Showing posts with label children's books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label children's books. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Finding grace and the permanent present

So during a yoga class last week there was this first-timer -- a lithe woman in her 60s or early 70s whose daughter talked her into trying out a class while she was visiting from Georgia. She kept announced that she had no idea what she was doing (while bending her uber-flexible body in ways she had no idea it could go) and fretting that people would laugh at her.

I reassured her that nobody would laugh. That we're all learning. 

At one point she looked over at me and exclaimed "Oh my god, you are so graceful." 

At which point I did laugh. Because I don't believe anybody in my 32 years on this little planet has ever called me graceful. Ever. 

In fact, any commentary on my mobile abilities usually centers around how not graceful I am. Or, if not that specifically, then maybe on how goofy I look when I attempt to be graceful. 

But actually, during yoga, I do feel graceful. In fact, it's caused me to reassess some of my preconceptions about what I always thought I could or couldn't do. It occurred to me during the class that it's been about a year since I started yoga. And while I still can't do crow for any amount of time without falling on my face -- I'm getting closer. 

So maybe after all these years, my dance moves still resemble an amalgam of all the Peanuts characters with, like, a hint of Elaine, but dammit I can look graceful while standing in weird poses.

So that's something.

Speaking of weird poses, my instructor said something that struck me as funny. We were all attempting this arm-balancing pose -- sitting in lotus and holding our bodies up off the floor (Google says it's called Scale Pose) -- and I commented how awkward it was. 

Rhiannon said that most of yoga was like that -- you put your body in these strange positions often enough and it gets used to it.

"You just kind of have to embrace the awkward." 

Finally, a mantra by which to live my life!

So in honor of my first yoga anniversary, here's me embracing the awkward today:

Luckily, I gave birth to two kids who are more than willing
to embrace the awkward right along with me.

And here's a grab bag of other random stuff: 

* For Christmas, Aunt Ann gave Lily a copy of "Fancy Nancy," which has recently become one of Lily's (and my) favorites. It tells the story of Nancy who is young sophisticate, preferring the finer and frillier things in life, while the rest of her family is kind of plain. Nancy decides to help her parents and sister out by offering them a class on being fancy, which they gamely participate in. And after learning that Christmas bows, garland and a plenty of ribbon can make any ensemble fancy, they all venture out to an uber-fancy pizza-and-parfait (i.e.: ice cream) dinner, which delights Nancy. I was skeptical about the princessy undertones of the book, but the ending message -- to embrace your children for who they are and try to live in their world every no and then -- is one I can get behind. And Lily definitely has Fancy Nancy inclinations -- she loves wearing dresses gets strangely excited on the rare occasions that I put one on.  

* Aunt Ann also flagged me on this episode of Fresh Air, which featured author Jennifer Seniors who talked about her book on the paradox of parenting, "All Joy and No Fun" (what an awesome and apt book title!) Seniors offered a lot of interesting thoughts and research about modern parenting compared with years past; it's definitely worth a listen. My favorite part (conveniently "Fancy Nancy" related) was Seniors suggestion that parents experience the permanent present with their kids -- go eyeball to eyeball with them and enjoy the world as they do in that moment. "Suspend all that noise. ignore all that running endless ticker tape of noise that is looping through your head … it is glorious," she says. It's been a long week already in our household, so this was a really good reminder for me.

* Also quasi-"Fancy Nancy"-related, we painted our front door. It's purple. Like, really purple. The technical name of the paint color is Grapealicious, but Lily said it's actually "Sofia the First Princess Purple" and who am I to argue? To accent our super-purple front door, I made a wreath. Out of decidedly unfancy toilet paper tubes (What? we're on a budget!). (Among my other weird habits, I stockpile toilet paper and paper towel tubes -- they're great for crafting -- although my hoard was dangerously depleted after this wreath project).

* Speaking of squirrely, Here's a bonus, belated St. Patrick's Day Squirrel (they had two holiday-themed outfits this year.):

Where's the corned beef?

* Finally, my best good friend Stephanie sent me a link to this fantastic post from The Oatmeal on creating content for the web, which is what I do for my side hustle.* Beyond creating content for the web, it's about the excruciating-infuriating-but-ultimately-gratifying task of writing the things that are the most meaningful to write. 

* I just learned about the phrase "side hustle" from my side hustle: I.E. part-time money-making gig.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A cornucopia of random thoughts

I feel like cornucopia is one of those words that should only be used seasonally -- but it is so much fun to say, I thought I'd bust it out today. 

Today, some random thoughts:

1. I'm woefully behind in my squirreling. Last I walked by them, they were golfing (and I believe I already have golfing squirrels ... let me check ... ah yes, right here). Before that, they were graduating. 

You might be amused to note that the wooden deer who hangs out with the squirrels is periodically dressing up himself. Last time he was wearing bunny ears, and when the squirrels were posing with their diplomas, he, too had on a mortarboard:

He's gonna go buck wild at beach week.
2. "Women Writers and the Optimal-Child-Count Spectrum," a recent article in the New Yorker, caught my eye for obvious reasons. It was a response to an essay posted on the Atlantic website in which author Lauren Sandler proposed that the secret to being both a mother and writer is to have just one child. 
"What Sandler’s essay implies is that, on the contrary, there may be something about the experience of motherhood that makes a woman a better writer—more deeply in touch with the deepest of human concerns and commonalities. But, at the same time, too much motherhood might swamp a potentially brilliant writer with the drudgery of diapers and Little League, reducing her to overseeing her child’s admissions essays rather than writing her own scintillating works a la Sontag or Hardwick," writes Rebecca Mead.
Motherhood -- whether you have one, two, five or 10 children -- does tends to overshadow other pursuits -- like cleaning, cooking, laundering, sleeping, bathing, and, yes, writing, too. But then I think it should overshadow other pursuits. My children weren't foisted upon me by some over-demanding boss, I chose to have them. And neither did they request to be here (please, let's just save the religious/metaphysical discussions for another day and time). While some days I do wish I could spend less time in diaper drudgery and more time on scintillating works (or, at least mildly entertaining works), I certainly don't begrudge their existence. They are my world and it's difficult to even remember the person I was before them. Like Sandler suggests, they make me a better writer. And such wonderful material they provide! Children or no children, there is never enough time for us to do the things our heart sings for us to do. So you just have to make time for it. 

