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Christy Catherine Marshall

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June 10, 2010

If you’ve been around the Christian mom blogging community for a while, you’ve most likely heard of Kelsey Kilgore, who blogs as Holy Mama. A west Texas mom of four, Kelsey recently published her first novel, A Love for Larkspur. She’s also a gifted humor writer and encourager for stressed-out, battle-worn parents.

Hi Kelsey. How’s the weather in Texas? Have you seen any more tumbleweeds lately?

Here in West Texas, it is HOT. We went to three baseball games on Saturday and at the start of the second game, it was 107 degrees. By the end of the third game it was cooling off at 100, and it felt lovely. Really! West Texas heat is dry, never humid, and that helps.

It’s so hot here, that vets recommend shaving your long-haired cats in the summer.

Isn’t he CUTE?! My ten-year old, Ethan, made the little purple shawl. I haven’t seen any tumbleweeds, but it isn’t really the season now — the best ones are found in winter.

Oh, that cat is ADORABLE — and the shawl too! Can you describe for us a typical west Texas summer scene? I mean, do people really walk around wearing cowboy hats and boots?

Why, yes …. yes you do often see hats and boots here, year-round. But that’s the exception, not the rule.

A typical scene … I don’t get out much and my life revolves around children, so bear with me. What comes to mind are endless Saturdays of kids’ sporting events, the happy shrieks of kids splashing at a swimming pool, and grilling outdoors with family. None of that sounds particularly unique to this part of the country, now that I think about it.

Oh! We feed prairie dogs sometimes, just for fun. They like pretzels and carrots.

A pretzel-eating prairie dog — now that’s definitely not something I’ve ever seen here in Georgia!

OK, I’ve been reading your blog for years. Do you think writing can help alleviate some of the major stresses moms face today?

Writing alleviates some of MY stresses as a mom. But other moms I talk to often say that writing would only add to their stress — everyone’s different. It’s not my major stress reliever — blogging, for me, is more of a tool for documenting my kids’ childhoods and these years in general.

I know this is a fast-paced time period, and I forget so much! I want to always be able to look back and see what I wrote/thought/believed during this time. I don’t mind sharing my life with whoever might be interested in reading about it — but largely, it’s written for the future me!

I agree — if I don’t write it down, I forget it! What else do you find to be a good stress reliever?

My two main stress relievers are cleaning and exercise. Preferably something fairly violent, with lots of punching and kicking of other individuals, but a punching bag will do. Since I tore my left ACL in September, I’m not cleared yet to go back to kickboxing.

In the meantime, I’m trying to build up strength and endurance so I’ll be ready for it again when the doctor gives the go-ahead in December. I haven’t always been this way — I only started exercising after antidepressants stopped working for postpartum depression after my 4-year-old was born.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Not really. Most of the time I don’t even think of myself as being a writer, even now. Writing was something that came very easily to me, and I knew it would always help me out in whatever I ended up doing. As it turns out, I’ve ended up mothering, mostly, with a little writing on the side. Next year all the kids will be in school full time, and maybe then I’ll be writing more — and thinking of myself as more of a writer!

Did you have a teacher or mentor who particularly encouraged you with writing?

Yes, Penny Arrington, high school English teacher extraordinaire. She was the sort of crazy-tough teacher that you either adored … or feared and had nightmares about for the rest of your life. (I mean that in a good way.)

She had super high standards and she expected every single student to meet them — and she pushed us very hard in order to help us get there. I admired that. I admired her. Still do. She’s a high school counselor now, and we had dinner about a year ago when I went back to my home town for a brief visit.

How did you get started writing fiction?

It was a God Thing. A very, very weird God Thing. One night, a very long time ago, I had a vivid dream with all sorts of interesting people. I woke up in the middle of the night and had a sense that I should make it into a book.

In order to let that crazy thought go, I prayed something I should never have prayed. I said, “God, if you want me to write that, help me remember all of it because I usually forget dreams. Amen and goodnight.” And I thought I’d go back to sleep. Instead, I stayed awake all night and scene after scene played out in my head in a way I’d never before (or since) experienced.

So the next day, exhausted, I started to write. It took almost a year. And what came out of that was truly a terrible read. But what ALSO came out of that was a whole year of hands-on learning in what to do and what not to do in fiction writing.

