Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Here is the painting inspired by my very silly Owl-o-ween Tale. I think Winona Screech and friend Jemima Snow are doing their best to be brave trick-or-treaters, but Winona’s baby brother Ewing does not look convinced.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pretty But Useless (No Name Calling)

I was feeling uninspired and thought I should get out of the house. I went to Pier 1 down the street. Maybe sticking my nose in the new reed diffusers was all I needed to recharge. I leaned in to sniff the citrus basil when something caught my eye. A big, shiny metallic swirl on a throw pillow drew me in – it looked like those cheesy special effects that put characters in a hypnotic trance. I had to walk over and touch it.

Ouch! I checked to see if I needed a Band-aid. That eye-catching spiral might as well have been cut from sheet metal. Which made me wonder – aren’t pillows supposed to be soft and cuddly?

I checked out the selection of throw pillows. Sure, they were nice works of art – but what about, um… function? Some were completely encrusted with colorful seashells. Or buttons. Imagine the pock marks you’d end up with if you fell asleep with your face against that. Some had layers of mystery fabric and stitching that poked out like wires. No matter how much polyester fluff you stuff in it, a pillow made of sandpaper would still scratch, right? How about a pillow made of glass, like Cinderella’s shoe? That’d be pretty, but I wouldn’t put it on my couch.

So what is the purpose of a throw pillow, exactly? I always thought they were supposed to make you more comfortable. Or are they called throw pillows because you have to throw them aside to get comfortable?

If they’re just for looks, why not hang them up? That’s what I finally did with the frilly rosette my mom sent years ago. I got tired of having to throw it on the floor every night before I crawled into bed.

And somehow that reminded me of one of my favorite examples of absurdly non-functional art: Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined teacup.

Got a favorite looks-pretty-but-does-nothing item? Remember, no name calling!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Angela Nickerson of Just Go! is hosting a blog party today! She invited everyone to share their strangest or scariest trip. I thought of strange trips and scary trips, but then I tried to remember my first trip ever. That trip down memory lane was strange, scary, and a little surreal:

It was dark, and my brothers and I were tired and sticky in the back seat of the car. We arrived late at night at the house of people I didn’t know. My mom took me to the room where a girl named Joyce slept. Joyce wore baby doll pajamas – I loved those pajamas! They looked so pink and fresh. I didn’t have pajamas like that.

Then Joyce’s mother took a brand new pair of pajamas out of a drawer and gave them to me. They were just like Joyce’s, only smaller. They were perfect! I slept at one end of the bed with my feet pointing one way and Joyce slept at the other end with her feet pointing the other way – did you ever have to sleep that way?

In the morning I met Joyce’s little brother. His name was John but everyone called him John-John and he wore thick glasses. I never saw a boy so little wearing glasses.

John-John did not want to eat his breakfast.

The grown-ups took us to a place called Lollipop Farm. It was a petting zoo, but I don’t remember petting anything. I don’t remember any lollipops, either.

I do remember an enormous, snuffling pig. Pigs weren’t supposed to be terrifying. In story books they look like you can pick them up and put them on your lap.

I did not want to pet the pig, even if he did sort of look like he was smiling.

That’s all I can remember of our trip to Syosset, New York. When you are small so much is confusing and strange. You are dragged from one place to another with little explanation. You meet people and have no idea whether they will be in your life forever, or only for a day.

I looked up the Lollipop Farm. It was owned by Harry and Alice Sweeny and located at Jackson Farm in Long Island until the late 1960’s. Lollipop was the name of the family goat and mascot. Alice Sweeny even wrote a picture book called Lollipop Farm, published in 1950. The location is now home to a Border’s bookstore and a pizzeria.

For more travel tales, hop over to Just Go! and join the blog tour! Happy travels!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happiness Is An Unsuspecting Tourist

Sterling Pick cannot believe his good fortune. He watches patiently from the pier as Mr. McNeely from Farwell heads his way with a tray full of crab cake sandwiches. He knows the best moment to snatch a crab cake right out of the bun will be the moment Mrs. McNeely holds that new digital camera in front of her sunburned face. No doubt she can’t resist snapping a picture of a handsome seagull, looking remarkably tame as he perches just inches away! To Sterling’s delight, three children waddle in flip-flops behind the bemused couple. If he plays his cards right, there will be French fries, too.

Here’s hoping you’re as happy as a seagull with a crab cake.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The View From Below

I made some discoveries while working on sketches for my bug’s eye view. My first thought was to do something fanciful, so I sketched some little flower people hiding among the plants:

But I realized as soon as I zoomed in on their little world, the perspective was pretty ordinary. So I tried something completely different:

Now we’re more based in reality, but the meeting of two worlds - one from the ground up and one from the sky downward - gives the more out-of-the-ordinary perspective. You can tell this would have to illustrate a story from the mouse’s point of view. This is the painting I decided to work on first – I’ll post the result when it’s finished.

