children, writing

Using bullet journals to unlock writers block

Bullet journals are known as planners for creative personalities. Daily tasks, appointments and goals are released from the confines of stoic leather backed planners and cold digital apps. Instead, designs, boxes, pictures, and color explode onto the pages of bullet journals in a creative but orderly fashion, providing the perfect path for tracking life’s assignments.

Though I am a “creative”, I scoffed at this new phenomenon thinking it was just another way to waste time in order to doodle. I admit to being a bit of a free spirit when it comes to tracking my to do’s. Little sticky notes work just fine, thank you.

Recently, however, my attitude did a full 180 degree turn. My writing enthusiasm was at an all time low. I just couldn’t seem to work my way out of the dreaded writer’s block corner. So I started looking through the upcoming themes of magazines I’ve written for in the past. As I scanned themes, the idea of nature studies and bullet journaling collided in my head. Could I use this bullet journal trend to create an interesting article on nature studies? Hmm? Perhaps.

Of course, this required a shopping trip. I would need to research and try out the idea before actually writing the article. I would also have to enlist the help of my 15 year old son to be sure this was not just an adult idea that kids would hate.

We both chose our topics of research, mine mushrooms, his coding. Of course coding, right? Each day, we sat and created our journals together. Talking and drawing and coloring in ideas. I won’t go into detail about the how’s as there may be a magazine article to enjoy about that.

All, I can say, is I can’t wait to write about the process. I also can’t wait to share all my new found knowledge regarding mushrooms. I had no idea there were so many kinds.

Now, I find myself thinking of other ways to use my new found research process to keep track of things I’m interested in. Who knows, I may even decide to make lists, set goals and keep a calendar. Pfft. Naw. Just kidding.


Kindergarten Care Packages

What’s inside Mrs. Steel’s care package? I sent these to my students and a few kiddos from my church. If you got one of these packages, Let’s open them together. If you didn’t get one, come join us to see what’s inside. Perhaps you have some of these things at home and can do the activities with us.   I’ll be posting activities in the next week here on this blog page.

The first chapter of the corresponding E-Book can be found over at my Camping Stick Kids page. Here is the link: Handwork with a purpose.

If you have yarn, watch the second video called Finger-knitting with Gordon and you can get started.

Scroll Down to leave us a comment! Gordon would love to hear from you.

Video 1: Care Packages with Gordon

Video 2: Fingerknitting with Gordon

Video 3: Bunnies with Gordon


Are Writers Conferences Worth It?




The answer is yes. Yes, conferences are worth the money and the time it takes to go. Conferences are the place to find out just how much you have to learn as a writer or an illustrator. If you want to grow go to a conference. I’ve been to two this year, and I have a third one in June. Here’s what I’ve learned so far at each conference.

I. The Ashville Christian Writers Conference

This conference was held a the beautiful Billy Graham Cove. I was blown away by the soaring wood-beamed ceilings and house size chandeliers in the dinning room. The food and accommodations were five star and opportunities to find a serene spot to read or write or draw were in abundance.

I learned two things at this conference:

1. How to write a 25 word pitch. This was incredibly helpful and though I am still working on the nuances of my pitches, I am able to clearly articulate each project in a simple, memorable way. If you don’t have a 25 word pitch you need one.

2. Pitching to editors is not scary. I thought I’d be terrified and that editors would scoff at my stories or worse, tell me I should just quit. Yeah, I always think the worst. I pitched to at least five editors and each one was gracious and patient. I felt like a new born puppy trying to open it’s eyes for the first time, but I learned so much. I even had an agent from Hartline Literary agency ask for a proposal. (I’m working on it!)

I learned a lot more than that, but you’ll just have to join me next year to discover more.

This is me with my friend Maggie Rowe and then her with a bunch of famous people.




II. SCBWI’S Marvelous Midwest Conference

This conference was less than ten minutes from my house in Naperville, IL.  This conference was held at a Marriot. The food was a B+. I didn’t stay the night as my own bed is my favorite. The Lobby had soft couches and comfy chairs for chatting with people and lots of sturdy tables for setting up computers or laying out art work.