I learned so much from that experience — I wouldn’t trade that awful manuscript for anything! And nor would I read it again, for anything! Or subject anyone else to it — but still, it is precious to me if only in its immense personal value!

In your debut novel, A Love for Larkspur, your main character, Lark, has a close relationship with her mom. Is this based any on your relationship with your mom?

I wanted a good mom-daughter relationship in the story. At the time I wrote it, I was living here in Texas and my own mom was living in Australia. I only saw her once or maybe twice a year. I was also dealing with a mother figure in my life who was painfully, and suddenly, rejecting me.

Those feelings and issues are in there, and I intentionally wrote a strong, positive mom figure into the story so it wouldn’t come off as so “anti-mother!” That being said, my own wonderful mother is extremely different from Lark’s wonderful mother.

Do you enjoy having your mom live closer to you now? What’s your favorite activity to do with your mom?

Now that my mom DOES live close by, I’m so grateful for all the time we spend together! We like to shop or go eat or take the kids swimming. Occasionally she’ll get me to go antiquing with her (not my fave) or we’ll plant flowers or do yard work together.

For those of us who aren’t from Texas, can you tell us about larkspur? When does it bloom?

Larkspur is in bloom right this very second at my house, as you can see, next to golden Stella d’Oro daylilies.

The foliage is delicate, and ferny, and can look very much like a weed to a novice. So when we moved into our last house and a flowerbed seemed to be overrun with these little weedy plants, I tried to pull them all out.

Eventually, after ripping out thousands of them, I gave up. I was shocked to discover what the “survivors” turned out to be! And of course I wished that I’d left them alone. In subsequent years, that flowerbed recovered from my misguided efforts and every June it became a traffic-stopping display of the prettiest larkspur in town. The ones in the photo above were planted from seeds I took from our last house.

Why did you choose this name for your character?

I like unusual character names, and I love plants and flowers. It just worked out to combine the two!

In your novel, Lark enjoys jogging to ward off her stress. Do you also find exercise helps you cope? How do you make yourself go to the gym? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?

When I wrote about Lark jogging, I hadn’t started running. I’d always wanted to, but didn’t think I’d be any good and hadn’t ever tried. I’m a runner now, but I’m fairly new.

When the antidepressants stopped working for the postpartum depression, the doctor suggested hardcore exercise. And I hated this idea. Everyone else at the gym was probably skinny and knew what they were doing — and I had baby-weight and varicose veins. I had no business being there. But the drugs weren’t working and my depressed face-planting on the carpet wasn’t working out so well, so I committed.

I made myself go to the gym and exercise every single day — even though I couldn’t stand it — for six weeks. And then I noticed that I liked it. After that, I let myself go just four times a week if I wanted to, and if it felt like it was enough to keep me sane — but oddly, I usually wanted to go more frequently than that.

Now I still go because I want to. I don’t feel like I’m myself if I skip for very long. That’s all the motivation I need. (And I like to work out at home or go for a run or try other gyms. Not being tied to one location helps). But whatever motivation YOU need? Give it to yourself.

If you want to schedule it so you watch Project Runway while you’re on the treadmill, go for it. Whatever works, within reason, is worth it. Before long, you won’t need to be so creative. But don’t let yourself think, like I did, that you don’t belong or you’re not good enough, or you’ll never fit in with the skinny group. I have social anxiety issues, can you tell?

Oh! And make yourself try a class! I like almost all of them. I’m not coordinated enough for Step classes, but am not above making a total fool of myself in a Zumba class or dropping the barbell on my foot in a weightlifting class. Gyms are full of dorks like me, so it turns out, I fit right in. (And I did get skinny! And sane. Okay, well, no, that’s a total lie, but sane for ME, and I even wear shorts. Short ones!)

I read in ParentLife magazine that you’ve found blogging to be a good way to share your faith. In your four years of writing online, what has been the most positive aspect of blogging?

Overall, the most positive moments have also been the hardest. Our 16-year-old daughter has been a challenge to raise, and we’ve had a heartbreaking four years of placing her in various residential treatment centers and trying to navigate through her psychological/emotional/mental issues and stay strong (and safe) as a family. Sometimes we’ve been successful, and at others we haven’t.

