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Christy Catherine Marshall

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February 23, 2007

I have a book on my desk that I’d love to give away to one of you:

TOO MUCH STUFF, by Kathryn Porter.

Kathryn was a guest on Mom 2 Mom a few weeks ago, and she has totally inspired me to do some major decluttering.

In her book, she shares her personal struggle (and victory!) over this area in her life, and now I feel like I have my very own organizing coach, cheering me on.

Here’s what her website, Clutterwise, says on the home page:

We love stuff.

Clothes. Shoes. Make-up. Jewelry. Books. Pictures. Movies. CDs. Letters. Recipes. Magazines. STUFF! Our consumer-driven society is constantly enticing us to want more, and before we know it—it’s just too much!

What begins as an innocent collection of odds and ends soon grows into heaping mounds of clutter and chaos. Before we realize it, clutter seeps in and sucks away our time, peace of mind, and our freedom. Clutter mentally and physically sucks the life out of us and traps us in a life we were never meant to have.

As we head into March next week, do you have an area of your home that you’d like to attack and declutter? It may be something small, like a junk drawer in your kitchen. Or maybe it’s bigger, like a closet … or even a room.

Leave a comment here about what project you’d like to attack, and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win TOO MUCH STUFF. Let’s form our own DECLUTTERING support group. The chore is not such a pain when we know we’re not alone.

I’ll be taking off next week from this blog to do some major spring flinging around here. I’ll randomly pick out a winner from the comments next Friday, March 2 — just in time for the Ultimate Blog Party at 5 Minutes for Mom. Sounds like great motivation to lose a few pounds (of clutter)!

The areas I most need to attack:

1) My file cabinet — purge and reorganize.
2) The basement — clean it out and set up a permanent gymnastics area for the girls (who started a new gym class last week and need to practice at home).
3) Set up a craft “station” in one of my kitchen cabinets — so that we have no crayons or markers outside of the kitchen (irresistible to busy toddlers).

How about you?

By: Heather Ivester in: Organization | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)



February 22, 2007

My face is so red!

I checked my blog stats yesterday and wondered why the top keyword search the past couple of months here has been “Beth Moore Blog.”

I haven’t blogged about Beth Moore since last September, so people are going back and reading through my archives of when we did the online Living Beyond Yourself Bible Study.

Then I googled “Beth Moore Blog” to see what the URL was for Beth Moore’s blog — and out of nearly 900,000 sites, Mom 2 Mom Connection popped up first! I’m mortified! Beth Moore is a Very Important Person! What are all these people thinking when they accidentally end up here? Why am I considered the #1 authority on Beth Moore’s blog?

Scary.

Actually, Beth’s Living Proof Ministries DOES have a new blog. She blogs with her daughter, Amanda, and today there is also a post by her daughter, Melissa, on American Idolatry. Now that sure seems like a fun mother/ daughter activity. The main blog link is here.

The big thrill for me is that … if everything works out … I’m going to go HEAR Beth Moore speak in person!

We’re making our plans now to attend the 2007 Women of Faith conference, which will be August 10-11 in Atlanta.

If you found my blog through a google search, click here to read the Living Proof Ministries Blog. And click here to find out if there’s a Women of Faith conference coming near your city. I went last year and had an awesome time and can’t wait for this year!

[Edit: I have been informed that individual tickets are already sold out for the Atlanta conference! You have to find tickets through block seating, such as churches that buy huge blocks. Oh, this thing is going to be so FUN!]

By: Heather Ivester in: Beth Moore | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)



The jonquils are blooming out in our front yard. Yesterday, I was turning cartwheels outside.

I took this quiz today and discovered it’s official: I HAVE SPRING FEVER! Es tu?


You Belong in Spring


Optimistic, lively, and almost always happy with the world…
You can truly appreciate the blooming nature of spring.
Whether you’re planting flowers or dyeing Easter eggs, spring is definitely your season!
By: Heather Ivester in: Wellness | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)



February 21, 2007

I’ve started a new category on this blog, children’s books. I thought about going back through my archives and updating my posts to include this category … but nah! I’ve got a little spring fever.

