Christmas Songsby Katie Foth on 11/26/21
Back in the 1950s, a mother bundled up her three young children and headed to a downtown bank to pay off a loan. She held her month-old son in her arms as she ushered her little girls into the huge, old-fashioned lobby.
The two- and three-year-old girls stopped and stared, awed by the high ceiling, stretches of shiny marble floors, and the Christmas garlands, shiny baubles, and red bows everywhere. Strains of Christmas music vibrated in the air. Magical!
After completing the transaction, the mother, ever a music-lover, led her little girls to the organ, and they watched the accomplished musician play, fascinated. Hands whizzed over the layered keyboards; feet nimbly skimmed from one pedal to another. Eventually, the organist finished her majestic rendition of "Joy to the World" and a snappy, complicated arrangement of "Go, Tell it on the Mountain." She paused and smiled at the young family. "Do you have a favorite Christmas song?" the organist asked the oldest child.
The little girl ducked her head shyly and refused to look at the organist, so the woman turned to the younger girl, whose big eyes and round face smiled up at her brightly.
"Away in a Manger," the girl piped up with an eager voice.
The organist smiled a plastic smile, not quite pleased with the choice of such a simple song, one often dubbed "Luther's cradle hymn." More a song for a guitar than an organ. Not one of the merry, sophisticated tunes she'd been hired to perform. But--internally she sighed--she had asked, and the child had chosen.
Resigned, the organist turned toward her instrument and played the unadorned classic tune of the lullaby, planning to accommodate the child's request with one mere verse. Her head popped up in surprise when the child began to sing.
The little girl's clear, strong voice echoed throughout the lobby, its sheer innocence and passion rising above the unadorned chords of the organ. No one had told the girl that she couldn't sing along. Why wouldn't she sing her favorite song? Like her mother, she loved music. She loved to sing. Unlike her mother, she had no clue about social rules.
The little girl sang with her whole heart, unaware of the heads that swiveled to watch her, unaware of the held chords at the end of the first verse. She forged on with the second and third. The organist followed.
At the end of the last line, "And take us to heaven to live with Thee there," the child's voice wavered and hung in the air with a note of sadness. The little girl frowned for a moment, then nodded her head in satisfaction. "Thank you!" she said, remembering her manners.
"Yes," the mother added, casting a knowing look at the accomplished organist. "Thank you for your kindness."
I love lots of Christmas songs. "O Come, All Ye Faithful" brings up memories of walking down the aisle of a Lutheran church dressed in my little white "cherub choir" robe holding a candle with its paper wax-catcher. I love the calmness of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and ecstasy of "Joy to the World." I adore the thrilling harmony of "Angels We Have Heard on High" and the exotic charm of "We Three Kings of Orient Are."
I love the treasured sentiment of "The First Noel" and the pure rapture of "O Holy Night." The minor melodies of "What Child is This" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Mary Did You Know" intrigue me and pull at my heart. And I always loved when James Martin sang, "Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head" in his smooth tenor from the pulpit of the Baptist church.
I adore the cheerful strains of the German hymn, "O Come, Little Children" with its merry soprano descant (which my maternal grandfather wrote down for us) and the bright excitement of the French hymn "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella." I enjoy fun newer Christmas songs for toddlers, like "Oh, What a Special Night!" and "Jump for Joy" (PromiseLand)
But I will always hold a special spot in my heart for "Away in a Manger," whether the classic tune is sung or played, or one of its sweet variants. I remember with fondness teaching my young toddlers the motions. I have no memories of that little girl--just of the story told. But I feel the love of the Savior born on Christmas day, and in my mind and heart, I sing with her.
My New Favorite Puzzles for Preschoolby Katie Foth on 02/19/20
Puzzles, anyone? This Melissa and Doug barn puzzle has long been one of my favorite toys for children ages 1-2:
One day at Park Place, this puzzle entranced a whole handful of one-year-olds. They loved knocking on a door, identifying the animal, making the animal sound, feeding the animal, and then putting it back for a rest.
"Knock, knock! Hello, horse! Neigh! Eat some fresh hay. Now it's time to rest. Back inside you go. Good night, horse!"
After the initial charm wore off, the details in the puzzle added another layer of interest--the spider web, the bluebirds, the mother hen searching for her chicks (who show up somewhere behind each door). This puzzle is such a great tool!
