Tag Archives: Writing

National Park Adventures: Grand Teton and Yellowstone Edition

After lamenting in my last blog post about how my first bear-in-the-wild experience turned out to be less thrilling than I thought it would be, Mother Nature showed up for me big time. It started with an early morning drive through Grand Teton National Park.

We saw gorgeous mountain views,

breakfasting deer,

the most majestic elk I ever did meet,

and then, on the way back through the park, a black bear had the courtesy to climb on top of a tree stump and pose for me. Don’t worry – there were two rangers there keeping the humans and bears safe, so I was not in danger while taking this picture.

Add this wildlife to the dogs I met in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and you’ve got yourself one delighted animal lover.

 

I met most of these dogs while attending the People’s Market in Jackson Hole. The People’s Market is like a farmer’s market, except it’s for people who don’t necessarily identify as farmers. What’s amazingly progressive about the People’s Market is that it’s zero waste. Everything is reused or recycled.

While at the market, I bought my first non-essential clothing purchase in over 2.5 years. All the clothes I’ve purchased since December 2015 have been to replace something that has completely worn out. This time, however, I jumped the gun on replacing a t-shirt which still has a few washes left, since I wanted to support Bear Root Bitters, a locally-based company that focuses on remixing ancient herbal remedies from locally harvested and all organic ingredients.

Although I’m a fan of supporting local in general, I am especially fond of Bear Root Bitters since two of their proprietors, Katie and Henry, let us stay with them while we were visiting Jackson Hole. My husband and I know Katie and Henry as the sister and brother-in-law of Cody and Xena, the boxers we took care of a few weeks ago. They’re two chill, generous people, and I’m so glad we got the chance to hang out with them.

After a few days in Jackson Hole, we headed north to Montana by way of Yellowstone.

We didn’t see much wildlife in Yellowstone, except for a few bison here and there.

But, WOW! The geysers here are extraordinary!

I don’t do a lot of research before I visit places, mostly because I don’t want high expectations to be unmet. So I didn’t really know what to expect at Yellowstone other than Old Faithful (which did not disappoint).

As it turns out, there’s a lot more to geysers than just bubbling, gushing water. Check out these colors:

These photos are from Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone, and the only reason we stopped there in the first place is because my husband’s brother (the one who passed away in February) was nicknamed Biscuit. We now chalk up stopping there to divine intervention.

While there, we met the loveliest couple, Ron and Carolyn from Utah, while walking around Biscuit. Carolyn was so enthusiastic about how I quit my job as a college professor to pursue writing, that she insisted Ron take our picture together, so that later when I’m a published author she would be able to say she met me at Yellowstone National Park.

I’m pretty sure Carolyn is a real-life angel. I needed that boost and unwavering belief in my goals as a writer because just a few days prior, my agent and I decided to part ways. Despite liking each other very much and being fans of each other’s professional goals, we just couldn’t seem to connect in a way where we both were on the same page with my manuscripts.

A bummer and disappointment to be sure, but as someone who once sat down next to a complete stranger at a restaurant bar and then eloped with that person three weeks later, I have no doubt that what happened is for the best. I’m already looking forward to the next part of my writing journey.

In the meantime, I have more road tripping to do. Next time I post I’ll tell you all about the supermodel I met in Kalispell, MT. His name is Bruno, and, yes, he’s a bear to work with. Literally.

Dedicated to My Brother-in-law, Erick

In Memoriam

On February 23rd, 2018, my husband’s family lost a beloved son. Erick’s death was not surprising or unexpected; he had been born with a rare combination of two genetic illnesses – Addison’s Disease and Adrenoleukodystrophy. Doctors had been preparing my husband’s family for Erick’s death for the last 20 years. The fact that Erick made it to his 39th is astonishing. The fact that Erick’s suffering is now over is a blessing.

Erick had two memorial services: one on February 28th, in Smyrna, TN, and one on March 1st in Lawrenceburg, TN. I met my husband’s childhood friends and his extended family. I met dozens of friends and colleagues of my in-laws. Laughter was shared, and tears were shed.

I heard many stories about Erick. I didn’t get the chance to know Erick other than through his diseases. I could only imagine what he was like through the memories of his family and friends.

Erik 1

The Erick I met could not communicate in any way – he had no vocal capabilities, nor could he blink once for yes or twice for no. There was debate about what Erick could understand, if he could even understand anything at all, once the disease fully ensnared him. I know his mother and his primary nurse believed he was still in there somewhere.

Erik 2

Last summer, I got to know Erick as well as I could when my husband and I stayed at his parents’ house for a week so they could take a well-deserved vacation.

During that week, I cleaned Erick’s face in the morning and emptied his urine bag. I administered medicines through his feeding tube, which connected directly to his stomach. I put a breathing device on Erick to help him clear his lungs. Every 2.5 hours I turned him, at least until my husband woke up and took over or the nurse arrived and provided far better care than I ever could.

