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A writer and illustrator tries to find joy in the daily grit, connect with other writers, read books, manage four children and find out where she's put the phone today.
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1. The Funny Thing about Mice



It's a little bit scary to tell you things I'm happy about. 
Things that feel like little green tips at the edges of my wintered-over branches.
 
Not that it's wrong to feel pleased with good things,
but when I remember the gravity of last year
I wonder -
is this okay?
this joy? these painted things?
Will I jinx it somehow?

 
Over the last year, I convinced myself I have permanent writer's block.
But then this week, a few words eeked out, and I wondered.

Maybe it's not writer's block.
Maybe it's just fear.

Fear is something we all have, isn't it?

Fear of failure. of something bad happening.
of shadows. heights. the dark.
Scratchy things. fish. being alone.

What are your crazy fears?



You know what's funny?
All that health craziness last year - that was like facing off against a lion.
I borrowed as much courage as possible.

Now I'm standing on a chair shrieking about a bug -
worried about putting stories on paper!
worried someone won't like them!
 

Oh, for a good gulp of perspective!

I just read "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo.
It's about a mouse who battles darkness with courageous love.
It's beautiful.


Despereaux strapped on a belt of red thread,
a sewing needle sword,
and plunged into the dungeons to save a princess.

While I don't have dungeons, or a sword,
I want to have courageous love like that mouse,
not concerned about what people will think.
brave.
true.
every day.
not just on heart surgery days. 
in the daily dirt.
in being a writer and artist, too.


So here's what I'm doing.
All fueled up from my Illustrating Picture Books class,
I'm going to the SCBWI conference this weekend.
And I'm entering my art in a portfolio show.


To go with it, I did a little spring cleaning on the blog,
redesigned The Portfolio.
I hope you like the new look around here.
I hope it's good dirt.
And if you're coming to the conference, let's hang out!
I'll be the small mouse in the corner.

 


The Tale of Despereaux
The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo









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2. How Does Your Garden Grow?


Words still glomm together in my mouth
like lumps of peanut butter.
I speak to people and wonder if they notice, too.
Can one be socially lame, but robustly well?
Because I am so alive, so well 
since the surgery.

Maybe these word troubles are writer's block,
part of my recovery from troubles;
an awakening to the idea that life is short.
that more than publishing stories,
I want to love.
to make it count wherever I am.

I still want to write, but my words are hiding.
So...
I'm taking an art class.
 
And oh, what a class!
It's UCSD extension course llustrating Books For Children
with renowned book designer Joy Chu.
And it's amazing.

Maybe I'll find a back door to writing this way,
through visual storytelling.
Or not.

Maybe I'll just enjoy it -
watering a different part of my brain.
creating art.
(happy sigh)


And how does the rest of this garden grow?
How is that sacred dirt of every day?
 
We have a lot of dirt lately.
Lots of squiggly worms that I don't take pictures of -
like scowly faces, and kids throwing fits,
messy hair,


















piled-up laundry,
crumbs under the table.

But how can I not be thankful?
Even for the wormy parts.
There is less to show from this garden now.
but more to feel.
more to soak in and wiggle around.

more family days.
paint and shaving cream.

















 a new outlook for Pip!

Sugar Snack turning five!















Not much of a gardener in reality,
still I will tend this sacred dirt,
I will water my back doors to writing, 
and see what wriggles.
what grows.

What are the back doors in your creative life?

What are your cover crops?

When you get stuck, discouraged or allover uninspired,
what do you plant?

How do you water your creative self?

Cooking class? Archery lessons? Trapeze?
Balloon animals? Book club?

My friends,
I thank you for your friendship and patience. 
for the many ways you make this world beautiful.
through your actions and special talents.
for your unique words and work.
for the nurture of your families and friends.
for the many creative ways you give of yourself to the world.

May your garden grow and grow
and grow,
with lots of good dirt
and wiggles. 

Another bonus from my new class? Library finds!

Here are some of my latest faves:

Journey
Mr. Wuffles!
Sea of Dreams
Journey, by Aaron Becker (Won a well-deserved Caldecott Honor this year!)
Mr. Wuffles, by David Weisner (Another Caldecott Honor winner)
Sea of Dreams, by Dennis Nolan
Flora's Very Windy Day
Harry & Hopper
Missing Mommy: A Book About Bereavement
Flora's Very Windy Day, by Jeanne Birdsall, illustrated by Matt Phelan
Harry & Hopper, by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Missing Mommy, by Rebecca Cobb 
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
Nelson Mandela

Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert On a Beam of Light, A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
Nelson Mandela, by Kadir Nelson
Bon Appetit!, the delicious life of Julia Child, by Jessie Hartland
Martin de Porres, the Rose in the Desert, by Gary Schmidt, illustrated by David Diaz


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3. Light and Wishes

 
This year, this crazy Everest of a year!
Out of all of it - 
the stroke, 
the sickness,
the faintings,
the heart surgery -
out of all this year, 
I have packed this jewel into my life suitcase:

Even in dark times, there is light.
    Maybe not a beacon, blazing with answers.
    Maybe not something you can grab onto or tangibly feel.
    Maybe not a voice that speaks that everything will be alright
      - because sometimes, it's not alright.
    Sometimes the rotten stuff still happens - 
      like war, and poverty, and cancer, and loss.   

But I have this for you, my friends...
Even in the dark times, there is light.

