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1. The humbling side of living overseas

I've received so many nice notes from you guys. You tell me that I'm living the dream you wish you could and you are living vicariously. Thank you for your sweet and inspirational notes, I'll keep the posts coming as this has become my diary of sorts. This experience is truly wonderful. However, today I want to share a more emotional side of this change...
     This move to Edinburgh has been amazing, and overwhelming, and humbling. We take for granted the knowledge we have when we live in a certain place - the contacts, the awareness, the sense of direction. Part of all this walking is to become familiar with these new people, new customs, and to discover where everything is.

The hedge at the Royal Botanic Garden.
     This new home is fabulous and challenging. For instance, I don't know where to go to buy the simplest things. What stores sell back-packs? Where do I buy new lingerie? If I need a rubbish bin (trash can), where do I get one? And even if I did know, where do you find the deals? Do I need to take a bus to get there? I'm not terribly good at those yet. But, I'm learning - slowly.

Randomly spotted sign on Thistle Street.
     And then there's the accent. In the middle of Fringe, my American accent marked me as a tourist. I heard a lot of, "Enjoy your holiday!" But now that Fringe is ending, people are starting to question why I'm still here. It's making for more interesting conversations. "We just moved here." "Really? Oh, wow!"

A pub near our new flat.
     I'm a bit of a mimic, so I imagine I'll pick up the accent soon - much to the annoyance of my friends in the states when I return, I'm guessing.

A miniature of the real ones - The Kelpies.
     I've heard people make fun of folks who pick up or adopt accents after a short time away. But now that I'm here, I get it. It's not that you're trying to be charming or cute, it's that you're simply trying to fit in, to be accepted, to not have your nationality bias the opinions of those with whom you're speaking. And while it can be fun to be different, there are times when you just want to be anonymous, to be a part of the crowd.
     So, how long does it take to feel embedded in a new place? Will being a student help me feel more a part of the heartbeat of this thriving city? How long before I know people by name and they know me? Before I'm saying 'hi' to folks on the streets?
     Ironically, Edinburgh is actually a small town and it's already happening. I'm beginning to know folks - the man who sells us our meat, our wine, our cheese. The waitress from the local pub. Last night we went to hear a band at our nearest and new favorite pub, The Barony.

Our pub.
I already know the names of two of the bartenders and they recognize us and smile warmly when we come in. (Keep in mind - pubs here are not just about drinking - these are the community gathering places.) The band was fantastic and even played Little Feet - blew our minds! It was so fun to feel a part of a local crowd in our new neighborhood. In fact, it's one thing I love most about Edinburgh, it truly is a small town despite its largesse. And while I still pinch myself over how lucky I am to be here, I have a long way to go before I feel at home. Even so, I can feel it happening bit by bit, friend by friend. Love it!

Princes Street Gardens.

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2. The New Screen Savers - featuring Stan!

Recently, Stan was a guest on The New Screen Savers. It's a show about computers and technology which used to be the headline show for cable's Tech TV channel. Since the channel's demise, the show has gone live online. If there's a geek in your life, you can be sure he or she knows about it. Stan has been an avid fan of the show since it's inception.
     Stan had a question about saving my enormous art files to the Cloud - something we've been trying to figure out for some time now. I work digitally and my illustration files are enormous - often about a half meg each. I can't keep them all on my laptop because it has limited space. So we've been employing external hard drives. It works, but it's not ideal from an access or safety standpoint. Cloud storage is available out there for average-sized files, but we've not found an affordable service available for files like mine.
     Stan turned to the experts. He submitted his question earlier in the summer and the show's producers got back to him a few weeks ago. The show is filmed live in California and now that we're in Scotland that meant an 8-hour time difference in screening. So Stan set up Skype to talk to Leo and the guys at our new kitchen counter and was filmed at about midnight.
     The show is now archived online and you can see Stan do his bit. Stan comes on at the 57:00 mark. CLICK HERE to go see it, and Go Stan!

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3. Swarming Mayflies

While we were in Blois, we experienced a natural phenomena - swarming Mayflies. I'd never seen anything like it. The swarms were as thick as snow, but more like a blizzard because they flew every which way, including into your hair. ACK! They only live for a day and fell to the ground in drifts of white, which crunched when you walked over them (or drove over them as you'll hear in the video). The next morning, they all lay dead with their little white wings sticking up to the sky. What a sight! CLICK HERE or the image to go see the video on YouTube.
I also found this lovely poem by George Crabbe...

In shoals the hours their constant numbers bring,
Like insects waking to th' advancing spring;
Which take their rise from grubs obscene that lie
In shallow pools, or thence ascend the sky:
Such are these base ephemeras, so born
To die before the next revolving morn.
—George Crabbe, "The Newspaper", 1785

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4. The New Flat

We're finally in to our home for the foreseeable future! We're exhausted from days and days of walking marathons all over the city, so we're tucking in and enjoying our new pad. Stan made us our first meal (lentil and spinach soup - to die for) and we sat and sat while enjoying it. Neither one of us wanted to get up, we were so happy right there.

And the light was amazing. Watching it climb up the sides of the buildings was a spectacular show. And the windows are so tall, we see so much sky! One of the views we're most excited about is our long view towards Broughton Street.
We slept like coma patients on our first night. Here is the morning view (taken later in the day).
Any my new office. (Don't expect it to look this neat for long.)
And Stan's new office with the 'welcome to your new home' bouquet we purchased at the most picturesque florist in the world - which happens to be at the end of our street, Narcissus.
But back to the views and the light... Because truly, watching the light do it's tricks in Edinburgh is absolutely stunning. Here's some eye-candy from the other evening, walking home from the Book Festival where we had drinks with David Almond and his family. This is Calton Hill, which is near our new flat, but which we have yet to explore.
What I love about this city is nobody takes it for granted, even the locals. This will be one of the main bridges I cross everyday to get to class.
When we got to the other side after taking this picture, a group of people had stopped, tourists and locals alike, all with their cameras raised. Why? This is why.
The sun had turned the city and the sky to gold. My photo doesn't do it justice. And no, we haven't tried the Ferris Wheel yet, but we will!
     Back to the flat... We're going through those little things you do when you're settling into a new home. Buying essentials, finding homes for things, writing lists of what we need, and trying to figure stuff out. Like this, for instance.
I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was for, I just knew it had something to do with the clothes drying rack. After much debate on Facebook, it has been determined to be a stockings dryer - tuck the toes/legs through the holes and let the panty side hang down to dry. (Thanks, Lisa Jacobi!) So there!
     More soon!

