5 Steps to Make a Sentence Curve (or Vary Your Sentence Length)

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Do a quick internet search and you’ll find several articles advising you to vary sentence length in your writing. I’m simply offering a visual tool to help writers implement that advice.

Read my article, 5 Steps to Make a Sentence Curve, at Charity Singleton Craig’s column How to Bring Words to Life.

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Photo credit: see bottom of the article at How to Bring Words to Life

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How Crossbeams Values Every Person

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In real-world engineering, there is no MVP. A team isn’t a true team if one “best” worker shoulders 80 percent of the load, leaving others’ work optional, insignificant, or less influential.

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Teamwork means no one is the star player (“It’s all hanging on me”) whose sole performance makes or breaks a project. Real teamwork means the project depends on every team member. Similarly, real teamwork means no one can claim to be irrelevant—no excuses for flaking out or disengaging (“I don’t need to do much. I’m not needed here anyway.”).

True teamwork means every member’s contribution is not only helpful but necessary. The game hangs on everyone’s play.

Two misconceptions about teamwork and community:

Falsehood #1: “I’m more important than the others. We can do without them.”

. . . and the flipside:

Falsehood #2: “I’m less important than the others. They can do without me.”

In Christian community, too, there is no MVP.

It’s easy to see how putting others down can damage a team. But putting yourself down is just as damaging. In fact, the Bible addresses that issue first.

Antidote for Falsehood #2:

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. . . . Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body?

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-16, NLT (emphasis added)

Antidote for Falsehood #1:

If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.

– 1 Corinthians 12:12-21, NLT (emphasis added)

You are needed. You . . . and you . . . and you . . . are needed.

Crossbeams teaches this.

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Charles Sharman, Crossbeams inventor, created a Team Build concept for several large designs.

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Last week, members of the local library’s MiniMasterminds STEM club accomplished the Crossbeams Team Build for the Saturn V (pronounced “Saturn Five”), the rocket that took us to the moon.

Each child built one of twelve modules.

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We collected the completed rocket sections . . .

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. . . and connected all twelve modules. Once the builders (and the adults who accompanied them!) realized how big the finished rocket would be, you could hear the room stirring in increasing excitement.

“Wow, do you realize how huge this thing is going to be?!”

“I told you this was going to be really cool!”

“This is gonna be taller than I am!”

“Taller than the tallest person here!”

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The end result was seven and a half feet tall.

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It takes the fastest Crossbeams builder about two and a half hours to build the Saturn V by himself. But in this Team Build, twelve beginners who had never seen Crossbeams before finished it in 75 minutes.

Discussion questions concluded the event. Some were:

Q: How can beginners beat the fastest Crossbeams builder?

“We all did it together!”

Q: How did your own part look compared the completed rocket?

“Mine was pretty big, and looked pretty cool, but it was way cooler to see the full rocket at the end.”

Q: How important was your part in building the rocket?

“Very important. . . . The rocket wouldn’t have worked without every part.”

Team Builds by Crossbeams, made by a company named after the Golden Rule, emphasize teamwork, the importance of everyone, and a well-engineered end-product everyone can be proud of.

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For further reading:

The Crossbeams Team Build Concept (includes Team Builds Instructor’s Guide)

Seven:Twelve Engineering, the company behind Crossbeams

A summary of a previous Team Build event: Eiffel Tower (includes video)

The Story Behind Crossbeams

What sets Crossbeams apart?

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Photo credits for the Saturn V Team Build event: Pikes Peak Library District, Rockrimmon Branch

Book Review (sort of): Wild in the Hollow, by Amber C. Haines

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I don’t know if it’s because Amber C. Haines is a poet, or because reading this book is a little like breaking open a pomegranate and exposing ripe seeds clustered in their hollows, the red of their juices lingering as stains on your fingers after you bring out the fruit—but this memoir, Wild in the Hollow, calls for something other than the typical way I do a book review. Instead, I’m sharing twelve found poems taken from Amber’s words (including page references to the book).

What is a found poem? The Academy of American Poets defines it:

Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet.

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1. From pages 49-51:
It didn’t take me long to see how different I was in the church

So tidy and clean
the church so aware of how it looked.