    Light of hope in something better. 
    Light of remembering shining moments already lived.
    Light of kindness and compassion in friends and strangers. 
    Light of faith.
For me, it is faith in Divine Arms 
that stooped down to walk in human skin
and faced trouble with love. 

in Divine Arms that are just there, like in these old words - 
 
                      "the eternal One is your hiding place, 
                       and underneath are the everlasting arms."
Even my darkest times this year, 
there was light.
Not blazing. But enough.
Even in my most scared, most vulnerable times,  
there was this awareness of not being alone.
Not anything tangible. But enough.
Everlasting Arms.
Here is my wish for you, friends.
I wish for you 
Thankfulness
in each of the sacred rites of the day - 
dishes, drop-offs,
broken pencils,
squabbles and stomps,
"stop wiping your face with pancake!" 
"don't squirt tomatoes on the ceiling!"
and writer's block,
and in all the great gulps,  too -
a happy home,
a healthy heart, 
life.

Love
like everlasting arms, 
Love that surrounds and lifts 
when you can't lift yourself.
 
Joy 
that goes down to your very roots and comes up laughing.

and Light. 



I wish you the deeps, my friends. 

Blissful Christmas!
Bright New Year!
Beautiful Life!


 

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4. Roots


In true page-turner style, the night before heart surgery,
I was rain-checked.

For a good month, I gnawed at this news like an old bone,
waited to hear if the docs would favor heart surgery after all,
or have me remain in this temporary place of not-quite-well.

 
What can we do when things aren't all better?
How can we meet the sacred in illness,
in poverty, in sadness,
in our imperfect selves?
 
Drink tea. Read good fiction. Take bubble baths.
Go outside and watch clouds.
And then, take a serious look around. 

Ill or not,  I am rich!

clean water. warm home. books.
food. literacy. art.
paint.

waves on the beach. limitless sky. stars. 

music. beauty. family.

love.
I could recount these riches all day.

Even ill, I am abundantly well.
 
I haven't been able to write.
That's the outlet that's suffered most since the stroke.
I'm tired, dizzy, and struggle with an aching head.
My dear friend Margaret Bloom of We Bloom Here
sent a breeze of wisdom my way,
likening this time to winter.
Sometimes leaves dry up and branches are stark,
but roots still go deep. 
 
Every time we struggle, may the roots go deep.
to grow us in compassion.
to grow us in perspective.
to grow us in steadiness,
and light.

What do we do with our troubles?
Find the gifts in front of us.

Even in our troubles,
there is sacred to be found:
laughter, forgiveness, grace, love.

Here's to deep roots and good dirt, my friends.

Epilogue:
I finally made peace with this middle ground,
and the next day: news!
Heart surgery is back on.

Friday, November 8, here we come!

Feel-good books:

14823919
15768811 15815400
Cover
Violet Mackerel's Remarkable Recovery,
by Anna Branford, ill. by Elanna Allen
(Thank you for the get-well-read, Margaret Bloom !)
The Mighty Lalouche, by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall
Tea Rex, by Molly Idle
!, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
A Sick Day for Amos McGee,
by Philip C. Stead, ill. by Erin E. Stead

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5. The Big Week

Words are few.
Heart surgery on Friday.
Summer is fleeting
and I survey my world,

reaching out to touch,
to linger,
to bless
like worn prayer beads,
all these things for which I am thankful.

I find myself brushing fingertips along our bumpy, imperfect walls,
savoring the unfinished-ness of them,

remembering that we are all unfinished stories,
sacred in our imperfections.


To feel the stained rim of a teacup,
a grooved picnic bench,
lichen on a tree

To soak up with my eyes
tissue-thin curlings of bark,
windowsill traffic,

popsicle drips,
  
chalk.
It's a liturgy of thankfulness
in today.
in the dirt.
in the dark. 


Last week, we stayed up late in a lightning storm.


Such power! Such beauty! 
And yet they shivered under quilts.

It's hard to be small in the dark
while thunder shakes the house with monster growls.

Being brave is having faith, isn't it?
Faith that tomorrow will dawn
calm and bright.
Faith that Light will come out of the dark.


As it turns out, some hearts
have holes that need patching.
Some hole-y hearts cause strokes.
The patch surgery may help.
We can hope!

Friday morning is my thunderstorm.
Be brave. Be brave. Be brave. Be brave.



Thankful for heart patches.
for imperfections. for thunderstorms. for light. and hope.

A brave book I hope you love as much as I do:

 
"The Girl With A Brave Heart" by Rita Jahanforuz, illustrated by Vali Mintzi.









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6. Sacred Muddle

I planned to tie up the last few months in a tidy bow,
to give you a round
beginning, middle, and end
to the stroke saga.
What we writers like to call a story arc.
Alas.
Some stories take longer to figure out.

My story for now is just a middle... or a muddle:
stroke,
brain blips,
ambulance rides,
hospital stays,
doctors,
uncertainties,
looming surgery.


None of our swell summer projects.
No happy new manuscripts.
No tidy bows. 

With each shift in the family balance,
part of me shrinks.
I hope it's the right part. The part that needs to go.
I hope it's the part that, before this muddle,
tried to hold everything together alone,
that didn't ask for help,
that got too busy to rest
in the numerous small things around me.

With each slip,
these small things come into focus.


Not my grand plans.
Not measurable success.

But joy.
thankfulness.
light.

cousins.

good books.

kisses.

cupcakes.

forgiveness.
rocks and sky.
breath and bread.

Life is short,
but humble things
make it deep.

Thank you
for your generosity to us through so many gifts -
art and cards, books and pens,
food and a clean house,
help with bills and the wildebeests,
prayers and wishes.
Thank you.