So I’m going to be writing about children’s books more, as I READ more children’s books — and I’m also starting to act more like a kid — which comes in handy since I’m usually surrounded by them.

Today has been warm and sunny, and the girls and I have been practicing cartwheels in the backyard. At my age, this began with some stern directions:

“Girls, do you know what to do if I fall and can’t get up?”

“Dial 911?”

“Yes, but first see if I can talk. If I can still talk, then just go get the phone and call Daddy. If I’m out cold, then call 911 and tell them our address.”

Ah, the joys of aging!

I’ve been trying to reread some of my favorite children’s books, and today I started on From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. This is about two kids — a brother and sister — who run away from home to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

I loved this book as a child, and now it’s fun to see WHY I loved it.

Today, I read a couple of great similies in chapter two, both in the same paragraph:

The bus bounced along like an empty cracker box on wheels — almost empty. Fortunately, the bumps made it noisy. Otherwise, Claudia would have worried for fear the driver could hear her heart, for it sounded to her like their electric percolator brewing the morning’s coffee.

I also browsed my new issue of The Christian Communicator, which came in the mail today. There was a nice interview with Shannon Hill, a fiction editor with WaterBrook Press. She offered 12 pieces of advice for writers, whether they want to write for WaterBrook (the Christian fiction line owned by Random House), or other publishers.

Her tip #8 included this:

Being well read is a must for editors and writers. At writers’ conferences I ask, “What are you reading?” You don’t have to be reading what you’re writing. It could be Graham Greene or the latest John Gresham or a Harry Potter novel. It tells me something about what you enjoy or what inspires you.

Well, if I were to meet this editor at a writers’ conference, I would have to confess this whopping mouthful of a title: I’ve been reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

And turning cartwheels in my backyard.

By: Heather Ivester in: Children's Books | Permalink | Comments Off on A New Era: Children’s Books



February 20, 2007

Today we are visited by one very funny lady, Jenn Doucette, mom of three, and founder of Daisy Ministries (Discover, Anticipate, Identify & Seek after Yahweh, God).

Jenn is the author of The Velveteen Mommy and co-author of Up — Devotions for Faith that Connects. She loves connecting with women and inspiring them to grow in their faith — laughing along the way. Her newest book is called Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This.

Welcome, Jenn! I love the title of your book — can you tell us what you mean by “days like this?”

You know — one of “those days” that is normal to every mom, but would have scared you silly BK (before kids), such as:

You wake up late because your four-year-old was messing with your alarm clock — only to realize your three grade-schoolers are mere moments from missing the bus so you hand them each a granola bar for breakfast, toss some lunch money in their backpacks and get two of them to the bus stop.

But the remaining first-grader lingers behind while trying to tie her shoe in-between sobs that she’s the “student of the week” and you haven’t sent in any special show-and-tell around the historical theme of the week (World War II era pottery made in Nigeria), nor have you sent in treats or a handmade photo anthology of her life …

I know what you mean! Those show-and-tell days can be downright stressful around my house too.

It’s also the day the Visa bill came, your car ran out of gas at the grocery store, your toddler threw up on you in the checkout line, and you got your period. A week early.

Yep. One of “those days.”

Yikes! What has been the most challenging aspect of motherhood for you?

The out-of-control part. And I don’t just mean myself. I like things neat and tidy (physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually, etc.); motherhood has nothing to do with neat and tidy other than the neverending pursuit thereof.

But just like God, it’s the biggest challenges that have grown, stretched, and shaped me the most in the last twelve years. I’ve learned not to run from the challenges of motherhood; rather I embrace them (and publish them).

I’m glad you’ve published your mothering challenges because your book was so much fun to read! Can you tell us why you decided to include “12 rest stops” for moms?

