writing – Facebook, web surfing, shopping, Twitter, Instagram, e-mail and YouTube. Each of these can be a huge drain on time.

Overall, I think technology makes an author’s life easier as long as you can stay away from those time-sucking other activities.

 

 

Starting ADD medication  

Lexie at her Fiesta parade in April.

Lexie at her Fiesta parade in April.

I wrote back in March that Lexie’s teacher was concerned that she might have an attention or focus problem. I brought it up to Lexie’s pediatrician at her 7-year-old checkup in April. After a few basic questions, she gave us the paperwork to have her assessed for ADD or ADHD.

Basically this included a questionnaire for both parents and her teacher. They like to have four assessments so we had Lexie’s reading teacher also fill out a form. The pediatrician then scored the questionnaires. We met with her at the end of April to go over the results.

Both my questionnaire and Lexie’s primary teacher indicated that Lexie might have a focus problem. But the one from my husband and her reading teacher didn’t. Since all four questionnaire were not in sync with each other, there was no definite diagnosis of ADD or ADHD.

As we discussed this, Lexie is rolling across the exam table and even though she had my husband’s phone to play with, she can’t sit still.

The doctor talked briefly about our options – trying therapy to redirect Lexie or trying some medication to see if that helped her focus. If the medicine worked, we would then have our ADD diagnosis. If it didn’t then we would need to look at other methods for redirecting her.

I think because we are already frustrated with her, medication seemed the easier solution to at least get a definitive diagnosis. The doctor went over the side effects – decreased appetite, sleep problems or even possibly heart palpitations.

One thing I didn’t realize is that most ADD medications are stimulants. As such, since Lexie was born with a congenitive heart defect (which resolved itself before 9 months old), the doctor ordered an EKG that would be evaluated by her pediatric cardiologist (who we hadn’t seen in almost 6 years).

Well, her cardiologist had since changed offices and he didn’t have access to her old records. If he had, we probably would have been saved from having to make an appointment to see him. As it was, we got a call that he had noted something unusual on her EKG and we needed to follow up with him.

After a second EKG, an echocardiogram and refreshing his memory about Lexie’s medical history, he pronounced her heart strong and saw no problem with her taking ADD medicine. (He did note that he could see why she might need the medication as she again could hardly sit still during the exam.)

So after one last appointment to again go over the side effects, we were given a prescription for Focalin. We were to start her with the lowest dosage of 5 mg and then if after two weeks that didn’t seem to help, we were to move her to a 10 mg dosage.

After a few days delay of getting the insurance company to understand the dosage instructions so they would cover her medication, we tried to start Lexie on the medication on June 12th. I say try because the medicine came in a pill format and Lexie has never taken a pill.

My husband thought it would be no trouble as he has never had problems swallowing pills. I on the other hand remember struggling with it as a child. Lexie takes after me and had trouble swallowing the capsule.

The instructions indicated that we could open the capsule and add it to a spoonful of applesauce which we didn’t have since neither kid eats it. So we decided to open a capsule and add the contents to some water and administer it by a syringe as we do all of Lexie’s other medications. Lexie however panicked and the most of the meds dribbled down her front side.

Admitting defeat for the day, we tried again the next day. This time we sprinkled it on a spoonful of yogurt and she had no problem taking it. She has now been taking it for a little over a week and there has been very little change in her behavior. We will probably try the higher dosage in the coming week and then meet with her doctor next month to check her weight and discuss if the medication is helping her.

Today’s Featured Author: Victoria Christopher Murray

Please welcome back author Victoria Christopher Murray to my blog. Her latest book, Stand Your Ground, will be out June 30th.

Book Synopsis

stand your groundFrom the #1 Essence bestselling and award-winning author Victoria Christopher Murray comes a new novel about three women forced to grapple with their faith and their belief in the justice system when they become involved in a high-stakes murder trial.

Janice Johnson is living every mother’s worst nightmare. Her sixteen-year-old son was murdered in the parking lot of a convenience store and the shooter hasn’t been arrested. Janice and her husband want justice for their son, but disagree about whether to trust the police investigation—or take matters into their own hands.

Shelly Vance cannot believe the nightmare that has become her life. Her husband is facing murder charges for shooting a sixteen-year-old who he says attacked him in a parking lot. This tragedy is only magnified by the racial divide it has created, and Shelly feels herself being judged by everyone from her employer to her friends. She’s vowed to stand by her husband no matter what, but how can she keep quiet when she’s keeping a secret that could blow the whole case wide open?

Alax Wilson would rather be anywhere else but on the jury of this highly charged case. Not only is she missing work—which she can’t really afford to do—but she’s been chosen as the jury’s foreman, which means she has to take her role seriously if there is any hope of reaching a verdict.

