the adventures of young ham solo

I’ve explained the increasingly grand tradition of Sibling Thanksgiving before. In 2015 we leveled up our theme game with THANKVENGERS: The Winter Solstice, and in 2016 we went all in on Harry Potter and the Day of Thanks.

For 2017 it was time to head for the stars. Without further ado, I present The Adventures of Young Ham Solo: A Star Wars Story!

Only approved guests could get past the door guards.

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Nothing to see here, move along

Once admitted, you were free to help yourself to a drink at the Dagobar.

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There is no try. There is only drink or drink not.

Dinner was served beneath the shadow of the Empire, but never fear, a squadron of X-wing fighters were en route to do battle overhead.

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Let’s blow this thing and get dinner!

And for those inclined to join the Rebellion, there was an optional Jedi training piñata for just that purpose.

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Use the force, Luke!

There weren’t any themed dishes this year, although there WAS a round of blue milkshakes for the kids and blue milk (rumchata) for the adults afterward. We had our usual unnecessary flood of side dishes instead: cornbread, rice ball casserole, lumpia, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, obligatory turkey breast, stuffed jalepeños, stuffed mushrooms, stuffing, and French bread! *gasps for breath*

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Why do we do this?!

There were five kids toddling-and-up, but between the piñata candy, soda, dinner, and dessert, they vibrated so hard they achieved singularity and melted into the infrastructure of the house, only visible in blurs out of the corner of your eye.

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The rare candy-ghost caught on film.

Dinner, of course, was followed by kicking all the children from the room and playing a disgusting and curse-filled round of Loaded Questions.

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Almost anything can be answered “your mother’s vagina”

All in all, A ROLICKING SUCCESS!

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NEXT UP: CHRISTMAAAASS

And on a final note: it sure is nice to have professional help to clean up after a big party. Thanks, guys!

november splat

I’ve been MIA on the blog front due to the oncoming storm of holidays. Every single year I think I’ll manage my end-of-year goals, and eeeveeeryy siiiiingle yeaaaar I fall flat on my face in November. The blog goes haywire, my writing staggers to a crawl, and if I’m not already within a stone’s throw of my reading goal then it’s too late to catch up.

This year I have a Bonus! Baby to gum up the works, but it would have happened anyway. There are 20+ people to buy Christmas presents for (in our immediate family!!), so the only way to avoid financial disaster is to start spacing them out in November (if not earlier).

November is also Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is MY THING. I’ll put up some pics after this year’s extravaganza, but suffice to say: it’s gonna be a good one. Unnecessary themed decorations, costumes, games for the kids, lunch, a dozen dishes for dinner, post-dinner booze and Mario Party battles, and a slumber party for whosoever wishes to stay all night. Every year it gets bigger. This go-around we’ll have 15 butts to seat (plus Bonus! Baby on a rotating selection of laps). It’s gonna be wild!

But it means a couple weeks’ worth of my precious little free time has been devoted to meal planning, shopping, interior design, and origami. (Trust me on the origami!) Wednesday is for cleaning the house, Thursday is for decorating and baking desserts, and then Friday folks start trickling in by 9 a.m. to cook and socialize, so as you can see my week is booked.

And when this week is over? Then I’m going to be spending a lot of my time with my good ol’ friend Photoshop, working on this year’s epic Christmas card and other holiday goodies. The clock is ticking!!

I also go splat in November because I inevitably burn out on my grinding goals (this year has Bonus! Sleep Deprivation), but that’s another sort of blog post entirely…

So a magical, outlandish, samtastic Thanksgiving weekend to you all, and I’ll see you again on the other side!

writing is a scourge

I’m writing this in a noisy Starbucks, while getting mentally prepped to finish a short story. I’ve been making agonizingly slow progress on it all week, so fingers crossed that today is rough draft completion day. I don’t much like sitting in noisy coffee shops, but my library is closed on Sundays and I had to run other non-Sunday errands yesterday instead. I am so tired I feel queasy, but it’s my only chance to get this thing done!

I go out once a week for a chunk of uninterrupted writing time, and I only miss it for ill babies or a truly overwhelming confluence of family functions. I got up every 1.5-2 hours last night and feel like week-old roadkill, but oh well, it’s writing day! I’ll just slap my face a couple times and have some coffee!

