Show and Tell: Something’s Fishy

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Remember the book What Color is Your Parachute? 

Back when I was wondering what the heck I was doing as a department store manager that included a) a divisional marketing manager who gleefully chose one of us to humiliate daily, b) being in charge of two multi-million dollar departments on two floors with two buyers and two staffs without an assistant, c) no time to eat, and d) hair falling out in clumps, I decided to re-look at my priorities. Not only did I read What Color is Your Parachute?, I took a career-assessment test at New York University. There was one glaring characteristic missing in my life–creativity! Hon, I should have known.

I recently came across one of my very first picture books complete with illustrations and an author photo in which I’m missing my front teeth. I wrapped some of my books in plastic wrap so they’d look like they came from the library. Cute!

I also came across songs I wrote. I’d play around on the piano and then plot the notes in a music book.

When my parents said they wouldn’t buy me a dollhouse, I made my own out of cardboard. (It actually had a couple of floors!) When I wanted a summer dress, Pappagallo handbags with changeable covers, and an Esprit drawstring bag, I sewed my own.

I learned how to needlepoint, embroider, and knit when I was elementary-school-age. Another creative outlet opened up, and I designed my own canvases and wrote my own patterns.

My first jobs, aside from babysitting and being a camp counselor, were working in stores. I liked retail, but especially merchandising the selling floor and doing the windows.

So, when I left that miserable, weight-loss-inducing department store job, I started my own business. A couple of years later, I became pregnant with triplets. That was the end of the business and time to re-assessment priorities again.

Back to the magic of children’s books, which I was trying to create as a ten year-old. Guess what? I’m still trying.

Needlepoint pillows I made for two sweet sisters. I added the coral to the fishy scenes. Real life fishy scenes from the Mystic Aquarium.

 

 

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Wren or Writing?

Birds of a Feather

I was ready to write. Pen and paper? Check. Computer? Check. Manuscript to revise? Check. But how could I concentrate with a bird bustling back and forth yards away? The answer? I couldn’t!

Every year, House Wrens make a nest in one of my birdhouses. If you think the Wrens are busy as they gather twigs and grass, you should see them once their babies hatch! The flit and fly all day long, handing off  juicy bugs to hungry beaks. The babies trill insistently when a parent returns. I imagine they’re saying, “Feed me! Feed me! It’s been ten minutes since my last meal.”

If I so much as go outside to look at the birdhouse, the daddy (I think it’s the daddy) perches atop our outdoor table umbrella and, literally, gives me the stink eye. Really! 

When a chickadee or starling comes close and cocks its head to hear the chirping babies, one of the parents hops and squawks, chasing the intruder away. Interestingly, my dog Lucy isn’t perceived as a threat, which she isn’t…unless you’re a chipmunk or a mailman.

Dawn and dusk are full of activity and, when night falls, the family quiets down and gets ready for bed. Last night, when I retrieved something from the back porch, under the birdhouse, a little head popped out and tiredly looked at me.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m not going to hurt your babies.”

 

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Click here to watch a video of a House Wren singing.

Click here to watch a video (with funny commentary) of House Wrens leaving their nest for the first time.

Story Time in Sweet Sixteen

Cousins.
Cousins.
Grandma and my Plus One.
Grandma and my Plus One.

Happy New Year and Sweet Sixteen! (2016, that is)

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, after deciding what to change (exercise more/ eat less desserts), I try to accomplish those goals. Sometimes I’m successful. Oftentimes I’m not. But, I’ve been itching to make a Story Time Resolution this year. Hopefully, saying my goal “out loud” isn’t like blowing out birthday candles and then revealing a wish. Stories, characters, voice and plot fill my head. Can I put on paper what I see in my head? Most importantly, how will I get my stories in the hands of children?

Two recent articles in The New York Times were gifts to my goal. The quotes below are from The Gift of Reading by Frank Bruni and Long Line at the Library? It’s Story Time Again by Winnie Hu.

Winnie Hu quotes,

“It is clear that reading and being exposed to books early in life are critical factors in student success,” Anthony W. Marx, president of the New York Public Library, said.

