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Here you will find doodles, ramblings and goings on from my life as a writer and illustrator of books for children.
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1. Few and Far Between

Where does the time go? I just popped over to my blog to see if I should post- and YES- wow, it has been too long. So, just what has been going on over here?

Well...overall, Fred and I have been searching for the ever elusive "balance" between family, home, work and recharge time. And just as a side note- I'm looking for a new word for work. "Work" sounds so blah- it has synonyms like "drudge","grind", "slog" and "chore"- to name a few. For myself and Fred, "work" isn't that at all- it's fun, it gives meaning and purpose to our lives- it enriches and supports us as people and it is how we give back to community/society. We need a new word - a new way of languaging that concept. Anyhow...At present, we have a bit more of a balance going than we have in recent weeks. The hardest part of the equation is our child. Marla Frazee once wrote me the loveliest note about balancing occupation and children. I am paraphrasing, but she basically said that your kids will be fine and they will respect you if you pursue your passion- it will teach them how to pursue theirs. Anyhow, our kid is needing a lot of remedial help with his schoolwork and it is difficult to keep an 11 year old who has such a cushy life motivated. I think that this is the challenge with every generation- you want to make life better for your kid, but when you do you create an artificial norm.

I have been working (insert positive connotation here) on new books- 2 of my own and 2 written by other authors. For my own projects I have been learning new programs like Illustrator to help me craft the images. The software is getting so good and so much more intuitive, but require so much time to learn and become fluent in. I am grateful for it though because working in conventional media half way around the world from my publishers creates all kinds of issues- if I did work in traditional media and sent finished art to NYC it runs a high risk of being lost or damaged, and working in traditional media in an extremely humid environment invites wrinkling and other moisture issues. If you have read Elizabeth Gilbert's book The Signature of All Things, there are perfect descriptions of what happens with paper and tropical climates. 

As we approach the fall here in Mauritius I am trying to get out into the water more often before it turns cold. Last week I went out snorkeling on the reef. The experience is one that I experience in 2 distinctive ways- one is the wonder of it- a 3-d rainbow colored spectacular of fishes and corals or all colors and shapes, the second is this realization that this is a world that has a timer on it- the edges of some of the corals are white- a sign that they are dying from the acidification of the ocean, the fish are fewer and less diverse according to friends that have been snorkeling and diving here for years...I wonder sometimes as float in the warm salty water if the creatures I see will become part of the list of extinct creatures in my short lifetime...

I'm listening to an enthralling audio book The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. It's a zombie story, but not the typical zombie story- weirdly enough, I am listening to it while working on the next Princess Posey book. 

And then last week while walking around I found this village weaver nest on the ground- empty (thankfully). The male village weavers make multiple nests in hopes of attracting females to nest in them. There is a tree just down the road decorated with them. They sway and bob in the breeze. The nests are so intricate- the inside features a a weave of soft grasses. 

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2. STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos is a NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children Honoree

I am happily floored at the new that Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos is one of only FIVE books given the honor. Here is the link to the National Council of Teachers of English. Feeling proud- thank you NCTE!

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3. Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31) in High Definition Panoramic View


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4. Dolphin Watching

About two weeks ago, our very kind and generous neighbors invited us to go out with them on their boat to go dolphin watching. Inge and Michele are delightful neighbors. They retired here last year from Paris. Inge is originally from Germany, and Michele is French. I speak German with Inge and Fred speaks French with Michele and somehow, we manage to communicate and enjoy on another's company. 

Anyhow, one of their children and her husband and their kids were here on holiday and one morning, they popped by to see if we wanted to come with to look for dolphins. YES please!

They have a local skipper who took the whole group of us to the south of the island neat Tamerin. There we stopped and had some sandwiches that Inge had made and hung out around this tiny little island that appears on a lot of post cards around here. I'm not sure what it is called, but here it is. 

We spent most of the day spotting one or two dolphins...and then headed back to the north. On the way back there was a crazy rain shower and some choppy seas and then, at the end of the day, when we had given up the idea of really seeing dolphins, the sun came out and there they were. A lot of them. Everyone got snorkels, masks and flippers on and dove into the water. Tristam saw a dolphin and they looked at each other- who was the more curious about the other? Tristam had a experience of looking in to another being's eyes and seeing there a real intelligence - a real being. I think we will all remember that day of for the rest of our lives. 

Thank you Michele and Inge!

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5. Paddling

We have been back in Mauritius for almost a month. Tristam is back in school (and thankfully loving it), and Fred and I are working tweaking our work and home schedules to keep the balance we had just a few weeks ago- before thing got BUSY. The last couple of weeks, very slowly, it began to happen again...the days got chopped up into "to do's" - which totally blows, because the nothing really happens and down time vanishes for no good reason- and then the ever elusive goal of "balance" falters and becomes even more distant. Life becomes more maintenance than focus- because it gets partitioned out into little bits that are not enough time to get into anything...

