Dear Diary…talking and investigating (also what we’re bad at)

Alert: May contain spoilers for the module “The Village of Hommlet”

Well…we know what we’re good at, now.

Over dinner, Mikael told Raven about how Elmo’s armor is nicer than expected, and some of the suspicions he and Ezekiel had about that. (Elmo was too busy drinking to notice, I think.)

Ezekiel excused himself and went to visit the chapel of St. Cuthbert to ask the rector about the habits of bugbears (wish I could find the manual my Ranger Master gave me), while Raven and I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to have another member of the party, and we’d feel out some of the other potential adventurers in the inn.

Specifically Zrt (Zirt? Zyrt?), who Raven seemed to have a positive impression of…but I only vaguely remembered bumping into at the top of the stairs a few days ago.

We found him in his room…He’s waiting for a caravan to accompany to Divrs, but is willing to kill some monsters in the meantime.

Well…under certain circumstances.

The three of us talked a little bit, feeling each other out, and turns out he’s more focused on treasure than, ahem, public service. He says his deity is “eighteen inches of steel” and that for a monster-hunting, treasure-seeking adventure, he’ll settle for an equal share of the loot…but for a “trouble”-seeking, Evil-stomping mission, he wants fifty gold a day.

(Like we have that kind of money.)

We told him we’d confer with our party leader…but I don’t think he would mesh very well with Mr. “Worship-a-God-who-doesn’t-exist-’cause-it’s-the-right-thing-to-do-and-wander-the-Flannaes-for-Evil-to-defeat” Guy.

If you know what I mean.

Besides that, Raven is anything but blasé about his goddess (I’m pretty sure “praying and meditating” isn’t short-hand for “napping”). And as useful as a magic short sword and shield and bow and arrows all are, there are some predicaments nothing but the good grace of Ehlonna could get us out of.

So Zyrt is probably just as happy to find a party more geared toward his interests. It might have been awkward for all involved, but I’m glad we found that out.

Before I could say so, though, Raven announced he was going out to buy cheese, and left.

Mikael had apparently been talking with Elmo…but now Elmo had left, and Mikael said he was going to teach Nori some new tricks as he headed out the door.

I decided it was my turn to be the grown-up for once, and hired a room for Lydia for the night, and bunks for the rest of us. (I used the gold we got for selling the magic dwarf armor, since I figure that counts as “party funds.”)

When I was done helping Lydia carry her books up to the room (don’t let anyone tell you magic users are frail and delicate…no wonder she can’t wear armor when she’s got to lug those tomes around…although if it was me I might just jot some notes down to help my memory, or for the most important spells, and just bring that) anyway, when I returned to the common room, Ezekiel was in the corner with Elmo, having a chat. (And Elmo was having a jack of ale again.)

Ezekiel came over to me and told me, “We can trust him.”

Aaaall-righty, then. Perhaps Ezekiel pontificated at him – or maybe he finally got a “Detect Alignment” or something – but anyway that’s a weight off my mind.

Now I’ll only be suspicious because that’s what I do – not also because Ezekiel and Mikael have this big conspiracy they’re trying to uncover (and aren’t telling me about because they don’t want me to worry – like I would worry about something!).

Oh, also Ezekiel says that, according to Under-Priest Calmet (and the Master of the Grove, Brother Geru), bugbear chiefs have been known to keep the group’s treasure locked up in a central place to keep the other bugbears from getting uppity ideas.

So there goes another beautiful theory. I’m not one to question those higher level than I, but I can’t help wondering what the Cleric of Velnius was thinking of when he sent us after “Evil” here. I mean, the area is crawling with bugbears (and other nasties, apparently), but is there something more sinister going on?

Because the treasure-grubbing breed of adventurers seems perfectly capable of dealing with monstrous bandits.

And after all, the Cleric of Velnius was a long way away. Surely he wouldn’t have sent us halfway across the continent for nothing?

Maybe we’ll find out more in Nulb. We’ve bought more rations, so we’ll set out in the morning…with Elmo, again.

****

We got a good start, and the day was fine for walking.

We overtook a wagon caravan on the way through to Divrs, guarded against bandits by crossbowmen.

They were loaded down enough that we easily passed them, and continued down the Low Road.

Elmo obviously knows this area pretty well. As the sun was descending, he directed us to a campsite on a hilltop overlooking the road – and what I assume is the village of Nulb in the distance beyond a copse of trees.

A fire pit full of ashes indicates this is a popular spot for campers. I can see why, since it gives a good vantage of the surrounding grasslands…and the trees here will shelter us nicely from the wind.

On the opposite side from Nulb, we can see a large pile of rocks – almost a monument. Elmo says that’s the battlefield – Emridy Meadows – where the forces of Elemental Evil were defeated.

Hard to believe it was only nine years ago. Elmo doesn’t think his brother Ottis took part in the battle.

Alpheus would have been old enough, but I don’t think he made it over here to fight. He would have liked to, though…this battle turned the tide against the hordes of Evil, and allowed the lands of Good to enjoy what peace and quiet they now have.

The war isn’t over yet, obviously.

We’ll investigate in the morning…maybe we’ll finally find something out of place – something that will give us a direction to whatever the Cleric of Velnius felt was amiss…to whatever Brother Geru of the Druid Grove says is “disrupting the balance.”

As I was examining our campsite for any signs of bugbears, I found a hollowed-out stump. I showed it to Raven (since he had been talking about finding a place to hide his stuff before we went into Nulb) and he put the horsey dagger there that he bought in Veluna.

(He says he wants to give it to the Tzigane boy if we every meet them again.)

Ezekiel is taking first watch, kneeling a little ways from the fire, praying.

He doesn’t show it, but I know he gets tired of never getting an answer. I’m sure sometimes it feels like talking to himself…

****

Right after breakfast, we investigated the huge rock pile by the site of the battle.

It’s got to be fifteen or twenty feet tall, and made of boulders – some as big as my head.

Even after all this time, the ground underneath it looks dead and shriveled, as though by fire. Elmo tells us this is where they burned the bodies of the Evil Creatures after the battle.

We circled the pile a few times, but nothing seemed disturbed. Nothing that would indicate it was anything but the memorial of an old battle.

Nothing that would point to something Evil and Sinister crawling out of it, or disturbing the rest of the abominations burned to ash underneath.

No leads. Nothing.

So…we head for Nulb.


Find the previous entry here.

Read the start of the adventure of Hommlet here.

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Dear Diary…math and talking (what we’re bad at)

Alert: May contain spoilers for the module “The Village of Hommlet”

Ezekiel and Mikael got some branches to make a stretcher for the chest of coins – since otherwise none of us are carrying it.

Meanwhile, Elmo sharpened some sticks and made a barricade across the opening of the bugbears’ cave. Obviously this isn’t his first rodeo.

Ezekiel asked Elmo over supper about the nice dagger he used to kill the bugbear chief. Elmo says it was a present from his brother Ottis.

Ottis is a man-at-arms, and was hired by a “gentleman” a while back – somewhere not in town.

It’s good to have an older brother you can look up to.

****

Lydia has a spell that makes people stronger – for three hours, at least. She cast it on Mikael so he could help Elmo carry the stretcher with the chest…

When he got tired, Raven took a turn – but Elmo still felt fine.

We made pretty good time, and reached Hommlet shortly before noon.

As we were walking along, Mikael cast some kind of spell, and then he and Ezekiel had a conversation at the rear of the group.

I thought they were getting up to something…then Ezekiel called me over and told me that Elmo’s axe, chainmail, dagger, and shield were all magical. He said that Mikael even thought the axe was a different one than the one we’d bought him.

So maybe that’s what the two of them have been muttering about all this time.

Ezekiel went up to Elmo and asked him how his armor and weapons became magical.

Elmo gave a “well, I’ll be” face, and said he didn’t know.

So Ezekiel took Mikael (and Nori of course) with him to go talk to Elmo’s parents about this mysterious magic armor (since the axe and chainmail we bought for him probably weren’t magical…) while the rest of us went to the money-changer’s to convert our wealth.

Ah…math. That thing we hate.

Between me, Raven, Lydia, and Elmo, I think we got a pretty square deal. The money-changer (Nyra Meddles is his name) helped us count up exactly what we got off the bugbears…and it came to more than I was anticipating.

