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1. Beautiful winter day

Enjoyed a beautiful walk in the forest preserve today. On the one hand, I hate the starkness of winter. But on the other hand, a walk in the woods on a day like today reminds me of what is left behind when the trees and bushes have lost their summer foliage. The delicate stems, the twists of yellowed grass, the red berries. It's also fun to examine the shapes of trees--their skeletons stark against the chilly skies.





...and even a stag! The photo is not great because I didn't take my good camera, but actually two stags were just hanging out, rooting around for a snack. I didn't really want to stop for a walk, since I had other errands to run, but I'm sure glad I did.

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2. Pumpkin Pie Experiment

I grew up in the generation that loved jello, canned goods, and frozen foods, and while my mom was a great cookie baker, she didn't spend a lot of time on pie baking. So when one of my college professors asked if I had made a pumpkin pie from scratch, I sort of said, "Huh?" All that is changing now.

Since we've had a farm share and gotten fresh local vegetables the last two years, I've become somewhat adept at cooking squash. I love making turkey sausage and squash skillets.

Today I had a nice sized pumpkin, and since I had the time, I decided to cook it up to make a fresh-from-the-farm pumpkin pie. I'm trying two different recipes. A traditional, full fat, full sugar recipe, and one South Beach no-crust option. Pumpkin pie without the sugar, crust, and heavy evaporated milk is actually quite healthy--just pumpkin, spices, and eggs.

Roasting pumpkin is quite easy, and then you can roast those delicious pumpkin seeds. I simply cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds (with an ice cream scoop), and then place the halves meat-size down on a cookie sheet with a little water in the bottom. Roast for about an hour at 375 or 400 degrees. When I can jab the side with a fork and the fork goes in easily, it's ready. I let the halves cool, meat-side up, and then with my hands, scrape the pumpkin away from the skin into a bowl. Then I used my mixer to puree it. Here's how it looked:


I followed this recipe for South Beach pumpkin pie, and opted to not use the whole wheat tortilla. I think I'd rather just savor the delicious pumpkiny flavor instead of having the fake crust in my mouth. Here it is baking in a greased casserole dish (since I'll save my pie pan for the "normal" pumpkin pie):

Delicious, healthy, and easy! And here's a link to an interesting recipe / information page--all about pumpkins and pumpkin pie.

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3. A great storytime

Storytime at Elmhurst Public Library yesterday was wonderful! Lori Lorenz was a wonderful host and provided a great setting for our turkey-themed set of songs, books, and rhymes. We shared these books and stories, great for any Thanksgiving, turkey-themed group of youngsters.

Books:
Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes, ill. by Doris Barrette
All for Pie, Pie for All by David Martin, ill. by Valeri Gorbachev
Gobble Gobble Crash: A Barnyard Counting Bash, by Julie Stiegemeyer, ill. by Valeri Gorbachev

Songs:
"Have You Ever Seen a Turkey"

Have you ever seen a turkey, a turkey, a turkey (repeat)
...with feathers so bright. 
With (colors) red ones, and yellow ones, and orange ones, and brown ones.
Have you ever seen a turkey with feathers so bright. 
(from this blog--thank you!)

"If You're Thankful and You Know It"

Flannel board:
Turkey Urkey
Our turkey craft: a turkey body glued onto fall leaves

Before turkey

Lori Lorenz reading a story to the crew

Craft time!

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4. Coming soon!

And as the year winds down, I'm looking forward to two upcoming holidays: Thanksgiving and St. Nicholas Day!

Thanksgiving - Need a book for that? 

Gobble Gobble Crash! A Barnyard Counting Bash
Turkeys are on my mind these days as I'm preparing to share my book at Elmhurst Public Library on Nov. 23 with the kiddos coming to Saturday Family Storytime. 
Today I made turkey feathers!

You can find my book at your local independent bookseller, or here





St. Nicholas Day

Then, on the heels of Thanksgiving is St. Nicholas Day, on Dec. 6. You can find some interesting resources here.  

