A Family Circus Christmas

Isn't that just the best Christmas comic ever? Mostly because it's so true. Kids can picture baby Jesus so much better than God. And baby Jesus is much less intimidating too. I just love this comic strip!

Have a happy holiday everyone!

A Quest for Organization One Room at a Time

I'm totally not a homeschooler, but I love this comic!!!

This is the first week of winter break. Which means I don't have to do preschool drop-off & pick-up, no running this or that to the elementary school, no after school car pool. All of these things that interrupt my day every few hours have gone Poof! What will I do with all this uninterrupted time (minus the four kids tugging on me, asking when lunch is, if they can watch tv, or call a friend).

My goal is to start organizing the spaces in my house that are driving me NUTS!

The first room to get tackled is my bedroom.

But wait! I can't even just say "I'm going to clean my room." Cause it's such a huge mess, it needs to be broken down even more than that. You see, my bedroom is the catch-all spot for everything - laundry that needs folded or put away, kids art projects, boxes of cub scout stuff, clothes to go to Good Will . . . and the list goes on and on.

So my goal is to begin with my walk-in closet - which I'd love to be able to actually walk into without stuff packed everywhere, making me feel claustrophic. Hopefully, I'll get that cleaned out and organized in one day.

Hopefully. We'll see. When it does get done, I'll move on to step #2 - my half of the bedroom. If I still have time after that . . . well, we'll just see. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. If I put too much on my to-do list, then I'll be disappointed when I don't get it all checked off. But for now, I'm happy to get into the cleaning mode.

UPDATE: I actually got my closet and half of the room cleaned Monday and Tuesday. I'm so totally shocked! It took all day both days to get them done, but my room is mostly happy again. Now I'm just waiting for hubby to get his side of the room done. What's next on my list? To organize my desk & kitchen pantry, some general cleaning (the bathrooms - oh the horror!) and a little holiday baking. YEAH!

What's Your 2012 Book Reading Goal?

Books rule the roost at my house. Picture books, middle grade, YA, gobs of fiction, and yes, there's non-fiction in there too. Our family loves it all.

Between judging for the Whitney Awards, editing manuscripts, reviewing books and devouring novels for my own enjoyment, I know I read A LOT. But I've never tracked HOW MUCH. But Book Chick City has inspired me . . .

Book Chick City's goal is to read 100 books in 2012. She hasn't quite reached her goal for 2011 yet - she's on book #79 right now. But hey, she has winter break to catch up. If she reads like me, I bet she can totally do it!

She's also hosting a reading challenge. In 2011, she had over 630 people participate. How fun is that? I've decided to join her 2012 challenge.

Will I reach 100 books?

Maybe. I guess we'll see!

Who wants to join me?

Join Me Saturday Morning for an iWriteNetwork Interview

Wow! It's been a crazy week. But the awesome news is today is the last day of school for my munchkins. YEAH!!! No more alarm clocks for 2 1/2 weeks.  It's going to be wintery, heavenly bliss.

As a fun kick-off to Winter Break, I was invited for a blog talk radio interview by iWriteNetwork. I'm so excited! They asked me to talk about how authors can efficiently market their books through both social media and live events. It's going to be awesome, my friends! So please join us Saturday morning at 10 am (Central Time). For information about how to join the conversation, click here.

Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!

Call for Stories about Relief Society & a Book Winner

My awesome writer friend, JoLyn Brown, has a book titled Circle of Sisters which is being compiled for her publisher. Here's a bit more about her project:

Since starting this project, I have been amazed at how much clearer the purpose of Relief Society Organization has become to me. As I searched my own life for experiences that changed me, I have seen how even in times when I thought I was giving the service, I received so much in return. It seems our lives are interconnected, with each person's story overlapping and reaching into another's. Our power to make a difference is remarkable and with the Lord's help, we can each experience first hand what it feels like to be a part of something incredible.

When we reach out to fulfill our roles in this organization we are changed and we change others. Hopefully as we share our experiences we will find another circle of sisters that will be changed by hearing our stories. Perhaps they will be reminded of a time in their own lives when something similar happened to them. Perhaps they will feel a new desire to keep going when it gets hard.

I hope you've been thinking about your own experiences with Relief Society. They don't have to be obvious miracles (though those would be great too,) but think about those times in your life when a kind word came at the right moment, when a prayer was answered by a friendly face, or when you were able to see clearer for a service you gave. The greatest miracles are often the simple things, each leading to another in a chain reaction. The Lord himself has told us many times that by small means, he will bring about great things.

Click here to go to the submission guidelines and share your story. The deadline is January 14th, 2012.

Faithful, Fit & Fabulous Book Winner

I'm so grateful for Random.org because there is no way I could ever pick a winner for my giveaways!  =)  Today's winner of the awesome book, Faithful, Fit, and Fabulous is . . .

Lynn Parsons!

Lynn, please email me your snail mail address and I'll get it sent out to you right away.

I hope everyone is having a fabulous, awesome day!

Say Yes to the Dress

My daughter, MJ, and I recently discovered Say Yes to the Dress on Netflix. Since then, we've watched a couple episodes each day together. We've worked our way through seasons 1 & 2 and are a few episodes into season 3. It's been fun to watch the different experiences as brides shop for their wedding gowns . . . and it's brought up a lot of great conversations about dating, getting married, and modesty.

The store that hosts the show - Kleinfelds in Manhattan, NY - is one of the largest bridal salons in the world. Most of the dresses they carry are strapless - hence the talks about modesty. Especially when dresses by Pnina Tornai are being tried on and touted as "sexy". In truth, they are trashy and horrific! Manolo wrote an excellent blog post about why he dislikes the Pnina Tornai dresses and was totally spot on when he said they were "a stripperesque vulgarity rarely witnessed in the world of bridal couture." Really, ladies, save the sexy stuff for the honeymoon. You don't need to look like you're standing on the corner waiting for your next customer as you walk down the aisle. Sheesh!