So maybe Raven’s complaints about his back are warranted, after lugging that chest all this way.

We converted the copper coins – and as much of the silver as Mr. Meddles had on hand – because gold coins are more compact for carrying. There was still quite a pile of electrum pieces…not to mention the gold coins we found in the chest (Mr. Meddles pointed out that some of those coins were minted in Greyhawk…so I guess our bugbears had robbed some long-distance travelers).

After his fee (which was higher than I expected, but it’s not like we’re going to take our business elsewhere – and I suppose he earned it for doing all the counting and calculations) we ended with:

291 gold

1157 electrum

and 18 copper left over

Elmo had a handy sack for carrying away our booty – which was good, because the latch on the chest was pretty useless, and the lid had trouble staying closed after being wrenched open and carried all this way and what-not.

On the way, we had talked about ways to hide our treasure in Hommlet while we return to Nulb (including having Mikael put a Fire Trap on a chest – a new chest, presumably – and having Raven fake a trap on the chest to scare away any potential thieves) but now that it’s been reduced in size and weight, I don’t think that will be a problem.

The money doesn’t quite divide equally between six people (Nori doesn’t count for a share), but I used my leadership skills and decided we could use the extra to buy everybody a “team victory” dinner at the Welcome Wench.

Ezekiel and Mikael (and Nori) joined us shortly after we reached the inn, so we sat down to something worthy of a victory dinner (even though we only defeated a hideout of bugbears).

Elmo is already spending some of his share on ale.

I don’t know about that guy.

Ezekiel and Mikael haven’t told us what they learned from his parents…

But what are you going to do? We would have come out a lot worse without Elmo’s muscle.

Father used to say, “You can’t go through your whole life mistrusting everyone. Sometime, somewhere, you’ve got to trust someone…just choose carefully.”

Yeah, well, I guarantee Bartholomew and Clarance never dared stick a miniature scilithid in Father’s bed. Or teach him to swim by dropping him off the bridge into the river. Or drop a snake down his shirt when some girls are walking by.

If it weren’t for Alpheus, I might have grown up into a conspiratorial paranoiac with trust issues. Just imagine that.


To read the previous entry, click here.

Read the next entry here.

To read the start of the adventure in Hommlet, click here.

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Chapter 1—Ralph Roister-Doister Meets Zombies

November is National Novel Writers’ Month…better known as NaNoWriMo!

The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days…but this year, instead of writing one cohesive novel, my dad, brother, and I are writing 30ish scenes from different story ideas. Or as we like to call it, Thirty “First Chapters”. (Keep track of my progress on my profile here.)

Here’s what I wrote yesterday. Can you imagine the story that might follow it? What twists might be in store?


Chapter 1—Ralph Royster-Doyster Meets Zombies — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

Ralph ran.

High school was bad enough – what with grades, and college applications, and girls that didn’t like you, and friends who were all trying to figure it out at the same time – but now things were chaos.

The Algebra 1 teacher – plus a bunch of freshmen – had charged into the cafeteria and started biting people. Mr. Morgan of the History department and Ms. Chambers of Social Studies had barricaded a bunch of students into the auditorium until the police could show up…but Ralph was not one of those students.

He’d just missed the closing of the doors, screamed while they piled chairs and tables on the other side, and then kept running as the crowd of bleeding, howling students charged down the hall.

His phone had been in his locker, so he couldn’t even call his mom to come pick him up…or to tell her to stay far away!

Ralph’s dad would be at the office, but that was all the way downtown…could he even get there without a car?

One or two of the crazies in the cafeteria had been strangers…just where was this coming from? How big was this? Would he be safe downtown? Or should he head into the suburbs, where there wouldn’t be so many people?

Ralph dropped to a seat on a curb, wheezing. So this was what came of joining the choir club, not the football team. He’d thought he would just avoid getting crushed by those crazy three-hundred-pound tackle-guys.

Apparently he was going to have a heart attack and die being chewed on by crazies.

A howl came up the street.

Ralph shivered and jumped up. Two white-eyed figures were stumbling up the street — the first one had blood streaming from a bite wound on her neck. The second had torn clothes, and no left arm.

Fighting the urge to hurl, Ralph got back to running.

The neighborhood around his high school was really nice. Some of these houses had wrought iron fences around them, and gates on the front doors and good alarms systems.

Finding a low curb that ran underneath one of the fences, he grabbed the top rung and levered himself up.

There was nothing for his feet to catch on. As he scrabbled at the vertical iron bars, more howls came from two different directions. He didn’t dare look for the freaky creatures who would be coming.

Ralph’s sneaker slid on the metal, then lodged between two bars. Great…now he was stuck half-way up a fence, and being hunted by crazy zombie-freaks!

“Thank goodness, man.”

Ralph twisted his head to look around, trying not to impale himself on the fence.

Grant (his lab partner in fourth period Chemistry) dashed up and grabbed his stuck foot.

“What are you doing here?” gasped Ralph.

“Great minds think alike, buddy. Inside the fence is better than outside.”

Grant grabbed both Ralph’s feet and shoved upward. Now with more leverage, Ralph could swing himself up until he was balanced on top of the fence.

He shoved one foot onto the support bar that topped the fence – then the other foot.

“Come on,” he said, putting one hand down. He tightened his grip on the ironwork. “Don’t get stabbed on the spikes, okay?”

Grant took his hand, grabbed the top of the fence with his other hand, and jumped.

Ralph hauled upward – Grant’s foot found the top support bar – and they both jumped clear on the inside of the fence.

As they rolled in the grass, groaning, a thunder of footsteps came up the sidewalk.

White-eyed crazies – at least five of them – pounded on the fence, moaning and howling. Their arms started to bleed as they shoved them through the rough metal bars…but they didn’t seem to notice at all. In fact, their blood hardly seemed to run —

“Let’s get out of here,” said Grant.

They both scrambled to their feet and headed for the house.

Ralph found it impossible to run, now – and it seemed Grant had the same problem. They staggered along in a half-jog, panting.

As they came to the front of the house, Ralph glanced up the driveway.

“Well, I feel stupid now,” he said. “The gate’s open.”

“Shoot,” said Grant. “You go close it while I try to alert the people at home.”

The last thing Ralph wanted to do was to near the street again…but with the gate standing open like that, the fence wasn’t doing much good. Besides, all the zombies seemed clustered where he and Grant had jumped the fence…so hopefully it wouldn’t be too dangerous.

He trotted down the driveway and grabbed the big rolling gate to push it closed.

It wouldn’t budge.

Breathing heavily, Ralph looked over the mechanism. Maybe there was a button to close it automatically? Maybe if he pushed a little harder…?

He braced his foot against a bar of the fence and shoved. Nothing happened. He shifted his leverage, readjusting his weight, and shoved again.

Nothing.

He ran to the other side of the gate. There didn’t seem to be any button or control box there, either.

And there were some staggering figures on the corner that looked like they might be zombies…and he sure didn’t want to attract their attention.

Ralph snuck back to the front door, staying low and moving as quickly as he could.

“It’s got an automatic mechanism,” he said as he came up to Grant. “And I can’t budge it.”

“Well, no one’s answering the door,” said Grant. “So we’ve got to do something.”

“If we can call my dad and tell him where we are, he can come get us,” said Ralph. “Let’s try to find a phone.”

“Yeah…so much for not having phones in class,” said Grant. “This is exactly why we should always have them on us.”

“I don’t think our teachers expected this to ever happen,” mumbled Ralph as they started walking around the house.

They found a side door — inside they could see a kitchen, but it was locked, and no one answered their pounding.

Along the back side of the house were steps that led to a second-story balcony. They climbed the steps and looked for a door that wasn’t locked.

The second door they tried opened into a bedroom. A four-poster bed with pink covers and curtains stood along one side, while a pink vanity covered with lacy, rhinestone-crusted little boxes stood opposite it.

A white wardrobe stood near the bed – the sort of thing Ralph’s mom might call an “armoire.”

“There’s a phone,” said Ralph. “I’ll call my dad. We’d better find if there’s anybody else here and warn them.”

“Yeah – with that gate open, it won’t be long until they’re invaded,” said Grant, and headed for the door.

Ralph dialed his dad’s office…but no one answered. He called home…but no one answered there, either.