And of course, you can also read my book, Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend to the kids in your life. 
St. Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend

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5. Maple Day

The morning light slants golden into my yard today as the maples leaves are drifting to the frost-tipped grass. One of those perfect autumn days when the whole world looks alive with fall colors. I had spotted some gorgeous ginkgo trees on a drive and they were my destination. So instead of taking a hum drum exercise class this morning, I hopped on my bike, wound a scarf around my face, and went leaf peeping. Here's what I found.


Hard to capture on film, but these were frost-covered




Reminds me of my son's room with his clothes lying all over the floor


Beautiful blue sky this morning


Red maple

Love this one. The blanket of golden leaves looks like a reflection

Surpringly, on the Prairie Path there were fewer pretty leaves. 



3 beautiful ginkgo trees outside Ahlgrim's Funeral Home. 




I wonder why they chose to plant ginkgo?



A pile of ginkgo leaves




The morning son perfectly illuminated these beautiful red maple leaves


Love this book. Need one for central North America.
Also found a great website--Arborday.com that helps identify leaves
Amazing blanket of ginkgo leaves.
Another admirer and I decided we didn't want to walk through them. Gorgeous!



Love these ginkgo

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6.

Why rewrite it when it's said so perfectly?

November

  by William Cullen Bryant

Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun!
One mellow smile through the soft vapory air,
Ere, o'er the frozen earth, the loud winds run,
Or snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare.
One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,
And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast,
And the blue gentian flower, that, in the breeze,
Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.
Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee
Shall murmur by the hedge that skirts the way,
The cricket chirp upon the russet lea,
And man delight to linger in thy ray.
Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear
The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air.


- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23746#sthash.byIAKilh.dpuf

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7. Bulb Planting Time

It's Bulb Planting Time!

I finally got out to my garden today--something I've been trying to do for weeks--to plant my daffodil and tulip bulbs. This year I decided to plant deeper and to layer some mulch over the top so that (hopefully!) the squirrels won't get to them. As I was digging, I didn't find a single bulb leftover from a previous year. I don't know how many I've planted--not too many, but at least 20-25. But none were to be found. 

Here are some photos of my and Lucy's adventure: 
Lucy, my faithful companion for 12 years

I think my iPhone camera is dying because all of these look blurry



Bulbs cozied together

Finished bed - it looks redder than in real life, but all they had left at the store was red mulch
In honor of bulb planting time, here are a couple of poems:

Bulb Planting Time by Edgar Guest

The Daffodils by William Wordsworth--my all-time favorite flower poem

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8. The Artist's Way, part 2

Today is the second installment of my webinar on Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. This class's assignment was to read the first two weeks of the book, and then discuss the tasks and content in the hour-long web discussion.

In these two chapters, Cameron talks about recovering a sense of safety and identity as creatives. This quote below is hard for me because I've always been impatient. She writes:

Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves. Too far, too fast, and we can undo ourselves. We want to be great--immediately great. Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. (29-30)

Here is a great point that I need to constantly remember:

Often, creativity is blocked by our falling in with other people's plans for us. We want to set aside time for creative work, but we feel we should do something else instead.

I need to remember to carve that time and space out for creative work. She also tells of her grandmother in her struggles in life, and ends with:

My grandmother knew what a painful life had taught her: success or failure, the truth of a life really has little to do with its quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention. (53)

She describes here the little things her grandmother would write about in her letters: "tiger lilies are blooming, the lizard has found that spot of sun, the roses are holding despite the heat." Life is in the details!

Looking forward to reading weeks 3 and 4 during November.

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9. Happy Hallow's Eve (AKA Reformation Day!)


Well, it's Oct. 31, and time for a little pumpkin fun. If I get inspired, maybe a Reformation poem will come later.

Pumpkin

Pumpkins, pumpkins, burning bright,
on front porches in the night.

Jagged teeth and gleaming eyes
are your Halloween disguise.

Light the way for little feet,
searching for a trick--or treat!

Pumpkin, pumpkin, burning bright
scare away my Halloween fright!

Julie Stiegemeyer ©All Rights Reserved

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10. Women's Leadership Institute - Next March

A quick note today. A few months ago I was asked to teach writing at the Women's Leadership Institute at Concordia University, in Mequon, Wisconsin. Two workshops are available: one for speakers and one for writers. The dates for the writers' workshop will be March 12-14 in the Milwaukee area.