My heart aches for the parents in similar situations who find me by googling various diagnoses their children have been given, and we often end up in long, tearful but supportive email exchanges. None of that happens on my website where people see it — it’s a behind-the- scenes operation that can be emotionally draining, time-consuming, and a wonderfully precious way to tell a mom or a dad, “You are not alone. And you will be okay. I have lived through this and so will you. There is life on the other side of this.”

I remember all too well those dark, hopeless periods of parenting her, and these people often write from that same desperate place — and are stunned at finding someone who understands what no one else in their life has understood. They’re good parents. They’re trying their hardest, and they’re falling apart by the time I hear from them. Those conversations are often divinely timed and inspired.

I’m honored at the way God uses my little website to bless these sweet, depleted parents. I had no idea that sort of thing would ever happen, much less, regularly. But it does, and those exhausted, often misunderstood parents are dear to me in a way I find difficult to explain. Their stories are mine as well — one I don’t often write about except in my emails to these dear strangers.

Kelsey, you have an amazing ministry. Keep it up! Who knew blogging humorous slice-of-life stories would put you on the front lines encouraging battle-weary parents?

Now, back to your fiction writing, do you have plans to write any mom-lit in the future?

Yes, well, maybe. In theory. But you know what always stops me? It feels weird to create children’s characters that are wonderful that I want to spend time with, and yet they’re not my own children. Characters become so real to me, it feels disloyal in a sense.

All the best parts of my male leads come straight from my husband, so I’ve never felt conflicted there. One day I’ll resolve that in my head and make it work. I adore writing about kids and what they say and how they think — I just haven’t transferred that over to fiction yet!

I hope you will someday! In closing, do you have any advice for moms who desire to write with a house full of kids, dogs, cats, and piles of laundry?

You can do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s good. It’s YOURS. And just because of that, it has value and so it’s worth the effort. If you want to write, you really, really, really should. If it’s for an audience one day, great! If it’s not, that’s just as great! Your thoughts and ideas and creativity deserve an outlet, and if writing is the one you choose, I applaud the choice.

Don’t let the kids, pets, and laundry be your excuses not to do it. I wrote entire book-length manuscripts while breastfeeding babies and perfecting the One-Handed Because I’m Holding a Baby ALL THE TIME And Look — There’s One On My Boob Now Isn’t He CUTE Typing Style.

It can — and should — be done, regardless of children, laundry, or other bits of Life. My mom once gave me the book Anybody Can Write, by Roberta Jean Bryant. I recommend it.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, Kelsey! You’ve offered us so many great ideas. I think we’re all ready to lasso our next challenge. Yee-ha!

Be sure to visit Kelsey Kilgore’s website and Holy Mama blog, where she rounds up her highly entertaining tales of motherhood and occasional recipes involving pine nuts.

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

January 2, 2007

From our house to yours, we wish you a wonderful year ahead.

This is a picture of our little prodigal kitty, Briar Rose. She ran off for a while to live with the neighbors, but she came back a few weeks ago. God is good. We missed her.

P.S. Yes, she is as soft as she looks. Can you believe I get to go pet her? Right now. And she doesn’t mind being picked up by children — she seems to thrive on the attention. Gotta love this cat.

By: Heather Ivester in: Cats | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

September 1, 2006

Here’s something new I learned today. In case you’ve ever wondered …

Did you know that one cat can produce 420,000 descendents in a seven-year period? I just happened to read that statistic on the wall of the mobile vet we visited today. We took our last cat to be spayed this morning, thus ending our saga, “The Tale of Three Kittens.”

Two years ago, a friend let us adopt her three kittens, a male and two female siblings. We thought it would be fun to let our kids enjoy one litter of kittens. HA! Well, that’s an understatement. We had several litters, and it got to be a full-time job for me finding homes for these kittens. They were cute and fluffy — but the situation got a little out of control.

When I was trying to find homes for our litter last summer, one lady who was interested in a new kitten called me to chat. Within a few minutes, it was clear that she was grieving. Her family pet had recently died, and she wanted to tell me all her favorite stories of the amazing things her cat did.

I’m not much of a phone talker at this stage in life — unless it involves what child needs to be picked up at what time where. Listening to a stranger tell me stories about her cat was too much. At the time I was trying to cook dinner with five children screaming in the background.