Every once in a while it occurs to me that although writing is my absolute favorite endeavor, it is also the biggest burden in my life, and everything else I do would be far easier without it. All of my angst comes from constantly fretting over whether I’m writing enough, whether what I’m writing is good enough, whether I’ll hit xyz goal by the end of the day/week/year. When I prioritize writing I feel like a bad mother/wife/sister/daughter/friend. When I don’t prioritize writing I feel like a sham.

I’m in Year One Mom Zombie stage with my second kid, and I know my schedule will relax over the next 6-9 months, but instead of weathering the storm and watching all of those TV shows I didn’t have time to watch last year (or better yet, napping when the baby is napping), I’m trying to plant the seeds of a SFF writing career. Whyyyy.

And I am making progress! I’ve sold two stories to professional SFF magazines (both out in 2018, stay tuned!!), which is absolutely thrilling and some much-needed validation right now. But every few weeks I melt down and spend a full day laying on the couch, full of angst about the minutes ticking by, under-utilized. Hell, I’m already getting agitated because I’ve spent 20 minutes on this blog post so far, and that means 20 fewer minutes of Writing Day.

The trouble with writing is that it’s a hobby that requires brain power. It isn’t actually relaxing. It’s work. Work that I love, but still work.

So why do I persist at this? Honestly…I have no idea. I’ve wanted this since I was 7 and my second grade teacher told me I could actually write stories for a living one day. (Whether you can actually make a living at it is beside the point.) The periods of my life in which I regretfully set aside writing for Real World Obligations (need that graduate degree for that backup career yo), my desire to tell stories never faded. They just built up, and built up, and built up, and I filled notebooks with ideas I didn’t have time to expand yet, and I felt like my real life was on hold. And then writing again was agony because you get rusty and have to grease your way back in, but it was also an indescribable relief because I was finally telling those stories, and my ideas were so much better after I got a few more years of living behind me.

My last big writing gap was the latter half of 2015, when I went back to work after baby #1 and was basically clinging to consciousness for three months. I haven’t tolerated a gap like that since, even when I know it’s burning me out, because life is short and I have things to say.

So I’m still going. Even though I lose much-needed sleep over thorny world-building problems. Even though I cry with frustration over edits. Even when it’s something I immediately trunk and never let anyone read. I try to write every day, even if it’s just a few sentences or a paragraph of summary for the next day. If I can’t write then I read blogs about writing, or listen to podcasts about writing, or read book after book to analyze the writing. If you know me in real life, you know I’m incapable of doing anything by half. If I’m in, I’m ALL IN.

Writing is a scourge, but it’s my scourge. The joy of creating something, the satisfaction of typing the end, the nervous thrill of giving somebody a copy to beta read– it’s addictive. Maybe that’s all there is to it. It’s cathartic. It’s rewarding. It’s fun. And when you finish a project after months of torment, it’s a victory.

But that’s enough chatter. Back to work!


ETA: I realize in my fatigue and haste to write this post, I failed to give real examples of what I mean when I say prioritizing writing ruins everything else. Here is what I can’t accomplish, since I always pick writing instead:

  • I can’t maintain an exercise routine and have major writer bod. 30 minutes… EVERY DAY??
  • I can’t add much variety to my diet. I have a set of really quick meals that are moderately healthy, but anything better would require devoting more time to cooking.
  • I can’t develop any other hobbies. Used to have an Etsy shop– gone. Used to sew my own costumes– it’s been years since I made a new one.
  • I don’t make new friends easily. I chat with my siblings online every day, I have a monthly book club, and I have maybe two other people I see a handful of times per year. But I was that coworker who never went to staff events, and if we’re not related I probably won’t make it to your birthday dinner.
  • I’m constantly behind on pop culture. What’s out in theaters? What’s on TV? Maybe I’ll binge that show one day, when it’s all wrapped up and my friends assure me it ended well and is worth my precious time.

I think next week I’ll talk about why writing is worth the sacrifice. So far, I’m not really selling it, am I? XD

the hall of good relationships!