He tried his mom’s cell phone…but she was always forgetting to charge it, or leaving it in weird places, or sending it through the washing machine…

He dialed his dad’s cell phone. Dad’s cell number was only for emergencies, since he might be in a meeting or something –

No one answered that number, either.

Ralph swallowed. He twisted the handset in his hands for a moment. The calls were going through – so it wasn’t this phone, or the phone lines, that were bad.

He went to dial 9-1-1.

Shrill voices came down the hall. The bedroom door burst open, and Grant staggered into the room – followed by a grey-haired lady in a little black-and-white maid’s outfit.

Did people really still wear those things? Well, apparently so –

“Out!” shrilled the old maid, smacking Grant with a feather duster. “Youngsters! That’s the trouble with the world these days –”

“But there are crazies out there!” yelped Ralph. “Zombies and monsters! They tore up our school, and I can’t get a hold of my parents, and –”

“You’re no better than burglars,” snapped a young woman, also in a maid’s outfit, coming into the room. “You should be grateful I’m not calling the police on you.”

“I wish you would!” said Ralph. “In fact, I’m calling the police right now! We need help. In fact, you need to close your gate right now –!”

“Oh, we’ll close the gate. As soon as we march you ruffians off the premises.”

Whack! Grant got another blow from the feather duster.

“You’re crazy,” said Ralph. “You can’t be serious. There are man-eating, howling zombie-beasts out there, and you’re going to –”

The young maid flourished a short-handled broom and swung it.

“Ow,” wailed Ralph, cradling his ear.

“We might be safer out there, man,” panted Grant, ducking another swing from the feather duster and heading for the door to the balcony.

“Are you out of your mind?” cried Ralph, covering his head with his arms as he followed. “They’re biting people out there! One guy lost an arm. Mr. Hernandez was straight-up chewing that girl’s face off.”

Smack! The broom caught him across the shoulders, and he jumped with a yelp.

“Move faster, you little hooligan,” said the old maid.

Grant and Ralph ducked out onto the balcony and started toward the steps they came up – pursued by the two maids.

As they made their way down the steps, a moaning and banging came from the front of the house.

Grant and Ralph exchanged the curse word they knew – they howled as the two maids beaned them on the heads.

“They found their way through the gate,” whimpered Ralph.

“We have to get inside fast!” panted Grant.

“Nice try, little imps,” said the old maid. “I know your type. If it was up to me, I’d give you a –”

They never found out what she would give them. It was drowned out by the howling as a group of the crazies rounded the corner of the house and spotted them.

The crowd (herd? pack?) surged forward and up the steps.

Grant and Ralph spun around and charged up the stairs, taking the maids with them.

Everything was banging elbows, stomping feet, clawing, pounding from the broomstick, and the sharp, fiery pain of human teeth.

Ralph broke free of the tangle and ran. He yanked a door open and kept running.

He charged through the bedroom, down a hall, and into a closet. Someone (or something) was following him, clinging to him as his leg smarted – but he slammed the closet door on it until it let go.

Shaking in his hands, his legs, and everywhere, he twisted the doorknob and leaned backward to hold it closed.

Screams, thumps, and bangs came from outside. Maybe the two Maids from Hell were beating the tar out of the crazies. Maybe Grant had made it inside, and was looking for a hiding place, too.

Ralph remembered the auditorium. He remembered the door slammed in his face, and the rattle and crash of furniture piling up against him.

A weight fell against the closet door, and a howl shook the wood paneling and the cold metal knob under Ralph’s hands.

He choked on a swallow and braced himself against the doorframe…determined to let nothing in.

Nothing at all.

He had no way to measure time in the pitch blackness. Finally, the screams died down. Even the clomping of feet and moans died down.

Crashes sounded in the distance, and then those went away, as well. Sirens wailed on the edge of hearing.

Ralph’s leg throbbed, and his shoulders and arms ached. One wrist stung. He couldn’t stay here forever.

Easing the door open a crack, he snuck a peek at the corridor.

A patch of blood stained the carpet, but that was all.

Good thing the carpet was pink. Maybe it would clean up okay.

Ralph opened the door the rest of the way and tip-toed forward. Pain flared in his calf, and he crouched to examine it.

The light from the windows was a rosy purple. What time was it? Where was everyone?

He dragged his pant-leg up and twisted to see his leg.

Clear, bloody teeth marks showed in his calf – already swollen and red. He’d better get that cleaned and wrapped up.

There was another bite on his forearm. That one didn’t look as deep, but there was more blood because the attacker had scraped a bunch of skin off.

Ralph held his breath to fight the urge to puke, and limped down the hall, looking for a bathroom.

He found one a few doors down, and slipped inside.

It was empty of people, too – like the rest of the house – and he washed his wounds and wrapped them in some towels he found. He tied the towels down with ace bandages, then ventured out into the house again.

Coming to the bedroom, he looked around. The glass doors had been smashed, and the vanity had been knocked over. He went to the phone, but it had been ripped out of the wall.

He tip-toed onto the balcony to see if anyone was nearby.

For all the blood and…ick…around, there were no bodies.

Well, there was one figure in the yard below. It wore a torn maid’s dress, and wandered back and forth between a couple trees…moaning softly.

The sun was setting behind the trees, and dusk was gathering under the leaves.

Ralph stepped backward into the house.

Someone was coming down the hallway.

Stomach twisting, Ralph knelt behind the bed – his injuries smarting as he did so.

Someone stumbled into the room – Grant.

Before Ralph could get his name to his lips, he saw the bite marks covering Grant’s arms…and the blood streaming from his missing ear.

Grant looked at him — his eyes were white and glassy and empty.

Grant snarled and lurched forward, arms out to grab.

Ralph snatched the first thing his hands found – it was the short-handled broom – and smacked Grant in the face.

Grant growled and lunged again.

Ralph jabbed him in the stomach, then in the mouth, then kicked him in the chest so that Grant sprawled backward onto the floor.

Ralph jumped onto the bed, then grabbed the top of the armoire. He couldn’t quite get on top of it – but his weight unbalanced it, and it started to tip.

As Grant was howling and trying to get up, Ralph leaped off the top of the armoire, falling onto the bed.

As he bounced gently on the overstuffed mattress, the armoire crashed onto the top of Grant.

Grant squirmed and growled, wiggling to try to get free.

Ralph got off the bed on the opposite side, and headed for the door to the hall.

There had to be a car here somewhere – and keys. Even if he hadn’t passed driver’s ed yet, he was in no condition to be walking the streets.

Why wasn’t he like the others? Why hadn’t his bites make him crazy?

Maybe he wasn’t injured badly enough? Maybe he would turn when he died? But all the zombie books said that when you got bit, you turned…either in about five minutes, or at least in a week or two.

He shivered. He didn’t want to end up like that. No one did.

But as long as he was still himself, and didn’t feel a hungering for human flesh or anything weird like that, he would try to stay alive.

As he crept through the darkened house, searching for the attached garage it surely had, he thought back to that morning, when his only worry was the Spanish test.

Which he’d probably missed by several hours.

So he was going to die and flunk Spanish. Great.


Chapter 1—Ralph Royster-Doyster Meets Zombies — Kimia WoodKimia Wood currently lives somewhere in the American Midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

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Dear Diary…things get bug(bear)gy

Alert: May contain spoilers for the module “The Village of Hommlet”

And people wonder why my nerves are like this.

I hadn’t been on watch for very long when a weapon came out of nowhere and just missed my head. I “roused” my party (with a yelp) and we jumped up to fight six bugbears – huge, lumbering, and almost silent! (So you see, it wasn’t my fault…they kept to the shadows and made about as much noise as Kelsier or Raven does.)

Lydia cast a spell on herself (I think she said it was Protection from Evil) while Mikael charged a bugbear and tackled it to the ground (I assume he meant to do that).

Elmo yelled, “Die, Bugbear!” and chopped one in two with his axe.

We did pretty well for ourselves (it was good being able to put some of my Ranger training into action) with Ezekiel soaking up a lot of the punishment (as usual).

Elmo said, “Go protect witch, priest-man!”

I snuck a glance at Lydia, but she looked all right – in fact, she was waving fire around on the end of her finger.

Nori dropped a few with one bite (poison is why all spiders should be on our side) and Raven kicked the head off another.