I found a few new favorites puzzles while preparing to work childcare abroad. For the past few months, I have enjoyed the awesome opportunity of volunteering to work childcare at a few missionary conferences overseas. By caring for young children, I free their parents to worship, train, fellowship, attend counseling, or simply re-charge. I feel very blessed by being able to serve those who focused on sharing the love of Jesus with others.
Often, those parents don't have a lot of back-up help on the field. Sometimes their children have rarely left their parents' presence. One's ability to engage children in interesting activities then becomes a crucial skill in making childcare a pleasant experience for the children. Tools for doing so are crucial too.
Good that I like to collect fun things to do, geared for that certain age group. Where does one find puzzles for toddlers? Most toy stores (like Hollipops in Greenville, SC) carry wooden puzzles for toddlers, the kind where child matches the animal to an inset shape with the animal's picture. But wood puzzles are heavy when packing for an overseas trip; also, finding an actual puzzle with three to ten pieces can be difficult.
Enter Mudpuppy puzzles, which I discovered on Amazon.com. They're sturdy cardboard, much easier to lug across continents than wood is. Check out this cool jungle animal set with sensory insets:
Mudpuppy also makes some graduated puzzle sets. For example their transportation puzzles are super for helping children tackle increasingly difficult puzzles. Children can start with a four-piece puzzle, then try a slightly harder six-piece puzzle, then the nine-piece puzzle, and finally the twelve-piece puzzle.
While overseas, I bought small plastic boxes so that my children could easily grab one puzzle and see what it was (I cut pictures out of the cardboard box and taped the picture to the plastic box that became its new home). The children had so much fun putting one puzzle together and then switching with a friend.
Puzzles made a great table-top activity, wonderful for pick-up time because the children are calm, orderly, and engaged. They're one of my "tools of the trade."
Ingredients of Lifeby Katie Foth on 02/18/20
I was thinking this morning about the people who have shaped my life, whom God used to form my character, build skills, and encourage my accomplishments. Much like a loaf of bread, I suppose, like the 100% whole wheat loaf I made last week:
Now, my family members (who know me best) know that while I am a halfway decent baker of bread, I am not a natural nor a trained cook. I like to eat good food, of course. But often making good food seems such a tedious, fussy job--so I'm always amazed by the great food people like my daughter, my sister-in-law--even my son--make. Truthfully, I'd rather clean than cook.
Years ago when my husband and I didn't make much, my brother admonished me for buying cheap ingredients for a meal. "You can't make a great meal with poor ingredients," he told me. Truth. Though I know cooks who seem to be able to do just that (knowledge is power in that case, I suspect).
Although I am the main ingredient in my life--like the 100% whole wheat flour in my loaves of bread--I truly can't take any credit for how God made me. If He granted me brains or creativity or a get-up-and-go personality, how can I boast about that? I'm merely the recipient of His goodness! And if I'm not the most beautiful woman or the most charming life-of-the-party personality, why should I complain? God in His infinite knowledge and goodness made me for a specific purpose.
And if I'm not quality? Thank God! He's in the transformation business. Whatever ills and flaws and sorrows beset my soul, He's working them out of me, making me quality. Making me in His likeness.
I think back on the people--the other ingredients--whom God has brought into my life. My easy-going, affectionate, long-suffering father. My demanding and sometimes volatile mother. My vivacious grandfather. My devoted teachers. The passionate youth pastor who challenged my soul. The professors who mentored me in college, often without my realization of the effort they expended on my behalf. The friends who prayed with me and for me.
My husband, who often bore the brunt of smoothing over rough edges. My co-workers and managers. Even my children. And my clients. My editors and my enemies. Even my enemies.
I, like a loaf of hearty bread, am composed of more than one ingredient. Flour is not enough alone. My recipe for 100% whole wheat flour requires boiling water, oil, salt, honey, yeast, and warm water. Some of those ingredients may not be pleasant to consume on their own merit, just as some ingredients of my life weren't pleasant to taste at the time they were added. But mixed together in the right order, the end result can be delicious.
We all have moments when we balk at what God is creating us to be. I have to admit that sometimes I've complained that I'm bound to the mundane. Being a majestic tiered tiramisu would be so much better, right? Who needs wholesome nutrition? Growing children. The hungry. The people God loves. He made me for a purpose.