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5. Traveling, Adaptability, and Groceries

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me during our months of living out of suitcases is how amazingly adaptable we are. After all, people need the same things - a place to eat, sleep, poop and bathe. That's it. How those needs are accomplished is where things get different. But I've discovered that when you stop worrying about what your silverware looks like, you realize that if you have a fork, a spoon and a decently sharp knife, you're good. Most beds are perfectly comfortable when you're exhausted. (And you don't notice most nighttime noises or lights for the same reason.)
     Here's an example... Stan is the cook in our family. Not only does he enjoy it, he's downright good at it. But the kitchens since we left Atlanta have been challenging. In Roanoke, we had a dorm-room-style kitchen. In France, we had a kitchen the size of a large closet with steep ceilings and a laundry drying rack in the center (laundry will be its own post). Here in our short-term flat, we have a nice, but small, galley kitchen.
     Add to that, grocery shopping in Europe is downright different. There are grocery stores everywhere, but they're small set-ups where you buy the basics (amazingly, many have plenty of gluten free options). They proudly display their produce outside as enticements to draw you in.


     Inside, you're most likely to find what you need, but there won't be many choices. You know that overwhelming aisle of various toilet paper brands you're used to? I used to have melt-downs trying to decide if I need soft or two-ply or recycled or, or... Well, not here. They offer one kind, that's it. In France, it happened to be pink. And it was fine.
     I've actually been thinking about that a lot. Pardon the toilet paper analogy, but it works. In America, we have the wonderful option of choices. So many choices! But maybe that's not always such a great thing. I have wasted so much brain time on what type of toilet paper to buy. I just don't care! And yet, the American commercial engine used commercials, ads, billboards, packaging, etc. to force me to care about the silliest minutia - which brand, style, 2-ply, 3-ply. After all, when several yards of grocery store floor space and shelves upon shelves are dedicated to the various papers you use for the most base purpose, it must be important - right? Hm.
     Anyhow, you get the picture. Not having all those choices over mundane products has freed my brain to think about the choices I do care about. Like, which wine or cheese to buy.

Gruyere from an Italian vendor in Grassmarket - displayed proudly in our little short-term let kitchen, which also has a steep ceiling.
     If you want specialty items, you have to remember which stores carry what. And while there are some amazing produce stands and specialty stores like the boulangerie, fish monger, butcher, etc., the most fun shopping options are the weekend farmers markets. Here was the market in Blois:



With bubbles from the adjacent toy store!
    It's where people gather, catch up with friends, and enjoy a festival atmosphere for a day. Edinburgh has them too (more pictures soon). Between Saturday and Sunday you can find farmer's markets at Castle Terrace (the foot of the castle where J.K. Rowling's husband reportedly shops), the Grassmarket, and Broughton. On Sunday, you can find them in Stockbridge and other areas. Stockbridge and Broughton will be our closest ones.
    So rather than climb into a hot car, fight traffic, and load up with everything you might need for the apocalypse, here, you walk to a nearby specialty shop, farmers market, or small grocery store (with your own bags - they charge for them here), and you see what looks good for the next day or two.
     Last weekend, we headed to a few of the Saturday farmers markets and purchased amazingly fresh produce. Most had been grown, butchered, fermented, or aged nearby. Stan made an amazing soup with all of it in this tiny kitchen. More proof that he can create miracles in any kitchen. But truly, it's all he needed.

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6. Friday Linky List - August 28, 2015

From The Guardian (via PW): From Harry Potter Latin to Hunger Games Rome: the classical jokes hiding in your favorite children's books

From Brightly (via PW): 26 Picture Books You Won't Want to Miss This Fall

At Picture Book Builders - Lisbeth's Colors (Lisbeth Zwerger - LOVE her work!)

At School Library Journal, Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes: It Ain't Easy (Books on waiting)

From The Picture Book Den (via SCBWI British Isles): What's in it for the Adults? (on Picture Books)

At Michelle4Laughs - It's In The Details (via SCBWI Belgium) Editing Tip: Compound Adjectives

At H20 (via Bookshelf: Roundup) An interesting architectural remodel for book lovers in Paris

From Justine Musk's Tribal Writer: You are the power you don't give away

From PW: Hobbies & Crafts 2015: Adult Coloring Books

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7. Mary Ann Fraser's NO YETI YET - guest post

It's the thick of summer so I thought I'd cool you off with a new book by Mary Ann Fraser!


NO YETI YET
By Mary Ann Fraser

      For me, creating picture books is a lot like skiing. There’s the initial rush when you launch yourself into the project, followed by the silent screams when you realize that you may have taken the black diamond trail by mistake. You dig in your edges to carve around the twists and turns, dodge a few near collisions, and sigh in relief when at last you arrive at the end in one piece. But some books are more like the slow, steady slog down a bunny slope, so flat in areas you stall out and find yourself walking to the lift to go up and try again. Such was the case with NO YETI YET.
      The project had its roots in an earlier picture book that I sold years ago about a boy adopted by a bigfoot. Soon after completing all of the art, the publisher-who-shall-not-be-named abandoned the book. I tried to resell it, but with no success. Several years later, I pulled my sad, orphaned picture book from my “slush file” and showed it to my new agent Abigail Samoun with Red Fox Literary. We both agreed that the story was no longer viable for the market as written. She suggested I create a new story based on the bigfoot character. Fond of the abominable snowman in the Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” I quickly morphed the bigfoot into a yeti—sans sharp, pointy teeth but with a penchant for hot cocoa.
      As an author/illustrator, I have learned after many books that it’s best if I focus strictly on the text in the beginning. Leading with the pictures has often led to stories short on plot and shy on substance. Instead, I pay special attention as I draft to developing the characters, the rhythm of the words, and in creating a satisfying ending. In NO YETI YET, I wanted to capture the thrill of the hunt while playing with the notion that perceptions can be misleading. I was also interested in role reversals. When the two boys finally meet the yeti, it is the know-it-all older brother who panics and the younger, more anxious brother who is quick to recognize a friend.
      Once I had the basic story nailed down, I did a blizzard of character studies. The yeti went through several mutations before I was finally satisfied. The boys, with their skinny little legs poking out beneath their over-sized winter coats, were easier. They reminded me of Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story”—all bundled-up, arms scarecrow straight, hat pulled down to his eyes.
      During the sketching phase of the process, I expanded upon the story by adding small forest animals to follow the boys as they battled the elements in search of a yeti to photograph. Throughout, the brothers are completely unaware that a yeti is following right behind. With the help of the art, the reader is in on the joke from end page to end page.
      After more drafts and dummies than I dare to count, I was ready to paint some sample spreads—well, almost. In my mind, a picture book illustrator is never more than an indentured servant to a story. It is the tone and intent of the words that ultimately dictate the technique, medium, line, and palette. To that end, I experimented with several media but realized that acrylic on paper best captured the mood I was after and together with matt medium allowed me to build texture and translucency in a way that added interest. The next challenge was figuring out how to paint a white yeti against a snowy background under bright lights while avoiding the perils of “snow blindness!” (Snow goggles, anyone?)
Mary Ann's studio:
      There were the usual redo’s, the discarded “darlings,” (you know those bits that are too clever for their own good), and the near misses when the project makes it to acquisitions only to be shot down, but with the guidance of my patient agent, the project sold to Peter Pauper Press. My yeti had found a home. Mara Conlon, my wonderful, insightful editor, nurtured him, gave him a good dose of tough love, and in the end the book made it to the printer ahead of schedule. How often does that happen?
      Start to finish it was a great run. So, yeah, NO YETI YET, did not have the rush of bombing straight downhill, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t without its heart-pumping spills, chills, and thrills. So, back in line for the next chairlift to the top. I wonder which trail I’ll take next?
      To learn more about Mary Ann Fraser or NO YETI YET, visit maryannfraser.com.

