Were you ever a Junior Ranger?

I’ve been doing a little more research for the next Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale. Look what I found! 🙂

Did you know you can get a Junior Ranger badge and book for your kids (ages 5 to 13+) at all of these National and State Parks?

If the list of 400+ parks overwhelms you, try this map to see what’s near you.

map of the United States of America showing states

(If you’ve read LOST WITH LEEKS, you know we’re all about maps around here. I may get lost, but I always have ALL the maps. 🙂

Do you have a 4th grader at your house?
Did you know 4th graders can get a free pass for the whole school year and the summer that follows? Sounds like adventure to me!

image of 4th grade pass to parks


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Lost in a Campground

Stone castle walls with skinny steep wooden staircase (half-covered with wooden roof)
This rambling castle with ruins and tunnels is the inspiration for the Saffron Kingdom. A tunnel is an easy place to lose your sense of direction. Burg Rheinfels, (literally “Fortress Rhine Cliff”) in the central Rhine valley. © Laurel Decher, 2019, St. Goar, Germany.
Do you have a good sense of direction? How about the rest of your friends and family?

The second Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale, LOST WITH LEEKS, is all about getting–you guessed it–lost. Prince Nero has a magically magnetic personality. He’s charming, but he wrecks compasses and maps.

I don’t know about charming, but I’m an expert at getting lost. One of the worst times as a child was in a huge campground.

I found the shower building. No problem.

But when I came out again, nothing looked familiar.
Hundreds of tents and campers stretched out in all directions. The sunset showed me West, but that didn’t help me. I didn’t know where I’d come from.

I also didn’t speak any French. By filling my hands with water from the wash room sink, I tried to mime that our tent was near the lake. *blushes* Needless to say, that didn’t work.

The colors of the tents all faded with the light. Finally, I walked out from each side of the building. In straight lines, so I couldn’t get MORE lost.

Eventually, I tripped over our tent lines and recognized where I was.
The arctic explorer returns to base camp. I could have died out there!
*cue Star Wars theme*

My family was unfazed. *Okay, it was July.*

How about you and yours? Do you have a story about getting lost? What helped you get “found” again? What are your favorite tips to keep your kids from “staying lost”?

P.S. Today is the last day for the free Seven Kingdoms short story TROUBLE AT THE CHRISTMAS FAIR. You might get lucky if the price hasn’t changed everywhere yet.

If you missed it, you can sign up for my Reader’s List and get the first five chapters of TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS free. (That’s the first Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale, about the magic of speaking up.)

Each Tale stands alone, so they can be read in any order.


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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share a new book recommendation for readers ages 9 to 12, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

An Epic Tree

Battered oak with huge gall, blasted branches, lost bark and holes that shelter who knows what.
My husband visited this awe-inspiring oak thirty years ago. © Jan Decher, 2017

This weekend, my husband and I went looking for a half-circle of oaks he knew from thirty years ago. (No comments from the peanut gallery 😉 He said their group held hands around it because it was so big (nearly 8 meters around and 24 meters tall!). It’s gotta be old: 600-800 years!

We found six or seven oaks, but this one was the ruler of them all. There were hollow spaces big enough to house a small boy, like the one in Jean Craighead George’s middle-grade classic, My Side of the Mountain. I always thought the living in a tree part of the story was a bit of a stretch, but this oak could easily house a boy and a hawk. For all I know, it does.

A bumblebee flew into the boy-sized hole in the base of the tree and something brown and fluffy was in another large hole way over our heads. One of the huge, sawn-off branches was a hollow tunnel, like a giant elephant trunk.

Tragic, mighty, grotesque. An epic tree.

Even on a brilliant sunny day, you could feel the power and past destruction pent up inside this tree. Maybe it houses a million bees or will be struck by lightning and burst into flame or throw a few mighty branches down in the wind. It’s clearly a survivor waiting for the next adventure. And a refuge for all kinds of living things.

Note for writers: If places inspire you with story ideas, you might enjoy my post about Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglisi’s  The Rural Setting Thesaurus at The Winged Pen.

Oak with big hollow high up in the tree.
A refuge high in an ancient oak. Hüinghausen, Germany. © Jan Decher, 2017.

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Limit Yourself

White trails from planes in the evening sky over black tree silhouettes
Airplanes making EtchASketch patterns in the sky. © Laurel Decher, 2016

A blank EtchASketch makes it pretty clear that I’ll be doodling around in squares because the drawing dot only moves in four directions, each at right angles to the other.

National Novel Writing Month is about throwing off the limits that keep us from creating. (If you’ve just finished 50K, congratulations!! Well done!! May I respectfully suggest you do this and save yourself ten years of re-writing?)

But it’s not the only option. You can also choose a form that’s so restrictive it gives you something to push against. The most powerful stories I know are about people overcoming their own “limitations.”