Frank Bruni writes,

The list of what a child needs in order to flourish is short but nonnegotiable.

Food. Shelter. Play. Love.

Something else, too, and it’s meted out in even less equal measure.

Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read.

Reading fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination.

“Reading follows an upward spiral,” said Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of “Raising Kids Who Read,” which was published earlier this year. “Kids who read more get better at reading, and because they are better at reading, it’s easier and more pleasurable so they read still more,” he said. “And kids who read well don’t just do better in English class — it helps them in math, science and every other class, too.”

I’d go even further. Reading tugs them outside of themselves, connecting them to a wider world and filling it with wonder. It’s more than fundamental. It’s transformative.

 

Amen, Mr. Bruni. Amen.

winter 2005-06-25

Hon, if you are a “New-Year’s-Resolution-Person,” what are your goals this year?

Rome at Dusk

Pantheon at dusk.
Pantheon at dusk.

Italy On My Mind

On our first night in Rome, we visited the Pantheon, an Ancient Roman temple “of all the gods.” I was awed and humbled by the Corinthian columns, marble floor, tomb of Raphael, enormous coffered ceiling and Occulus.

Gazing up and into the eye-like opening to the sky was other-wordly, mystical, magical. It felt like I was being watched, maybe even seen. My writer’s mind entered another dimension where characters whisper in my ear and scenes play in my imagination.

The concrete domed ceiling is a wonder unto itself. My guide book says “the dome was cast by pouring concrete mixed with tufa and pumice over a temporary framework” and the ceiling’s weight is reduced by the hollow decorative coffers.

Moody blues in a sunset sky.
Moody blues in a sunset sky.
Looking down on the Spanish Steps.
Climbing down the Spanish Steps.

Next stop was the Spanish Steps, a “combination of straight sections, curves and terraces.” If they’re this crowded in February, imagine how many people would hang out in the summer!

We had already spent some time in Piazza di Spagna, but in an “umm, we may be lost” way.

We took taxi from the airport to the city, and when our driver dropped us off in the middle of an intersection saying our hotel was right down the street, we said, “Sounds good.”  BUT, we walked up and down and couldn’t find our hotel. Picture extremely narrow, cobblestone streets packed with people and toy-sized cars. There we were, wheeling our luggage behind us, and getting worried (slightly panicky) when the street ended at address #50 and our hotel’s address was #93.

Yes, we asked shop owners and passersby if they knew the hotel (They didn’t.) and we couldn’t call the hotel without an international phone plan. So, we parked ourselves in Piazza di Spagna and tried to make sense of our map.

Hubby found a policeman and guess what? We were on the correct street! Unlike in the United States, where odd numbered addresses are on one side of the street and even numbers on the other, in Italy, numbers go up one side of the street and continue on the other side! If we had just looked on the other side of the street, we would have figured it out!

Horse-drawn carriages in
Horse-drawn carriages in Piazza di Spagna.
Hubby and Daughter.
Hubby and Daughter outside of our hotel.

Have you been to the Pantheon? What did you think? I’d love to hear from  you!

Source: Rome, DK Eyewitness Travel

Sweet Cheeks Baby Blanket

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Sweet Cheeks!
Sweet Cheeks!
What a pretty baby girl.
What a pretty baby girl.
Knit with love.
Knit with love.

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Cheeks, indeed!
Sweet Cheeks, indeed!
Baby Blanket.
Baby Blanket.

Hon, have you ever heard me say I was born in the wrong century? If this was the 19th century (hmm, my house was built in 1882), then my interest in knitting and needlepoint (and a little sewing) wouldn’t seem so old-fashioned. When one of my college daughters needlepoints at school, her friends call her “Bubbe.”  But, if I think about the–ahem–common thread that ties these interests together, it’s really quite modern.  I love to create something out of nothing.  Which relates to my passion for writing.  See? It all ties together!

A new baby + restless hands + scrumptiously soft yarn = a baby blanket where every stitch radiates love.

Baby Blanket

Finished Size:  36″ x 45″ (91.5 cm x 114.5cm)

Materials:

Medium Weight Yarn 36 ounces, 2,100 yards (1,020 grams, 1.920 meters)

29″ (73.5 cm) Circular knitting needle, size 10 1/2 (6.5 mm) or size needed for gauge

Afghan is worked holding two strands of yarn together.