I am amazed at the love around us.
Amazed at how love makes every story beautiful,
no matter how long or short it is.

Here's to the sacred muddle, my friends.
To going deep!
to mysteries.
spyglasses.
buried treasure.
puzzles.
great books.
friends.
and small things.

Mystery and Adventure Books We Have Loved This Summer:


Where The Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin
The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry
Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, by R.L. LaFevers
Half Magic, by Edward Eager
The Brixton Brothers, by Mac Barnett
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

The Book of Beasts, by E. Nesbit, ill. by Inga Moore
The Red Book, by Barbara Lehman
Flotsam, by David Weisner

 

(my best reads of the summer)

Hattie Ever After, by Kirby Larson
Howl's Moving Castle, by Diane Wynne Jones
The Thirteenth Child, by Patricia Wrede
A Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Beautiful Battlefields, by Bo Stern







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7. Love Your Brain?


"You're alive...That means you have infinite potential."
- Neil Gaiman
Two weeks ago,  I had a stroke. 
I was alone on a walk, phone-less, in the middle of nowhere.
I got wobbly. My vision went out. I thought I would faint.
I crouched on the ground, trying to recover,
couldn't lift my arm, and my head hurt all on one side.

They say a stroke can happen to anyone, at any age.
Anyone.


I diet and exercise like a heart-healthy zealot, rarely drink, don't smoke, and yet...

After more doctors and hospitals than I ever thought I'd need, I'm home.
Fuzzy and shaken. Tripping over my own feet.
Headache-y.

And so beyond thankful
that I still have words and sight, and everything!

I tried to explain this to my hubs, tried to tell him
how important my words, my wit, my thoughts, all of it,
how essential it is to me,
and he patted my hand,
"We all love our brains, honey."

We do. We love our brains!
But do we realize?

It's my revelation of the year.
Would you rather have brains or beauty?

39 years,
many of them obsessed with cals and carbs,
grapefruit juice and healthy exercise...
and guess what?

When it all flashes in front of you,
who cares if you are a size 2 or a size 20?
Alive!

Love that mirror.
Enjoy it. Every inch of yourself, no matter your size,
no matter your foibles.
Enjoy your bumps and lumps, your warts, your wrinkles.
You are a living masterpiece.

Enjoy your messes, your arguments, your in-laws, your guffaws.
Family? Snuggle with them!
Friends? Keep warm by them!

Not published yet? Not a beauty queen?
Our measure of success can be so misleading.
Alive!

It took a stroke to remind me again of my SACRED DIRT -
this life, every blessed day of it,
dishes, mismatched socks, paper piles,
my beautiful, beautiful life.

I have coherent sentences,
the ability to wipe tears
and kiss each sticky face,

even if sometimes things change,
even if it takes a while to paddle back out and find my rhythm,

what a beautiful, sacred dirt I stand in
every day.

Alive!


 

If you get anything from this post, please get this:

Anyone can have a stroke. 

If you or someone you know has an episode 

with ANY of these symptoms, 

call a doctor, or 911 immediately. 

They have ways to reverse a stroke
if they catch it right away.
Learn the signs.
You might save a life...
even your own!

Thank you to my dear ones who have reached out 

during this time.

Bless you, bless you.

Your love brings strength.

 


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8. The Snail Mail Author Project



Do you remember when you thought you might be able to fly,
if you just jumped high enough?
Do you remember when anything was possible?

 
On Monday, I helped at a young writer's conference.
I was surrounded with small writers
belly-full pleased with their writing,

oblivious to that dreaded taskmaster Revision,
unconcerned about snagging a publishing deal,
purely finding joy in their words.

All that youthful buoyancy
made me want to climb out of my writing slump
and grow some wings!

How do we as writers return
to that weightless pleasure in our words

without losing
the wisdom earned
from critiques and rejection slips,
writing groups and how-to books...

How do we find both our feet AND our wings?

As soon as we returned from our very long day,
the girls embarked on a writing project:
to send letters
to 100 authors and illustrators
of some of their favorite books.

Think we can do it?


If you're an author or illustrator friend and a crooked little envelope comes to you,

would you be kind and write back?

Please!

 
We have two hopeful writers, who think anything is possible. 

In Need of Some Snail Mail?

Leave us a comment, and we'll put you on our snail letter list - whether you're published or not.

 

Happy writing!


Books:





A Letter to Amy - Ezra Jack Keats
The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart, ill. by David Small
Toot and Puddle - Holly Hobbie
Click, Clack, Moo! Cows That Type - by Doreen Cronin, ill. by Betsy Lewin
Mailing May, by Michael O. Tunnell, ill. by Ted Rand





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9. Incorrigible Creatives

 
Some children are raised by wolves.
Others, by creatives. 

And really, is there a difference?


 
Sometimes, the lines between "creative" and "fur-brained" blur.
And that's the beauty of it.

To be a creative,
you get to strap on your courage boots every day
and write,
paint,
parent,
sew, stitch, cook - whatever your bent - 
and be prepared
for surprises.

Surprises like tears and paper wadding.
Snapping pencils.
Earnest screwdrivering until the cabinet doors fall off.

(Thank you for that, my wildebeests.)
Havoc. 
Howling at the moon.
Eating paint.

raised-by-wolves days,
and sometimes, gleams of brilliance.

Have I mentioned this book?

the Incorrigible children of ashton place
"The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, the Mysterious Howling" by Maryrose Wood and illustrated by Jon Klassen
(the Caldecott 2013 doublescoop!)
I love this book! I am in a happy swoon.
Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie meets Alexander McCall Smith, only with heaps of originality and humor. Well done, Maryrose Wood. Wow. wow. wow.