When it was all over, Elmo hurried to look over Ezekiel’s wounds, while I tied a bandage or two on Mikael. With the immediate blood-loss dealt with, Mikael took his time to cast Cure Light Wounds on the two of them (which is why Cleric spells are very handy).

Elmo and I search the enemies, but didn’t find anything worthwhile. Bugbears aren’t much for manufacture, so their armor is all bits and pieces they’ve stolen from other people.

Elmo was quite upset, and insisted bugbears are big bandits, and always have loot on them. He asked Lydia if she was an elf girl – but she’s not, so she can’t help us see in the dark. (I suppose he hasn’t seen her without her face-wrap.)

Ezekiel supposed that someone is ordering the bugbears around, then took Mikael aside for a conference.

I think they’re up to something.

Mikael’s healing spells really helped, and everyone is settling down for the rest of the night. Well, except for Ezekiel, who’s kneeling a little distance away to pray.

I wonder if his Deity will take an interest in this little adventure…He seems to be in favor of defeating Evil, but is it a big enough matter for His notice?

We’ll have to see.

****

I turned over my watch to Elmo, and woke to the smells of breakfast.

Once we were packed up, I took Raven and we went ahead of the others to follow the trail of the bugbears back to their “fortress” (Elmo is convinced their treasure will be there. He also tried to be part of the advance force, not understanding the idea of “quiet” and “sneaky” (I’m wearing magic boots, after all, and Raven is Raven).)

The bugbears hadn’t make any effort to cover their tracks, and they certainly have big feet. It didn’t take long at all to find their base – a cave in the side of the hill.

The others hung back while Raven and I crept up to the cave mouth. It was pretty dark in there, but we noticed the three bugbears about the same time they noticed us.

I gave a sharp whistle for our friends outside (not thinking that any other bugbears in the cave would hear sounds of battle as readily as our party would).

I dropped my sword on my first swing – and got a nick for it. But I’m not the only one, because Raven apparently didn’t calculate the weight of a bugbear properly and knocked himself off balance on his first attack.

Elmo rushed into the cave, shouting, and moments later the bugbears started to glow with the magical outline of Mikael’s Faery Fire.

Nori dropped onto an enemy’s head and took him down with one bite. Ezekiel charged and swung his mace so hard a piece of the bugbear’s patchwork armor flew clear off.

As we were finishing off the others, a new bugbear ran up and swung at Nori – but Elmo took it down with one cleave.

Apparently battle axes are very nice. That, or he’s really strong.

The cave forked in two. Ezekiel and I shone our magic shields of light down the passages (Elmo’s suggestion. He’s kinda pushy when it comes to this adventuring thing).

Bones littered the floor – along with other trash I couldn’t even identify (and probably wouldn’t want to).

The left fork was a dead end, so we headed down the right fork – Elmo and me in front, spell-casters in the middle.

When we came to a larger opening, we paused. (Elmo held up his hand and told us to wait – but I’m kind of holding a shield as bright as the sun. It’s not like we’re going to sneak up to them in a cave.)

A club came whistling through the darkness and clocked Ezekiel…and then battle was joined.

I’m sure glad we healed up after last night’s fight. I’m also glad bugbears don’t do well against poison…Go Nori!

Mikael cast Faery Fire, and I caught sight of a truly massive bugbear lumbering toward us.

Ezekiel bashed a bugbear so hard my teeth rattled. Elmo clove with his axe left and right. Raven twirled around making monk-y sounds.

Mikael smacked a bugbear so hard it staggered back out of range (he always calls it “poke of the wind”, but I guess that time he meant it!).

Elmo drew a dagger and threw it, nailing the last bugbear. (I guess he hadn’t heard that that’s Raven’s trick.)

While I was examining the walls, to make sure we’d got all the enemies, Elmo searched the bugbear chief and found a little pouch with three stones I can only assume are gemstones.

He still wasn’t satisfied though…until we searched the rest of the cave and found a small chest tucked in a corner.

We were trying to figure out whether it was trapped, and how to open in, when Elmo stepped forward and popped the lid open with his axe.

(Remind me to stand back if he opens any doors.)

The chest held thousands of coins – mostly silver or copper, but a few higher quality, too.

Elmo insists that bugbears usually carry their treasure around with them…so for them to stockpile it around in chests is unusual.

Ezekiel thinks they were getting ready to ship it to someone…meaning there’s someone the bugbears are afraid of.

We all agreed we probably shouldn’t take this chest into Nulb, so after resting tonight we’ll head back to town (Hommlet) to deposit it.

Thank goodness we’re camping at the mouth of the cave. The smell reminds me of goblins, and I hate goblins.

Bugbears are smarter than goblins, of course. Just…something here isn’t right.

(By the way, it’s so nice not being trashed by a single wounded goblin. Growing up sure does help.)


To read the previous entry, click here.

To read the next entry, click here.

Read the start of the Hommlet adventure here.

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“Wedding Score” by Amanda Tero

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood Stephanie – and her author Ms. Tero – are both single Christian girls inching toward thirty. I am also a single Christian girl inching toward thirty.

This short novella is all about the unique (or not so unique) struggles that we loners face when we have no one but God to depend on…and He doesn’t have physical arms to lean on.

I was super excited for this book from the moment I first heard about it in the author’s newsletter. After all, Christian singleness is a topic I’ve blogged about a time or two, and I’m still traveling the wave of acceptance-to-desperation-to-resignation-to-panic-to-acceptance…

By Single Gals, For Single Gals

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia WoodMs. Tero has me by a year or two, but we’re both still waiting for our Prince Charming…and at times we’re not even sure he’ll ever show up.

But that’s okay. At least, it should be okay, if we affirm that God is the only one we’ll ever really need, and that His arms are big enough to carry us through anything life throws at us…even lifelong lone-ranger-ing.

But – focus on the story!

Stephanie is a relatable protagonist. To the point you might feel Ms. Tero snagged your own characteristics, changed a few particulars to deflect suspicion (for instance, I’m not a musician), and put you full-bodied into her work.

Stephanie is a conservative Christian young lady (wears denim skirts and everything!) and while I don’t think it’s spelled out, you can easily guess she was homeschooled (come on – denim skirt!). She’s also well connected to her church, reads her Bible faithfully, and has a large, loving extended family.

And, just like the rest of us (ahem), she gets hit with a debilitating case of “loner syndrome”.

Christian Religious Inspirational…

Writing about spiritual issues is a ticklish business. It’s so very easy to stray into preachiness, sticky-toffee sugar-coating, awkward marionette-plotting, literal Deus-ex-machina, pat answers to complex questions –

Ms. Tebo’s writing, however, rings authentic – probably because she supplied the text of Stephanie’s devotions from her own personal devotions. The trouble with a story is that we know it’s a story, and therefore that an author crafted it for a deliberate reason. By allowing herself to be vulnerable, and share her own struggle with singleness, Ms. Tebo allowed Stephanie’s journey to be as realistic as possible.

It also helped that the book description and marketing made it obvious this book would tackle religious issues. It wasn’t, for example, pretending to be a murder mystery (AHEM). Everyone who picks up this book will be expecting a Christian exploration of the struggle of singleness…and they won’t be disappointed.

Happily Ever After

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia WoodEven before I received my early-access copy of Wedding Score, I knew the ending would be a deal-breaker. After all, when you’re writing a fictional story, you are the “god” of the story world, and can give your characters any ending you want!

It would be too easy for a sick-with-loneliness author to hit all her characters with the “hunky Mr. Right” wand. But that kind of ending would be the last thing a Christian single struggling to be faithful would need. And, that kind of ending would in some ways negate the whole point of the story.

Ms. Tebo escapes that simplistic solution! After wrestling through the entire book with leaning solely on God, Stephanie isn’t “rewarded” with a flesh-and-blood man to hold her hand. No, she still has to depend on God – even while her friends are still getting married all around her! – but the work of His Spirit in her heart has brought a change.

And that is what we have to hold on to, fellow loners! Cling to the knowledge that no matter what – even if we never get to wear that dress or have our own kids – God will be right by our side and we will be “sons and daughters” to Him.

Not Alone

So what else can this book teach you, other than that God is faithful and will be all you need?

That you’re not alone!

