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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Lists were once my steadfast friends. They stood by me through thick and thin, kept me organized and on track, and confident that everything was going smoothly. And then they took a turn, and could, I found, be my worst critics, leading me to wonder if I was failing.

I’ve always had two different list pads. The one you see on the left takes myriad forms and appearances. What I list there is still enormously useful – food shopping and cleaning tasks go there, as well as my daily to-do list for work. As my work has me often jumping back and forth between different projects and/or different clients, a list makes sure I cover everything and get done what needs to be done in a timely manner. Those lists are still my friends.

It’s the one on the right that had become suspect. I absolutely love this list pad – given to me by a friend who has always believed in me, it simply says “FOLLOW YOUR PATH.” It’s where I have always listed my personal creative goals – my writing and illustrating of children’s books; growing my shop and business on Etsy which features my French Bulldog art; updating and writing my current website and blogs; expanding a social media presence, etc., etc. Needless to say, all of these involve a multitude of tasks and effort. So I started making lists on this pad of all the things I need to do.

It was the first time a list ever turned on me, taunted me, left me feeling like I might be failing. Whenever I looked at that list, it made me wonder how would I ever possibly get where I wanted to go? And then I decided to not write any of it down. After all, who knows better than I what needs to be done?

I decided to go for a kinder and gentler use of that lovely pad. Now I consider the time I have, and the task(s) I most need and want to get done and can accomplish in that time, and chunk it down into do-able steps. The fact is, neither I – nor you – can do everything at once, and for this we need to forgive ourselves while still doing what we CAN do. We can assess our goals; make sure we have our priorities straight; and then make a plan to get there.

And so my list became my friend again.

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You know how you go to a restaurant for a while, then kind of tire of it, even if it is really nice? Revisiting said restaurant – The Clean Plate in Clinton (NJ) – is what happened recently when a  lovely new client, who happens to be a vegan, and I planned to get together. I am admittedly a wannabe (but still aspiring) vegan, but almost completely vegetarian. The Clean Plate is so named because it serves really clean, often organic, and – whenever possible – locally sourced food, with plenty of choices for both vegetarians and vegans. The menu includes locally raised beef and chicken, as well. Anyone who wants to eat healthy can find something delicious here.

I also often think I’d like to take photos of my wonderful food when I eat out, but somehow it never happens. Happily, Danielle did take a photo to show her daughter, who always likes to see what Mommy eats when she is dining away from home.

We sat outside on this late, still-cool morning at a table in the shade and right next to the river. It was wonderful, as were our dishes.  What you see here, from the top, is my excellent decaf and their Fava-Rite Bowl, a mix of fresh fava beans, asparagus, spinach, new potatoes, and roasted red pepper in a cashew-chive sauce with an over-easy egg and sprouts on top. Yum! Danielle’s dish was a red quinoa wrap with mixed baby greens, their featured hummus, avocado, toasted almonds, and dried figs, with apple cider vinaigrette, served with a side of sweet potato fries. She had Kombucha to drink.

It was all fabulous and we both cleaned our plates!

Accompanying us occasionally was a very friendly pair of not-quite-ducks, eager for a bit of our complimentary popcorn. I say that because these were two Mallards clearly crossed with another bird – a goose, I suspect, based on the markings. The larger of the two, likely the male considering the dark head, had the most amazingly kind face. Neither was pushy, so no need to herd them away, but the smaller female was very quick. The larger male just looked in your eyes and hoped. They did get a little popcorn, but I suspect too much wouldn’t be good for them. But for all we know, they may work this crowd regularly and have adapted. Who knows? They were both very sweet.

Should you be in the area and want some healthy and delicious food, perhaps accompanied by a duck or two, check out The Clean Plate and their menu!

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This will not be a long post – just a share of the fabulous finds I collected at the county library’s huge annual book sale.

For a half hour’s drive and $24.00, I picked up the amazing selections you see here, hardbound and paperback. I do go with a list, and am happy to find anything on it, but don’t expect my top picks, especially from 2018. But I did bring home some selections from favorite authors – Lisa See, Alice Hoffman, Jodi Picoult, Barbara Kingsolver, E. Annie Proulx, and more. I also picked up a number of middle grade/YA novels including Jacqueline Woodson, Jerry Spinelli – and amazingly, the exact book by Linda Sue Park, A Long Walk to Water, that will help me in a drawing project for a client!

