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Best. Birthday. EVER.

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We surprised her with the party. At first she had no idea what was going on.

August 31 was my daughter’s 7th birthday. Every year, her parties have been huge. We’ve invited everyone in her class, as well as every set of relatives we have, and the result is always chaos. Sometimes, we even do an entire weekend of parties, with one in Arlington for her friends and one in Austin for family only. After last year, in which we threw a weekend of parties and traveled to Austin and back in less than a day, and then took my final exam for my paralegal certification on that Monday, we were done with huge, elaborate weekend parties.

Simplicity is best.

I’d once read that you should keep the number of guests to your child’s age, so if your kid is turning seven, you should have seven guests. The problem we always had was limiting the guests to just a handful. We always invited the whole class, as well as Sunday school friends and family. But this year, Olivia shares a birthday with a little boy in her class. So we were already pretty evenly split, with Olivia’s male classmates opting for Matthew’s party while many of the girls went with Olivia’s party. And then, it was a holiday weekend, so some families were going out of town. And for the first time ever, we did not do a big whoop-de-do with family. We ended up with five guests altogether.

Family guilt aside–it was perfect!

As you might know, I am a Naturally Fun blogger with the City of Arlington, and I decided to give the Elzie Odom Center a try for Olivia’s party this year. She just learned how to skate this summer, and I thought it would be fun to have a good old-fashioned skate party. I’d also never booked a party at the Rec Center before, so I was eager to see what it was like.

The cost of the basic party package is $135, and that includes the cake, punch, decorations, goody bags, and skating for up to 10 guests. You are also assigned a party planner who handles the whole thing from start to finish. By the time we arrived, the party room was set up and the rink (which doubles as the basketball court, so it is HUGE) was ready to go. Our party planner got us all fitted out with skates and offered little rolly-walker thingies to the inexperienced skaters. I’d just like to go on record and say I had to learn to skate the old-fashioned way, by falling down a LOT. There were no walkers back in my day!

The rink at Elzie Odom is perfect for inexperienced skaters because it’s bright and well-lit, and they don’t blare the music or dim the lights–at least not for our party. We also had the place completely to ourselves, so we didn’t have to worry about being mown down by older, more experienced skaters.  They also had the giant fans going, so it stayed cool and nice even as we worked up a sweat. I hadn’t skated since I was thirteen, so after falling once (yes it hurt and yes I laughed anyway–I had to set a good example for my seven year old after all!) I remembered to bend my knees and lean forward as I skated.

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“C’mon Dad! You can do it! Follow me!”

We got to skate for about an hour, then had a cake and presents break, and then another half hour of skating. It was really enjoyable to have a party with so few things going on. Skate, cake, skate. We weren’t trying to herd a bunch of kittens through a ton of activities–if your kid is like mine, she likes to do one thing that interests her and HATES transitions. If that’s the case, then a skate party at Elzie Odom might really work well for you too.

I really can’t say enough nice things about our experience at the Elzie Odom. Our party planner was so helpful and friendly, the skating was fun, and the party was just relaxed and low-key. I’d really recommend it for anyone seeking a party venue.

I guess Olivia said it all when she skated past me–walker and all–and hollered, “This is the BEST party EVER!”

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Olivia is about to blow out the candles!

You can learn more about the Naturally Fun program at the City of Arlington through the following media links:

Facebook – www.facebook.com/arlingtonparks

Twitter – www.twitter.com/arlington_parks

YouTube – www.youtube.com/NaturallyFunTV

Website – www.naturallyfun.org

A Regency Sister–My Interview with Regina Scott

I am so excited to be hosting Regina Scott on my blog today. Regina is one of my August 2013 Love Inspired Historical release sisters AND she writes Regency Inspy. So we’re publishing sisters and sisters of the same genre/era too. Of course, she carries more weight than I do, because she’s written 25 books and I have only written 3 so far.

Here’s more about Regina:

Author Regina Scott.

Author Regina Scott.

Regina Scott started writing novels in the third grade.  Thankfully for literature as we know it, she didn’t actually sell her first novel until she learned a bit more about writing.  Since her first book was published in 1998, her stories have traveled the globe, with translations in many languages including Dutch, German, Italian and Portuguese.  She and her husband of over 25 years reside in southeast Washington State with their overactive Irish terrier.  Regina Scott is a decent fencer, owns a historical costume collection that takes up over a third of her large closet and is an active member of the Church of the Nazarene.  You can find her online blogging atwww.nineteenteen.blogspot.com.  Learn more about her at www.reginascott.com or connect with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/authorreginascott.

Now, on to the interview!

LG: What “eras” are your favorite, and is there an era you haven’t written about that strikes your fancy?

