Look To the Western Sky

A blog about single life as a parent & the dreams of a writer by Margo L. Dill

Category: Reading

Reading Challenge Update

How is the reading challenge going for those of you participating? Katie and I are doing pretty well. I think since April 30, we have each only missed one day of reading.

I have been reading 3 books: Codependency and Shame, Anxious for Nothing, and a novel–Catch a Dream.

Katie has been reading a whole bunch of books, of course, from Magic Treehouse to Splat the Cat. Together, we finished a book, Abby in Wonderland, in a series she likes,  where the main character Abby goes into different fairy tales to try to save Maryrose who is trapped by an evil fairy.

I hope you’re enjoying finding the time to read each day. Remember, if you do read 21 days for 20 minutes before Memorial Day weekend, you are entered to win a $20 Amazon gift card! Plus, hopefully, you will have developed a love of reading and a habit for it, too.

Remember, you can earn extra bonus entries into the reading challenge by:

  • Post a photo of yourself on Facebook or Instagram! Take a screenshot and email it to me or tag me in the post.
  • Write a review for any book on Amazon.com. Comment on this page with what book you chose: http://margoldill.com/pre-summer-reading-challenge. (This one is actually worth two entries!)
  • Here’s one more way to earn an extra entry into the contest: Comment below this post and include the title of a book you or your family members are reading during the challenge!

Also,I should point out, if you don’t finish the challenge, you can still earn these entries into the contest for the gift card by doing the above 3 things! Because what is actually important here is reading and supporting authors. 🙂

Any questions? Let me know.

Happy reading!

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Join the 21-Day Pre-Summer Reading Challenge for Adults and Kids

Most libraries have a summer reading challenge–St. Louis County has a great one each year. Katie and I have participated for several years, and we plan to again this year. Most of them work like this: Read a certain number of minutes or a certain number of books and  earn prizes throughout the summer, accumulating in a bigger prize at the end of the summer.

I thought it would be fun to do a 21-Day Pre-Summer Reading Challenge for kids and/or adults (or both!) during the busy springtime when weather is warmer, sports seasons are in full swing, days are longer, and school is busy. It’s still important to read, right?

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. —Richard Steele

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read. —Mark Twain

Let us read and let us dance—two amusements that will never do any harm to the world. —Voltaire

More great reading quotes...here.

What is the 21-Day Pre-Summer Reading Challenge? 

Between April 30 and May 25 (the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend),  you need to read 21 days for 20 minutes each day (of course, you can read every day if you want!). You can read anything! It can be books to your kids; it can be a novel or self-help book; it can be a magazine; it can be a blog you’ve been meaning to check out. Anybody of any age can participate, by the way!

What it can’t be is Facebook posts or tweets or something similar…if you’re not sure, email me at margolynndill (at) gmail.com!

How do you sign up? 

Go to the sign-up form on this page here.

How much does it cost to participate?

Participation is free!

How do I keep track of what I read or my child reads?

You can download a record sheet at the link above for any member of your family who wants to participate! You record daily readings on this sheet.

What do I get if myself or my child completes the reading challenge for 21 total days before May 25?

  1. Each person who completes the reading challenge, and turns in their record sheet by May 30, 2018, will be entered to win a $20 Amazon gift card. One gift card will be awarded on June 15,2018 to one person who completed the challenge and turned in their sheet. A bonus entry if you read every single day of the challenge (April 30 to May 25) for 20 minutes! (Plus, there are more ways to receive EXTRA entries–please see the record sheet on this page!)  
  2. Each person who completes the reading challenge will be acknowledged on this blog!
  3. You will receive a digital badge, which you can post on your blog or social media account.
  4. You will receive a 25 percent off coupon for any of my Editor 911 services. This does NOT expire and can be used for any member of your family.
  5. If you or your family have any service, charity, event, anything family-friendly to promote, and you finish the challenge, you can do so on my FB page and/or this blog.
  6. Hopefully, you will also receive a good reading habit that will last throughout the summer and even further!

So what are you waiting for? Go here now and sign up for the reading challenge today! 

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts on Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness and Belonging in Our Families

My MOPS group chose Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown as our book club book this year. And amazingly, I have already finished it! (Book club meeting is not until May. YAY me! ) Most of you have probably heard of Brene Brown–her books are popular right now, and she writes with a very easy conversational style while still saying all kinds of important, life-changing, and thought-provoking things! On her website, she has a few discussion guides to go with the book, so in preparation for my MOPS discussion, I thought I would tackle a few of those questions here. So here we go…

As humans, we all want to feel like we belong, but we shouldn’t change our true selves to fit in, and that is hard. One place where we NEED to feel like we belong as our true selves is our families, but often, people don’t. So here’s a question on her guide: Not belonging in our families is still one of the most dangerous hurts. It has the power to break our heart, our spirit, and our sense of self-worth. Are we talking to one another about what it means to build a belonging family verses a “fitting-in” family?