Here are the top three things I learned at this conference.

1. My 25 word pitch needs work. I went to a session called high concept and discovered my pitch lacked a little luster. In fact, what my pitch really lacked was a strong hook with a unique twist. Honestly, I came home trying to decide if Una the pig could pull off a story line where she is saved from the clutches of the evil farmer by a mafia boss pig named Brutus who trains her to be his right hand pig so together they can burn down the slaughter house, free their families and take over the farm…. NAW! That’s crazy. Hmm..

2. Illustrators have portfolios. Well, you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why you go to conferences. I have this website with my stuff, but all the illustrators I met at this conference also have a physical portfolio. I went out yesterday and bought a portfolio and am beginning to build it.

I titled this picture: “Courage, dear heart.” After one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.  It takes courage to begin this process. But I’m certain the outcome will be useful and beautiful.

“Courage, dear heart”

3. There are Christian editors at the SCBWI conventions. Linda Howard from Tyndale was there. I went to as many of her sessions as I could and gleaned all I could from her talks on what Christian editors are looking for, and how the Christian market is doing. I also loved her talk on marketing your own books. She suggested we need a blog and we should write about “stuff”.  Okay, we should write things that reveal who we are as a writer and illustrator. Things other people might want to read.

Here’s the link to SCBWI if you are not a member, you should be. Https://  If you are a member come find me: Joleen Steel

I have one more conference this year. I just hope I can figure out poor Una’s story before I go, she really is too nice of a pig to work for Brutus.


E4E9D1C2-C5CF-4E2F-B36E-0C985B5CBAC5Joleen Steel is a Canadian illustrator and author who lives in Warrenville, IL with her husband Dave and their youngest son Matt. Joleen teaches kindergarten at a classical Christian School and writes for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. As the Executive Director for Camping Stick Kids (, Joleen illustrates and writes the ministry’s books and curriculum. Camping Stick Kids has been featured on Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey.


Hope is the thing with feathers

When I see a feather I always pick it up. Feather’s remind me of the promise in Psalm 91:4

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

This scripture and the poem, Hope is the thing with feathers, by Emily Dickinson, inspired the poem below.

Before you read stop and think about hope: What is it to you? Why is it so essential? Where does hope come from?


If hope is “a thing with feathers that perches in the soul,”

Its song must clear the cobwebbed hearts of those who need to


Don’t give in to hopelessness;

Despair will take its toll.

Sing clear, feathered one, for your message truly must be heard.

Hope is something lost and found; inspected and observed.

Can I see the day again?

Is hope a thing assured?

Look here, a flock of hope-filled friends perch near a quivering soul;

Singing through the soul’s black night with peace, the one

true goal.

Don’t give in to fear and shame;

Their grip is icy cold.

The weary soul lifts up its head and cocks a shining eye,

For hope has been there in its breast, and now begins to cry,

“Please retract pain’s iron claw;

Release my heart to fly.”

Winged friends, sing words of truth to their sorrowful dear one;

You’re not alone upon this path; God sent His only Son.

His sacrifice paid the price;

The victory is won.

Under the shadow of His wing, you’ll find your way back home.

He’ll hold you till the dark recedes and fear and shame have flown.

Hope is here within your grasp—

Just grab and take a hold.

Sing, feathered ones, louder now for the light is breaking through.

The wounded soul lifts up its head and cries, “What can I do?

Take my pain and weariness—

I give it all to you.”

Despair, along with fear and shame, no longer can remain;

Truth clearly chased them from the soul who’ll never be the same.

Hope is assured; trust in Him,

The Name above all names.

A wing unfurls, a chest lifts up, and little bird takes wing.

Radiant beams the messenger that causes souls to sing.

Hope in Him who gives the song,

Fly in the strength He brings.

Now friends and bird take to the air with wings outstretched in joy

The soul once sad calls out a song and friends shout in reply:

“He is our strength and our hope;

His faithfulness is sure.”

Wings and voices blend and rise to Him who will endure.

By: Joleen Steel