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We have become such a throwaway world, yet there are some of us who just are not going to ever fit that mold. That old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” suits many of us just fine. And we’ll keep using something so long as it is in good working condition, even though it’s no longer new and shiny. Enter my old toaster.

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I can’t tell you how old this toaster is, though it’s well over 20 years, probably 30. They just don’t make stuff to last like this anymore. So as it will soon be moving on, I thought to give it a nice farewell in the photo above, Still Life with Toaster.

It has been a faithful appliance, never giving me a bit of trouble. Until recently, when it started making that awful grating noise before coughing up a piece of toast. Worse yet, I caught it flashing a little spark one morning before it handed me my bagel. And that’s not good. I mentally went over all the things I should do if my toaster were to actually catch fire, the most important one being to write an e-mail to someone who always wants to know what they can get me for a gift. “I have an idea,” I said, and they were on board in two seconds. A little online research into types of toasters, scouring reviews, considering prices (did you know you can buy toasters for $200.00?) and I was able to offer some options.

It wasn’t long after, the following arrived. How exciting! Why is getting a new toaster so exciting? Simply because it’s been over 30 years since I’ve needed a new one. Who knows what new features will now turn bread into toast?

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How nice will it be to toast a bagel without having a thought about the kitchen catching fire? Or listening to a ratcheting sound when a nice English muffin is really all I want? I am still a big believer in the simple things in life, and if a new toaster some every 30 odd years or so comes my way, I’m happy. And the old toaster can move on, knowing it more than fulfilled it’s purpose in life – it sure doesn’t owe me a thing.

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p.s. What fun would opening a large box be if not without a little help from the premiere local box specialist, Jazzy?

While I have been rather remiss in blogging, at least I have been reading. Life can pull us in many directions, and some take our blogging time. So be it.

ByTheLight-FathersSmile-AWalker2As I am beginning a new book – chosen from among the many that sit on my shelves waiting to be read – I remember exactly why I picked it up at the big book sale awhile back. I’d read a short story titled am i blue? by Alice Walker over 20 years ago in a magazine. It was about a horse in a meadow alone, bored, betrayed. The meadow was outside a home where Walker was living, and her experience of Blue told me volumes about her appreciation of the hearts and souls of animals. This story was later banned, I found, by the California School Board in 1994, as was, of course, The Color Purple, by all those who feel they know best what you and I should read and think. (You can read am i blue? and some commentary on the The Westcoast Post blog.)

At some point later in time, I came across this (now very famous) quote by Alice Walker, “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.” And though it was not a period in my life when I had the time to read novels, I simply liked her even more.

Fast forward to a few years ago, and I came upon her novel, By the Light of My Father’s Smile. How could I not pick up a book with a title like that?  Knowing that, if nothing else, she and I shared something so important in common – a respect for, and appreciation of, animals.

LayItOnMyHeart-APneuman2I’m looking forward to starting this novel by Alice Walker, but admittedly, my heart is still half living with Charmaine Peake in Kentucky. I just finished Lay it on my Heart by Angela Pneuman, a novel about a 13 year-old girl whose father is, or believes himself to be, a prophet. Living in a small town crammed with churches of every faith possible, where one third of all the men are preachers or studying to be one, Charmaine and her mother Phoebe have been barely getting by in the year while her father has gone to the Holy Land, instructing them to live by their faith alone. This is a coming of age story where Charmaine must come to grips with all that is implied in having the father described, a mother who has felt compelled to honor his wishes, and a growing awareness that perhaps she isn’t and cannot be the holy and God-fearing person that has always been expected of her.

Charmaine’s relationship with her mother is best-described as that beginning struggle for independence, yet she feels constrained by her father’s beliefs of how she should behave as defined by the Old Testament and her desire to please him. Charmaine makes her own way in this story slowly, finding hypocrisies and truths all along the way. She grows to find friendship where she would have least expected it and a willingness to look at life in a way she would have never thought possible. The characters and relationships in this novel are very well-defined, so much so, that you are almost unaware at times of the truly impoverished state she and her mother are forced to live in because of her father’s choices. My one criticism of this book, even though I understand why they’re there, is the seemingly never-ending quotations from the Bible in the first third to half. I have no doubt that this is indeed the reality for the population written about (especially since the author is from Kentucky), but it often felt excessive, and made me wonder should I continue on. I’m glad I did, and I’m still digesting it all. Alice may have to wait just a wee bit.

