Welcome to the Place-Holder

We don’t post here anymore (as you can see).

At this point we’re just holding onto the domain name that matches ours, in case it becomes of use.

Latest projects include UntanglingTarot.com (Wren’s tarot site for appointments in the off-season, and a brief introduction to tarot and how she uses it).

You can find her at Fairbanks (Tanana Valley State Fair) and Palmer (Alaska State Fair) Fairs in the late summer and early fall. Long days, but lots of neat people and new experiences.

Wren also sews critters that are currently displayed on Instagram.com/Whimsy.Sparks

Currently accepting commissions from or for adults who’d like stuffies, dolls and soft-sculptures.

Children’s toys currently unavailable until our inventory and component tracking reaches the necessary standard of national regulations required for the 12-and-Under set.

Jay is still working with Wilson Alaska Technical Center at UAF, Jack is studying Anthropology, Melody is studying Theatre, and Elisha is finishing High School.

Those are the bare bones.

Feel free to check-in with the phone numbers we’ve had forever (texting’s our favorite), or if you’re local, stop in at Fairbanks First United Methodist Church. Services start at 9 and 11, and we’re involved in the music and running sound for both of those, so we’re pretty easy to find.


My children are all away at school now.

I have no goats to milk, rabbits to groom, or chickens to keep alive (as my once-necessary source of eggs-that-don’t-give-me-migraines).

I have read over 180 books this year, since I quit feeling embarrassed for my high-consumption of novels, and for the first time in forever I can sit still and feel a sense of choice and options in how I will spend my time.

Years ago, when Jay was traveling, and I had rabbits/goats/chickens (and rats, God-help-me) in the depressive dark of winter, along with three beautiful children who looked to me for all things good, I was much more limited in my choices.

One funny part, in a quirked way, was that I couldn’t choose to write. Writing wasn’t optional if I wanted to be sane, kind, and have any energy at all. Writing was essential like showers were essential: maybe not to life, but without question to quality of life.

I remember the moment when I realized that I was perpetually falling into “crisis mode,” that lifestyle where nothing mattered but staying warm fed and sane. Trouble with that, was the niggling part of my mind that insisted healthy also needed to be in the equation somewhere, especially since this looked to be my lifestyle for a while.

This resulted in a life-changing awareness:

If I’m going to spend this much time in crisis mode, I need a way more efficient crisis mode!

And you could say that’s what I’ve spent the last three years learning.

We’ve gradually removed stressors from our lives — first the rabbits, then the goats, then the little house, then the chickens…

We’ve added margin: Jay travels less, we have more physical space, we live closer to Jay’s work, so we have more time-space, and now the children are all off being taught by somebody else.

One of the intriguing things about being on Facebook is watching trends within my own news-feed. A kindergarten mom shared her tear-red face on day-one, and asked the next day if she’d ever get used to giving up her boy.

I’ve never been particularly sentimental, but I’ve also been particularly good at treating whatever it is I want to do as simply normal. I never considered sending my kids away for kindergarten. I didn’t seen the point, really. Natasha’s first day of school looked a lot like every other day of her 5/6-year-old existence, with reading, songs and a bit of colored-bear mathish games thrown in.

The main difference was that I mentioned her neighbor friend was going to his first day of school. Natasha froze, then, very carefully said, “I’m not ready to be away from you all day. I’m not big enough.”

This, I loved.

And I also loved how everyone was ready this year.

So now we’re on day-three, and I have the option of sitting quietly. Having learned and lived a sustainable “crisis mode,” having become familiar with the absolute minimum that will keep a home together while those in them are at their weakest, I am reminding me to pace myself.

Usually I do my best work when I’m alone in the house, so the last two days have been a bit tense while I find a balance between maximizing my alone time (so I will be able to focus better on the kids once they’re back), and doing it in a way that doesn’t leave me physically exhausted.

The thing is, all this margin and reading and rest has been *wonderful,* but in a way it’s underscored how much the last five years have sucked out of me. I tried to be active and productive and go maximize my empty house (clean! organize! exercise!) and I was reminded that I am still low on stamina and strength.

So I’m still playing things by ear. My one big goal this semester is to finish the second part of my lindorm story, with the smaller (as in quieter, less-forceful) goal of recovering health is working in the background.


February 2014 (Facebook Compilation)

February 5

What being homeschooled is actually like.” (Buzzfeed)

Kimberly Kingston Eames Great stuff! I was on correspondence (what home-schooling was called then) part of Kindergarten, all of 1st and 2nd grade, and part of third. I was then placed in advanced math and English for the rest of schooling. I think my at-home learning made a huge difference.

Becky Castle Miller Josh Hutcherson FTW.

Amy Jane Helmericks Becky— I don’t know what that means. Other than FTW. I suppose it would mean more if I knew who Hutcherson is.

Becky Castle Miller Oh, the gif set of the boy on the late night show saying he didn’t like regular school because of the early morning wake up. That was my favorite part of this list. He’s Peeta in the Hunger Games movies.

I really should be allowed to laugh during speech evaluations when the evaluator says “nice body.”

It’s worse/harder when the lectern has been mentioned recently, either blocking or not-blocking my physical body– this always seems to get mentioned no matter what I do.

For context: I gave the speech for my old TM club’s evaluation contest at their meeting today. Three contestants evaluated a speech I gave, and I prepped really well.

I recorded everything, and think it’ll be really nice for my “self-esteem file.”

*happy sigh* It’s neat to be noticed when you work hard on something.

February 8

February 10

4,000 words since yesterday, and only 4 scenes left to write on my rough draft. [Written when I was working on Sherlockian Daze. Didn’t stop at the end of November.]

Kati Armbruster WHOO HOO!!! Way to go! Keep up the momentum, lady, you’re almost there!

February 13

Natasha said how she was feeling bad and asked each of her sibs to tell her “five good things about the world.”