This morning though, I headed back out onto the Indian Ocean on a paddle board. There was an extreme low tide- magic! No boats were able to get out into the water because it was just too shallow- not so for the paddle board. The water was calm and crystal clear. The creatures and corals that I saw this morning were the sorts of things I pin on my Pinterest boards- the kinds of life where you just marvel that this creature actually exists! I met a French man out in the water who was laying down on his paddle board looking down into the water and then sometimes he would turn on his side and look up at the towering tropical clouds. We were the only ones out on the water and he told be about some islands I could paddle to and explore- and so I did. I glided over reefs with wild looking corals and brightly colored fishes. I saw the ocean floor like I have not seen it before because the water was so clear and it was so calm- no boats. It was an experience I hope to always remember. 

At the end of it though- a bit of sadness - a hit an area with coral that was a ghostly white- it was dead. There were few fish there- and when I looked up- dozens of fisherman. The local fisherman struggle to make a living as the coral ecosystems are taxed and over-fished and the fish they have depended on for generations become more scarce and smaller....I wondered as I came in what the future of the coral reefs will be...if someday the creatures I saw out there will be limited to aquariums. 

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6. Holiday Recap

For christmas this year we wanted to give Tristam something that he could enjoy for the next number of years. we didn't want to do some brainless thing like a DS or other mind numbing video game- we wanted something that didn't rely on a time constricted platform and something that he would have to physically engage and grow with...so I called up my old friend Scott Kam at Rootamental Skateboards and he made Tristam this custom board. The board is big enough to be easy to learn on- with soft squishy wheels, but has customizable features where he can take the board to a skate park, for example, and do some tricks there as he progresses with the sport. My thoughtful parents provided him with helmets and every pad and piece of protective gear made and we all gave it to him on christmas eve. He was floored! Couldn't believe it! He was beside himself- we had always said "no" to a skateboard and he felt like he had been at a dead end with the whole thing- and now he gets a board made by a passionate, hardcore skate aficionado like Scott and the kid is over the moon. Hurrah! So now, I take him to vacant parking lots and places where he can learn without car traffic and the kid is catching on quick...Scott said this is the kind of board a kid can have all of his life...awesome. 

 Sushi in Shell Beach- gorgeous...delicious. Fred and I decided that there is no sushi in Mauritius..doesn't seem to be an understanding of the concept...most of it are these dense hockey pucks of rice with some pink stuff in the middle..funny- it's an island!

 Christmas Eve at my parents house with my sister, brother-in-law and their kids. We were all playing games and laughing. Family togetherness- a beautiful thing. 

Me mid-festivities relaxing with Fred and a glass of wine in may parents' home- cozy, lovely. That night my childhood friend, Davy, popped over unexpectedly with his family- the whole holiday was full of family, friends, and good simple pleasures. 

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7. California Drought, Mauritius Rain

Just weeks ago I was home in California and there was welcome rain- so much rain that the forecasters said that we would be out of the drought if the rain continued in the same pattern...that was so 3 weeks ago...today this  and here in Mauritius- a cyclone just passed by. Before it passed it built up an unusual amount of energy over the Indian Ocean (which has much higher than normal temperatures). For the last 4 days the cyclone bobbed and wove (and dumped over a foot of rain)- it changed direction and hovered- gathering strength from the warm waters...today, thankfully, it headed east and left us with some wind gusts and rocky waters. A small globe, a changing climate- two sides of the world and two extreme plays being acted out on their respective stages. 

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8. STARRED review from the Horn Book Review for STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos

From the Horn Book Review: this. Me, happy :-)

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9. And Then I Got to See STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos in a Bookstore

Since the book came out in October and I was here in Mauritius, I had not yet walked into a bookstore and seen my book there. This is my local B&N where I got to share shelf space with friends like Sherry Shahan, Sharon Lovejoy and Jay Asher. The feeling of seeing my book there and to be among such company was gratifying and thrilling- and a bit surreal. As an aside, every B&N that Fred and I went to after that was sold out of STAR STUFF! 

Just before heading to Minnesota for Christmas, I stopped in at Tristam's school for a little author's visit- the kids made me these awesome stars ! One girl even drew an excellent portrait of Dr. Sagan. 

Tristam's wonderful teacher Rebecca organized a super fun time at the school. In almost every classroom I visited, the kids were talking about wanting to explore space and some of them talked about going to Mars.

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10. Back and Forth and Back Again

No posts for awhile- I have been traveling. 