Yes, maybe you don’t have your own little nest, but there’s still extended family, church family, and all the other single Christians who are going through the exact same thing you are! Maybe they’re in a different “stage” of singleness than you are, but you can bet they’re bouncing on the wave just the same (unless through the grace of Jesus they’ve arrived, in which case NOT FAIR).

Cry. Laugh. Tell us about your struggles. On the bad days, come for hugs. On the good days, dish out hugs – ’cause we need them!

Somewhere, someone has walked the exact same path as you. And for me at least, that makes the wilderness a little less lonely.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free ARC from the author as part of the book launch. I was not required to write a review of any kind, and all opinions are my own (imagine me being vocal about my opinions!)."Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood


Check out my interview with the author!

Wedding Score releases this week!
You can add it on Goodreads, then find it on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, or as a signed paperback from the author!

Check out the author’s official website at AmandaTero.com.

One Christian Single and the Story God Used

This week Amanda Tero published her novella Wedding Score…the story of a pianist wrestling with God over still being single.

This story really spoke to where I am right now, and I’m so glad the author wrote a guest post to share with us where the story came from, and what God has brought her through—


Left Behind: What About the Christian Singles?

It was 2016. I was 25 in a family with seven children over the age twenty and no one married. One night, I jotted down a few lines of an idea.

“This makes wedding number what that you’ve played for?”

Ruth looked at Uncle Charlie with a grin. “I haven’t counted them all—but my sixth this year.”

“When will it be your turn to walk to the chorus, not play it, right?” He gave me a friendly nudge.

Ruth shrugged, another easy smile gracing her lips. “I really don’t know. Still waiting on the Lord’s timing for me.” Her pat answer that came with ease.

I was really passionate about the idea: one of a single girl who helped with weddings yet was still single (and yes, her name changed since then). A few times, I even tried to brainstorm ideas and get the story going, but it just didn’t happen. Instead, God let the story sit and simmer as, in the three years following, four of my siblings and several cousins married and started their own families. We had always teased that “once one Tero gets married, they’re all going to get married.” We never really thought it would happen quite like that.

Though weddings are a beautiful thing, anyone who has had a sibling or close friend marry knows that it can also be tumultuous as you experience shifting relationships in the midst of emotional change. I will openly admit that there were times I was tempted to bitterness and resentment—not because my life wasn’t changing and others’ was (because, for the most part, I really was okay with that), but because others didn’t realize that they were leaving me “behind.”

The original idea didn’t have a Caiden and Livvy. But after I lived through more of this “singleness stuff,” I realized that often what made things doable as a single was because I wasn’t alone as a single. My best friends were also single. But when they got new best friends and I didn’t have anyone to replace them, I was a little lost. Even though I wanted them to be best friends with their fiancé/fiancée and knew they should be, it affected me far more than I ever thought it would (I’ve often teased that instead of all these courtship and dating books, someone needs to write one for the siblings of these couples—because we need a manual too).

In addition to that, I can’t neglect THE “singleness struggle.” Wanting to be married and have a family, and it’s just not happening. Like Stephanie, my single years have been somewhat smooth. But there is something about having those closest to you get in relationships that make you want that “best friend” who never leaves and never moves on to a new best friend. Like I cover in Wedding Score, I believe it is a God-given desire—but it is also a desire for His perfect timing. Yes, I went through some really raw moments yearning for that “special someone” in my life with no one on the horizon. In those seasons, Psalm 37 became my lifeline (just like it did Stephanie’s). Because I know that God’s plan is perfect, even though I don’t always understand it.

There were some very difficult weeks and months to live through. Something I really didn’t want to live through (but, when do we ever want to live through trials?). But God has graciously taught me so many lessons about living as a single in the midst of a bunch of married couples—and being joyfully content in it all. I could never have written this book in 2016—it would have been so shallow. And I couldn’t have written it in 2017 or 2018—the feelings were still too raw as I was figuring out a new dimension of single living. But 2019… I wasn’t even planning on writing Wedding Score. I had just finished Protecting the Poor and was glancing through my ideas lists when… it was just perfect timing. So much so, that to-date, Wedding Score is the quickest written-edited-released novella I have (especially considering a crazy busy life). I’m honestly sitting here in awe, because it’s all God. He gave me the original idea but it had to live through life experiences before coming to completion.

Have I finished living through the struggles? No. I know they’ll come in waves again. But I know that the God Who helped me through the last three years will help me through the next three… and the next three… and all the years after that. Knowing that, I can look at this whole experience with a heart full of gratitude. God has taken my struggles and made them into something beautiful that encourages others and points others to Him. Wow. I am totally in awe of His work.


You Are NOT Alone!

Sometimes the most encouraging news we can hear is that we’re not alone in this wilderness! That’s something I’ve gleaned from getting to know the “old maid” ladies in my church — that God was faithful in their lives, and even now that they’re old He has not abandoned them…perhaps He will not abandon me, either!

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out Amanda’s book at your favorite retailer…or head to her blog to enter a giveaway (expires 11/02/19)!

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Kobo | Signed paperback

Dear Diary…we gear up

Alert: May contain spoilers for the module “The Village of Hommlet”

No one seems to have been kidnapped during the night, so that’s good.

This morning coming out of the dormitory, we met yet another fighter (whose name I forget) who says he’s waiting for a caravan heading south to the Wild Coast, so he can accompany it.

This place seems to be a decent trade route, as well as a hopping place for monster-killing.

After some discussion, we decided that Raven and Lydia would head to the general store and buy some rations, while the rest of us go talk to the village elder about “evil goings-on.” (I’m still not sure about our methodology, but at least it’s better than randomly provoking people to attack us…)

As we were leaving, we ran into Elmo again – arriving for his first ale of the day.

The elder lives in a well-to-do house with a defensible stone wall. The gate was open, so we went up to the door and knocked.

Nori wanted to “play” with the horses in the yard, I think, but Mikael told her to stay by us.

The elder is an older man, and seems pleasant enough. He greeted Mikael specially (being “old faith” himself), and offered us something to drink.

Ezekiel explained why we’d been sent, and asked for advice.

The elder explained that he knew Cannoness Eday had “left,” and that Canon Turjon had come to replace her…but he hadn’t heard any rumor of foul play.

He advised us not to stay the night in Nulb, and warned us that the High Road ate adventurers…few who go that way have come back. The Low Road to Nulb is longer, winding through the hills, but it’s safer for those going through Nulb to Sabanwich.

Mikael talked about what Druid Ashstaff said – about things being “out of balance” (which is a very Druid thing to say, of course).

The elder advised us to follow the druid’s advice and listen to his warnings…he also told us we’d do well to gather some more party members before setting out.

Ezekiel asked for a recommendation – that, or he just happened to mention that we’d been approached by several potential adventurers, including Elmo – and the elder said that, oh, yes, Elmo was a steady fellow – he was too stupid to be devious.

When we took our leave, Ezekiel decided we should bring Elmo on before heading out on the Low Road, so he and Mikael went to find him (probably watering himself in the Welcome Wench) while I wait in the road for Raven and Lydia (since we agreed we’d all meet up in front of the elder’s house).

Hope Ezekiel’s right about this. It’s so hard to judge someone’s character just at a glance…especially if you aren’t a Paladin.

**

Raven and Lydia met me with a big bag of rations. They figure it’s about three days’ journey to Nulb, so they got a week’s worth of food for each of us. (They had to barter for it, and Raven tells me Lydia was pretty sharp. Also, they didn’t have tabasco sauce. Raven will just have to rough it.)

I told them what Ezekiel was up to while we divvied up the supplies. We should have enough extra for Elmo, and if worst comes to worst I know how to skin rabbits.

After hanging around for a bit, the other three (four counting Nori) came down the road – including Elmo carrying a big battle-axe.

Ezekiel told us Elmo wanted gold for ale, a chainmail shirt, this axe, and a fair share of treasure for adventuring with us. Unfortunately, the shopkeeper charged more than Ezekiel had for a chain shirt, there’s no other place in town to get one, and Elmo wasn’t budging on that requirement.

While digging in the bag of holding to see what treasure we had left over, I discovered the dwarf-sized magic chainmail we got from Durglower. I forgot I was still hauling that around!