She was slouchy and shoulder-slumped-dejected as she said she could only come up with two, Elisha four, and Melody one.

“Can you tell me five good things?”

“Baby goats, kittens, horses, snowmen, and fresh rain for dancing in.”

I was having a internally-crummy day, too, so it felt good to smile together.

Halfway through February. It’s all better from here.

Amy Jane Helmericks Can I just say how proud I am as a parent that she thought of that “five-good-things” exercise on her own?!

Laura Frame Tormey Thanks!! This made me feel better too. Coffee, snowflakes, friendship, fire, and the ocean.

Becky Castle Miller Cobblestones, fabric, lanterns, lap cats, and cheesecake.

Kati Armbruster yummy books, fresh baked goodies, lilacs in bloom, favorite songs, and puppy kisses.

February 14

Elisha is so his mother’s son.

Last week he was reading the movie picture book of Frozen and explained to me that “Movies are just so *daMAtic* and scary and sad and [coming at you fast] that it’s useful to read the whole story ahead of time. Then you’re ready for the movie.”

Today I finally sat down and read all of Sherlock season 3/ep 3 (the transcript), and I’m like Elisha here: now that I’ve read the whole thing, I’m ready to sit through the actual show.

NB: when I actually TRUST a show/its writers I don’t have to do this.

I’ve decided this is why I do spoilers: I want to decide how I feel at my pace, not try to sort out the feels while taking in the story, too: those are separate processes for me.

Amy Jane Helmericks This morning, for group reading we did chapter five of The Secret Garden.

When we got to the bit about Mary confirming her friendship with the little bird, Elisha jumped off my lap, “Pause the story!” He shouted. Then he just stood there for a moment, shaking his hands. “It’s just just! so!” and he trilled his tongue.

Then he climbed up in my lap again and was ready to listen again.

February 15

So *SO* happy he see a mainline Christian writer addressing this: God Hates Domestic Violence

Yes “God hates divorce,” but he hates Abuse just as much.

From the article:

“Sometimes, it seems like we are more concerned with keeping the marriage going than ending the violence, when in reality, violent men need to understand that in order to keep the marriage going the violence must stop, now. Notice how we put the onus on the woman instead of the man: “Wife, stay in the marriage,” rather than, “Husband, we cannot support your wife staying with you as long as you harm her.”

We won’t counsel like this until we hate domestic violence as much as God hates it.”

photo: alexandria lomanno, Creative Commons

Becky Castle Miller Yes! I read this when Sallie posted it earlier and loved it. The comments are great too. Several people asked him to expand violence to include verbal and emotional abuse, which I think would be helpful.

Amy Jane Helmericks Including other types of abuse w/ violence would be a huge step for someone in Thomas’s position: he has the fresh ache (strongly implied in the comments) of an avoidable (or warning-signs ignored) murder, and that seems to be what prompted this post.

Physical violence is quantifiable in a way that few other kinds of abuse are, and the b&w thinkers that these reform types tend to be– they seem to need empirical evidence, which makes it hard for them to know what to do with emotional and mental stuff.

Including mental health– as we’ve spoken of, before.

February 16

The Faces of Figure Skating.”


Beth Zapf Hahaha. I just feel bad for them that these pictures exist, though. As one commenter said, “You try rotating faster than a helicopter blade and see what your face looks like.” But funny!

February 17

Sherlockian Daze process/breadcrumbs [Here there be *spoilers.*]:

Marybeth/Kassi: “I learned from the newspapers. I— I wasn’t even listed as next-of-kin to inform, and found from a NEWSPAPER that my entire family had been killed! [in the Indian Railway terrorist attacks the year before].”

The happy-brilliant moment when I realized *this* (already planted) line is why she never knew her mother was miss-identified as one of the deceased and correspondingly was never informed when her mother was found alive. Lovely twist that complicates things as much as it comforts.

Got another [much later] scene written this weekend. Chipping away; making progress. Still excited. Still Christmas.

That moment when you’re trying to find the stroganoff recipe from your childhood, and you realize you never really liked it, anyway.

Kati Armbruster hahahaha…. When I went to Germany a couple years back to visit my Mom, she asked me to make Shepherd’s Pie for her for supper one night. I told her that I don’t have any shepherd’s pie recipes because I never liked it. She didn’t understand how I couldn’t love what was her favorite meal, and surely, given how much cooking I do, I MUST have a recipe of it on hand, even if I’ve never made it. Was really quite funny, if a bit frustrating.

February 19

[From Jen Sparks]

Lorde of the Rings, people!

February 20

I don’t trust medical professionals anymore.

Or, put more politely, my automatic stance is suspicion and prove-it-to-me.

I don’t remember who posted it on Facebook, but the article was written by an affronted pediatrician who said that parents who don’t trust vaccinations are parent she can’t work with.

“Because if they don’t trust me when I assure them that x, y, & z vaccinations are perfectly, without qualification safe,” (not a direct quote– I don’t have the article in front of me), “Then how are they going to trust my judgement on anything else?”

And I (who am not energetic enough to be *anti* vax, but do question the necessity of the timing of some vax) felt a light go on: this is absolutely the case.

So much of the medical experience I have had (with the notable exceptions of pneumonia, a referral for physical therapy, and discovering a migraine medicine that works most of the time) has been useless at best, and belittling/insulting at worst.

(In this I will quickly acknowledge I’ve had it better than many, whose “worst” slides deeper than mine.)

The point being, I’ve been asking why I put up with feeling sick and weak, or why I don’t seek a formal diagnosis for the kids, or whatever, and it comes down to intense frustration: they don’t have anything better to offer me than I am already doing, and they’ll happily charge me $$ to say so.

Stomach aches, fatigue, depressed mood, all these are “more tests” and head-patting entryways to a system that invites you to be a guinea pig, then tells you what you already know: sleep more, reduce your stress, eat better.