I liken the Busy Stage of motherhood to driving in the fast lane, outta control and running on fumes. While doing some online research about driving safety, I found a top 12 list for the most common dangerous driving habits demonstrated by Americans.

So I fashioned 12 corresponding Rest Stops for moms to use as strategies for avoiding burnout:

1. Reconnecting with Others
2. Reclaiming Contentment
3. Resolving to Listen
4. Redefining Beauty
5. Relinquishing Pride
6. Rediscovering Wonder
7. Repairing Relationships
8. Reestablishing Priorities
9. Resting and Relaxing [my personal favorite!]
10. Revisiting Strategies
11. Rekindling the Romance
12. Restoring Your Soul

Why do you think it’s important for today’s moms to take time out to rest and recharge?

Because things are always going to get busier. And more complicated.

We have choices thrust in our faces every day that just continue to expand. In order for moms to avoid the inevitable burnout, I think it’s imperative for us to just STOP every now and then to recharge and refresh. We may miss out on a few things, but in the long run, we’ll be better moms.

That’s true — and now I have your permission to take a guilt-free break this afternoon and finish up a book I’m longing to read. To recharge my battery. So thanks!

You’re welcome. 😉

Do you have any advice on how a woman can keep her sense of humor when she’s having one of those “days like this” or even “years like this?”

There are quite a few good strategies. Here’s my own top five:

— By keeping in touch with a friend or a group of friends who will listen and keep you grounded.

— By talking with moms who are a stage (or two) ahead of you.

— By talking with your own mother (if possible).

— By taking a break occasionally to visit the lighter side of life – don’t lose the “fun girl” permanently just because you’re a mom!

— By reading a Junie B. Jones book every few months.

Ha! We have a whole bookshelf of Junie B. Jones books, and Barbara Park has such a silly sense of humor. Your last book was called The Velveteen Mommy. Can you tell us a little about that book?

It’s about the humorous frustrations and hidden joys of motherhood. I found the toddler stage in particular to be riddled with funnies in the midst of the yuckies.

In Velveteen, I take you on a fun journey through the trenches, complete with a few Biblical lessons in-between. If you need a change of pace, some comforting conversation, a sympathetic shoulder for a tear or two, and lots of laughter to lighten your load, Velveteen Mommy is for you.

Sounds great. It looks like you’ve got a lot going on with Daisy Ministries — why do you feel a calling to encourage today’s moms?

Because it’s a jungle out there, baby. We moms need to stick together if we’re going to survive this thing called motherhood.

Oh, I love that quote! I think I’m going to have to jot that down to hang on my dashboard to read while I’m hauling kids around. I’m not alone — I’m sticking with moms like you!

Seriously, when I first became a mom, the difficulties were so . . . overwhelming they seemed unbelievable. And then they became kind of funny (but perhaps that was because I was so sleep deprived).

When I speak to women, I notice one consistent fact: THEY ALL LOVE TO LAUGH. And well, I’m a ham and love to make people laugh, so it’s a good relationship.

I’ve realized that once you can share your own failings with someone else and make ‘em laugh, they’re more open to hearing the gentle message of hope of Jesus. He wants us to love others. Encouraging them with hope and humor is my way of demonstrating that love.

You can catch up with all the funny stuff Jenn Doucette has going on at her website, Daisy Ministries. Jenn is a proud member of the CCA, Christian Comedy Association (Not to be confused with Corrections Corporation of America or the Center for Computational Aesthetics . . . or the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association).

By: Heather Ivester in: Interviews,Motherhood | Permalink | Comments Off on “Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This”



Surprise! Such a lovely topic on this chilly February morning. I know … I normally discuss something more pleasant such as books. But today I want to track a little progress we’re making on the “toilet training” front (which started today).

By default, I think I’m an expert in potty training. This is my 5th time through this process! I’ve figured this thing out, so why not pass along what I’ve learned? Maybe this will help some mom out there who is entering this exact same stage I’m in.