The state of Tennessee provided Erick with 32 hours of nursing care per week. For my husband and I, that meant we could still see each other during the day and go out and about in Nashville while we were taking care of Erick that week.

My in-laws were expected to work full-time jobs and then care for Erick full-time before and after work. As Erick needed 24-hour supervision, this provision made it impossible for my in-laws to have a typical American life. They devoted nearly every hour of their lives for the last 12 years to taking care of their son. For the last 20 years, they watched him suffer and there was nothing they could do medically do about it.

Erik 3

When I consider Annie Dillard’s profound saying, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives,” I think about the kind of love that my husband’s parents have for Erick to spend every day in service to their dying son.

They refused to put him in a home and they refused to give up on caring for him.  They sacrificed themselves in ways I can’t even imagine. I suppose that is what you do for someone you love because what is the alternative?

Erik 4

I am not a caregiver. Yes, I care for people and animals and the beauty of creation that is God’s gift to all of us. But it is not my vocation.

My vocation is writing and playing with as many animals as I can. I say this because I’ve been thinking of how I can best memorialize Erick, a man I’ll only really know through the love of my husband and his family. I have no stories of my own about Erick while he was alive, yet his story means something to me.

While I was in Nashville with my husband’s family, the time came for my agent to submit one of my picture book manuscripts, Sundays with Pop-Pop, to publishing houses. The timing wasn’t ideal, but she had a fire inside her for getting the manuscript out and I am eager for my first book contract. In retrospect, I do feel regret for closeting myself in their office to perfect the draft while there was so much grieving around me. I will hopefully not make that mistake again.

But I now know how I will honor Erick and the love his family has for him. Sundays with Pop-Pop is a story of love and loss. It celebrates the special relationships we have in our lives, whether they are biological, a beloved family pet, or a concerned member of our community.

Erick is, and always will be loved. When Sundays with Pop-Pop is published – and I truly believe it is when, not if – I will dedicate the story to Erick. He deserves it.

Thank you for reading my blog. And if you are so inclined, please send thoughts and prayers of peace to my husband and his family.

How E.B. White Broke My Heart with a Single Sentence

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True Confession: I have never read Charlotte’s Web before this year.

Yes, I am a children’s book author admitting to never having read one of the greatest pieces of children’s literature of all time. Okay, yes, I’ve only been a children’s book author since June 2015, when I wrote my first picture book manuscript. Yet somehow that doesn’t make me feel less chagrined about the situation.

Since I’m coming clean, the truth is there are many kidlit classic books I have never reads. Some books and authors I have never even heard of when I’m perusing kidlit writing websites.

For example, I did not know who Ursula Le Guin was when she died on January 22, 2018. Her name popped up everywhere on the writing and entertainment websites I read. I ended up checking out this article in particular, Mapping the Pop Culture Influence of Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea Booksand I was shocked to learn that her stories had been a precursor to Harry Potter.

EarthSea

As a huge Harry Potter fan, how is it I had never heard of Le Guin before? Who else haven’t I heard of that I should?

At least I’m quite familiar with EB White and Charlotte’s Web. Growing up as a child in the 80s, I’d watched the cartoon version of the story dozens of times, but somehow I never managed to read the story.

Charlotte's WEbWhen I think about it, I have no good reason why, other than I was reading other books: Sweet Valley Twins, Babysitters Club, Fabulous Five, and the Taffy Sinclair books just to name a few. All of these titles are series, so perhaps because I had multiple new books to read every month, I never needed to venture out to the classics.

That’s not to say I never read any of the classics growing up. The three that I distinctly remember are: Misty of Chincoteague and Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, both by Marguerite Henry, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Yes, like most little girls, I had a thing for horses. I suppose I still do.

Horses

I also racked up quite a few more kidlit classics while in college when I took Intro to Children’s Literature my freshman year. We studied fairy tales (the gruesome original versions), Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Little Women, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, to name a few.

I can still vividly recall the moment in class when my entire life changed because of a book. Mrs. Spore, my teacher, lead us in a discussion of the allegorical representation of Aslan the Lion in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Being a nearly-straight-A student, I raised my hand and proudly announced Aslan represented the struggle of good versus evil.

Mrs. Spore shook her head. “Too simple,” she said. “Aslan is much more than that.”

The guy next to me raised his hand. “Jesus Christ,” he said.

Lion

BOOM! There goes my head in an explosion of everything I thought I knew about the world. 13 years of Catholic education (K-12), and I had made zero connection to what C.S. Lewis was really telling us in his story.

Although that Intro to Children’s Lit class was my favorite class throughout all of college, anything in children’s literature/publishing did not seem a viable career option at that point. I allowed myself to get sucked down the rabbit hole of job security, earnings potential, and societal expectations, and ended up with a PhD in quantitative psychology instead.

So now, as a psychology professor turned kidlit writer, I find myself immersed in reading as much kidlit as possible. In January, on advice from an editor at Simon & Schuster, I checked out The Incredible Journey from my library. The editor recommended this book because I write about dogs. The writing was beautiful and the pacing a touch slow for modern reading standards (in my opinion). Still, I cried tears of joy during the last few pages.