Only their idea of “eat better” is painfully wrong for my body-system, reinforcing my own awareness over their recommendations.

And I’m not even depressed/whatever right now, just looking straight at the issue, thinking how tired I am and wishing I really could trust anyone enough to just delegate health care decisions to, but I can’t. Not yet.

Because I didn’t start out anti-established medicine. I started out 100% standard care, and after repeated, painful “Oops, my bad”s, one starts to agree, “Yeah, you are bad. Tell me again why I should trust you?”

And once more I’m faced with the question of *How much can I really do on my own?*

The answer: Not as much as I want to.

Ashley Peck Borrego Wow I really resonate with this. Aside from pregnancy, I see doctors for myself very infrequently. This summer I tried to find the cause of a mysterious pain, and with everyone I saw I felt stupid and belittled. Even the hematologist I saw about a clotting disorder that I *have* made me feel stupid. Yes, yes.

Amy Jane Helmericks I end up wondering how much gets/goes unchanged or unchallenged because the medical professionals shame so effectively.

It makes me think of “those parents” who shame children for being childish, or having needs they (the children) don’t know how to meet (yet).

I’ve had an argument/lecture with parents about how babies crying is not evidence of their “sin nature” and that it is not “sin” for children to inconvenience their parents, it’s their existence.

This makes me think so much about other parts of our culture, too, how assault victims are assumed to be liars, that mental illness isn’t acknowledged, or is shameful. How “spiritual” experiences are always suspect to somebody…

We are a process-based, experiential, empirical society, and that which cannot be observed, explained, or repeatable (all means of “proving”) are either questioned, undermined or ignored.

We are so afraid of being “taken in” that we cannot take anyone in to the shelter of our trust and support.

And the super-sad thing about all this is how significantly therapeutic all that trust and support is being proven to be BY those empirical, observable tests.

Jen Sparks I think the internets don’t help society with the whole mistrust issue, either; way with all the scams and hoaxes.

Amy Jane Helmericks I haven’t been burned by a hoax yet, Jen. It’s all been the humans-being-human.

February 22

[Ernie laugh]
I was just *waiting* for someone to make this.

Everything Nerdy and Anything in Between's photo.
February 28

January 2014 (Facebook Compilation)

January 2

Just watched my wedding video from over 13 years ago– for the first time. Ever.

All the highlights were there:
– Nose-blowing on-stage.
– Jay taking the handkerchief back after I used it.
– The “first kiss” that started with Jay kissing each of my hands (and the pastor saying “Not getting away with that!”) before Jay pulled me into a kiss that lasted long enough my mom was hissing from the front row to be done. Or so she says. We never heard her.
– The cake-bites that sealed my trust in him (tiny and neat/polite. No smashing or mess).
– The 4-count swing “first dance” (to *We rejoice in the Grace of God*).

*Man* I miss dancing. Jay said he’ll have to study the video to relearn all the stuff he used to know.

I’m sure someone could niggle us about using a 10-year-old (at the time) praise song, but I think it was very indicative of us, then and now. Lots of good words.

The vid shows us singing while we dance. I love that.

Talia Ahlquist I remember it all! (except for your mother hissing from the front row, that is)

Amy Jane Helmericks And we saw you in the vid, too 🙂

January 4

Okay Tiana, and Becky, I watched it.

I get John being mad he wasn’t informed, but I don’t see why no one used the (obvious) not-telling reason that Anybody wondering if Sherlock was really dead would be watching “honest John” and knowing the truth.

I was eye-rolling on that one.

But it was good, overall. The whole thing was fan service– a very nice visit, to be sure, but not as much story as I’d hoped for.

January 8

I been thinking.

a) If there was a perfect formula for parenting, wouldn’t our perfect God have given it to us, straight-up? (I mean, he answered relatively straight-forward when asked how to pray.)

b) If there was a perfect formula for consistently churning out kids that don’t embarrass you, and are always wonderful, productive members of society … Don’t you think He would have used it?

January 10

January 14

E: No! No! I want something *dammatic* to happen!

I look up from my Kindle. He and Melody are eating pretzels together.

M: Something dramatic has *already* happened!

She holds up a half-eaten pretzel as she explains what just [didn’t] happen(ed).

[I love my storytelling family!]

January 16

Charla was just talking about needing to be disciplined and finish a project before starting something new.

My comment:
Me too!

I have two (no, THREE!) novels at or past the 90K-words mark, and now a non-fiction curriculum calling my name. One that is really-really needed.

This is where we beg God to make *calling* clear, because the “sensible” I hear says that non-fiction is so much more REAL and IMPORTANT, and the popular fantasy says, “Ah, but fiction sell more!”

Neither of which I have any way to objectively prove one way or the other. I can only feel breathless watching my beauties (manuscripts) in their awkward “teenager” stages, where they think they’re so grown up, but I know better.

January 17

Elisha [earlier today, out of nowhere]: You’re a *great* storyteller, Mama.

Tonight Natasha saw me starting in on cleaning the kitchen while she was on her way to bed.
N: Why start cleaning *now*?
Me: I just finished [reading] a novel. I have energy now.
N: Oh. That makes sense.

Another time recently, I asked Melody what story she wanted to listen to. She said, “Tell us more of your novel!”

Being understood by my children is a beautiful thing. They are proud of me, my writing, and I can only begin to articulate how much of a gift this is to me: enormous.

[Background: people used to frame my writing in competition with my children, questioning the adequacy of my devotion to my children. This made my automatic language about each piece (“A fourth child”) feel even more scandalous– though no less true.

We had a physical 4th child in our home for 44 days, with no jealousy or angst. And I realized that’s how they take my writing, too. The fourth child. It’s not a competition, it just *is.*

And these moments when they connect– when they play at it themselves– it’s like a toddler picking up a baby doll after mama has a newborn, and surprising me with their tenderness and skill.]

I am so thankful to be a WriterMama.