Faced with the tragic death of a teenager and a dramatic trial that has turned into media frenzy, Janice, Shelly, and Alax are forced to face their own prejudices and those of the world around them. But will the truth come to light?

About The Author

VCMVictoria Christopher Murray always knew she would become an author, even as she was taking an unlikely path to that destination. A native of Queens, Victoria first left New York to attend Hampton University where she majored in Communication Disorders. After graduating, Victoria attended New York University where she received her MBA.

Victoria spent ten years in Corporate America before she tested her entrepreneurial spirit. She opened a Financial Services Agency for Aegon, USA where she managed the number one division for nine consecutive years. However, Victoria never lost the dream to write and when the “bug” hit her again in 1997, she answered the call.

Victoria originally self-published her first novel, Temptation and in 2000, Time Warner published that novel. Temptation made numerous best sellers list and remained on the Essence bestsellers list for nine consecutive months. In 2001, Temptation was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in Outstanding Literature.

Victoria has received numerous awards including the Golden Pen Award for Best Inspirational Fiction and the Phyllis Wheatley Trailblazer Award for being a pioneer in African American Fiction. Since 2007, Victoria has won seven African American Literary Awards for best novel, best Christian fiction and Author of the Year – Female. Her 2014 NAACP Image Award nomination for Never Say Never was her third Image Award nomination.

Several of Victoria’s novels have been optioned to become movies, including The Deal, the Dance and the Devil and the Ex Files series.

With over one million books in print, Victoria is one of the country’s top African American contemporary authors.

You can find out more about Victoria on her website or check her out on Facebook or Goodreads.

You can purchase Victoria’s books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Stand Your Ground comes out June 30th.

Fantasy without cliché

Fantasy stories are often filled with clichéd ideas – the farm boy who saves the world, the girl destined to become the ruler, and so many more that I could fill up my whole post with overused plot or characters from fantasy stories.

The hard thing is when you think of fantasy – you typically think of fantasy characters such as fairies, goblins, dwarves and elves. All these are overused.

It becomes hard to write a fresh, innovative fantasy novel without using a few of the clichéd ideas. After all, what makes fantasy…well a fantasy is a lot of these things.

I am not saying you need to omit these ideas or characters from your writing. I am just saying that you need to be aware of the overused themes, characters and plots and give them a new twist.

Fantasy clichés to avoid

dragon1.) Creatures – The above-mentioned creatures – fairies, elves, gnomes, dwarves – have all been overused and stereotyped. You can either change them from what everyone expects or create your own creatures. (But don’t use the same old creatures and just rename them something else.)

2.) Legends/Prophecies – The prediction that something will happen (and for it to come true) isn’t very realistic and can take some suspense out of the story for the reader. (Of course, my trilogy and my latest book both dealt with forms of this.)

3.) The Chosen One – This often is a lowly stable boy or someone of no importance who rises to save the world (or galaxy) from evil. Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter are both great examples. Again, overused and could negate some of the suspense to the story if you know how it will turn out.

bigstock_Shadow_Man_4690914.) Dark Lord – This typically is an antagonist that is often evil just for the sake of being evil. (I have already addressed creating a realistic villain in another post. Basically, the villain needs motivation or a reason to be evil.) Of course, many times the villain doesn’t see their scheme as bad. They are heroes in their own mind.

5.) Unrealistic fighting – In a fight, people get wounded and often are killed. It is unrealistic to have your hero battle a hoard of attackers and comes out unscathed. This is especially true if it is the young stable boy who has only had a lesson or two in sword work before he bests the trained, seasoned warrior. (Check out this post on creating realistic fight scenes.)

6.) Men as Hero/Women Damsel – Often the hero and his cohorts are men. Sometimes a woman is thrown into the mix but not always in a strong role. Instead, she often needs rescuing. But readers do like strong female characters. Think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer versus Snow White.  (All my stories have had a women protagonist though my first one, Lina, was a bit reluctant and a bit weak before growing into her role.)  Oh, and I should address the stereotype of the man who saves a woman and then will do anything to protect her after only just meeting her. Again, very unrealistic actions.

wizard7.) The Wise Old Man – Our stable boy or other-wise seemingly low born character is often taken under the wing of a wise old man – usually with a grey robe, long beard and some sort of magic. Definitely overdone. Maybe your hero can meet a young woman who guides him/her instead.

As I said, there are many other examples than the ones I listed here. Even romance between characters can become clichéd. I actually had a reviewer tell me that my romance in my first book, Summoned, seemed to only be included because romance is a given in most fantasy books these days.

You don’t have to avoid these clichéd items but try to put a creative twist on them. Go against the norm and do something a little unexpected. Then it isn’t a tired, old plot or character but something new for your reader.