For the most part, the dresses that are shown are absolutely gorgeous. MJ and I talk about all the different styles, what we like, and what types of gowns look better on the brides. Totally fun!

Of course, all this bridal stuff prompted MJ to ask if she could try on my wedding dress. So Sunday evening, my hubby pulled out my wedding bin. MJ was so, so excited to see my gown. She stood on a folding chair - cause I was much taller than my almost 11-year-old chickie - and slipped the gown over her head. Her face was pure radiance!

We got the dress all adjusted and when I zipped her up, I discovered that my wedding gown was the perfect fit around her waist.

Then I spent about two minutes reminiscing my once-upon-a-time, teeny, tiny waist. Sigh. I would much rather have my four munchkins, but occasionally I miss all the cute clothes I used to be able to wear. C'est la vie.

We pulled out my huge, long, long veil.

 Then my wedding bouquet.

 And voila! My sweet pre-teen daughter . . . 

Isn't she just such a cutie?

So here's my question for y'all. What do you do to teach your daughters about weddings and marriage?

What to Read Next?

Winter Break is approaching. At our house, it means we'll play lots of board games, put together some puzzles, watch movies and most importantly - read, read, read.

I usually have a big stack of books all ready to dive into by now. But I've been so crazy with life and other things, that I find myself unprepared. So here I am, asking my readers for suggestions.

I love to read books that are either funny, have a romance element, or the characters and plot are the kind you just can't put down because they're so incredible. Authors I love - Carly Phillips, Ally Carter, Elana Johnson, Richelle Mead, Melanie Jacobson, Heather Justesen . . . and the list goes on and on and on. I think the common thread here is the romance. But honestly, I love discovering new authors with a unique voice, awesome characters, and stories I don't want to walk away from.

What book would you recommend for my Winter Break reading list?

Faithful, Fit & Fabulous . . . and a Book Giveaway!

Filled with humor and "I can relate" life experiences, Faithful, Fit & Fabulous is the ideal 8-week life boost that will refresh any woman's life. Create a personal and effective life plan, and learn how to readily apply it in your busy daily life. Establish holy habits, feel fit and fabulous, and get organized. Just one goal a week for eight weeks--simple and fun. 

 Every once in a while, a book comes into your life at just the moment you need it most. Faithful, Fit & Fabulous is like that for me. These last few months I've felt unbalanced in every aspect of my life - spiritually, work, family, personally. It all went out of whack and I've struggled to get things back on track.

On a visit to my publisher, I found Faithful, Fit, and Fabulous by Connie E. Sokol. The timing was at the beginning of the tailspin out of control. I was excited to find it, but then was so busy it ended up sitting on my desk. Have you ever done that before? Knowing that something that can help you is within your reach, but watch as it sits aside while you continue on your current path? Yeah, not the most brilliant moment for me.

Then I was asked to participate in the blog tour - which meant I had to make the time to read the witty bits of wisdom inside. And wow, has it ever made such a difference in my life just this past week alone!

The author starts off with a basic preview of her program - to take 8 weeks and improve a different section of your life each week, by creating doable goals. She recommends not choosing goals that you have to do every single day, rather creating goals to do 2-5 times and will be completed in one week. There are only two sections she recommends doing at the very beginning of the program. They are the Holy Habits (spiritual goals) and Create a Life Plan (which she calls a blueprint to help clarify, focus, and live your ideal life). After these two sections - which take a week each - you can skip to any chapter of the book depending on what area you are most interested in improving. They include:

  • Discover Joy in Womanhood
  • Feel Fit and Fabulous
  • Find Balance in Motherhood
  • Get Organized!
  • Create Healthy Connections
  • Establish Financial Peace and Prosperity
One of the things I really like is the author doesn't ask you set typical goals. Instead of saying "read your scriptures each day," her suggestion is to create a Scripture Sanctuary somewhere in your house. I love that! Each section ends with a few suggestions. I've found that they helped me think outside of the box and create goals that are really for me, rather than something "experts" say I should do. 

There are bonus chapters called Back to Basics with ideas to continue using this 8 week program throughout your life. The author also has an awesome website with even more ideas and printable goal charts, etc. Go check it out! It's filled with fabulousness! (Note: If you're searching for the printable charts to go with the book, they were a bit difficult to find. Go to the FAQ tab and that's where the download link is.)

To read a preview of Faithful, Fit & Fabulous, click here.

Win a Copy of Faithful. Fit, and Fabulous!

Earlier in this post, I mentioned I had already purchased a copy of this book before being asked to review it. I now have 2 copies of this awesome book, so I'm going to share the Faithful, Fit, and Fabulous love. Entering is simple - "Like" my Queen of the Clan FB page & leave a thoughtful comment on this post. Be sure your contact info is available either on your Blogger profile or is in the comment trail. A winner will be randomly chosen on Monday Dec. 12th.

What Blessings Are in Your Book of Life?

On my birthday, I reminisced about the challenges and blessings in my life. I asked my readers about what blessings they've received from challenges in their lives and what they would like to see written in their personal Book of Life. Here are some wonderful responses I've received:

My life has been very difficult with bi-polar disorder, PTSD, Depersonalization Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder. These all have roots in my family of origin. However, a great light came into my life with the Gospel. It took six years after my conversion at age nineteen to find the person who has contributed the most joy to my life--my husband. He was a golden contact, I met by chance far from where I was living. I bore my testimony in the middle of the wedding reception where we met. A voice told him, even before we met and spoke that I was the girl he was going to marry. He pursued me by letter for many months. Then things sped up and he began calling several times a day. Then he flew to see me and flew me to see him. Finally, we made a decision, that I would write my Master's Thesis in Chicago (where he lived) if he would take the missionary discussions. He was converted 10 minutes into the first discussion. After he was baptized, we became engaged. We married 2 months later (at advice of bishop). We were sealed in the LA Temple. He has stayed with me through my entire mental illness and helped me to raise a wonderful family of three outstanding children, all deeply committed to the gospel. Life has been hard, but our family makes it more than worth it. In the next year, I hope I will be the agent of helping many people with mental illness through my writing, and will bring many people under the healing influence of Jesus Christ through my story of healing and testimony.
- GG Vandagriff

What do I want to be remembered for? Kindness, Integrity, and standing up for truth. It isn't always easy to do the right thing. I want to make a difference.
- Linda Gardner

What would I want written on my page tomorrow? What would I want everyone to know about me or remember? Just that I stayed true to the gospel and myself.