I was surprised to end up with two completely different looks from nearly identical settings. I still like my little flower creatures – maybe later I’ll find a new setting and paint them, too.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Is I Boney-Fide?

The animal sanctuary finally came for a home visit and made Luna’s adoption official. Everyone was thrilled, except Corfu, who couldn’t believe we missed the opportunity to give her back.

Still, dogs these days! It’s so hard to get through to them. It’s like my words are falling on furry deaf ears.

In her defense, Luna’s been pretty good lately about not chewing up stuff that isn’t hers. Except that glove I caught her with. And the sock. It’s been a little touchy since that couch incident, but she’s been controlling herself pretty well.

One concept she doesn’t get is the kitchen counter is off limits. I could understand if she was sneaky about it, but I’ll be right there fixing something and she’ll come put her big fat paws right next to me as if to ask, “What we haffin’? Heh-heh.”

So I’ll say: Nothing, Luna. We’re not having anything. I’m making lunch.

And she’ll say: Kin I halp?

Me: No, you cannot help. You’re a dog.

Luna: Kin I haf salami?

Me: No, you can’t have salami.

Luna: Kin I haf cheese?

Me: No.

Luna: How bout sambie? I like salami sambie!

Me: No salami, no cheese, no salami sandwich! You are a dog. This is people food. Get off the counter!!!

Luna: So, I kin halp?

Sigh. See what I’m up against? Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

This Place Has The Best Salads

Here’s our big baby, Toulouse, with some healthful advice. Remember to eat your veggies!

Toulouse is our 70-lb. African spurred tortoise, and resident expert on roughage. One cool thing about these guys is they keep their cute baby faces even when they’re all grown up. Although it’s hard to determine when that is exactly, since they live more than 100 years. Toulousie boy is a mere 17 years old.

In a second grade essay, my son stated that Toulouse was a hero to him because he “inspires me to eat my vegetables. He inspires me even though he walks over them first.”

If that’s not a convincing endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's Heebie-Jeebie Time

Halloween is just ten days away, so I thought I’d make a list of ten odd things that scare me. Of course I’m not talking about things like politicians and the state of the economy – those would be obvious and not odd. So here are the first ten odd things that popped into my head to give me goosebumps:

1. The cabinet under the sink in the kids’ bathroom.
2. The Snuggle fabric softener bear.
3. Cough drops. (Should you really put a choking hazard in your mouth during a fit of coughing?)
4. Grasshoppers, the drunken pilots of the bug world.
5. Botox.
6. Pink envelopes in the mailbox with the words Urgent Reminder on them.
7. Those three-way mirrors in dressing rooms.
8. That Ped-Egg commercial.
9. The thought that I might need a Ped-Egg.
10. The inside of a passion fruit.

What’s spooking you these days?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Toy Tag

Becky at Wonders Never Cease tagged anyone interested to post a picture of a favorite childhood toy. The only one I had handy is my chipmunk, Ritt-Rott the Second, or Ritty for short. No, Ritty is not ratty! Just very well loved. He was made by my mom to replace Ritt-Rott the First, who went everywhere with me, until he turned real and ran off with his chipmunk friends. Or so my mom told me.

Ritt-Rott the First was a bit of a daredevil. I remember the time we were driving somewhere, and he decided he could climb out the driver’s side window and return through my window in the back seat. Boy, did he underestimate how windy it is when you’re driving about fifty miles an hour down the road.

Believe it or not, that’s not how I lost him. My dad actually ran out into traffic to save him, although he did have some rather unhappy things to say about it. He used some interesting words that I later used to make up some interesting songs, which would have gotten me in trouble if anyone but my brothers had heard them. No, Ritt-Rott and I and other stuffed friends went on to have all kinds of adventures in the woods. I have to report that not all of my stuffed animal friends returned from those adventures.

Ritt-Rott the Second became my new best friend. He doesn’t look that much like his predecessor, but I admire my mom’s handiwork. My favorite features are the little teeth she made by melting pieces of plastic over the stove. His eyes used to be brighter, and his head stayed up better before gravity made his stuffing slide into his belly. Doesn’t that happen to everyone?

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Bug's Eye View

I wanted to add some illustrations with interesting perspectives to my portfolio. So I look my camera to the yard, placed it on the ground, and started clicking away.

I discovered a whole new world...