There are also authors I am not yet familiar with but had been hoping to find, and some I don’t know at all. There are a couple psychological thrillers, some historical fiction, science fiction, and mysteries – enough to keep me happily reading for quite some time.

In addition, I found something special for one of my doctors who is a huge reader; a hardbound replacement for a paperback version of a wonderful novel whose type is so small, it hurts my eyes —   a book I will read again; and a small volume in brand new condition that might be a little surprise for someone.

As I drove down the lovely backroads to the book sale, I couldn’t help but think that a good book and a warm and fuzzy friend to curl up with can get us through a lot of stuff in life – both good times and bad. And $24.00 isn’t much to pay to have one of those pleasures at my fingertips.

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Though I cannot take credit for them. We all experience times in our lives when people are acting badly, situations hover and sway as if on the edge of a precipice, and everything is moving too slow … or fast … or in the wrong direction. It’s just life, but from time to time it can leave us spinning.

On one such recent occasion, I removed the previous day’s page from my wonderful Wayne Dyer desk calendar, and found these wise words.

Sometimes you just have to laugh. They couldn’t have been more perfect.

It doesn’t mean that things will always be that way, or that we can’t change them, or that we can’t intend to change them. It just means that right now, it is the way they are. Point taken. And just in case it may be one of those times in your life, I figured I’d share them with you.

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On to the books … Atonement by Ian McEwan. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this, but knew it was a story whose initial chapters take place in London at the beginning of World War II and carries through the war, and then to the end of the century. It’s of a romance between the older sister in a very wealthy family, Cecilia, and the son of their housemaid, Robbie, their gardener. He’s a very bright young man, for whose education Cecelia’s father has been paying, with plans for Robbie going to medical school. But the story begins with the youngest sibling and third major character, Briony, a thirteen year old, who spends a great deal of her time writing. She is a very intellectual child, sheltered, and rather controlling. Early on in the story, she sees a flirtation between Cecilia and Robbie which she does not understand. When she witnesses another interaction in the library, she makes an assumption that will change the lives of these three characters forever. Her misinterpretation of what she saw and an incorrect confirmation of Robbie’s involvement in a separate incident results in his being sent to prison, and later, war. The story follows how the lives of these three were affected by Briony’s decision. It is a story about war, of love, and innocence. I did like the book – Robbie’s time in the war in northern France was remarkably and painfully well told – but the beginning was a bit difficult to get through, especially as Briony is not your most likable character. The writing was not in a style I usually read; the author was likened on the book jacket to Jane Austen. I did still enjoy it, and there is a wonderful twist at the very end.

After finishing the book, I watched the movie, which won a Golden Globe and was Oscar nominated for best picture, among others. My feeling about the movie is that I would not have really understood a lot of what was going on had I not read the book. And as is so often the case with books made to movies, there were so, so many critical, meaningful, and heart-wrenching details missing. I’d stick with the book.

Going from soup to nuts, I then turned to something completely different – a fast-paced psychological thriller, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. I read this in three days – it was hard to put down, as in you look at the clock and it’s 2 in the morning. It has been compared to two other books, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. The comparison is made in that the main characters are all unreliable narrators, but this book soon differentiates itself in many ways. Anna Fox, our MC, lives a secluded life; you soon find she’s an agoraphobic as a result of an unknown, horrible tragedy that occurred in her life. She’s on multiple medications, and against doctor’s orders, also drinks. She also spends a great deal of time watching her neighbors. Early on in the story, she witnesses a murder, she’s sure of it. But did she? Let me say this – The Woman in the Window reads like a house on fire, and Finn is an outstanding writer in more than one way. He (yes, it’s a `he’) spoon feeds you pieces of information, layering the suspense and all but turns the pages for you. Just when you think you know what’s going on, he throws in a major twist. Moreover, he has an exquisite use of language, not something you might expect in a thriller. I highly recommend this book. You’ll be at the (very satisfying) end in no time. Promise.

 

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Ahhhh …. two of my favorite subjects. Something delicious to eat and something delicious to read. First, the cookies. As mentioned in an earlier post, my friend Laurie had her book launch at our little local Indie bookstore, The Book Garden. What I had not mentioned, was that Laurie and I had a cookie baking marathon the weekend before, whipping up sugar cookies for both this launch and her launch in NYC a few days earlier.