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8. Why Change isn't as hard as you think

Who doesn't dream of living in a small flat in Paris, where the light glows, everyday objects glitter, you are twenty pounds lighter and handsome brogues notice you on the street as you tuck a baguette (which you purchased in fluent French) under your arm and tuck a flower into your cascading hair? Yeah.
     The thing I've learned from this move overseas, traveling first to romantic France and then moving to breathtaking Scotland, is that wherever you travel, you take yourself with you. You will be the same person you were back home (wherever home was) when you get to your new life adventure. You will look the same, have the same habits and needs, even the same quirks, strengths and weaknesses. And while that may sound somewhat depressing, it's exactly why making a major life change isn't as hard as you might think.
     When everything in your life is changing, its comforting to know there is still one thing you can rely on - yourself. It's why I don't feel all that different as I sit here surrounded by amazing and ancient buildings.

     I thought that turning my life upside down and changing everything would make me feel different somehow. But this all feels pretty darned normal. I know that sounds unbelievable considering my circumstances. I'm staying in a flat above the Royal Mile in the thick of the Fringe Festival with the sound of a bagpipe wafting through the open window. But consider this... I took a shower. I ate my breakfast - fruit, yogurt and muesli, I'm actually getting some work done and blogging. These are things I do every day. My needs are being met. I haven't changed on these most basic levels.
     It makes this new life so much less scary, and more fun. Because it's the things outside myself that have changed. The selection of restaurants is exciting. The scenery is over the top and beyond believable. I'm surrounded by new languages, smells, sounds and experiences. And yet, the people and tourists are all themselves too. It just doesn't feel as radically different as you might think.
     And yet, in some ways it does. I have slowly and quietly changed in some important ways that I'm quite proud of. This is not a vacation, so I haven't acquired a tan, but I have figured out what is truly important to me. I have rid myself of objects, obligations and various things that were holding me back. I have embraced new experiences. I have adapted. And I have found that while I am still just myself, I am my very best self through this experience. And that makes it all so much easier.

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9. ABOWS nominated for the Volunteer State Book Award!

I'm thrilled to share that A Bird on Water Street has been nominated for Tennessee's Volunteer State Book Award for the Middle School Division (Grades 6-8). The award is co-sponsored by the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) and the Tennessee Library Association (TLA). In 2016 and 2017, teens across Tennessee will be reading my book. In May of 2017, they will vote on their favorite title. The book with the most votes will win the award. You can learn more about the Volunteer State Book Award by visiting TASL's web site at http://www.tasltn.org/vsba. Woohoo!!!

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10. Coloring Page - Friendly Dragon

     In honor of the golden dragons at the Houdin Museum in Blois, France (which you can read about HERE), this week I give you a slightly less ferocious dragon.
     This image was originally created as a congratulations card for one of my graduating students at Hollins University, Kassy Keppol, who loves dragons!
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

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11. BIG NEWS: I now have TWO agents!!!

You read that right! Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency is my agent for children's books. But one of my recent projects turned out to be an adult one, outside her scope. So she very generously connected me with her friend and colleague, Gordon Warnock of Fuse Literary. Gordon and I hit it off and he has wonderful ideas on how to take my project to the next level. So I now have TWO agents looking out for me and trying to share my creations with the world!! I am so excited and grateful to have these two allies on my side!!

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12. Apartment Hunting in Edinburgh

Real estate policies in Edinburgh kept us from securing an apartment before we arrived (they insist you see a property first - understandable, but not convenient in our case). So we've ended up having to apartment hunt after our arrival in the middle of Fringe Festival - not ideal.
     1.5 million visitors land on Edinburgh during the month of August for the plethora of festivals and events that occur every summer and nearly every inch of rental space is taken by either tourists or performers as a result. And while it's been wonderful to hear live music on every corner and see incredible street performers everywhere we walk, it's made apartment hunting especially challenging.
     That said, my amazing hubby was able to find us a hotel room in the development we thought we wanted to live in - Simpson Loan. And while I still adore the park it faces...


