Category Archives: author

Insomnia book review + giveaways

Today’s post is a little different than my usual posting.  The Author follows several teen fiction writers.  We were given the chance to review Insomnia, the debut novel for J. R. Johansson.

�Completely unputdownable. I�ve decided to nickname Johansson: Scary McScarypants, because she spooked me in all the best ways.� �Carrie Harris, author of BAD TASTE IN BOYS

We thought it would be fun to do a little question and answer session about the book. (Just to clarify, this is with my daughter, The Author, not J.R. Johansson, the author of Insomnia.  I would hate to confuse anyone there.)

Amy: We�ll start out with a question to make you think.  How would you describe Insomnia in 5 words or less?
The Author: Creepy ride with great characters.
Okay, now can you give us a quick plot summary for Insomnia?
Parker Chipp has not slept in four years. He�s pretty sure it�s killing him. Instead of sleeping, he goes into the dreams of the last person he makes eye contact with.
This all changes when a new girl appears in town. Mia�s dreams are peaceful and calm. Parker is able to sleep in them.
But then Mia is in danger from a real stalker� And everybody thinks it�s Parker. Parker isn�t too sure of his innocence once he discovers that he�s been leaving his room at night and finds himself near Mia�s house.
Who is your favorite character and why?
I loved Parker�s best friend, Finn. He wears cool T-shirts. He�s a great guy with a fantastic sense of humor. Finn has great development, too; I love well-developed characters!
Which character experienced the most growth?
Parker. He has to come to grips with his odd scenario, the fact that he�s acting very creepy just to catch Mia�s eye, and that he�s not exactly being the best friend for a time.
What did you learn, as a writer, from reading Insomnia?
I loved the characters. Everybody had a story and a part to play; they all had lives outside of Parker�s dilemma. I also loved how you had to keep guessing at who the villain was, as the plot twists changed your guess at the stalker just as you were certain it was someone. I�ll be able to look to that as reference in one of my books where I want to do that. Parker�s voice also felt natural. That�s not easy to pull off.
Fill in the blank:  If you loved ___________, you�ll like Insomnia.
The Author: The closest thing I can think of is Supernatural, the TV show. Both Supernatural and Insomnia are creepy, well-done horror that is not stereotypical. Insomniahas no ghosts, zombies, or serial killers and still manages to be a scary ride.
What do you hope to see in the future from J.R. Johansson?
The Author: The sequel to Insomniacomes out next year; it looks like Parker will be learning more about his unique ability and controlling it. I really want more non-stereotypical horror from Jenn, because that�s a genre that is being neglected in YA that she absolutely nailed.
What do you think?  Are you itching to get your hands on a copy?  Well, this would be your lucky day, because Jenn is giving away 10 signed copies.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
But wait, that’s not all! Have you ever had the secret dream of being an author yourself?  I used to dream about becoming famous with my debut story about a penny and a nickel that got separated when the nickel was taken from the cash register drawer.  They each had their separate adventures until they finally got reunited in a coin purse.  Yep, it was going to be the next best thing before Harry Potter. Anyway, if you or someone you know is a budding author on the verge of stardom, you will love this giveaway.  Jenn is offering 10 first ten-page critiques.  So, you can find out if you have the next big idea.  Just remember, I called the penny and nickel adventure first!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck! 
** Disclaimer — We received a free ARC copy of Insomnia to review.  All opinions are our own.

Sewing pioneer clothing

The Author is currently on a three-day handcart trek.  One of the requirements for the trek is to dress in period clothing.  While some sources recommend just shopping your local thrift store and finding clothing to modify, I’ve never had great luck shopping thrift stores and I knew I could come up with what we needed through sewing.

Here is our pioneer ready to hit the trail:

Some of my inspiration for this outfit came from a pattern: McCall’s 9424.  The bonnet is directly from the pattern.  I used a stiff craft interfacing on the brim since previous bonnets I’ve made have been a bit on the floppy side.  This one was going to be used on the trail, I wanted something sturdy enough to provide good sun protection. 