Someone who was a blessing to me: At the very worst time of my life, my best friend was there for me in the very best sense as a true disciple of Christ, and in the very worst time of her life, I was there for her in the same sense, as a disciple of Christ. For her, when I was Primary President, I called her to a position she felt she had no talent for--music--because I woke up early in the morning and knew that was what I was supposed to do. She has born testimony numerous times how listening to DVD's of the primary children's songs while driving the long drive to and from work each day kept the spirit with her during a horrendous time in her life. For me, when I was Young Women President and suffering a severe (triple underline severe) challenge in my life, this same friend served as Laurel Advisor and stayed to talk to me every Sunday after church, freely sharing a listening ear, a patient heart, and a supportive soul. Christ came to me through her.
- Kathleen Brebes

In a very, very literal sense, tomorrow I'd love to write in the book of my life that I had an inspiring, informative and totally worthwhile church training meeting. I also want to try to give of myself to my children tomorrow, and love it.

Suddenly that seems a lot to ask.

Someone who was a blessing to you as you've been writing the "novel" of your life: the first person that comes to mind is my husband, of course. No big stories, just little things he does. He's so good with our kids, and wants to be involved with them and their lives (this isn't remarkable at all to him, of course, but I still love it). Lately he's really developed a talent for defusing my frustrations when they get overwhelming, and he's amazingly patient. He does the dishes every night so I can have that time to write.
- Jordan McCollum

I hope to be known as one who cared about and helped others. The longer I live, the more I recognize how important people are. I have to remember that from time to time as I give up my precious writing time to others. My mother was a great example of this, always finding something to say to help someone's self-esteem.

Thanks for letting me put this in words and reminding myself of this.
- Renae W. Mackley

I also have bipolar, and that has been the cause of numerous challenges in my life.

What I would want written on my "tomorrow" is that I never gave up, no matter how bleak things sometimes seemed. My yesterday (the literal kind) was one of those days where everything seemed bleak to the point of hopelessness. But today I got up and decided to stop looking at everything I was "failing" at, which was quite literally everything, and just try to focus on one thing I could make a slight improvement on. I really have to break everything down into teeny tiny baby steps and let myself feel good about taking them, no matter how small they are compared to the big picture.

Someone who has been a blessing in my life is my mom. She's shown me what it means to be strong and stay faithful no matter how hard things got.
- Jenn Wilks

I love how each of us has a unique story to share. I am grateful for God's blessings in  my life and for the healing atonement from my Savior, Jesus Christ. The Gospel and my family are counted as the greatest blessings in my life . . . but there are so many other blessings too. Including my bloggie friends. Thank you for sharing your humor, insights, and friendship out here in cyber world.

I promised to give away a copy of my book, (dis)Abilities and the Gospel. Writing this book is just one example of how I took a challenge and turned it into a blessing. Random.org chose #4 as the winner. Congrats, Jordan McCollum! Please email me your snail mail address.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am grateful for my family, friends and faith.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

And here is a special little treat to all my fellow NaNoWriMo friends.

Tips to Stay On Target With NaNoWriMo During Thanksgiving Break

I want to share a few tips and tricks to getting in some writing time during the busy - and way too distracting - Thanksgiving break.

I know, you're thinking, "Danyelle, you're nuts! There's no way to get writing done when all the kids are home from break and out-of-towners are invading the house!"

But trust me, there is. Just keep reading.

Tip #1 - Short 15 Minute Sprints
Make it a goal to get a least two short 15 minute sprints into your Turkey Day. If you can get in three, then Wahoo! Choose a location where you can lock the door and no one will bother you. May I suggest the bathroom? You can seriously lock yourself in there and no one will blink an eye that you disappeared for a whole fifteen minutes. Just be sure to flush the toilet and wash your hands before you come back out - or else your secret will be blown. If you have an annoying MIL, SIL, or other family member, you'll find you may want to schedule four or five (or more) 15 minute sprints. They're great for the psyche.

Tip #2 - Hide Your Laptop/Netbook/Alphasmart
This is important for two reasons. #1 - If you hide your writing buddy, then your kids can't get on it to surf the net or use it for an impromptu DVD player. It will be ready and waiting for you to pick it up and sprint it out.  #2 - If you hide your laptop in the location where you plan to escape for your sprints, then once again, your cover won't be blown when family members see you trying to sneak into another room with it.  Hint: If using the bathroom location, I highly recommend putting your laptop in either a drawer or beneath the sink in the vanity. But don't leave it visible! Cover that baby up with a towel. Think like your sneaky teenagers . . .

Tip #3 - Set a Word Count Goal
Shoot for 1,000 words minimum. You can totally do it! If you're a speed demon writer, then shoot higher. But make sure it's a goal that mildly challenges you, instead of knocking you on your butt because you shot too high. It is after all a holiday!

And now, my friends, I wish you all a fabulous Thanksgiving filled with family, laughter, and speedy fingers!  Happy writing!

Book Review: Bound by Christine Bryant

I'm happy to review the fabulous Christine Bryant's debut novel, Bound.