More wolf-ishness we love:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (The Wolves Chronicles, #1)
[For the record, and in case any great-grandmothers are concerned:
dry ice is considered dangerous in some contexts.
As such, it should probably not be given to toddlers...however, the children in these pictures were skillfully trained stunt-models, posing as children, and obediently avoided actually touching the ice.]
 
 

 

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10. Wings and Winners



I am Icharus. 

Except instead of wax and feathers,
I'm patched together with glitter glue,
writing morsels and
cups of hot tea.
Struck by a blaze of new story lightning,
I'm going down.

That's a good thing, right?
...Right?

Muttering at walls, scribbling
"Words are my wings!" on sticky notes,
covered in ink smudges,
I'm delightedly doomed.

But not too doomed
to help with peg dolls.
Indeed!
And Ancient Greek peggies at that.
 
Athena, patron of wisdom, and arts and crafts!

She's an owl lady.
 
Aphrodite, patron of love.

Posiedon. Sea guy. And that's his trident.
Hera, wife of Zeus, patron of marriage.
Peacock lady.
Also compared to a cow in some circles.
Now you know.

Parthenon?

Ruler. Cardboard. Scissors. Tape. White glue. 



And now for the drum-roll, please...
we'd like to announce a winner!
 
A hearty thanks to all of you who entered
Margaret Bloom's Making Peg Dolls giveaway,
and thank you to Margaret for the fantastic blog tour.

Our winner is... Barb Davis-Pyles. Congratulations, Barb!

I hope you will all go out and find this beautiful book.
You are going to LOVE it.

And did you know SACRED DIRT has a facebook page?
"Like it" to get posts on the beautiful mess of artsy writing,
daily dirt, and parenting sent directly to your facebook feed.

Ancient Greece on the page:

Greek MythsA Gift from ZeusThe Adventures of Odysseus
Greek Myths For Young Children, by Heather Amery, ill. Linda Edwards
Explore Ancient Greece!
Greek Myths - Ann Turnbull, ill. by Sarah Young
A Gift From Zeus - Jeanne Steig, ill. by William Steig
The Adventures of Odysseus, by Hugh Lupton, Daniel Morden, ill. by Christina Balit
Aesop's Fables - Lisbeth Zwerger



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11. Making Peg Dolls: Giveaway!


It begins just like the other days.
Almost.

Hanging up the washing.
Nubby and bare,
naked as day.
Wishing.

All pegs have wishes, but Jane wishes most, and longest.
For color, aliveness, adventure
beyond the laundry line.
Little does she know that today is the day.

Today the wind is listening.
It twists into a great spiral,
knocking the orderly yard to pieces.
A folding chair barrels across the green.
The chickens gawp, the dog haroops.
Wind whips like a sandblast
and all in one great whoosh, down comes the line!

Socks!
Pegs!
Helter-skelter, shilly-shally, willy-nilly, down! 

And Jane, the wooden wisher, is free. 
 
Free!

Free to don paint and petals,
from Making Peg Dolls, by Margaret Bloom
her owling self,
from Making Peg Dolls, by Margaret Bloom
her fairy face.

It doesn't take much time.
Jane and the family find their secret selves:
Greek gods!  
See, there's Jane in her purple hair.
She's waiting for wings.
She's changed her name to Athena.
Her coming-out party is next week.  
Adventure awaits!

Making Peg Dolls, by Margaret Bloom is here!

Margaret is the creative genius mother of Wish Baby
and the magic behind the blog We Bloom Here.

Making Peg Dolls

 There are umpteen reasons we love this book:
Margaret's illustrations tucked in and around the text. 
Tiny peg bears.
from Making Peg Dolls by Margaret Bloom
Can you say darling? Oh my nubs!
from Making Peg Dolls by Margaret Bloom
Fairy tale dollies.
Owl peggies. 
Amazon has already sold out. Yes, this book is THAT hot. 
I packed a Peg Doll Get-Well-Kit for Pip's recovery.
Bliss!
Paint! 
Why don't we do this every day?
I had no idea how joyful and addicting it would be.
 
The thing that amazes me about Making Peg Dolls
is how Margaret has made this process accessible 
to adults and kids of all sizes.
We are smitten. Absolutely smitten with this book. 
I am convinced you will be, too!

And I have a copy of Making Peg Dolls to give away! 


It's simple: Just leave a comment.
You'll be entered in the drawing. 
I'll announce the winner next Wednesday. 
Exciting!

Entries end at midnight on Tuesday, February 26. 

Thank you, Margaret!

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12. Salty Valentines, and Tonsils, Take Two

Here we go again! 
Tomorrow is the big day. 
Tonsils out!
 
I'm reading about the hero's journey lately - 
the road a character takes
to become changed in a story
- a.k.a the story arc. 
Writing and life are so linked, don't you think?

We're all on a journey.
We face monsters, magic, trials, portals every day - they just look a little different in real life.
Tests, school, work, laundry...
Pip's monster this week is tonsils. 
We're trying to equip her with happy times,
to sustain her on the road of liquid food and couch time.

So we took her ice skating.

And experimented with pennies.
and made some copper valentines.
 
Did you know salt and vinegar can make some pretty impressive green crystals?
 
Then it was time for invisible ink, made of baking soda and water. 
  
and purple cabbage juice to reveal our secret messages.
 