RS: The Regency period is a long-time favorite.  So far, all 25 of my published books have been set in that era.  There’s something about the fine manners, the witty dialogue, and the influence of Society that appeals to the romantic in me.  However, I’ve wanted to write about pioneers in my own Pacific Northwest for a long time.  That’s why I’m thrilled that Love Inspired will be publishing a new series from me, beginning in early 2014, based on the real-life story of Civil War orphans and widows who came to Seattle to be brides for the frontier lumber barons and entrepreneurs.  Anyone remember the television series, Here Come the Brides?  This is the Love Inspired version. 🙂

LG: If you could only read one fiction author/book for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

RS: Oh, this is so difficult!  My first thought is Elizabeth Mansfield.  She is the author who introduced me to Regency romances.  I have reread her books so many times over the years!  But my “keeper” shelf is groaning, and it would be hard to leave any of those books behind.

LG: What was the biggest stumbling block you had to overcome with your writing career?

RS: Time.  When I first became serious about writing, I was a young mother with two preschoolers and a full-time job.  Writing was done in long-hand on park benches and on a computer late at night and early in the morning.  I still have trouble juggling other commitments, even now that the writing is closer to coming first.

LG: What is the biggest joy your career has brought you so far?

RS: Fan mail and blog comments.  I absolutely love hearing from readers who enjoyed my books.  Facebook and e-mail have made reaching out so much easier, but I’m still honored when a reader takes the time to let me know my words touched her heart.

I love hearing from fans, too. In fact, leave a blog comment on Regina’s guest blog, Lacy Williams’ blog, or mine from yesterday, and you will be entered to win an autographed bundle of the LIH August 2013 releases! US residents only, please.

And here’s a little bit about Regina’s August 2013 release, The Courting Campaign:

The Courting Campaign by Regina Scott.

The Courting Campaign by Regina Scott.

Emma Pyrmont has no designs on handsome Sir Nicholas Rotherford–at least not for herself.  As his daughter’s nanny, she sees how lonely little Alice has been.  With the cook’s help, Emma shows the workaholic scientist just what Alice needs.  But making Nicholas a better father makes Emma wish her painful past didn’t mar her own marriage chances.

Ever since scandal destroyed his career, Nicholas has devoted himself to his new invention.  Now his daughter’s sweet, quick-witted nanny is proving an unexpected distraction.  All evidence suggests that happiness is within reach–if only a man of logic can trust in the deductions of his own heart.

 

Release Day for Healing the Soldier’s Heart!

Yay, it’s finally here! Release day for Healing the Soldier’s Heart!

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As you know, this is my third and final installment of the Brides of Waterloo series. This book is all about Sophie’s best friend Lucy Williams, who works as a governess for Lord Bradbury’s two daughters. Lucy is one of those people who has lived by he wits all her life. She had to, for she was orphaned when she was very young. By sheer intelligence and determination, she has made a life for herself from nothing. And at the same time, she expects very little from life. After all, romance is for women of means. She cannot afford to dream.

Lucy meets Ensign James Rowland through Sophie and her fiance, Captain Cantrill. Rowland also served at Waterloo, and though he was not gravely injured in the battle, his soul is scarred forever. One moment of cowardice on the battlefield has cost him the gift of speech, and he struggles in a meaningless, friendless existence. His quick temper masks a man in torment. And only Lucy’s sweet, impulsive friendship can bring him out of his shell.

I really loved writing this book–maybe it’s that it’s the third in my series, but I felt I knew the characters so well. They became old, dear friends. You can join my Goodreads giveaway to get your own free copy, or comment below for a chance to win an autographed bundle of all the August 2013 LIH releases! US residents only, please.

An Interview with Love Inspired’s Lacy Williams

Hi everyone!

This week is Release Week for my third book in the Brides of Waterloo series, Healing the Soldier’s Heart. And if you’re familiar with the way Love Inspired releases books, then you know that every month a handful of new books get wings. I decided it would be fun to interview my fellow release authors for the month of August–get to know them better and then offer one lucky reader a chance to win all four August titles–and autographed to boot!

I’d like to kick things off by introducing Lacy Williams. Lacy sent me her bio, and it goes like this:

By day, Lacy Williams is a stay-at-home mom battling dirty diapers and dog-hair dust-bunnies. By night, she is an award-winning novelist. She loves dogs, chocolate ice cream and romantic movies. Oh, and her number-crunching husband.

I love it. Short, sassy, and to the point. I decided to ask each author the same set of questions so we could get a feel for each other’s quirks across the board. So…on to the interview!

