Taking your kids out of school for non-health related reasons

I always tell my kids that their job is school. It is their job to learn and do their best at the lessons taught. Because I believe school is important, we try not to have them miss school.

I am a firm believer that if they aren’t really sick, then they need to be at school. If they aren’t running a fever (over 100) or throwing up, they are going to school. The one time I relented to this rule, I regretted it.

Of course, there are also doctor or dentist appointments to consider. We try to make those after school but that isn’t always possible, so I try to make them later in the school day, so they don’t miss too much. (School may start at 7:30 am but they have to be in class at 9:30 am to be counted for the day. Even if they come in later than that, they are still marked as absent.)

I know quite a few parents who have no qualms about taking their kids out of school for any reason – vacation, mental health day or whatever. Yes, places like Disney World are less busy during the school year, but I would feel too guilty taking my kids out for a week. There is no amount of makeup work that can replace actually being there.

Jase and Lexie on the tall slide.

Jase and Lexie on the tall slide at the rodeo.

Now, I must admit that I have taken the kids out for some not medical reasons. The last time was just two and a half weeks ago. Every year, San Antonio has a Stock Show & Rodeo in February.  This is a two-week event featuring not just a rodeo and agricultural exhibits but major singers nightly and a carnival.

We don’t typically go to the rodeo though it is very popular (read crowded). I took the kids when Jase was 6 and Lexie was 3 for what they call Dollar Days. Admission, all carnival rides and some foods only cost $1 on these days. Two years later, I took them again and then again this year.

The best way to beat those crowds on these discount days is to go early so I have taken the kids out of school around 11 am (or during the first year just waited until Jase was out of his pre-K class).

Lexie watching baby chicks hatch.

Lexie watching baby chicks hatch.

It isn’t all riding rides. We do some of the other kid activities and check out the petting zoo. I hope that some of it is at least educational for them. It at least lets them see another side of life if nothing else.

This is only one afternoon every other year, so I don’t feel too bad about taking them out. Last year, they also missed a day in the spring. My husband had a conference at South Padre Island, so we went up the weekend before. Since it is a 5-hour drive, we decided the kids and I would just drive back on Monday. But I knew the kids didn’t have any tests or major activities happening that day, so I felt fine with our decision.

And Jase missed the last day of school the first three years of elementary school. But then again, all the teaching is over by then, and we were going on vacation, so I didn’t feel bad at all about this.

As the kids advance in school, I actually expect it to be harder to feel okay with taking them out of school for a day here or there. Yes, there are some things like doctor’s appointments but most of their time is best spent in school learning.

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Today’s Featured Author – Carmel McMurdo Audsley

Please welcome author Carmel McMurdo Audsley to my blog. Her latest historical novel, The Undertaker, came out in October 2015.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I have worked as a Journalist, Author, Editor and Theatre Reviewer in Brisbane, Australia for over 30 years and retired from full-time work at a newspaper a few years ago.  I say ‘retired’ but I have never stopped working.  I created a magazine and then started researching my first novel which was published in 2012.  My fourth novel The Undertaker has just been released.

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

All of my books have a strong female lead character – I couldn’t write them any other way.  They are quite like me in that they don’t take no for an answer and are always trying to find solutions to problems.  In The Undertaker the main character Kate would love to study medicine but in Edinburgh Scotland in 1858 women are not admitted to the prestigious School of Medicine.  She is just 23 years old, and inherits her father’s undertaking business, and while most girls her age are only interested in finding a suitable husband, Kate is more interested in studying anatomy with a young male doctor she has befriended.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

My next novel will be set in Scotland and Australia.  A rather well-to-do young woman (another strong female) inadvertently gets transported to Australia in the 1800s.  She tries to help the many women from poor backgrounds who have turned to prostitution to survive.  She falls in love with an Aboriginal man and has a child.  I can’t say too much more, but she eventually returns to Scotland.

Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like?