When a photo shoot ends in tragedy, Kira discovers her best friend, Lydia, has been keeping a secret. Knowing the truth, and accepting it, will change Kira’s life forever and thrust her into a world of ancient curses, magical objects, and savage enemies. What happens next will challenge everything Kira knows about her world, herself and the shape-shifting warrior she’s falling in love with. No longer the timid mouse her mother accused her of being, but a woman who finds the mental and physical strength to endure and survive.

BOUND is a heroic tale of true friendship, infinite sacrifice and untamed love.

My Review

Bound is the first book in The Crystor series. This first installment sets up the relationship and ties between Kira, Lydia and Octavion.  There are several excellent scenes in Bound, but there were some parts when I wanted more . . . information or action. For most of the book I hated Octavion (he's abusive), but there were a few moments when I caught a glimpse of a better man on the inside. By the end, I was trying to decide if he'll stay a bad guy in my point of view or evolve into a good guy. I'm interested to see where the next book leads the trio. And yes, I'll definitely be reading the next book. I'm totally intrigued and want to know how Kira, Lydia and Octavion are going to step up and defeat the bad guys.

You can read the 1st Chapter and purchase Bound on the author's website. 

My Thoughts After the Advance Screening of Breaking Dawn

I was super lucky to be invited to attend the advance screening of Breaking Dawn, Part 1 of the Twilight Saga Finale. I was so excited - I mean, who wouldn't be?

My good luck all began when I first arrived. I got an incredible parking spot right up front. Woot! Then, I walked around the theater to where I was told to go for the advance screening . . . and ran into Marcus from the Volturi (and the couple of theater security people following him around). He had his red contacts in and everything. Awesome!

Finally, I met up with my group - Breckann and Sarah. Breckann was the slick chick with the 'in' for the advance screening. I received this cool VIP badge . . . then was led to a reserved theater.

No fighting for seats, no stupid teenagers yelling out annoying stuff during the movie. Is this how movie reviewers live? Dang. Maybe I should stop doing book and get into the movie reviewer gig.

The lights went down. The previews began . . . and yes, Breaking Dawn followed.

What I Loved

The thing I loved most about Breaking Dawn was first, the wedding. Of course the romantic in me absolutely loved it! Alice can come plan my next anniversary party. PLEASE! The other fabulousness was the special effects, make up, etc they did to Bella while she was pregnant.Wow! As the movie progresses, she sincerely looks more and more drained from the baby taking away all her nutrients. There's a spot in the movie when Bella is preparing for a bath & you see the bones jutting out all over her back and shoulders. The people on the set who did all the work to make Bella into "Prego Bella" did an incredible job and deserve a HUGE round of applause.  *clapping for y'all from here in Kansas City*

What I Liked

Most of the movie hit the "Liked It" mark on my movie-meter. Other than the Prego Bella stuff and the romantic wedding, there really wasn't anything about the movie that made me say AWESOME! and want to immediately go back to watch it when the next seat was available. Will I go see it in the theaters again? Nah. I'll wait to either Redbox it or buy it to add to my movie collection. I may as well finish up the Twilight collection since I have the rest of them.

What I Didn't Like

The birth scene and immediately after was actually quite gruesome. Like, nasty cover your eyes gruesome IMO. There were a few shots I would have preferred not to have stuck in my head.

What I Hope for Part 2

I sincerely hope they change the ending for part 2. I'll be honest here and say that Breaking Dawn was my least favorite of the Twilight Saga books. I'm not saying I hated it, just that it wasn't my fave. It started off great, then half way through, it felt like the author got burned out from the series. Everything she built up for incredible conflict, she let fall flat, then conveniently wrapped it all up. I hope the screen writers fix that issue and actually have a good conflict and fight before the conclusion of the series.

Now, all of you Twilight fans, tell me what you thought of the first part of the series finale. And be honest! You don't have to agree with me . . . but tell me what you really did & didn't like.

Birthday Reflections & Unwritten Contest

Today is my birthday. As it approaches each year, I think back on my life. There have been many challenges. Oh so many challenges. But looking back on them, I gain a new perspective and can see blessings that came from each of them. Some rough patches seem to have served no other purpose than to make me a stronger, more compassionate individual.

In 2008, I hosted the Unwritten Contest, and received so many wonderful, uplifting responses from my readers. In October, I went back and reread those posts and found so much to be thankful for once again - and also a renewed desire to think about how I want my personal Book of Life to be written.

So this year, to celebrate my 34th birthday, I would love to share this experience again with my wonderful bloggie friends. The contest was inspired by Natasha Bedingfield's song Unwritten. What I love about Unwritten is that it reminds me the journey is not over. No matter where we are in our lives today, our tomorrow is unwritten.

Please enter and share a part of yourself to inspire each other. To enter the contest, leave a comment on this post and tell me two things:

1) What do you want written on your page tomorrow?


2) Share a story of someone who was a blessing to you as you've been writing the "novel" of your life.

Be sure to post your entry before noon on November 22nd. Each of the stories submitted will be compiled for a "Count Your Blessings" blog on the 26th. Submissions can be humorous, uplifting, etc. But they should all be sincere!

A random winner will be chosen and will receive an autographed copy of my book (dis)Abilities and the Gospel. This book is an example of how I took a challenge (teaching my son with autism the gospel), then shared the knowledge & techniques I learned to bless the lives of parents and church leaders facing similar challenges.

November Blog Hop Winner

Congrats to Lynda Clark for winning the Thanksgiving Banner and Thankful Tree template. I'll email you with your prizes and more info!

I hope everyone is ready to kick off their week. I'm personally spending the entire day with my sweetheart. He took off work for my birthday - which is actually tomorrow. It's going to be an awesome, awesome day!

Watch for my birthday post tomorrow. It's going to be a really good one!