Our youngest daughter will be two years old in April, and this is the perfect time to start potty training. She wakes up dry from her naps, she’s bright (of course I have to say that), she has older siblings she wants to keep up with … and I’m tired of buying diapers.

Here’s my #1 piece of advice on all this: it’s up to the mom (or dad) to decide when it’s time to start toilet training, not the child. It seems like most breezy magazine articles I see in parenting magazines make it seem like it’s up to the child.

Well, here’s the truth: notice who the advertisers are for these magazines. Disposable diaper companies. They’re making millions/ billions off making poor parents feel like young two-year-olds can’t be potty trained. They’re making huge size 6 diapers so that even four-year-olds are still in diapers. And so they find writers who will support them by writing articles that put the child in charge. Plus, it sounds nice and makes parents feel less guilty for putting it off another year.

That’s my philosophy. I’m a Gen-X parent, and I fell into that way of thinking when I used to read secular parenting magazines that came to my house free before my first child was born. I didn’t realize how they were slowly brainwashing me into thinking I didn’t know what I was doing.

Your child is not in charge: you are. Every child would rather wake up clean and dry wearing cotton pants rather than a wet or dirty diaper. Every child! They just need to be trained. When the parent decides.

But I’ve also learned that little girls are much easier to train than boys — so I’m hoping this process will be quick. Boys just don’t seem to notice the mess — if they’re busy playing, they’ll just keep on playing.

Today, we got the potty seat out, cleaned it again, and I’m letting my daughter get used to it. She’s carrying it around and sitting on it while still in her diaper — like a little chair. This is step one.

I’m not in a rush with this, as I would be if it were August and I wanted her trained by September. If you’re in a rush, skip the slow, get-used-to-the-potty stage, put your child in new underwear they pick out themselves, and then just stay home for a week and put them on the toilet every hour, until they go. Then reward them — and they’ll get the hang of it.

Gradually, I’m going to try to get my daughter to use her potty — she will eventually. And then she’ll get lots of praise! Now here’s the trick I learned somewhere. Once she goes on her own, without me having to ask her, she gets a treat: one M&M candy. This really works! She will learn that going to the potty will lead to a little sweet treat.

After a few weeks, you can stop giving the reward treats. By then, she’ll just enjoy the dry feeling — and be proud of her “big girl” pants.

This is much easier done in the summer, when your child can walk around in only a shirt and underwear (or some people let them run around naked, but we just don’t do that here!) A t-shirt works fine, and modesty is good, especially in large families like ours.

I don’t know what I’m going to do when I don’t have to buy diapers anymore! I’ve had diapers on my grocery list for the past eleven years. Once we get through this, I think I’ll splurge and buy the Starbucks brand of coffee! Maybe go get a full body massage! My husband jokes that we’ll have a huge bonfire and burn the remaining diapers.

Wanna come? 😉

By: Heather Ivester in: Parenting | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)



February 19, 2007

I was a sophomore in high school when Sarah, Plain and Tall was published, so I missed out on reading this delightful children’s book. I bought it for my girls for Christmas, and we found time over the cold, quiet weekend to read the book together.

What a beautiful story.

I won’t tell you about it — you can read a review here. But I wanted to tell you how interesting it was the way we responded to reading this book together. In this story, Sarah likes cats, and she likes to draw. My daughters and I talked about how nice Sarah must be, since she takes care of animals — and how God loves people who are kind to animals.

While I read, the girls got out some crayons and drew. My six-year-old drew a picture of our fluffy prodigal cat (who ran away but came home), and my nine-year-old drew a variety of little pictures.

When I finished Sarah, Plain and Tall (which was quite short, only 67 pages!), I felt like reading more — so I read the girls a couple of stories they’d written a year ago, when our hamster died. They loved hearing me read their own words, just like I’d read Patricia Maclachlan’s.