Despite assurances to the contrary from the proprietress of one of the nurseries near me, I still felt like I was the last person on the planet planting anything this spring. I had intentions of going many times, but didn’t get there til last weekend. Finally!

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This was the only color Impatiens left! This children’s bench is next to my front door.

As the landscaping on my property is already taken care of, I have just my lovely, deep front and back porches to consider. Picking flowers that are fairly hardy, (meaning I can’t easily kill them), and that provide nice pops of color are the simple goals I have in mind.

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I’ve never purchased Vinca before, but they were so pretty. I will have to read up on them so I know what they need.

Being as late in the season as I was getting to the nursery, I was disappointed to find that the color and plant selection had really been winnowed down. Next to nothing was left in yellows and purple shades, so I just went with a few basics. I could no doubt stop by Home Depot or Lowe’s and round out what I have, but honestly? when I’m done this, I’m done, and I’m moving on to a multitude of other things on my to-do list. Plus I like supporting local small businesses.

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This angle doesn’t show how really, really leggy the petunias are.

Everything you see here had been waiting one week on my back porch, but even so, most of the plants were already overgrown. The petunias are terrible leggy, the sweet alyssum struggling, the vinca tall. But I’ll let them all settle in a bit and then start cutting back as needed. Hopefully, in a few weeks, they will be happier and looking healthier.

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I have probably over planted this good-sized pot with three Coleus and three Sweet Alyssum, but it is practically July. This is a spot on my front porch where coleus are absolutely ecstatic.

As always, after I’m done, and have cleaned up, I look at my effort and say, `for all that time, is this all there is?’ I have flashes of luxuriously planted porches I’ve seen in Better Homes and Gardens and feel I should immediately go back out, get more pots, more plants and a boatload more soil and seriously get gardening! Alas, that’s what I’d love, but not what I have time for.

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Another shady spot for hardy Impatiens.

Instead I have my humble little pots of flowers all about my porches, and they elicit a smile wherever I sit. I will tend them and help them be full and bushy or tall and elegant, whatever they need, and as the summer goes on they’ll thrive. It’s enough.

 

Well, we see how much time has passed since that last post … so this will be a bit brief, as time, even to blog, is sometimes hard to find. Among the things I particularly enjoyed about this June Conference were several workshops which enriched my life as a children’s book writer and illustrator and added to my knowledge of craft, inspiration and TUESDAY-DWeisner2curiosity.

A workshop with the children’s book illustrator and author David Wiesner was terrific. He gave the opening keynote, but I also took a workshop with him titled “Reference Is Your Friend.” He’s a brilliant, phenomenally talented and very humble person, and listening to his process as he designs and works out his world-renowned books was fascinating. His recommendation for all the attendees if we would take away one thing? Draw from life.

A workshop by Donna Galanti on world-building was another favorite because  no matter what type of novel we write, whether fantasy or one taking place in our town, we need to create a world for readers. Donna really broke it down, and also provided the rare handout so we could be listening to her presentation without our heads down scribbling notes frantically. She came up with so many useful points that I will refer to as I’m delving into my own novel.

There were more excellent ones, and one or two that were not so fabulous, but we only know by opening ourselves to the presentations and finding out what there is for us to learn. I’d also signed up for two one-on-one critiques for my WIP novel and another for a WIP picture book. One of these was outstanding and gave me some very good direction.

By the end of the first day of the conference, I didn’t see a soul who wasn’t looking a little wiped out, just from running from class to class and then to individual critiques and roundtables. Of course, I could go on. And on. But I’m going to stop here, with a suggestion for all of you who might be reading this and who are interested in writing and/or illustrating children’s books and not already a member of SCBWI.

Join. Join a whole bunch of other talented, dedicated people who want to reach out to children with amazing ideas and stories and visions. Join an organization whose sole existence is to provide everything you’d want to know and more about how to become a writer or illustrator for children. Become familiar with your local branch of SCBWI and see what they have to offer. In New Jersey, we have the annual June Conference, but also some smaller events during the year. You can learn more here on the SCBWI site and check out the chapter nearest you while you’re there.

