Friday, August 29, 2008


I love that note Christopher Robin leaves for his friends when he goes off to school - GON OUT, BACKSON, BISY, BACKSON.

Inspired by a request from Susan Sandmore. I’m re-reading my favorite kids book, House at Pooh Corner. Susan’s taken it upon herself to create an everything-you-should-know-about-children’s-literature quiz for kid’s writers (and anyone who considers themselves a pro in the field). She’s recruiting volunteers to come up with questions, and that’s why I’m getting reacquainted with Pooh and friends. I realized I’ll be challenged to come up with questions that can’t be answered by watching the Disney movie.

It’s great timing, too. No matter how big my kids get, whenever they go back to school I feel just like Pooh does when Christopher Robin starts disappearing every morning.

You can read about Susan’s Kid Lit challenge here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Come Closer. I Promise I Won't Bite

Here’s Corfu after taking a bath in his water dish. Yes, he does look like the victim of an oil spill.

Now, let me ask you something:

Would you buy a used car from this bird?
How about a laptop? A cheeseburger?
Would you vote for him for public office?
Would you leave your valuables in his care?

So if, when he’s all dry and cute and fluffy looking, he presses his downy head against the bars of his cage and sweetly chirps for a head rub, would you stick your fingers in his cage and scratch him behind his invisible birdie ears?

That’s what I thought. Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Not So Ready For Some Football

My husband and I went to a pre-season football game, compliments of friends who weren’t using the tickets. Our team won, and I know why. They must’ve been privy to the expertise of the guy sitting right behind me. Yup, the guy with the beer paunch and the support socks clearly knew the game better than the guys on the field, and he NEVER STOPPED TALKING ABOUT IT. The team was trailing for the first three quarters, but luckily Socks Guy never stopped imparting his wisdom.

A few rows up and decibels louder than Socks Guy was a man who was pretty darn adamant that the team better work on their defense. This message was delivered with such gusto, the veins on his neck looked like knockwursts. His whole face was the color of knockwurst, too. Even when fans started chanting in support of his position on defense, Knockwurst Neck’s plea rang out above the roar. Even in the fourth quarter when Knockwurst Neck could barely stand at a 45 degree angle, he kept on pounding his advice to the field below.

Still we had fun, although I don’t know how anyone affords this entertainment on a regular basis. The price of the tickets alone was a figure so far out of our range we’d need a telescope to see it. It cost 25 dollars just to park. First, we got a couple of draft beers for 8 bucks each. They tasted like a skunk went for a swim in them. So we got a margarita and a bottled beer to wash the skunk out of our mouths. Then we bought sliders and nachos for dinner. The grand total for modest indulging and no tickets was $83.50.

Oh yes, and the picture above is what the stands look like an hour after everyone has left, and you are still searching for your LOST CAR KEYS. Aaarrrrgh! But thanks to Security for combing the parking lot. Whew!

Monday, August 25, 2008

School Dazed

A dozen spiral notebooks, all the wrong kind,
Eleven thousand trips to Wal-Mart,
Ten cheap-o ballpoint pens,
Nine and a half months of tasty, nutritious and crush-proof lunches,
Was that a sock the dog just ate?
Seven a.m. flat-iron emergency,
Six missing glue sticks,
Five dozen pencils with teeth marks and no eraser left,
Four papers that were supposed to be signed but it’s time to get in the car already,
Three ibuprofen,
Two kids fighting over:
One cell phone (for the one that starts high school).

It’s back-to-school season, and it looks like the mascots got together and threw a party in my living room.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back To The Drawing Board

I wrote a story about a girl who tries out for a class play. I sent it to a magazine. They rejected it.

Not to worry. I brushed it up a little, and got ready to send it off to another magazine. When I started writing my cover letter, and got to the part where I write a short, snappy introduction to the story, something occurred to me.

My story was kinda boring.

Only it wasn’t the summary that sounded boring, and that’s what tipped me off. My story paled by comparison. There’s great advice to be found on writing queries and cover letters, and now that I’ve learned more about this process, I realized it can even be used as a gauge for evaluating the story itself.

Does the story hold up to an engaging cover letter or query? It’s back to revisionland for my class play story. Meanwhile, I decided to do another illustration.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You Be The Judge

The other night as we walked along the trail by the river, we came upon an unusual sight. Off to the edge of the sidewalk was a squirrel that appeared to be recently deceased, with two strange wounds down its back. About 20 feet further along were two skateboards that seemed to have been hastily abandoned: one upturned, the other askew.

Just down the slope in a small canyon, two boys from my daughter’s class were furiously digging a hole under a shrub.

My husband asked, “Did you have an accident, guys?”

To which one boy answered, “We found it that way.”

Hmmm. Let’s re-examine that. Husband asks, “Did you have an accident...” and Boy responds, “We found it...” Here’s how the rest of the conversation could have gone:

Dear Husband says: It? Found what, guys?

Boy With Dirt Under Fingernails says: UH...nothing. What squirrel?

DH: I didn’t say anything about a squirrel.