The blouse is modified from the pattern.  I shortened the dress pieces to a blouse length and cut two inches off the width of the front and back pieces, so they’re a little less gathered when attached to the yoke.  I also added a couple inches to the length of the sleeves.  I found this allowed for a little bit deeper casing than the pattern calls for and a bit less stress on my part when threading the elastic through.  I hope the unbleached muslin looks period enough.

I also used the pattern to make a dress, but it was packed away before I thought to get photos.  I’ll have to grab an after photo for that one and explain my modifications.  The apron was an old one I made years ago for a pioneer-themed activity day.  It still fit and The Author decided that would be one piece I wouldn’t have to sew this time around.  It was a bit shorter than I would have liked, but I’m just glad I had the foresight to add a nice deep pocket the first time around.

The skirt was made from a couple yards of excess fabric I had on hand.  I just cut it to length and used the selvage edge instead of a bottom hem.  I cut a waistband slightly larger than her waist (about 1 1/4 times her waist measurement) and gathered the skirt onto one edge.  The other edge of the waistband was folded over and sewed down over the gathered waistband seam to create an elastic casing.  Yes, an elastic-waist may not be true period, but I try to avoid buttons and buttonholes whenever possible, even with my one-touch buttonhole setting on my sewing machine.

You can’t see it, but under the skirt is a petticoat of unbleached muslin.  For this I cut two panels from 45″ wide fabric in my desired length.  Sew the selvage edges together for side seams.  Cut a piece of 1-inch wide elastic to the waist measurement plus 1/2″.  Overlap elastic ends and stitch to secure.  Divide elastic into quarters and mark with pins.  Secure elastic to top edge of petticoat at side seams and center front and back.  Sew elastic to skirt with a zigzag stitch, stretching elastic between pins and pleating excess fabric to fit as needed.  We found it is most comfortable to wear with the elastic on the right side of the petticoat.

Any questions, please ask.  Hopefully someone else can find these ideas helpful in preparing for a trek.

Methinks mine offspring hath too much spare time

Good Greetings, gentlereaders.  Prithee, mark thee this, by decree of the honorable Governor of the State of Nebraska, this day, April the 23rd, is Talk Like Shakespeare Day across the land.  By my troth, ’tis the truth. I do beseech thee, joineth me and bid thine honor to the great bard, himself, upon this, the 449th anniversary of his birth.  Perchance thou shalt discovereth thy new form of speech.  Or mayhap ‘twould be folly.


Whew, I am apparently not as up on my “Shakespeare-ese” as I used to be.  If thou wouldst like to join in the fun, here’s a few hints to add a Shakesperean flair to your speech today.  (borrowed from the Nebraska Shakespeare website)

  • Instead of you, say thou or thee (and instead of y�all, say ye). 
  • Men are Master, ladies are Mistress, and your friends are all called Cousin
  • Don�t waste time saying “it,” just use the letter “t” (�tis, t�will, I�ll do�t). 
  • When in doubt, add the letters “eth” to the end of verbs (he runneth, he trippeth, he falleth). 
  • To add weight to your opinions, try starting them with methinks, mayhaps, in sooth or wherefore
  • When wooing ladies: try comparing her to a summer�s day. If that fails, say “Get thee to a nunnery!” 
  • When wooing lads: try dressing up like a man. If that fails, throw him in the Tower, banish his friends and claim the throne.
  • Instead of cursing, try calling your tormenters jackanapes or canker-blossoms or poisonous bunch-back�d toads.

 Many thanks to The Author for sharing this fun day with me.

But that’s not all — (do I sound like an infomercial?)  Today is also a big day in the Doctor Who fandom.  For weeks we have seen this on our calendar, courtesy of The Artist:

That’s right folks, today is Tally Mark Day, honoring the 2nd anniversary of the debut of The Silence in “The Impossible Astronaut” episode.  What are The Silence, you ask? They’re freaky creatures that cause you to forget them as soon as you look away:

from the Silence Tally Mark Facebook page

What was I saying?  Oh yes, I was going to explain The Silence.  They’re freaky creatures that cause you to forget them.

What was that?  Oh yes, I was explaining The Silence.  They’re freaky creatures . . .

