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1. National Parks: Top 10 Kids’ Books

For those of you planning to take your kids to a national park in 2015, here are some excellent books you need to take along for the ride.

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2. Taiwan Trip Diary, Days 3 and 4

Dawn breaking over Taipei's Grand Hotel.

Hello, Everyone! Where do the weeks go? Despite my best intentions, it's been nearly two whole weeks since my last post. I need to catch up, so let's just start with Day 3 dawning over Taipei:


Sunny and mild, Day 3 found us traveling to the Tamsui Bay region where we explored the ancient Spanish Fort San Domingo, with its classic old Western-style architecture, garden, furnishings and views of Guan-yin Mountain. For some reason I didn't take any photos--probably because I was concentrating on the views:

Tamsui Bay--looking forward to painting this.

Going through the various rooms of the fort's living quarters, displayed to resemble the way the house appeared during the time of the last British Consulate, I came across this intriguing message on the wall: "One may ask, From which angle will the mountain look like the Goddess of Mercy most?" 

Hmm. I found the answer fairly soon when I turned the corner and entered an exhibition of mid-century modern Taiwanese art focusing on scenes of Tamsui. Cubism, Fauvism, 1950's "primitive," so many different techniques but all with an Asian flair I loved--a little too much as I then had to run to the gift shop to buy the exhibition catalog/book. And there went "traveling light."

After the fort and a drive along the coast, we lunched (feasted) at a seafood restaurant. Being a vegetarian I was given my own special selections, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the artistry of the fish presentations--fish as food sculpture was a new one to me! Better still was the fact that I started using my chopsticks with serious proficiency. I can only thank the Goddess of Mercy for such kindness.

Scooters!

One of my favorite things was seeing all the family businesses in action.
So many just like this.

After lunch: the wild and crazy Yehliu rocks, a coastal phenomenon unique to Taiwan. The rocks are truly unbelievable, shaped like chess pieces, dogs, mushrooms; whatever you can imagine there's a rock to match. Climbing up and down the walkways got a tad slippery for me (especially with my uncanny ability to trip whenever possible) so midway along the tour I stopped to rest with one of my fellow travelers, a lovely woman and new friend from the UK. While we were happily chatting in the shade about how difficult it is to get Americans to call a bathrobe a "dressing gown," we noticed people taking our photo, not once, but several times, only then to be asked if the photographers could be in the photos with us. It turned out that tourists from mainland China had never seen an American--or English--traveler in person before. They were thrilled, and I have no idea how many family albums we'll be appearing in over the next few months. 


Yehliu mushroom rocks--incredible!


Straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Day 3 ended and Day 4 began in the port city of Keelung:

From our hotel room window!

Night view from the hotel restaurant.

Early morning stroll along the docks.

The sidewalk was narrow . . .  but I was on a mission . . . 

. . . to buy these. Delicious.
And then we were off to gold mining country, waterfall viewing,


and a terrifying bus trip while standing (I had to keep my eyes closed) into the romantic and exceptionally steep village of Jiufen. Once we arrived we still had to go further uphill, climbing, climbing, and climbing to the very top of the village accompanied by the pervasive scent of what's known as “stinky tofu," a local delicacy and a taste I'm embarrassed to say I never tried. I’m a bit disappointed at myself for being such a coward, but it was just too . . . stinky. 


The streets of Jiufen filled with happy strangers. 

No clue what they're selling here,
but it looks like something fun!

"No, it's your turn to buy the stinky tofu!"

Unbelievably, it was lunchtime again (the meals never stopped appearing). This time in a delightful open-air wooden tea room with the usual abundance of delicious offerings. Good thing we were forced to walk down to the bottom of the village to catch our bus. Calories, calories!


Before leaving the village we were given an hour or so to sightsee on our own, so my first choice was to visit a natural stone store I remembered passing on the way up and where I was able to buy beads for jewelry making. I came away with jade, aventurine, and citrine (so, so pretty), and at a bargain, too. (BTW, in case there's any doubt, let me just remind everyone that shopping IS sightseeing. It's very educational to learn how shopkeepers in foreign parts write up receipts, display their goods, etc. etc. I highly recommend it.)

After shop-seeing and some more much-needed walking, we then learned how to shove our way onto the shuttle bus. Being a Sunday, the place was crowded to capacity, so we had to be aggressive if we wanted get down to our tour bus waiting at the bottom of the mountain. So all together now: Shove, shove, shove! I felt terrible. Sort of.

Safely back on our home bus again, shins and elbows intact, we again followed the coastline, this time to the tune of soul-soothing classical music, before we stopped at this architectural wonder of a museum:

The island-shaped Langyan Museum.

Inside the museum I was able to learn more about the Aboriginal people of Taiwan, and the history of the Chinese settlers. My favorite moment was sitting inside a replica of an Aboriginal thatched hut to watch a movie (the big screen TV was something of an anachronism, especially as I was sitting on a log) about their daily lives, arts and crafts, and hunting methods.

After the museum: another spectacular hotel doubling as a spa (complete with deep stone-tiled spa tub and hot spring water right in our room) and known as "A Spring Full of Indulgence and Comfort." Taiwanese pajamas were provided for our comfort, that is if you were the size of a small teddy bear, but the cute free flip-flops fit like a dream--I'm still wearing them as I'm writing this post!


Tea for two.