Incredible Journey

Wanting to continue with reading kidlit classics, I then picked up Charlotte’s Web from the library. This is a book that should be required reading for all children and adults. The story is extraordinary in so many ways.

E.B. White is a master of word choice and description, with sensory details, rich visuals, and emotionally engaging characters that pull you immediately into the story. Just read the first sentence:

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” asked Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Tell me you don’t want to read more!

Charlotte’s Web is not just about the writing, either. The illustrations by Garth Williams are adorable. Look at this little pig:

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Or “puppy pig,” as my 21-year-old niece called him when I sent her an illustration as an example of why I was loving this book so much.

If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know how much I LOVE dogs! Give me a puppy pig and write him into a story where he finds out he’s going to die and you have me hooked.

The way E.B. White connected me to Wilbur the pig is genius. Wilbur loves Fern and misses her when she’s at school. He wants a barnyard friend to play with, but the other animals shun him. He finds out he’s going to die and becomes hysterical because he loves sitting in his pile of mud and slopping around his pigpen so much. Then, Wilbur begins to believe he is someone special simply because Charlotte, his spider friend, believes in him.

There’s also this sentence in the last chapter about Fern, the little girl who initially saved Wilbur the pig from Papa’s ax:

She was growing up, and was careful to avoid childish things, like sitting on a milk stool near a pigpen.

These words of E.B. White will stay in my heart forever.

I couldn’t help but cry when I read that sentence. They were tears of both joy and sadness. Joy because the way I live my life now, embracing the things that truly matter to me, such as loving my husband and family, playing with dogs, walking in the forest, reading and writing stories, and sitting on a stool near a pigpen are things I do every single day.

Okay, well maybe not literally every day sitting on a stool near a pigpen, but thinks to one of my wonderful friends in Norfolk, I do occasionally get to sit in a barnyard and play with farm animals.

Hammy Zorro

There was also sadness for the millions of children who grow up and may never again recapture the feelings of wonder they experienced during childhood. Just like I did in college, they go down the rabbit hole of adulthood, and I don’t know if they ever find their way out. I hope they do. I pray they do. And I write stories to show how I made my way out.

Thank you for reading my blog! Your support is always appreciated. If anyone is interested in more Charlotte’s Web writings and illustrations, I’ve been posting selections on Twitter as part of my #365DaysofKidLit Challenge. You can look for me on Twitter with the handle @KellyKandra. I also included selections from The Incredibly Journey and The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog, plus several picture books.

As an end note, I’m looking to read as many of the Hank the Cowdog books as possible without having to buy them (you know, minimalist and all). The inter-library loan only offers a few, so if anyone out there can give me access to more copies, I would be ever grateful.

Hank the cowdog

Minimalism as a Professional Touchstone

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A few days ago, I received an email from one of my incredibly talented and insightful critique partners. She had been listening to a replay of a free webinar on How Picture Books Work and someone on the webinar named Kelly made the comment, “anything with a dog in it has me interested.” She wanted to know if it was me.

OF COURSE IT WAS!

I also made a comment when discussing personal reactions to the opening scenes of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are that I could never be too frustrated with Max because kids in wolf costumes are funny.

Where the wild things are Max in wolf costume

This How Picture Books Work webinar was offered by Kids’ Book Revisions and it was taught by Harold Underdown and moderated by Eileen Robinson.

Although I have never had the pleasure of taking a workshop or seminar with Eileen, I attended one of Harold’s presentations at the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley summer conference last year. In addition to learning quite a bit, he also startled the bejeezus out of me at a first pages event when he declared the first 100 words of an author’s picture book manuscript were cute and thoroughly enjoyable, but … “So, what?”

“Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” is the rhetorical question he asked the audience.

I felt like a million light bulbs simultaneously went off, then shattered to pieces in my head because I realized that OH. MY. GOSH. Sometimes, my stories will be good, perhaps even great, but that doesn’t mean they are desirable by industry standards.

It’s always a good day when you have a swift kick of humility straight to your head.

I’ve used Harold’s message to help inform which of my manuscripts to submit to my agent and which should simply be exercises in creativity and imagination. His message has also helped me hone in on what types of stories bring me the most joy throughout the creation process, which ultimately lead to stronger and more engaging manuscripts because I am more passionate and invested in them.

Anyone want to guess what kind of characters I feature in those manuscripts? That’s right! Dogs and bears. I suspect anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will not be surprised.

What was surprising to me, however, was the realization that with this awareness comes a responsibility to stay true to myself. As a minimalist, I enthusiastically proclaim that I don’t want a lot of stuff, and I embrace and even revel in how awesome I find a simple life; yet, how funny that I had ignored how minimalism could improve my approach to writing projects.

Just like the millions of light bulbs going off, then shattering with the “Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” I had the same sort of moment when I realized this insight means letting go of some really great ideas I have for books simply because they don’t align with my personal values that bring me the most joy.