The sugar cookie recipe is a very basic and really good one – simple ingredients with predictably delicious results. As Hedy was an inventor, we made what are now Laurie’s signature gear cookies, but as Hedy was also a star, we made star-shaped cookies. To catch the glamour that was Hedy, I’d suggested using edible glitter, so Laurie and I made a trip out to a specialty baking shop where they must have had 100 possible color choices. We picked the gold and a light aqua. You can see the results – they came out really pretty. I’ve never worked with edible glitter in baking before, so this was quite fun.

Because I generally have a pretty full schedule, I tend not to bake much these days. When I do, I bake only from scratch, and I’ve gotten this idea in my head that it will take forever. I believe that’s called a distortion. After having those yummy from-scratch sugar cookies, I really wanted more homemade, so I searched my many saved recipes and found one for chocolate chip cookies with about 10 variations. Perfect!

I went shopping and bought the ingredients to make an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie with dark chocolate and dried cranberries. Yum, right? I got all my ingredients together and prepped my baking sheets. (Whatever did we do before parchment paper?) I was in such a good mood, and much to my surprise, it didn’t take that long at all! Another idea I can banish from my head!

And did they taste good? Absolutely fabulous (if I say so myself.) In fact I had to freeze half to insure that I would not eat them too fast! Stay tuned for Part II of Cookies and Books, the book reviews – Atonement and The Woman in the Window.

 

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The saying is true … so many books, so little time, but in this case, I’m referring to books published by friends and which all deserve a shout-out. However, one dilemma is who do I write about in what order, so no one feels slighted. The other dilemma is simply finding time when I’m struggling to find time to keep up with blogging at all. Now I know that each of these people will assure me that whenever – and IF ever – I get to writing about their book, they are fine with it. But I really do want to bring some good books to your attention.

That said, I’m introducing you to a wonderful picture book for older children, written by a very dear friend of mine who just happens to be having her book launch in a couple weeks. Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life is written by Laurie Wallmark, and the third she’s published about her passion, and I quote, “dead women in STEM.” What I like so much about this book is that it brings to light a side of a famous figure, Hedy Lamarr, who was known as an actress, but almost completely unknown as an inventor.

Long before some inventions were even a twinkling in anyone’s mind, Hedy had come up with ideas for the 3-color traffic light, a reflective dog collar, a way for people to safely get in and out of the tub, and more. But those were not developed, for Hedy’s real dedication was to inventing the technology known as frequency hopping, a major scientific breakthrough at the time. The modern day application of this technology is what keeps our devices, computers or cell phones, safe from hacking, but Hedy originally designed it as a way to preserve the security of communications during World War II.

So well-written by Laurie and charmingly illustrated by Katy Wu, Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life is enlightening to us all, but also a great inspiration for girls. Hedy’s a great role model who, while she had a full life in one field as an actress, had a strong passion in another and  made wonderful achievements in science. Read more at Laurie’s website, or just come to her book launch Sunday afternoon, Feb. 10th, 2-4 p.m., at The Book Garden in Frenchtown.

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Pumpkin can be one tough customer. Cats tend to have a lot more rules than dogs to begin with, but Pumpkin has serious rules, especially regarding where you can touch him. And sometimes even when.

He belongs to the people next door, and is an indoor/outdoor cat. At night, he’s in their garage with his bed, food, water, litter. Days, he’s out. Let me state first that he has me totally wrapped around his paw. And that’s OK by me. I put food out on my back porch during the day and when he’s let out of the garage, he gets breakfast, and later in the day, a snack or lunch.  He can be very affectionate at times. He likes attention … until he doesn’t. And I have become finely attuned to that subtlety.

When he was younger and feeling his best, he ruled the neighborhood. Roamed about making sure any other cats knew who was king. I call him “The Mayor.” But he’s now 12 or 13, and stiff in the joints from age and a run-in a couple years ago with some kind of moving vehicle. He recovered with a limp and just kept on going because he’s that kind of cat. Now, however, we have some new cats in the neighborhood – they’re younger, bigger, and pushy. I have some concerns about Punkie because he still thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips, and I’m not so sure that’s true.