Highlight of the Day: Shove, shove, shove! Nah, just kidding. Fortunately, we never had to be so ruthless again. Instead, I found the majority of the trip to be extremely calm and restful, a mood I'm celebrating with my new Pinterest board: I Love Taiwan! I'd love for you to take a look when you've got a free minute or two. In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post, Days 5 and 6.

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3. Taiwan Trip Diary: Days 1 and 2



Taipei from the bus.
<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]-->Today I start my "Taiwan Diary" posts, outlining as best I can our 12 days of non-stop fun. 

Day 1 of the trip, a full travel day, might not sound like a thrill-a-minute, but I actually enjoyed it. Starting here at home in Albuquerque: up at 5.00 AM to shower, breakfast, and get to the airport (thankfully just a 20 minute drive away) in time for my flight to San Francisco where I would catch the plane to Taipei.

From Albuquerque to San Francisco I got the surprise of my life: several crates of puppies were packed behind me in the cargo area—aarf, aarf, aarf for the next two hours! At first I thought it was the guy sitting next to me--I was terrified he was making barking noises and I would have to call security.

When I realized he couldn't possibly be barking in three different languages (i.e., chihuahua, poodle, and mutt), I finally arrived in San Francisco: collecting luggage, checking in to EVA Airlines, and meeting up with the rest of the tour group. After a several hour wait, we then boarded our plane for a long (14 hours?) trip made bearable by movies, a much better system than the days when I used to fly back and forth to New Zealand. 

I watched The Theory of Everything (the recent film about Stephen Hawking); Someone to Love (Scandinavian tear-jerker about a selfish rock star who has to raise his grandson when the child's drug addict mother--the mean superstar's daughter--overdoses. It might have been a bit heavy for in-flight entertainment, but I felt I got to see a side of Scandinavian life I would otherwise have missed); and Gemma Bovary, a rather strange and dark French comedy (I think it was a comedy) about a woman whose life mimicked that of Madame Bovary. Which anyone familiar with the story would know is not very comedic!

By the time we arrived in Taipei it was a couple of hours before midnight, but we had yet to get through immigration, a seemingly endless line of night-arriving travelers. Once that was over, we were next into a shuttle van and off to the City Suites Hotel, a clean and comfortable stay perfect for when you have absolutely no idea where you are, what time of night or day it really is, and just need to crawl into bed. 

At first my roommate (who turned out to be the best roommate anyone could ever ask for!!) and I couldn't get the lights to work until we figured out we had to place our room key card in the light switch. And then we couldn’t figure out how to turn them off--I think we slept with the lights on. Until dawn, at least, when I got up and unplugged all the lamps without telling her so that she thought there were no lights at all. Not my smartest moment.

What I do think was a pretty smart move, though, was my idea to throw away my entire airplane outfit! Yep, this had been my plan all along. For traveling I wore my very worst yard clothes and during the rest of the trip I managed to throw out 1 pair of jeans, 4 tops, 2 cardigan sweaters, a pair of shoes, and ALL of my underwear and socks. Talk about traveling light. My "Throw and Go" system was the best travel brainstorm I’ve ever had: months ago I started collecting things that would normally go in the rag bag or trash and decided to wear them one last time on the trip. I will never travel any other way again. "Throw and Go" not only solved the laundry problem, it left plenty of room in my suitcase for shopping.

Day 2 found me getting up at 5.00 AM again—I felt completely rested and ready to see the sights. This pattern seemed to follow me the rest of the trip—I didn’t want to miss a thing! 

The day turned out to be cold and overcast, making me grateful to have brought a raincoat with a removable liner and hood. Coming from Albuquerque, I found the light drizzle something of a novelty, providing a mysterious dreamlike atmosphere that only added to my sense of adventure. Our tour guide also informed us that water brings good luck, a statement that proved itself just about every day.

After breakfast (with some of the best coffee I've ever had in my life--another great thing that continued throughout the entire trip) and waiting for everyone to gather for the bus, I took a few minutes to sketch the back view from the hotel lobby where a small canal or stream was flowing past:



My chosen medium was watercolor pencils, and everything was going fine until I went to fill my water brush with water and it broke in two. For anyone not familiar with a water brush, it's a brush that holds water in the tubular barrel and is (usually) great for travel. Except for when it breaks, which had never happened to me before. During the flight it must have developed some kind of airlock from the pressure, finally snapping in two. At first I was totally devastated; my whole "art plan" depended on my water brush. I consoled myself with the fact that we were going to an art supply store in the afternoon where I could buy a new one and I could always add the water at any time, but I wanted to paint now.

Painting woes aside, it was time to get on the bus, and our first tour stop of the day was the residence, now a museum, of Chang Dai-Chien, Taiwan’s most famous splash ink artist. 

The entrance to the neighborhood housing the residence.


The Master's carp pond.


The Master's inner courtyard.


The back of the residence. Bonsai trees, rushing water, mountains, and white butterflies.


The Master's pickle jars!

The residence was definitely well worth the visit, an experience made even more interesting when our guide explained that the reason for all the water (ponds, waterfalls, river) was not only for the visual beauty, but for the sound. Chinese art strives to use, and be inspired by, all the senses, something I want to keep in mind for future artwork.

From the Master's House our next stop was the National Palace Museum—one of the largest collections of Chinese antiquities in the world.

I have no idea who these people are or how they got in my photo.

Before we started exploring the museum though, it was time for lunch. With chopsticks. Here is the sad story of me and chopsticks: despite having watched 3 Youtube videos prior to my departure on the correct usage of these darn little sticks, and practicing at home with knitting needles, I still made a big mess. Everyone else at my table seemed to be genius chopstick users. The thought occurred to me that I  was going to have to solve the problem soon or I might soon be banned from the table. I couldn't eat with my fingers forever!