For example, over the winter holidays when I was catching up on my Carolina Alumni Review issues (GO TAR HEELS!),

Carolina AR

I came across a feature article about Zena Cardman ’10, who is the first microbiologist astronaut for NASA and who wants to go to Mars. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!?

I underlined the article, made margin notes, and thought to myself: this is a story that needs to be told.

Women in Science is so relevant right now to children’s literature and quite a few editors are specifically looking for stories like Zena’s.

But as a minimalist, I’ve learned that I can’t say yes to everything. Doing so makes my life feel unbalanced and anything but simple. I now understand that Zena’s story is not mine to tell. Thinking a story is cool, relevant, and timely is not enough to devote hours and hours to research, writing, and revising, or giving away pieces of my heart, which I feel is necessary for a manuscript to be considered my best work.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to forget that I ever read Zena’s story.

I have a plan for trying to connect her with a rather successful nonfiction kidlit writer who is currently looking for scientists to interview for her e-zine. Also, if you are a kidlit writer reading this blog post, who just happened to be thinking, I wish I had a cool woman in science story to write about, please reach out to me and I’ll send you a copy of Zena’s Carolina Alumni Review article. She’s an outstanding person and a wonderful role model for our future generation of scientists, and even though I will not be writing her story, I can’t wait for it to get told through a children’s book.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue working on my animal stories because that’s where my heart is. A story about this little girl is still percolating in my mind.

Lelu

And, just yesterday while getting out of the shower, I had an idea for a mashup involving two of my favorite animals. Haha, no¸ this new mashup is not about dogs and bears – I’m already working on that story, thanks to this ball of fluff I got to know in December.

Shiloh

Her name is Shiloh and I’m pretty sure she’s part bear.

This new story is inspired by Smudge and ….

Smudge!

Sorry, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. I have to leave some things left to surprise my readers.

As always, thanks for your encouragement and support. A special shout-out to my new friend Bob, UNC class of ’72, who entertained me yesterday with some fun stories about his and his wife’s life journey to minimalism. I was feeling some bloggy writer’s block earlier and as soon as I hung up the phone with him, I cranked out most of this post. YAY TAR HEELS!

A New Year’s Intention

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Happy New Year! Oh, wait…I said that last week. New Year’s is still fresh on my mind because of the conversations I’ve been having lately online. As a member of several communities that promote minimalism, spirituality, and a simpler way of living, there’s been a lot of discussion over how to approach the New Year.

Specifically, do we make resolutions, do we select a single word or theme for the year, or do we not do either and instead let go of expectations and be at peace with whatever happens.

Although I am a believer of letting go of expectations, I also believe there’s something to knowing what you want. How you get there is another matter entirely.

In the past, I’ve started off my New Year’s with resolutions. My enthusiasm and optimism usually resulted in grandiose ideas that I had no hope of following through with, such as: Get up early every day (this was a pre-Narcolepsy diagnosis perennial favorite), exercise for an hour every day (destined for failure because I would always default to the elliptical trainer which I find as boring as reading a chemistry textbook), or eat less junk food (hopelessly impossible when you believed as I did for many years that fat is the problem and strive for a low/nonfat diet; I was hungry for almost a decade).

In January, 2016, however, I had the privilege of attending a white stone ceremony. The underlying idea is that you set an intention for the coming year by holding a white stone in your hand, typically from Jerusalem, and allowing a word to come to you. You then write it on your white stone. The word that came to me in 2016 was unstoppable.

Unstoppable Stone 2

I carried my unstoppable white stone with me throughout that year; oftentimes literally, as I kept it in my pocket until the weather became too warm for a coat. Since we were living in the Chicago suburbs and then Johnsonville, NY, too warm ended up being in July.

In 2016, I ended what many would consider a dream job (i.e., a tenured position as an associate professor of psychology at a mid-level university) to pursue a life of writing, adventures, and house/pet-sitting. That stone was with me on campus every day, encouraging me when some of my colleagues thought I was nuts and guiding me when I wasn’t sure where I was going.

2016 was also the year I met and married the love of my life. And, yes, I had my white stone in my pocket on the night we met, as well as on our first date, and just three weeks later when we eloped in Nashville.

In 2017, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a white stone ceremony. But I did just happen to find myself somewhere on New Year’s Day that offered a basket of stones, with a single word engraved on each of them. I reached into the basket and pulled out one that read luck.

Luck Stone 2

Coincidentally, I also just happened to receive a good luck dragon from my best friend in the mail in early January, 2017.

Good Luck Dragon 2

I added the dragon to my luck stone, and for good measure threw in two of my business cards which identify me not just as a writer, but a writer of kidlit. I then carried them around in my coat pocket until it became too warm (this time June – progress!). They lived in either my backpack or my purse after that.

I’d certainly say I had luck in 2017. I’m going with the very old school definition brought to you by Seneca: Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.

One of my greatest writing successes in 2017 was winning the top fiction prize in KidLit College’s annual picture book contest. As part of the prize package, I enrolled in a nonfiction picture book writing course. The class typically started according to Central Time, but one day the instructor and I both logged on accidentally at Eastern Time.