we've learned some important lessons by staying here.
10 Things we've learned to look for:
1. It's good to have a grocery store nearby. It's bad to be right next to or on top of a grocery store. Between the shopping carts, delivery trucks, and automatic announcements, they are LOUD and they open early and close late.
2. Beautiful seagulls from the sea (nearby Leith is a port town) are like pigeons here. They flock and enjoy large grassy areas. And while they are fun to watch and hear while awake, it's better to live somewhere where they don't tend to gather, because it turns out, they don't sleep. No respect I tell you:
I believe this is the Royal Scots Greys Monument overlooking the Princes Street Gardens - with a seagull on his head.
3. Being in the city center is fabulous, everything is within walking distance - truly. Living on a busy street, however, is not fabulous. Gorgeous cobbled streets make for noisy tires. Restaurants and pubs are open late, which tourists take advantage of. There is no A/C here (they truly don't need it), but with open windows to allow fresh air in, things can get LOUD.
4. Finding a neighborhood pub is a must - preferably one with old wood, a great bar, a sense of community, and a fireplace for winter. Living too near said pub is not desirable. LOUD drunken revelers in the wee hours are best avoided. (Noticing a trend here?)
5. The bus system here is fantastic, so if you can't be in walking distance to where you need to be every day (the College of Art), be sure to be near a bus station which can get you there in speedy fashion. This is not hard, but definitely a consideration.
6. Light is a big deal here. Edinburgh is so far north, days are short in the winter. The last thing you want is an apartment that is so low to the ground, it falls into shadow early.
7. Fishbowls are not my thing. Living in a city is tight and it's easy to end up with a view of windows looking back at you. I like my privacy, so that's a tricky one.
This was our hotel room view:
8. Traditional architecture in the UK has the kitchen separate from the living room. Communal living space is a more modern idea and is found in newer buildings rather than the charming old ones.
9. Old building can be beautiful but they can also have drafty old windows, no elevators, and large quirky spaces that are expensive to fill up and make look cozy. Since we're still about not buying a whole lot of stuff and being more mobile we're looking for a furnished apartment, so a too large space was a big consideration. On the flip side, newer construction can sometimes have too-worn furniture, or be shoddy and low quality. Who wants to hear a toilet flush two floors away in the middle of the night?
10. And here's an interesting one... Edinburgh is a vibrant and young city, especially near the University. It's inspiring to be around it, but it can also make you feel old. Okay, it can make me feel old. There are plenty of places around town where Stan and I fit in and there are some where we don't so much. I'm going to be the oldest students in my program (I am the same age as the professors), it will be nice to go home to a neighborhood where I feel like I fit in. In fact, one of the Uni professors lives in our new building!
     So! With all that said, we walked nearly the entire city in two days:
And we ended up choosing an apartment that I don't think we would have considered before we arrived. It's in the Broughton area (a known artsy/writers district), between two busy streets with lots of fun and convenient stuff going on, but it's in a quiet back way (you'd never know it was there if somebody didn't tell you) with wide views of old buildings surrounding it and chimneys (gotta love old chimneys), so it gets plenty of light, has privacy, and is quiet for the big city. It is a two bedroom, one bath - that's the big compromise, we're really going to have to love our guests. But it is cozy and comfortable and felt like a hug the moment we walked into it. There's also a convenient bus stop nearby. Here are some pics of the living room, kitchen, and guest room:


     If all goes well, we'll move in on Thursday - woohoo!

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13. More on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

Truly, we are right in the heart of it. We had breakfast this morning on the corner - a true Scottish breakfast. I had haggis for the first time and actually loved it! No apartment viewings today so we are just leisurely meandering and enjoying all the sights and sounds. And oh, are there some! Prepare for image overload...




These guys were amazing - maybe the same ones I was listening to last night:
I keep getting pictures of Stan (and he's getting pics of me, which I don't have yet). Y'all are just going to have to get used to his handsome mug!

   
Yes, that is a traditional bagpipe player in a kilt...and a stormtrooper in a kilt.

Fringe Festival on the Royal Mile is all about performances - most of which happen in small theatres or pubs just off the street. So, on the street, members of the cast are constantly trying to hand you flyers about their performances. They get creative with their delivery methods and many wear the costumes from their performances.


Just off the Royal Mile, we finally found The Writers Museum. Can't wait to go back and explore!
On the way back up to the main road, I was greeted by dragons:
And perhaps one of these days we'll take one of these:

Reality check: I'm in our flat putting together this post, but I had to take a break to hang laundry (dealing with laundry in Europe needs to be its own blog post) by the open window, where I'm being serenaded by the cast of Oliver from the street below. This is my life now.

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14. Illustrator Challenge #14

We've been playing with light, soft and hard, one source and two. This week, draw a scene using two light sources. But make this one complicated. For instance, if the sun is one light source, maybe it's coming through a window, and the second light source is a lamp. Or the moon and a lamp. Or a star and fireflies. Get the idea?

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15. Fringe Festival in the short let! SCBWI and the Book Festival too!

So the hotel was a good temporary stop, but we needed a little longer than was reasonable while we look for a place to stay. Awesome Stan somehow snagged us a short-term let apartment right in the thick of the Fringe Festival! And I do mean right in the thick! Here's the view:


     The pictures don't do it justice. We are on THE Royal Mile at the top of Cockburn Street. The road to the left is closed off to traffic because street performers and revelers have filled the street from end to end. Every 100 yards feet (!) or so there is another musician, street performer, drama, group performance, magician, dance troupe, you name it. Oh, and a cafe. As I type, an amazing Spanish guitarist is ripping it up three stories down. I hope he stays there all night. Except for the clapping between songs, I might be able to sleep to him!
     Of course, we've still been running around checking out potential properties - hard to do in the thick Fringe crowds. So we stopped at a pizza place (gluten free pizza!) in the Grassmarket for lunch before meeting another realtor. More on the results of that soon...
     Happily, we actually participated in one of the best features of the Fringe Fest today - the International Book Festival. (Fringe is actually a whole bunch of smaller festivals all going on at the same time.) We caught up with Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Kerner for tea before the evening's panel discussion. Jane lives in St. Andrews part of the year, but she's about to head back to the states, so I'm glad we were able to catch up before she goes.
     Then we headed over to the book festival for the Southeast Scotland SCBWI panel on surviving being published. It was my first official SCBWI event here and the people are fantastically nice - as I knew they would be! It was a very informative panel as well.
     Afterwards though, I was so tired and chilly, we grabbed a cab to get back to our new flat (which we weren't sure we could find again anyhow). I LOVE cabs!
      Anyhow, for dinner this evening, we grabbed a bratwurst before heading up to our flat. The grill stand is right outside our building's front door, which is why the apartment is filled with the smell of sausages! Here's the view tonight:
     Wish us luck on falling asleep! The fireworks haven't even begun yet! (Every night at the castle all through Fringe/August.)
MORE TOMORROW!

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16. Friday Linky List - August 21, 2015

From Writers Write (via StumbleUpon): 45 ways to avoid using the word 'very'

From Design School: Color Theory - very cool!