Gauge:

In pattern, 15 sts and 21 rows = 4 1/2″ (11.5 cm)

Pattern:

Cast on 113 sts.

Row 1-5:  Knit across.

Row 6:  (Right side): K7,P3, (K3, P3) across to last 7 sts, K7.

Row 7:  K4, P3, (K3, P3) across to last 4 sts, K4.

Row 8:  K7, P3 (K3, P3) across to last 7 sts, K7.

Row 9 and 10:  K4, P3, (K3, P3) across to last 4 sts, K4.

Row 11:  K7, P3, (K3, P3) across to last 7 sts, K7.

Row 12:  K4, P3, (K3, P3) across to last 4 sts, K4.

Rows 13 and 14:  K7, P3, (K3, P3) across to last 7 sts, K7.

Repeat Rows 7-14 for pattern until blanket measures approximately 44″ (112 cm) from cast on edge, ending by working Row 9 or Row 13.

Last 5 Rows:  Knit across.

Bind off all sts in knit.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Sources:

Knitting Book–Leisure Arts “Our Best Baby Afghans, Book 2”

Pattern by Carole Prior

Yarn Shop–The Stitching Bee–Shout out to the yarn shop in Chatham, New Jersey

Happy knitting, Hon!

Quotes and Notes (from the NJSCBWI14 Conference)

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The last weekend in June, I attended the New Jersey SCBWI Annual Conference.  I entered the conference nervous but excited. I left the conference exploding with ideas, anxious to start revisions, and encouraged by the connections I made.

I was inspired by illustrator and writer Floyd Cooper‘s Opening Keynote speech, and choked up after listening to Rachel Vail‘s Closing Keynote speech.  If a writer leaves me with a lump in my throat and tears threatening to make my mascara run, then her words have reached the core of why I persist with passion.  Surely, I’m on the right path?

Hon, I thought you’d enjoy quotes from the conference paired with pictures.

“Voice puts color and emotion on the page.”  (Susan Hawk)

Color and emotion.
Color and emotion.
Each girl has her own voice.
Each girl has her own voice.

“What does love require of us?”  (Rachel Vail)

Me and Three when they were 12 weeks.
Me and Three when they were 12 weeks.

“We have to have the courage to press that bruise.”  (Rachel Vail)

An accidental shiner care of my "Plus One."
An accidental shiner care of my “Plus One.”

“Make me laugh.”  (Quinlan Lee)

Laughing is contagious.
Laughing is contagious.

“Being brave is not the opposite of worry.”  (Rachel Vail)

I should've joined the circus!
I should’ve joined the circus!

“Gaze through a world made up paper and ink.”  (Rachel Vail)

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 This quote isn’t from the conference, but it speaks to me just the same.

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”  (John Wayne)

Monument Valley, Utah
Monument Valley, Utah
Monument Valley, Utah
Tween and me in Monument Valley, Utah.  We galloped to the base of the buttes and our American Indian guide sang us a lullabye his grandma sang to him.

 

 

My Writing Process (Bunny Hop) Blog Hop

A Florida bunny.
A Florida bunny.
Tween Daughter dressed up as the Easter Bunny.
Tween Daughter dressed up as the Easter Bunny for Halloween.

Thanks to Laura Sibson, I am participating in a “My Writing Process” Blog Hop. I added the Bunny Hop part as a nod to Easter, Spring, and my own beautiful Tween Bunny who is my first reader.

Laura Sibson
Laura Sibson

Laura earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts after discovering a passion for writing novels geared toward teens. Laura’s a fellow runner (she runs much longer distances than me), dog-walker, coffee-drinker, “ingester-of-pop culture,” and mom of teens. She lives in suburban Philadelphia and has impressed me with her knowledge of “Bawlmor” accents.

Laura describes the paranormal young adult novel she’s writing on her blog, Laura Sibson, A journey toward writing dangerously. Her novel sounds spooky and fascinating, and it involves the Black Aggie, a real statue that used to reside a stone’s throw away from my parents’ house, in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

Do you think its a coincidence that Laura connected with a Bmore girl? I don’t know, hon. You’ll have to ask her!