Ezekiel will go with Lydia and Elmo to try trading it for Elmo-sized chainmail while the rest of us go have lunch at the inn. Might as well, since the day is getting on, and it looks like we won’t get the early start we thought we would.

**

Apparently Elmo’s a good barterer, too, because we not only got a bigger chainmail shirt, but also 70 gold pieces for Durglower’s armor!

Elmo had to run home and show his mom. (I did ask him, didn’t he have a chainmail shirt before? but he said, “It broke.”) She told him to “be careful,” and then we were finally on the road.

We didn’t get as far as we could have, but we made pretty good time especially with Lydia having to carry all her books, and having shorter legs than most of us (except maybe me).

So far so good. Ezekiel says he’ll take first watch. I’ll take second. Elmo volunteered for third, but Ezekiel asked Mikael to take it.

Ezekiel and Mikael are talking on the other side of the fire. I have a bad feeling about something.

Maybe there really is an “imbalance” in the air.

I’ll sleep up against this tree.


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“Talk to the Hand” by Lynne Truss

Talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening!

How rude!

Well, you know what you can effing do!

Is everyone around you shockingly rude? Do you find yourself dissed by shop clerks?…given the run-around by customer service phone trees?…pelted with garbage by faceless, uncaring litterers?

Lynne Truss’ Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door will comfort you that at least you’re not the only one exasperated…and perhaps challenge you that there is something we can do about it. Continue reading

Dear Diary…we try a new approach

Alert: May contain spoilers for “The Village of Hommlet”

Lydia has been wearing Bakluni face-wraps while traveling. It draws less attention than her face, so I have to applaud her for that.

The last leg of the trip has been pretty quiet. We did meet a caravan of cargo wagons on the road…they told us that “oh, yes, Hommlet is Old Faith” and exchanged pleasantries. They’re passing through all the way to Dyvers.

Lots of gnomes in these hills. They wear different fashions than those in the Starkmounds, but so far they’ve been very hospitable.

****

Met a strange old man on the road today. He sat on the crest of a hill, and looked like a weathered herdsman except we didn’t see any flock.

Ezekiel (naturally) greeted him, and asked if we were on the road to Hommlet.

The man answered that one direction was Hommlet, but the other way was Verbobank. (So…like my brother Snarkin.)

He turned down Ezekiel’s offer that we accompany him, but asked us to “be kind” to any of his flock that we found in Hommlet.

I don’t trust it.

We’re staying outside a gnomish inn tonight, and according to the map we should reach Hommlet early tomorrow. We talked a little bit about what our approach should be, but I think we’re just going to see how things come. After all, our investigative technique in Orlane wasn’t that impressive.

Ezekiel agrees we should try to see if we can resolve this problem without killing any townsfolk.

****

When we first arrived in Hommlet, we passed a little farmhouse where a woman and some dogs came out to greet us.

Raven talked to the dogs for a moment, and told us they were a little worried about Nori.

The woman suggested we go to “The Welcome Wench” for hospitality, and shortly afterward a man who seemed to be her son came out and joined us on the road.

His name is Elmo, and he says he’s a man at arms in the militia (and that his dad is the constable). Hard to tell if he’s not all there, or if he’s just drained his brains into a beer-mug, if you know what I mean.

(Wonder if Reginald will end up like that one day? I don’t see Father giving him an empty title and letting him drink his life away, though…especially not on Father’s dime. Been forever since I’ve had a letter from them…I wonder what they’re all up to by now?)

Anyway, Elmo offered his services if we were to head into the hills looking for monsters with treasure…we told him we’d keep it in mind.

When we reached the inn, we decided that Ezekiel, Mikael, and Lydia would go check out the chapel at the north end of town, while Raven and I investigated the “Welcome Wench” (and its food). (Mikael told Nori to hang out on the roof. She’s pretty used to that…wonder if she catches birds in her spare time or something.)

The common room seemed pretty packed, considering the hour. One big, scar-faced man in the corner wore traveling clothes…I bet anything he’s an adventurer.

Raven promptly ordered a lavish breakfast (I got away with a simple breakfast) and an ale. Elmo, over at another table, was already deep in his ale. It’s a little early in the morning for me to be drinking.

At a table against the wall, a huge man sat with someone who looked Bakluni…they seemed to be watching us, but I couldn’t really hear what they were saying.

Raven told me to settle down and eat my breakfast, and that the food was truly amazing.

Well, so it was pretty good…as was the serving girl. (Hope Raven doesn’t show off his muscles again, or he’ll have another admirer…)

There’s a merchant with two bodyguards having breakfast. The propriater (Mr. Gundercoot) says lots of adventurers go looking for monsters with treasure in the Chron Hills — which explains all the strangers in town. It must be a pretty busy trade route, too.

He says the Wild Coast (beyond town and to the south) is particularly dangerous.

Well, all kinds of places to investigate for “trouble.”

**

Ezekiel, Mikael, and Lydia joined us for breakfast. Raven couldn’t stop praising the food…which, coming from an expert like him, is quite an endorsement.

Over his breakfast, Ezekiel told us the chapel is a church of St. Cuthbert and the under-priest is named Calmet. Turjon, the over-priest, wasn’t there at the time, but Calmet said the “high road” to Nulb has been especially dangerous lately. (Nulb being the village that sprang up around the Temple of Elemental Evil. Apparently even though the temple is nixed, the village is still there.)

This place seems to swarm with adventurers, as he said “the fighter at the tower” east of town got rich from killing a green dragon, and so he and his magic user friend live there with a bunch of mercenaries.

Not sure I’m up to a dragon. Still, these types may have come for the treasure, but they’re still killing monsters. What could have concerned the Cleric of Velnius that he sent us all this way? Did he even have something specific in mind?

We were just about finished eating when the Bakluni-looking little man and his enormous companion came over to our table. He introduced himself as Turuko (and Kobort) and they offered their assistance should we be planning to go adventuring in the surrounding hills. (Turuko said he was skilled at assessing things for greater value.)

Ezekiel said we would keep it in mind, but that our party was complete at that time — and I suggested they go join up with Elmo, since he had made the same offer to us.

I notice they didn’t go over to Elmo’s table, but went back to their own.

Raven told me to chill out, and finish my breakfast. What is he getting at?!

After some discussion, we reserved beds in the dormitory for the guys, and a private room for Lydia (and our bags). She went up with her books to study a little while Ezekiel and Raven go back to the Church of St. Cuthbert for some more information and Mikael and I check out the Druid Grove nearby (one of the people we talked to suggested we might find out more there).

Incidentally, St. Cuthbert isn’t exactly “Old Faith”…

**

The Grove was peaceful, but orderly. I always feel a little solemn around places like that. You know the stones lining the path and the structure of the shrine were put there on purpose…but sometimes you feel like even the blades of grass and the leaves of the trees are exactly where they’re supposed to be.

I don’t think Nori felt that way. She started frolicking and chasing a squirrel.

Mikael went toward the center until the master of the grove (armed and armored) came out of the shrine to meet him.

Mikael made a donation to the Grove, and asked the druid-master about trouble in the area.

The druid of the grove (Geru Ashstaff) said the “balance is upset”…that Evil is around… He couldn’t tell us more specifically, but said that something was definitely off.

Balance is more of a Druid thing than a Ranger thing, but I’m all about stopping Evil. Besides, you don’t succeed by messing up the place you live.

**

Back at the inn, in our private room, Ezekiel told us what they had learned at the chapel. Apparently the old Cannoness, who founded the chapel, was named Eday and disappeared one day. Under-priest Calmet says that one day, she just wasn’t there…and then Cannon Turjon came to replace her.

Calmet also suggested we speak to the village elder, who if I’m not mistaken was here when all the old trouble was happening.

Ezekiel says we’ll rest here tonight, and head off in the morning, looking for “trouble.”

In going over the room (because you can never be too careful) I spotted a panel in the ceiling that was loose.

Mikael pushed it over for me, and Ezekiel held his perpetually shining shield up there, but it was hard to see anything from a distance.

Raven, of course, can lift me one-handed – so he poked my head up through there, and I felt around for anything suspicious. Didn’t find anything, and I don’t think the space is big enough for anyone to fit through…so they could spy on us through there, but not kidnap our Magic User through there.

I hope.

Raven told me to relax and enjoy life.