From the museum steps. (And an exciting view of the backs of people's heads. Sorry!)

Once I was finished throwing my food around the room we were given several free hours on our own to wander and absorb the magnificence of the actual museum. Again I noted in some of the displays that same theme of Chinese art using all the senses, particularly those that help to find  the "chi" of whatever subject is being portrayed. For instance, if the artist was painting an animal, that chi might be found in the way the little creature lifted its paw or angled its head--an excellent starting point for any work of art.




Although the museum was far too big to cover in a single afternoon, I managed to see more floors and exhibitions then I thought I would, but it was tiring work. To recover I decided to get another cup of wonderful Taiwanese coffee and go outside for some more sketching. Another piece of advice I recalled from The Tao of Sketching was to cultivate "visual memory," so I tried to reproduce a Ming vase I saw in one of the exhibitions. I don't think I captured its "chi" exactly, but it makes a nice memory all the same.




My sketch and coffee finished, the chilly weather drove me back inside and surprise, surprise, into the museum gift store. I had wanted some cat art and sure enough, there it were two prints just waiting for me:

Lots of chi here, don't you think?
I'll be framing these soon for my office.

At last it was time to go to the art supply store, an old-world traditional shop up a steep flight of stairs and next to a street vendor making and selling delicious-smelling steamed pork buns (and that's from a vegetarian!). While the others in our group ordered authentic carved name seals (I opted out because I wasn't sure I really had a need for one) I started searching in vain for my water brush. Not only were they nonexistent, no one had a clue what I was talking about (neither in English nor with the help of Chinese translation.) 

Which leads me to this important travel tip: keep the various parts of your brush separated while flying. Better still, take at least two brushes—this was one case where “traveling light” was too light.

However, all was not lost. I ended up purchasing something much, much better: a little Chinese watercolor brush I will treasure forever. The only downside of this brush was having to use a bottle of drinking water for dipping and cleaning it, and then having to constantly remind myself not to drink my paint water . . .  


Such a sweet little brush. Excellent quality. I love it.

Last stop of the day was dinner and bed, all at the spectacular Grand Hotel where we turned into royalty. Sheer heaven. What a way to travel.



I reveled in the abundance of soaps, shampoos and lotions all smelling better than Chanel No. 5. Chinese artistry celebrates the senses for sure.

Highlight of the Day: Rubber stamps! Starting at the National Palace Museum I discovered that most tourist sites and even some hotels provide rubber stamps and ink pads to commemorate your visit with a mini work of art. It was so much fun collecting the various images throughout the country and I think they really enhanced my journal/sketchbook. The one I added to my museum sketch (and after I was able to use my paint brush) was one I found several days later at a Buddhist monastery. I have no idea what it says, or if I have the characters facing the right direction, but I'm glad I found it.

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4. Oblong Books, Romantic Times, and BEA/BookCon

I’m doing three events in May: an appearance at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY; several panels and a signing at the Romantic Times Conference in Dallas, TX; and a few things around Book Expo America here in New York City.

Oblong Books
Sunday, May 10, 2015

4:00pm
6422 Montgomery Street
Rhinebeck, NY 12572

Justine and I will be talking about our new books, Razorhurst and Afterworlds, and of course signing whatever you want us to sign.

Here’s a link to the event.

Romantic Times
Dallas, TX
May 12-17

I’m on three panels:

YA: From Magic to Gadgets to Alternate Worlds, A YA Fantasy Primer for Writers
Thursday, May 14, 2015 – 1:30pm to 2:30pm
Atrium Level (2nd Floor)
Room: Bryan-Beeman B

Uplifting Service
(Justine and I are special guests in this librarian-focused event.)
Thursday, May 14, 2015 – 2:45pm to 3:45pm
Atrium Level
Room: Cotton Bowl

Humble Beginnings: Your Favorite YA Authors Share Their Teen Writing
Saturday, May 16, 2015 – 4:30pm to 5:45pm
Atrium Level
Room: Gaston

Also, I’ll be at the huge Book Fair signing on May 16. Several of my books will be available for sale there.

Note that you have to get admission to the RT Convention to attend an of these events.

And finally, I’ll be at several events around Book Expo America and Book Con here in NYC.

Book Expo
Javits Convention Center
Friday, May 29th
10:30 – 11:30 am, Zeroes signing (in signing area)
3:30 – 4:45 pm, CBC Tea (room TK)

BookCon
Javits Convention Center
Sunday, May 31st
2:00-3:00 pm, Afterworlds signing
3:30-4:30 pm, The Big Bad Theory
(Sci Fi Panel, moderated by CharlieJane Anders)

More details to come!

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5. Back from Taiwan!


And what a trip it was. Here's a photo of me in the Taroko Gorge area, about halfway through  our 12-day journey. I chose this one out of all my 893 pics because I thought it summed up my day-by-day existence pretty well: happy as a clam and having the time of my life whilst overcoming my reluctance to stand too close to the edge. (P.S. I did get right up close by the end of the day. In fact, I don't think I'll ever be afraid of heights again.) 