No one talked about brokenness. I did my best
to look good enough for the keeping, but—

How broken I was. How I didn’t fit. It seemed the rest
of the church had healed up good. Either that

or no one knew how to grieve
the stories, the rumbles of despair. Most days I thought

I would drown. Fresh in the memory of wild back roads
I walked in and asked, “Will you love me now?”

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2. From page 54:
My mamaw

She rocked in her chair.
She told me secrets. We became
so close in our brokenness, spoke
in secret language before she slipped away
into her real life. Her confessions
unified us, her perfect love for me
cast out fear.

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3. From page 54:
So much hammered doctrine

was an effort to control,
to harness the Holy Spirit so we could feel
better about ourselves—
a measuring stick superimposed into
the very hand of God.

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4. From page 56:
What is Scripture?

What is Scripture if
it doesn’t pour in,
transform,
and then
flow out from the depths,
especially
as love?

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5. From page 57:
I wish I had known

The depravity of man is only
the realization of the hollow,
the need. Depravity
should only imply that we
can be filled
with God.

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6. From page 58:
Mercy

Isn’t it sometimes
God’s mercy
that we crash?

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7. From page 111:
Friendship Beginning

a long, silent pause
like an orchestra
before the music begins

like a cellist holding position
with the bow hovering
just above the strings

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8. From page 141:
A Word of Truth

Do not forget
that the Spirit of God
indwells you.

And just like that,
the ash blew over, and I began
to burn.

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9. From page 173:
Repentance

a sorrow
a recognized need
a change of mind, the turning point
a place of release
a place to go

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10. From page 173:
After Repentance

obedience
moving forward
into righteousness, peace, joy
propelling the kingdom of God

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11. From page 186:
Good News

Isn’t brokenness
the fertile ground for the seed
of hope? We are weak ones, but
this is not bad news.

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12. From page 197:
In this one moment

I have seen my children
run naked and wild. I have seen them
without a drop of shame.

Book Review: Dancing Priest, by Glynn Young

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I find greatest satisfaction in a novel when it inspires me with admirable (but not flawless) characters, and when it makes an internal connection. As author John Green has been quoted,”Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.” Glynn Young’s Dancing Priest wins on both counts—and this novel was so riveting that it kept me up way past bedtime. Immersed in its multiple layers that reach into the histories and current lives of Michael Kent, Sarah Hughes, the people who are and become part of their lives, and the geographical settings of Edinburgh, London, Athens, San Francisco, L.A., and Santa Barbara, I couldn’t put the book down.

The story of Michael Kent—student at Edinburgh, Olympic cyclist, then Anglican priest assigned to a San Francisco church—shows, unadorned, his steadfastness, integrity, and seemingly foolish love toward others. All this comes through without hiding or sanitizing his struggles. If you carry an enthusiasm for cycling, you will especially appreciate this book. But, cycling fan or not, you may find that Michael Kent’s life in Dancing Priest feels a bit like a cycling race: fast pace, determination, struggle, exhilaration, team dynamics, defeat, victory, gratification at crossing the finish line. This story challenged me to persevere in pain, love those who are against me, extend a hand to others in distress, practice art and exercise any God-given abilities, and deepen relationships with those I love. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, A Light Shining.

Best of Community: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back

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Several years ago a mentor told me, “Potential does not equal calling.”

“It doesn’t?” I replied, puzzled. Because if I’m not supposed to take on a new task, why did God give me the ability? Why all these golden opportunities if I’m just supposed to say no?

She then gave Jesus as an example . . .

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This week marks the last week for many editors at The High Calling. Many thanks to them for their excellent work in making community and connections over the years. I am honored that they chose one of my articles as part of their “Best of Community” highlights. Read the full article at The High Calling: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back.

Photo credit: Glen Scott, via Flickr Creative Commons

5 Reasons to Go to Storytime (even if you don’t have children)

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The librarians did it. You could say they’re the reason I became a writer. Every Friday morning at 10:30, I took my infant son to the Rockrimmon library for storytime. The sweet red-headed Laura was my favorite children’s librarian, but I considered them all genius-fairies who knew everything about books and children and could protect my child the rest of his life from all possible disasters and minor scrapes.

But really, they simply knew how to choose good picture books and read them out loud to half a dozen or a few dozen children and their mothers sitting cross-legged on the carpet. . . .