I write every day.  Each book takes months of research, writing and editing and so after nine months gestation a new book is born.  After the book has been published I get very involved in the marketing as well, so really each books takes about a year to get into the marketplace.  I begin each day by checking and answering my emails.  I always reply to emails received from readers.  It’s a great joy to be in touch with someone who has taken the time to buy and read my book and then write to me.  After breakfast and a bit of tidying up, I drink a lot of tea and get on with researching or writing my book.  Because I write historical fiction, it is important that the details are correct, so I spend a lot of time checking and cross-checking facts.

What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)

Most of the writing advice I received was when I was at university studying to be a Journalist, and also from Editors at newspapers and magazines.  The advice was always ‘keep it tight’ and those three little words really say it all.  You can apply that advice to any type of writing.  In the interests of keeping your reader engaged, don’t waffle, don’t give too much description and don’t go off on too many tangents – keep it tight.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

I always write an outline for each book so that I have a roadmap for where I’m going.  That doesn’t mean that I won’t take a few twists and turns to get to the destination.  You have to be prepared to allow the characters and story guide you.  I view writing a book a bit like an extended holiday.  You have an approximate idea of when you will reach your journey and how you will get there, but if you find something interesting along the way, give yourself time to explore it.  Sometimes a character will do or say something that leads to a new idea and so long as it flows with the rest of the story, I go with the flow.

Please tell us about your current release.

My latest book is The Undertaker.  It is set in Edinburgh in 1858 and tells the story of a young woman, Kate Grainger, who inherits her father’s undertaking business.  Not only is it not expected that she will continue with the business, but Kate suspects that the first client on her watch has been murdered and she sets out to find the killer.  Even though a lot of the story is set in an undertaker’s office, there is also some humour and she takes off on lots of adventures as she digs into the background of her suspected killer.

What inspired you to write this book and how did you come up with the title?

All of my books are set in Scotland and I love researching period stories.  There were some very intelligent, educated and creative women living in that period of course, but history is dominated by the achievements of men.  I wanted to create a strong character who was rather unpredictable in her approach to life.  I also wanted to introduce the theme of someone who could communicate with those in the after-life and Kate has that ability.  The name – The Undertaker – has several meanings.  Obviously, she is an undertaker by profession, she undertakes to solve murder mysteries and she is able to take people under by using hypnosis.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

I researched how people lived in 1858 in Edinburgh and incorporated actual events such as an encounter Kate has with a little dog, known locally (and now across the world) as Greyfriar’s Bobby.  When the little dog’s master died, he stayed by his graveside for many years.  The canon would fire at Edinburgh Castle at one o’clock each day and the little dog would trot off for his only meal at a local coffee house that he used to frequent with his master.  I also discovered that there is an area in Edinburgh known at The Vaults – underground caverns that were originally built for merchants to store their goods, but which became home to an assortment of unsavoury characters so of course Kate goes down into The Vaults.  I also had to research poisons and how they killed people.

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

I would be Kate from The Undertaker, for sure.  She is so self-confident and fearless.  I would also be Mary from Ours, Yours and Mines.  Mary is actually my great-great-grandmother.  She gave birth to eight children and buried seven of them, mostly from tuberculosis.  She was a very strong woman and I don’t know how she found the strength to carry on.  I would also be Marion from Faeries, Farms and Folk.  She lived in the 1700s in Scotland and was publicly mocked by the church because she became pregnant before marriage.  She also befriended an old woman who was treated as a witch, so she wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in.

Book Blurb

The UndertakerIn 1858 in Edinburgh Scotland, a 23-year-old woman named Kate Grainger inherits her father’s undertaking business.  It is a time when not much is expected of women, other than to be wives and mothers, and Kate wants to be neither.  She wants to be a doctor but women are not allowed to enter the prestigious Edinburgh School of Medicine.  She has a male friend, James, who is a doctor – he is smitten with her and wants to marry her, but she has made it clear that she has no such intentions.  She spends a lot of time with him looking through his medical books to learn all that she can.  She has drive and ambition – and a special gift.  Kate can communicate with people who have passed over.  She had, what her father thought, was an imaginary friend when she was a child, but her companion was the spirit of a little girl who had died in the Great Fire of Edinburgh.  When Kate discovers that her first client at Grainger Undertakers has been murdered, she sets out on a journey that takes her deep into Edinburgh’s underground and into the spirit world to catch a serial killer.