Anyway, in the episodes the characters devise a system of making tally marks on their arms and faces to remind themselves that they have seen a Silence.  The Artist dutifully marked her arms this morning before school and The Author planned to mark her arms once she got to school.  I think I’ll pass and let them have the fun today.

Here’s your laugh for the day

This video is a dance my oldest two girls did with their church youth group for a talent show.  Enjoy!
(I’m not sure what happened to the video.  It was here.  In case it disappears again, here’s a link.)
Not that you can really tell, but they end up on the edges after the ballet portion and for the rest of the dance.

Tuesday 10 – 10 Things I Handwrite

I’m a procrastinator, so very rarely are my posts written ahead of time.  Today’s Tuesday 10 with Lena is no exception.  However, The Author is home from school since she’s not feeling well.  Bugaboo is begging for someone to play the Wii with him.  He even has my mii selected.  How can I say no to that 3-year-old cuteness?  That means you get a guest post from The Author!

Hello everybody! Today’s Tuesday 10 is “10 things I handwrite.” This one is really easy for me. And I know that you all want to have pictures of Bugaboo playing the Wii.

1. Homework
This seems obvious. Sure, I’m at a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) magnet, but almost everything is still done by hand. Being at a STEM school means that we have fabulous classes and half our tech doesn’t work. (And engineering group projects take up all the space in your email.) Homework is unwanted and can take forever. Why, yes, I am thinking of geometry!

2. Notes
My school doesn’t assign computers to each student. I don’t regularly use a computer in most of my classes. Any notes we take are done by hand. Four classes a day (we’re on block scheduling) means an hour and a half per class. Depending on how much we get done, we may or may not spend the whole class period cracking jokes and taking notes.
And everybody wonders why all the pencils vanish… I’m confident that they’re with everybody’s socks and pens.

3. Quiz Bowl Scores
I’m on the Quiz Bowl team. At practices, we have a handy-dandy system that makes scorekeeping very easy. At meets… not so much. If the reader doesn’t have a helper with them, they need the team’s “alternate” to time and/or keep score. Timing is a lot harder because you have to pay attention to the stopwatch, so I delegate that to one of the other team’s members or the helper.

4. Novels
I know that this makes me sound crazy. Yes, I write novels by hand. My friends that also write books do the same. Why?
We’re in school for eight hours a day, with limited computer access. Even if we had regular access, there are filters. They’d probably find a lot of the stuff in our novels “not school-appropriate.” Say, a book about ninjas. With weapons. And magic. And semi-questionable morals. Oh, and it’s set in a dystopia… Easier to handwrite. (Notebooks are easier to carry around, too.)

5. Journals
Mom does this, too. There’s something magical with the concept of handwritten mementos from another time. A person’s handwriting is so special, so unique, and totally different from anybody else’s. Mom writes her journal entries in cursive. I’m so used to print that it’s second-nature to start writing in it.

6. Swim team attendance
I manage the swim team. Actually, I managed the boys’ basketball team (2 years ago), both swim teams (last school year), the volleyball team (this year), and started on the boys’ swim season last week. Managing requires taking attendance, running various errands, picking up equipment, handing out towels at the end of practice, etc.
It’s easier to take attendance with paper and pencil than vanish into the coach’s office for a few minutes to do it online. I don’t have to get the key, go to their office, enter the office, take attendance, close up the office, and come back.

7. Tests
It’s weird when tests are on the computer. We took practice tests to narrow our Academic Pentathlon team down to nine students last week. They were on the computer. It was very different from what we’re used to!
In the past, we’ve even done state writing tests by hand. I’m not sure if we’re doing that this year. The tests start today, and here I am, guest posting at home.

I don’t copy quotes off of the internet or any of that. People say some really weird things. Those random, everyday things are what I write down in the margins of my notebooks.
Here’s a really good example of a quote with a story: “It’s a snake!”
I’m just going to say that PE last year, walking outside, and seeing a snake gets totally out of hand when one of the girls picks it up and everybody else goes crazy. I’m the fast walker sitting on the steps waiting for everybody else to get up the hill, laughing at the whole thing.
I want to put it in a book someday.