From Nathan Bransford: Creativity tip: When you need inspiration, figure out what you need to know

From School Visit Experts: Tense About School Visits? You Don't Have to Do Them

From This is Edinburgh: Official Local Guide to Edinburgh: One Day, A Must see guide - did several of these recently.

Here's What Walking Does To Your Brain - which is why I moved to a pedestrian city! (We do not own a car now!)

At Mothering.com (via SCBWI Belgium): How Diverse Are the Books You Read to Your Kids? Here's Why it Matters

From The Washington Post (via Binders Full of MG Writers FB Group): Do book tours sell books? Maybe not, but that shouldn't stop you from having a good time

We met the nicest couple in the airport on the way to Edinburgh. Turned out they own a PR firm and this is one of their performers, Madame Sunshine Helene (click the image to go listen):

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17. FAB FOUR FRIENDS - author and illustrator interview!

Susanna Reich and Adam Gustavson are here today to talk about their latest book, THE FAB FOUR FRIENDS. Take it away!

Susanna: Hi, Adam! I'm excited to chat with you about Fab Four Friends. Here's a question to get us started. I know that you play the guitar. How did being a musician help you in creating the images for the book? Susanna

Adam: Hi there, Susanna! Yes indeed, after all this time since you finished writing and I finished painting, it is exciting to get to talk about things.
      I think being a musician really had quite an influence on how I went about illustrating the book, probably in more ways than I consciously thought about it during the process. There were so many themes and experiences in the story that would be familiar to practicing musicians, whether playing guitar on a bedroom or living room, or rehearsing in a basement, or even playing shows in weird, dimly lit and questionably decorated clubs. It was an interesting experience blending these two sides of my life together, actually. For the sake of visual storytelling, I’d like to think these same experiences— which result in a kind of personalized approach to the pictures’ compositions— had the end result of further humanizing our almost mythically famous characters, allowing the pictures to reinforce the intimacy of the storytelling.
      From a research standpoint, there’s a lot of guitar playing in the book, and a guitarist’s relationship to their instrument is also a very personal thing; people hold them at slightly different angles and at different heights, and the Beatles’ varying preferences for certain instruments over the years is pretty well documented. In that case, it really helps to know what to look for. I also like to make sure the hand that holds the guitar neck is actually playing a chord...
      So, a big question, maybe: what drew you to write a music biography, and why do you think the story of the Beatles’ early development appealed to you as a subject?
Susanna: This is my first picture book about musicians, but my second music biography for kids. My first book was a middle-grade bio of Clara Schumann. It was inspired by my mother, Nancy Reich, a musicologist who wrote the definitive biography of Clara in English (for adults.) As you can imagine, with a musicologist in the family, music, both live and recorded, was played constantly when I was growing up. My mother played violin and viola; her string quartet rehearsed at our house. My father was an opera lover who sang in a chorus. Once, a famous concert pianist ran through her entire upcoming recital on the Steinway grand in our living room. My brother and I were taken to orchestral and chamber music concerts and to opera from an early age, and I had years of piano lessons. I also played string bass in my school orchestra and jazz band, and like most kids in the '60s, I played folk guitar.
      There is always, always, a tune playing in my head, and if I go anywhere where background music is playing (like a grocery store), I come home humming it, usually without being aware of it. My family makes fun of my musical "sponge brain." It's interesting from a neurological standpoint (see: Oliver Sacks), but it can be annoying when I find myself unknowingly humming an inane pop song or advertising jingle.
      As for the Beatles, they were not only my favorite group when I was kid, but in my opinion they were the most important musical group of the '60s. Groundbreaking and trendsetting, both musically and culturally. In writing about them, I chose to focus on the early years because I've always been interested in the question of how and why someone becomes an artist, musician, dancer, actor. Most of my books explore the relationship between childhood experience and artistic creation, not in an academic way, but with a light touch so that kids can relate. I hope readers will be inspired not only to understand and appreciate the art that is everywhere around them (yes, even in the pop song and advertising jingle!), but to continue to be creative and to use their imaginations as they grow older.
      What that in mind, here's a question for you. How and why did you become an artist?
Adam: Well, my earliest inclination was to be a cowboy, but that was only until I found an article in National Geographic about alligators that featured a picture of an alligator farm. Clearly, my calling at that point was to be an alligator farmer. At various other times, I considered archaeologist, rock star, soldier (World War I was my personal preference)... Somewhere along the line I think I realized the only thing that all of my proclivities had in common.
      When I was interested in something, I drew it. I drew it a lot. I researched its minutia, and obsessively rendered it in my sketchbooks. On the other hand, I never thought of being an artist as something that real people actually did; while my family was very artistic and creative—my two brothers and I never played catch, we drew and made action figures out of modeling clay together—my father was an orthopedic engineer who commissioned cartoons from me on a regular basis, my mother drew beautifully and had an astonishing eye, but was a crafter and a hobbyist.
      But when I was a junior in high school and was starting to considered college, my father just said something like, “well, you’re going to be majoring in art, and it looks like there’s such thing as a major in ‘illustration.’” Apparently I was the only person in my life who hadn’t just assumed I’d be an artist. I’m glad I had people around me who might have known me better than I knew myself at 16, or could see my place in the world when I couldn’t. Most of what I’ve been able to do as an artist has come from the encouragement of my parents and family to find my own model to live by, and to keep at it in a world that’s not really built for oddballs and impractical thinkers.
      It’s good that I did. Even now, if I go a day without creating something, I get cranky. Two days and I feel lost and rudderless. I get whiny. Even at my busiest as an illustrator, I need to find creative outlets in between pictures and projects, usually something tangential to the work at hand. If I wasn’t an artist by trade, I’d still have to define myself as one, and I think that as hard as it is to pull off professionally, it has allowed me the luxury of focusing on my craft with far less frustration than I could if it was only my part time love.
      Because in truth, I never stop. When I sit at the table with someone, I’m constantly rearranging objects in front of me or shifting in my seat to arrange the composition I’m looking at. I’m distracted by and constantly trying to memorize lighting effect and abstract shapes that randomly appear. My brain is on a constant search for pictures.
      That brings me to wonder: with all the music and creativity surrounding you in your life, what was it about writing that drew you in? How did writing become your way of expressing other passions and interests?
Susanna: I didn't plan to be a writer. My first love was dance—that was my response to the music around me. I trained at the American Ballet Theatre School in NYC and the Royal Academy of Dance in London, but I didn't really have the right body for ballet, and by college I'd switched to modern. I danced professionally through my twenties. Writing wasn't even on the horizon.
      Then I changed careers and worked as a florist for ten years, mostly weddings and special events. It was like stepping backstage and becoming a set designer. I began writing as a way to promote my flower business. One of my first articles was about wedding bouquets, published in Brides magazine.
      I started writing for kids after my husband and I became friends with the illustrator Ed Young. This was in the early '90s. I joined SCBWI and went to conferences, learned about the publishing industry and the craft of writing, wrote a few picture books and collected rejection letters. When my local children's librarian told me she needed biographies of women, and my mother suggested Clara Schumann, I was hooked. By then, I'd had enough of the high-pressure wedding flower business. I've been writing ever since.
      Of course, dance, floral design and writing have a lot in common--structure, rhythm, phrasing, balance, color, timing, beginnings and endings, foreground and background. In each art form, I've been trying to express thoughts and feelings that are, on some level, inexpressible, because words, movements and designs are only abstract approximations of experience.
      When it comes to writing, I love grappling with words. I've always been a voracious reader and find linguistics and etymology fascinating. I especially enjoy the challenge of finding the best way to communicate complex ideas in a way that kids will understand.
      With Fab Four Friends, I had a lot of fun with the language. I learned so much about the Beatles' childhoods in post-war Liverpool, and wanted to give readers a flavor of that time by including some British slang. As I do with any picture book, I wrote this one spread by spread, with the aim of creating a colorful scenario on each page that would lend itself to illustration. I remember discussing with Christy, our editor, what kind of illustrations I envisioned--fairly realistic, not too stylized or cartoonish, something that would show the energy of rock and roll and the boys' love for it, as well as their grit and determination. Is that how you pictured it when you first read the manuscript?
Adam: Oh good, because that’s very much what I pictured on my first read through. One thing I hoped we could do between the art and the tone of the narrative was to humanize characters that have been so mythologized. A challenge in the art becomes doing this with a set of gents as photographed as The Beatles were: culturally, we can become so used to certain specific, frozen images of our celebrities, that it can be hard to objectively figure out what they look like. My hope in the pictures was to get likenesses right in some unselfconscious way, reducing them into protagonists in a story.
      (In the case of the Beatles, the fixation with parsing reality from “that famous photo” has given way to an amazing array of conspiracy theories that all stem from a thought like, “oh yeah, well if this is what we all know Paul looks like, how come his nose looks different in the other photo?” That was a singularly weird badger hole to crawl down while researching the lads...but I digress!)
      But just like writing about someone so highly regarded, producing a series of artworks that doesn’t caricature or romanticize them is a delicate balance. Trying to come up with something that just feels genuine is quite a trick. The iconic quality our fellers have attained creates another hurdle: does John Lennon, for example, look like John Lennon when he’s NOT being the picture that’s already in your head? Slicked up pompadour and leather instead of a mop top, or the beard, or the round glasses, or any of his most recognizable personas? The same goes for the rest.
      One thing I tried to keep in mind through all of this was a sense of who our book was ultimately for... I mean, yes, somewhere out there is a fan who will be relieved that George’s first guitar has the right tuning machines installed, or that the white antimacassars on Paul’s mom’s couch are correct, but all of that needs to be convenient background. It’s a good bass line: you’d notice if it wasn’t there, but if it’s doing its job, it lets everything else in the song do its job.
      The last thing I’d want to do when constructing visuals for a biography aimed at children is to make them feel like they’re coming in late to the game. Telling them how good the Beatles are shouldn’t feel like we’re just trying to tell them their parents and grandparents are cool and have good taste and this is why. It should be relatable and inspiring without that context. So every cinematic solution or facial expression should look new, not like a re-interpretation of an already famous moment. Like, appearing on the Ed Sullivan show shouldn’t feel like a great cultural landmark, it should feel like four young guys getting to play on their biggest stage yet, and the excitement contained in it should be theirs. I wanted the performance illustrations to feel like shows played by a young professional band in that same circuit, their ensuing fame not a foregone conclusion. (And all of that is secondary to just how hard it is to draw someone playing the guitar...)
      I hope all of that doesn’t sound too high falutin’. To my eye, the manuscript seemed to already aim for a similar goal, one of relatability and humanization, and of making events that have taken on a mythology of their own feel like they’re happening for the first time, without all the meaning we’ve had 40+ years to assign them. So that’s what was going on in my mind through those months I dug in weaving pictures into your words. I hope that’s vaguely what we wound up doing!
      Susanna: Well, now that the book is going out into the world, we’ll find out! Thanks for the conversation, Adam, and for your wonderful illustrations. I can see that we’ve been on the same wavelength all along, even though we’ve never met.