Then they each got busy writing something new — which they couldn’t wait for me to read. If you’ll indulge me a minute, here’s what they wrote (along with their pictures):

A Story of Briar Rose (by daughter, age 6)

One day, a little sweety pie named Briar Rose the great pie.
She is not really a pie, but we call her that because she’s really qute.
One day when Mama was reading Sarah Plain and Tall, Briar Rose interrupted my story I wrote when I was in kindergarten by doing something very qute.
She was in the side of the under the couch laying down.
Oh how she loved the warm air coming out of the vent.
Oh how I can’t stand how qute she was!
I could not even sit down because guess what Briar Rose sat down instead.
One time Briar Rose ran away from home. And did not come back for a very long time. We missed her so much. But one day she got sick, and had to come back. We took her to the vet and we saw our grandmother. She had a ear enfeckshen [the cat, not the grandmother] and she tilted her head when she walked. Now it is still tilted.
And still very qute.

(Oh, I almost hated to have to tell her that “cute” is spelled with a “c,” but the teacher in me must do these kinds of things.)

You Can Learn Your Pictures Too! (by daughter, age 9)

Practice these pictures. You can practice drawing, saying, writing, and find these pictures in places around your home. Try to find them in stores too!

Star, Rain, Teddy Bear, Flower, Blue Circle,
Ice Cream Cone, Grass, Rose, Pictures, Potato,
Milk, Juice, Water, Lake, Chick, Swan,
Snow Man, Rabbit, Grapes, Yellow Triangle,
Book, Ball, Jelly Biscuit, Punch, Shirt, Pants,
Skirt, Dress, Rocks, Inchworm, Hearts (Blue and Red)

What would we have missed, as a family, as a mother and daughters, if we’d watched TV instead? Since I can’t stand kid shows, I would have most likely been in a separate room doing my own thing, while they sat in front of the TV.

Or even if we’d watched a movie together, a good family movie, they still wouldn’t have responded with their own pieces of writing — I don’t think. Although watching movies together can be a good bonding activity, it still doesn’t even come CLOSE to the interactive joys of reading together.

I guess that’s why I’m so nuts about books!

I’d love to collect a bunch of parent/child literature responses like mine here — parents who read out loud to their children and experience something exciting — and then teach a workshop of some sort (when my kids are older).

In contrast, here’s an article from today’s Scottsman’s News: Children’s TV is Linked to Cancer, Autism, Dementia. Yes, TV does more to our children than make them fat and lazy; it can damage their minds and bodies.

Read with your children!!! 🙂

By: Heather Ivester in: Cats,Children's Books,Education,Family | Permalink | Comments Off on Two Responses to Sarah, Plain and Tall



February 18, 2007

When I was at the SCBWI conference (which I’ll be talking about forever!), I sat in a session with one of the Scholastic editors, and she said, “Andrew Clements is one of the most talented writers of this generation. Kids love his books! I wish we could clone him!”

Hmmmm … (a writer I need to learn something from, it seems.)

I happened to read his book, The School Story right before I went to New York, and it was fascinating. It’s about a little girl, Natalie, who wants to be a novelist. Her mom is an editor for a large children’s publisher, and Natalie sees the stack of unsolicted manuscripts that her mom never has time to read.

So a friend of hers, Zoe, offers to become her agent, and the story is so cute — giving me a behind-the-scenes peek at what an editor’s job is like living in NYC. Now I’m curious to read Frindle, which was Andrew Clements’ first novel, published in 1996. It became a New York Times bestseller. What is it about that book kids love so much?

I visited his website, and I found his bio page so inspiring, especially this last sentence. (Brought tears to my eyes even.)

Clements says:

Sometimes kids ask how I’ve been able to write so many books. The answer is simple: one word at a time. Which is a good lesson, I think. You don’t have to do everything at once. You don’t have to know how every story is going to end. You just have to take that next step, look for that next idea, write that next word. And growing up, it’s the same way. We just have to go to that next class, read that next chapter, help that next person. You simply have to do that next good thing, and before you know it, you’re living a good life.