...and what the underside of a nasturtium leaf looks like. I wonder what sort of creatures inhabit this realm...

...Mice? Roly-polies? Lilliputians? Spring Peepers?

Maybe fairies? That looks like one there on the left.

I haven't spotted the character for my illustration yet, but I did spot a lot of spores.

I think I'll wait under here until my subject finds me.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jeans Make Lousy Sponges

When I was little grown-ups liked to say, “You learn something new every day.” Here’s what I’ve learned so far today:

1. If you are going to spill a whole jar of paint water, it is better to spill it on your lap than on your laptop.

2. This is the real reason that the drawing table tilts downward.

3. It is pretty darn uncomfortable to be sitting in a pool of paint water.

4. My yard is starting to look like Jumanji again.

5. If I got out of the house more often I would probably have more interesting things to write about.

Just like my poor jeans, I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that anyone reading this has learned something more important and/or interesting today…

…but here’s one interesting thing I just learned – Angela Nickerson of Just Go! Is having a blog party! Follow the link for details. Blog parties are a great way to meet other cool and savvy bloggers (or even klutzy ones like me)!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Project Pumpkin

Here is my one and only Halloween decoration (not counting the cobwebs on the ceiling). It sits on the bookshelf all year long, since it doesn’t look that Halloween-y. I wonder if this is what Cinderella’s gown would have looked like if her fairy godmother had used the pumpkin for the dress instead of the carriage.

Last year I entered the Big Chain Craft Store’s fake pumpkin decorating contest. I didn’t win (boo!), but I did have fun with the project. It had been a long time since I’d done something crafty just for fun, and not related to a kid’s school project or some necessary home repair, like the mosaic of broken floor tiles that covers up my messed-up coffee table.

Anyway, this was easy to make. Or it would have been, if I had realized from the beginning that I could make the top of the dress out of a cut-off dish soap bottle (DOH!). Instead I shaped it out of a cut-up Wheat Thins box, and then covered it with sheet moss. The base is a dowel rod stuck in a wooden disc with a hole in the center, and the decorations are pulled apart silk flowers. The beads are held on with little brass pins, and the rest was put together with a generous amount of hot glue.

All these items were purchased at the Big Chain Craft Store, so I see how the pumpkin contest works out pretty well for them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Ace of Tarts

Sometimes it’s the littlest things that make me happy. When I discovered my grocery store had puff pastry sheets for the first time EVER, I was ecstatic. I could go out of my way to the big expensive grocery store to get them, but I hate doing that. I had to buy some immediately and make my favorite tarts. They are pretty and fancy-looking and ridiculously easy to make. Here’s how:

For the shell: With one sheet of pastry you can make one giant square or cut it to make four small squares, as in the picture. To make the tart shell, use a sharp knife to score a rectangle around the edge of the pastry, as though you were drawing a picture frame. Then poke the center square of the “frame” several times with a fork to keep it from puffing up. Even if the center puffs while baking, you can re-score the edge and press the center down.

Dampen the edge of the pastry shell with water and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake as directed on the package, about 10 -15 minutes at 400 degrees. Cool completely.

For the filling: Combine 4 oz. softened cream cheese, 3 tablespoons sugar, ¼ cup sour cream, ¼ cup plain yogurt, and the zest of one lime. Spoon mixture into tart shells. Top with your favorite fruit.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ready Or Not

When I took the puppy out for a morning walk, I noticed a crow fly out from behind a grocery store with an entire slice of bread in its beak. He landed on top of a street light and tapped a little victory dance with his feet. Within seconds another crow flew up and landed by the first crow, now enjoying his breakfast. The second crow just stood there, staring, as though asking, “Are you gonna eat that whole thing?” Mr. Crow #1 went right on stabbing at his reward, totally ignoring the other bird.

Even the puppy was curious. We must’ve been thinking the same thing – this could get interesting! We stood watching for a long time to see if the second crow would make a move, but he just kept on standing and staring. I had to get moving or my kids would be late for school, so we hurried off for a short walk by the river and then doubled back.

I was sure the crows would be long gone, but they were still there. Now Mr. Hopeful Crow #2 had a giant chunk of bread sticking out of his beak. Only he stood frozen in the same position as before, staring straight ahead. I waited to see what he’d do. He just stayed there looking a little baffled. It was as though now that he’d gotten what he wanted, he had no idea what to do with it.

What do you really wish for? If you got it, would you know what to do with it? That’s the sort of dilemma I wouldn’t mind having.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Another Flat Friday

Last Friday I posted about the trials of Flat Stanley, which I discovered when I planned to post some of my mom’s journal of her Flat Stanley visit. I thought I’d return to my original plan.