Just what is his angle? What is he getting at?


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Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver

NOTE: This post is something of a departure from my usual tone, as it will be more dry and academic than I usually write. This is because it’s a subject I have strong emotions about, and in an attempt to avoid breathing fire on my keyboard, I’ve squeezed a lot of my normal humor out of it.

But it’s still an important piece about a vital subject, so please take the time to read it and form your own opinions. I promise I only froth at the mouth a tiny bit.

What if we’ve been wrong about preschool this whole time?Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

Lots of people see “preschool” and they think “good.” We all want our kids to learn, right? We want them to have the best chance to succeed, right? And wouldn’t starting them in an institutional learning system as early as possible be the best way to do this?

No.

There’s also the question of whether this is the best way to honor God with our children. We want them to “achieve their full potential” and get good jobs, etc., but if we don’t make honoring God our chief focus (and make sure our kids know as much as we can teach them about Jesus) then we’re not living our Christian witness to the best of our ability.

But I’ll save that for a different post. For now, I’ll focus on the benefits preschool promises: academics, adult interaction, and affirmative action.

Let’s dive into this topic and try to figure out what we’re hoping to get out of preschool and whether it really delivers (or not)!

Academic Achievement

We all want Little Johnny to learn “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic”. After all, “whatever you do, do it as though you were working to the Lord.” We want our kids to be able to support themselves, contribute to their communities, and enrich the lives of others…to say nothing of living full lives themselves and using the intellectual gifts God has given them.

It all starts with a “good education,” right?

And preschool is one of the best ways to give kids that, right?

No.

Where child development is concerned, there are very few absolutes…but the evidence is coming in stronger and stronger that preschool – especially an academically-focused preschool – does not give kids an “edge” to learning…and in fact might hurt them.

Academics over Learning

There’s been a lot of emphasis lately on pushing kids to achieve higher standards at earlier ages. The Atlantic tells us how kids who used to be expected to read by the end of first grade are now expected to read by the end of preschool. Maybe I’m doing the math wrong, but isn’t that a two-year advance?

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

How can we help our children thrive? Image from Pixabay

A recent article in the newsletter from the Home School Legal Defense Association cites several researchers and testimonies from parents that children grow and develop at different ages. For instance, “children who had learned to read in kindergarten had no substantial advantage over those who learned to read in the 1st grade.”

Kids have different development rates, and that’s okay. Trying to force them into a one-size-fits-all system is a terrible way to let them flourish.

Parents testify to children as old as seven and eight years old who would not have done well in a traditional, sit-down-shut-up learning environment. Forcing these children to attend a rigorous preschool at four or five years old would not have helped them with “school preparedness”…it would have destroyed them. They needed a kinetic, hands-on learning environment tailored to their particular interests (an environment that their parents did provide for them).

The article also references increased diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder (ADHD), or similar disorders on the spectrum, when kids who aren’t developmentally ready for school are expected to conform to the school environment. Do these kids really have a learning disability? Or are they just being asked to perform above where their brain and body have developed to?

Long-term consequences?

There’s more. According to Psychology Today, an intense focus on academic attainment (learning reading, writing, and math through worksheets and instruction) in preschool almost doubles a child’s chance of a felony record. (Presumably because the early pressure and behavioral expectations led to them acting out more in school, and elsewhere…although it’s impossible to finger causality in cases like this.)

Contrast this with “play-based” preschools where children are encouraged to play, interact with others, and explore on their own…sort of like what they would do in a natural home setting, perhaps in conjunction with play-dates.

EdLibertyWatch.org collects quotes from several different papers, including this study from the National Bureau of Economic Research: “…researchers concluded that preschool has a positive impact on reading and mathematics scores in the short term and a negative effect on behavior.”

Further, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that a 2015 study found that “while children coming from ECE [early childhood education] programs earned higher achievement scores in kindergarten, these students did not test higher than their non-ECE attending peers by first grade, and tested below their peers by the third grade.”

Which is more important?

A slight, temporary rise in test scores in exchange for increased behavior issues, and even more ADHD diagnoses? Wait – should this even be a trade-off at all?

The homeschooling examples prove we can suit our education models to each child’s learning needs. Maybe we shouldn’t throw the “preschool” baby out with the bathwater…but it’s high time we stopped taking it for granted that the earlier we got our kids into preschool, the higher their college entrance scores would be.

The spiritual dimension: anti-Biblical curriculum

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

Image from Unsplash

I know I said I’d leave this for later, but I came across a quote during my research that just stunned me:

What is gender identity? Why should it to be taught to three and four year old children? How [will it] close the achievement gap for poor and minority children?…

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC), whose accreditation results in both more Minnesota state funding for childcare programs and gains a higher rating in the Parent Aware quality rating system, promotes these types of “gender anatomy and gender identity” exercises in its curriculum.

(Education Liberty Watch, quoting from the National Association for the Education of Young Children)

Notice that both state money and professional validation are tied to accepting the NAYEC’s view on this moral issue. And homosexuality is only one example – the culture has a whole hat-full of issues to introduce to your kids.

If you thought preschool was all about “school readiness” and getting a jump-start on learning the alphabet, these secular educators have one up on you. Kids at these ages are sponges, ready to accept whatever the “people in charge” teach them.

And if your child’s preschool is teaching transgender issues with anatomically correct dolls, wouldn’t you want to know about it – and be involved in conversations with your child?

To defuse the part-to-whole objections:

No, I’m not saying every teacher in every school is out to make your preschooler gay. But think about the trend of the culture, the political pressures of “this present age”…and remember who God will hold accountable for the children He entrusted to you.

Adult Interaction

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia WoodWe want kids to grow up to be confident, competent, fully-functioning adults. Kids are great at learning by imitating (just wait until they start repeating that one word you wish you hadn’t said).

So the best way for them to learn how to be adults is…by putting them around adults.

More specifically, there’s plenty of research that what children at the preschool ages need is not math worksheets and vocabulary tests, but stable, lasting relationships. They will have plenty of time to grasp the more cerebral concepts if their emotional, psychological, and spiritual health is firmly grounded in relationships with trustworthy adults.

As Morningstar Education Network’s research adviser, Denise Kanter, says: “Young children need to be at home bonding with their mothers and fathers.”

KindredMedia.org collects several reports that speak to this:

“Young children learn best through meaningful interaction with real materials and caring adults and their peers, not through the drilling of isolated skills.”…Kids from play-based programs usually catch up academically, while kids from academic backgrounds may never catch up socially. — Education.com

…the years from birth to age 5 are viewed as a critical period for developing the foundations for thinking, behaving, and emotional well-being. Child development experts indicate it is during these years that children develop linguistic, cognitive, social, emotional, and regulatory skills that predict their later functioning in many domains. — Early Childhood Education: The Long-Term Benefits (PDF)

But won’t my child miss out on socialization if he doesn’t go to preschool?

If you do the necessary socializing and relationship-building that parenthood involves, your child won’t suffer from missing out on preschool. Just because a good preschool is superior to plopping kids in front of the TV and ignoring them, though, doesn’t mean it should be our go-to method of child-rearing. (See below!)

The Atlantic article cited above explains that organic, child-driven learning (coached by engaged adults) is more interactive – and more educational – than the traditional “butt-in-seat” classroom model. This is where a teacher (or parent) uses a child’s natural curiosity to let them explore the world and ask questions (yes, millions of questions) and let them learn through the natural give-and-take of human conversation…instead of a list of facts they will be tested on later.

Focus on the Family insists that preschool should enhance the parents’ relationship with their child, not hinder it — nor simply be a way to get a “leg up” on those other kids! After all, trying to “keep up with the Joneses” isn’t very neighborly, is it?

The spiritual dimension

We should be especially concerned about this as Christians. Rod Dreher in his book The Benedict Option – which is all about cultivating a deliberate, passionate Christianity that informs every aspect of our daily lives – talks about how the model of “education” has changed over the past century. Instead of learning about the natural world and human history as a way to understand God better, and as a way to provide context for the divine order of the universe, modern schools are focused on retaining facts and applying them to work skills.