It’s interesting where all these little kittens live now — we gave many away to family and friends. One of my cousins sends me snapshots of her two — as if I were their grandmother. Now there’s a thought.

So I just finished giving our calico cat (named “Calla” of course) her antibiotics, as she recovers from surgery. Did I tell you I’ve gotten pretty good at administering medicine to cats? Our two mama cats both got mastitis this summer, poor things. They needed antibiotics for a week. It’s actually much easier to squirt pink stuff down a cat’s throat than to entice a toddler with pink “yukky” medicine on a spoon. Don’t you think?

I’m tired. I just got back last night from a looooong trip to Maryland. I wanted to blog, but I didn’t want to think — so there you have my 420,000 cats post. Maybe that’s something you can share at your next dinner party.

By: Heather Ivester in: Cats | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

April 25, 2006

The Carnival of Beauty this week is hosted by Blair at her site, Scribblings by Blair. Our topic is “The Beauty of Art.”

When I was eight years old, my parents paid for me to take art lessons at a painter’s house once a week — it was a thrill and so different from what I learned at school. We painted with acrylics, and I carried a red metal tool box filled with my paints, brushes, and natural sponges to class. I can still remember the creaking sound the box made when it opened, and how the paints and sponges smelled.

I also recall being on the verge of tears nearly every class. I was so petrified that I was a terrible painter. There were two or three of us on one side of the room who were children, and the rest of the class on the other side of the room were adults. I remember one lady spent weeks painting an intricate picture of violets. Everyone seemed to have so much talent and to know exactly what they were doing — except for me!

One night, our teacher asked us to imagine a bookshelf lined with our favorite things. She wanted us to come to class the next week and be prepared to paint “My Favorite Things.”

Can you see what I chose to paint? On the top shelf is my “Heather” doll — I still have this sweet doll. I always loved playing with dolls, not the Barbie type that looked grown up, but the kind you could dress and carry around. I even had a signed Little People doll, named Frances Blanche, who I changed into tiny pajamas every night and dressed in the morning — for years. My friends and I made birth certificates for our dolls and sewed them little stuffed animals! So, it’s obvious I wanted to grow up and be a MOM — my #1 dream.

Next, you can see I’ve always been crazy about the beach — the shells are supposed to represent my love of the ocean. We always collected buckets of shells on our family trips to the beach. My parents took us every summer — traveling used to be so modest back in the 70s. The expense was nothing like it is now. We usually stayed right on the beach in a little motel that had a kitchenette. My parents got us so excited about these beach trips — maybe that’s why I’ve always loved the beach.

I’m not sure about the basket of fruit — did I like fruit that much? Maybe I just liked the bright colors and thought they’d look good in a painting. I do eat fruit every day now — usually an apple. And I hardly ever get sick. I can’t around here!

The cat is interesting; why did I choose to paint a cat? We didn’t have a cat growing up — we had a little gray poodle. Now of course I’ve become a cat person. They make such great pets! I’ve always loved animals of any sort; maybe the cat is supposed to represent pets. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, “A pet shop owner.” I was too squeamish to want to be a vet. But I thought it would be fun to have a shop full of animals. (hmmm … our zoo around here is similar to what I had in mind, actually.)

And last — Cinderella. I’ve always loved good stories with happy endings. I love to read them; I love to tell them. And gradually, I’m learning how to write them.

Thanks for indulging me in my walk down memory lane. How about you? What are your favorite things now? Were they always your favorites? What would you have painted when you were eight years old? Like words, art helps us preserve our memories.

January 14, 2006

For those of you who’ve kept up with this, Stacy wrote to say that Boswell came home yesterday! Her cat has been missing for 15 days, and she’s been so worried. She and her husband have had Boswell since they first got married, over 12 years ago. So, he’s a family member.

Welcome home, Boswell! (You can go see his picture here.)

Today is Saturday, so that means our prodigal cat will come home for the day as well. It’s the strangest thing. Briar Rose leaves us during the week, but she comes home to visit her siblings and nieces on Saturday afternoon. Every week. One of our kids will point out, “Look! There’s Briar Rose!”

She’s a white, fluffy ragdoll cat, and I’m sure she’s taken up residence with someone who gives her more attention than we do. She smells like perfume when she comes home. Now wouldn’t that be a fun children’s book to write? Briar Rose the Perfumed Cat. Where does she go when she disappears?