Very spy-like. 
To go with the spy theme, I'm making her a book treasure hunt.
Like the book geo-caching we did last year when Winnie said goodbye to her tonsils.
Sticky note clues hidden in favorite books: "The Nutcracker" ill. by Maurice Sendak, "The 5,000 Year-Old Puzzle,"  ill. by Melissa Sweet  

And speaking of books,
Margaret Bloom's "Making Peg Dolls" book giveaway is coming to my blog soon!
Stay tuned!

Happy, healthy hearts to you!



Sick days, valentines, and writers' journeys:


 
 


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13. Uppity

We like to ring in Groundhog Day
with high style over here.

He sees his shadow, he doesn't see his shadow,
either way we get balloons

because Sugar Snack is four!
Bring on the sweets and sprinkles.
  
Sugar high!
 
I'm thinking of changing his name to "Cheeks."
 
Everyone likes a party.

Even small sewn friends.
 
 




Happy day, Cheeks.

And speaking of happy days,
Happy book birthday to Margaret Bloom of We Bloom Here.
"Making Peg Dolls" is a gorgeous book.
I can't wait to rave all about it.
And I will!
I get to be part of Margaret's blog tour, which starts today.

Margaret will be giving away a copy of "Making Peg Dolls"
to one of my lucky readers this month.
Stay tuned for giveaway details.

You can also visit Margaret as she tours the blog-globe.
Giveaways and surprises, oh my!


February 4th:  The Crafty Crow
February 5th:  The Magic Onions
February 6th:  The Toymaker
February 7th:  Clean
February 8th:  Anna Branford
February 11th:  Red Bird Crafts
February 12th:  Art is a Way
February 13th:  Softearth's World
February 14th:  Chocolate Eyes
February 15th:  Rhythm and Rhyme
February 18th:  Wild Faerie Caps
February 19th:  Sacred Dirt

I'm the caboose! 
It's going to be brilliant.

Hooray, Margaret!

and in other news, goodbye Pip's tonsils...
That's our next adventure.
I'll let you know how we do.

Sugar Snack's birthday books:
I, Crocodile
Little Tug
Alphabet City
Shortcut 
In the Town All Year 'Round

I, Crocodile, by Fred Marcellino
Little Tug, by Stephen Savage
Alphabet City, by Stephen T. Johnson
Shortcut, by David Macaulay
In the Town All Year Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner








2 Comments on Uppity, last added: 2/5/2013
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14. Valentiny Prints

 Here's a new batch of Valentine freebies, just for you.
Drag to your desktop and print, willy-nilly.
Add a page of Valentines to color, for your crayon-happy crew.

Enjoy!
This is original art, by me.
It's free for your own personal or classroom use,
but not to be resold.
If you're sharing this, please credit me and/or link this page as the original source.
Thanks for the respect!


3 Comments on Valentiny Prints, last added: 2/18/2013
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15. Got Mail?

 
Because everyone needs a reason to hide secret notes...


I made a mail kit.

It's our Narnian Lamppost.
Our Portal.
Our place where the real world transforms into the magical one.
 
See, Pip and Winnie haven't exactly been excited
about writing time.
They moan and whinge when it's time
to pull out notebook and pen.

But now they have a reason to write.

All manner of small letters, notices and lists
have been appearing in the mailbox, begging for a reader. 
 
Secret message makers, word lovers in the making, I hope.
And if we're not so concerned with punctuation just yet,
still Something is being kindled,
and that Something is what we're going for - 

getting so lost in play so that the unseen world
shines brighter within us,
and the ordinary world shines brighter on our return...

This is what I want for myself, too.
To take more time to play
with my words, with art, with the kids
without focusing on how much I get done.

I have a choice every day -
wear myself out trying to blast through my goals,
or find the sweet spots and savor.

Relish the revision. 
   (thank you Gail Carson Levine and
     Molly Blaisell for your great advice.)
and

if you need a reason to play with your words,
or an incentive for young heel-dragging-writers,
may I suggest a mail box?

Our kit is compiled of:

A domed box (thrift store find)
Denim.
Felt.
Mod podge.
Ribbon.
A cardboard swing arm fastened with a nut and bolt.
 
I added a mail sack, felt envelopes and flannel stamps
plus a thick stack of paper
for good measure.


My dad's old mail carrier hat tops the cake.

Any mail today?


Books of Note:

 

The Dove's Letter by Keith Baker


The Jolly Postman, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small
Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobbie
Letters from Father Christmas - J.R.R. Tolkien
Love, Mouserella by David Ezra Stein
 Writing Magic
Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly - Gail Carson Levine

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
The Enchanted Chocolate Pot - Patricia C. Wrede, Caroline Stevermer

And an experiment. 
I've been trying to set up some freebies for my small writer friends, so here is my first attempt to provide a download. 


You are welcome to use this art as long as you credit the artist (Hey, that's me - Faith Pray!) and as long as you don't try to pass it off as your own work, or sell it (That would be illegal). If you are going to pin or webshare this, please credit me as the artist, and link back to this original post.
Thank you for the respect.




7 Comments on Got Mail?, last added: 1/22/2013
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16. Put the Hammer Down

Who gives heavy, blunt instruments to toddlers for Christmas?
I'm pretty sure this is what inspired "The Lord of the Flies."

My Making-Merry-on-the-Mini
Geoboard Kits are a hit.

And as far as homemade gifts go, how simple is this?
A block of sanded wood.
A bag of screws and nails.
Yarn and rubber bands.
All packaged up and ready to be assembled.