On occasion, I hear that loud rowwwwwr sound we know cats make when one is challenging another. Because I work from home, I can usually hop outside and chase the intruder away, if Pumpkin hasn’t already. The other night was one of those times.

It was nearly 7 pm, dark, very cold, with winds about 25 mph. The people next door hadn’t gotten home yet to put him in, but I expected they would be soon. I was reading when I heard that keening sound. I jumped up, put on the back porch light, and headed down my driveway to the street. There they were, three of them, like points on a triangle – Pumpkin, Yellow from across the street, and the tuxedo newcomer who’s been pushing up on Pumpkin lately.

“What’s going on here?” I yelled in my most taking-no-nonsense voice.

They turned and briefly looked at me, but not moving an inch or taking their eyes off one another for more than two seconds.

“You!” I shouted to the tuxedo. “Get going!” He knows I mean business, and ran down the street.

“You, too, Yellow!”

Yellow just stared at me.

I took a few steps into the road and yelled again, “I mean it!” And he ran back to his house.

I turned and started towards my back porch. “C’mon, Pumpkin, let’s get you fed and safe and inside for the night.”

Still puffed to twice his size in fight-ready mode, tail held high, he looked at me as we walked. “I sure showed them,” he said with a satisfied sort of look on his face.

“Yeah, tough guy, you sure did.”

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My last few posts have featured different aspects of my businesses because, truly, that is where my energies have been flowing. However, I have been reading books constantly all the same (you just haven’t heard about them yet.) I started this post Thursday in the afternoon and it had been snowing (!) for nearly 3 hours, the white sky starting to turn that dusky cloud grey. It was a great time to divert myself from the work on my desk and dwell on words … beautifully written, elegantly connected, come-hither words.

Where to start? Books and movies, or in this case, books and television. It seems fairly well-established among anyone I speak to that movies/television rarely live up to the quality of the books they’re based on, and are often disappointing. Two programs I have watched recently – one series on DVD and another of three episodes on Masterpiece Theater/PBS – were outstanding, easily the best things I’ve watched on TV all year and I highly recommend them – Big Little Lies and The Miniaturist. Each inspired me to read the books.

I must say, I was not as drawn in by Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty as I’d hoped to be. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman optioned the series and made it into something riveting, but as to the book? For me, not so much. I decided to try another of Moriarity’s books, The Husband’s Secret, and it was significantly better.

But ah, The Miniaturist … absolutely fantastic. The story by Jessie Burton is written in the present tense from Petronella Oortman’s POV and takes place in Amsterdam in the late 1700’s. She is a young bride from another part of Holland. She has a respected family name but no money, and is married by a wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. While often absent, he buys her a cabinet as a wedding gift to help keep her occupied, a large and expensive dollhouse built and designed to look exactly like the house Petronella is now living in. The Miniaturist is a story about relationships, secrets, about the forbidden, prejudice, and very much, mystery. Although Nella orders miniatures to be made for her dollhouse, the miniaturist sends more, unrequested, that start to reveal a life unexpected in which the young bride finds herself inexorably tangled. Seeing the series on TV first was actually a great advantage – the settings, dress, morals, and attitudes of the Dutch at that time in history added much to the reading.  Take a peek at Petronella’s world; it will not give away the story. And then get the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Another book that I could not put down is Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This novel is also historical fiction; one part of the story takes place in Memphis, TN in 1939, the other in present day South Carolina where a young lawyer begins to research her grandmother’s buried and seemingly disturbing past. We are taken to a shantyboat on the river where the oldest child, Rill, and her four younger siblings are kidnapped and brought to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. They soon discover they will not be reunited with their parents as promised, but will be adopted to wealthy people willing to pay handsomely for children to adopt. The stolen youngsters at the orphanage are often starved, abused, and neglected at the hands of the cruel director and her lecherous brother; a large number of children disappeared entirely. In part what makes this book so riveting is that it is based on the very real adoption operations of Georgia Tann, a notorious felon who kidnapped and sold children for decades. Excellent in every way.