My mom was very talented and had a wry sense of humor, and I treasure these reminders of her creative spirit. She enjoyed art and writing all her life, and her enthusiasm for the creative process was contagious. She taught me how to make the most of a project and to make it fun. We knew she’d be sure to show Stanley a good time! Here‘s one of her entries:

Monday, December 20, 2004 - Flat Stanley arrived on a very, very cold, snowy day. Grandpa and I were happy to see that he got here safely. He was very tired from his journey, but he wanted to go outside to see the snow. (Remember he had been cooped up in an envelope for the past few days!)

We went out on the back deck. Stanley wanted to pet the turtle (sculpture) who was almost all covered with snow! We didn’t stay out long because the wind was blowing and I was worried that Flat Stanley might be swept away.

After his travel, and then playing in the snow, Stanley got very, very tired. Grandma looked all through the envelope that had brought Stanley, searching for his pajamas. He had forgotten to pack any!

Fortunately, Grandma found a teeny, tiny striped pair that had shrunk in the wash. She told Stanley to put them on before supper. (She was afraid he was going to fall asleep any minute.)

After a few bites, Stanley nearly fell into the bowl of spaghetti and meatballs that Grandma had prepared! Quickly she tucked him in bed with a little stuffed bunny.

He fell asleep right away. He was probably dreaming of the trip he was going to take on Wednesday…He wanted to get back to California where it was warm!

Besides hooking him up with cool PJ’s, my mom also fashioned Stanley a little coat, hat and scarf (pictured above), scolded him for climbing on a hibiscus, and cautioned him not to keep falling into the suitcase they packed for their trip. She did more than just document the visit; she gave our laminated boy a personality, and kept us eagerly awaiting the next adventure.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Finding the Write Song

Here’s a fun exercise I found on Brenda’s Page:

Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer. Post the lyrics on your blog and why you've chosen it. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular aspect of writing - whatever you want. Tag 5 others to do the same.

I’ll tag anyone reading this who wants to play.

I thought about this for a while and came up blank. Then the other day as we wound our way up the mountains into Julian, my husband started belting out The Long and Winding Road. If the universe gives you a handout like that, you should just take it:

The long and winding road that leads to your door,
Will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here, leads me to your door.
The wild and windy night that the rain washed away,
Has left a pool of tears crying for the day.
Why leave me standing here, let me know the way.
Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried,
Anyway you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried, but
Still they lead me back to the long and winding road,
You left me standing here a long, long time ago.
Don’t leave me waiting here, lead me to your door.

Who wouldn’t compare a writer’s journey to a long and winding road? It also reminds me of life, with all its unexpected twists and turns/ potholes/detours/ roadblocks… okay, maybe road analogies are a little too easy.

The idea of life being a winding road makes me think that wherever we are at this moment, it’s the result of all our thoughts and experiences so far, good and bad. It’s those experiences we draw upon when we create. I also like the possibility that no matter where you’ve been, those experiences might lead you to the threshold of something great.

So I’m waiting. Lead me to that door.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Smothered In Paint

Working on this illustration drove me a little crazy. There were sections I painted that I loved, but they didn’t work with the rest of the painting. In painting it’s not at all like what happens in writing when you are forced to “kill your darlings”.

In a piece of writing, if you need to cut out a line here or a passage there, you can save those gems in a file and hope to use them later. This happened to me recently with a picture book manuscript I was working on. I had one line that I thought was pretty clever but deep down knew it was wrong for the story. I liked it so much I kept trying to rework the rest of the story around it just to save it. I finally gave up and filed it away, only to realize it might be perfect for another project I have in mind.

That doesn’t happen with a painting. When something’s not working, I just have to kiss those little brushstrokes goodbye and slap another coat of paint right over them - and hope I learn something in the process.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Apple Rush

I went looking for fruit last weekend and got annoyed by the prices at the local grocery store. They sold only one variety of apple that cost less than one dollar per pound, and they were completely out of it. We hopped in the car and drove to the historic gold-mining town of Julian, CA and discovered their annual Apple Festival.

The town was transformed into one giant parking lot. Tourists lined the sidewalks, waiting to buy apple pie. We could have driven all the way home and baked a pie in the time it would have taken to get served a slice. We opted to duck into an out-of-the-way bakery and buy white chocolate cranberry cookies instead. They were the size of our heads and loaded with brown sugar and butter.

Since it's so near to Halloween, we felt compelled to climb to the top of the Pioneer Cemetery.