As you can see, we had to wear helmets in this particular section, but to be perfectly honest I should have been required to keep mine on my head until I got home. My head was always in the clouds (giving our wonderful tour guide a constant source of worry with the repeated refrain of: "Valerie, watch OUT!"). And that's because:

Taiwan was . . . incredible; one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. I am so grateful to artist Ming Franz for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with her to her home country in such a personal and insightful way. Any expectations I may have held in advance were far exceeded; both from a cultural and a tourist point of view. My sole job every day was to have my luggage ready for collection in the morning, get on the bus, and be prepared for adventure. The perfect way to travel! 

Traveling light!
Our magic flying bus.

Because the trip meant I had to miss participating in this year's April A-Z blogging challenge, I thought I would make up for lost time by writing several posts about the trip over the next couple of weeks. Don't worry--they won't be long or too exhaustive. As much as I would love to share every single second with you, I also realize how easily travel stories can become a big snooze, so I'll keep everything down to the highlights. 

Something I wanted to mention before my next post though, is to remind everyone that my primary reasons for taking the trip (besides having lots of fun, traveling with Ming, and meeting new friends) were to, a) learn more about Asian and Chinese art, which I certainly did, and b) to sketch with a free heart and without my Inner Critic (I think I threw her off at the Gorge somewhere). In order to achieve the right state of mind for these goals, one book that really helped me ahead of time was  The Tao of Sketching by Qui Lei Lei. I found his timetable/chart for sketching invaluable, e.g. "2-3 minutes, just use pen or pencil and go for quick lines," as well as his sage advice, "Never give up," (draw or paint in whatever circumstances you find yourself, which for me was drawing on the bus with all its bumps, sudden turns, and spilled water galore) and, "Capture what 'punctures your heart.' ” 

Taiwan punctured my heart. But more of that in my next post: Travel Days 1 and 2. Right now I'm going to eat a yummy preserved kumquat, one of the treats I brought home from this amazing place, The National Center for Traditional Arts. Oh, how I wish I was still there!



Tip of the Day: Besides drawing, I also did a little bit of writing in the form of listing 12 items to remember every day. It was a good system as it saved me from the pressure of “having to journal” when I was too tired to do anything but smile. Best of all, the ensuing 144  are right at my fingertips, easy to transcribe into another form, e.g. this blog, without having to search through pages and pages of rambling observations and inner musings.

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6. Juicy Jack Adventures: Meet the Wild Pack, by Leigh Carrasco | Dedicated Review

It’s summer vacation time for BT and his mom. They are going to visit BT’s grandmother, Abuela in Spanish, at her farm in Peru and this time Jack, BT’s guinea pig, gets to go with them.

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7. Bits of Heaven

Most of us lucky ones live many lives on our sojourn on earth. We assay many roles, we experience varying circumstances. We Live. And we make amazing memories while we do that.
My dad was a very senior doctor in the Indian Railways, and we traveled a lot - always in British Raj style. Of all the memories I have of that life, the holidays are the sharpest, and the most beautiful. A snapshot of  explaining murals on a lovely temple in Orissa to him, eyes scrunched against the sun, is probably clearer today in my mind than it was then.
Travel is a wonderful way to expand the mind. It teaches you about the place you visit, opens your mind to other cultures and people, tells you you can move, change and adapt. It is an entirely positive experience in most cases. Everyone likes to travel, some in any way, to anywhere, some with more specifications. For me, I would travel less, but travel well... really well. Four stars minimum. The fact that I cannot  bring myself to shell out for more than economy-class plane tickets is bad enough. But elitist compulsions aside, I believe travelling is a must for personal growth. A person who grows and dies in the place he is born in misses out on a lot. A lot of pain, maybe, but a lot of fun too. 
But I digress. I was talking of the memories that travel engenders. A holiday is a separate space in our lives. It is a time when we take out time for the 'unnecessary', when the routine, generic parts of living are given secondary place to the special, personal part. Precious taking precedence over the pressing. That itself makes it sacrosanct.
When we create memories with people we love in a different place, we make a personal landmark in time-space. A special time is created, a bubble in itself, indestructible. 
A trip to Orlando for the opening of Harry Potter Park is an indelible memory, easily revisited. The smiles, the frowns, the heat, the conversation. The silly guitar photo. Nothing that happens or will happen can change that. A big party at home becomes one of many, but the trip will remain unchanged through Time. The first time I swam with  Manta rays is as fresh today as it was then. I can feel the cold salt water, the rough scaly fin as it brushed me, the slowing of time, the meaninglessness of the world outside the water. Another bubble I can retreat to anytime.
That bubble is a reminder of who we are, of what we do, of what matters. It confirms that life has to be more than our earthly existence. We get little pieces of heaven in our experiences as we travel, and those are what we tuck away in our hearts and minds. Because every time we experience something new, see something beautiful, taste something fabulous, we know it cannot be meaningless. We know there is more. And we know that a lifetime is simply not enough - certainly not in this miserably limited existence. 
So when we are all standing in front of our Creator on the Day of Judgement, and he opens the gates to Heaven, (after all, does anyone think they might actually go to hell??) I am going to ask instead for the 6-star resorts on the beaches and mountains of all the worlds to travel around with the people I love. And yes, with the full dessert buffet. And if he has to do a bit of recreating... well, that will be one hell of a memory!

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8. Getting Ready for Taiwan: Art Pack


I'm leaving for Taiwan in the morning! I’m pretty much all packed, ready to go, and have even shopped for, and prepared, a dozen meals for my husband to eat while I’m gone.  In other words, just put me on the plane. 