About the Author

Carmel AudsleyThis is author Carmel McMurdo Audsley’s first foray into the world of crime fiction writing.  Her three previous novels, all set in Scotland and based upon her family history, received glowing reviews from readers around the world.  The Undertaker continues the theme of strong women who forge on against the odds to do what they feel is right.  The author has researched life in Edinburgh Scotland in 1858 to take readers on a journey with the protagonist Kate as she walks the cobbled streets of the city, prepares the dead for their final journey and meets with people from all walks of life.  As with her three previous novels – Ours, Yours and Mines; Far Across the Sea and Faeries, Farms and Folk – the writer takes readers through a door into the past.

You can find out more about Carmel on her website.

You can purchase The Undertaker on Amazon or check out additional reviews here.

5 tips for developing good writing habits

pen-and-notebookThere is only one way to become a better writer, and that is with lots of practice.

Establishing good writing habits have several benefits: it allows you to write regularly, and it improves your writing (through practice).

Below is a list of essential writing habits that can benefit your writing skills. Try incorporating one of these into your routine to improve your writing.

1.) Establish a writing schedule – Whether you write for three hours a day or just ten minutes, a daily writing habit is crucial to improving your writing. It is better to write fifteen minutes a day than to binge for six hours over the weekend. If you can incorporate the daily writing schedule with your longer weekend sessions, then all the better. Much like an athlete, you need daily practice to improve.

2.) Don’t forget to read – You can learn a lot about writing by reading what others have done. You can learn what not to do or what you don’t like as well as pick up ideas for things that did work out well. Pay attention to sentence structure, word choice and how the material flows. Check to see how (or if) the author successfully draws you into the story.

3.) Finish what you start – All too often writers begin something, and then a newer, better idea (or even just life) comes along, and they abandon what they were working on. Shiny, new ideas are always tempting. Don’t give in! Unless you are absolutely stuck on your project, wrap up your current project before moving on. (That doesn’t mean you can’t jot down your idea in a notebook so you can expand on it later. It just means don’t get distracted by the new project.)

4.) Write now, edit later – It is important to just write and not judge what you have written down. (At least not at first.) Even experienced writers don’t crank out perfect first drafts. Set a timer and just write.  And accept that much of what you write in your first draft may not make it into the book. The important thing here is to write. You can worry about word choices and sentence structure later.

5.) Know your craft – As a writer you need to understand thinks like grammar, spelling and punctuation as well as the importance of editing and polishing your work before you show it around. Make sure you learn the rules and then be sure to edit, edit, edit. Consult grammar and style guides if necessary and learn to properly format your documents. You can learn a lot by revising or rewriting what you already wrote.

Improving your writing is hard work. Maintaining a consistent writing schedule is hard especially with so many distractions vying for your attention. But the only way to improve is to practice, practice, practice.

Wanted: Authors for Friday Featured #Author spot

Are you an author? Would you like to be a featured author on my blog?

I host guest authors every week – any genre, both 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, or book marketing.

I feature guest authors on Fridays, 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, book releases or cover reveals. My next openings are in March.

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

Offering incentives to memorize math facts

Anyone with children (in the U.S.A.) can tell you that math today is not taught like it was when we were in school. Instead of just memorizing a lot of facts, the kids learn the why behind the math equations. Teachers use number lines, grouping and many other methods before they expect the kids to memorize things like their multiplication table.

Jase is in the fourth grade and very much in need of memorizing his multiplication facts. It would help him tremendously with his division. But every time I mentioned memorizing the multiplication table, I have been meet with resistance.