We ended up chatting for nearly an hour, where we discussed many different topics, including several of the manuscripts on which I was currently working. That Friday I received an email from the instructor, who also just happens to be an editorial assistant of a literary agency. “Jill [the president of the company] and I are more than interested in representing your body of work,” she said in the email.

SQUEEEEEEEEE! That was the sound heard round Norfolk as I celebrated this offer.

So here we are in 2018. I feel joyful, healthy, and confident that I’m on the right path for my writing. About two weeks ago, I wasn’t even thinking of resolutions or intentions when the word prosperity popped into my head at the end of my morning meditation practice.

A feeling of excitement came over me as I realized prosperity would be my word for 2018! Of course, I then tried to sabotage myself with thoughts such as, is prosperity specific enough no, and it should be abundance, that’s more inclusive!  Funny how we do these sorts of things to ourselves.

I managed to let the doubts go and embrace prosperity for what it is – a gift from God and my inner wisdom to help me thrive in 2018. As always, everything I do is God and Kelly willing, and I am grateful to blessed with such a wonderful intention for the year.

The word prosperity has now been added to my white stone.

Prosperity STone 2

I thought of ordering a new stone, but, you know, minimalist. And, just because I’m going to be prosperous doesn’t mean I should be wasteful.

With my white stone, I’m going to keep a poem that my best friend sent me for Christmas. Here it is:

Walking in the Flow

Walking in the flow

Nose over toes

Endless – no destination in sight

One of the herd

But this herd has no leader

Unless it is somewhere, somehow

Deep inside –

The thing I call myself

When I say my name – Kelly

I am Kelly-in-God

No matter where I go

And who I see

I am Myself

In the midst

Of all that is –

Walking in the flow

Nose over toes –

And I am loved.

The stone, poem, and my business cards are now in my pocket, where I will carry them with me.

Prosperity Bag 2

My heart and mind are open to the miracles of prosperity in my life, great and small. 2018 – I am ready for you! Thank you in advance for everything you have in store for me.

Finding Wonder in a Crowd

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The first time I visited New York City, my mom got us tickets to see Cats for my 11th birthday. Everything about the trip and the city appeared glamorous to me – the show’s costumes and makeup, the skyscrapers and people, the miles and miles of fancy stores with huge windows that displayed sophistication and wealth.

We returned to the city several times during the next two decades or so, usually to see a Broadway show, sometimes during the Christmas season. Every time, I felt a sense of wonder and awe and for a few years of my life I fantasized about what it would be like if I lived in the New York.

My husband, who was born and raised in the Nashville, visited New York City for the first time in October 2016. As a photographer, he found tons of inspiration in the people and architecture, and he’s been wanting to return ever since. So when an opportunity presented itself for us to housesit in an apartment in the financial district of NYC this last week, we said YES!

Nearly everyone we spoke to were so excited for us to spend Christmas in New York. We received many recommendations and we made our to-do lists. We both wanted to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and the ice skating rink, so that’s where we headed on Christmas Day.

I felt almost giddy with nostalgia of the times my family and I had walked down 5th Avenue. Then we actually got to 5th Avenue and, Dear God, what had I been thinking?

Once when I lived in the Chicago area, I headed downtown on Christmas Eve to spend the evening with a friend and her mother. The city felt peaceful and quiet, with a cold solitude enveloping the night.  Hardly anyone else was out and about and I delighted in how easy it was for me to find my way around and secure a parking space without parallel parking.

Naively, I held the same expectations for Christmas in New York. I could not have been more wrong.

THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE EVERYWHERE! People crammed onto every street corner, jostling for position to view the tree and ice skaters. SO. MANY. PEOPLE.

I still couldn’t resist having this picture taken:

Tree

Seriously, how cute is my husband?

Then we headed to Saks 5th Avenue. STILL. MORE. PEOPLE.

All the People 2 All the People 3

 

It was like Disney World. Literally. And I really do mean literally because this year Saks opted to have their windows display scenes from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

As a writer, I felt a huge sense of disappointment and dismay. Not to minimize the work and production that went into creating these windows, but where was the imagination in this process? Every single scene was a snapshot from the movie and I’m pretty sure most are featured on the Disney World ride.

Equally disappointing was that every window featured sponsorship by Mastercard. Although, I suppose nothing says Merry Christmas in our 21s century consumeristic society like a credit card.

SNow White 1 Snow White 3

Just when I was on the brink of feeling totally Scrooge like at everything going on around me, two small miracles occurred. First, I got to experience this child’s wonder at seeing the windows:

Little GIrl with windows

Then, I just happened to be there when the Saks’ storefront came alive in lights and music:

For a moment, I could let go of ALL. THE. PEOPLE. and I could feel the wonder around me.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long. I don’t know if it’s the energy in NYC or something else, but with where I am right now in my life, NYC and I are just not that into each other.