January 20

Signs That You May Have Gluten Sensitivity and Not Know It #glutenfree - DontMesswithMama.com

January 28

I have officially inured my children. [Nope. Not anymore.]

I was able to hoot/laugh/clap my hands in delight and nobody shrieked, *What?*WHAT?!*

Dinner-making time has provided several breakthroughs on my novel tonight.

I suppose they eventually figured out that dinner wasn’t that exciting.

 Beth Zapf Yeah, I read that a couple times trying to figure out how you injured your children… And it wasn’t even spelled wrong. Crazy brain.

Jen Sparks I totally read injured.

January 29

If you plan to read my *Sherlockian Daze* novel, and spoilers bug you, don’t read the pictures. (Not that I *really* expect you to know the story from this list, it’s such shorthand).

This is my “beat sheet” of the main novel action (sans Sherlock episode).

The point is me celebrating:

– check-marks are all the scenes already written. (!)
– stars are specific revision to-dos (mostly POV shift; important, but not time-consuming)
– circles are specific scenes still to be written

Translation: I have a whole story here, free and clear (holes closed up). It’s taken till my 5th novel, but I’m looking at exactly what I know needs to happen, and it’s being done.

I can’t tell you how exciting this is for me.

December 2013 (Facebook Compilation)

December 3

Elisha: I can’t sleep. Too many scary thoughts.
Me: Choose nice thoughts.
Elisha: [more rambling excuses]
me [going back to Hulu and the Castle episode with the baby that is totally cracking me up]: Fine. Diaper’s clean. Snap up the baby’s onesie.
[He does. Tries to come over and watch with me.]
Me: Nope. Now snap closed his jammies. You’re not doing anything anyway. “Can’t sleep,” remember?
E: I don’t want to snap his jammies closed.
Me: You can do that or go to bed…
E: I’ll go to bed. [Walks off.]


December 5

Jay and I are still trying to see if we can get away without putting up a tree this year.

I held the kids off with “wait till Daddy gets home [from Antarctica],” and so far the delight (and work– we restarted schooling) of his return has kept it out of mind.

We parents would be fully content with no seasonal rearranging.


December 10

Good list.

It has been said that the Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. Yet, most of us would much rather pretend to be a saint on display than call…
Joanna Holman: Yes x5 (especially for discussions on loneliness that are more than just join MORE things!)
December 12
Becky Heishman's photo.

Since taking in a baby at the beginning of November, I’ve had a few people ask how they could help me out.

The consistent answer I’ve settled on is giving me time to write.

That is, if I trust you enough to watch my kids (and I am pretty particular on this), and the “you” is also willing to watch a baby, I will have you here, or drive to your place, then tuck into a corner somewhere and write for an hour or two.

The funny thing to me is how people respond.

I had two different ppl volunteer for this, and others who shrug and roll with it, but a couple people hesitated, or offered and alternative before I insisted there was nothing I needed more.

My guess was the fourth kid (and being a baby) was a sticking point. But I saw another commonality between hesitaters.

Best I can read them, they’re all extroverts. Asking for help to be alone has got to seem like raking snow: “What’s the point?!”

~ ~ ~

Grammarly's photo.
Grammarly's photo.
December 13

One of the things that went wrong while Jay was gone (other than crazy weather– slick roads, -30, and two huge dumps of snow that I had to personally shovel while the surprise baby slept– and the water pump dying and needing to be replaced) was that my dishwasher also died.

So for the past month my inefficient self (and my wonderful mother, weekly while Jay was gone) has been hand-washing all our dishes.

Replacing said dishwasher is tricky, b/c it’s the portable type you roll from its waterless resting place to the sink where you hook it up for the wash cycle.

New is over $600, so I’ve been watching Craigslist for a month praying for an adequate replacement.

And that prayer was answered this week. Another family replaced their old portable DW, and put this one up as free. Jay said he wouldn’t have paid money, looking at it, but it WORKS!

I just loaded my third batch of dishes, and I’m finally guessing my source of unexpected margin.

I’m trying to decide if this is the first time this year I have both a settled baby and dishwasher that works.


December 15

Know what’s interesting? Running into grown-ups with kids your age who knew you when you were little.

They remember things you don’t.

And what they remember is interesting, because it was writ large enough to stick in their brain all these years.

Today I spoke with a woman who remembers me as a very detail-oriented child who liked things *just so*, very orderly.

And that sparked some long-buried memories about my child self that still has echoes today: I was never orderly in the clean-room sense of the word, but even now I have categories for everything, and (for example) out of hundreds of books in my home I can put my hand on exactly what I’m looking for in less than a minute.

I don’t like detail-management (which makes life tough for a homeschooling mama of three) but I relish precision.

And somehow these truths have coexisted for over 30 years.

Jen Sparks: I ran into the father of a primary school friend yesterday. Apparently, he thought I’d never have kids, as I was “too much of a free spirit”. Wasn’t quite sure how to process that one. I never thought of myself as a free spirit.

Me: Jen, I see your spirit “free” in its resistance to being put down. I see your spirit unwilling to accept the you-diminishing roles other people have tried to write for you– whether in church, relationships or even body image.

You are a formidable woman, and six kids only underscores your great strength.

Jen: I’ll be over here trying not to cry…

~ ~ ~

Equal opportunity snuggler.

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.

New blog post at Untangling Tales.

By writing about what we fear, we invite others to see us, and to be known, even if the reader is someone we will never meet, because there will be that person whose fear matches mine.
December 19

Deep breath.
Walk on.

Kitchen Stewardship

“In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.”

For all the times you say, “This world is starting to scare me,” and “It seems like things are just getting worse and worse,” remember that We Were Made for These Times – cling to the Cross and stand strong!

(The rest of the article from The Unbounded Spirit –> http://bit.ly/1dRMrIi)

“A depressive person sleeps less, and the nighttime becomes a dreaded chore that one can never achieve properly.”