What if you had to choose only one thing to make? What would it be? What if you were only allowed to give one gift?

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The Joy of Exploring Your Writing Territory

Black peppermill like machine with sliders around the body and a crank on top
The first hand-held calculator was invented “after hours” in Buchenwald concentration camp by Curt Herzstark. If creativity kept him going there, what’s my excuse? Image: Arithmeum, Bonn.

I’ve been reading Susan Kaye Quinn‘s Indie Author Survival Guide (Second Edition) Crafting a Self-Publishing Career Book 1). In spite of the title, the book covers topics that are also interesting to traditional novelists. All writers struggle with figuring out a target audience, creative freedom, and how to keep from “stopping too soon.”

Susan Kaye Quinn highlights an especially intriguing idea about how to escape comparisonitis from Steven Pressfield:

There are many nuggets of inspiration in War of Art by Steven Pressfield (I highly recommend it), but I’m going to highlight the section where Pressfield describes dealing with writerly competition in Territory vs. Hierarchy (I’m paraphrasing):

We (as humans and writers) define our place in the world either by Hierarchy (a social pecking order) or by Territory (a turf or domain). For the artist/writer, Hierarchy is that destructive urge to compete against others, to evaluate our success by our rank within the hierarchy of writers, and to write based on the effect it produces on the hierarchy. Pressfield insists the writer must operate territorially: to do work for its own sake, inwardly focused. Territorial work provides sustenance—the writer puts work in and receives back well-being; similarly the territory of our creations can only be claimed by the work we put into it. The artist who commands their domain is satisfied by the creation itself; the work is its own reward.

This goes beyond the “work is its own reward” trope. Staying focused on working territorially keeps the debilitating effects of hierarchical thinking from beating you down.

The Arithmeum museum in Bonn has the world’s largest collection of “calculating machines” which honestly sounded a bit boring until I went on a tour there last week. Inventing a machine that could carry over to the next place (from 9 to 10 or from 999 to 1,000) is a work of the imagination.

Our mathematician and tour guide demonstrated a beautiful, grandfather clock-like calculator whose inventor, Poleni. It made a lovely ratcheting sound while it added up numbers. Unfortunately, Poleni committed suicide after a contemporary’s calculator achieved the next coveted milestone.

This second calculator apparently didn’t work reliably but was a great prestige object for the Viennese Emperor. Even in mathematics, there are many milestones and many ways to solve the same problem. To me, Poleni’s story looks like a classic case of stopping too soon.

Fiction has easily as much inventive territory to explore. We’ll never get through the possibilities of plot, narration, characterization, dialogue, structure, imagery, language, rhythm, or metaphor in our lifetimes.

There’s so much to discover. Let’s encourage each other to keep on keeping on.

Happy Writing!

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The question that moves my work forward

Fountains, square tower with crenelated edge on top, small palm trees in the foreground, huge one in the back, stone-edged path, green grass and blue sky.
What can you do when everything seems so complicated? Image: English Gardens, Palermo, Sicily. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

What’s the simplest solution?

This is the question that moves me forward when I get stuck. I’m not sure why it helps. Maybe it’s what my friend and writing mentor Susan Graham calls “making a decision.” Friends are a gift.

With this question, I move forward with the information I’ve already got. Information gathering stops. I try something out.

Do you have a question that helps you move forward when you get stuck? Share it in the comments below.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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The Comfort of Home Food: Bagels in Leiden, The Netherlands

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This tiny bakery in the Netherlands, Better Bagels, sells the real thing. It also has Joe the Slicer, a 90 km/hour table saw for bagels. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

A German Brötchen is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

A chewy bagel is just about the opposite. So, of course, Germans crave Brötchen when they live in the United States and Americans crave bagels when they live in Germany. (Can you tell we’ve had both of these conversations in our international family?)

We were happy to discover this tiny bagel bakery on a recent visit to Leiden in The Netherlands.

While we waited for the bakery to open, we looked at this odd contraption in the window.

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More like air hockey than a table saw. Joe The Slicer slices bagels. We saw him(?) in action. That fuzzy circle in the bottom middle of the picture is a bagel in motion. The blade turns fast (90 km/hour) but it doesn’t saw right through the bagel, it catches it and flings it the length of the conveyer belt with a resounding thump. P1060254

This is making me hungry all over again.ABagelInLeiden

The owner told us how he learned to make bagels after living in Ramsey, New Jersey. A handy bagel flow chart painted all the wall shows all the boiling–chilling–baking steps. Once he convinced himself he could make them in his home kitchen, he opened this bakery in Leiden. It’s a kind of alchemy, moving food culture from one place to another.

Time to get back to work. I’m getting too hungry anyway and the nearest bagel is much too far away. I’m inspired by this “do one thing” attitude.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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