The real highlights of my trip were the animals I got to take care of and love. Meet Clyde, a mini-Schnauzer:

Clyde

Schroeder, a Bichon Frise:

Schroeder

Sheena, a very vocal white cat:

And Heisenberg, a handsome ball of fluff and fur:

Heisenberg

The single best part of the trip is the fact that Sheena rides around in a backpack.

Sheena in Backpack

Walk

We took her for a walk the first day and I’m so glad we did because it’s been so freakin’ cold every day thereafter, and even though Sheena has a sweater, it’s just too cold outside for her little body.

Sheena in sweater

FUN FACT: The sweater Sheena has is the same sweater I bought for Cody the Boxer when I lived in Naperville, IL.

Cody in Sweater

A gang of dogs and cats wearing matching skull-and-cross-bones sweaters? Sounds like a children’s book in the making!

There are so many benefits to the housesitting lifestyle, but at the top of my list are the sources of inspiration I encounter with each new house and animal I meet.

After this recent stay in New York, I can say with certainty that any fantasy I had about living in the city in now kaput. I wouldn’t trade the week for anything, though, because now I find myself dreaming of the stories I could write about my new furry friends.

At this very moment there could be an editor thinking to themselves, what I really want in a picture book is a story about a cat who goes everywhere in a backpack or a little dog who takes on the winter world when he’s wearing his flannel cape.

Schroeder in coat

These will likely be the next stories I write. Because they’re based on my house-sitting adventures and animals I now know and love, the writing process is going to be one of joy and enthusiasm.

Nothing may ever come of these stories, although I hope that’s not the case. But in the meantime, I’m going to give myself some good laughs, stretch my creativity and imagination, and work on the art and craft of picture book writing.

Wishing everyone one a Happy New Year! May 2018 be filled with abundant joy, prosperity, love, light, and laughter.

End Note: I wrote this post before I found out yesterday that a dog I love dearly had to be put to sleep. He was surrounded by his family at the time, and although I am so sad the world has lost such a funny, loyal, brave, and true companion, I am grateful for the love and laughter he brought into our lives. If everyone who has a pet could give them a special hug and kiss from me today, I would appreciate it. The world is always a better place when there’s more love in it.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

It's almost Turkey Time

Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car.  This photo is from November 12th, 2015:

Tree bRANCH THEN

And here’s today’s photos:

Fall brnach today 3 fALL BRANCH TODAY 2 Fallen branch today 1

I could have been driving on Route 44 when that big honkin’ tree came down!  Talk about kick-in-the-pants gratitude.  I always welcome these small moments into my life that remind me how truly lucky I am.

There is a downside to this fallen tree (HAHA, downside – get it?).  It stopped me from meeting up this morning with one of my writing partners.  She was, of course, understanding and gracious about my last-minute cancellation.  I just hate wasting people’s time and she didn’t get any of my emails informing her of my blocked street.

I also don’t get the benefit of discussing writing craft with her, sharing our weekly writing updates on our projects, and commiserating over the long and arduous path to publication.  Since next week is Thanksgiving, it will be a few more weeks before we can reconnect again.  So, I’m doubly bummed about missing out on all the writing fun we have together.

In the meantime, my husband and I will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, to spend the holiday with my parents, brother, and niece.  I’m quite looking forward to it and this will be the first real test since September to see if my writing and exercise habits that I’ve been developing stick.

I’m at the half-way point towards my 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week interval training goal.  Using Dr. Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot as my guide, I’m building this habit slowly, by tacking on an extra minute of cardio every week to my already established 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week strength training regime.  For example, today I lifted weights with my upper body for 20 minutes and then I alternated in 30-second increments of frenetic dancing with marching/dancing in place for a total of 10 minutes.

Confession: Today I exercised a little bit longer so I could finish dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the FeelingI dare you to try listening to it and not dancing to the entire song.

Normally, I abide by my strict time limits because I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then build the activity too quickly.  I know myself too well and that is a surefire way for me to burnout and then give up.

Adding one minute on each week seems to be the trick for me to keep up with this routine.  Although sometimes I forget that my morning exercise routine now takes longer than 20 minutes and I do occasionally feel rushed.

Anyway, it’s easy to have my morning habits in place when I follow the same pattern every day: Get up around 5:30-6:30am, feed the dogs and let them out, hand write 2 pages of my latest novel, hand write a prayer to start my day, which will also serve as a first draft prayer for a daily devotional I’m writing, meditate for 20 minutes, and then workout.

With the time I’ll be in Harrisburg and the few days after that in which I’ll be staying with my niece in Washington, DC, there’s sure to be disruption along the way.

One of the keys to disruptions that Dr. Carter writes about in The Sweet Spot is to have a plan already in place so you know how to deal with them.

I expect the biggest disruption will be that my daily wake-sleep schedule will completely fall apart.  Traveling makes me feel even more tired than usual and I tend to have very vivid dreams when my schedule is disrupted.  If I wake up feeling exhausted, then I’m less likely to get out of bed in a timely manner.  Then, when I do get up other people in the house are awake and my concentration and time is diverted.