I’ve previously discussed my love of academic action heroes and lady action heroes. Today I’d like to talk about a different character type entirely. Or should that be characters? Because these are my favorite romantic couples across the media hemispheres, and I probably should have saved this post for February but WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT KIND OF FORWARD PLANNING.

As I put this together, I realized I was much more likely to find happy, healthy couples in series (book series, TV shows, movies with sequels) than one-off stories, which tend to focus on the first blush of romance and fail to follow through on life after the HEA. Or else they find their story conflict in relationship conflict, and I don’t have time for toxicity, no matter how much drama fodder it provides. Final observation: There is a lamentable dearth of healthy long-term LGBT+ couples in the media I consume. Part of that, I’m sure, is me not casting a wide enough net (I live mostly in the action/adventure and scifi/fantasy genres). Another part of it, I’m even more sure, is a failure OF the media I consume. But I digress.

Without further ado, and in no particular order: The Hall of Good Relationships!

Hal and Lois Wilkerson – Malcolm in the Middle

hal and loisHal and Lois might be my favorite TV parents. In large part that’s due to their subversion of the usual sitcom dynamic, which tends to pit overbearing Mom against beleaguered Dad for some “haha women are nags, men are clueless idiots” humor. Which, need I say, I loathe. In Malcolm in the Middle, Lois is overbearing, and Hal is beleaguered, but instead of battling each other they are battling their nightmare children. Hal and Lois manage their house and fight their kids as a united front, and their continued passion for one another is a frequent plot point. I can actually believe they’ve stayed married because they love and support one another, whereas in most family comedies I can’t imagine the passive aggressive snipery leading anywhere but divorce.

Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson – the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters

crocodile sandbankAmelia and Emerson are my favorite married couple in ALL LITERARY HISTORY. They are turn-of-the-century Egyptologists who accidentally get caught up in a murder mystery every year. Like you do! Emerson is gruff and Amelia is exceedingly practical, and after butting heads on their first adventure together (naturally) they fall madly in love, get married, have one (FABULOUS) child, and continue to excavate artifacts and solve mysteries together henceforward. There are no plots about them getting into fights over stupid misunderstandings and then making up again. They remain madly in love for decades and face everything together AND I LOVE THEM.

Alexia Tarabotti and Conall Maccon – the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

soullessIn a steampunk/paranormal Victorian England, Alexia is a soulless preternatural, capable of nullifying the supernatural nature of vampires and werewolves with physical contact. Conall Maccon is a werewolf and head of the Woolsey pack. They get together in book one of the five-book series, and remain a dedicated couple through that and subsequent related series (minus one ‘misunderstanding’ plot, I will forgive ONE and ONLY ONE). I got about halfway through the first book  before realizing that the reason I loved Alexia and Connall so much is that they are a paranormal Amelia and Emerson. Exceedingly practical woman in her mid-30s assumes she is destined for spinsterhood, meets a gruff passionate man who madly adores her, they settle into a life of adventure, and they win my heart forever. Apparently, I have a type.

Zoe and Hoban Washburne – Firefly

zoe and washShe’s a tough-as-nails military veteran, he’s a goofball pilot with zero combat skills, they are ADORABLE, and in my head canon she carries him to safety and they have three babies and Wash does most of the childcare while Zoe continues to run dangerous smuggling missions, and you CANNOT TAKE THIS FROM ME. I like to see relationships where the characters appreciate each other’s strengths, especially if those strengths aren’t the stereotypical tough-guy/smart-damsel dynamic.

Evie and Rick O’Connell – The Mummy

evie and rickAnother adorable couple who face adversity together and play to one another’s strengths, and the finest example of tough-guy/smart-damsel I know. Because Rick might be the tough guy in terms of being the fighter, but he’s also funny, and reluctant to go into danger for no reason, and basically not a macho jerk is what I’m saying. And Evie may be kidnapped at one point, but her smart is more important than her damsel. She’s the one who saves the day through the powers of Egyptology, and it doesn’t challenge Rick’s manliness to have his ass saved by hieroglyphic translation.

All the main couples – Parks and Recreation

parks and rec“I love you, and I like you.” Just watch, okay? This show proves you can have long-term relationships in a TV show and generate a ton of comedy without resorting to some stupid battle of the sexes. EVERYBODY LIKES AND SUPPORTS ONE ANOTHER AND I LOVE THEM.