Wow. This is harder than I thought it would be.

9. RPG character sheets
I’m the person in my family who has been wanting to run a family RPG (role-playing game) for over a year now. It hasn’t come to anything yet, so I use the book to create RPG versions of my characters. It helps to make them more lifelike and less Mary Sue-ish.

10. Things I want to remember
This goes hand-in-hand with number 8. If I want to remember what somebody said, I write it down. If I want to remember what word I missed at the spelling bee, I find out the correct spelling and write it. If it’s an away meet tomorrow and I need to remember what time to leave class, I take a note.
Fun fact: My school’s National Junior Honor Society has been instructed not to tell the others in the school how much we use our agendas. It’s the example-setters that don’t use their agendas at all… Yeah, we’re normal teenagers.

I can’t leave you with only two pictures of Bugaboo…. Here!

A final note on teenagers’ stance about cursive and handwriting not being taught in schools anymore: When we learned this in my geometry class a few months ago, we were appalled. We had a nice argument with the teacher about whether or not we’ll actually use it. (We insisted that we will, in fact, need to know how to write things by hand.) Most of us use print more than cursive, but there are people I know that are so used to cursive that they’ve forgotten how to print. I think that handwriting is probably here to stay.

Playing with Food

We completed another healthy challenge (for my family competition) with the kids yesterday.  (Read about our first challenge here.) This time they used fruits and vegetables to create some kind of food art and then had to eat their creation.  I prepped different fruits and veggies and the kids went to work.


We ended up with  variety of creations.  Bugaboo was lucky to get anything on his plate.  He was eating as fast as we could offer him different foods. This kid LOVES his fruits and veggies! He did carefully place the half-eaten banana inside the pepper ring.

Princess decided to make a person.  She copied from some of the other kids, but asked about having little carrot pieces for hair and decided on a strawberry “belly button.”

Little Miss Sunshine created a chef.  She was thrilled when I bought mushrooms since she has been begging for them for ages.   That made a perfect hat and she got creative with other fruits and veggies and some toothpicks.

Mr. Adventure started with a plan to make a trash can containing each fruit or vegetable.  I’m not sure what message that was supposed to make. He decided to change to this person design.  Not too bad, right?

The Author made this cute little chick.  It’s almost too cute to eat.

The Artist attempted to create a geek-inspired scene.  This is Loki (in the top middle) and frienemies.  There’s the Hulk, Ironman, Mjolnir, bow and arrow, and the Black Widow symbol.

The next time you hear, “I’m bored!”  why not break out the food and let the kids get creative.  The only catch — they have to eat whatever they make.  Mine all did great at the devouring part, too.  The only food left was on Bugaboo’s plate, and he probably ate the equivalent of two plates snacking while sculpting.

If you happen to be looking for a great resource for produce, check out Bountiful Baskets Food Co-op to see if they’re available in your area.  We have enjoyed being able to try new foods and always having a variety of produce.

The craziest (cardboard) boat you’ve ever seen

Our elementary school drama club recently did a production based on The City of Ember.  Little Miss Sunshine starred as Poppy and The Author and The Artist both volunteered behind the scenes.  One of their responsibilities was to design the boat.  A large cardboard box labeled “BOAT” did the job, but it wasn’t very interesting.  So, they embellished the inside:

Any geek-related show or movie was probably referenced in some way.  They even threw in a “Volunteer as Tribute” button and a “Silence Will Fall” quote.  How many sources can you identify?

I kind of like The Artist’s chibi-style Yoda.

Doesn’t Little Miss Sunshine make a cute Poppy?

We inherited the boat after the play was over.  If only I had a clue what to do with it.  For now, it’s happily residing in our basement.

Imaginary friends

I was thinking one morning about all the imaginary friends we’ve been introduced to through the years. Some have stuck around for a day or two and others have almost become part of our family.

 Our first real foray into the world of imaginary friends came when The Author was in preschool. She introduced us to Maybedee.  Maybedee did everything a year or so ahead of The Author. She was in kindergarten and got to do lots of fun things at the Urban Sea School. These adventures were usually shared with us in a great amount of detail. For a while, we were treated to daily renditions of how Maybedee spent her time and the vacations and adventures she had. But, like all imaginary friends, she eventually disappeared. Who knows, maybe she’ll pop up in a children’s book series some day.

