Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Chuck E. Cheese Birthday

I took “Calvin” to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese earlier this week. He and the other kids were having fun running around, playing games, and eating pizza. Until that big mouse arrived. What is it about all the places that little kids are supposed to go to have fun that have these giant rodents and other creatures running around that terrify most kids?

Calvin dove under the table. Birthday Boy ran away. Mom dragged him back but he cowered against her leg, crying. The only one who enjoyed it was Birthday Boy’s older sister. She was dancing and smiling better than Chuck E. and his “handler”.

Both Chuck E. and his handler went rather unenthusiastically through their dance routine, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. Believe me, they didn’t know it. The handler never once smiled. Chuck E. can’t dance on the beat to save his cheese. It wasn’t until he threw out a handful of tickets that the kids came out of hiding. My Calvin knows what those tickets are. The video games spit them out and you can turn them in at the counter for candy. If Mom lets you.

Do any kids actually like Chuck E.? Really, he’s pretty scary. A rat bigger than dad with a big nose and some pretty sharp teeth. I think he’d incite a few nightmares. All and all, I might have been the only one amused.

The kids like being at Chuck E. Cheese. They just don't like him. So have the birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Just don't invite the mouse.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

We went to the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game last Wednesday night. We have a great winning streak with these games. So far, they haven’t lost one game we’ve attended. You’ll be happy to know we kept our streak intact even though they lost the next two games. They were playing San Francisco, and we were hoping to boo Barry Bonds since our seats were good ones, 27 rows back just off third base. Alas, he heard we were coming and was a last-minute scratch. This is from our seats. I apologize for the poor picture quality. It was from my camera phone.

The Diamondbacks play in a really cool stadium. It used to be called Bank One Ballpark, or the BOB. That’s kind of catchy. You can say, “Hey, we’re going to the BOB tonight.” But then Chase bought out Bank One and renamed it Chase Field. Not so catchy. At least our debit cards still have the Diamondbacks logo on them.

Anyhow, it’s quite a contrast to Angel Stadium (or whatever they’re calling it now) and Dodger Stadium, the only two other places I’ve been to baseball games. In those places, the stadiums are surrounded by huge parking lots and it takes you a good half hour of walking just to get from your car to your seat. Leaving after the came is an additional half hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to get out of the parking lot.

But Chase Field was built like the stadiums back East. Right smack in the middle of downtown. It has a parking structure ,but we usually park in one of the lots that local businesses open up. For $5 we are a five-minute walk from the front gate and from there, two minutes to our seats. On top of that, the whole stadium has an old-fashioned feel with lots of brickwork and open steel girders. There's also a pool and fountain outside right-center field. Not exactly old fashioned, but it’s Arizonan. But the best part is the retractable roof. One time we got there early enough to attend the roof-opening ceremony. It’s something to see. The panels start to slide back on top of each other to the strains of some great orchestral composition. The big screen shows close-ups. It’s quite the production. We didn’t arrive in time for the ceremony last week, but the effect was still the same: baseball under the stars. This is the roof open. You can see the panels stacked on top of each other on the right-hand side.

I think this was one game both kids really enjoyed. Our daughter had her mind set from before we left the house on buying a Diamondback Rattle, a purple and aqua noisemaker in the shape of a giant rattlesnake tail. Buying one pleased her to no end, and she paid attention to the game, asking Peter, “Should I shake it now?” Of course, she’s still a girl, so she commented to me: “That’s a really unusual color for a rattlesnake, purple and turquoise. A really dark turquoise, almost a greenish.” Can’t put anything over on her.

“Calvin” still struggles with loud noises, covering his ears with his hands when the crowds got loud. Our seats were in a prime position for foul balls. We had four or five hit really close to us. That didn’t bother Calvin. Just the noise. But mostly the game and the goings on kept his attention until about the seventh inning when Peter had to walk around with him for a bit.

One of the interesting things about baseball games is the people who attend them. When someone from San Francisco hit a home run, the person who caught the ball threw it back. I haven’t seen that happen much outside of Wrigley Field.

And there’s the wave. The ultimate in peer pressure created by a group of drunk people. I don’t get it.