(from, A First Rate Madness, by Ghaemi)

So well-said! I laughed out-loud in the bookstore.


December 23

Appointment-making has never been so soft and cuddly.

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.

Just passed 70K on the Novel I started last month. My goal: finish the first draft– the whole of the first draft– by the end of Christmas break.

Huge thanks and kudos to Jay for making this possible.

December 24
Not ready for Christmas? You’re not alone, and it’s okay. Here’s why.
December 27

Fresh Sherlock (fanfic) news, Tiana and Becky.

The legendary detective and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, are now in the public domain, a judge has ruled.
December 28

So much beauty and truth here:

“I’m a lesbian. You’re talking about all of this love and mercy. What does this mean for me?”
I answered, “It means the same for you as anybody else.”

For all I don’t know, I am confident that nobody gets a separate gospel.

~ ~ ~


Becky Miller: That made me burst out laughing.

Me: YES! Me too!

~ ~ ~

You need to read this.

Yes, you.

You train those around you how to treat you. Never say no? Here are four types…
December 30

So happy:

The Good Samaritan with the plow truck was working across the street again today.
I grabbed the braided loaf out of the freezer and ran it across the street to him.

Poor guy seemed to think I was asking him to do it again, but I said my husband was home and we have a snowblower now, this was just a thank-you.

Backstory for you new folks– we had a 10″ snow dump less than a week after Jay left for a month in Antarctica. I was shoveling like Crazy– 3 HOURS!– when this old guy drove across the street and took over. 5 minutes and things were clear.

Absolute Godsend.


December 31


Thomas Crandall

My New Year’s resolution is to write ‘2014’ instead of ‘2013’

My year-end letter is up at Untangling Tales.

Here’s my annual letter, the one I decided not to mail because I prefer readers who volunteer to read the info (blog visitors) rather than “forcing” it on folks. 😉 I would describe 2013 as the mos…

Perpetual Menu

So my latest foray into menu planning is with a “perpetual menu.”

That is, instead of doing an entire month (which worked twice just the way it was supposed to, but never again—in the two years since).

Don’t get me wrong– I’ve used all the menus, and having a whole month (or several) of gluten free meals in front of me is a HUGE confidence-booster when I am depressed or tempted to freak out or eat what will hurt me…

But I’d still prefer a system I don’t have to maintain, or even hours of time when I don’t have to wonder where the next meal is coming from.

Doh– ME! Why did I wonder?

So in honor of the new year (and a few days off that gave me a taste of not being responsible for every. bite. of healthy, edible food that five humans eat), I’m alpha testing a perpetual menu.

Family Meals (Click on that if you have Excel and want your own high-tech boxes to fill-in ^^) This image gets more clear when you click on it.

perpetual menu image

So you can see I color-coded it per kid, and gave my husband the job he does better than me (dealing with multiple input– including children– while pursuing an output-goal.)

How we did it:

  • Passed out paper to each kid, insisted on no talking or comparing notes till it was done.
  • Determined the number of evenings we need to be out of the house by a certain time (3 or 4)
  • Gave kids the nights without that deadline
  • Negotiated where chosen food overlapped (M & E both wanted to make pizza– They’ll make it together with Daddy. E & N both wanted to do salmon– I asked the 10yo to let E have the easy fish and take on the more-complex Chicken and Rice. Which she loves, so it was win-win.  Whew.)

I should pause here to say for the folks that don’t know that I don’t eat gluten. And I actually do way better when I don’t eat a lot of grains. There are grains on this menu, but except for the Cinnamon Rolls (yes, they deserve to be capitalized), everything, even the bread that I’ll happily feed anyone is GF.

This is why the Chix&Rice is a multi-step process. We don’t have to go back as far as plucking the chickens, but we do have to make our own “cream-of” base for the casserole.

So this is the plan.

If enough people are interested I can make an effort to photograph and record recipes as we go along. I’m not a typical GF blogger (there are lots in my sidebar if you need to find those), but I do feed my family what I’m eating, and any company. And I think I strike a pretty manageable balance between easy and esoteric in this whole-foods endeavor.

Cheers, and Happy New Year!

November 2013 (Facebook compilation)

November 2

Brought home two shy bengals this week.

Hid the whole first day, enjoyed the couch while we were gone the second day, and lasted on the couch today until the kids came out.

I think we call that progress.
The brownish gray one is Tiger. The ruddier one is Garnet.

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
November 4

5:42 am: /end 30-minute mild theological rant about [mumblemumble].

Jay: I’m off to shower. I don’t have any answers.

Me: I don’t expect answers; that wasn’t the point. I just don’t want us avoiding the questions because of that.

~ ~ ~

Four days into ?#?NaNoWriMo?.

Passed 25,000 words (due to a lot of hours from Jay over a long weekend. About 25% of the way through my story and enjoying a speed of ~ 1200 words/hour, due to the month of planning that led up to November.

My first (and maybe second/third) NaNo, this was the time I wanted to quit: before the end of the first week.

I was making my 1,667-word/day minimum each time, but I wasn’t sure I could maintain the pace and wanted to quit before I failed.

Sticking it out each time proved something to ME.

Noveling is WORK, it is worth it, and it is worthy work I am capable of.

Consider what you are doing– what you spend your hours on– as practice. Practice what you want to perfect.

Be encouraged: now isn’t forever, and it might help us toward the future we’re wishing for.


November 7

So, those new Bengals I mentioned? They don’t “meow.”

They “Mama” and “menow?” And “Ohwaow.”

The difference these last couple nights has been the being up an hour or two, so they (the cats) don’t startle me awake wondering who’s calling for me.

Just at night up til now, but Garnet seems to be transitioning into “I deserve more of you, desirable person,” and will come just close enough for me to touch he before throwing himself onto his back just out of reach.

I totally don’t play along: if he wants my attention he has to come to me: I won’t trail after him.