While on the topic of books not to be missed, I read Snow in August by Pete Hamill. Hamill is famously known for being the publisher of major newspapers in NYC, plus a journalist and novelist. The story takes place in Brooklyn  in 1947, a tale about friendship, faith, and trust, about an 11 year-old Irish Catholic boy, Michael Devlin, and a refugee from Prague, Rabbi Hirsch. Struggling through a snowstorm to serve mass a few blocks away, Michael, though fearful, gives in to the Rabbi’s repeated calls for help and enters the synagogue. It is the sabbath, and the rabbi needs the lights turned on. It is the beginning of a remarkable friendship, set against a backdrop of ignorance of and prejudice against the Jewish people in a community of Irish, Italian and Polish Catholics. A violent act is committed against a Jewish candy store owner by the leader of a local group of thugs; Michael was in the shop as a witness, and so the story unfolds. The prose is exquisite and the story moves along quickly. Snow in August is immensely compelling.

In my journey with excellent mystery writer Louise Penny, I read the seventh book in her Chief Inspector Gamache series – A Trick of the Light. While of course there is a murder to be solved, Penny writes each novel with a new frame of reference, this time the highly competitive art scene in Montreal. The cast of characters, always perfectly drawn, and the home of the story’s activities, Three Pines, are the setting for this novel. Louise Penny has made me a fan of her superb writing and for engaging me in reading a mystery series, something I never thought I would do.

I just finished another murder mystery I spotted on the shelf in my local library, The Day of the Dead by Nicci French, actually a collaboration between a husband and wife team. The book seemed interesting and a good read while I waited for another book through inter-library loan. I was surprised to find how really good it was. Fast moving, tight writing, great plot – I could not believe how quickly I devoured this book! It may not be my usual fare, but I enjoyed every moment of this story about a renowned psychologist, Frieda Klein, whose life had been entangled with a serial killer, Dean Reeves, for a decade. She has suddenly dropped off the map and at the same time, seemingly unrelated murders  are appearing at various locations around London. These are later revealed to be at pre-determined intervals and at locations which would have meaning for Freida, clearly to draw her in and be his final victim. In the mix, and another main character, is Lola, a college student to whom it was suggested that she study Frieda Klein for her major college paper. This is apparently the last/latest in a series about Freida Klein, but worked effortlessly as a standalone.

I am now beginning  to read Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein. I already read The Art of the Racing in the Rain, now one of my top 5 favorite books of all time, and another excellent novel of his, Sudden Light. I would probably read anything this man writes. Quite simply, he is a brilliant and gifted writer.

Hope I’ve inspired you if you’re looking for a good read. The weather is becoming that kind of chilly that has us curling up with a good book, and if you’re lucky, in front of a warm fire.

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As a graphic designer, I work on a wide variety of projects – ads, booklet, flyers, magazines, fund-raising pieces, websites, etc – which I love, because it keeps me interested and challenged. I have been expanding my involvement in children’s books, helping authors get self-published through my design work. Up to this point, I have focused exclusively on picture books … until now.

Approached by a children’s writer I know to do a chapter book, I hesitated. I do love working on picture books, and wondered if maybe I should stay with what I know best. Well, I took the challenge and the result is the first chapter book I designed, The Last Rhino, by Deb Stevenson. Deb, illustrator Morgan Spicer, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

If interested in reading more on my initial journey with chapter books, please visit my graphics blog. To learn more about The Last Rhino, just click on the image above, or watch Deb’s outstanding trailer.

 

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On the top of a dresser, under a handmade box, is a small piece of paper with my writing on it. It’s been there forever, never moves except when I’m cleaning. Many days I don’t even look at it – I know what it says. But other days I look and know I absolutely have to think about these four questions.

Change can bring with it a lot of stress. Changing how I think and go about my daily routine, focusing on where I want to go … not so easy in the face of so many ongoing demands on my time. Three of those questions are “big picture’, but how I can make change more manageable is to focus on the third – What do I want for my life today? It’s a way of helping me keep my eye on my dreams when running from new and/or bigger challenges would be so much easier, and when I want to curl up safely in old habits which don’t serve me. Procrastination is based on fear and I can’t afford fear anymore; actually, haven’t been able to for some time, but it seems that the Universe is about to give me the next big push.

To remind myself that I can swim in the deep end of the pool – because in my heart I know I can – I’ve made a post-it for my Mac –

What do I want for my life today?

And I’ll think. And know. And swim.

 

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