It doesn’t matter that I tell him that it will make math easier or that I know in fifth grade they will have to have it memorized, he simply digs in his heels and tells me he doesn’t need to do it. (Speaking with another fourth grade mom I found that her son is the same way so at least I am not alone in this battle.)

So after many, many days of aggravation, I read something online about the futility of arguing with someone. Once they dig in their heels as Jase was doing, I would not be getting through to him no matter how many times I brought up the subject or how many different ways I tried. All it was going to do was make both of us annoyed.

This meant I needed to approach the problem in a different way. Now when Lexie had to wear an eye patch every day (for her amblyopia), we offered her a prize for wearing it. I collected items from the dollar store as well as some candy. Whenever she was done wearing the patch both she and Jase picked a prize. It worked well as an incentive.

IMG_4173I decide that I could do the same thing with Jase and learning his multiplication facts. Of course now that they are older, the prizes from the dollar store don’t hold the same appeal. So I selected prizes I thought would motivate them – an Oreo McFlurry from McDonalds, an Icee, a Kit Kat candy bar or a bag of Skittles, a Minecraft blind box or a new Minecraft skin. I even added a higher-priced prize of a Disney Infinity character just to make it more exciting.

And if he can get the whole multiplication table memorized by April, he will get a video game he has been wanting.

So when he learned all the twos (2 x 1 all the way through 2 x 12), he got to draw for a prize. Then he needs to do the same for his threes, fours, fives and so on up to 12. (I let him do them in any order that he wanted.)

I didn’t want Lexie to fill left out so when a note came home that she needed to work on her math (in particular subtraction), I made her a challenge all her own. She has to study and pass math tests to earn the same prizes that Jase earns.

Now I don’t always want to use this method to get my children to study as they don’t need any more toys in their overcrowded rooms and I would be afraid that it is setting them up to always expect rewards for working. But as a one-time thing, I am hoping it is worth it. I just want him to finally memorize his multiplication table!

Today’s Featured Author – Marian Thorpe

Today I welcome author Marian Thorpe to my blog. Her latest book, Empire’s Daughter (Empire’s Legacy Book 1) was released last year.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

What may come as a surprise to some readers will be my age; I’m nearly 58. I’m married, no kids – two cats, though -and retired after twenty-six years in education, although my original degrees are in plant science.  I’m currently studying archaeology part-time through on-line courses, and I review and edit books as well as write fiction, non-fiction, verse, and two blogs. And I’m a birder.  I think that’s everything!

Please tell us about your current release.

Empire’s Daughter is a coming of age story, set in a world that isn’t quite Britain, in the centuries after the fall of Rome.  Generations before, conflict between the Emperor and the headwomen of the villages led to a divided society: militaristic for the men, pastoral and trades for the women.  Men and women live apart, coming together twice a year at Festival.  But an external threat of invasion leads the Emperor to ask for the help of the women’s villages in repelling the invaders.  Lena, the protagonist of Empire’s Daughter, votes to fight; her partner, Maya, chooses exile instead. Both sets of choices lead the two young women to different paths and different understandings of love, loyalty and loss

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I’m working on the next book in the Empire’s Legacy series; this one is titled Empire’s Hostage.  It too takes historical truths about Europe – the Viking incursions into Scotland, the border raids between Scotland and England, the Justinian plague – and weaves them, not historically accurately, into the world created in Empire’s Daughter.

How do you conceive your plot ideas?

My plots are based on history and ‘what if?’ In the case of Empire’s Daughter, that ‘what if’ was: what if, when Rome fell, that message never got to Britain?  What would happen to a last outpost of an Empire who loses contact completely with its centre?  The world of Empire’s Daughter isn’t (quite) Britain, either historically or geographically, but that question was at the heart of its creation.

Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?

