Monthly Archives: December 2013

Countdown to Christmas 2013

One of my favorite things to do in December is counting how many days are left until Christmas. This year, my mom helped my kids by giving them an Angry Birds Christmas advent calendar. It was a BIG surprise and a BIG hit. Even our elf on the shelf Wink had fun with the new toys a couple of days ago.

Our elf on the shelf playing with angry birds

Our elf on the shelf playing with angry birds

This year I decided to use our wall white board as a countdown to Christmas (remember how I used it for Thanksgiving?). With a little help from Google images, it only took a few minutes to create a new countdown every few days. My first countdown helper was Rudolph the red nose reindeer. That’s when I realized how hard it was not only to draw with thick dry erase markers, but also how to color with them.

Countdown to Christmas board with Rudolph the red nosed reindeer

Countdown to Christmas board with Rudolph the red nosed reindeer

A few days later, we brought our Elf Wink home. He felt eager to help out with the countdown to Christmas so he drew himself during the night. The boys loved his self-portrait.

Countdown to Christmas board with the elf on the shelf

Countdown to Christmas board with the elf on the shelf

Nothing says cold winter days like a penguin, and penguins are very cute so this little black and white guy was my next pick.

Penguin counts down to Christmas

Penguin counts down to Christmas

I then opted for a snowman. That should be Christmassy enough, right?

Countdown to Christmas with a snowman

Countdown to Christmas with a snowman

Well, my youngest didn’t like it so much (it’s boring, Mama!) so the next day he asked me to draw a “cute baby polar bear” instead. Thank Google images for the great ideas…

Christmas countdown: cute baby polar bear drawing

Christmas countdown: cute baby polar bear drawing

Of course you can’t have a countdown to Christmas without Buddy the Elf. Unfortunately dry erase markers don’t come in human flesh color, so Buddy looks like he needs a little sun. Not much of that in the North Pole in the winter anyway.

Countdown to Christmas with Buddy the elf

Countdown to Christmas with Buddy the elf

Today, we’re only one day away from Christmas so Santa is making his first apparition, at least a partial one.

One day until Christmas: Santa coming down the chimney

One day until Christmas: Santa coming down the chimney

I can’t wait to draw Santa wishing us a merry Christmas tonight after the kids go to bed. We have so many small and big presents under the tree, I told my kids they could open a couple of them tonight, so that should be fun. And Christmas morning will be fun of magic once Santa delivers the last presents under the tree.

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones! Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Meet Wink, our elf on the shelf

A few years ago, I was tempted to get the popular Elf on the shelf. I thought, what better way to motivate my kids to be good the month before Christmas? But thinking of it, I wanted them to try their best every day, not just a few weeks before toy overload day. I never thought the day would come when BOTH my kids would ask me to get them an elf on the shelf. Apparently, there’s a lot of peer pressure at school, and when a bunch of kids in your class have their own elf on the shelf, you’d better get one too. Ah, what a brilliant marketing idea…

So a couple of weeks ago, we visited our local Target and purchased our elf. Of course, it had to be a boy (once again, I’m outnumbered). We brought the packaged book/elf box home, carefully took our elf out and put him up above our fireplace. After a few minutes debating, the kids decided to name him Wink. I’m a little disturbed by the fact that Wink doesn’t have feet but I understand that frostbite can be a result of living at the North Pole.

Wink, our elf on the shelf

Wink, our elf on the shelf

Doesn’t he look cute and innocent? I asked my kids if they thought Wink was nice or mischievous. They wholeheartedly agreed he was NICE! Apparently, all elves who report to Santa at the North Pole every night have to be nice. And for the first few days, I enjoyed catching my kids talking to Wink once in a while, asking him to report some things to Santa, even ask him for “the force”. I figure, when kids can believe in the magic of Christmas, why wouldn’t they think that the force is real too? Hey, I’d like some of that!

Wink was busy on his first night at our house. When he came back from his visit to the North Pole, he made the boys some paper snowflakes and left them a note. How nice!

Wink makes paper snowflakes

Wink makes paper snowflakes

I guess Wink saw us putting together the walls for our gingerbread house because during the next night, he took a look at the candy decorations for it. I should add that he didn’t eat any.

Wink helps us with the gingerbread house

Wink helps us with the gingerbread house

Another night, Wink couldn’t resist playing with the balloon decorations the boys got. Riding an airplane while holding a sword, how fun!

Wink on a balloon airplane

Wink on a balloon airplane

Wink discovered we were doing a Christmas countdown on our white board, so he decided to update the picture for us. The boys were very impressed with his idea!

Wink draws on our Christmas countdown white board

Wink draws on our Christmas countdown white board

We have so many Lego at our house, I guess it’s hard for an elf to resist. Here he is, playing with a Lego Legends of Chima speedorz. Zoom zoom!

Wink with Lego Chima speedorz

Wink with Lego Chima speedorz

After we finished our gingerbread house, Wink stopped by to inspect it.

Wink checks out our gingerbread house

Wink checks out our gingerbread house

He must have realized there was something wrong with this house’s decorations. Yep, that’s because Son #1 turned into Hans and started eating them one by one. The gingerbread house actually looked like this when we finished it. I’m so glad I took a picture of the intact model! Do you know how hard it is to make that stuff with two boys that try to sabotage your artistic efforts?

Gingerbread house decorations

Gingerbread house decorations

I guess all that candy made Wink hungry because he eventually found our candy stash in the kitchen. Yum, gummy worms!

Wink finds our candy

Wink finds our candy

My son left his book overnight on the couch. I hear it’s a very funny book and I think Wink agrees. Look, he even got to read it with his friends the polar bear and the husky.