Elizabeth: Thanks for stopping by guys!

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18. We have arrived in Edinburgh!

Monday was the beginning of the new chapter of our new lives. We hugged Claude and Monique good-bye and loaded our lives onto a train from Tours, France to Paris. This is what a life in transit looks like:

This was not an easy haul. But this was our view as we sped across the French countryside on the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or "high-speed train").
I was so excited, I could barely stand it!
     Charles de Gaulle airport was not nearly as bad as its reputation (although they do need more elevators in the train station), and we made it to our terminal in plenty of time. We watched the crowd subtly change from French to Scottish. There are differences in bone structure, stance, dress, and expressions. The Scottish people are amazingly friendly and just tend to smile more than any other people I've ever met! We climbed aboard our EasyJet plane and an hour and a half later, we landed in Scotland. Again, I was so excited, the customs official was laughing at/with me. I couldn't stop smiling! Here's the lovely welcome at baggage claim:

So happy...
A quick taxi ride later through the town that has blossomed in this warmer weather with outdoor seating everywhere, and we arrived at our hotel in Simpson Loan. We paid our taxi cab driver who dropped us at the curb. And here was more proof of how nice people here are... Stan was about to go hunt down a caddy for our luggage while I waited with our bags at the curb. The taxi driver got out of his car and said, "Oh gads, this will take two minutes." And he helped us get our luggage to the hotel entrance (a bit away from the curb and after we'd already paid him). How nice!
     We settled into our hotel room and then headed to what, we hope, will be one of our more well used local pubs, Lister Square. What a welcome! The bartender is an expert in Scotch. A live musician played some of our favorite songs. And this is what bar fare looks like in Edinburgh:
Stan had the salmon.