Pasta & Awesome Sauce

A few weeks ago, my friend Renae had my hubby and I over for dinner before a presentation I was giving at her church. She made the most fabulous meal! Pasta and Awesome Sauce (so dubbed by my hubby).  It's so delish - I had to share the recipe with my bloggy friends.

Awesome Sauce Recipe

1 red bell pepper, remove seeds & slice into strips
1 orange bell pepper, remove seeds & slice into strips
1 yellow bell pepper, remove seeds & slice into strips
1 container of sliced mushrooms
1 lb hamburger
1 roll Jimmy Dean's Italian Sausage
1 family size jar Ragu's Chunky Mushroom spaghetti sauce
1 regular size jar Ragu's Chunky Garden Combination OR Super Vegetable Primavera spaghetti sauce


This sauce requires a large saucepan. Cook the hamburger and sausage together until crumbled and browned through. Use a strainer to drain & lightly rinse. Then set the meat aside in another bowl. Spray the pan with cooking spray, then saute the mushrooms and pepper slices until they are tender - about 15 minutes. Once the veggies are at your preferred tenderness, then add the meat back in. Mix this up a bit, then add the sauces. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, then serve over pasta. Add a side of salad and garlic french bread and you have the perfect delicious meal!

I recommend making 2 lbs of spaghetti or other favorite pasta. This is perfect for when you have guests because it makes TONS! Even with our family of 6, we can have a few guests and we still have leftovers for lunches.

If you have a small family, you can make this sauce, then freeze the leftovers for another meal. Be sure to use it within 3 weeks of freezing.


Helping Kids with Autism at Church

If you haven't seen it yet, below is my Good Things Utah appearance with Heather Gardner on how to help kids with autism at church. The tips highlighted are from both my book - (dis)Abilities and the Gospel - and from Heather's experiences as a mother with three special needs kids.

November Giveaway Hop

November is my favorite month of the year for several reasons.

  1. It's National Novel Writing Month
  2. My birthday is in November
  3. Our family Thankful Tree
  4. The big yummy family meal on Turkey Day

All month long, my family writes down the things we're thankful for on pretty autumn colored leaves, then hang them on our Thankful Tree. On Thanksgiving Day, we take all the leaves down and take turns reading them. Each year there's a range of items from funny to sweet to reverent. I especially love giving my kids the opportunity to express their gratitude.

Giveaway Hop Prizes

For this giveaway hop, I am giving away a few items to make your own November full of Thankfulness.

Prize #1: Be Thankful Banner
This awesome banner design is courtesy of LeeLou. I *love* her stuff!

Prize #2: Thankful Tree Leaves
The instructions & leaf design to make your own family Thankful Tree.

How to Enter

There's just one thing you must do to enter . . . 

Follow my blog & leave a comment.

After doing that, if you would like additional entries, you can:

  1. Follow me on Facebook
  2. Follow me on Twitter @DanyelleTweets
If you take advantage of the extra entries, be sure to leave a comment on this post to tell me.

The contest ends at midnight on Nov. 11th. I'll announce the winner before Nov. 14th. Be sure your email address is accessible on your blogger status, or that you leave your email address in your entry comments so I can contact you.

Happy November!

Book Review: Become by Ali Cross

Sixteen-year-old Desolation Black wants nothing more than to stay in Hell where it's cold and totally predictable. Instead, she's sent back to Earth where she must face the evil she despises and the good she always feared.

When Desi is forced to embrace her inner demon, she assumes her choice has been made - that she has no hope of being anything other than what her father, Lucifer, has created her to be. What she doesn't count on, is finding a reason to change - something she never had before - a friend.

My Review

First, from a reader's point of view, Become is one of the most unique books I've read in a long time. Desi is the daughter of a demon (Satan) and a Guardian Angel. But she doesn't know that. She just knows her father is Lucifer, who raised her. This first book of the series is about Desi's struggle to figure out who she really is, then is faced with the difficult choice of between the comfort of the life she grew up in or stepping into a world she always feared. I thought all the characters in Become were fascinating, each adding more depth to the story & Desi's dilemma.Beware though: There is a mega huge cliff-hanger ending that took even me by surprise. It wrenched my heart out. Now I'm anxiously waiting for the next book in the series to come out in spring 2012. Although I wouldn't mind one eensy bit if the author was kind enough to send me an advance copy to review. Or even just take pity on me cause I really, really, really want to read the next book.  =)

Now, there's another element to this review that I wanted to share. And this is something very rare. There were times while I was reading Become that I stopped and thought about the traits Desi had - both the good and bad inside her, the challenges she faced, and the difficult decisions she needed to make. Then I thought about how those same concepts applied in my life - especially right now when things aren't all roses and peaches. I really spent some time reflecting on the current challenges I'm facing, as well as my own virtues & vices. How are my choices and reactions to trials directing my life? What changes to I need to make? What kind of woman do I want to Become? It was interesting to analyze those questions. It also reinforced my knowledge that I am a daughter of God. Life is not easy & there are definitely "foes" who work hard to make life difficult. But I can face hard things, take on those difficult challenges. And even if I mess up, I have the opportunity to right those wrongs and make better choices in the future.

It's not often I find a book that I both devour the story and am inspired into some personal introspection. Becomes is most definitely a book worth not just putting on your to-read list, but bumping it up to the top.

Kickin' Off National Novel Writing Month

Quick Note: Be sure to tune into ABC 4's Good Things Utah on Tuesday November 2nd. I'll be a guest to talk about how to help kids with cognitive disabilities at church!

Ah yes, it's that delightful time of the year when writers all over the word unite & take up the challenge to beat the World Record for the most hand cramps.

Hang on a minute. That's not quite right. I think it's the biggest caffeine high.

No, that's not it either. It's the most bruises from beating our heads against the wall as we work through writers block.

Oh wait! I know! It's all three . . .

30 Days - 50,000 Words.

I must be insane. Who's with me?

Happy NaNoWriMo!