Marge and Norm Gunderson – Fargo

marge and normAre Marge and Norm my favorite married couple in cinema? Possibly. It may seem like an odd choice, but just watch Fargo again and try to tell me that isn’t where you want to be in ten or fifteen years. Marge is the chief of police, Norm is an artist, and they are both extremely loving and proud of one another in a completely sweet, understated way. From Norm getting up in the wee hours to make Marge breakfast, to Marge giving Norm a pep talk when his painting is only picked up for the 3 cent stamp, they have one of the nicest relationships in Hollywood.

Phèdre nó Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil – Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey

kushiels dartShe’s a holy courtesan who specializes in S&M! He’s a warrior priest in a brotherhood that requires a vow of chastity! LET THE DRAMA AND SEXUAL TENSION UNFOLD. Okay, so here is an example of a relationship that begins with some primo your-lifestyle-is-anathema-to-me kind of drama, but since it’s a series we get to follow them after they get together. And, once again, I love me some people who accept each other wholeheartedly even if they have radically different points of view. In this case, we watch them work through their issues and actively decide that love means acceptance. Does Phèdre give up her calling? Psh hell no. Does Joscelin suddenly give up his stoic values and become a sexaholic? Also no, though he does get booted from his brotherhood, you can’t win them all.

Xena and Gabrielle – Xena: Warrior Princess

What are they doing here, you ask? Let Past Sam educate you on the wonders of Xena and her galpal Gabrielle. It’s called subtext, people!!

xena and gabrielle

So there you go, love one another, people. Feel free to tell me who I’ve missed!


10/26/17 ETA:

Gomez and Morticia AddamsThe Addams Family and Addams Family Values

gomez and morticiaHow could I forget Gomez and Morticia?? I’m talking the first two movies here because they’re the version I know best, but I believe the dynamic was the same in the show (and the jokes darker and a bit different in the comics). They’re another great example of a couple who are 100% supportive of one another and extremely passionate years into their marriage. The best thing about Gomez and Morticia is how nice they are to everyone around them. They’re creepy and they’re kooky, but they aren’t mean or cruel. They’re content and confident and their philosophy is: just be yourself and never miss an opportunity to show your spouse how much you adore them.

100 days

P1030262Pop the corks and ignite the fireworks, cuz we just survived the Hundred Days of Darkness!

Okay, so the first three months of a new baby aren’t ALL bad, but it is definitely a special kind of abyss. Around-the-clock feedings, constant head support, and lots of bewildered crying as the baby learns how to fall asleep. I don’t mean sleep through the night. I mean fall asleep.

It isn’t sunshine and rainbows after three months, but there is a sudden and marked shift when you realize: oh hey, she’s paying attention to stuff. She’s smiling and trying to laugh. She’s sort of maybe kinda got a predictable nap thing going, and if you spot the cues fast enough there’s no meltdown on the way to bed. Unless you’re dad. Then there’s probably still a meltdown.

So! Time for an update! In fact, time for all the updates!

100 Days of Recovery

100 days ago, I was in agony! 90 days ago, I could still barely get in and out of bed! 80 days ago, I was acknowledging that I would, in fact, survive my c-section, but that I’ll see you all in hell before I do that again. Where am I now? Well, my scar is settling down to pink instead of purple. The flesh is tender/numb but not painful, and pretty itchy on one side as it heals and feeling comes back. Oh, and parts of my ass are still numb from the epidural. You hadn’t heard of that one before? Yeah you get numb ass.

100 Days of Infant

What are we at, then? I’ve put her to bed between 400 and 500 times, breastfed about 700 times (and changed a comparable number of diapers), oh and of course gotten up 1-3 times a night for well over 100 nights, since that bullshit starts when you’re still pregnant. AM I AWAKE OR ASLEEP RIGHT NOW? NOBODY KNOWS.

At first a baby is all work and no reward, but gradually they start noticing you exist and providing positive feedback in the form of smiles and coos, and then it’s all right. For the first month she did nothing but eat-cry-sleep, eat-cry-sleep, and even in her sleep she would make so much noise it’d keep me up the rest of the night. But now all of a sudden she’s a great baby. Easy to put to bed, entertained by all the little toys her brother disdained, and taking like a champ all the things that made him hysterical (changing tables, doctor visits, facing forward, and so on). Uh, good job, baby!