Wink reads a book

Wink reads a book

And when I added more presents under the Christmas tree, guess who was there to tell the kids?

Wink under the Christmas tree

Wink under the Christmas tree

All this time, Wink stayed downstairs. Well, that was until last night, when he finally ventured upstairs into the boys’ bedroom (Mama, how did Wink open the bedroom door?). He must have been very excited to see a Lego Star Wars X-wing fighter.

Wink rides a Lego Star Wars X-wing fighter

Wink rides a Lego Star Wars X-wing fighter

And now the big question is, where will Wink be tomorrow morning? Will be stay upstairs in the boys’ room or will he go back downstairs? What do you think Wink should add to his list of adventures?

Nelson Mandela: I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The
brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~
Nelson Mandela

It always seems impossible Nelson MandelaThis is one of my favorite quotes by Nelson Mandela, which I found when I was reading his book Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela several years ago. Like many people of my generation, I have a great admiration and I have found tremendous inspiration from this “simple” (he herded goats as a kid), yet so powerful man. While serving his life sentence in a high-security prison on an island with a similar setting as Alcatraz, he became THE symbol of political oppression, not just for South Africa, but for all the oppressed people in the world. His fortitude and resilience are what kept him alive, and his belief that peaceful, yet continuous attrition was the way to defeat Apartheid led to his liberation in 1990. I remember watching Nelson Mandela coming out from behind those prison walls, walking down the long road alone, as a symbol of his strength. After so many years of foreign pressure to free him, it seemed surreal to see him walking in the sunlight as a free man.

What’s even more inspiring about Mandela is how much he accomplished after he obtained his freedom. Already in his seventies, he worked with De Klerk to eliminate Apartheid once and for all, which led the two men to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, something inconceivable just a few years earlier.

Mandela quote - leave hatred behind

There are many books and movies about this amazing person, but my favorite has to be Invictus. It portrays Mandela’s first year as president, and his insistence on leading towards reconciliation, not revenge, as a way to unite his divided country as soon as possible. And one surprising way he did that was by insisting that the South African rugby team manages to win the Rugby World Cup, which was scheduled to take place in South Africa the next year. At the time, it seemed an impossible challenge, as that team happened to be the worst team of all world teams. You HAVE to see this movie to believe what Mandela was able to pull through. Don’t forget your box of tissues.

Mandela and the South African rugby team

Mandela and the South African rugby team

Nelson Mandela is the type of leader many country presidents aspire to be but will never become. That’s how you realize what a truly amazing Mandela was. One in a million. Today I am very sad to hear of Mandela’s passing, but I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to witness first hand this part of history. And one day I can tell my kids about it.

Invictus is a poem by William Ernest Henley. Mandela explained in the movie Invictus that reading this poem often while in prison was one way for him to keep his head high and follow his beliefs. When you read these words, you’ll understand how appropriate they are for him..

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

30 picture book ideas in 30 days: I did PiBoIdMo and I liked it!

This past November, I finally found the courage (and motivation) to grab the tiger by the tail. I remember that tiger when it used to be a cute kitten a long time ago, when I had thoughts of writing picture books when I was a kid. A few years ago, the kitten grew up to a full-size cat, constantly purring in the back of my head, “do it, do it…”

This past summer, that darn cat turned into a bobcat, constantly bouncing ideas around my brain, challenging me to taking a picture book online class and getting things moving, rather than just talking about them. I ended up creating a 32-page draft (text and illustrations) for my first picture book. These were my draft characters, by the way.

My book characters: a rabbit and a sheep

My book characters: a rabbit and a sheep

By the end of the class, I got busy with other priorities and shelved my book draft. I haven’t looked at it since then, even though it’s reached the editing phase. Yes, it’s quite pathetic, and so the bobcat started to growl more often.

Fast forward to mid-October, when the buzz about PiBoIdMo 2013 started going around the blogosphere. I wanted to participate last year and somehow missed the boat. A few weeks ago, my bobcat grew into an uncontrollable tiger and I knew I had to take the plunge once and for all. So I signed up for the Picture Book Idea Month challenge, wondering how the heck I would come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.

I’ll admit, it was hard some days. I would look at my notebook and realize I didn’t write anything for a few days, and I wasn’t sure I would add anything. But then an idea would pop up, and then another, and another. I also found a wonderful and supportive community of people just like me at the challenge’s Facebook page. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention that I had wonderful inspiration from my kids (and great support!). Can you guess a lot of my book ideas have a ninja theme?

And then, 30 days later, I got 30 ideas, yeah!

PiBoIdMo winner badge 2013

PiBoIdMo winner badge 2013

Are all of my ideas brilliant? Of course not, but that’s not the point. The point was that I set my mind to doing this challenge and putting myself in a children’ book author’s shoes for 30 days. And you know what, it felt great! So how many good ideas do I have? After flipping through my notebook, I’d say a few. My youngest came up with a non-fiction book idea and a genius title on our drive to school one morning (thanks, buddy!), and I can’t wait to do some further research on it. My kids got so excited about another book idea, they asked me to start writing the book right away! Needless to say, they were very disappointed when I told them I was only coming up with ideas during the month.

But I bet they’ll be excited about what’s coming up in January! I’ve decided to sign up for Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 picture book challenge, which involves writing 12 full manuscripts in 12 months, with the option to submit to agents every month. Argh, did I just say that? I’m terrified at the idea of taking this huge plunge but honestly, this is the only way I’ll find enough motivation to dedicate some time and let the children’s book writer inside me finally come out. I write for businesses every day, so this will add a great balance to my life. For way too long, I’ve wished I would turn the ideas I have in my head into picture books, and didn’t. 2014 sounds like a great year for a new adventure.

12x12 picture book challenge

12×12 picture book challenge