I am continually amazed how solidly muscular he is.

His interaction is v. unsophisticated– like the boy who throws mud on the playground and feels love when you throw mud back.

Pushes really hard against my hand, so simple petting/stroking seems to be under proportionate. So I scratch or rub harder, and he leans harder and I keep going, “You’re a cat, right? Are you sure you like this?”

Garnet has officially integrated with the household. This is so awesome for me. Tonight he joined us on the couch for bedtime reading.

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
November 10

In awe of the amazing range and dexterity of hands: from wrestling goats to cradling eggs, from forcing a shovel through deep snow to touching a baby’s cheek.

All with the same hands.
I’m so, *so* thankful.

~ ~ ~

Link: Every Mother’s Dilemma

~ ~ ~

I spent three hours making a dent in the fresh snowfall in my driveway (8 or 9 inches overnight).

I was just about at the place where the worst (stuff that would become an ice-rock when the temp drops again) was just about managed when the man working with the old truck and plow drove across the road and started clearing my driveway for me.

In five minutes he did everything I’d calculated the minimums on, and more.

The right tools make a difference. I’m so glad and thankful he shared with me. *Such* an encouragement on what could have been a (more) exhausting day.


November 11

Feedback from my latest beta [reading Lindorm King] was squee-inducing yesterday. I love it when people *get* my story:

“So, I had a bit of time on mine hands, took a look and then was thoroughly hooked. Meaning I read all 344 pages last evening.

I totally adore your women characters. They are strong, but not in the way that “Now I do stuff like the boyz” that so often gets mistaken for strength. I’m fascinated by how they struggle and try to cope with the roles their restrictive society cast for them.

Also, I wanted to hit Tykone over the head frequently for all his subconscious sexism. Very good job on that one, maybe one day a guy reads it and has a d’oh-moment.”

[This last, in particular, was an awesome affirmation to specify on her own: it was an experiment on my part, since I wasn’t sure it would even be recognized as sexism since it’s so “normal”.

She also had some very useful structural feedback that was very meaningful. Moving back to revision after NaNo is going to be a blast!

~ ~ ~

Soooo a “family emergency” kept me from writing-time all but two days in the last week. Maybe 3500 words since last Monday.

Fortunately I was far enough ahead from earlier “uninterrupted” work that I’m still past 31,000.

I ran into a local fellow NaNo-er, and while we were exchanging stats I gave the obligatory, “Real people are more important than imaginary people” line.

“Yes,” she agreed. “But sometimes the imaginary people keep us sane for the real people.”

I’m so thankful for writer-friends. Nobody understands that (big) part of me as well as they.


November 12

Well, I tried to so the nice thing. I made these beautiful loaves. Three, actually. One for the kids– they’re gluten bread– and an extra to take over, in case the home owner wasn’t the driver– then I would just be, ya know, 3 years late on the friendly neighbor thing.

Didn’t work. frown emoticon
Driver must be hired.

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
November 13
All the kids slept under my (loft) bed last night. Now I’ve still got the curtains drawn, no illuminated clocks, and the kids are whispering super-soft in their spot. I wonder how long this can last…
~ ~ ~
For writers, tone is a tricky thing to get right. It’s also one of the most important things to get right. And like most writers, sometimes I get tone right and sometimes I get tone wrong. As a Christian, I work especially hard to make my writing as irenic and…
November 18

I don’t know if this is confidence… Or codependency. :}

KWHL Alaska's Rock's photo.
November 19
“Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness.” ? Walter Brueggemann

I sweet-talked Natasha to kindly fetch my kindle, since I’m on the couch and my hands are full.

She turned it on, and I can only pity you all that I didn’t think to snap a picture while she tried to read.

“I don’t get ANY of this,” she said, handing it over.

I began to read it aloud, imagining that might help, and recognized once again how important context is to understanding.

From *The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem* by Nathaniel Branden (recommended):

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
~ ~ ~

E learned how to make boiled eggs today.

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
November 20

I need to reiterate how much I love (need) spoilers.

Person of Interest had a huge (as in, Somebody dies) episode last night, and it was a relief to read about it in the morning-after discussions rather than experience it first-hand.

So for you non-spoiler POI fans, stay out of the discussions till you’ve seen the episode.

~ ~ ~

THIS is why writing– especially noveling– is my go-to.

Flow is the mental state of a person when he is completely immersed in one activity or event—a moment in which all of his energy is focused on one thing so that he is oblivious to the world around …
November 21

Yay! over 1600 words on… not-my-novel.

Heh. It’s an outline for a talk I’m calling “Personality and Purpose.” A discussion of how type and tendencies can help us find direction and purpose in our lives.

I’m giving the talk at a women’s study group tomorrow night, 7pm at Lily of the Valley Church, in case anyone is interested in coming.

November 22

(Image shared by Carolyn on her Facebook)

Carolyn Mahlen's photo.
~ ~ ~
Because this question comes up every holiday season, I thought I’d help everyone out with a handy chart.
November 23
Identity is what we have that is uniquely ours. After my mental illness diagnosis, my identity changed. Or so I thought.
November 23

Current word count: 45,698

I am so thankful for the generous people who will juggle my kids so I can write.

Brian Lotze: Juggling three isn’t too bad, but four requires throwing them higher and using a different pattern, they really don’t like the change in heights and then when you mess up and drop one, you never hear the end of it. 🙂

I’m probably 10k up b/c of people who specifically said, “I’ll do this so you can write.”

When ppl encourage me in what I value– that feels like love.


November 24

What is a mental disorder diagnosis? What do mental health professionals use to determine one? Should you know your diagnosis?

This is why I needed my own.

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
November 26

The pickings at Wyn have been a bit slim this month. Becky wrote a blog post explaining why.

After 9-ish months of anticipation, I added a new baby girl to my family. My fourth child and third girl, Providence, was born on November 8th. This was my first baby in the Netherlands (the others were born in the US), my first home birth…
I began to finally understand myself and see past the debilitating effects of my ADHD diagnosis to solutions I could manage.