Maybe I’ll see you at the conference!

I can hardly believe t’s been a week already since I’ve returned from the 2-day children’s book conference in Princeton. I know I’m not alone when I say I come home exhausted, exhilarated, optimistic, grateful, exhausted, happy, enriched, hopeful, challenged, and oh .. did I mention exhausted?

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Jumping into my standard 40+ hour work week the very next day does not leave a lot of time for reflecting on all that transpired, reviewing materials, notes from critiques, etc. But numerous thoughts and conclusions were ribboning through my mind on and off all week long, even while I looked forward to this weekend to catch up on some rest and start seriously considering where I was going with children’s books.

And a direction became clear. One of the big attractions of the New Jersey SCBWI Conference is that we offer “one-on-ones” to both writers and illustrators. This is often the focal point of the weekend for those writers who wish a detailed critique from agents and/or editors on their children’s books and illustrators who can have art directors review their portfolios. This year, I went full steam ahead and booked two agent critiques for my middle grade novel and one editor critique for a picture book I’m working on. Of the three critiques, one was so incredibly helpful, I was just thrilled.

In the past I have submitted manuscripts that were as finished and polished as I could get them. They’d been looked at by my critique partners, gone through numerous revisions, and perhaps even been seen at previous conferences. This year was different. The picture book is in the very early stages of development and I sought some insight  and direction. The novel had once been a picture book, and through a number of professional critiques had moved through the chapter book phase to its true calling, middle grade. But I had questions, and I wanted to hear an agent’s opinion.

ADogsPurpose-WBruceCameron2The good news is that one agent confirmed my story is unique and not on the market, and she really liked the concept. The not-surprising news is I have a lot of work ahead of me, as in, now I have to write the rest of the book! This agent really paid attention when looking at my synopsis and the first 15 pages of my manuscript, and offered solid advice. I also came armed with lots of questions, and the ensuing discussion helped to highlight areas I need to focus on, existing concepts I might change to improve it, etc. So for that critique alone, the conference was worth it.

Am I writing today? Not yet. But I am making a plan on how I’m going to get this book written. One aspect of the plan is what I read. You know how you sometimes buy a book but when you get it, you know it’s not the time to read it and temporarily shelve it? The book I need to read right now is pictured here, A Dog’s Purpose.  It was recommended to me at least 4 years ago by the CSR of one of the major printers I work with in my capacity as a graphic designer. As little time as she and I had to chat beyond the work-related, she highly recommended this book for me, and said she knew I’d love it on every level. I know the timing is now perfect and reading it will also enrich the story I’m writing.

More on the conference soon …

 

 

 

 

Dreams …

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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With the annual New Jersey Society of Children’s Books Writers and illustrators (NJ SCBWI) June Conference on the horizon one has to think – there is something so amazing about so many individuals all streaming into one location from all over the country for a single purpose – to share, to learn and to grow in the one thing that unites us all – children’s books. We meet old friends and make some new, share and see amazing illustration, and have the opportunity to sit in workshops and at lunch tables, not just with our peers, but with editors and agents from some of the finest publishing companies and agencies in the U.S. Cheers to us all!

Here is a short story with two parts that tie together. One is about love; the other is about perseverance in the face of your dreams.

Here you see one very beautiful cat, Jazzy. Sweet, bouncy, playful, and always verbal, (in a very squeaky kind of way.) Over the last so many days, she has taken to spending what I deem to be excessive time under the bed. This has concerned me. Usually she spends most of her time keeping me company somewhere on the floor where I work.

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One of the toughest thing about loving our pets is that when they are not feeling well, they have no way to tell you what’s wrong. It can be very upsetting, as you no doubt know. We’ve been off to the vets for a not-inexpensive work-up in an exam and bloodwork, and we’re still waiting for one answer. Time and money … unfortunately, it’s not something you can skimp on when it comes to an animal you love. Happily, she seems to have perked up a bit today.

The other tough part? Of course this all happens right before the annual NJ SCBWI June Conference, a time when I want to prepare and have all my children’s book ducks in a row. So here’s the second part of the story – the don’t-ever-give-up-on-your-dreams part.