We wrapped a hammer and screwdriver kit for Sugar Snack, too.
He's in Fix-It Heaven,
stomping around the house,
adjusting all the screws.
I keep waiting for the doors to fall off
with the next
ACHOOO!

I don't know how safe a gift of nails
and screws is for the preschool crew.
I've tried to remind them to keep the sharp points
away from mouths, noses and electrical openings,
but you never know.
It helps to have ample adult supervision
when you're dealing with all those hammers.

So, let's just have a proviso here:

For crafty, writing, or artsy tips,
visit me with gleeful abandon.
For safe parenting tips,
go to
someone else.

Happy New Year, my friends!
May it be gloriously rich in the simple joys
and surprisingly glad in all the rest.



Books:



Tools by Taro Miura 
Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann (Safety tips AND cuteness)

5 Comments on Put the Hammer Down, last added: 1/15/2013
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17. Unexpected Car Fixings, or How to Make Merry on the Mini


We take Christmas as we find it.
Big or little. Rich or poor.
 
Our December began with a broken car.
Growing kids bursting out of their coats and socks and shoes.
And a skinnier piggy bank.

So we're doing homemade this Christmas.
And humble, homemade gifts won't hurt us a bit.

In light of so much sorrow around us this year,
all we have is gratitude.

The messes don't matter.
I am unspeakably thankful for these eight small hands,
alive and healthy,
for the joyful chaos that surrounds them,
for my imperfect, half-finished jumble,
the light, the squeals, the squabbles.

The egg carton bells.
Popsicle stick snowflakes.

Trying on wreaths as hats.

What matters is already surrounding us.

Love encircles us,
wraps us in glowing strands,
and though it doesn't magically take away the sorrows
of our broken world,
Love is the thing that will mend us.

It anchors us when winds and sorrows come.
Smooths out the wrinkles in our weary, bleary furrows.
Makes us small candles to give courage in the dark. 

Simple, homespun gifts may not be sophisticated,
fancy, or exactly on everyone's wish list,
but they are offerings of love.
and I'm okay with that.

Because love goes deeper than wish lists.


Christmas began with a gift
wrapped in old clothes and straw.
A humble gift.
A love gift.




Love to you, my friends.
Love.
Connecticut. Haiti. Japan.
Rwanda. Middle East. 
Love to you.


Picture Books We're Enjoying this Week:

 
 
The Christmas Tapestry- Patricia Polacco
Christmas in the Barn- Margaret Wise Brown, Barbara Cooney
A Child is Born - Elizabeth Winthrop, Charles Mikolaycak
Gleam and Glow - Eve Bunting, Peter Sylvada
Christmas with the Mousekins - Maggie Smith
The Little House Christmas - Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams
One Wintry Night - Ruth Bell Graham, Richard Jesse Watson
The Joy of A Peanuts Christmas - Charles Schultz


4 Comments on Unexpected Car Fixings, or How to Make Merry on the Mini, last added: 12/21/2012
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18. Peace With Wings


We made ornaments this week...for the birds.

Because they ate all our cherries this year?

Because they pecked holes in the eaves
and made attic nests?

Heh.
 
But then we went birding.
A day's adventure into the wet, into the wind, 
unconnected 
from my technical world, 
no busy busy, no run arounds, no errand hopping, 
just listening.
 
Squinting into far off brambles.
Surprisingly, I connected. With the herons in the tree. 
With the brown-headed eagle, the sparrows, the finches.      
 
Like the time we stumbled on a barn owl and we lingered there, watching,
till the sky turned shadowy.
Or the day we pulled over the car to observe scores of starlings bathe in muddy puddles.

Maybe it's just the act of stopping 
in the midst of a life that whirls

-watching birds go about their day,
breathing in a piney forest, 
feeling rain pelt and pummel -

Maybe that's what slows me down. 
wakes me up. 
brings me peace.
And peace is what we all need this time of year.

So we made gifts for the birds.
 
I never thought I'd buy lard.  
 Or thistle seeds, for that matter.
Who needs more thistles? Birds, I guess.
So we squished together birdseed "cookies,"
threaded cheerios onto pipe cleaners  
and bent them into hearts.
Where did Birdy's cheerios go?
The big kids strung popcorn, nuts and apples into garlands.

I cut up felt and old jeans and t-shirts into bird-ish shapes
 for ornaments and pins.
 It was a good project for little sewists.
 
 And then we gathered our bounty
 
and strung it up
in the climbing tree.
 
 
"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Peace to you, my friends...
peace that lifts, 
peace with wings.


And some beauteous books to warm your winter!
  
 
The Birds of Bethlehem - Tomie dePaola
Night Tree - Eve Bunting, Ted Rand
The Candle in the Forest - compiled by Joe L. Wheeler
Uncle Vova's Tree - Patricia Polacco
The Trees of the Dancing Goats - Patricia Polacco
The Birds' Christmas Carol - Kate Douglas Wiggin
The Mitten - Barbara McClintock
The Mitten - Jan Brett
The Money We'll Save - Brock Cole
Owl Babies - Martin Waddell, Patrick Benson
Owl Moon - Jane Yolen, John Schoenherr
No Two Alike - Keith Baker

4 Comments on Peace With Wings, last added: 12/13/2012
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19. Breathing Room

 What do sharp new pencils, pigs, and a gym ball have in common?
Call it a surprise twist in the plot, 
a hopeful story arc...
 
One that involves less free time while we learn the ropes
but hopefully more flexibility in the long run. 
Pip and Winnie are trying a new school setup: 
a public school / home school mix. 
 
Today was our first day.