I think we got a great compliment when a couple of diehard D’backs fans who were sitting behind us told us we had the cutest kids, and that my daughter was a great fan with her rattle. I was happy. I breathe a sigh of relief any time we don’t annoy everyone within our general vicinity.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Check This Out

I'm slowly recovering from Mount Hermon and my mad dash between California and Arizona. I'm now in the proud possession of an antique upright grand piano. Just have to get the spiders and other creepy crawlers to move out.

I'm guest blogging on Tricia Goyer's site tomorrow, Generation NeXt Parenting. Go check it out even if the story might be familiar to some of you. She's the author of Dawn of a Thousand Nights by Moody among other things. If you like World War II books, this is one to read.

Also, Dineen Miller is blogging about her experiences at Mount Hermon . . . and threatening to beat me up. So what if she's taller than me? I can take her. I have a lot of experience wrestling Calvin. Should make Dallas interesting, though.

Have a great week. It's 85 degrees here and we're going to a Diamondbacks game tonight. They always win when we go, so we'll see. They're up against Barry Bonds. We'll boo.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mount Hermon, part 3

I did four posts on the ACFW conference in Nashville last September but it looks like Mount Hermon's only going to get three. Hmm. Wonder why? And it was a longer conference too. Actually, that may be the problem. My brain is still leaking out my ears, and I have to turn around and leave for California again tomorrow. At least I'm not driving; Peter is.

I took James Scott Bell’s major morning fiction track with Jeanne, Pam, Mike and Chris. It was eight hours of instruction, much of it based on his book but with added material and examples. One of the cool things he did was give examples from movies. We saw a few clips and the full version of The Fugitive. The good thing about this is many more people have either seen of or heard of a movie than a book. Plus, because it’s generally two hours of a visual medium, it’s a great way to give an example of fiction techniques. He would show a particular clip to illustrate the point he was making about a technique. And then when we watched The Fugitive, we looked more at the structure as a whole.

One of the things our little coterie enjoyed was the addition of a couple of classes related toward a more artistic/literary bent. Andy McGuire of Moody gave a workshop on Christianity and Art that was just excellent. His point was that we need to tell a good story and create good art simply for it’s sake and not feel like we have to be message driven. Yes, our worldview will be evident in our work, but we shouldn’t write with an agenda in mind. Similarly, Denny Boultinghouse, nonfiction editor for Howard Books had a class on how culture impacts our writing. On a side note, Denny is a very funny guy. I had three meals with him just for the fun factor. Also, Nick Harrison of Harvest House talked about literary fiction in the Christian market. Jeanne and Mick Silva did a class called Let Music Rock Your Writing which talked about using musical techniques to inspire and improve your writing.

Dave Long of Bethany House gave a workshop on critiques that was good. He talked about evaluating work using an inverted pyramid. Look at the big picture, major structural things first, then work your way down so that your last edit/critique is a line edit. He also tells a really good story about how he broke his nose, twice. But that wasn't in the class.

Also, Dave Long and Jeff Gerke (NavPress) did a panel on fiction, and Jeff Gerke talked about how he sees a great potential market in sci-fi and fantasy in the CBA.

Evening general sessions were key noted by Phil Callaway. He’s a phenomenal speaker. Funny and poignant. Very enjoyable. I’m going to order the CDs of the general sessions just to hear him again and share it with Peter.

And the worship music was provided by Eustace Scrubb, the band formed by Jeanne, Chris, and Mike. The cool thing about worship music at the conference is that a lot of people in the congregation can sing well and in harmony so much of the time it felt like I was in the middle of a choir. Very cool.

I hung out with Dineen Miller a lot until she threatened to beat me up. Can’t you tell she’s such a scary woman? We had a lot of fun and it was great meeting someone I had only known through the ACFW forums and e-mail and blogs.

At lunch on Tuesday, the last day after Mike and Jeanne and Chris were gone, I sat with Dineen and met Camy Tang, Marilyn Hilton, and Margaret MacLean in person and saw Meredith Efken again. And rode with Steve Laube on the shuttle to the airport. One of the things we were talking about was how cool it was to measure our own growth as writers each year at the conferences. And how much we benefit hanging out with other writers. We have such a solitary profession that most people don’t get. So when we do get to be in community with other writers, we soak it up like rain in the desert.