I'm planning on using the resource Telling Writing by Ken Macrorie--an excellent book on writing in general. We'll not only be discussing general writing tips and strategies, but also writing for the church. There will be lots of time for critique, networking, and best of all--inspiration! I'm thrilled to lead the workshop, and I hope you'll consider joining me!

Go here for lots of good info. And here for the link to the registration form.

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11. When a bunny reader just won't do

On Monday night, I met with my writing critique group, and I was reflecting earlier today about all of the benefits of support and insight that a critique group can give to a writer. Not all writers work within a group. They find the input perhaps distracting or unnecessary. However, I feel differently.

What's so great about a critique group? When I first started writing toward publication, I met with a fantastic writing group in Pittsburgh every Monday evening. I still can't believe I managed to get there almost every week. Most weeks I brought something new for critique. Not only did I gain practical insight into my own work, learning how to strengthen and improve it. I also gained editing skills: how to quickly take in a piece of writing, and then with kindness but objectivity give specific ideas for revision.

More recently, I have less time to meet with other writers, but when I do I always feel the benefits. On Monday, I took three short poems for critique. The first two focused on nonfiction topics--one about a moth, and the other about a kind of fish. The other writers probed deeper--what does the fish eat? what is the genus of the moth? Clearly, I needed to do more research, and they called me on it in a kind way.

The last poem was a bit of a mess because it was still in its early stages. I always ask for someone else to read my work because I have the cadence in my mind, but don't know how it translates to another reader. This one totally flopped. What I heard in my mind was not at all what was on the page. So back to the drawing board I went with this poem.

Here's why I love a good critique: I may have an idea about what's missing, what needs more work, or a general sense of something not quite right. But usually someone else is able to pinpoint and verbalize what that is. I am too close to my own work to always be able to identify what's wrong. An objective reader can help.

So thank you to all of my fellow writers I've met with over the years. Your insights and kindness have sustained me and helped my writing to grow and improve!




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12. Tools for writing poetry

At my poetry workshop last week, some of the other poets and I were describing our favorite rhyming dictionaries, and it got me to thinking about the poet's toolbox. What helps are most useful to poets? Here are some of my favorite things to use as I write:

1. Rhyming dictionaries - Tons of these exist, but my personal favorite is my pocket-sized Random House dictionary. It's light and portable and gives me lots of options. It's also easy to find phonemes in the book. I bought another one, The Complete Rhyming Dictionary when I thought I'd lost my little one. It's edited by Clement Wood, which is pretty cool, but it's so big and bulky (for a paperback) that I tend not to carry it around much.


2. Speaking of not having to carry extra stuff around, there are, of course, some online options. I have an app called RhymeFree with an orange on the app image--I assume because it's so difficult to rhyme anything with "orange." It's so-so, only giving a handful of words I could already come up with myself.  Of course, if I'm working on my laptop, I use Rhymezone, a decent online dictionary.

3. What I find almost more useful than rhyming dictionaries is a good thesaurus. What I love about this particular one (Roget's 21st Century) is that most entries are linked to a category word in the back, which gives many more synonym options. For example, today I was looking for a synonym for "dash," or "dart," the verb. This thesaurus then pointed me to a category of words in the index for quick movement of a body. So I got lots of other options: bolt, bounce, bustle, flash, hurtle, hustle, and so on.



4. And in a discussion of the poet's toolbox, I should mention walking. "What?" you say, "How is that a tool?" Well--as I was puzzling out a poem this evening, I felt kind of stuck. I forced myself to get out of the house and take a brisk walk. The beat of walking freed my imagination, and I was able to compose the entire poem during my walk.

Update on writing the morning pages: it's really an interesting experience. Julia Cameron said it best when she intimated that writers can get too wrapped up in their own language to successfully write the morning pages. I want what I put--even in my journal that no one else sees--to be perfect, to somehow be great art, to secretly be composing the great American novel even as I write what seems to be innocuous stuff. But what is freeing about the morning pages is that I can get out all the negative, terrible, no good writing, staple it and stick it away in an envelope. The rest of the day, then, is freed to compose something better. I'm still a work in progress, because I only managed 4 out of the last 6 mornings, and mornings and I do not always get along very well. But I can feel the practice making a difference, however slight. I'm sticking with it.