It seems like I’ve been getting ready for this trip for months, concentrating mainly on choosing and gathering the right art supplies. My dithering had a lot to do with the fact that I’ve never been a big fan of plein airsketching or painting. Past experiences of trying to sketch outdoors usually include me being (in no particular order): too hot, too cold, too thirsty, hungry, under attack from various evil insects, struggling to keep my paper flat and dirt-free from a wind that never stops blowing, and then by the time I've got everything under control I desperately need to find the restroom. I’m hoping this trip will be different, or at least teach me some better survival skills. 

Another big factor in choosing my supplies is they had to fit in my travel purse without being too heavy or bulky. So what I've narrowed the kit down to is:
  • A Stillman and Birn Epsilon 6"x 8” sketchbook. After weeks of experimenting with various papers, this seemed to be the very best book for both dry and wet media, as well as giving me plenty of pages for journaling. The paper has a lovely smooth finish and suits me well.
  • A large striped rubber band to keep my sketchbook closed and the pages protected from all the other stuff in my purse (and the wind once I'm outside). This one is from Smash products and has a nice jaunty flair, don't you think?
  • A zippered pencil case to carry:
  • 1 Caran d’Ache techno B pencil.
  • 1 Caran d’Ache watersoluble graphite B pencil.
  • 1 mechanical Bic pencil with rubber grip and extra leads inside the pencil.
  • 1 Caran d’Ache red watercolor pencil.
  • 6 Faber and Castell watercolor Art Grip pencils (yellow, blue, brown, violet, and 2 greens because I couldn’t decide which green I liked best).
  • 1 waterbrush--this one has a large-size tip, but a short handle, perfect for packing.
  • 1 black gel pen (from my favorite coffee store: Moon’s Tea and Coffee here in ABQ).
  • 1 Uniball BLX Siglo pen in green ink (for journaling).
  • 1 glue stick (for collaging).
  • 1 double pencil sharpener.
  • 1 kneaded eraser.
And that’s it! I figure if there’s anything else I’ll need, I can purchase it there, but I think this should cover all possibilities and sudden inspirations. Thanks for visiting; see you in a couple of weeks!

Tip of the Day:  Travel light--it's so easy to be tempted into carrying an entire art studio's worth of supplies for a day of sketching or even writing. In the last few weeks as part of my travel-prep I've been sketching with a black ballpoint pen--and I loved the results. Sometimes simple really can be better.

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9. Why I Get Nothing Done During Spring Break

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North Myrtle Beach, S. Carolina

I actually do take a stack of grading to the beach with me. I pull out a report. Start reading.

Is that a dolphin? Oooo it’s two.

Look down and try to find where I left off. Jot down a comment.

Oh look. A gull landed so close I can touch him. “Hey guy. How you doing?”

Look down again. Read the same paragraph.

This would be so much better if I took my shoes off, and you know, squish my toes in the sand.

Set report aside. Take off shoes and socks. Dig feet into sand. Dig for a long while. Pull out report. Read the same paragraph.

Oh the heck with it. I’ll grade on the plane.

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10. Travel Journal: In Transit

When you're traveling and you have a lot of hours to kill, you might as well enjoy the ride (or flight) and make a drawing of it.

I hope you liked my little blog series here on travel journaling. I loved sharing the drawings I made in Thailand in February and it brought back the wonderful layed-back attitude and feeling again.

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11. Travel Journal: Studies

When on vacation, there is plenty of drawing time, and I love that! It gives me the opportunity to take the time to do elaborate drawings, but also to study. Trying out new techniques for example, or focusing on drawing things that may seem daunting to draw.

During my trip to Thailand in February, one morning I sat down after breakfast to have a very, very long look at the surf. Then I looked some more. And even more. I focused on the patterns the water made, the ripples, the waves, the foam and air bubbles, the swirls and movements of the water, the reflections and the transparency. The constant moving of the subject was very challenging, but I just got into the page and started drawing bits and pieces, focusing on the different aspects and trying to translate them onto the paper, discovering new things with each pen stroke and with each long stretch of looking at the sea. This whole process gave me a lot of insights and was very interesting.

Another thing I don't draw often: animals. I don't have pets, and even though I love looking at dogs and other animals - I hardly draw them because I don't seem to get the chance. Which basically means that I never take the chance to draw an animal.
In thailand, I got lucky because I found myself sitting close to sleeping cats a few times. A great opportunity to study and learn.
Even on lazy holidays, there's always room to study and learn.

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12. Creating Settings: Bringing the Sounds, Sights and Smells Home

Lisa Doan | The Children’s Book Review | March 6, 2015 When I began writing The Berenson Schemes, a middle grade series in which responsible Jack Berenson is repeatedly lost in the wilderness of foreign countries by his globe-trotting parents, I gave some careful thought to creating the settings. The books take place in the Caribbean, Kenya and […]

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13. Travel Journal: Beach Memories

Keeping a travel art journal has so many benefits. While drawing, you enjoy the moment so much more, your senses open up and you really look at your surroundings. It makes you appreciate the place, the moment, your time, and it makes you realize how lucky you are to be where you are.
Plus, you're creating a book of memories to never forget.
Seeing this drawing again brings me right back to the warm breeze on my skin, the sound of the wind through the palm tree leaves and the sound of the waves. 

 

After doing the drawing above, a lady who worked at the beach restaurant came over curiously and flipped through my sketchbook. Then she asked me to draw her. I felt challenged, I never did something like that on request, but I thought 'why not?' and gave it a go, next to a bunch of blind contour drawings I made of my husband earlier that day. 
The drawing doesn't look much like her, but it was a nice and intimate moment and a great way to connect with a local anyway. I asked her name, which was Tui, and then I asked her to write it on the drawing. Not my best drawing ever, but a wonderful memory.