The tag line on Clements’ website says, “Writing for children is a great privilege.” I couldn’t agree more.




February 14, 2007

I hope you’re having a marvelous Valentine’s Day, savoring every piece of endorphine-loaded chocolate as much as I am. (The dark kind is healthy, you know.) I’ve been to three kids’ Valentine’s parties today — refueling on sugar and parent gossip like everyone else — and now it’s pure joy to sit down a minute and focus my mind on books.

Books I LOVE!

Really, I’ve been waiting for the perfect time to tell you all about one of my favorite mom-lit series — as it turns out, my waiting had a purpose because the author herself agreed to come visit for an interview. Tracey Bateman is here!

Have you read any of her books yet? If you haven’t, you’ll love them. You’ll love her. And you’ll definitely love her main character in this mom-lit series, Claire Everett.

These are the books that drive my husband crazy when I’m reading next to him because I laugh out loud at least twice every page. The books are so FUNNY — and don’t we moms need something to laugh about at the end of one of THOSE days?

Yet the novels are not just fun and fluffy — Claire is growing in her relationship with Christ, and you will too, as you read how she handles things. Like the author herself, Claire is a writer and mother of four — so her life is pretty chaotic as she tries to balance career and family.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the first book, Leave it to Claire.

In this scene, Claire is dropping off her popular teenage daughter at the high school where she will be cheerleading:

I see her group of followers pointing at me and whispering among themselves. Okay, they’re probably looking and admiring her, and most likely haven’t noticed me, but when you have the kind of self-esteem I have, laughing kids translate to “laughing at me” kids. That’s the way I feel if anyone is cracking a joke anywhere in the vicinity, and I’m not in on it.

It’s something I’ve dealt with since I was a kid. Full of myself one second, down on myself the next. I probably need therapy. I hear Dr. Phil has a diet book out now. Maybe I should read it and kill two birds with one stone. Get my head and behind shrunk for one low price of $19.99.

HA! Every time I read that last sentence, I have to laugh. I keep my Claire trilogy in a prominent spot on my bookshelf — and whenever I begin to take myself and life too seriously, I read a few lines.

Tracey Bateman is an award-winning author of more than sixteen books and lives in Missouri with her husband and four children. She’s been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) since the early months of its inception and served as President for nearly two years.

As author of several romance novels, Tracey has been a long-time favorite among Heartsong club members. In 2005, she was voted the club’s fourth favorite author!

If you love Kristin Billerbeck’s California style chick-lit, you’ll adore Bateman’s midwest-based books for moms. Tracey has over 600,000 books in print.

Who is Claire Everett? How did you come up with a character like her?

I like to think she’s everywoman, but that’s a little far reaching, even for someone who dreams as much as I do. But inside of her are all the insecurities of body image, motherhood, career.

Okay, I’ll just admit it. She’s a heckuva lot like me and pretty much has all of my angst. 🙂

What’s going on in her life in these books?

She’s trying to connect with her kids, trying to lose a few pounds (aren’t we always?) Trying to keep her feet on the ground and grow in her relationship with God.

The catalyst is when she is forced to stop working for a few weeks due to carpal tunnel. Time to face herself and the mess she’s in.

When you started the series, did you have any idea how you’d end it, or did you sort of let Claire take over and decide for herself?

I pretty much let her do her thing. It was just too much fun from day to day waiting to see what she would do or say.

Was it hard to finish up the Claire trilogy, or were you ready to move on to something else?

I was ready. I had another series contracted with the same publisher to do chicklit — The Drama Queens — and I love it. Although I wouldn’t mind doing one more and let her get pregnant AND juggle the rest of her life. That would be fun.

What are you working on now?

Book two in the Drama Queens series. The first one, Catch a Rising Star, releases in July.