BWDUF: Yeah, right. Not a squirrel.

DH: A squirrel, you say?

BWDUF: Nope. Definitely not a squirrel. Especially not a squirrel with two red stripes on its back the same distance apart as my skateboard wheels.

That’s how the conversation might have gone, but we decided not to press the issue. We honestly believed it was a freak accident, although it’s the first case of sidewalk kill I’ve ever witnessed. Poor Stripey probably never knew what hit him.

The next day the filled-in hole was decorated with a nicely-fashioned stick and grass cross, and the word ‘Squirrel’ was etched in the dirt. A nice touch.

It’s amazing sometimes what one teeny little word can say. A word like ‘it’.

Image from Wikipedia

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

And She Has a Cat Named Pen Elope

I heard an interesting pet name last weekend.

There was a woman at the dog park who had apparently adopted a dog named Socrates. Only...I guess she didn’t know how to pronounce it, because she called the dog ‘So Crates’.

I wonder if So Crates had a litter-mate named Hippo Crates?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Things To Pack: Calories and Lies

We took a trip to the big book store with the comfy chairs and the pervasive coffee aroma. Instead of grabbing a stack of picture books and perching on a dwarf chair in the kid’s section, I decided to take a mini-vacation by the magazines.

Pulling up an armchair, I sat down with copies of Veranda and House Beautiful and tried to materialize my dream house by the sea. I’d just gotten comfy when I caught sight of a woman coming towards me with a giant frothy concoction topped with a dome of whipped cream.

Hmmm...those’ll make you fat, I thought as the woman paused in front of the magazines.

Oooh, maybe a little too late. I glanced at the taut, round T-shirt just beyond the cup of froth. I wasn’t surprised. I long ago lamented the development of the 430-calorie coffee drink . Even caffeine-addicted bookish types now fought the battle of the bulge.

The woman sat next to me. I turned my attention back to gunite pools with ocean backdrops, until a motion near me caught my attention.

The woman had removed the plastic lid from her frappy indulgence and was using the straw as a shovel, to more efficiently deliver the drink to her mouth. That’s when my gaze fell to her lap, where I discovered what she’d been flipping through. It was a copy of Walk Off Weight, with a headline that promised, LOSE 10 lbs. FAST.

Why to we deceive ourselves so? How do we know we’re doing it? Does advertising and media make us think not only can we have it all, but we’re supposed to want it all, too? I don’t know. I’m too busy trying to decide between the not-bloody-likely raised spa with tiled wall poolscape, and the perhaps-in-another-lifetime natural boulder waterfall and adjacent cabana.

The woman got up and replaced her magazine on the rack (maybe not the best idea), and I noted her bright white Nike walking shoes as she shuffled away. There wasn’t a mark on them.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mama Sez Hold On

Listen to your mama.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Holding On To Summer

My daughter starts high school on Monday, but summer is not over yet. It is not not not. I swear. I know, I know, officially it’s not over ‘til September twenty-something, but the start of school has always marked the unofficial end of summer. Ask any school-aged kid. So just to further reassure myself the fun’s not over, I splurged on nine dollars worth of cherries and let my son talk me into baking a big, deep fruit crisp.

He even helped with pitting all those cherries. Despite the fact that the dining table looked like the site of a bloodbath, I can promise he acquired only one teeny tiny blood blister when the cherry pitter nailed him in the palm. So there was only a little sweat and possibly a few tears (shed internally, of course - we’re tough) that went into this labor of love. But it was worth the effort. Besides, it was nothing like the time we actually went out and picked the cherries right off the trees, and a Japanese beetle flew down my tank top and anchored itself inside my sport bra. That’s another story.

Along with the cherries I added some apricots and a very expensive out-of-season Granny Smith apple, peel and all. The colors were so amazing I had to take a picture.

The end result was brown and bubbly, sweet and tart, crunchy and fragrant. And like summer, it disappeared all too fast.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Go Ahead - Make a Mistake

Would you sign up for a workshop that had no name and only the vaguest of descriptions?

For years designer Laurie Rosenwald has conducted a popular workshop geared toward unleashing creativity. Originally untitled, it’s known as How To Make Mistakes on Purpose. She tries not to divulge any information about the lessons so participants come without preconceptions.

While fishing around for some ideas to loosen up in my artwork, I stumbled upon this fifteen-minute video clip of Rosenwald speaking about the workshop and her own work habits at a 2005 Gel Conference. It’s a bit of a spoiler for her workshop and no match for hands-on experience, but I found the talk amusing and inspiring enough to coax me away from comfort zones and experiment a little more in writing and painting.

Rosenwald made her debut into children’s writing last year with her picture book, And To Name But Just A Few: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, a vibrant introduction to the impact color has upon our lives.

Maybe today I’ll try something new, and try not to be afraid of making a mistake. And if I do, I'll just say I meant to do that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why is a book-toting chipmunk visiting this boy in his bedroom? And what is the book about, anyway?

I have no idea. Sometimes I let the kids come up with an illustration prompt, and I just run with it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Image Not Available

Where’s a camera when I need one? I missed two great photo opportunities this weekend.