In early December I headed back home for two weeks to check in on things and to do some work related things. It was lovely to be back in California. There were winter storms and big waves and I had a fire in the fireplace almost every night. This time I decided that I wasn't going to drive myself nuts trying to clean and organize everything. I will save that for this summer when I am back for longer. 

 From a far, we have been reading and hearing about the drought back home. It was so nice to walk along a rushing SLO stream downtown and to wear rain boots and walk through puddles and smell rain in the air. It was joyous. 

 There was plenty of seasonal color on the trees- golden fig leaves and fuzzy sycamore. 

 There were several storms in the short time that I was home. During the largest one, I was over at good friends Diana and Rob's next door. Rob had gone down to the pier and bought several delicious Dungeness crabs and they both kindly invited me over to share the feast. Both of them have been such wonderful supporters of STAR STUFF. On another evening I went over to their house to watch their nephew on the Discovery channel- he is a NASA engineer and worked on the Mars Rover Curiosity. It was so great to see people doing exploratory science on Mars and that the same thrill of discovery that Carl Sagan described in his work with robots on Mars goes on and that he inspired so many of the scientists working on these missions today.  

The last time I was home, I didn't make it down to the beach even once. I was doing a top to bottom cleaning and organizing of the house as well as taking care of some other things- this time I walked to the beach often. The smell of the ocean says home- it's one of the main reasons we changed houses here in Mauritius to a home that is closer to the sea. 

And then there was the garden- I had my hands in the soil and weeded and planted and enjoyed every minute of it. I don't have an after picture, but this is the before.

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11. My Interview with Kirkus about STAR STUFF

I had the privelege of being interviewed by the wonderful Jules Danielson from Kirkus and Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (I am a huge fan of hers btw). Here is the interview

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12. Watching Clouds Pass By

Such a long absence (again). I have been loving island life for the first time since getting here since we moved away from the sugar cane fields. 

Many mornings I go to the beach, since we live so close now, and I hop onto a stand up paddle board and head out into the inlets around this little island in the middle of the Indian ocean. Last week there was a particularly calm day and as I was navigating the bay out here, a stingray jumped out of the water just in front of me. It was nothing short of thrilling being out in these gorgeous turquoise waters under the billowy tropical clouds. 

My afternoons I work. I have a book I am writing and two that I am illustrating and I head up into my studio and close the door for a few hours and focus. 

We have found a way to do hot yoga here now too (if you remember I was missing that quite a lot before). There is a building that was used as an office during the construction of the houses in our developement and Fred and I cleaned it up and brought in some heaters and a fan. We call it Hot Dodo Studio. 

Right now we are having a ball over here- working hard, but for the first time, playing and relaxing. It's a good balance- I'm sure it won't last, but it is delicious right now and I am enjoying every minute of it. 

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13. Happy Carl Sagan Day!

This is the first time in 3 or 4 years that I haven't been seeped in the world of Carl Sagan and recently I have been revisited my notes and photos from that time and remembering just how fun and interesting it was to learn about this man and his life. 

The book above is a book that I think is a likely candidate for the one that Dr. Sagan talks about in Cosmos- the one he read his local Brooklyn library when he was a kid. The wording in this is so very close to his description of the event- don't know for sure of course, but I think it is likely in any case. My friend Sharon Lovejoy had it in her book collection and reading it was a thrill because I imagined the young Carl reading it from cover to cover in one sitting. The language is beautiful and so similar to how he went on to speak, I wonder if it was a formative in his way of thinking about science - the prose has a lovely poetic cadence to it. 

Studied the Voyagers one and two and it eventually became clear that these would carry the narrative in a perfect open ended way- just like they carry the golden records. They became a representation not only for humanity and the Earth, but of Carl Sagan's big picture thinking and his ability to inspire. And even better, they actually left our solar system and entered inter-stellar space in time to include that event in STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos. 

As I was working on the book and looking around the internet and talking with people, I began to realize how Dr. Sagan's legacy continues. His ability to inspire I think was his greater gift- that inspiration shows up in having inspired generations to become explorers not only in science, but in a huge variety of fields and from all walks of life. So many random strangers I talk with smile broadly with the mention of his his name- they are remembering the feeling that they got from reading his books or watching him on tv- something that opened up their imaginations. 


 (Isn't this so awesome? I got it for my editor.) 

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14. Carl Sagan Day Coming Up!

As we ramp up to Carl Sagan Day on the 9th, here is an image from a version of the dummy (there were many) for STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos and an image from my dad's stamp collection with some commemorative stamps from the 1939 World's Fair. 