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14. Travel Journal: Drawing Vehicles

In last Monday's blogpost I shared my adventure on drawing fishing boats from the pier in a Thai marina. On that same pier, I sat again the next day, to draw one of the many tuk-tuks on the island. I found a place in the shade, with a good view on a parked tuk-tuk. There was a little terminal post I sat on. Not very comfortable, but it gave me the right point of view and perspective to draw all the details of the motorcycle and its awesome cart build around it.
Again, I found myself drawing for an hour or so (my butt was totally numb after that!), and every now and then someone would walk over to stand behind me for a while. looking over my shoulder. The last 15 or 20 minutes of the drawing, one man stood behind me to follow the process intensely and each time I looked up, he would give me a big smile and a thumb up. I don't speak Thai and he didn't speak much English either, so 'good' and 'thank you' were pretty much the words we exchanged.
After adding the last bit of colour, I told him it was finished and he wanted to take a picture of the final drawing with his mobile phone. After that, he thanked me and walked over to the tuk-tuk to drive off with it. I hadn't realized he had been waiting for me to finish the drawing. So I apologized and thanked him about a million times (I am glad I know how to do that in Thai!). It was really awfully kind of him, and I felt kind of bad for letting him wait and maybe miss out on clients! I felt relieved when 10 minutes later I walked by the tuk-tuk, parked in front of a house in town. it had a blanket over the motor so that indicated he was done for the day. The driver had been on his way home anyway and I believe he was proud that his tuk-tuk was being portrayed and it was worth a little bit of hanging around on the pier before heading home. Otherwise I'm sure he wouldn't have waited for me to finish the drawing, and just drive off anyway.

Later that day, I added a little layer of coloured pencil, to deepen the colours and add some more depth and contrast to the drawing. I left room for writing on the right side of the page and I might as well still write this story there.

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15. Travel Journal: Drawing Thai Boats

I still haven't shared all the drawings I made during my week in Thailand. Here's a drawing that took me over an hour and was an adventure from beginning to end.

Intrigued by all the colours of the Thai Fishermen's boats, I planted myself in the shade of the waiting area on the pier of the marina. Then, I took a good look first, to single out an area to draw. I chose this row of three boats and focused on those, so I would not get distracted by all the other colourful elements around them and in the background. Then I started drawing. Drawing all the lines and shapes (making a lot of use of negative spaces) was very interesting and challenging too, since the boats were floating and constantly moving a little bit, turning left and right, with the waves of the water. I just relaxed and whenever an element got out of view because of the swell of the sea, I just focused on another detail or shape, to get back to it later.
At some point when I was well into my drawing, a fisherman left with his boat that was on the right side of these three boats, so all three boats moved drastically towards the right, closer to the quay, and for a moment I was afraid that it would mess up the whole scene and my drawing, but all I needed to do, is move a little to the right so I had the same poit of view on the boats again.

Step by step, my drawing grew while I listened to the constant chatter and bustle around me on the pier. At some point I realized I had an audience: tuk-tuk drivers waiting for the next ferry to come in, were watching my drawing moves closely. When I looked around and up to them, they gave me encouraging thumbs up.
The moment I opened my travel watercolour box and waterbrush, I even heard a few 'ooh's' and 'aah's'.

As you can imagine, I was very proud when I finished the drawing and felt a great sense of accomplishment.

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16. The Adventures of Bella & Harry: Let’s Visit Rome!

Bella and Harry, two friendly Chihuahuas, visit countries around the world with their family of people. In this edition, Bella and Harry visit Rome, Italy.

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17. If You Were Me and Lived in … Scotland, by Carole P. Roman | Dedicated Review

Roman has created a good beginning platform that readers can leap from and soar into the mythical and lively world of Scottish culture.

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18. The Adventures of Bella & Harry: Let’s Visit Edinburgh!

Bella and Harry, two adorable Chihuahuas, visit countries around the world with their family of people. In this edition, Bella and Harry visit Scotland.

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19. Manhunt, by Kate Messner | Book Review

Manhunt, by Kate Messner, will appeal to middle grade readers who enjoy solving mysteries and who like learning about other countries as well as famous artists and pieces of art.

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20. The Front of the Parade

I dislike parades. Not a little, a lot!

I don’t care about the pageantry or the spectacle. I just get bored. A.D.D.? Maybe. Every time I’m stuck watching them, I can’t find an ounce of enjoyment – I just think about two dozen other things I could be doing. This couldn’t be truer than when I’m at Disneyworld.

My kids, on the other hand, love parades. So when people start lining the streets, they want to stop riding roller coasters and wait. UGH…

Wait for what? Floats. No thank you! If a float doesn’t contain root beer and ice cream, I don’t want it.

I figure with half of the eligible riders standing along the parade route, the lines to the cool things are shorter. Not my family. We wait – and not for the good stuff.

A funny thing happened on our trip last week. We were headed to a ride at the back of the park while people were lining up for the parade. No one with me suggested we stop to watch (miracle), so I powered into the street. We must have been the last ones let out before they closed the rope because we found ourselves about 20 paces in front of the parade with all of its flags and music.

Maybe it was the fact that I was pushing my daughter’s wheelchair, or possibly because I looked so stately and official, but it became apparent that the spectators thought we were supposed to be the ones leading the parade. We all realized it at the same time as they clapped and waved at us.