Briar Rose and Boswell are keeping some secrets from us!

By: Heather Ivester in: Cats | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

October 12, 2005

My cats don’t like me very much in the morning. When I approach them with my rise-and-shine chippery voice and try to pet them, they snake away from me and line up at the gray Rubbermaid box that says “Cat Food.” I used to let this bother me – why do they like their Meow Mix more than they like me, the giver of their Meow Mix?

Then I realized — Oh, it’s because they’re hungry. They don’t want petting when their feline bellies are growling. They want me to fill up their bowl with something crunchy that tastes like chicken of the sea.

I say, people on the internet are like cats. We surf to a site looking for something we need to fill a certain spot. We’re in a hurry – we’ve got to order those plane tickets or find out about that weird insect bite or keep up with the news (and other people’s blogs). We don’t care about being pampered.

So, about this blog. Some of you are surfing in because you’ve done a parenting search on Technorati. And now you discover all I do is talk about my kids – I’m not really an expert on parenting. Well, I’m not! Sorry. This is what you might hear at my house. “Mom! I can’t eat my piece of pizza now because he breathed his yukky boy breath on it!”

I’m not a cat expert either – but I love their soft fur, how they purr when you rub their backs, how they romp around to chase butterflies while you sit and watch. You ought to see our two-week-old kittens now. Their mother moved them to a cardboard box inside our garage.

I wrote a blooper in an email to my sister yesterday and she called me very upset. “I’m so sorry your cat ate all her kittens!” she said.

“What? Our cat didn’t eat her kittens!”

“Well, you said that your Mama cat ate the hamster and her babies.”

“No, no…I meant the cat got back into the house and got the hamster and the hamster’s babies.”

“Oh!” She sounded quite relieved. Yes, we’ve discovered cats and hamsters don’t go together too well. Since there’s much more of a cat to pet, we’ve nixed the hamster idea permanently.

So we’ve still got our kittens. Maybe I need to post a picture. They’re going to be smart country cats. They even like to be petted!

Just wait until they discover seafood-flavored Meow Mix.

By: Heather Ivester in: Cats | Permalink | Comments Off on What Cats Really Want

October 5, 2005

The weather is changing here in Georgia. It’s becoming cooler, and tonight it was breezy outside, so I could almost imagine I was sitting out near the ocean. I was petting one of our cats, and I realized a slow evolution has taken place at our house: we’ve become cat people.

I didn’t have a cat growing up. Our family had one dog most of my childhood, along with an assortment of caged feathery and furry creatures and, for a while, a horse. We did acquire one stray cat during my high school years.

Now, we’ve discovered cats to be good pets for kids. They’re pretty low maintenance if you have to go out of town for a day or so. Our cats stay outside and spend most of their days hunting mice or sleeping on the porch. We have three permanent feline pets, and one who drops in on the weekends smelling like perfume. We’re not sure where she spends her week.

Last summer, two of our cats had litters, and it was my job to find homes for 11 kittens. It was an enlightening experience for me. One lady called several times and wanted to talk about her old cat that had recently passed away. She told me story after story, and I could tell she was really grieving. Thankfully, she adopted one of ours, and I hope she’s beginning a new happy chapter of her life.

The other people who adopted our kittens routinely call us and tell us how spoiled they are, and what they’re getting into. Just like they’re describing children. “You won’t believe what Merlin and Lancelot did today,” my cousin told me. “They’re just breaking all the rules and climbing into the silver punch bowl in the dining room. Can you believe that?”

I checked, and we’re not alone in our cat ownership. According to a United Press statistic, 34% of American households claim to own a cat. That means people in nearly 100 million homes are petting a cat today.

In our extended family, all of our siblings own cats. And both sets of our parents own cats. Altogether, that’s at least a dozen.

Underneath our porch we have four new kittens. I know what you’re thinking. OK! I told everyone that as soon as my son started preschool I would take the cat mamas to the vet to prevent future litters. But it was too late. Now, I’ll soon be starting the process again of finding new homes.

Since it’s October, maybe these kittens will make perfect Christmas presents for someone. They’re adorable and of course kid-friendly. Any takers?

By: Heather Ivester in: Cats | Permalink | Comments Off on Are You a Cat Person?