LG: At what point did you decide to write Christian historical romance? In other words, what was your “a-ha!” moment?
LW: I knew that I wanted to write something both my grandmas and my daughters could read. For me, that mean inspirational romance so it would be clean but still have a lot of emotion. I have always loved reading inspy romance as well, so it was a natural fit for me.
LG: What “eras” are your favorite, and is there an era you haven’t written about that strikes your fancy?
LW: I love writing Westerns and I think it must’ve started when my dad read me and my siblings Louis L’Amour books during my childhood. I love the action and cowboys and how tough people had to be just to survive.
I love reading Regencies and have completed about a third of one before I wrote my second Western. I still like the story and may go back and finish it some day.
LG: If you could only read one author/book for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
LW: Oh, wow am I glad this is only hypothetical! There are too many good ones that I am addicted to. Probably Kim Vogel Sawyer. I love the romance and emotion and heroes in her books.
LG: What was the biggest stumbling block you had to overcome with your writing career?
LW: Getting past the sagging middle. When I was still learning the craft, I would get mid-way into a manuscript and be unable to finish. When I finally started learning how to develop full, well-rounded characters the middles got a lot easier for me. What do I still struggle with? Deadlines. It seems like the kids always get sick about a week before I have to turn something in.
LG: What is the biggest joy your career has brought you so far?
LW: “Meeting” new readers through emails and letters, and at in-person events. I love hearing that my writing has touched someone or just that they enjoyed it.
Roping the Wrangler (Love Inspired Historical Series)
And here’s a sneak peek at her newest release, Roping the Wrangler:

Teacher Seeks a Husband

Schoolmarm Sarah Hansen longs for a family of her own. But horse trainer Oscar White is the last man she’d consider. Still, she can’t help noticing the care he shows three motherless girls and the gentle way he helps Sarah overcome her fear of horses.

Too bossy by half—that’s the Sarah that Oscar remembers from their teenage years. Yet as a former orphan, he finds the little Caldwell sisters—and their pretty teacher—getting under his skin. Could the tender heart Sarah’s always hidden tame a once-reckless wrangler?

Remember, drop by to comment all week on these blogs and you will be entered to win the autographed bundle! Contest open to US residents only. Thank you!

Accidentally Promoting a Different Kind of Materialism

It’s no secret that my family loves to thrift. My husband and I look upon thrift stores and garage sales as a kind of entertainment; when we travel to a new town, one of our favorite activities is to seek out a local thrift store and browse for a while.

I’ve never looked upon this activity as harmful; after all, we save a lot of money by buying almost everything secondhand. From our car to our clothes to our household décor, we enjoy the pursuit of things that are unusual, special, and inexpensive. It’s kind of a rush to find a treasure hidden under a pile of trash on a charity shop shelf.

But lately I’ve begun to wonder if this pursuit isn’t also a form of materialism, as insidious in its way as maxing out a credit card at the mall every weekend. I’ve begun to wonder this, because I’ve seen the effect this shopping has on my daughter. She’s six, and she’s obsessed with stuffed animals. When her teacher took her on a trip to the mall to ride the carousel, Liv fell in love with Build-a-Bear Workshop, and for weeks we heard nothing but “When I Get to Build My Cat.” But this interest fizzled, replaced by nearly a dozen stuffed animals picked up at yard sales or while thrifting. And then her nanny gifted her an entire trash bag (an ENTIRE TRASH BAG) full of stuffed bunny rabbits last night.

The thing is, even though I am trying to make my daughter understand the difference in price between the stuffed kitty at Build a Bear and the forlorn Aflac duckie sitting in a pile of unwanted toys at the Salvation Army, she doesn’t get it. A toy is a toy is a toy. And she only seems to want more, the more she gets. Stuffed animals of every size and species are wedged into every conceivable space in her room and her playroom. Even with frequent donation purges, Liv’s collection continues to grow.

In desperation, my husband and I tried turning to a Pinterest-inspired hack of Velcro-ing each animal to the wall. The theory was that Liv would finally be able to see all the animals she has, and start playing with them all again. This plan failed miserably, as the stuffed animals merely peeled away from their Velcro moorings and landed in a heap on the floor.

I’ve wondered now if the question isn’t one of storage, but of lessons learned from parents. Every time we hit a thrift store, I will usually find something to buy. I’ve consoled myself with the knowledge that I am buying for several people–Christmas and birthday gifts are usually thrifted to people who enjoy or respect thrifting, plus I buy clothes for us all, plus I buy things for our household. But even if I am buying something for someone else, Liv only sees one thing: Mommy just bought something. And since stuffed animals are plentiful in thrift shops and cheap too, it’s easy for her to ask for more (to be just like Mommy) and easy for me to give in.

Plus, to be perfectly frank, it can buy me much needed quiet time in the thrift store to browse if Liv has a new toy to play with in the cart.

In the meantime, my husband and I have agreed on a thrift moratorium. Our gift closet is well-stocked and we all are doing quite well with clothes, furniture, and the like. So we’re not shopping again for three months. Taking a break for a few months will allow us to really see and appreciate all we’ve got.

Other than the moratorium, I’m not sure how to solve this problem. I’d love to hear suggestions from my readers on how they deal with similar issues. I do want Olivia to learn that good things can come from thrift stores, and I want her to enjoy shopping. But I also want her to learn moderation and simplicity.

How do you encourage and promote these values in your home?