100 Days of Big Brother

I barely glanced away, and all of a sudden my 2-year-old is making conversation, counting (somewhat accurately!), singing songs, and building increasingly elaborate block monsters to re-enact episodes of Little Einsteins. Thank goodness he hasn’t exhibited any jealousy or resentment toward the baby (maybe just a little toward dad for finally working a day shift). After months of prepping him with a baby doll, he was excited to help take care of a real baby. FOR ONCE, MY PLAN WORKED! Now I just have to keep an eye out to make sure he doesn’t “help” too hard.

100 Days of Reading

I had a hard time reading at first (shocking!) because with my first kid I’d just prop a book up while breastfeeding for 30-40 minutes at a go, but this time around I’ve got a talkative toddler at my elbow and a lightning-fast eater who only takes 10-15 minutes. But then! I reconfigured my approach. I started reading online SFF magazines for short reads while breastfeeding, and I started borrowing ebooks from the library to read on my phone while walking around or patting a baby to sleep. Now my physical books are for after kid-bedtime– a luxury. And it’s working! I’m powering through stuff, and it’s all so good! WHY IS THERE SO MUCH GOOD STUFF COMING OUT?

100 Days of Writing

I can be a little dramatic when I don’t get writing time. (I can sense my husband reading this, muttering, “A little?”) It was only a few weeks after giving birth that I would cry in sleep-deprived despair, “I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO WRITE AGAIN!!” And then a few weeks after that I adjusted to my new kid-load and started writing again. I won’t lie, it’s tougher, but it isn’t impossible. I’ve knocked out a few short stories to get back in the mental swing of things. I’ve agonized over my decision to wait a few months to start the agent submission process, but it’s the right one. Now I’ve got last spring’s rough draft manuscript glaring angrily at me, waiting for edits. Maybe it’ll be done within the next hundred days…

100 Days of Support Network

What…is…social life? I didn’t leave the house at all other than doctor’s appointments for a month. But I think it took longer the first time, so that’s an improvement! Anyway, big thanks to all my family and friends for patiently awaiting my return to society. I’ll almost definitely go to the next nighttime book club. There are also holidays coming, and I will be there. And maybe one day I’ll go out with my husband again, and it will be somewhere more exciting than Target.

Forward march!

motherhood and creativity

breastfeeding

The daily struggle

This article by the Atlantic has been making the rounds recently, positing a lot of interesting questions about motherhood and creativity. Studies of rats (whose brain functions are very similar to humans) show that female rats become remarkably more creative, adaptable, and focused after giving birth, and that the benefits last long after their offspring grow up.

This, of course, raises the question about how humans’ brains are affected by giving birth and caring for children. And the article contrasts the potential benefits against the discouraging messages that women artists receive: namely, that having children is incompatible with maintaining a successful artistic career, that kids are a distraction, that you can’t pay attention to both. When in reality, for many women, the result is the opposite. The trouble, as with any second job, is time management.

Obviously there are plenty of creative people with and without children, and some mothers shift gears to childcare more than others, or find they hate childcare entirely, etc etc. But wow, yes, for me this is 100% true! I had a good number of ideas before, but after having my first baby I felt like I was suddenly exploding with them (plots, characters, structures, emotional story arcs, worldbuilding) in a way I wasn’t before. In particular, my best ideas now incorporate a better emotional climax into the plot/action climax. The frustrating part is not having nearly enough time in the world to write it all, so I have to pick and choose what to develop and then eke out chunks of time each week to plug away at whatever my current WIP is.

Part of it is life experience in general. I’m older. I’ve got a decade more reading and philosophizing and socializing and paying attention to current events under my belt than 21-year-old Sam did. I have more to say, so it’s easier to slip a theme or character arc into a story that previously was based entirely on explosions and banter (that said, you will pry my explosions and banter from my cold dead body).