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15. My Mommkin Interview

Mommkin is this awesome blog about creative moms. I am honored to be featured in this piece that was published yesterday

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16. Diwali Mauritius

This last Thursday was Diwali here. I was unsure of what to expect. We were told to put out lights in front of the house and to break and old dish and buy a new one. People go from house to house giving "cakes" which looked like different shaped doughnut holes and giving thanks. As we drove to dinner that night we say "chistmas lights" on houses and one cars and temples. The picture above (and sorry for the half image there- that's the window of the truck as we drove by)is of a temple on the way to Grand Baie. We had a meal at a South African joint- with a great view of the bay. Later that night there were fireworks and when we got home we say the best ones from people in the neighborhood firing them off. It's a happy, festive holiday- I love any holiday where people give thanks to each other and I like the lights.  

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17. Other than the Infamous Dodo Bird, What do you Know About Mauritius?

The Huffington Post has this write up and series of videos about the island: here .

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18. The True Size of Africa

I spent some time this summer at home (California) before heading back to our new place of residence- Mauritius, which  is part of Africa. Before leaving friends kept saying " be careful!"- referring to the ebola outbreaks in Africa. It is over 1,600 miles from here to mainland Africa and here is a relative scale map of Africa. Here on Mauritius, you are not allowed into the country if have been to one of the effected countries within the last 60 days- even Mauritian citizens are kept out- everyone is, until you have cleared the 60 days. The U.S., Europe- no place I know has such stringent rules. 

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19. Susan Cain: The power of introverts

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20. NEW SLJ News Letter Featuring STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos

What trip to open up my e-mail and find a newsletter from Kirkus and scrolling down and first seeing an image of Neil Gaiman talking about his graphic novel adaptation of Hansel and Gretel and scroll down more and see my book STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos! 

Here is the article that featured the STARRED books :))

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21. RSA Shorts - The Power of Quiet

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22. Road Trip to the East, Lunar Eclipse, Birds and an Upcoming Move

Yesterday, Fred I headed out to explore the east of the island a bit. Most weekends, we spending catching up on work- especially right now. Fred is busy with solar projects and I have 3 books in the works- 2 that I am illustrating and 1 that I am both writing and illustrating. So, yesterday, we decided that we would take a rare day off and drive to Blue Bay. We stopped at a favorite restaurant in Belle Mare where we watched birds and enjoyed the warm breeze. Then drove the coastal road to Blue Bay. We were puzzled when we got to Blue Bay- or what the map and signage said was Blue Bay- because it was far from the pristine marine environment we expected. Instead, a crowded garbage covered beach with a trailer blasting techno music . Maybe there is another part of Blue Bay? Anyhow- the drive was beautiful and Mauritius is bigger than what I had imagined before. I'd like to go back to some of the villages and towns we drove through and spend some time. 

Last week we missed the lunar eclipse here, but caught it later via the internet. 

Here is a moor hen that hung out with us in Belle Mar yesterday. Watching birds is one of our favorite things to do and yesterday's feathered visitors did not disappoint 

Great news! This week we bid adieu to Piton. This is the view out of our window- a sugar cane field. I can't complain too much- I have this sugar cane field to thank for giving up sugar. It was a great motivator for sure. In the distance - that building that looks like the set of the Walking Dead is actually a college. During the days there is constant activity in the sugar cane field- fires, overloaded trucks that look like they will tip over and motor bikes driving through constantly. We are moving to a quieter area closer to friends and the ocean. We are ocean people and I look forward to the briny smell and fresh breezes. Piton was a good place to start out here, but we're over it. The new place is the same distance to shopping and Tristam's school and will give us a new setting to explore. Shaking things up again- it's a good practice to be in. 

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23. Early Book Art

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24. The Balance of Things

I'm packing up the house this week -back into the 10 suitcases we moved in with- and then some...Tristam seems to have accumulated the most stuff- lots of found objects, toys and artwork he made. The kitchen came in second with a big coffee maker (which Fred has named Giselle) and additional pots and pans etc. 

Last night as I was closing the windows I said "hello" to the gecko residing in each room and wondered if we could take them with too- especially the one in the bedroom. That one is small and I actually leave the window open a bit longer at night in that room to make sure it has enough bugs to eat. I know that the minute we move that poisons will be set out for them and that will be that. When we moved in we had a pretty bad pest problem- the house was crawling with bugs. One day we noticed the gecko poisons removed all of them. Since that day, the bugs have been minimal to nonexistent. People here can't understand why we don't allow the previous poison spraying and poison traps to be in in our living space, and we cannot understand why you would poison your natural pest control...I imagine that we will go through the same process at the new house, but I'm hoping not as bad because we will be away from the sugar cane fields (YAY!!). 

I'm still considering how to capture at least the bedroom gecko to take with us. 

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25. Waking Brain Cells Review of STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos

Here is the link the the review- which I am grateful for. :).Thank you Waking Brain Cells!

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