It felt like the first day of a tricky job. 
Do you know that feeling? 
The feeling that you might possibly be drowning after only minutes on the job? 
                   (You don't print directly onto the blue paper. Don't you know the difference between a codicil and an amendment? You need fresh flower powder. Freeze-dried coffee. Powdered creamer...)
 
That was me today.
It should have been great. 
We're home all the time!
But somehow, I crammed all my expectations 
into one small day's window. 
I even had a list written up on the wall - our day's assignments. 

The first fifteen minutes were bliss.
And then it all began to unravel:
Pip asking over and over when we could go to the library, 
Winnie crying over the math game where you throw the little pigs and count them,
Sugar Snack bouncing the gym ball at everyone, 
sneaking off with the camera, 
and me wondering who was going to make me some coffee 
if I was down here doing MATH! Quelle horreur!
"Gym Ball" - by Sugar Snack
I love perspective.
The day is now folded away.
The moon is up, warm and embracing.

And I'm here, peeling off my layers.
Thinking about how sometimes I take a great wad of expectations that would probably fill a year or a lifetime and I stuff it into a summer, a holiday,
or one small first day
when really,
all that's needed is joy for the moment,
patience,
and a lot of love.

Tomorrow, we'll try it home style.
We'll aim to get some learning done,
but this time we'll add a generous dose of
breathing room.

 "Uniforms"  

A sweet book about breathing room:

Little Bird, by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine



2 Comments on Breathing Room, last added: 9/21/2012
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20. Dragons and Kindling


 
How do you fuel your creative kindling?
With dragons, of course!
Janet Lee Carey, author of Dragonswood
is working shop with thirsty writers this Sunday, September 15
at the Poulsbo library.
I'm going!
How's that to fuel my story sparks?

I've gushed over Dragonswood and Dragon's Keep before.
They are among my top fantasy novels.
Janet writes compelling, wholly satisfying tales
so skillfully woven that I want to re-read them
as soon as I finish. 
Northwest writers: if you're in the area, come join me
at this Field's End event!


 

Who doesn't need such a creative boost?
After a whirlwind of crazed schoolishness,
I know I do!

Last night was writing night.
I finally sat alone with my manuscript, pen in hand,
distractions tucked away,
ready to blow through with a masterful fury.

But instead of mastery,
I just sat staring into the trees,
letting the wind rush past me
and all my pieces.
No story mastery. 

But the space, the air!
The silence!
It was exactly what I needed.
To get me right first.


Do you ever de-fuzz?

It's the kind of work that doesn't count on your timecard,
but still matters!

Apart from our writing, our desires,
our hankerings to be published, 
our accomplishments, our parenting,
our quirks and our failings,
we are all the same.


We are all people who need Love and Shelter
and Bread and Breath.

If you are ever busy, frantic, worried, overloaded,
or just stuck in your story,
try taking it down a notch.

Find a quiet place and de-fuzz.


Do something that doesn't "count" on your timecard.

Twirl. Stomp. Laugh.

Take off your socks and shoes. Wiggle your toes.
Paint with water.


Stretch out on the grass.
Watch clouds. Watch stars. Watch people.
 
Start a sketch notebook, a Favorite Words List, a Myths List,
a Sayings List, a Thankfulness List.

Breathe.

Play with dragons!

Treasure awaits.


A few fiery tales:
 
 
The Deliverers of Their Country - E. Nesbit, Lisbeth Zwerger
The Knight and the Dragon - Tomie dePaola
The Reluctant Dragon - Kenneth Grahame, Inga Moore
Saint George and the Dragon - Margaret Hodges, Trina Schart Hyman
My Father's Dragon - Ruth Stiles Gannet
Talking To Dragons - Patricia Wrede (ill. Trina Schart Hyman)
Dealing With Dragons - Patricia Wrede (ill. Trina Schart Hyman)


5 Comments on Dragons and Kindling, last added: 10/4/2012
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21. Who's Your Mummy?


Peanut shell sacrcopha-guys. 
Yes, I know. 
We're nuts.
I like to think of research as
permission to plunge overboard,
to get lost in your story world
in order to find it.
 
Some people tape maps to the walls
and wear fuzzy Russian hats.
Others swear by magazine clippings.
Hungarian folk music.
Books on fly fishing.
French chocolate.

We wear pipe cleaner headdresses. 

 

What's your research quirk? 


Can you tell what we're into these days?
It helps that King Tut's treasure is only a ferry ride away.

We said our howdies to the Pharaohs

and hopped home, hot about Egypt.

I buried old pottery shards for a "Dig."


Kids + Dirt = Heaven!

When I was sixteen, my parents took us to Egypt.

Valley of the Kings, pyramids and the Sphinx
all did their dazzling best. 


And then there was this old dump,
littered with broken scraps. 
At the time, mum and dad seemed so very un-cool
sifting through that Egyptian dump,
selecting a few shards to bring home.
 
But who's my mummy now?
Oh yeah!
There has never been such excitement in our backyard.

My fake gold necklace
came in handy
as the crowning discovery.

Treasure!
 

  
Hieroglyphs + Clay  = Name cartouches!
 

Sarcophagi:
Our wee coffins
are nothing more than
peanut shells, paint, 
and gold pens for a little extra pizazz.


That's it in a nutshell.



So many great books to share with you!