About this same time, The Artist got a little bobble-head dalmation as a prize for a reading contest in first grade.  While this wasn’t technically an imaginary friend, she left specific instructions for the dog’s care and feeding while she was at school.  I’ve preserved her original spelling and punctuation.
dish is in geroge door.
Brafest at 1: AM
     Dogie walvles
Lunch at 10: pm
     Dogie sandwich’s
Dinner at 12 11: pm
     Dogie lisanya
Desert at 13: at night
     Dogie Ice cream
The next imaginary friend to stay a while was Porky. Porky was a porcupine and a friend to Mr. Adventure. Porky popped up every now and then, but the most memorable adventure with Porky was his funeral. One day we were driving and saw a heap of porcupine roadkill along the side of the road. Mr. Adventure informed us that this was Porky and we needed to hold a funeral. He wrote out exactly what food should be served:
Breakfast: Banana deluxe miracle pancakes with whipped cream and hot cocoa
Lunch: Bambinos, fruit salad, and Sprite Up (7-Up plus Sprite)
Dinner: Diner Dash tacos, root beer, nuclear dino eggs, and beef jerky
Desserts: Trash cake (gummy worms MUST be included, must be baked in a 4×4 or 6×6 pan) dessert pizza, and candy land surprize!
Little Miss Sunshine also added to the imaginary porcupine family with Porcalina, and while she popped up from time to time, she didn’t stick around much after Porky’s funeral.

It had been a while since we’ve had any imaginary friends stop by.  However, for the past few months Princess has been talking about her friends from Leaf Town.  She will throw these friends into her conversations and toss in snippets like, “Oh, I did that with my other sister at Leaf Town.”  One day she told me that Leaf gave her a silver guitar for her birthday and she will get to bring it to our house and then she can rock out.  It will be interesting to see how long her Leaf Town friends stick around.
Have you had imaginary friends visit your house?  What kind of adventures have they had?

Integrity and Spelling Bees

As a mom, there are certain values that I try to embody in myself as well as encouraging them in my children.  One of these is integrity.  We’ve tried to instill a sense of honesty in our kids, but I believe that integrity goes beyond just being honest.  When you have integrity you make the choices that are morally right, even if it isn’t popular or if no one else knows.

Image source

Yesterday and today I watched The Author, Mr. Adventure, and Little Miss Sunshine participate in spelling bees.  I never would have thought that spelling bees and integrity would go hand in hand, but I’ve discovered that they do.  The Author had her contest yesterday.  She stayed calm, cool and collected and advanced to the school district competition.  I was mentally taking notes of the words thinking that I could quiz the other two later on.  Then her teacher dropped the bomb on me that all of the competitions used the same words!  I knew I had a choice — I could cheat and coach the other two on the exact words they would have, or I could keep those to myself and just help them with random words.
Little Miss Sunshine asked me to quiz her and wouldn’t you know it, the first word I saw as I looked at her list was one of the competition words.  I took a deep breath and looked down the list for another word.  Was it an easy choice to make?  Yes and no.  My protective instincts tried to kick in and I wanted to make sure my nervous kids would succeed.  On the other hand, I knew that I  couldn’t spit in the face of all the discussions and lessons we have had on being honest and showing integrity.  After the written round of the competition today, I knew that both Mr. Adventure and Little Miss Sunshine would probably not move to the oral round.  But that’s okay.  They still have next year and the year after that, etc. to move through the different levels.

Image source

We also had an opportunity to discuss integrity while I was driving Mr. Adventure and Little Miss Sunshine to their competition.  They were talking about a school friend that intentionally misspelled every word at the grade level testing so that he wouldn’t be asked to participate.  I asked if there could have been a better way to handle his desire to not participate.  We settled on the solution that you should do your best and try to spell the words correctly, but then politely turn down the invitation to compete at the school level.

I think we all learned something and strengthened our desire to show integrity.

Linking up:  Foley Fam