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I’m delighted and honored to be a guest contributor for Charity Singleton Craig’s column “How to Bring Words to Life.” Please continue reading How to Bring Words to Life: 5 Reasons to Go Storytime (even if you don’t have children). Hope to see you there!

Photo credit via the article at Charity Singleton Craig: How to Bring Words to Life (scroll to bottom)

Letter-Writing Day (for The High Calling theme: Live Happy)

When my son makes a birthday card, he doesn’t just write “Happy Birthday.” He writes “Happy” over and over again—the same number of times as the birthday person’s number of years. Last year I got “Happy” on my birthday card 42 times.

He picked up this habit from his Great Granddad.

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My husband declared the first Sunday of every month Letter-Writing Day so our three sons would grow up knowing how to write letters—the pen-on-paper, stamp-on-envelope, delivered-by-postal-carrier kind. Our sons write to anyone they choose. Often, the letter is for the person who wrote back last time.

Great Granddad, my husband’s paternal grandfather, was a favorite choice. He wrote back with “original art” on the stationery: a smiling head drawn at the bottom, next to “Love, Great Granddad.” The head, representing himself, had a single curly hair on top, Charlie Brown–like. He wrote in print, not cursive, and put a distinctive curl at the beginning or ending of some letter strokes. The downward mini-flourish at the end of his ‘s’ was most memorable to me.

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Great Granddad’s letters often included a joke. (Why did the golfer throw away his socks? Because he had a hole in one.) My sons sometimes replied with jokes of their own. Even without the jokes, his sense of humor came through. When telling us of an accident in the house which resulted in his falling, he wrote that his daughter, who lives with him, “suggested that I draw one of my original art pictures to show me flying through the room, but my limited ability cannot do justice to the situation.”

Great Granddad also told stories of his growing-up days. In one letter, he told of the farm where he grew up:

Our farm of about 50 acres included 10 acres of woodland. We had 1 cow, 1 heifer, 1 or 2 horses, 4 pigs, + at least a hundred chickens. My mother had to milk the cow twice a day—in the morning and in the evening. My father was a school teacher. We had coal oil lanterns for light until we got electricity, when I was 3 or 4 or 5 years old. We had a coal stove in the kitchen which met our cooking and heating needs. I will try to tell you more about my childhood in future letters.

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When Great Granddad was a child, they grew strawberries on that farm. Now it is a Christmas-tree farm. Though no Sharman has lived there for many years, the subsequent owners kept “The Sharman Homestead” painted on the barn wall.

A commissioned painting of the barn hangs in our dinette. It is to be handed down to the oldest son, generation after generation.

Our sons also learned about Great Granddad’s day-to-day life:

On Sundays we go to church about two miles from here. It is the church in which I was baptized when a baby and confirmed when I was 15 . . . About 1 day a week we visit friends and go to places in the Amish country; then we return to their house and play Rummeyo.

Sometimes his letters contrasted his childhood with theirs:

You mentioned that you went skiing at Black Canyon. When I was a boy I had skis which had straps to hold your feet onto the skis. Sometimes I fell painfully. Today you have better ways to hold the feet.

There’s his dry humor again.

My sons’ relationships (and joke exchanges) with older generations make me happy. Letter-writing day makes me happy. Growing older makes me happy. And, according to my son’s birthday cards, the older I get, the happier I am.

Live Happy

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For The High Calling community theme: Live Happy. Visit The High Calling for more posts on what makes you happy—or what keeps you from happiness.

Book Response: The Water Hole, by Graeme Base

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I feel thirsty for something, so I go to The Water Hole. I have been here many times before, whether in drought or just after a heavy, refreshing rainfall, and at this water hole I always find and drink the something I was searching for.

The first thing I notice when I turn the page is not the astounding art on the right-hand page, though the artist-author’s work draws me strongly to look there. I first notice the big number “1” on the verso. Under the number I read:

One Rhino
drinking at the water hole.

“Snort, splosh!”
(Mmm, delicious!)

The “1” is big enough for me to see that Graeme Base has painted a rhino skin on it. I feel a fullness in the sparsity of words. I turn the glossy page.

The big “2” wears tiger stripes. I read the words, and the fullness now comes with anticipation. Something is going to happen. Something is already happening.