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13. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

So I'm attending a webinar about the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I've loved many of her books, including The Right to Write, The Sound of Paper, and others. This one is her quintessential book on unleashing creativity.

I'm starting again with her two basic strategies:

1. Morning Pages: This is an exercise to put down in longhand three full pages of written text first thing in the morning. After my first webinar, I realize that I've done this wrong for years. I've used my journal to write my pages. But the better strategy is to write on legal paper or some such, fill the pages, and then tuck them away somewhere. After 7-8 months, I could go back and look at them, but not sooner. It gets the "censor" or the "editor" off your shoulder and you can create freely.

2. Artist's Dates: These are weekly, solo activities. A walk in the woods. A trip to a museum. I have in mind a couple of forest preserves that are not too far away that I have been meaning to check out.

I'm also keeping this important principle in mind:


"Difficult as it is to remember, it is our work that creates the market, not the market that creates our work."

So true!

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14. Thankful

Had such a wonderful time in The Barn at the poetry conference this past week. If you haven't already been to a Highlights Foundation workshop, it really is worth the effort. Go here to learn more. Feeling thankful to David Harrison for his wonderful instruction, insight, and inspiration. Thank you, David!



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15. For my new poetry buddies


Around the Fire in Honesdale

Marshmallows a-roasting
our cold bums a-toasting,
            The fireplace lit up the night.
Our drums a-thrumming
The tunes a-humming,
            Our rhythm lit up the night.
The ganstas a-snapping
with David a-rapping,
            Our poetry lit up the night.
The coals a-glowing
and poems a-flowing,
            our fun times lit up the night. 

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16. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Returned home last evening from a conference in the beautifully fall-colored hills of eastern Pennsylvania. It was Poetry for the Delight of It, taught by David Harrison, with additional speakers, including J. Patrick Lewis.

Loved getting acquainted with a bunch of great poets, teachers, writers, and all around nice people. Here's the link to one blog and Linda Baie's fun poem describing our great week:

http://www.teacherdance.org/2013/10/a-poem-for-new-poet-friends.html?showComment=1380910302467#c5110760128654434620

I'm determined to be more diligent with keeping up my blog posts. I'll add random thoughts, poems, info about literacy and children, and the like.

Here are my meandering thoughts from last night's plane ride:

At the Newark airport, in one of the so-called unfriendliest cities in America, I found a kind woman with a calming voice who assured me all was well. I had been sitting with my travel companions at the wrong gate, oblivious to the fact that there were TWO Chicago flights leaving at almost the same exact time, with the same exact airline, and only a two digit difference in flight numbers. When we tried to board the wrong plane to the right city, the agent told us we should be at gate 101, not 113. We rushed away, embarrassed and flustered. When we arrived at the correct gate, the agent calmed us down and eased us onto the plane--the last passengers. She was friendly and helpful.

Not so in Chicago--the "big city with the midwestern heart," where a week earlier I had missed a train. I had "sprinted" (which basically means jogging to everyone else, according to my son who almost daily reminds me how unathletic I am) to the train after a conference session had been cancelled. I hurried into the station, up the escalator, through the revolving door.

My train! I could see it! The conductor stood in the doorway, looking for stragglers--me. My feet pounded the pavement. I neared the last car of the train and as I got closer, the doors whooshed shut. I reached the door and banged on it, made eye contact with the conductor. Just a shake of his head told me all I needed to know: I was 5 seconds too late.


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17. Return to blogging!

Well, after a looonnggg hiatus, I'm back to my blog--which means I'm also re-inspired to fit more writing time into my life. We creative types have to learn to carve out time for the creative process, something I have neglected for awhile. It's difficult to do all of the tasks of writing: publicity, marketing, promotion, networking, conferencing, and much more--all in addition to the actual time-consuming (but fabulous) task of writing and revising itself. Suffice it to say, I'm ready to get back at it.