For me, one of the highlights was sitting outside during Palm Sunday service. Since I was sitting between Mike and Chris and shivering, they may question that as the highlight. But when I was little, we would often drive up to the mountains as a family and hike around. It always seemed to me that the wind was God moving through the trees. So being outside, particularly in the mountains, is one of the ways I feel closest to God. Even though it was cold, spending Palm Sunday outside, taking Communion under the trees was a way God made His presence known to me in the midst of all the excitement of Mt. Hermon.

Sharing the Mount Hermon experience with people who have become my good friends just took everything to another level. Yes, it would have been a great conference if I had gone not knowing a soul (like I did five years ago). But what a difference to share it with a really cool group of people. Thanks for letting me hang out with all you guys and absorbing some of your coolness.

Anyone ready for Dallas?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mount Hermon, part 2

I'm not home yet. I got to my mom's last night, greeted by my teary-eyed kids at the airport. I missed them so much. Of course this morning, Josh has already thrown up and we have a flight out of here in four hours. Should be fun.

We decided the last day that maybe what happens at Mt. Hermon should stay at Mt. Hermon. Okay, it’s really not as bad as it sounds. We stayed up late a couple of nights telling really bad stories that I can’t even remember and laughing a lot. I haven’t done that in a long time. It’s good for you. And, obviously, I did a good job as a body guard. Nobody died. Well, at least not on my blog. According to Brandilyn Collins mayhem was afoot. Mike was even implicated in the scheme. However, the best news is . . . no one got to see my one-armed cartwheel.

Monday night we got kicked out of one of the buildings at 11:30 by the security guards. The previous night we closed down the soda shop at 11 then stood around outside for another half hour or so talking. Nothing deep. Really. Most of it was incredibly inane. But it was a ton of fun. Before we went to the soda shop, we had tried to play basketball. We walked all the way down to the gym to find it locked. The workout area was open, and it was gorgeous, but we couldn’t get into the courts. Then Mike found the women’s room was open and tried to get in that way. I wish I had taken a picture. Mike and Chris and Chris were all standing in the doorway of the women’s bathroom. I think that would have made good blackmail. Why no one asked me to go in to check I don’t know. It must have been because they were protecting me. Right? Yeah, I write fiction.

The phrase “grandma’s house” will from this time forth have a new meaning. Mike and Chris stayed in one of the cabins and they called it grandma’s house because that is exactly the aura this place had. I finally got to see it on the last day. Mike and Chris really needed someone to look out for them. They both forgot essential items like toiletries and clothing items.

Speaking of which, it rained off and on during the conference. I was pretty cold the first day or two then seemed to adapt. But the last day it just poured, and I had to haul my luggage down two flights of stairs, then up another out in the rain then down hill. I found out everything, including my computer bag, was waterproof, but I was soaked from the knees down. When I got to my mom's house last night I realized it wasn't exactly waterproof. A couple of books were nearly ruined and everything was quite damp.

Our room wasn’t grandma’s house. I forgot to take a picture of our room. We had the triple deluxe, which was pretty nice, like a hotel room. It had three beds, two twins and a double, which Jeanne and Pam left for me. Aren’t they sweet? The beds were comfortable, the shower hot and the temperature good. We had a nice balcony that only got used when Pam stepped outside to spray her hair. It had a great view but it was just too cold or too wet to sit out there.

This is the central area. I wish I had more time to explore the grounds. They are beautiful with streams running through redwood forests and plenty of hiking trails. It was just too cold or too rainy to do much exploring. However, they do a family camp in July which I’m thinking might just be the ticket.

A few people blogged from the conference. Brandilyn, Dave Long, Chris Mikesell. Check out their stuff. Chris has pictures of us. Good pictures too.

Mt. Hermon is a long conference. I think we were all at our limit by the last day, especially since we were getting less than six hours of sleep a night. But the connections and the learning and the friendships are just invaluable. Next year’s conference will be March 30 to April 3. I’m already saving my pennies.

Tomorrow, I'll talk more about the actual classes I took. If we survive the trip home.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Mount Hermon, part 1

Sorry I haven’t updated this before now. I got in Thursday and didn’t sleep at all that night so that meant Friday my brain was mush and leaking out my ears. Anyhow, I did sleep last night, so you get an update today.

I’ll do a more thorough wrap-up after the conference is over, and I have more time and more brain power. But for now, here are the highlights.