This solution will be easy enough because I’ve had many mornings this past fall where I’ve struggled to get out of bed.  I don’t like writing in bed, but sometimes it’s the compromise I make for being productive and respecting my narcolepsy.  So, I’ll sleep with my notebook and a pen on the side of my bed.  I’ll also keep my phone and headphones nearby.  That way I can also meditate before getting up.

Note to self – un-install social media and gmail apps on my phone, lest I get distracted by those time wasters before accomplishing any of my usual morning goals.

I suppose I could also visualize exercising before getting up, which is my current fallback plan for if I am too exhausted to get out of bed.  But that hasn’t happened yet and I want to use it as a last resort.

If once I am up and about, I’m unable to exercise the way I’d like, my backup plan is to do short, mini-exercises for one-minute increments throughout the day sneaking them in whenever I can.  Ideally, I’d hit 20 increments but 10 is going to be my starting point.  Again, this is a fall back plan so hopefully the 10 versus 20 increments is a moot point.

I’m kind of excited to see how it goes; the other parts of me are worried I’ll chuck everything by the wayside and spend my days gorging on junk food and reclining on the couch.  Psychology tells us that most of what we worry about is imaginary, but having succumbed to the treats at my parents’ house and the comfortableness of the couch one to many times over the past few years, I know this a real and valid concern.

But if nothing else, I have learned by forming my new habits that just because I have behaved a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean I have to behave that way in the future.  It’s up to me to make my choices and I know I will do my best.  That’s all I can ask.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next week!  I am so grateful for your love and support.

The Benefits of Taking a Break

Title

We’ve been having some extraordinary weather in Norfolk this fall.  It’s been in the 70s and 80s and from what people have been saying, the fall foliage hasn’t been too spectacular.

I beg to differ.  Here’s exhibit A:

Exhibit A

And Exhibit B:

Exhibit B

The weather has cooled off a bit and it looks like we’re going into more days of rain with more decreasing temperatures.  So I’m glad I took some time off from writing this week to meet up with a new friend.

I met this friend at an artist’s opening we both happened to attend in early September.  I knew some of her local photographs, and with my husband who is also a photographer, we struck up a conversation about how much we love Norfolk, amongst other things.

We then became friends on Facebook.  One day last week, up popped in my Facebook feed a notification that this friend was attending an event at White Memorial Conservation Center.  My husband and I have driven by White Memorial many times, most notably on our way to Arethusa Dairy to get the best ice cream in CT and possibly the United States (rumor has it they wash the cows’ butts with Pantene Pro V every day to avoid tail poop contamination with their udders), but we had never stopped there.

The event looked fascinating.  A Scottish naturalist and biologist named Bernie Lundie would lecture on what it means to be wild.  Having an interest in the nature-human connection, I thought attending would be well worth my time.  Plus, I’d get to hang out a bit more with my new friend.

My friend and I chatted about the event on Facebook Messenger for a bit, before she ended the conversation with a temporary farewell as she had to see to her pig.  Of course, I wanted to know more about that.  So that’s how on this past Monday I ended up at her family’s farm outside of Norfolk.

farm

OH. MY. GOSH.

Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe scenery.  I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful fall day.  Then there are her animals.  I am delighted to introduce to you:

Abe R Ham the pig

Hammy 2

If you love him as much as I do, he has his own Facebook page.  Just search for Abe R. Ham @AbethePig

Zorro the goat

Zorro

A frisky little fellow who has a very sweet, playful personality.

And Drummy the turkey who is as majestic as he looks.

Drummy

There was also a peacock out and about but he never made his presence known.

What a wonderful way to spend the day! I sat surrounded by everything I love about nature – changing leaves, fluffy clouds, a placid lake, and ANIMALS!  Plus, I got know my new friend a little bit better and I have a feeling we’re going to be friends for a long time.

After such a wonderful day outdoors, I felt refreshed on so many levels – mentally, physically, and spiritually.  It’s a good reminder for whenever I feel myself become too time invested in my writing.  There are benefits to taking a break – friends, pigs, goats, turkeys, and fall foliage are just a few of them.

A Lesson in Time Management

Calendar Title

On Tuesday morning I met with a friend to discuss writing.  I shared with her how I seem to keep writing new material, while my older manuscripts hang in limbo waiting for me to edit and revise them.  I then told her about my plan for how I wanted to tackle this problem: on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I was going to block out time specifically devoted to manuscript revision.

Why Tuesday and Thursday afternoons?  These were the times in my past life as a professor when I typically taught research writing.  I couldn’t just cancel class on a whim, though on really nice days I did sometimes move us outside to have class next to Lake Benedict.

cropped

As a self-proclaimed self-help junkie, I know that many experts recommend this approach for getting high-priority tasks done.  By scheduling time for them on your calendar, you are validating that, yes, this task is important to me.  I resolved to make editing and revision a recurring appointment on my calendar.