Out my back window this past winter I spied the epitome of perseverance in that charming little creature, the squirrel. My neighbor had put up special bird feeders to keep the larger birds from mobbing them and consuming all the seed in one day, as was their wont. Many smaller birds can now visit and eat. And one determined squirrel.

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And that’s who I’m taking my inspiration from. I will absolutely do everything needed for sweet Jazzy, but I can still keep my eye on my goals and dreams. June Conference, here I come! Best of luck to all of you – see you soon!

This little phrase is bandied about all over the place nowadays; it’s on mugs, tee shirts, posters and more. And like so many sayings that become pop sensations, there is an undeniable element of truth in it.

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I was reading, (kind of re-reading and reflecting on, actually), Deepak Chopra’s small volume titled The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, which are, according to Chopra, really the same as the Seven Spiritual Laws of Life. In the chapter about the fourth spiritual law, the Law of Least Effort, he writes about how easily we can fulfill our desires by learning, as nature can exemplify, how to do less and accomplish more. There are three little lessons within this law, and the one that reflects this post’s title is the one I am currently pondering.

The idea is to accept people, events, and situations exactly as they are in this very moment, versus what we would like them to be. Sounds so easy, but it’s not always the case. So much of our unhappiness comes from our disappointment and frustration that people and situations are not what we’d hoped, expected and/or planned. Think about it. We did something nice and so-and-so didn’t even have the courtesy to thank us, or didn’t thank us enough, soon enough, or whatever. We planned so carefully for a party and it rained. In addition to that, some people didn’t show up, and they never called or texted, etc. And we become miserable. The variations are endless, and of course, run the gamut from day-to-day occurrences to life-changing events.

7SpiritualLaws-DChopra2Life is filled with all kinds of disappointments and we have a choice to accept them and let them go … or not. When we don’t, and we grab on like the proverbial dog on a bone? we become yet more miserable. We can make ourselves crazy. This accepting of “It is what is is” seems to me to be a lifelong lesson, to be learned again and again in different circumstances and at different levels of awareness. While expending less energy on what isn’t or what might have been, we gain so much more for other things.

Chopra makes analogies with nature, such as fish – they just swim, or grass – it just grows. Imagine if grass worried if it would be mowed or chewed on by cows or destroyed by weed killer. It doesn’t — it just grows. We can do that, too. Accept this exact moment as it is. It’s not to say we can’t intend for things to be different in the future, but right now? It is what it is.

It can be easy. Or a worthwhile challenge. Or the ruin of our day. Our pick.

 

There are so many ways one can get lost on the web, between websites, social media, blogs, etc., but then there are places where you simply feel found. One of those places is on the ANHonestHouse-CReyes-Cover2lovely blog of Cynthia Reyes, where I find myself on a regular basis. Not only is Cynthia a wonderful writer with something to say, but she is also a published author whose second book, An Honest House, has just been released.

An Honest House is a memoir, designed to be read as a standalone or as the sequel of the memoir she started in 2013 with her first book, A Good Home.

Perhaps a step back is in order as a backdrop to Cynthia’s latest accomplishment – A Good Home is described as a “profoundly emotional book about the author’s early life in rural Jamaica, her move to urban North America, and her trips back home, all told through vivid descriptions of the unique homes she has lived in — from a tiny pink house in Jamaica and a mountainside cabin near Vancouver to the historic Victorian farmhouse AGoodHome-CReyes-Cover2she lives in today … Full of lovingly drawn characters and vividly described places, A Good Home takes the reader through deeply moving stories of marriage, children, the death of parents, and an accident that takes its high-flying author down a humbling notch.”

Fast forward to the release of An Honest House three years later which picks up “from the early days of her recovery from a car accident, as told in her first book, A Good Home, she shares in this new book intensely lyrical stories of life with her husband Hamlin in their historic farmhouse north of Toronto …You will be challenged as the author immerses you in the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and the courage it takes to live with chronic pain. And you will say a wrenching farewell to the farmhouse as she opens a new chapter in a life still devoted to creating beauty out of the materials life serves up to her, be they dark and haunting or light and joyful.”

From everything I have read about An Honest House, and from what I’ve learned over the past few years of Cynthia through her blog, the journey with her through her challenges and successes, her fears and her triumphs, will be one well worth taking.