I came in on the early shuttle Thursday afternoon. My flight was twenty minutes late and then the shuttle to Mount Hermon got stuck in construction traffic. So I got here around four and completely missed lunch. As I was getting ready to climb the stairs to my room, Brandilyn Collins was coming down. We said hi. She actually recognized my name from her blog. And then she helped me carry my bags upstairs! How cool was that!

After that, I met up with Jeanne Damoff, Mike Snyder and his wife Alicia, and her sister, and Chris Fisher who were rehearsing. They played last night and tonight for the general session and sounded awesome. I got to guard their stuff since I am the official bodyguard. Which generally consists of shooting people dirty looks who appear to be thinking of rushing the stage.

Yesterday at noon kicked off the official beginning of the conference. I ran into Dineen Miller who gave me a gift of OPI nail polish, a glittery top coat to go over my Chick Flick Cherry toes. I haven’t shown them to her yet and she still wants to see that one-armed cartwheel. Yeah, she can keep hoping. I was just glad she didn’t give me a tire iron. Of course, I was relaying this story over dinner tonight while an editor was present. Her eyes went wide and frankly didn’t get much smaller as we were trying to explain the story behind the tire iron. Hmm. Maybe mentioning that wasn’t the best move.

It started raining last night, and it was foggy this morning. But now the sun has broken through and it is truly beautiful up here. I should take some pictures. There are camillias and azaleas blooming in the middle of all of these redwoods. I even enjoyed the fog since we don’t get much of that in Arizona. Still, I’ve generally been cold, which I expected. It’s supposed to rain some more, but for now I’m enjoying the sun.

Today started the major morning tracks. I’m taking the fiction track with James Scott Bell. I’ve already learned stuff I can apply to my writing. I’m typing notes, but I’d suggest getting the CD. I’ll post the info on where you can order them later. It’s definitely worth it since you weren’t here.

Also spent some time hanging out with Dave Long, Jeanne, Mike, Chris (Fisher) and Chris (Mikesell). We sat together at lunch Friday and then hung out a bit at the reception that night. These people are really as much fun in person as they are in the blogosphere. I’ve sat with Denny Boultinghouse of Howard Books twice and Andy McGuire of Moody. Meals are great and everyone has been very nice. It’s a great conference and I highly recommend it.

More later as I’m able. There’s not a ton of down time here and generally my head is spinning too much to write anything.

Oh, by the way, before I forget, Sunday is Mike Snyder’s birthday. Wish him happy birthday. He’s turning 60. Looks good for his age, doesn’t he?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

We Survived This First Part

I'm now in the "OC." Forgot how crowded it was. Needless to say, we survived. And without major incident. Our plane was 45 minutes late taking off, so that was 45 more minutes I had to entertain "Calvin." I was pointing out planes, carrying him on my shoulders, tossing him around, anything to keep him from annoying the other people around us. My shoulders are already aching.

Tomorrow, a trip to the Pancake House to carb-load and then head up to San Jose.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Should be an interesting week

A new week, a new month, but not a new post. I wanted to talk about villians, but I don't have the brain power right now. I'm getting ready to head off to Mt. Hermon this week, along with Mike Snyder, Jeanne Damoff, and Dineen Miller. Should be a great time once I get there.

Before then I've got to do all the usual conference prep for myself, plus get my kids packed because they're going to grandma's for the week, and leave the house in some sort of order for my husband who will be here all by his lonesome. Well, him and the dog and two cats. And what's really sad is that people are actually feeling sorry for him, offering him dinner invitations while we're gone. Please. He's really looking forward to this, pigging out on Taco Bell and catching up on movies.

What I want to know is, who's going to feel sorry for me? (hint, hint, it's supposed to be you guys) I'm dragging two kids and luggage through the airport. I have to remember to frisk my son before we go to make sure he hasn't brought any toys that resemble weapons and hope that at the airport he doesn't do something that threatens national security and gets us in trouble. Last time we were at the airport, he tried to pull a fire alarm.

The plan is to try to update this blog while I'm at Mt. Hermon. We'll see if that actually happens. We might be having too much fun, uh, I mean we might be learning so much about writing, that it might not happen. However, I promise to let you know if I survived the trip through the airport and the subsequent flight with my kids.