I write more or less full-time now; I retired about a year ago, which allows me this freedom.   Every day is a bit different, because as well as writing Empire’s Hostage, I also have two blogs to write posts for, book reviews to do, editing, plot notes…oh, and my course work in archaeology.  As well, the business of living – house cleaning, shopping, a daily walk – has to fit in there too.  But generally I’m at my laptop by about 8 in the morning, beginning the day with a list of what I’d like to accomplish, and work on-and-off till about 5.  I try not to sit for more than an hour at a time, and when I’m working at home that’s easy, because there is always laundry to put in, or a cupboard to clean, or it’s time for a walk; it’s harder when I work at my writer’s group or at the university library, which I do on weekends when my husband watches soccer almost all day.  I like soccer, but not that much!

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

With Empire’s Daughter I didn’t outline it – it just evolved over ten years. (I was working in a very demanding job during that time so I didn’t have much time to write.)  With its sequel, I mapped out the story arc of the book – but as I write new characters and situations keep appearing, so the outline and the finished story will have significant differences.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

A lot, but only in hindsight. My husband and I travel to Britain frequently – we both hold dual UK and Canadian citizenship and have family in England and Scotland – so the geography was well known to me.  I read a lot of history, so again I was using facts I knew from that reading, and way back in university I’d taken a course (for fun) on Celtic History, so that helped as well.  Towards the end of writing Empire’s Daughter and beginning to think about Empire’s Hostage, my husband and I spent some time on Hadrian’s Wall again; I took a course on the archaeology of Hadrian’s Wall, and read a lot of books about the history of Rome, Britain, and the Viking era.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

Only one.  The character of Turlo, a major in the Empire’s army, is based almost entirely on Ted Cowan, my Celtic History professor at university and now Emeritus Professor of Scottish History and Literature at the University of Glasgow.  I think he’d appreciate it!

Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?

Almost all my focused writing on Empire’s Daughter,  and much of Empire’s Hostage, occurred in a study carrel on the fifth floor of the university I attended; we still live in the area, and as an alumna I have library privileges.  It’s the same study carrel I wrote most of my M.Sc. thesis at thirty years earlier! Now I’m retired I also have joined a writer’s group that meets every Monday morning at a local bookstore-cum-restaurant that reserves the space just for us from 9 – 12.  At home, I write in our library, or in the sun-room, usually with the ‘help’ of one of the cats.

Book Blurb

Empire's Daughter cover“But the world changes. In all the women’s villages of the Empire, this week or next, a soldier like myself will arrive to ask to live in the village, to take up a trade.” Casyn paused, for a breath, a heartbeat. “And to teach you and your daughters to fight.”

With those words, the lives of Lena, fisherwoman of Tirvan village, and her partner Maya change irrevocably. Torn apart by their responses to this request, Maya chooses exile; Lena chooses to stay to defend her village and the Empire, although the rules of the Partition Assembly many generations earlier had divided and circumscribed the lives of men and women. Appointed to leadership, Lena’s concepts of love and loyalty are challenged as she learns the skills of warfare, and, in the aftermath of battle, faces the consequences of her choices. Leaving Tirvan to search for Maya, Lena is drawn into the intrigues and politics of the Empire, forcing her to examine what she most truly believes in.

About the Author 

MarianI am an indie writer of young-adult adventure, short stories, verse and non-fiction nature writing; editor, reviewer, part-time student of archaeology, artist, birder, walker, cook.  I explore landscapes of the past and present, and of the mind, and experiment with how the digital world allows art, writing and knowledge to be shared and disseminated.

I hold an M.Sc. in plant agriculture and a B.Ed. I’ve worked as a university research associate, taught high school science and horticulture for twelve years, and then became a special education coordinator for another fourteen before retiring, specializing in autism education and educational technology.  Birding has taken me to all seven continents, and to places on them most travellers never see.  I live in a tiny hamlet in southern Ontario with my husband and two cats, in a 105 year-old house backing on to a maple swamp.  Writing has been part of my life since early childhood, and I have published sporadically over the last thirty-five years.

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

You can purchase Empire’s Daughter on Amazon and Smashwords.