My kids became confused.

They grouped together.

“Should we pull off and get out of the way?” they wondered.

The oldest asked, “What do we do?”

Of course they looked to me, the leader, the head honcho, the alpha male for direction and what did they find me doing?

Waving

With a dopey grin on my face, I waved back at all of my adoring fans.

When life puts you at the front of the parade, smile and wave!

parade

The kids laughed at me, but it caught on. All of us began waving to the crowd.

You know what? Everyone waved back. The people didn’t think we looked out of place – they just waved at us. I wonder what they thought when the real parade came and they realized we didn’t belong. Oh well, we were gone by then. We walked over half of the parade route unencumbered by the bustling crowd until we got near the ride we wanted. Then we simply ducked into the masses and became one of them – anonymous once more.

I still hate parades… But for a moment, I was the grand marshal.


Filed under: It Made Me Laugh

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21. If You Were Me and Lived in … Peru, by Carole P. Roman | Dedicated Review

Due to the well condensed and simplistic format, If You Were Me and Lived in … Peru: A Child’s Introduction to Cultures Around the World and the entire series can easily be the basis for further discussions of Peru, the Spanish language, cultures, traditions, historical sites and home life.

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22. If You Were Me and Lived in … Greece, by Carole P. Roman: Dedicated Review

Eleventh in her children’s cultural series, Carol P. Roman’s If You Were Me and Lived in … Greece: A Child’s Introduction to Cultures Around the World takes her young readers to Southern Europe and the tiny island of Greece.

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23. If You Were Me and Lived in … Hungary, By Carole P. Roman | Dedicated Review

Carol P. Roman’s If You Were Me and Lived in … Hungary: A Child’s Introduction to Cultures Around the World is the thirteenth in her series briefly introducing young readers to our world’s diverse cultures.

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24. Charleston for Christmas!

Stan and I headed to the beautiful old city of Charleston, South Carolina for Christmas this year - here's a selfie by the water.

We stayed at the grand old Francis Marion Hotel (built in 1924), right at the top of King Street - a shopping mecca. And it's a food town - who knew!? On the first night there, we stumbled into the most amazing Italian restaurant, Il Cortile del Re:

In fact, we had some of the most amazing meals of my life in Charleston. One of the best was at the James Beard award-winning chef restaurant, HUSK. Wow! Truly inventive, creative and delicious food by Sean Brock, author of the latest cookbook craze, HERITAGE:


Even the cornbread was amazing!

Then walked it all off by touring the city where we saw beautiful and amazing things:







What a great way to celebrate! I hope you had a marvelous holiday too!
Photos by Stan and Elizabeth Dulemba

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25. Poet in TedX Talk. Next Year in Havana. Content Creator Contest. 2014 Through a Keyhole

Guest Columnist Raúl Sánchez: Poet's TedX Talk

Raúl Sánchez was surprised to learn that the Yakima County Dream Team was using poems from his poetry collection, All Our Brown-skinned Angels, at immigration rallies and assemblies. He did not realize that had launched a thirst for his, and related work, in the local communities. He was invited to present at TEDx Yakima Salon on October 24. 

Here is Raúl’s account of the presentation at the Yakima Valley Museum.

The process of preparation began by watching the videos already available from other local conferences and cities in order to get the idea of the flow, intent, punctuation and impact to be delivered to the listener.

The theme for the event was “Growth”. The organizers picked that name based on one of the poems in my book titled “Dandelion”. They told me that the metaphor of the fuzzes like words flying in the breeze and landing in the ear of those who listen thereby growing and developing into a new idea, a new poem to heal, moved and inspired others.

I started by describing the genesis of the original idea. On a walk with my daughter, she picked the biggest dandelions and blew the fuzzes with her breath ,watching them fly in the breeze. I immediately thought: What if those fuzzes were the words in a poem and what impact would those words have on people far away from me?

All of us have experienced these feelings when we read poems other poets have published. That was precisely the experience some of the folks in the Yakima Valley experienced when they read or heard the poems at those Dream Team assemblies. I was honored to learn of their response, that my work had an effect on people I’ve never met.

I organized my talk about the experience of creating a poem and how the idea shapes up into a compact story by “using the best words in the best order.”

My presentation highlighted words from W.B. Yates, Philip Larkin and Martín Espada. I was careful to use images the audience would find easy to see in their minds’ eye. I enhanced the pieces using rhythmic alliteration, metaphor and mystery.

I made a point of exactness and slowing down to see what is always there but which remains unappreciated because we are always in a hurry to appreciate other people or the nature around us. That had a tremendous effect as part of the message in the presentation as well as the tenderness expressed when my daughter and I write poems together.

The TedX talk experience brings satisfaction from knowing that my work is appreciated somewhere else, even though I may not have first hand knowledge of the effects of my work. It was a significant honor, being on that stage. It magnified and encouraged me to write poems that seek to inspire and move others, like “Dandelion,” one of my favorite poems in All Our Brown-Skinned Angels.