I'm right now at a writing conference at the Highlights Foundation near Honesdale, Pennsylvania, a lovely setting to write. The fall colors are almost at their peak here. The red-leafed sumac, crawling up the trunk of the maples. The insects buzzing in the golden grass. Clouds drifting lazily in the brilliant blue sky.

For now, I'm pondering a poetry writing challenge of the Word of the Month: May and the theme of the month: comfort food, inspired by David Harrison. Check him out here: http://davidlharrison.wordpress.com/author/davidlharrison/

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18. Prairie Writers' Day -- A fabulous day!

For any children's writers within driving distance to Palatine, IL, you simply must attend the annual fall SCBWI conference at Harper College. Editors, agents, authors, and art directors--a panel of six today--come to speak to share their insights on writing and illustrating in today's market. As usual, it was a great experience full of information and inspiration!

Go here for more information.

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19. Guidelines for writing poetry

April is National Poetry Month, which I have sorely neglected on my blog. I'll try to add at least one more poetry post before the end of the month, but here is one offering for you.

Often I talk to writers who want to try their hand at writing in verse. Writing in "verse" simply means that your lines are rhymed and metered. A common mistake of aspiring children's book writers is the assumption that if it's for kids, it must be written in verse. Not true. Although many, many children's books are written in verse, many, many others are not. Writers sometimes hear that editors don't "like" verse. What editors don't like is poorly written verse. So here are some quick guidelines which I will try to write more about another time.

1. Consider whether your book should be written in rhyming verse. Rhymed poetry packs a lot of information into one line. Each line is full of information. Rhyming verse is actually quite difficult to do well. It takes many, many revisions to get it right. If you want to write in verse, do it well and take the time to revise thoroughly.

2. Near-rhymes are very rarely okay. You should strive for perfect end-rhymes. Yes, even the best poets have at times broken this rule. But 99.9% of your rhymes should be dead-on perfect.

3. The meter needs to be smooth and easy to read. Avoid "off-beat" syllables.

4. Avoid "reversals." Say the words in ordinary English. Often, writers reverse the normal order of the words in order to accommodate a rhyme. Try to make your lines read as logically and smoothly as you would speak a normal sentence.

5. Try an unusual form, like a tercet (a three-line stanza) as opposed to the very common couplet.

6. Use fresh and original language, and avoid cliches.

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20. New Picture Book reviews

Ages and ages ago, I started my lofty goal of reviewing at least 10 new picture books each month. Here is my first five, and now, four months later, I am ready to review my next five!

So, here's the real deal. I took a 5-week term off of teaching in January/February, which allowed me to a) spend more time writing in general, and b) write more on my blog. Since then, however, I have been back to my many-faceted writing/teaching combo of life, and have not posted nearly as much.

Before I do my next chunk of picture books (maybe I'll catch up this summer?? Probably unlikely), I thought I'd share an AWESOME book I ran across at the library this morning. It's called The 100 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life by Pam Grout. If this author even got to take one of these to do her research, I am insanely jealous. The book is chock-full of creative vacation ideas, like taking classes in Door County at a woodsy sounding place called The Clearing where they have all sorts of workshops on arts, crafts, and writing. Another vaca option is going on an authentic Oregon Trail covered wagon ride. (When I asked my husband if he wanted to try that one, he said no-go...why, I cannot fathom.) You could monitor active volcanoes in Hawaii, track mountain lions in the Rockies, and the list goes on and on. I'm buying this book. That's all I can say. 

I know you've all been dying for more picture book reviews...so here goes.


If You're Hoppy by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic (Greenwillow) #6/120

Adore. Love. Smile. Laugh! The author of this clever and creative book took the familiar children's song and made it fresh, original, and fun. This is a great book for storytime. And to my dear editors, would you please, please consider Jackie Urbanovic's whimsical, charming, and slightly-over-the-top illustrations for one of my books?

My Cold Went on Vacation by Molly Rausch and Nora Krug (Putnam) #7/120

Not sure I'm loving this book. I hate to say that about any children's book, but I found the illustrations somewhat off-putting. The concept is clever--following a cold germ around the world. But a) it's kind of strange to see an illustration of a cold germ, and b) the two-dimensional look of the illustrations didn't really appeal to me personally. The "feel" from the illustrations was a bit cold. But it is an interesting concept.