 I can’t wait to talk to MOPS about this because I think this is crucial and difficult for parents. As parents, we want to see our children succeed. We want them to follow rules and do well in school. We also tend to sign them up for activities and events that we did as kids or that all the other kids are doing in their class. But are we listening to each one of our children? Are we taking into consideration individual likes and dislikes?

This is hard. I’m guilty of it myself. When Katie told me she wanted to do cheerleading, I was like: Ugh, really? But what about basketball? She told me no, so I signed her up for cheerleading in kindergarten. Once she was going to games and saw that some of her friends were also playing basketball, she decided she wanted to do that, too. So in first grade, I signed her up for both. Now, I’m so glad that I did not try to squash that part of her who wants to be a cheerleader because she gets SO MUCH JOY out of it. She smiles, she dances, she laughs, and it’s not easy. Remembering the moves and the dances and getting all those coordinated at age 7 takes a lot of practice!

I’m sure there are other ways I can work on building a belonging family–it’s a fine line between “here are the rules of society you must follow to be a good citizen” and “here is your individuality–be a free spirit if you want.” Any tips or stories you have to share on how you build a belonging family would be great!

Here is another thing she asks:

Are we modeling belonging to and believing in ourselves? Are our children seeing us take unpopular stands and are we talking honestly about how hard and scary that can be?

We currently live in a world where opinions are shared online more than ever before. You don’t have to share your stance on hot button issues on Facebook or Twitter if it doesn’t make you comfortable. But if someone comes in to your home and starts talking about gun control, do you kindly and compassionately share your own opinion or do you nod along with the person, even if you disagree completely? This is difficult, and it is something that divides families and breaks friendships all the time. But it’s important to model that even if you disagree with someone, the relationship does not have to end. You can kindly share what you feel or you can even say: Would you mind if we talked about something else for a while until we can settle down and discuss this calmly? After the person leaves your home, and I feel like this is the key, we can talk as a family about what happened and what worked and didn’t work in the situation.

What I love about Brene’s book, Braving the Wilderness, is that she tackles this very subject. We don’t have to get into a screaming match every time we disagree with someone. We don’t have to purge our Facebook friends because they are Republicans and we are Democrats. We can have real conversations with people to try and understand their viewpoint and kindly share ours, without relationships ending or hurting each other’s feelings. This is so important, especially in today’s world.

If you are looking for a book that will make you think about what it means to belong as  your true self, then this is a great book to pick up, full of real-life examples.

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Making a Commitment to Morning Pages

I’m doing it. I’m making a commitment right here and now, to anyone reading this, that I’m writing Morning Pages every single morning!

What are Morning Pages? If you have read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, then you’re familiar with Morning Pages. OR if you have ever been to just about any writing conference or creativity workshop, you have probably heard about them. If not, Morning Pages are:

 Three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.  (From Julia Cameron’s website/book)

I started today (and actually wound up with FOUR pages). Day one down. I’ve had a creativity block for a while now–although every once in a while I am inspired to write something like this post, “A Letter to a Narcissist” I wrote this week. So, today during Morning Pages, I came up with a first sentence for a short story. No idea where that will lead me, but since then, I’ve been thinking about this line and who could say it and what the conflict for the story could be.

I did a Google search for “morning pages”, and I happened upon Chris Winfield’s site. His tagline is “take back your life.” He has a free ebook (in exchange for your email address) titled How to Save 23.3 Hours Each Week. His site is all about working smarter, not harder. But he also has this amazing page about Morning Pages, which you can check out here. He starts the post by saying he never thought he’d have time in the morning to write three pages by hand, but he made a commitment to do it; and since then, he says that some of these amazing things have happened in his life:

  • I’ve come up with ideas that changed my businesses
  • I’ve worked through issues that were bothering me and seemed overwhelming
  • I’ve been better in tune with my intuition and listening to my heart
  • They have shown me what’s most important in my life and helped me to focus on that
  • and more….(check out the link above to see what else he says)

Pretty amazing, right?

So I’m making the commitment. I also recently made the commitment to read something for enjoyment EVERY SINGLE DAY. Now I read a lot. I read a lot of online articles, blog posts, unfinished manuscripts, emails, kids’ books (to my daughter), and articles about agriculture. But I haven’t been reading for myself. My creativity and writing have suffered because of this. So, since last Sunday, 11/12/2017, I said: “Enough is enough.” Katie and I went to the library. I found a novel written by an author my friend suggested. And I’m happy to say that I have read at least one chapter every day.

Surely, all these positive steps–reading and Morning Pages–will continue to feed my creativity and renew my spirit, and soon that first line I wrote during my Morning Pages will turn into something more.