And I had the haddock and risotto.
It really is amazing how good the food here is - it's on a completely different level than anywhere else I've ever lived. YUM!!! AND, Stan and I were able to clink our glasses in victory for having finally made it to Edinburgh!
Now we start apartment hunting. Wish us luck!

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19. NERDY BIRDY's Aaron Reynolds and Matt Davies interview!

I have a treat for you today! Author Aaron Reynolds (of CARNIVORE'S and DESTRUCTOSAURUS fame) and author/illustrator/editorial cartoonist Matt Davies dropped by to talk about their latest picture book together, NERDY BIRDY (Neal Porter Books/Macmillan). Take it away guys!


Q&A with Aaron Reynolds and Matt Davies

AR: Matt, you are a Pulitzer Prize Winning political cartoonist! So, when I found out you were illustrating NERDY BIRDY, I was super-excited. I’m always blown away by some of the amazing talent that gets paired with me to illustrate the stories I write. How did you go from political cartoons to illustrating kids’ books?

MD: First of all, I am answering these questions in a rather tasteful bar with a VERY loud piano playing guy in the background, so if my answers make no sense, that’s my excuse.
      It always sounds weird when people remind me of the Pulitzer thing…I still don’t really understand how I ended up with one of those. And I must say the admiration is mutual. I was very flattered when I was asked to join the impressive roster of people who had illustrated an Aaron Reynolds book. As to your question, there have actually been many editorial cartoonists who’ve done children’s books. Theodore Geisel is a relatively well known one that comes to mind. As to my motivation, I’m like most of the adult population who grudgingly have to read some so-so books to their children: I thought I could do one. So being a person who, y’know, writes and draws, I set about drawing and writing, and through dumb luck ended up with an amazing agent, (Paul Rodeen) and somehow sold my amalgamated scribbles to an amazing editor (Neal Porter).
      I must say, there’s not THAT much difference between editorial cartoons and children’s books. At the core of each (for me, at least) is a subtle exhortation to be empathetic. The only difference is that one audience is immature, and the other audience is children. I do enjoy straddling both worlds and while I have a full time job drawing daily cartoons for Newsday, I am firmly committed to creating many, many, many more picture books.
      My turn. Do you come to your stories as a whole, or do you have a vague idea of a story, or character, and then work out the plot details as you go? And is it the same every time you write, or does the muse vary from book to book?

AR: Aw, shucks. Well, my stories usually start as just a nugget of an idea. NERDY BIRDY just came in a flash…just those two words. Being a full-blown nerd myself, I thought Okay, that’s a fun concept. It wasn’t until I sat down to write it that the story started to take shape and make sense. That’s usually how it is for me with picture books…a nugget, a character, a phrase, and then the rest forms as I work. For longer stuff, like graphic novels, I typically use an outline. I’ll plot out the story roughly and use it as a springboard, but it’s only a rough path. The story is free to ignore me altogether and take on a life of its own as it comes up with better ideas than I had. That’s the amazing thing about writing…sometimes you write the story and sometimes the story decides what you write.
      So, let’s talk more about getting published. My own journey to publication took years. Five years and over three hundred rejections before I sold my first book. How was your journey? Once you decided to pursue kids publishing, was the journey quick or slow?

MD: Oh wow. It took me a few months, but I think the fact that I was a fancy-pants cartoonist helped me to hoodwink people into thinking I knew what I was doing. It took me at least a decade of rejection and crushing humiliation to become a fancy-pants cartoonist though, so…
      Your path as a celebrated writer is now carved solidly into the children’s book world. What other jobs would you be doing if you hadn’t followed your current path? (For the record, I wanted to be a marine biologist!)

AR: Haha! It’s funny that you say that. I never think that I’m solidly carved into anything. I’m constantly terrified that somebody is going to wake up and realize that I’m just making this stuff up! But I guess I am. I guess we all are as artist…just making it up as we go.
      As far as what else I would do…it would have to be creative. Probably a chef. A little known fact is that I actually went to culinary school before becoming a writer. I love food and am greatly inspired by it. I had big plans to go on to chef-dom, but got side-swiped by other opportunities that led me to writing.
      So…lots of people are surprised to find out that I never get to meet or work directly with my illustrators. Do you wish we had sat side-by-side to collaborate or do you appreciate the separation between author and illustrator that often exists? Answer honestly! You won’t hurt my feelings!

      MD: I would’ve loved to have sat down with you to hear your hopes and dreams for your characters. Yours was the first book I tackled that I didn’t write, and I felt an overwhelming responsibility to not let you down. That said, the story and writing communicated a very clear and lighthearted aesthetic, so once I’d sketched out the visual story arc I felt pretty comfortable translating that in my own scribbly way.
Matt's studio:
      What is it like to conjure written characters and then see what one of your illustrative collaborators does with them? Does it make you nervous? Or is it always a pleasant surprise to let it go and see what comes back?

AR: Ha! I have learned to make like Elsa and Let It Go. I truly get excited to see what the illustrator will come up with. I know a number of writers who get tied up in knots over the process. I dunno…maybe I’ve just been very lucky. Most of my books have turned out better than I myself could have imagined. A lot of that has to do with my relationship with my editors. Even though I don’t usually get to pick the illustrators (I’ve just lucked out), I do get to decide what publishers and editors I make books with. So, when I trust my editor and have faith in their vision, then the rest usually takes care of itself. And it has, in spades.
Aaron's fave writing spot:
      Though, I’ll be honest…I sometimes wish I could illustrate my own stories, but I can barely draw a stick figure (though that worked out okay for Jeff Kinney). What’s your favorite: illustrating your own stories or illustrating somebody else’s story?

      MD: Good writing and stick figures work! A friend of mine, talented children’s author and illustrator Jamison Odone did a great book called Stickfiguratively Speaking - and it was fantastic. (Bad writing and great art don’t work so well though…)
      So far I’ve authored and illustrated two books, and illustrated one (Nerdy Birdy) so I am not much of an authority, but I have enjoyed both immensely. The process is very different though. When I’m writing a children’s picture book, I sketch the dummy pages and write them at the same time – as a whole piece. It helps with the visual storytelling flow, and whereas I can write say, “the girl walked into the room”, I can also just draw a girl walking into the room, and eliminate a sentence! When I was sketching the story for Nerdy Birdy, I had to drape the art around the framework of your words, which was a tremendous challenge – and a lot of fun.
      You probably noticed I got a bit carried away and threw in some of my own little humor flourishes. (I hope you didn’t mind). Do your illustrators often do that? Also - If you could illustrate your own work, what style would you try to master? Comic book, noir, painterly, pointillism…?