Who Stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (Bloomsbury) #8/120

Charming book! This would be perfect for anyone wanting to share the story

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21. A few thoughts on writing

I was just grading a paper for the writing class that I am teaching, and the student discussed a time in his life when he had driven drunk. The emotion and heartfelt raw language he used was something I rarely see in a writing class--surprising though that may sound. But isn't that the real purpose of writing--to connect us to each other, to inspire, to share?

I've been reading a book called "Through a Dog's Eyes" by Jennifer Arnold. In the section I read last night, she discussed body language of dogs and how the curve of their lips, the base of their tail, and the position of their torso communicates a great deal. They primarily communicate through body language.

But people are different. We certainly use body language, and as our technology advances, I am even more convinced that personal communication is vital to a relationship. We miss so much when we email, IM, or even when we talk without the benefit of seeing the other person's facial expressions, tone, and body language. This is one reason why I find it a challenge to teach online.

However, unlike dogs, we use words. Words mean things. Words communicate so much more than our body language can.

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22. Snapshot moments

For one of the writing classes I'm teaching, I read a paper recently by Natalie Goldberg called "Pen, Paper, and the Mind." If you are able to get your hands on it, I highly recommend it. She writes about the physical nature of writing--how we use all of our senses to get the details right. She describes an event when she was in ninth grade. Her teacher turned the lights off and told the students to listen to the rain. She suddenly heard the pattering of the rain's rhythm, the scent of the soaked sidewalks, the gray of the haze outside the window. A quote I love from the piece is: "Writing gave me confidence, training in waking up."

As I'm reading my students' reflections on this essay, I am reminded of my own "snapshot moments"--those moments when time seems to slow down and the details of the day come into clear focus. All of them, by the way, have happened when I'm out of the house. So, for me, I need to be out, among people, watching and seeing what's happening.

The first was early this past summer, maybe in May or early June. I was on a bicycle ride, and passed a house where a mom and her toddler were on their driveway. She was just an average mom, and he was just an average little boy. But the moment was very poignant to me. The sunlight angled onto their driveway in late afternoon. The mom, with a bubble wand, began to slowly turn in a circle, letting the bubbles seep into the air. The boy hopped up to catch the bubbles. I could almost hear the plink of the popping bubbles, though I was not near enough. It was the essence of a perfect summer moment.

Then today, as I drove home, like a movie, I saw another scene that reminded me of my snapshot moments. This time, a boy with a black mask and a blue cape ran across the street, cape billowing behind him in the afternoon crispness. Behind him, his friend, a pirate in a maroon coat and triangle hat, hung on the stop sign, spinning in circles. The scent of fallen leaves gathering on the dewy lawn trickled in through my window. And again, the moment seemed like a perfect snapshot of the season.

Goldberg reminds us to turn off our "thinking minds" and wake up--watch the caterpillar scooting across the sidewalk. Listen to the clink and hiss of the espresso maker at the coffee shop. Breathe in the scents of the seasons. Enjoy!

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23. Tips for healthy snacks

Why is it so hard to admit our mothers teach us so many things without our even acknowledging them? Well, here I am today, hat in hand, thanking mom for the idea for the easy snacks I just prepared.

Sometimes we don't take the time to eat fruits or vegetables, not because we don't like them, but because we're too lazy. So, what I do is turn on some music, and take an hour a week to chop stuff up.

#1 - Hardboiled eggs - what could be easier? I try to keep at least 4-5 hardboiled eggs in the fridge for a snack or quick breakfast.

#2 - Cut-up fruit - of course, this comes in many varieties. Here are the ones in my fridge now:
- fresh pineapple, cut up in chunks
- orange sections (already peeled and divided, in a tupperware container)
- apple slices (my mom's tip is to dip them in saltwater after slicing; then, they can stay in a container in your fridge for easy access but won't turn brown)

#3 - Cut-up vegetables (this isn't rocket science) In my fridge:
- raw cauliflower divided up into bite-size chunks - put in 3-4 snack bags for the week, and add:
- celery sticks
- baby carrots

Nothing genius about this, folks! But if you take just a few minutes to prepare some healthy snacks that are as easy to grab and go as the prepared foods, maybe that Ho-Ho won't look quite so tempting.