“Every educational model presupposes an anthropology: an idea of what a human being is. In general, the mainstream model is geared toward equipping students to succeed in the workforce, to provide a pleasant, secure life for themselves and their future families…and to fulfill their personal goals—whatever those goals might be.” (pg. 147)

Christian education, in contrast, should focus on “join[ing] ourselves to Christ and striv[ing] to live in harmony with the divine will” – from the time we wake up and have breakfast, to when we’re walking past the weird stranger on the street, to when we say our prayers at night.

As Christians, we need to teach our children that God is an important part of every single facet of our lives…that He is not somehow unrelated to physics, or social studies, or English spelling.

Tend your own personal orchid

Remember how every single child is unique, and develops at his or her own rate? Just because your child is seven years old and can’t spell doesn’t mean he (or you) is a failure. It means he needs someone caring and invested to give him the help he needs to learn in the best way for him (like getting up and moving during spelling tests, instead of glued to a desk with a pencil in his hand).

My mom used to have me write short stories with the words I missed on spelling tests…and now I can spell “snake” and “rabbit” just like any other well-adjusted twenty-something! (And, well, check out my “Books” tab to see what encouraging my story-telling got us!)

Kicking your orchids out of the hot-house make them shrivel…

Going back to that wealth of materials collected by EdLibertyWatch.org, the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD – 2007) say:

The more time a child spent in center-based care the more likely he or she was to be described by sixth grade teachers as one who “gets in many fights,” is “disobedient at school,” and “argues a lot.”

Children need a stable home life to help them develop emotionally and behaviorally – and that maturity will only improve their academic endeavors later on. In fact, to quote the rest of the excerpt on the NICHD study:

…NICHD tracked 1,364 children who had participated in early childhood education. Preschool participants were more likely to score higher on factors of aggression and disobedience as reported by their teachers. This finding was true even for children who attended high quality center-based care.

Remember: who are the two adults children will interact with for the greatest part of their growing-up? Their parents. Even if they go to institutional school and learn from different teachers every single year, they need a strong relationship with their parents to anchor them throughout their childhoods and beyond.

Children are more than a statistic…and when it comes to their lives, we need to be concerned about more than what the “experts” say, “what we’ve always done,” or what supposedly “works” to get the outcome we want.

This isn’t about outcomes. It’s about doing what God says. Right?

Teach a man to fish…

My parents have always affirmed that teaching their children how to study is one of the most important things they could do.

Children who develop emotional, psychological, and cognitive maturity will be self-motivated to study…and if they haven’t had their love of learning “snuffed out” by over-exposure, they will drive their own educational journey through grade school, high school, college, and beyond into adult life. (You knew we don’t stop learning once we get a job and don’t have a designated “teacher,” right?)

Assisting the Disadvantaged

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

I don’t have a picture of an impoverished child, so enjoy this cute dog instead.

A lot of voices in favor of preschool emphasize “closing the gap” between the “disadvantaged,” poor children and those with a better home life. A noble goal, and one in line with God’s own plan for us (check out James 1:27 and Mark 12:29-31).

The orphan (or in some places “fatherless”) is already late to the starting line, before the race even starts. That’s no fault of theirs, and God cares deeply about giving justice to the oppressed and helpless (just read, like, all of the Psalms).

However… While it’s good to feel for children who are growing up with only one parent, who suffer lack of opportunity due to poverty, etc. – none of that explains how the preschool system is superior to the natural, historic, and God-given system of two dedicated parents raising and educating their own biological children themselves.

And our concern for disadvantaged kids should in no way interfere with the raising of those kids who are blessed with a committed mom and dad.

But what about those poor kids who don’t have the same chances other children do?

Maybe they’re living in a single parent home, or their family doesn’t have the financial resources for books, etc. Maybe they really do have ADHD, autism, blindness, or some other physical barrier to learning the way other kids do. Do early childhood education programs help them succeed better – both now and later in life?

The Psychology Today article referenced above shared the results of a study among “sixty eight high-poverty children living in Ypsilanti, Michigan”. This study was largely to examine the effects on these children of a “Direct Instruction” preschool classroom (that focused on academic attainment) versus a “Traditional” preschool (which emphasized play). To quote:

[T]he experiment also included a home visit every two weeks, aimed at instructing parents in how to help their children. …

The initial results of this experiment were similar to those of other such studies. Those in the direct-instruction group showed early academic gains, which soon vanished. This study, however, also included follow-up research when the participants were 15 years old and again when they were 23 years old. At these ages there were no significant differences among the groups in academic achievement, but large, significant differences in social and emotional characteristics.

That’s right. “No significant differences in academic achievement“!

This is the same pattern we saw in the other studies. The writers suggest that the children in the so-called “play-based” preschools learned to “plan their own activities, to play with others, and to negotiate differences” – skills which served them not only in the later grades, but beyond into adulthood. (“Teach a man to fish…”)

The article writers also theorize that the home visits encouraged the children’s parents to reinforce these teaching styles. The Traditional “play-based” preschools encouraged the parents to let their children interact with the world creatively. The Direct Instruction preschools were focused on test scores and other “academic” markers of “personal achievement” – and this focus on “personal achievement” could have encouraged these children in the selfish attitudes that led to their generally more anti-social behavior.

Without being simple pragmatists, let’s look at the fruit.

The Bible tells us we can evaluate teachers by their fruit…or in other words, we can pick up hints about whether to listen to them by watching their actions (Matt. 7:15-20).

What is the outcome of preschool for disadvantaged children?

Obviously in some cases the outcome was…not too good. Early pressure to achieve, plus a focus on personal performance, encouraged anti-social behavior in some of these individuals. We might go even farther, and say that denying them a carefree childhood, and the opportunity to learn at their own pace, hampered their emotional and social growth.

So we see that even for disadvantaged children, the best outcome is the one that mimics a traditional, Biblical upbringing centered in the home of their biological parents.

But, post writer, what about all the terrible parents who will just stick their kids in front of the TV and who have no idea how to parent –

Statistically speaking, children with “bad” parents will have poor outcomes, no matter what school system you devise for them. The students discussed in Psychology Today had professionals visiting them at home to advise their parents how to support the teaching curriculum of their preschool – and the results still weren’t stellar.

The point is not that we should “give up” on these disadvantaged kids, but that we need to have our eyes firmly fixed on JESUS and to make sure we’re 1) trying to accomplish what He wants, and 2) going to Him for direction in how to do that.

Systemic Dysfunction

Preschools that drill facts and figures into little kids doesn’t help them. In fact, in the worst cases, it hurts their chances because they missed out on that crucial period of character development by worrying about head knowledge.

Children at these young ages should be sending down their roots and finding out what can be depended on…not raising their branches to test high on impersonal markers of “achievement.”

The preschools that did seem to succeed were the ones that allowed children to flourish at their own pace and ask questions naturally…in fact, the care centers that mimicked a nurturing home environment.

Further, as Christians, we understand that there are more important markers to success than grades or salaries. Give me ten children who respect their parents, treat those around them with kindness, and love their Creator over one “child” who makes six figures with his graduate degree and can’t keep his marriage together.

Institutional education is the cultural norm.

My grandparents have finally stopped asking when I’m going to get a college diploma (although they’re still not satisfied with my Associate’s Degree). The culture around us expects us to send our kids off on the bus as soon as they can walk, and our young adults off to college as soon as they’re old enough to join the army vote.

But is that the best way? Is that really how we’re going to accomplish our goals? Even if it was, the ends do not justify the means. (Otherwise, as my brother loves to shout, there is no justice, only means.)

Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia Wood

Which is the “straight and narrow” way? Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

God calls us to justice and righteousness. How can we strive for that in our everyday lives, and with our children?

Maybe in some other post, we’ll examine what God calls us to in our daily lives, and what that means for raising our kids. Until then, take a good, hard look at your own decisions.

I firmly believe the system of institutional education is broken – and that goes all the way down to preschool. Whether you agree with me, or think my mom dropped me on my head as a young’un, your kids are worth more than the default.

We need to get out of the rut of thinking “preschool” always equals “good.” Can it help? Sure – under certain circumstances and in certain situations.

But don’t do it because “everyone else is doing it.” Don’t do it because it’s expected of you, or because the grandparents want you to.

These are your kids we’re talking about – the kids God gave to you. Look at all the evidence, and decide if preschool will really help your kids to send down their roots, and thrive in God.


Preschool: Over-promise, Under-deliver — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She currently lives somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, gaming, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

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