By the way, for some people, journaling (which is what Morning Pages is) can give you results in your life. If you have never checked out Mari L. McCarthy’s Create Write Now site, then you should. Start with this post I did on her book–all the links you will need to find out her amazing story are in that post here

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Learning From Margaret Atwood, Author of The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood (c Jean Malek)

On Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to hear Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale) speak and be interviewed on stage after receiving the St. Louis Literary Award, which recognizes a living writer with a substantial body of work. (If you want to read more about this award, please go here)

The whole experience was very surreal because tickets were sold out to this free event, and St. Louis (as many of you know) was in the middle of another round of violent protests over a police officer found not guilty of 1st degree murder of an African American male. As a matter of fact, three nights before, I was supposed to attend the U2 concert, which was canceled because of the protests.

If you have watched or read The Handmaid’s Tale, you know the themes are  abuse of power, feminism, sexuality, gender roles, religion, individual vs society, misogyny and more. Another huge theme is the rights of the powerful over the rights of the not.  But the funny thing about this experience, and trust me, I am not comparing myself in any way to Offred, is that people who did not request tickets (the not powerful) from SLU early enough received a ticket to sit in the Sheldon ballroom and wait. We started at a stage with a huge screen, which showed two empty chairs and two glasses of water, instead of receiving a ticket to sit in the concert hall (the powerful), where this famous author would be appearing in-person.  The idea was that if you wanted to hear Margaret Atwood, then you would be in the same building as her and view her entire speech and interview, as opposed to the segment of it, which will air on PBS sometime in October. And…if you had a golden ticket into the Sheldon concert hall, where she would be appearing live, you had rules you had to follow, or you were cast out. You had to be in your seat by 6:55pm, or they were giving it away to the hungry, feisty wolves up in the ballroom.

My friend, Lisa, and I arrived before the doors opened and received wait tickets–number 35 and 36. At first, we were told we were not allowed to even go on floor two (where the concert hall and BAR and bookstore were), but we decided to fight the establishment (HA!) and push button two on the elevator (instead of four). Believe it or not, there was no one standing there telling us to go straight to our ticketed ballroom. Yes, the Sheldon let us spend our money at the bar and at the bookstore before ushering us up to wait in the ballroom with the other lovely slackers, who also did not write SLU early enough to get two tickets to the concert hall.

While waiting in line for wine, I had decided there was no way we were getting in. Numbers 35 and 36?  How could there be that many people who didn’t show up for their concert hall seats? Yes, it was unseasonably hot and yes, we were in the middle of protests, but still…So Lisa and I would sit with the other disappointed folks, who decided too late that this wonderful, lovely, funny, humorous, important author would be amazing to hear, even if we were doing so on a big movie screen two floors above where she actually was.

And then the moment of truth came. A man with a wire in his ear and a device in his hand said, “Numbers 1 to 10 line up. You are going in.”

Lisa and I turned to each other–Oh well, we couldn’t have gotten here any earlier anyway. Traffic, work, appointments, heat. . .

And then that wired man went crazy–he started calling all kinds of numbers, including 35 and 36. We shot up from our seats, giggling and excited. We rushed down the back staircase (I am not joking about this–the people from the ballroom to the concert hall took the back staircase), and Lisa and I even found two seats together in the concert hall for the ceremony. I felt elated and lucky and shocked.

Let me tell you, Margaret Atwood did not disappoint. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, do it. I actually think that’s true for just about any author–I realize I am a writer, but I have never been disappointed about hearing any author speak. I always learn something about life and writing.

This post has already gone on long enough, but I’ll tell you that Margaret Atwood’s dedication to her craft, her career, and her life was inspiring. Her humbleness about being at the Emmy’s two nights before was refreshing. And her passion for literature and teaching were something I can only hope to show the world myself soon.

 

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Harry Potter Fans: Many of Us Need to Calm Ourselves Down (re-post)

This post originally appeared on WOW! Women On Writing. It’s a great blog/resource for writers here: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com

downloadOne of my dreams came true when J. K. Rowling co-authored the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and someone in the publishing world wanted to make money and decided to print and sell it as a book. I did not stand in line at midnight to buy it, but it is one of the only hard-cover books I’ve bought in a long time. Before I had a chance to read it, (I was finishing up another lovely book, Me Before You), I read a lot of negative tweets and Facebook posts about the story. And I’ll admit I was disappointed. I was hesitant to read the book because I didn’t want my excitement to go away.

But I did read it, and I loved it. Yes, it is a play and it is harder to read than one of the seven tomes all us Harry Potter fans love so much. But I thought it was an excellent story–it brought in all the beloved characters–even the dead ones, and one of the most heartbreaking plot events in all seven books, Cedric Diggory’s death. Also while reading, I kept thinking: I really want to see this as a play. How will they do all this magic on stage? This will be so cool!