I rejoice that I am the work of God's hand. That God, who began a good work in me, will be faithful to complete it. Steve Green's song rings in my mind and encourages my soul.
Writing Promptsby Katie Foth on 02/12/20
Yesterday I found a blue journal marked "Clearance" at a Target store. I didn't really need another journal, but since I enjoy writing, I found the idea of a nice but cheap journal hard to resist. So I purchased it. And then, of course, I felt the need to justify the small expense by actually using it.
One of my favorite writing exercises when I was teaching middle school was to give my students a topic sentence as a prompt for thinking and writing. I usually gave them ten to fifteen minutes to come up with five sentences that developed the idea in the topic sentence.
I used this prompt for the beginning entry of my journal:
Here's my entry:
Today is the first day of the rest of my life. When someone spouts that quip, one usually thinks of the future. My multitude of years pulls me instead to the past, not to ways in which I want to change my life. Why? Am I so shaped and hardened by my past experiences that I can no longer grow or change? Am I too lulled by the comforts of my current life to rise to a new calling?
Perhaps I should look toward the future and dream of the marvelous things God could do through me, if only I let Him. After all, Noah was 500 years old when God directed him to build an ark. Abraham was nearly 75 when God called him out of Ur and led him to the Promised Land. Moses switched careers around age 80, from shepherd to leader of thousands of Israelites. Even Naomi took on a new job in her old age (caring for her grandson, Obed, the ancestor of King David), and ancient Tabitha served others by making clothes for them to wear, so loved by her people that they begged Peter to raise her from the dead.
What does my age matter to God? If I come before Him with a humble and tender heart, can He--will He--use me for His glory? Yes, of course! But the question that follows is harder: Will I dare to seek His will, to step out in faith and follow His leading? Ah! The true test! Lord, help my unbelief.
At Long Lastby Katie Foth on 08/12/19
Three years have passed since I published my children's novel Penny and the Seer's Ballad.
I had a solid start on the sequel (80 pages) before I returned to working a full-time job not related to writing. The mechanics of life drove that change. My husband was retiring, and his reduction in hours meant that he no longer qualified for the healthcare plan offered by his employer.
That change was no problem for him, because he'd grown old enough to qualify for Medicare coverage. But I'm younger by several years. While it's possible to find an individual healthcare policy, one has to have enough income to pay the monthly premiums. Hence the job.
The one I landed wasn't a high-paying job by any means (the childcare industry is well-known for low pay; Chick-Fil-A pays its employees significantly more). But it met the need. Moreover, I love spending time with young children. Watching them discover the world and learn how to maneuver through life brings joy to my heart. I love the top-notch facilities at Park Place Children's Center, and I enjoy the international families who attend (over the years I have worked with children from Japan, Thailand, India, Germany, France, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, England, and more).
When one writes for children, it's always a good idea to stay connected with them regularly. Little ones enjoy stories, and every day I gain more experience telling or reading stories. I learn what children enjoy, what keeps their attention, what tickles their fancy. Sometimes the children even inspire stories (out of desperation). Occasionally I've had opportunities to try out and refine story ideas. But alas, in caring for children, I expend a great deal of energy that is then NOT devoted to writing. I work from early morning (7 am) to evening (6am), and I come home happy but tired.
Nevertheless, I have been picking away at the sequel to Penny and the Seer's Ballad. At long last I have completed a first draft. I'm calling the novel Penny and the Anthem of the Begetter's Band. I'm planning yet another sequel to the series, but for now I have to figure out what to do next, how to proceed.
When I self-published my first books through Amazon's CreateSpace, I worked with a free-lance editor (Susan Korman) and a free-lance illustrator (Scotty Roberts) to produce a more professional product. They both did a fabulous job, and I'm very happy with their help.
But one crucial piece I've still not mastered is marketing. I learned a lot through the launch of my first books, Legends of Ellandria and Penny and the Seer's Ballad. I learned that marketing requires strategy, time, and persistent energy (which of course detracts from writing efforts). Researching the multitude of articles on how to market one's work often discourages me.
There's so much to consider. Do I publish now or wait until I've finished most of the next sequel so that I can build more momentum in a marketing campaign? Do I continue to self-publish or try to find a publisher who will excel at the marketing side? I want to make wise choices.
But these are good problems to own. They mean I've made progress over the past few years, and despite this temporary dilemma (through which I will eventually work my way), I'm happy to see progress.
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