Dandelion
by Raúl Sánchez

My daughter and I wrote a poem last night
We picked ideas and objects to write about
We mixed them up
in a salad bowl
carefully tossed

We picked funny words
to make happy sounds
We added, repeated, deleted

We laughed and fell to our toes
pretended to be dandelions
waiting for the wind
to shake us up

We acted like daffodils
and tulips soaked in rain
We opened ourselves in the morning
and closed our petals
when the sun ran away

We agreed that our poem
should be like a dandelion
so when shared with others,
the words will float to the ears
of those who listen

Carried by our breath
like the dandelion fuzzes
in the breeze
and so, my daughter and I
wrote a poem last night



Raúl Sánchez comes from a place south where the sun shines fiercely. He is a translator currently working on the Spanish version of his inaugural collection All Our Brown-Skinned Angels that was nominated for the 2013 Washington State Book Award in Poetry. He is also working on a Long Poem Memoir a project for the 2014 Jack Straw Writers. He is a mentor for the 2014 Poetry on Buses program sponsored by Metro King County and 4 Culture. http://beyondaztlan.com and http://moonpathpress.com

Brown-Skinned Angels was published in March 2012 by MoonPath Press a small press, Kingston WA.

 Pres. Obama's Cuba-U.S. Initiative Also Means: Read About Travel In Cuba

The New York Times and The Daily Beast both chose La Bloga friend Tom Miller’s book about Cuba among the best reads about the island.  Miller's book, Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels through Castro’s Cuba, was called “fun and engaging,” one that “introduces readers to the country’s intellectual elite, criminals, and ordinary citizens.” Miller has long conducted literary tours of Habana and environs. This year's journey lifts-off on January 3. For details, click here.

March Deadline Looms for Content Creator Contest
The National Hispanic Media Coalition, teaming with BabyFirst TeeVee network, announces annual opportunities for gente without Hollywood or industry conectas to see their childrens programming idea come to fruition. From the NHMC's press release: 


BabyFirst, the TV network devoted to delivering high-quality child development programming to tots and their parents, announced has teamed up with NHMC to launch an annual Latino-themed programming competition.

Called Rising Creators Project, the competition invites emerging talent - writers, musicians, animators and producers - to submit their idea or existing children's TV series for consideration.

An esteemed panel of media executives will select one winner whose show will appear on BabyFirst for two years, reaching 41 million households throughout the U.S.

Entries can be submitted now through March 15, 2015 at www.risingcreators.com.

A panel of judges will review the submissions and select finalists and, ultimately, a winner. The winning producer will then work with the network's production team to create their content or fine-tune their existing work before it premieres on BabyFirst.

The winner will fully own the rights to the series and will be entitled to 50% of revenues the series directly generates across platforms other than the BabyFirst television network.

All submissions must be suitable for children 2-4 years old, and should have an educational basis for early childhood learning. Acceptable content includes music, animation, scripts, show concepts and existing works. The content should embody and embrace Latino culture. Judges will consider educational and entertainment value, ingenuity, age-appropriateness and cultural relevance.


Michael Sedano's Highlights of the year--2014

La Bloga reached our Ten Year Anniversary in November. Earlier this year, our one millionth reader visited La Bloga. Thank you for reading La Bloga, for your Comments, for recommending La Bloga to friends and colleagues.

Over the course of a year, La Bloga's eleven writers, plus guest reviewers, present book reviews, new books, foto essays, interviews, original fiction and poetry, loads of literary news, food news including The Gluten-free Chicano's Celiac-friendly recipes, tips and techniques for reading your stuff aloud, and a host of diverse cultural updates.

July was a bummer. Two of La Bloga's writers had medical emergencies in July. Melinda Palacio, who shares Friday with La Bloga co-founder Manuel Ramos, fell down a flight of stairs, bringing horrid pain and a foot that pointed backwards. La Bloga-Tuesday's Michael Sedano had two emergency surgeries, one of which sent him to The Other Side where his ancestors told him to get out of line and burn sage. Whew. Both are back on their feet. Next week, will be Sedano's final column for a while as he returns for more surgery.

Medical highlights aren't the only ones La Bloga notes today. But because so many media produce lists of top ten, top twenty, top N of this and that, today La Bloga highlights three significant 2014 events.

Big screen: they didn't do well but they did it, Chicano filmmakers. Cesar Chavez and Water & Power came and went. With audiences rushing to suck down an outlandish tale of assassination to the tune of a couple million dollars in a few hours, it's a crying shame the box office combined for two Chicano movies with substance won't be as rewarding. The take-away: raza doesn't support raza film. Punto. Here's to 2015 changing that as gente acquire DVD copies of the two movies.

Novels: Poetry continues to be the most productive literary genre for raza writers. But it's novels that bring the big audiences. In 2014, feminist eroticism rubbed me the right way with Ana Castillo's Give It To Me. Castillo's wondrously funny and provocative novel is on those Top- lists, so if your Xmas stocking didn't come with Give It To Me, buy copies for yourself and all your friends. The take-away: give it to your friends.

LA Poetry scene: A generally high level of expertise among Los Angeles presenters continues with literary events ranging from Eric Contreras' garage in Bell to LA's newest public park, to important art galleries like Avenue50Studio. As in past years, many readers remain in their comfort zone, stuck to the page, minimal eye contact, limited personal contact with the audience. The take-away: Poets, your art deserves better readings. In a notable and wonderful change, the year ends with Luis J. Rodriguez giving an SRO audience a fabulously energized presentation.

In other poetry news, La Bloga's On-line Floricanto became a monthly feature after four years going weekly. Poetry is current events; we share our sorrow and outrage que faltamos 43. The emotions of Vivos los queremos will outlive 2014.

¿What are your 2014 highlights in Chicana Chicano Latina Latino literatura, cultura, life, y más? Leave a Comment to share two or three of your personal 2014 highlights.

See you next week, next year, same difference. And when you wish your friends a happy new year in Spanish, don't forget that tilde.

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