I can’t wait to read it! Tracey, I love your sense of fun throughout the Claire books, yet you bring us back to the reality that God’s in control, no matter how much our lives seem to be spinning into chaos. How do you keep your own faith strong?

I don’t always. I have weak, weak days when all I want to do is lay on the couch and watch Lifetime movies. My faith always wavers when I have PMS. 🙂

The root stays buried in the soil, though. I’m learning that my emotions are not always reflecting what I know about who I am in Christ.

I give myself permission to be weak because I know that when I’m weak God is strong. It’s why I choose to write about real women who would love to be perfect, but who are simply not. Because as much as I’d love to be together even fifty percent of the time, the fact is I’m usually sitting around in my PJs, or yoga pants, hair a mess, frustrated because I am late on yet another project.

But this is the life God’s given me. Four fun, fabulous, CRAZY funny kids, three dogs, a guy who adores me even though I don’t deserve it, and the kind of schedule that doesn’t allow for housework AND Lifetime. And I mean a girl has to relax SOMETIMES. Right?

Thank God for chocolate and Pizza.

Ah … yes. Thank God for chocolate and pizza. And I’ll add one more thing I can’t live without — funny books! Like yours. Thank you so much for making me laugh out loud and forget my stress by escaping into the hilarious life of Claire Everett.

You’re welcome!

You can read more about Tracey’s books and humor on her website, which includes a blog. Her Claire trilogy includes Leave it to Claire, Claire Knows Best, and I Love Claire.




February 13, 2007


I have all these stories whirling around in my head from New York — and I truly want to offer you an inside peek at what it’s like to attend one of these writing conferences.

Here’s how it started for me. Last November, I discovered National Novel Writing Month to be a great excuse to pull out my much-neglected children’s novel I’ve been trying to write for years. Like thousands of people, I loved feeling part of the NaNoWriMo masses, all of us motivated to churn out 50,000 words of something during the month of November.

About a week into this, my wonderful husband emailed and asked if I wanted to go to this SCBWI conference in New York. He said it would be a fun trip for us — also an excuse to celebrate his recent decision to start a new job/ career. I signed up the next day and discovered there was a one-day writing workshop being offered for the first time ever. So I signed up for that too!

Later, I found out that the Writer’s Intensive Workshop sold out within 24 hours, and the waiting list included hundreds of people. So that was my first hint that this was God’s timing.

Although I’ve attended one small SCBWI conference in my local region, this was my first national. At these conferences, you have to put aside any of your shy, introverted nature (if you’re like me) and just start talking to people! Which I did. And here are some of the cool things that happened.

The first day, there were 225 of us wannabe writers. After listening to a joint panel with several agents and editors, we divided into assigned tables of nine writers and one editor or agent. Each of us brought ten copies of a 500-word writing sample and read it out loud to the group. After we read, the group members critiqued us, and the agent or editor offered us a professional opinion.

I was a nervous wreck until the first girl read her piece, then I just relaxed and realized what a great opportunity this was. Our editor was absolutely fantastic — she asked questions to clarify, told us what she’d think if this piece came across her desk, told us areas to work on, explained what it reminded her of, shared news about other books on similar topics, etc.

Like many of the editors, she told us she doesn’t even LOOK at unsolicited email queries — she said she deletes them right away.

She also said she has to first look at what the agents send her because they call and move things along (!). So from this, I decided finding an agent is pretty important — except you don’t want to find a bad agent who never sells anything and who nobody likes! This editor says her “slush pile” (of unsolicited manuscripts) is huge, and it’s the bottom of her priority list to get to it. “But all of us would like to discover new talent,” she explained. “So we do eventually get around to it. Just give us about six months.” Agony!

I got some really good feedback — both positive and negative — and now I have lots of specific areas to work on. OK, so then we went to lunch — and I ate with a writer, illustrator, and editor, and we discussed our favorite children’s picture books. All those nights reading out loud to my kids — I’m an “expert” in something after all! It was so fun!