It was created during the turbulent Gold Rush, due to an urgent need for an impromptu cemetery. Here’s a view of the little mining town from the top of the hill:

We also stopped by this little soda shop and drug store. The basement of the store consists of a “candy cave”, where you can find unusual treats like violet flavored pastilles and crunchy barbeque flavored caterpillars:

If you’ve ever passed someone spritzing perfume while your mouth was open, you know the taste of violet candy. I declined to try the caterpillars because crunchy caterpillar legs look scary.

On the way home we stopped at an apple orchard and filled a big bag with pesticide-free apples for five bucks. They were so good I didn’t even bother to weigh them to see what kind of deal we got.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Must Remember to Buy Day Planner

Either life’s been a little hectic lately or I’m losing my mind.

This year for the first time my kids go to two different schools. They have different start times and different end times. To make things more confusing, one school has a late start on Mondays and the other school has an early dismissal on Fridays. To make things just that much more confusing, a week ago one school exchanged the late Monday for an early Friday, so both kids got out at the same time. Just for that one day. Last week they went back to their regular schedules. Make sense so far?

Our usual routine is for my husband to drop the kids off in the morning and for me to pick them up in the afternoons, except on Fridays when he works from home all day. That day he picks them up, too. Only last Friday he had a meeting to go to, so it was up to me to pick the kids up.

Well, it was nearly noon, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember which kid I had to pick up where. As soon as I realized I couldn’t remember I had a mini panic attack which turned my brain to fluff, just like Winnie The Pooh’s. I thought about calling my husband, but I didn’t want to interrupt his meeting and I didn’t want him to think I was going all Mommie Dearest on him or anything.

It took what seemed like a good five minutes to get it straightened out in my mind. But then, you know how sometimes you can glance at a watch (remember when we wore watches?) only to realize moments later that you didn’t actually notice the time? Well, I thought I had it all figured out, but realized moments later that I’d already forgotten which child I was picking up early. So I went through my whole meltdown all over again.

Both kids did get home fine. They didn’t have to stand around thinking they’d been abandoned or anything.

Now I just have to remember I still have a child sleeping upstairs who needs to wake up in fifteen minutes. Remember - it's late-start Monday again!

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Thin Argument

First a bulletin board - and now the law is pressing down on poor Flat Stanley. There’s a dispute between the Trust of late author Jeff Brown, creator of the Flat Stanley books, and Canadian teacher Dale Hubert, founder of the non-profit Flat Stanley Project.

I love the premise of Flat Stanley. A boy gets flattened by a bulletin board and discovers the advantages of traveling by mail. It’s a great example of suspension of disbelief. When Stanley’s mother finds her flattened son she suggests they visit the doctor – but first they head downstairs for breakfast!

I also enjoy the award-winning Flat Stanley Project, in which grade school students get a lesson in correspondence by mailing a Flat Stanley paper-doll (not a copy of the original drawing) in search of adventure. The effort was supported by both the author and publisher of the books, crediting it with renewed sales of the books. Now the late author’s Trust wants to take over Hubert’s web domain, which features personal adventures and success stories. They want to use the site to promote a musical based on Hubert's idea of mailing Flat Stanley around the world. To make things stickier Hubert, prompted by his lawyer, applied for a trademark of the name.

As a second grader my son participated in this project. We sent Stanley to Grandma’s house, knowing the task was a perfect match for her wit and creativity. Here’s an excerpt from her memoirs with the Flat One, on their flight from New York City:

Flat Stanley was getting a bit bored on the plane. He got all excited when dinner came. (Grandma and Grampa didn’t share his enthusiasm!) Flat Stanley ate most of the turkey sandwich, a few carrot sticks and the brownie. He gave Grampa the potato chips.

Our own Flat Stanley continued on to Mexico and Spain, and even inspired my son’s teacher to travel to Barcelona. It’s a shame an effort that has helped promote goodwill throughout the world would be entangled in an intellectual property dispute. I hope a decision that benefits both parties can be reached in no time flat.

Learn more about the debate here and here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An Owl-O-Ween Tale

Winona Screech is very excited about trick-or-treating this year, now that her mommy is putting the finishing touches on her pineapple costume. It’s a little itchy and the green things on top are a bit pokey, but it’s sure to keep her warm on Halloween night. She’s hoping to get a box of Milk Bugs and lots of Three Mouseketeers Bars. After trick-or-treating, she’ll meet her friends in the barn for a hoo-down. She hopes Jemima Snow won’t get her beak all bent out of shape this year if she doesn’t win Prettiest Costume. Last year she made such a flap about it she caused Winona to knock her princess crown right into the squirrel dip. There’s sure to be some bobbing for minnows, and telling scary stories about children who eat way too much sugar.