This past weekend was the wonderful, huge, annual library sale that I go to every year, and below you see my haul.

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What? You don’t see any books? That’s because I never got there. Being under the weather for a few days, plus it was raining non-stop, I knew my best bet was to stay home and feel better. I missed the excitement of just being around the thousands of books, and certainly the traditional follow-up lunch with my friend in which we go over our multitude of finds, but in the end, I am hardly bookless.

I still have books from last year’s venture; friends share books all the time; I have bookshelves stuffed with selections I’ve yet to read or would happily read again; and … the local library is in a decent walking distance from my home. I am living in a very book-rich world.

AllTheLight-ADoerr2Not to mention, I am still living in the world of Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize winning author of  All the Light We Cannot See. Yesterday, before I closed-up shop for the day on my work, I read a bit online about him and his other books, and watched a video of how he came to write this phenomenal book. I also looked at photographs of Saint Malo, the walled city on the coast of Brittany, bombed practically beyond recognition at the end of World War II, and an important location for much of the story. Doerr wanted to write a different tale about the war, and much like the outstanding author of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, he certainly has done that. I am at times brought to tears at the beauty of Doerr’s use of words, and am moved by the story he tells.

As I approach the end of the book, I am deeply saddened by what has happened to one of the characters, but am holding out hope for the others. Soon I will be returning this novel to my local library, never knowing if my next book will be in the stacks, sitting in the $1.00 shelves at the front desk, or waiting for me here at home. I don’t own a kindle, and don’t read online. I thoroughly enjoy the weight of a book in my hands, the smell of paper and ink, the turning of the pages, and the placing of a bookmark where I’ll begin again as soon as I’m able.

We who love to read are a lucky lot, are we not?

As they say in the movie … put your hands in the air like you just do not care!

That’s what I’m sayin’! Put your hands up high, over your head. Open up those fingers and swing your arms to the left and to the right. Swing your hips to the left and the right! And put a smile on your face whether you feel like it or not. Feel better?

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If you actually did that, you do feel better, and I’ll tell you why. You can change your mood by changing what your body is doing. It’s true. There’s a body of evidence that tells us that we can change how we feel by doing a few very simple things. For example, it’s almost impossible to stay feeling angry when you put your hands over your head like you see in this drawing, titled Happy Bogles. Wave them back and forth; you’ll be surprised at how you feel.

Or, if you’re feeling sad or angry, go to the mirror and give yourself your best, happiest smile. Keep smiling and you’ll feel a change. Of course, one of the simplest things to do to change a mood is dance. Do you feel like dancing when you’re feeling out of sorts? Of course not, and that’s exactly why you do it anyway. And put up those hands and see what happens.

Now who are those wonderful happy bogles and what’s a bogle anyway? Happy Bogles is by John D. Batten, a British painter and illustrator, (1860 – 1932), who among his numerous works, illustrated English and other countries’ fairy tales, mostly around the turn of the century. This particular illustration, which I have loved for such a long time, accompanied The Golden Ball.

What is unique about this particular illustration is that it portrays bogles as happy. Bogles are folkloric creatures of Northumbrian and Scottish origin who play a part in any number of folk and fairy tales; however, they are not known for being happy creatures. Rather they are mischievous and enjoy making life difficult for humans, albeit not particularly harmful. But in this illustration they are joyful. (Hmmm – perhaps they just accomplished something to bother some unsuspecting person.)

Whenever I look at this drawing, I feel happy. Let it inspire you, too, and put those hands in the air with a big smile. See? It’s working!

Among the many wonders of nature, I find camouflage one of the most fascinating. Below are photographs of owls who quite literally disappear into the trees behind them. If viewed from enough of a distance, it is practically impossible to even see them.

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If you can find the owl easily, move further away from your computer/device until it is hard to spot her, and then view the rest.

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I cannot take credit for these wonderful photos; they were sent to me in an e-mail and were collected, I assume, from around the web with no photographer given credit. I just prepped them for my blog, hoping you would appreciate them as much as I. Whoever the photographers are, thank you for sharing these amazing images online.

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We live in an amazing world. Sometimes it’s easy to see just how amazing it is.
Sometimes we have to look just a little harder.

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