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24. Close Calls

Last Saturday, we had a close call with our one-year-old kitty, Kenji. He had a bad reaction to receiving his first full set of adult vaccines, and shortly afterward, he started going into shock and was unable to breathe. It was scary, but thankfully, he survived and is now back to his old mischief.

That incident, along with some discussions Scott and I have been having about bio-ethics, made me think about some close calls in my life.

As he and I discussed advances in medicine and the plethora of choices we have today to extend our lives by using medicines and treatments to combat disease, he touched upon the fact that so many women in childbirth died in previous generations. And the babies often died as well. This, of course, I knew, but in the context of our discussion, it had never really settled in for me that I could have died giving birth to Jacob. He was delivered by "emergency" c-section, which meant that they didn't have time to numb me up with a spinal anesthetic before Jacob would need to be delivered. He was breach--foot first. So, they gave me general anesthesia and I was out for the count. Twenty minutes later, Scott got to see our little bundle of joy wheeled out of the operating area.

I've always sort of resented the fact that for my only child, I was not conscious for the delivery. And then as Scott and I were talking about it last week, I realized how lucky I was to have an attentive team of nurses and doctors who took good care of me so that I was able to deliver a healthy baby and come out of the procedure relatively unscathed. In previous generations, I may have had no option but to deliver the baby naturally and might have potentially died in childbirth. And Jacob could have been in distress during an abnormal delivery. Yes, I agree that c-sections are sometimes unnecessary, and perhaps, if I was omniscient, I would know that my c-section was not necessary either.

But it just made me stop and count my blessings. Maybe all these years, I've looked at it the wrong way. Instead of being grumpy about "missing" the delivery, I should be thankful that God spared me and my son from an untimely death. Yes, it's a bit morbid to consider, but it reminds me of all of those close calls we may have--near-miss car accidents, bronchitis that's knocked out by an anti-biotic, cancer treatments that slow down or eradicate the growth of diseased cells. We have God's angels protecting us, and God, in His mercy, to thank.

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25. Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Saint Patrick: The Man Behind the Legends
                  St. Patrick lived in fourth-century Briton, and his home was probably on the west coast of modern-day England. His grandfather was a priest (in the days before priestly celibacy) and his father was a deacon in the church.
                  At the age of sixteen, Patrick was captured by slave traders and sold to a slave owner in Ireland. There, for six long years, he labored in the woods and pastures of Foclut near the Western Sea where tended sheep. At first, Patrick, traumatized by his capture, sank into deep misery. But in time, his faith, which had been shallow as a child, grew and deepened. He prayed night and day, a hundred times a day and long into the night. Then he had a dream that a ship was ready to take him back to Briton. He likely escaped during the summer months, making his way through the forests and bogs of Ireland, trying to hide his slave torc, the gold ring around his neck, as well as his foreign accent. Indeed, when he made it to the coast, his ship was ready, and after a little convincing, he climbed aboard and headed back home.
                  Back in Briton, Patrick decided to study for the priesthood. But he had missed important years of his education. Late in life, he still regretted missing those formative years and lamented about how poor his Latin was.
                  But Patrick did not become bitter about his years of slavery. Instead, he had another dream. In this one, the Irish begged him to come back to them. Surprisingly, Patrick decided to do just that—return to the land of his captivity to bring the good news of Jesus to the Irish people.
                  Many years later, after becoming a priest and then finally a bishop, Patrick's dream to return to Ireland was realized. He returned to the land of druids who still performed human sacrifice. He returned to the land which was poor and uncivilized (unlike his Romanized Briton). He returned to the land which at that time was considered "the ends of the earth." He returned to the land where he was a slave.
                  Unlike the legends, he did not drive snakes from Ireland. He did not find pots of gold or leprechauns. But he did bring the message of salvation through Christ to a people lost in sin and darkness.
                  Did Patrick explain the concept of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—with a shamrock? Perhaps. It's not known for certain. But what we do know by letters that Patrick himself pe

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