My Writing Process Questions and Answers:

What are you working on?

Coco, the main character in my chapter book is based on a true story and a real dog. An article describing how a dog ended up on a NJ Transit train headed to Manhattan appeared in my local paper. We had recently adopted a puppy. A story was born! Coco’s inherent doggie abilities and desire to find bones will, hopefully, lead him on many adventures (meaning more chapter books).

In the picture book series I’m writing, my five year-old main character wanted to become a superhero just like his big brother. In the first book, he did it! Now he’s off to conquer the world (and his fears) as the fastest superhero ever.  I’m working on books about the day he thought his mommy was a zombie and about the time he battled deep sea creatures at the town pool.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Guess what one of my goals is? Hint: it’s in the name of my blog.  ENERGY!

I hope my writing grabs readers from the get-go! My manuscripts are populated by relatable characters, alliteration, funny phrases, and a dash of silliness. The universal theme underlying all of my manuscripts is family.  Whether the action revolves around siblings or parents and their children, the action happens between the humor and heart.

Lucy, the model for Coco Mercado.
Lucy, the model for Coco Mercado.

In my chapter book, Coco stays true to his doggie characteristics, but his impulsivity takes him to unexpected places. He meets a zany cast of characters along the way and, inadvertently, saves the day while on the search for the perfect bone. This chapter book (and the others I plan to write), will fill the gap for elementary school kids who are one step beyond First Readers but not yet ready for longer chapter books.

My nephew, my muse.
My nephew, my muse.

Logan, my latest picture book‘s main character, is just like real little boys. How do I know? Because he’s a compilation of my “superhero” nephew, my son, and the boys I teach at pre-school and at the elementary school. My nephew says, “Activate! Pshht! Pow!” So does Logan. My nephew says things are “mega.”  So does Logan. Sibling rivalry amongst my triplets plus one more was rampant.  My hope is that kids will love Logan and his brother’s vivid imaginations while parents will appreciate the heart of the story.

Why do you write what you do?

I write because ideas pop into my head, words and phrases tumble off my tongue, and characters stand in front of me, tail wagging and arms crossed, begging to be brought to life.

I write because the child inside of me connects to children from toddlers to teenagers.  I still love playing in a sandbox, climbing to the top of the swingset, and sledding down a hill at lightning speed.

I write because I believe stories are magical.

How does your writing process work?

An idea or a character or a turn of phrase will start off as a wisp of thought. The ideas, characters and turns of phrases that stay in my head like a song-on-the-radio-you-can’t-stop-singing must be written down. If scenes start appearing in my mind’s eye, while I’m driving, running errands, walking Lucy and, always, when I try to go to sleep, then I have to get my thoughts on paper. The process has begun.

First drafts go to my wonderful critique group. I revise. Second drafts are critiqued. I revise.  Etc!

My most important revision tools are a thesaurus, dictionary, rhyming dictionary and critiques from my group (or an editor or agent, if I’m lucky). More importantly, I take my watch off, don’t answer the phone, concentrate on listening to how my characters would speak and inhabit the world I’ve created.

Last November, I signed up for Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge to come up with a new picture book idea for a month.  Thirty new ideas are now residing in my Idea Box.

Joining the My Writing Process Blog Hop, I’d like to introduce you to (drumroll, please):

Michelle Karéne
Michelle Karéne

 Michelle Karéne

Michelle and I connected on Twitter (Michelle on Twitter, me on Twitter).  Michelle not only has a blog called Michelle Karéne, Children’s Author, is a member of SCBWI and an aspiring children’s writer, she earned her doctorate in Biomedical Engineering, works for a biotechnology company, and has published fifteen articles in various scientific journals. Michelle’s short story, “Magnolia Fall,” will be published in the 14th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition Collection. Michelle, who lives in North Carolina with her family, blogs about her chapter book and young adult works-in-progress, funny things her three daughters say, nature photographs and dinner ideas.  I hope you’ll check out her blog.

Thanks for reading, hon!