First, we went to a local outdoor concert. We took Luna, not so much because she likes to groove to 80's hits but because it’s a great opportunity to learn good doggy manners. Lots of people bring their dogs to socialize them.

Scanning the crowd, I spotted a woman cradling a giant purple bow tie attached to a chihuahua puppy about the size of a baby squirrel. The puppy couldn’t have weighed much more than half a pound, bow tie included. The woman with the chihuahua happened to be standing near a man half hidden behind a 240-pound Old English mastiff. The head of the mastiff alone was bigger than a Thanksgiving turkey.

We knew the mastiff was friendly, because earlier Luna had greeted him by nearly shoving her entire head into his mouth. I would have loved to get a shot of the chihuahua next to the other dog’s head, just to further ponder the possibility that these two animals could be of the same species.

My second missed photo came yesterday when I took Luna for her morning walk. Luna was the first to spot the scruffy brown creature by the river near our house. We see coyotes here occasionally, but it’s usually in the misty haze of early dawn, and the coyotes have always been moving swiftly through the brush. This guy was lollygagging, out in the open in the late morning sun. I’m glad Luna decided to keep her yap shut; she looked as bewildered as I was watching the shifty-eyed beast snoop around in the dirt. For the first time I could have easily gotten picture proof that we’ve got wild dogs in our neck of the woods.

Those are the shots that got away. A couple of dog shots. Dog-gone.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Online Writing Contest

Children Come First, a website dedicated to cultivating a love of learning, holds a monthly First Lines contest for writers of all ages. Each month they provide the first few words of a story, and you finish it up in 200 words or less. A selection of winning entries is posted each month on their site.

It’s a fun and rewarding writing exercise for all levels of writers. I’ve had several stories posted here in recent months, though I didn’t find the time to enter in July. This month’s first line is, "Waving frantically at the street car...". If I can just shake the image of an old Rice-a-Roni commercial out of my head, I might take a stab at it.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Couple of Cool Cats

My illustration of alley cats.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Please Check One

My daughter is about to enter high school and we’re just now getting around to filling out all the forms. At the beginning of the summer she brought home a packet of about 87 forms to fill out. Anyone who glanced at my profile knows how much I enjoy filling out forms.

For starters, we always get hung up on the space where you’re supposed to check your ethnic background. There is a box to check if you are Hispanic. There is a box to check if you are white and non-Hispanic. There is no box to check if you are white and Hispanic.

Sometimes there’s a consequence for filling these things out incorrectly. When my daughter entered kindergarten, I completed a form that asked what languages were spoken at home. I dutifully answered English and Spanish. Had there been enough room on the form I might have explained that about 99.9 percent of the Spanish spoken at home was by my husband, in phone conversations with relatives in Mexico, and that attempts to raise our offspring as bilingual had been muy mediocre at best. But a half-inch rectangle wasn’t enough space.

It wasn’t until my daughter was about to finish first grade that we learned she’d been pulled out of the classroom on a regular basis for nearly two years for ESL instruction. Later they made such a celebration of her being certified as English proficient that we didn’t have the heart to tell anyone that English had in fact been her first, and thus far only, language.

This time around when we came to a form titled ‘Home Language Survey’, I let my daughter fill it out.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Here is an illustration I made recently, based on a story I wrote about a snail's visit to the zoo.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Blurry Dog Update

Things Luna’s learned in just three weeks: come, sit, stay, down, heel, out (as in, spit it out), off, get it, and leave it. She’s learned them - still working on obeying them.

Other things we’re still working on: Chewing all those delightful and pricey chew toys - only. And peeing outside - only.

We have lots more flies in the house, probably from leaving the back door open too much. Luna sees this as an activity and a snack (as much fun to chase as they are to eat).

We have a lot less crumbs on the floor. Virtually none.

A fun greyhound fact, and why we further suspect she is part greyhound: she sleeps in the ‘cockroach’ position (on back with feet in air), apparently a quirk of that breed.

My car smells like dog puppy puke. It seems Luna is prone to car sickness. Still, I realized the other day that this is not as bad as how the car smells the day after I bring home MacDonald’s.

Luna’s view: The treats are pretty good, I’ll give them that much. But these guys sure are bossy.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Stuck in the Sand

I took the kids to the beach the other day. I’m working on a picture book set at the beach so I have the sketchy justification that I need to do some research. I did bring my sketchbook, anyway.

Any time I get a little sulky about not being able to take a real vacation it’s good for me to go to the beach. I look around and realize there’s a lot of people who do a lot of saving and planning just to come here for a week. They come from landlocked places and soggy places. Places where in winter brains freeze and in summer thighs stick to car upholstery. Places where gnats fly up your nose and mosquitos treat you like a walking juice box. They come from beautiful places, too, just to enjoy another kind of beauty.

In a week they’ll go back home, and I’ll still be here. When I want to I can get in my car, and in twenty minutes have a pocketful of sandy seashells and water lapping at my ankles. If you’re going to be stuck somewhere, this is a good place for it.