NaNo *win*
Broke 50K.

Now to breathe and finish.

October 2013 (Facebook Compilation)

October 1

Today begins the ?#?31Days? of ?#?NaNoPrep? on the blog WritingHope.com

If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, check it out and subscribe to follow along. 2013 might not be your year for a full-blown ?#?NaNoWriMo?, but you’ll get some good ideas and framework in place for when you *are* ready.

For people who do not write for recreation, the idea of tackling a novel in a month is as foreign as the food you’ll never be able to spell; but for those who’ve always felt they have a story inside…
October 5

My kids are having a few friends over today, so yesterday I was host(ess) coaching them– in my way– asking what they had planned, and how they wanted to fill the time.

“What is there to do?” I prompted.
“It’s okay, Mama,” 7yo Elisha said. “You can work on your novel a bit. Or talk a little to any Mamas that stay.”


October 7

Um… Mama fail: I have officially taught my kid to swear.

Jay did some awesome progress on the water tank room (water tank takes up most of the room and our brilliant engineer STILL managed to install the 12-foot-wide vinyl flooring).

Elisha came to check it out and with an admiration-loaded voice he said, “THAT is so. darn. awesome.”

Then this afternoon, while Jay was on his second run to town (for the glue that would hold the filling pipe together), the water-delivery guy showed up.

“CRAPcrapcrapcrap,” my mouth said as my brain ran the options.

“CRAPcrapcrapcrap,” my 7-yo chanted gleefully in chorus.

I am NOT ashamed. But it makes me crazy glad not everything in my mind comes out my mouth.


October 8

Kids are playing a story with their little animal toys.

M: And this story has no magic.

N: The animals can talk, there’s a dragon and a unicorn. Of COURSE there’s *magic*.

M: Okay. There can be magic.

~ ~ ~

“Eat with Joy” author Rachel Marie Stone, who lives in Malawi, got #addawordruinachristianbook to start trending.
October 9
Actually, concerning reading, I’ve found my attitude is very like it was toward having children:

The last one was so great, how could this one be as good. Whew. This one’s amazing, too. I enjoy her! Oooh my luck’s going to run out now… Statistics won’t let the streak hold up and– huh. He’s pretty awesome, too.

Books give me the same anxiety, which I TOTALLY need to get over. Every reading becomes a desperate thing. A fear-laden expedition that I wonder whether it can pay for itself. {*shiver*}

I just got asked what I read the most, and I couldn’t say. I read 30-40 books a year, keep a list on the computer and still. can’t. say. what I read!? Talk about shame…

October 13
Ethan Howe's photo.
October 14
M: She’s being annoying!
N: I’m being *funny*!
Me: If it’s only funny to you, you can do it later by yourself.

Teena Helmericks: I can so clearly hear that conversation. smile emoticon

Kim Eames: The “LIKE” button is so inadequate for this!
October 21

Using N’s choir rehearsal to sort my action cards into their story slots.

*So* excited about this novel!

~ ~ ~

What a beautiful idea.

Beth Zapf's photo.

Beth Zapf

Did you know: As a nursing mom, you can help heal your sick baby by kissing her? You introduce her germs to your body, you make antibodies, and they get to her through your milk. I will be kissing this one lots tonight.


September 2013 (Facebook Compilation)

September 1

Had to update my bio on the SCBWI website. Included on-the-fly invented one-liners for each of my novels (in v-a-r-i-o-u-s stages of development. #5 doesn’t even start growing till November).

“My novels are all on the speculative-fiction spectrum:

1. Lindorm King: A crippled shepherdess allies with a lindorm (dragon-sized snake) to escape from her abusive stepmother.

2. Lindorm Queen: The former shepherdess learns more about the magical knife left to her, and her role, with the lindorm, in thwarting the magical enemy that seeks to destroy their kingdom.

3. Shadow Swan: A 17-year-old honors student finds himself in another world over Christmas break, and ends up bringing home the princess he disenchanted, just in time for the spring semester.

4. The daughter of a successful cancer-researcher must try and heal a dying mob boss and decide what her relationship is to each of his three dynamic sons.

5. Stolen: A piano-scholarship university student finds herself in another world, needing to learn a new system of survival that works long enough to find her kidnapped infant and return home.”

I tried to make them intriguing and indicative of feel and content (e.g. #4 is a sort of romance, I think).


September 3

E, finishing up school: How do you say… B-i-t-c-h?
Me: What are you reading?
E: Oops. *P*-i-t-c-h.

Kim Eames: Oh, the heart attack that comes when kids ask something off-kilter like that.

Joshua Kugler: He could have been reading about dog breeding…
Me: He was in an English book put out by a religious publisher. Unlikely they’d be discussing breeding, even if it wasn’t 2nd grade.  Because of the goats and rabbits they already discuss breeding more casually than most of their peers are comfortable with.

Brooke Bonett: Lol.

~ ~ ~

New article up at Wyn: Is it Bad For Christians to feel Bad?

Western Christian culture has a special fondness for positivity and a suspicious unease about “negative” emotions. But does this actually reflect the Bible?

September 5

This is so SO great people! I wish everybody could learn this stuff!

If you are trying to help a friend heal from trauma, you need three key qualities: empathy, patience, and encouragement.
When the time comes, this is a conversation I would like to have with my son about how he looks at women.
natepyle.com|By Nate Pyle


September 6

E: This is the first time ever I cook for myself!

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
Rachel Feldhaus: How old is he?
Sarah Arnold: Oatmeal or noodles?
Teena Helmericks: That’s great, Elisha. Grandma is proud of you. Knowing how to cook is as important a skill for you as for your sisters.
Me: Elisha is 7.  He wanted oatmeal for Bfast, I told him it was time for him to learn how to make it himself (since I was making something different.)
September 10
ComicMix's photo.
September 11

Wow. And yay. And yes.