Then those negative social media messages really started to bother me. I put a post on my own Facebook page about how I guessed I was in the minority, but I was not afraid to state that I really liked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Shockingly, I discovered I was not alone. Several of my smartest friends (wink, wink) also loved the book and were obviously not afraid to share this fact on someone else’s Facebook wall (i.e., mine).

So this post is not for those of you who loved the book, although please put in the comments that you did or why you did, if you would be so kind. But it is for those of you who didn’t like it and feel the need to spew everywhere your negativity. I feel you need to CALM DOWN. I mean, you are entitled to your opinion, even if it’s wrong. Here’s an example of a tweet, which is negative, but on the tame side:

Look, why are you fighting this? We all know J.K. (Jo above) Rowling is a genius. Her novels brought back a passion for reading children’s and YA books. We also all know that if she writes book 9 or releases the next segment of the Harry Potter story as a series of haiku, written in Sanskrit, we are still going to buy and devour it, and shed more tears over Snape and Dumbledore. I mean, have you, personally, ever written an eight-book series worth more money than you could spend in your lifetime? I didn’t think so. Please CALM DOWN.

Take a deep breath, write your tweet/review/Facebook post in a nicer way, such as: I just finished HP8. Okay, I didn’t love it, but I did like _______________________. (Fill in the blank with something you liked.) There you go, I bet if you’re a true Harry Potter fan, you can find one thing in the play that you liked.

I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. I’m just trying to convince you that as readers and writers, we owe it to other authors to perhaps offer constructive criticism, but to be respectful of the talent and time it takes to create these masterpieces, and show each other a little more love.

As for me, you’ll find me passing on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to my family members. My mom currently has it.

Margo L. Dill is a children’s author, editor, blogger, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. You can find out more about her and her books by visiting her blog at http://www.margoldill.com, where she is currently musing over the meltdowns of Kindergarten. She also teaches a novel writing class for WOW! in the WOW! classroom.

Last chance to enter the new blog contest: http://margoldill.com/share-your-sayings-with-me-1st-official-new-blog-contest/

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How I Finally Finished a Book by a Shameful Writer (re-post)

This post originally appeared on WOW! Women On Writing on September 3, 2016 at this link.  WOW! Women On Writing is a great site for writers, full of helpful articles, online classes and a quarterly flash fiction contest.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” 

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Both of those quotes are by the great Stephen King, whether you like him or not, read his books or don’t, he gives practical and sage advice to writers. I’ve had the time to read. I’ve started countless wonderful books by amazing authors, but I haven’t been able to get through them for one reason or another–mostly due to my divorce, maybe due to exhaustion from anemia (which I just discovered I had) and single parenthood. But I hadn’t finished a book in ages. It’s embarrassing. I am a writer after all, and I wasn’t reading.

I had this conversation with my neighbor one day–she loves to read. She handed me the book Me Before You, and said, “This is a great book. You will get through this. It’s a movie right now.” (I’ll admit I’m so out of touch with movies for adults that I didn’t even know this!) That night, I started it. JoJo Moyes is a very good writer. She drew me in with her quirky main character, Louisa Clark, and the surly hero, Will Traynor. But as I started reading along, and got to maybe page 100, my usual pattern took over. I was reading maybe 1 or 2 pages a night before I fell asleep or thought of a reason to check Facebook. I was sure I knew what was going to happen, and I felt disappointed, and didn’t really want to read just another love story.

But one night when I read my obligatory pages (to not feel like a total heel), there was a conversation between Lou and her sister Treena that was so well-written, I fell back in love with the book. Then I read some of the back material about why JoJo wrote the book, and I told myself: give it a chance. One day this past week, I was in bed with a cold, and I read 166 pages to finish this book. When I finished, I was so in love with the story and the ending that I rented the movie On Demand, which I have literally never done before in my life.
And I’ll have you know since then, I’ve already started two more books–a self-help book, where the author wants you to read one exercise a week, and the new Harry Potter play–on page 45 already!

So what happened? I found a good writer. I found a good writer that brought me into her story world and made me fall in love with these two characters even though things might not have ended the way I would have written the story. She made me think about life. She made me think about love. She made me think about what is really important, and she gave me back my belief that love is possible even under the worst circumstances. I know that sounds like a lot for one book, but that’s the thing about books–they really do change the world.

So even though I titled this post–by a shameful writer, I’m not as shameful about reading as I was a week ago, and I’m praying this continues because I think I’m on the road to a writing/reading recovery. I feel myself taking baby steps and it feels good.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. You can find out more about her and her books at http://www.margoldill.com and her writing class in the WOW! classroom here. 

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