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Two Tigers
lapping at the water hole.

“Grrrrrr!”
(Goodness gracious, how very delectable!)

I feel comfort in the repetition, friendliness in the pattern, winsome humor in the “translation” of the animals’ talk. Before I turn to the page with the big “3” I am expectant, because I know what to expect.

There will be a big number. There will be that many animals in the painting on the recto, and one simple sentence fragment. Below that, the animal sounds, and then in parentheses, the “translation.” Like this:

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Three [Animals]
[verb ending in -ing] at the water hole.

“[appropriate animal sound]!”
([some clever line from the animals’ conversation])

Graeme Base is witty. He makes me laugh, and I like him for it. (You should hear the goofy moose on the “5” page, and what the 8 businesslike ladybugs say while they are “meeting at the water hole.”)

I once read a book on writing that mentioned “the economy of words,” and I marvel at how, in four lines, Graeme (pronounced gray-em, by the way) is able to build a plot. He incorporates a full-fledged story arc in a counting book, a simple picture book about animals he saw on his safaris in Kenya and Tanzania. Genius.

The water hole shrinks with every page turn, for the drought is coming. Graeme Base takes the comfortable, exciting pattern he introduced in the beginning—and breaks it. “Ten Kangaroos looking at the water hole. There was nothing to say. The water was all gone.”

I am thirsty again, and beginning to panic. Where is the water I came for? Suddenly I have “cotton mouth” and my throat is parched. Do you want to know what animals he features on the next double-page spread?

The extinct ones. Ten of them, including Dodo, Passenger Pigeon, Great Auk. These extinct animals are not drawn directly; the artist forms them from the voids in a painting of a land parched like my throat, with withered trees and dull color.

Then a shadow fell across the sun.
Clouds began to gather.

A single drop of rain fell.

And the water hole returns, and all the animals came back.

I did not even mention the strip of ten animal silhouettes lining the top and bottom of every page; those same animals cleverly hidden in the main painting, creating a kind of scavenger hunt that would delight and challenge a reader of any age; the little frogs wearing aloha-shirts, also hiding. Even his signature is fun to look for on each illustration. I did not mention every aspect of Graeme Base’s The Water Hole that captivates the senses. Maybe, like the animals, I will come back and do that next time.

Building Toys for Language and Creativity Development (article at Tweetspeak)

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Playing with blocks—plain wooden manipulatives—improves vocabulary. But how can a toy that has no words or letters increase a child’s use of words? The conclusion may seem counterintuitive. Or maybe it makes sense, for four reasons (and probably more).

In my latest Tweetspeak article, I draw from the research of Dr. Dimitri Christakis and others. Please read the article and join the conversation in the comment box.

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Photo via Tweetspeak Poetry (see bottom of this post for photo credit).

Book Review: Safe, by Jill Case Brown

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I crave fiction. A good novel makes an internal connection with me and gives me characters I care about. A good novel gives me phrases or single words so delightful that I smile on the spot. A good novel gives me a story I can live in and live through. Safe satisfies this craving.

Jill Case Brown textures this story with details, then brings those details back around in a way that anchors the characters while giving the story momentum. (Wait till you see the different ways “WD-40” comes up.) She builds a suspense around the characters that makes me want to skip to the end and see how these people and their relationships turn out. But at the same time, a delightful phrase makes me want to linger on a page and read that part again.

The relationships in Safe draw from me a depth of response that carries over to my own relationships. They remind me to do the hard work of leaning into instead of backing away from relational conflict (“Hearing the first stir in his voice, I braced myself. . . . I wanted to back away from it. Instead, I made myself go over and sit on the sofa across from him.”). They remind me to listen (“Fork in hand, she considered. One of the things I liked about my mom was how seriously she took what other people asked or said.”). They remind me of myself (“Then, one after another, in a sort of mental stutter, the details came clear.”). The person I was at page one was not the person I grew into by the last page.

Safe takes me into an unknown wilderness—then invites me to see if there might be some way to navigate through the desert to find an oasis or two. Author Flannery O’Connor said, “Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t write fiction.” The book Safe isn’t afraid to get dusty, but it shows the reader how beauty can come from ashes and hope can be found in the wilderness.