Upcoming Good Things Utah Appearance!

I'm super uber excited about my invitation to be on Good Things Utah! So, all my Utah friends, set your DVR's, Tivo's, and other recording devices for Wednesday, November 2nd at 10 am on ABC4. I'm teaming up with the awesome Heather Gardner to talk about how to help kids with autism and other cognitive disabilities at church. It's going to be awesome!

One quick question - does anyone have a way to record the show, then burn it to a DVD for me? If so, I'd love to have a copy!

Have a fabulous and safe Halloween!

Bye Bye Nasty Germs

Ucky yucky stomach bug germs invaded our house and for the past week, my family has been dropping like flies . . . one by one falling prey to these nasty germs. It’s hit five out of the six of us.  Who hasn’t been hit yet? You guessed it. Me.

And I hope it stays that way. After all, who’s going to continue taking care of the munchkins (including the biggest sick baby of them all – my hubby), if Mama isn’t healthy? Volunteers? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Maybe it’s sheer determination that keeps moms healthy . . . sometimes anyway.

Well, this Mama has teamed up with some awesome germ fighters, all with the first name of Lysol. I’ve resolved to clean, scrub, wipe down, or spray everything in our house over the next day or two. Kids will be enlisted to strip sheets and remake with fresh bedding. Open up the windows and let fresh air into our house. It’s time to stop living with my kids’ heads in the toilets (literally).

It’s time to kick those nasty germs out and post a sign –

Germs Beware.
Mama Ferguson & Her BFF Lysol Live Here.

What do you do to keep the fall/winter germs away?

NaNoWriMo: Plot and Conflict

The count down is on. One week left before your sprint to 50K begins. Are you ready?

If you're like me, then the answer is, well, not quite.

You see, I've been going through my story files and it's taken forever to narrow the choices down to THE ONE.  But now that I have THE ONE, I'm looking at it and all I have is a blurb about the main character and a couple of scene ideas. Which means I'm so not ready for NaNoWriMo.

What to do? What to do?

The answer:  PLOT & CONFLICT

To succeed at NaNoWriMo, you need to have at least a general outline of the book's plot. Just to know where the story is going. This outline is not set in stone. In fact, it will probably take some twists and turns you weren't expecting as you write and get to know your characters better. But believe me, that general outline is a life saver when you're getting ready for a word sprint, but you aren't sure where the next scene needs to lead you.

I did some Googling and found some excellent resources to develop plots for NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Plot Development and Profile Worksheets, Visualizing Collage and More by Iconclastic Writer
  • This blog post has AWESOME worksheets you can download for free. Isn't free such a happy word?
Tools to Help You Plot Your NaNoWriMo Novel by Jennifer Blanchard @ Procrastinating Writers
  • On this blog post, you'll find a bunch of different plotting techniques, including using index cards & the fabulous Larry Brooks Story Structure series.

Now, on to conflict - the wonderful device that drives your story. This is when you call up your writers group and host a brainstorming session. Write down gobs of conflict ideas - both internal and external. Josi Kilpack once said (and I'm totally paraphrasing & adding some of my own words - but it's her concept) that you need to put your character up in a tree. You start off by throwing rocks at him, then even bigger rocks, until you bring in a catapult and launch boulders at the poor sucker. Bring in the soldiers and shoot arrows at the dude. And just when you think he might surrender - set the tree on fire!

Conflict, Conflict, Conflict.

That is what you need to keep your story moving, flowing, and interesting. And if you need some inspiration, check out this sweet little puppy.

Now, I need to get moving on my plot outline and call some friends to set up a brainstorming session. How's your plotting going? Are you ready?

NaNoWriMo: What's Your Goal?

I love National Novel Writing Month. It's a great way to kick your tush into gear and challenge yourself. The traditional goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

But what if you already know life isn't going to cooperate so you can acheive it. Does that mean you should just ditch the challenge all together?

No way!

Set a goal that works for YOU. 

If something major is happening that will require the majority of your time and attention, then adjust your word count goal. Maybe it will be to hit 25K. Setting a goal and putting a word counter on your computer desktop, blog or website, will motivate you to take 30 minutes to get out a couple hundred words. If you do that four times a day, you could average 800-1,000 words a day. Multiply that by 30 and you've reached your goal! If that still sounds like too much, then adjust the word count.

If you don't set a goal, then you may put your writing aside for the whole month. Give yourself the opportunity to take on the challenge.

What if you just finished another manuscript and don't have another one plotted out yet?

Well, you have two options: 1. You've got about 10 days to do some plotting and brainstorming, then just jump in and see where it leads you, or 2. You can set your goal to edit, rather than write. That's perfectly fine.

The important thing about National Novel Writing Month is to be working on your novel. Whatever stage your in, set a goal to give you a kick in the pants.

So, what's your goal for NaNoWriMo?

Prepping Your Family for NaNoWriMo

I consulted with my hubby, John (aka John Waverly), before writing this post. You see, last year he was the one who picked up the slack and took care of our family while I wrote like mad. He had some very good points that NaNoWriMo participants and their families should consider before November 1st hits.

Be Realistic

If you already schedule 4-5 hours a day for your writing, then you can probably stop reading this post right now. But if you're like the majority of writers out there, your writing time is probably more sporadic. Achieving your NaNoWriMo goal of 50K in 30 days takes a commitment equivalent to adding a part-time job into your schedule.

Think about it: If you write an average of 500 words an hour, then it will take 100 hours to hit 50K. But wait! We need to add in time for writers block, brainstorming, and, if you attend any write-ins, potty breaks and socializing. Let's say that's about another 20 hours of time. So now we're at 120 hours to achieve your NaNoWriMo goal. Which equals a 4 hour time commitment every day. Now me, I don't write on Sundays. I leave that day for church and family, which is especially important when I'm cramming so much writing time in the rest of the week. I try to write about 6 hours a day during NaNoWriMo.