But it’s also mommy brain, I’m convinced of it. I’ve had to learn how to multitask and focus like never before. If I want to write at all, I have to keep a story buzzing in my brain at all times so that when a 30-minute chunk of nap time becomes available I can jump right in and work like crazy till it’s over, and then immediately shift gears back to the baby. I wrote a book last year while I was massively sleep-deprived (my first kid took 13 months to sleep through the night!) and working a part-time day job. I wrote at 4 a.m. and 9 p.m. and during 1 hour naps on the weekend. The first draft was feverish but fast, and I actually liked my stream of conscious prose better than when I used to agonize over every sentence and take all day to write a scene. Editing, of course, was a nightmare! But man it felt good to be working on something.

Anyway, I think the article is worth a read! Here are some of the bits that struck a chord with me, regarding creativity itself and the unique guilt/shame that comes with carving out time to write.

Regarding rat moms:

Even as her offspring grow and learn to fend for themselves, the neurological changes of motherhood persist. She will experience less memory decline in old age, and have quicker navigation skills than non-mothers, outsmarting them in mazes. She is more efficient, making fewer errors. She finds new and unusual ways to get tasks done—problem-solving approaches she had not considered before giving birth.

From artist Hein Koh, in response to another artist who insisted there is not enough energy in one person to split between art and children:

“Becoming a #mom (of twins no less) has personally helped me become a better #artist—I learned to be extremely efficient with my time, prioritize what’s important and let go of the rest, and #multitask like a champ.”

Because yes, the multitasking is unreal, and the need to be efficient in all things at all times is all-encompassing. I gave up basically every other hobby and casual social events in order to make time for the things I wanted most: writing and spending enough time with the baby.

Regarding problem-solving:

Creativity requires making unusual connections. At its core, Jung said, creativity is original problem solving. This is an evolutionarily derived process that is important to survival. Humans who achieve high creativity usually have endurance and grit, Jung said. Creative people take risks, Jung said. They are bold, and adept at finding new and unusual ways to get tasks done.

There is enormous guilt in taking time away from your kids (I am sitting in my local library right now, during my once-a-week block of free time, and every week I feel the need to apologize 20 times while walking out the door). BUT, I am also so much better during the rest of the week when I take this break.

I am a better mother, a happier mother, when I am also able to carve out time to write. I am a better writer, a happier writer, when I am also an involved mom.

That is basically where I’m at right now. I’m trying not to feel guilty about splitting my time, but splitting my time is essential for my happiness. Sometimes I overdo it on both fronts and have a complete meltdown, but the weeks where I achieve a good balance are enormously rewarding.

Now let’s see how the dynamic changes as baby #2 gets bigger, and nap time ends. TWO TODDLERS COMPETING FOR ATTENTION? Get me the smelling salts, for I have collapsed.

“the little frog!! and the little girl!!”

Last week I sold my first short story to a professional SFF magazine! I’ll post more when it comes out in early 2018. For now, suffice to say: I’m super excited and want to get some momentum going! Since I’m in the baby dark zone and utterly failing to edit the novel I finished this spring, I’m churning out some short stories instead to join the other three I have on perpetual submission. The agent hunt is only temporarily on hold, till I’m getting just a BIT more sleep.

It’s time for another 7-year-old writer Sam flashback! I told you all about my first real narrative tale, “What Hapend March Ninth!!” Now let’s dip into the writing frenzy that followed as I became not just author, but illustrator as well. Here is one of my first staple-bound construction paper illustrated shorts. It’s pretty clear that I had only recently encountered commas and silent ‘e’s.  And, true to this day, nothing is worth saying if it isn’t worth saying with! an! exclamation mark!

Behold the adventures of a girl and her beloved pet frog, aptly titled:

frog1

The little frog!! and the little girl!!

frog2

There ones was a girle! the girle! ->

frog3

There ones was a girle frog!!! The frog!

frog4

The girl, met the frog. Hi! Hi!

frog5

The girl, took The frog home,

frog6

They played, and played, and played

frog7

The girle, got a pool for the frog! Yaa!

frog8

They swam together!

frog9

They did lots of fun things together, They were happy together, and They were happy They met, They were so, so, happy.

frog10

They were best friends, They told evry body that they noo, if they were not to far away. They went for trips together, They calked rocks together, big or little rocks.

frog11

One day it got cold so it was winter, togethe they made a snowman, withe the girles Mom!!!! Ice >

frog12

The End!