The 5,000-Year-Old Puzzle - Claudia Logan, Melissa Sweet
Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile - Tomie dePaola
The Egyptian Cinderella - Shirley Climo, Ruth Heller
The Secret Room - Uri Shulevitz
Zekmet, the Stone Carver - Mary Stoltz, Deborah Nourse Lattimore
How the Sphinx Got to the Museum - Jessie Hartland
The Three Princes - Eric A. Kimmel, Leonard Everett Fisher
One City, Two Brothers - Chris Smith, Aurelia Fronty
Exodus - Brian Wildsmith
I, Crocodile - Frank Marcellino
The Shipwrecked Sailor - Tamara Bower
The Jewel Fish of Karnak - Graeme Base

 

Product Details

8 Comments on Who's Your Mummy?, last added: 10/25/2012
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22. Brave Seeds

It's United Nations Day. 
Flags would be nice.
Meals from around the world.  
Folk dancing. 
Music.
We didn't get that far. 
We spun the globe and colored pictures of continents. 
 
Every tree starts with a seed, right?

My grandmother Elsie was a great oak of political consciousness. 
She lived and breathed for the United Nations,
for women, for equal rights, 
for the poor, for education.
Her legacy stands true and straight before me,
waving its branches:
       Be brave! Help others! Stand up for what's right!
 
Women couldn't vote when my grandmother was little.
Which amazes me.
It's such a simple and essential thing
to have a voice, to be counted!

I'm grateful for the 
whole forests of women and men before me
who fought
for me and my girls,
for our rights, for our vote,
for changes that have made this world better.
And here we are! 
Voting day is around the corner.
 
Regardless of how it all turns out,
it's a beautiful gift 
to have a voice that counts.

Some books that we love:

Grace for President - Kelly di Pucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, 
Ruby Mae Has Something to Say - David Small, 
Imogene's Last Stand - Candace Fleming
How to Make and Apple Pie and see the world - Marjorie Priceman
...and here's a great game for future world changers:
"I Never Forget a Face" matching game, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell

 

11 Comments on Brave Seeds, last added: 11/19/2012
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23. Leave Your Leaves, Thanks

Our thankful project:
Sticky sticks

Paper leaves
 Hole punchers
Leaves on trees 
And words. 
To remember
why we have it so good.
 NOW the party can start....
 Thankful!
For laughs.
For cheeks. 
 For kisses.
For great books, art, nature.
For peace bringers.
For friends and kindreds.  

  
Happy Thankful Day, friends. 

And whether, my artsy allies,
my parent pals,
my bloggy belles,
whether
you are waltzing in your glory days
or mired in your daily dirt, 
in spiky heels or holey socks, 
with a wealth of words or a stuttering muse,
regardless of where you stand on your map, 
I wish you joy and great thrills 
of contentment.  

Books of Thanks and Hope:

 
Brother Sun, Sister Moon -  
by Katherine Paterson, illustrated (in stunning papercuts, no less!) by Pamela Dalton
Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise - Tomie dePaola
Train to Somewhere - Eve Bunting, ill. by Ronald Himler
The Dog Who Belonged to No One - Amy Hest, ill. by Amy Bates
Apple - Nikki McClure 
Hope for Haiti - Jesse Joshua Watson (Buying this book helps kids in Haiti, too!)













3 Comments on Leave Your Leaves, Thanks, last added: 12/4/2012
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24. Flighty Gifts



Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt;
poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.
- Leonardo da Vinci


 Paint!




 Maple Seeds!


 Cheese boxes!


Did you know that besides his famed Mona Lisa, 
Leonardo da Vinci laid claim to
water walking shoes, 
ball bearings,
a robot, 
and a telescope?
Clever man, that Leonardo.
His flight machines got us thinking...
What about homemade helicopters?

So we painted maple seeds,
inspired by this cleverness.

You know those round cheese boxes?
The ones that nest shiny triangles of cheese? 

They make a perfect home
for flying seed games.
We painted our boxes with acrylic and gel medium.  

And tucked in fall poems for good measure.
A fun holiday gift for your flighty friends.
Or your seedy ones.

And books! We have books!

A Seed is Sleepy - Diana Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long
Leonardo and the Flying Boy - Laurence Anholt
Leonardo Beautiful Genius - Robert Byrd
Leonardo's Notebooks - Leonardo da Vinci

And here's one stunner
that celebrates not so much seeds or invention,
but the bittersweetness of time, and change...

 
House Held Up by Trees - Ted Kooser, ill. by Jon Klassen
...which reminds me of another fascinating
and compelling read :

Wildwood - Colin Melloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis

Happy reading!
Happy writing!
Happy flying!

3 Comments on Flighty Gifts, last added: 12/2/2012
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25. Type Happy

Ever been to an Art and Craft Fair?
Crocheted dishcloths. Knitted hats. 
Potholders. Handmade glories.
and art...
It was my first time hawking wares 
in a mixed crowd. 
Sweet folks! 
And a tiny bit painful to stand around thinking, 
"Over here! Over here! Pick me!"
 
A HUGE thanks to my local friends who came out
to support my brother Jesse, my dad and me!
 Whew! The card sets sold out fast.
I'm considering putting them in the Etsy shop...
because everybody needs "Type Happy"cards, don't they?


 
And new originals -
they'll be up on Etsy, too.


So, this is why things have been silent 
on the blog front...
oh, yeah, and because of work on 
the new manuscript!

I'll be back soon 
with some of our wintery, holiday projects.
In the meantime, 
Type Happy!

Check out my artist/writer pal Kjersten Anna Hayes's Craft Fair Crash Course here.
Good stuff, Kjersten!

Some of our latest great reads:








5 Comments on Type Happy, last added: 12/7/2012
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