Reprioritize Your Schedule

If you already work a full-time job - and face it, we all do no matter whether it's inside or outside the home - then you, personally, need to be willing to give up a lot during those 30 days.

  • No TV
  • No books
  • Cut back on the gym
  • Take the month off from volunteering at kids' schools
  • Postpone any Girls or Guys Night Outs
  • No movies (yes, this includes the next Twilight movie. Trust me, it will still be playing two weeks after the release)

You'll find a good chunk of writing time just by doing this. But it's still going to take more. And any free time you do have, should definitely be spent with your family and helping around the house.

Get Your Family on Board

During the writing challenge, you'll spend a lot less time with your family. The further you get into the month, the more tired, frustrated, and emotional your spouse will get. Trust me, I know. My hubby is THE most supportive writer's spouse I have ever met. Last year, I started out November by hosting a writers retreat out-of-state. I was gone for a week. Then the rest of the month, I went to write-ins 3 times a week and had online write-ins the other nights - not to mention the writing I did during the day. I slacked on laundry, have a very dim recollection of helping clean, and it was a happy day if I remembered to put in a meal in the crock pot. By the time the 20th hit, he was totally read for November to be over. Here's how we survived without getting a divorce.  =)

Before NaNoWriMo kicks-off, sit down with your spouse to go over both of your schedules together. Keep in mind that you don't get to take over the schedule just cause it's NaNoWriMo. Your spouse has commitments, too, and needs support as well. My hubby is the Cub Scout Master for our church. Each month he plans a pack meeting, hosts a committee meeting, and has a district meeting to attend. I made sure to be home to take care of the munchkins so he could fulfill those important commitments.

Both of you need to come prepared with lists of activities. For you, that will be regional write ins you want to attend, work schedules, and commitments you can't cancel. You'll need a list of activities for your kids and your spouse, too. Now figure out how you can juggle home and family responsibilities in a way that's agreeable for you and your spouse. Be sure to plan time for family time and work out a meal schedule. Our family budgeted extra money to eat out. Each week, we planned two crock pot meals, ate out twice, had two left-overs/whatever nights, and made pancakes each Sunday for dinner. We tried to make things as simple as possible to keep stress levels down.

If you have older kids, get them in on the meeting too.They are much better with schedule changes when they've been in on the decision making and are more willing to help out with extra chores. Usually. If the moon and the stars all align just right . . . or if you provide the right incentives. Which brings me to the best part . . . 

Set Goals & Rewards

No one wants to mess up their happy routine, but they'll grin and bear it for someone they love . . . especially if you create rewards that include your spouse and kids.

Pull together a family meeting and together set rewards for when you hit certain word count goals. For example, when you hit 10K host a root beer float party. Might I also suggest that when you hit the halfway point (25K), that you let you kids have a movie & popcorn night while you take your spouse out on a celebratory date night. Both of you take a break - no talking about writing or schedules, just a night of fun and laughter. And of course, there's the big pay off when you hit 50K. Plan something that your family loves, but doesn't get to do very often. Maybe it's a night at the movies, a new family Wii game, or taking a weekend vacation. Make NaNoWriMo as fun for your family as possible.

The Most Important Things

Communication is key. Talk often with your spouse and munchkins. Express your appreciation for their support. If someone is stressed out or upset, be willing to set aside your writing for a few minutes and let them vent. Give them hugs. When things are settled again, get back to work. Nothing is more important than your family, but your family can accomplish anything when they work together.

Motherhood and Me

Growing up, I was focused on either school or reading. I never really thought about being a mom. That is, until I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Being involved in such a family-centered church changed some of my views and goals in life.

Originally, I planned to go to college, stay on the dean's list, graduate near the top of my class, then jump into building my career. Marriage and family were something that would come along eventually . . . mostly likely after I was well establishing in my chosen profession.

This is how my life played out instead. I married my sweetheart after one year of college, then became pregnant during the next college semester. I'm still four classes shy of graduating. Just when I felt ready to go back and tackle those last four classes, our son was diagnosed with autism. So I set aside college and put all my energy into helping him.

My son is 12 years old now and has two sisters and a brother. We have a quirky, goofy family. Our home is filled with laughter and love . . . and the typical sibling squabbles. We run 5K's together, make up silly songs, tell totally corny jokes, help each other clean our house every Saturday, and are always ready with hugs anytime one of us is in need. We not only love each other, but we're best friends. And that's more valuable than any college degree out there.

Motherhood brought an unexpected, but completely fulfilling dimension into my life. Each day I know I'm in for a mixture of laughter and problems. I also know at the end of the day, four munchkins will snuggle up with me while I read a chapter from our latest Junie B. Jones book.

Being a mom is not at all what I thought it would be. It's hard, challenging, sometimes disgusting (especially during flu season). But if it were easy, then it wouldn't been nearly as fulfilling. I love being a mom. It's the best job ever!

Oh the Suspense! A Contest Winner and a Book Review

Life is flying by this gorgeous autumn day. I want to go out and jump in the leaves with my munchkins, plant my front yard full of colorful mums, and eat pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. And I will . . . just as soon as I finish this blog post.

Who's John Ferguson Contest

So, how many of you nabbed Bloodborne by Gregg Luke just to read it and find out who "John Ferguson" represents in his book? I told you it's a fabulous book! I had gobs of entries. The contest answer is John Ferguson is also Sean Flannery. What? You're confused? Then I suggest you get the book and find out how that's possible.

The winner of the contest is . . .LemarLuke!!!  Please let me know if you prefer the yummy Stephen's Gourmet Milk Chocolate Cocoa or the French Vanilla Cocoa.

The Alias by Mandi Tucker Slack

Jacey's eyes narrowed. What were these men trying to imply? She felt sick with shock. "No, I never really--John and I never discussed work. He never felt a need to include me in his business affairs." Jacey's heart thumped as the agents eyed one another.