Our afternoon session was similar to the morning, except this time I was with a different group of people and had an agent overseeing the critique. She brought a totally different point of view — focusing more on marketability, since she makes her living off 15% of your book sales! She had a great sense of humor and was also thorough in her critique. In my morning group, most people were writing middle grade or young adult novels, but in the afternoon group, most were working on picture books or poems — so it was an interesting mix.

The amazing thing is — there was a lady in my second group who lives in Japan! She’s an American, but has lived in Japan for 13 or 14 years, and we hung out a lot together during the rest of the conference. Since my novel involves a Japanese character, we really connected; bonded even!

The day ended with another panel of editors, as well as a motivating talk from Newbery-Award winner, Linda Sue Park. She reminded us the most important part of our writing is to love what we do — because even if we end up with a book contract, we’re still at the mercy of book sales and reviewers! We must absolutely love our characters and stories — because that’s what will keep us going.

The next day was the opening of the main conference, and SCBWI executive director, Lin Oliver, stated that this was the largest winter conference ever, with over 1,000 attendees from 44 states and 9 countries. I talked to so many people, it’s all a blur right now — but I do have several business cards to sort through.

On Saturday, I was captivated by Susan Cooper’s speech on the power of our childhood imaginations. She’s the author of The Dark is Rising. She shared what it was like to grow up in England, listening to opera on the BBC radio (no TV) and being acutely aware of the evil in the world, as she saw the sky light up red when London was being bombed in the war.

After this talk, I went to hear an editor from Penguin share about children’s series — how they’re created, what publishers are looking for, etc. Then we all attended a sit-down luncheon, where I “happened” to sit down next to a man who is an English professor in Tokyo! Another new friend who encouraged me to keep writing about Japan.

Our speaker for the luncheon was Ann Brashares, author of the highly successful YA series, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ann shared the behind-the-scenes of how she wrote that book (on maternity leave from her editing job, while expecting child #3). “The green of the cover will always remind me of morning sickness!” she confessed. She lives in NYC and told us her novel’s long-awaited release date was none other than September 11, 2001. Her priorities changed completely that day, and she almost forgot about “the book.”

The last great speaker we heard was Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, which you probably know is a new movie, coming out this week. Katherine says she’s seen the movie three times, and “it has my approval.”

I was most interested in hearing her speak since she’s a Christian, daughter of missionaries to China, and the mother of four children (two biological, two adopted). Katherine said she started writing when her kids were young “because at the end of the day, I needed something that wasn’t eaten up, dirtied up, or torn up.”

I loved her speech. She’s 74 years old and has seven grandchildren. Out of everything she said, what stuck with me most is how she’s integrated writing into her family life so successfully. A lesson for all of us!

She told a funny story of how she recently went to Sweden to receive an award, and she brought her family with her. After they had their picture made with the crown princess of Sweden, her five-year-old granddaughter whispered, “Nana, are we famous now?” Adorable!

I know this summary has gotten so long — but I wanted to keep it to one post. What Katherine Paterson and Susan Cooper both emphasized is going deep within ourselves to “write the stories that no one else can write.” And quit worrying that you’re not good enough — just write!

If you love children’s books and have ever thought of writing or illustrating one, I highly recommend an SCBWI conference. You’ll definitely leave inspired.

Here’s a geeky picture of me, ecstactic, holding my freshly signed copies of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved (which she graciously inscribed to my children!)

Since we also brought our ten-year-old son with us, other thrills of the trip included watching him and his dad ice skate in Central Park and hearing their stories of sightseeing while I attended the conference. (I really think I had more fun, but they’re convinced I missed out!)

New York City seems to be a safe, clean place — much different than when I was there in the early 90s. There were no street musicians glaring at you if you walked by without giving them a tip, and I never felt unsafe.

We saw lots of women pushing baby strollers in three-inch spiked boots. Now there’s the real mystery — how do New Yorkers walk in their gorgeous shoes?