I am used to issuing tips and advice for persons who suffer from depression. I haven’t really described my own lately, because I thought it would be too painful. But since I’ve had a few good days …
September 14

Melody found a vole nest, Teena. Jay talked to the kids about leaving the grown ups (biters) alone and let them play with the kits.

In the house. Iris was *very* intrigued.

Amy Jane Helmericks's photo.
September 18

Totally me.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like in my head (a few brave souls have wondered that aloud), here’s a good example.

A few weeks ago I went to the salon to get my hair cut. One of the little lifehack-y things I do is to think carefully about what luxuries I’d most enjoy, so that when Joe or my parents ask what I want for Christmas or my birthday, I can give them a list…
September 21

So Jay asked me to YouTube this and decide if it’s something I can do, so we can do the testing ourselves.

I’m already experienced at giving shots and sewing (gaping flesh) wounds closed, so I suppose this is a reasonable progression.

Sometimes I think we’re weird. Sometimes I think we’re kind-of amazing.

A real short simple video on how to draw blood from a goat to things like CAE and CL testing. This draw went smooth but sometimes it can be difficult.
September 26

E, putting away clothes: Pants! Glorious pants!

I really need to teach him how to do his own laundry so he’s not waiting on me. :}


September 27

Writings from Dr. Philip Monroe on trauma, complex trauma, counseling, and recovery.
Insights from Esad Boskailo, a Bosnian doctor who survived 6 concentration camps and is now a psychiatrist in the US helping victims with trauma recovery
September 30

I think (as a writer) that perfectionism and writing go together better than most things.

That is, everything else you do, you just DO (or don’t because you know it won’t be perfect). With writing, everything you do is part of the process, and you can always remind yourself that “Now isn’t forever.” It is a fabulous step away from crippling perfectionism without surrendering that important part of you that desires excellence.

The familiar mantra, “real writing is re-writing” can remind us the great freedom we have as writers: we are not bound to what we first see. This trains us in the great freedom available in the rest of life as well, a freedom to explore and experiment and remember/realize that LIFE isn’t a finished product either!

August 2013 (Facebook Compilation)

August 7: So Much YES!

chainsIt’s not the Rules That Are the Problem

August 9:

You don’t have to see these two romantically paired to see the sweetness of this video.

August 19: I found her observation about “nonchalance” fabulous.

[Article:] Why Women Can’t Have it All

Amy Jane Helmericks has written a brilliant article (again) for Wyn this week: Sadness– Grieving Through Fiction.
August 21:
Wired and excited.
Just sent a round of requests for “short order” recommendation letters. I was handed a deadline last night.I’m participating in the Fairbanks Arts Association Artists-in-Schools class/training.

There’s an appropriate number of hoops to jump through before I can be hired by a school, but if I get all my boxes checked by the end of the month I could have my offerings (storytelling and noveling– two different workshops) in the current school-year’s “catalog.”

Soooo if you’re the parent of a student 5th-grade and older, and your child is interested in (and/or needs help with) public speaking or structuring stories, you could mention my name…

August 26:
So, I know I should encourage Melody to go back and actually follow the directions…But I kinda like this version.

M's worksheet
August 26:
Two lovely, encouraging letters of reference turned in.I’m growing convinced these should be a regular part of relationships.

August 27:
Elisha kinda-almost got hit by a car yesterday.The horror of it is just sorta growing on me, and I’m still in awe of the perfection of his escape.

A driver turning right looked to the left before pulling into traffic, and connected with Elisha.

The girls were already past and didn’t see a thing, my mom was bringing up the tail of the train and shouted STOP! at the driver. Poor Elisha thought she was shouting at him (“I put on my brakes but they didn’t work!”) before he ran into the car.

That was the version I understood when I showed up to give the official, “He’s fine, Ambulance, you can go” signature. And he really was: no scrapes or anything from falling off his bike (and the woman was someone whose name I knew from some interaction in the past. Looking shook up herself, and like she expected to be chewed out). They took his vitals, agreed they were fine, took my signature and left.

The State Trooper took statements from my mom, the driver and the taxi driver who saw it all and called 911.

Thing was, when we got back down the road to my folks’ house, I saw the bike. It was damaged and not in a cute, boy-ran-into-a-car way. The chain-guard and the fork of the back wheel had pinched the back tire, and the side of the bike seat was scraped through the cover.

“*What* happened again?!” I asked, starting to wonder if I should be traumatized.
Elisha did fall off his bike, and then the bike had a car vs. vehicle incident.

The driver was at fault, but, ultimately, no one was hurt.
Makes me glad I didn’t know when I was face-to-face with her, because I don’t know if I would have wigged out on her.

/ / /
Jay’s photo: Yea. Step 2 done, now it can rain. Next up: sides.
Roof on
August 29:
Ultimate homeschooling threat: “Next ‘reminder’ [to stay focused on your work while sitting on the couch] will put you at the table!”
August 30:
I’ve been making my GF pancakes with pumpkin lately (“punkin pie” pancakes), to add variety to their nutritional profile. This morning Elisha asked if I’d made “puncakes” again.I hope it sticks.

/ / /

Just hit *go* on my first grant application.
Connie Boochever Artist Fellowship
11 minutes before deadline.

I am *not* going to choke went through my head at about 9:24.
And I didn’t.

The joke/entertaining (not-really) part: I just learned about it last night, at my last Artists-in-Schools class. I stayed up till 2+ in the morning pulling pieces together, homeschooled my kids today (Thank God for my new Homeschool Helper app that I assembled two days ago) and finished compiling/proofreading writing samples tonight.

Sent a chapter from my novel, a short folktale I tell, two blogposts and two Wyn articles. (They say you can have “up to” 20 pages. So I took them all.)

The end was that I didn’t get it, but it was good practice, anyway 😉