Then yesterday I received a text message from someone who wanted to meet with me to discuss a new writing project.  She asked about my availability next Thursday.  Funny thing is, I hadn’t actually blocked out Tuesday/Thursday afternoons for manuscript revision and editing on my calendar.  Since I like this person and find her writing project to be quite interesting, I typed out on my phone, “My schedule is wide open.”

I knew I was already breaking my commitment.  I can always start the next week, I said to myself.  Then I’ll definitely add it to my calendar. 

Just as I was about to hit SEND, I stopped myself and asked why was I so willing to break my plan.  Hadn’t I declared only a few days earlier my intention to prioritize editing and revision?  What was wrong with me that I was willing to put it off?

The deciding factor came down to other plans I had already made for the following week.  Next Tuesday, my writing friend and I were going to meet again to continue our discussion.  I somehow felt that if I didn’t follow through with my revision and editing commitment, I would have to admit that to someone other than myself.

You know what self-help advice also recommends for getting your work done?  Find a partner to make yourself accountable.  I’ve read that advice so many times, but I’ve never applied it to my writing. How interesting to see that it actually works.  Well, so far.  We’ll see what happens next Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (and beyond).

I ended up retyping my response text to say I was available to meet on Thursday until 1:30pm.  It felt quite good to honor my commitment and then I rewarded myself with a head nod and “way to go!”

Of course, I laughed at myself because self-help books also recommend recognizing your achievements with intrinsic rewards.  After 20+ years, it’s good to know the advice is finally sinking in.

How to Survive the Slow Pace of the Publishing Industry

Title

My mom and I like to say, “no news is good news.”  For the most part, I believe this saying to be true.  No news that North Korean is nuking us – GOOD NEWS!  No news that the Affordable Care Act is trying to be dismantled again – GOOD NEWS!  No news that the president hasn’t said something inappropriate on Twitter – GOOD – oh, wait a minute.  This one hasn’t happened.  Well, two out of three isn’t so bad.

Where “no news is good news” can be tough is when you’re a writer.  The publishing industry is notoriously slow and a lot of the time you simply have to wait for editors to get back to you/your agent.  This time can take days, weeks, months, or even over a year.

Following the advice of Jane Friedman in The Great Courses: How to Publish Your Book,

how to publish your book

the important thing to do during the waiting game is to keep writing.  In addition to working on several new (and old) picture book manuscripts, I’m about two-thirds of the way done with the first draft of a chapter book tentatively titled Henry the Housesitter (Not by Choice!), which follows the adventures of a 10-year-old boy as his parents ditch their lawyer jobs and become professional house sitters.  Considering all the source matter I have on house sitting, this book is pretty much writing itself.

I also started writing a daily devotional, which means every morning I write a prayer asking for help with my day’s work.  A lot of the prayers deal with motivation when feeling exhausted (I’ve had several days in a row of poor sleep) and I’m wondering if the end result will be an inspirational prayer book for those of us dealing with chronic illness.  I suppose time will tell.

My goal is to write a new prayer every day and so by September 2018 I should have the first draft of this manuscript done.  Talk about an easy way to finish a draft! Though at first I felt a little lazy at the idea that it would take me 365 days to finish a first draft, but the time is going to go by anyway and I already have several writing projects which will be finished in what I consider a more acceptable length of time for someone who aspires to be a prolific writer.

Another way I’m passing the time during the publishing waiting game is by immersing myself in children’s publishing as much as possible.  I’ve started attending author readings at local libraries and book stores.  Last week I listened to the incredibly talented Sara Beth Videtto read her picture book Turtle’s First Winter: A Read and Find Storybook at the Norfolk Library

Turtle's First Winter

and Tuesday I celebrated the release of The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip C. Stead by attending “the shortest, grand parade,” in downtown Hartford, followed later in the day by a reading at the actual Mark Twain house (Mark Twain lived in Hartford, CT, from 1874-1891).

 

Shortest Grand Parade

Prince OleoMargarine

Then there’s Inspiration Day at the Eric Carle Museum coming up on October 7th and the Children’s Literature Festival at the Dr. Seuss Museum the following weekend.

I also came across this gem of a book at the Norfolk Library last week:

Wild Things

I wasn’t even looking for a new nonfiction book to read, as I was trying to finish The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for a book group, and then I had Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry on tap to read.  But there Wild Things sat on a shelf in the “new nonfiction” section at the library’s entrance, just begging for me to pick it up and read it.

The fairytale chapter is rather gruesome; however, I am completely enchanted by the Good Night Moon chapter and all the fascinating historical tidbits from Margaret Wise Brown’s life.  I’m now on chapter 4, which is all about using animals in children’s literature.  Considering 75% of my main characters are animals, I suspect this chapter will also enchant me.

With all that I have going on and all that I have to look forward to, I find the publishing waiting game much more tolerable.  Dare I even say, enjoyable.  It’s fun to be out in the world, going new places and hearing new stories.  So it looks like the no news for me is, in fact, good news for now, until that day comes when I receive GREAT NEWS by way of a book contract.