After a long and difficult divorce, Jacey thinks the worst is over. Little does she know she'll soon be forced to go undercover to protect her family, and in the process, she'll risk losing her identity, her future, and her heart. With a lightning pace, a good dose of humor, and a plot that's full of suspense, this thrilling novel is an edge-of-your-seat read.

My Review

I enjoyed The Alias by Mandi Tucker Slack. It's definitely a suspense novel that sweeps you right into the action and Jacey's life. If you liked the Julia Roberts movie Sleeping with the Enemy or the book Without a Flaw by Michele Ashman Bell, then you should definitely put The Alias on your to-read list!

The Alias is available at your local bookstore and Amazon.com.

Interview with Author Jennifer Hurst

Today I have a fun treat for you. An interview with author Jennifer Hurst. Jennifer's new book, Fall, recently came out. You can check out her blog tour here.

QOTC: Jennifer, thanks for joining us! Now, your main character, JD (short for Julia D.), works in construction. What intrigued you to come up with JD and her job?
Jennifer: I worked for 12 years in the construction industry – first as a drafter and then later as a project manager.  Often times, I was the only woman in the employ of various construction and construction related companies.  A lot of JD’s experiences in the book are based on my own.

QOTC: Very cool! What was your favorite part of the book to write?

Jennifer: In the original draft, JD spends a lot more time exploring Torrey and meeting its interesting residents.  I had a lot of fun developing the supporting characters, but due to constraints and to keep the book flowing at a steady pace, I eliminated those parts.  However, these other characters will appear in the sequel.  My other favorite part to write that did make it through the final edits, was JD's developing interest in Matthew.

QOTC: Ugh! I hate cutting scenes. On the flip side, what was the hardest part to write?

Jennifer: The hardest part to write were the action scenes.  I could see it so clearly in my head, but getting the right words to convey the fierce battle – was very hard. 

QOTC: Are you working on another novel? If so, can you give us a short teaser?

Jennifer:  I am working on the sequel for FALL – but I can’t give you a teaser.   Sorry.  Ya’ll will have to wait. I am, however, working on a YA fantasy/romance with a working title of Muddy.  And here is a short excerpt from Muddy.

Claren knelt in the mud and drizzling rain.  His long gray hair hung in dirty strands around his haggard face.  He leaned protectively over the body of a young man sprawled on the ground.  The young man wore light armor and a blue and white striped cloak. A wicked gash in his chest plate revealed torn flesh and white bones beneath. 
Fighting down the rising bile, Claren hefted the young man up by his arms, and cradled him against his chest.  Claren brushed away the young man’s long white hair; a mark of his ancestry and lineage.
A few faithful men-at-arms stood round about, glancing anxiously at the surrounding misted woods.  They were ready for anything or anyone who might discover their secret; the King of the Vale had fallen.
A stinging wind swept through the glade, biting menacingly at reddened cheeks and exposed hands worn raw from days and nights of hard battle.  A cold unrelated to the wind or the season, ebbed deeper into Claren’s soul as he struggled to keep from weeping over his young friend.
Claren reached for his satchel hanging across his chest at his side.  Fumbling within it, Claren withdrew a small dark vial, and bit the cork off.
“Drink this, Eron,” Claren urged, swiping away his long grey hair from his eyes with the back of his wrist.  He pressed the vial against Eron’s blue lips.  Eron moaned and writhed in pain from the gaping and bloody ruin of his chest.
“Eron,” Claren said forcefully, trying to capture his attention. “Drink this now; it will prolong your life until Voluthra arrives to tend you.” 
Eron turned aside his head and groaned, “Lilath.  Where is my Lilath?”
“She is away,” Claren said hoarsely, feeling his face redden with frustration. “She is safe.  Now drink.”
Eron resisted.  The sounds of battle were drawing closer.  Claren glanced up at the armored man standing nearest.
“Hold his head,” Claren ordered. 
The battle weary soldier, who was wounded himself, dropped to his knees and held Eron’s head steady as Claren forced the potion into the king’s mouth. Eron gagged and coughed as fresh blood gushed from his wound.  Claren felt the warm fluid soak into his pant leg and dampen his sleeve.  The smell of death nauseated him, but he was satisfied that most of the vial’s contents had been consumed.  Claren held Eron close as his breathing slowed and his movements and groanings gradually came to a stop. A few moments more and the king lay as if dead.
Releasing a long shuddering breath, Claren looked over at Feeg, taking in the man’s tormented expression.
“He lives,” Claren said, “but we will…” he paused and looked around as if noting the other men for the first time.  Desperation clouded Claren’s mind.
“Go!” He said suddenly. “Go, leave this place.  Raise Eron’s banner as if he is with you and escape to the boats.  Now!”
“But Master Steward,” the soldier protested.
Claren cut him off with a sharp wave of his arm. “Do as I say!” 
“Yes sir,” he replied meekly, but his expression betrayed the distrust he had and Claren saw it. 

QOTC: Tell us a little bit about you . . . What's your favorite dessert? Biggest pet peeve?
Jennifer: I was born in Idaho, but spent most of my childhood in the South Pacific.  I’m the oldest of 8 children and I have 3 of my own.  My favorite dessert?  Fruit smoothies.  Although, I’ve been known to lose all will power when it comes to any kind of cookie.  My biggest pet peeve is when someone leaves their phone number at the end of a long message and they say it so fast you can't understand it and have to listen to the message multiple times to figure it out.

QOTC: Thanks again for the interview, Jennifer. Before you go, how can readers contact you?

Jennifer: Thanks, Danyelle for the questions.  They were fun! 

Follow me on twitter HurstJennifer
Find me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/hurstjennifer
Email: jchurst@rocketmail.com or fall.jenniferhurst@gmail.com