AR: I LOVE it when the artist brings their own humor and visual jokes to the story. That’s their job, and the best illustrators do exactly that. I feel that it’s the illustrator’s job not just to draw my words, but to dance WITH me, to tell the rest of the story that isn’t in the words. That’s the power of having two creative individuals working on it. And the best books do just that.
     As far as what style I would try to master…I don’t know where to begin answering that. Probably just graduating up from stick figures would be a good start.
      Speaking of great artists, I think the best artists of today are illustrating kids’ books. In the past, great artists could primarily only express themselves in paintings. I totally think Van Gogh would have illustrated picture books if he could have (and maybe not been such a tormented artist). What great artists from times gone by do you think would have made awesome children’s book illustrators?

      MD: That’s a superb question (especially as I am often stopped and told that I resemble a certain earless Dutch painter.) I have so very many favorite artists who I imagine would’ve creating stunning children’s books. How about Salvador Dali? I am very fond of his bread hats.
Matt in his studio:
      An adjunct to your question; which of your favorite adult writers would you like to see create a children’s book?

AR: Fewer than you might think. Some try and fail, in my opinion. The idea is out there that creating a children’s book is easy, but it’s such a different medium than writing for adults. Having said that, there are many creatives that never did create kids’ books that I wish had: Jim Henson and Albert Einstein, to name a couple.
      So, Matt. Got any new books on the horizon that even I don’t know about yet? Give us the scoop!

MD: I have so many story ideas in my sketchpad, but it’s too early to officially tell anyone which one will be my next book. (Though a little birdy told me there might just be a follow-up to Nerdy Birdy…)
      How about you? Anything exciting/challenging/secret we should know about rumbling on your literary horizon?

AR: I’m excited to say that I have several new books coming. There’s a new picture book due out next year just in time for Election year called PRESIDENT SQUID. I have a new graphic novel series that debuts next year as well (the title is still being finalized). And yes…I just finished a second NERDY BIRDY book, that you should be working on soon. So get busy!!!

Thanks for stopping by guys! e

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20. Friday Linky List - August 14, 2015

At School Visit Experts: Understanding Schools, Avoiding Miscommunications

From Tim Grahl via the SCBWI British Isles: The ADHD Guide to Writing

From Jezebel (via SCBWI British Isles): Nom de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name

From The New York Times: The Top 10 Best Illustrated Books

From Bookshelf: Reading for pleasure builds empathy and improves wellbeing, new research finds

From the SCBWI Summer Conference: Alison Weiss: Ten Things You're Doing Wrong in MG

From Fairrosa Cyber Library: Who Publishes Caldecott Winning Titles (1996-2015)?

From Nathan Bransford: The Best 100 Movies Challenge

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21. Castle Blois and other things...

So many of you are emailing your appreciation (and envy) of our adventure overseas. Thanks so much for your kind notes! So today I thought I'd give you a little balance and perspective on the trip... while wrapping it in more wonders. For instance, did you know that bats (which I never minded and thought were quite cute) are basically poop machines when they get trapped in a four-story stairwell? Yeah. The window was open for airflow (there's no a/c here), but it will remained closed from now on. So anyhow...
     The other day Stan and I headed up to the castle and had a picnic on a lovely bench under a shady tree. The Houdin museum's dragons were working and we got some great photos:

For all the times I've been to Blois, I'd never seen the dragons because they were always broken. Not this time! They growl and stomp the balconies down with their big feet, and open and close their roaring mouths, before retreating back into the windows to come out again later. (Click the photo to see a larger version in a new window.)
     Afterwards we went to tour the Castle Blois and see the exhibit of ancient books (manuscripts) hand painted by "Illuminators" (a.k.a. "illustrators"). Gads, they were stunning.
     At any rate, the castle was well worth the visit. Here are some pics:



The castle was built in three stages during different periods in history, as reflected by the various styles. But the amount of craftsmanship during every time period is overwhelming!

The castle doesn't really seem that removed from the village below, and yet most of the monarchy had their heads removed at some point. Makes me wonder if they were spitting loogies over the castle walls or something. They would have certainly hit somebody:

And hey - we can see our apartment from here! (That's our kitchen window circled in red.)
Maybe it was just the wealth of the amazing books, art, and these scary dudes hanging over your head every time citizens walked by:
  
Oh, the spoils of being king - with a salamander insignia!

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22. Illustrator Challenge #13

Use that same object from the last two weeks, but now draw it using TWO light sources - one primary and one secondary. Even better if one of those lights can be warm, and the other cool.

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23. Adult Coloring Books

I love this recent story on NBC News: Thinking Outside of the Crayon Box, Adults Use Coloring Books as Stress-Reducer. Don't I know it! Adults have been using my coloring pages for various things for years! Click the video to watch the story on NBC News:

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24. Morning in Blois

I never claimed to be a poet, although sometimes it comes out of me anyway...

Morning in Blois
A sickle moon glows in a sunrise sky.
Pinks and blues promise another hot day.
Cool, shallow waters of the Loire
slide under ancient bridges,
as Ducks and Terns plunder its shoreline.
High in my fourth floor flat,
although called the third in France,
I watch
sparrows line antenna stands
reflected in my bedroom window
open to the warming breezes
which send lace curtains dancing shadows
over cracked plaster walls.
Pigeons coo atop the opposite roof peak
then flap, flap, flap to nearby perches
along the river and through the cobbled streets where I will follow soon.

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25. Coloring Page Tuesday - Knitting Sheep

     Today, we head to our new home! Once again Claude will drive us to Paris where we'll fly on to Edinburgh! You may have heard that there are more sheep in Scotland than people. It's true. And many of my friends are knitters...so! This sheep, who may be in a bit of trouble soon, was drawn as a thank-you to my dear friend, Karen Coats, who made me a knitted necklace to keep me warm in my new home. (Although right now, in the heat of Blois, I can't wait for some cool!)
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     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
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