3. I thought, given how much Lily loves Clifford the Big Red Dog, that I should give Norman Bridwell a second chance (you might remember a previous rant about "Clifford's Birthday (infamous) Party" -- if not, go here), so we checked out "Clifford's Good Deeds" from the library a couple weeks ago. On the third of fourth reading of the book I noticed something amusing/irritating on this page: 

That is one big dog. Right?
Clifford is attempting to help out the weak, little paper boy who is unable to throw newspapers all the way to the doorstep (they land pitifully, somewhere in the middle of the front walk). While I love the reference to newspapering, I was not as keen on this little scene: 

As if newspapers aren't in enough trouble right now,
now they're incriminated in destruction of property.
Look at that dutiful wife! Out raking leaves in lovely pink dress and heels, no less! 

My issue is not with a woman doing yard work (I love raking leaves!) but that her footwear is so inappropriate. I checked the copyright date on the book because I thought that maybe Norm was writing it back in the 1950s when, based on all the advertising I've ever seen from the time period, the only thing available for women to wear were full-skirted dresses and heels (well, and and pearls and an apron, of course). But this book was originally published in 1985 -- well into the age of ladies in pants. 

The scene isn't really helped by the cranky-looking husband inside reading his newspaper ... I mean really, could you help your lady out a little? Maybe he figured she could handle the job since there's only five leaves in the yard anyway. Or, maybe it was his birthday or Father's Day* and his only request was to be allowed to read the paper in peace while his woman did a little yard work (for once!) before returning inside to make him some roast beef and mashed potatoes. 

Brad also noted that it seemed strange that he was already reading a newspaper when one was being delivered to his house. Maybe he's like me and reads the paper a day late ... or ... could he be some very rare breed of person who gets both a morning and an afternoon paper? So many questions! 

Unless Lily insists, it's not likely that Clifford will be given a third chance in our household. And I say this as someone who has dressed up as Clifford the Big Red Dog at an elementary school book fair. Since I'm only 5'3" (and at the time was probably shorter) I was probably one of the least impressive Clifford the Big Red Dogs hitting the book fair circuit. I was more like Clifford the Slightly Larger Than Average Red Dog. 

* Happy Father's Day Brad and dad. You're both tireless providers -- giving up hours you'd probably rather spend outside in the great wide open to make sure your family is cared for. The girls and I are lucky to have you both in our lives.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Winter Walk Revelation (also, RIP 'Parkly Deer)

Evidently, the squirrels had
a more eventful New Year's than I did.
It'd been a while since I'd ventured out for an afternoon walk. Why? Cuz it's January and it's friggin' cold outside. Well. At least it's friggin' cold in my imagination.

Alack, the dog seems to be adding a layer of flab that is sure to earn disapproving looks from the vet (what? It's not my fault he decided to jump on the counter and eat half a bagel today. Or that he scarfed down a plate of macaroni and cheese last week) if you ask me, a little personal responsibility is in order. 

As for me -- well, something has to be done to halt my asses'* new-found insistence that it rendezvous with my ankles.

So when the sun winked at me as the girls woke up from their afternoon nap and my phone told me the temperature outside was 40 degrees I decided today was a great day for a Winter Walk**.

Of course, prepare for said Winter Walk was not nearly as whimsical or poetic. First, I had to broach the topic with Lily, who despite the fact that she enjoys going for walks once we're on the move, erupts like Vesuvius at the mere mention of one. 

True to form, when I told her we were going on a walk, she immediately began crying and begged me to read "Clifford's Birthday Party"*** instead. I calmed her down with the promise of chocolate milk and the chance to wear her beloved princess boots

Then came the next hurdle: Dressing the girls for the Winter Walk, which involved additional layers, mittens, hats, and coats designed to render arms useless (unless, of course, their use is to stick straight out to the side like a scarecrow). 

With both girls crying in discomfort at their lack of peripheral vision and inability to move in any direction except straight ahead, I put on my coat, grabbed some doggie do bags, mixed the chocolate milk, put the leash on Snacks and wrassled the girls into the stroller -- which bears a remarkable resemblance to the Oldsmobile station wagon we had growing up, especially when it comes to speed, heft and maneuverability. 

As you can see, Lily was still not sold on the walk:

This is bullshit!****
Once we made it out of the driveway she calmed down and starting chattering about the airplanes she could hear flying overhead (it was remarkable she could hear anything over the dogs incessant barking ... at nothing).

By now you might be wondering why I'm writing about this little adventure -- and you're definitely wondering why you're reading about it. 

Here's where the walks and the writing intersect. It was on walks years ago minus the stroller and two kids, but with the same obnoxious canine, that I started thinking about my novel. And it was especially walks during in late fall and winter -- where the sun is low and the air splashes your face like cold water -- that really helped frame the mood for the story. 

It's on a cold November day that Eleanor finds the dead man -- no accident as a plot point -- and inspired by the many early morning walks I used to take with Snacks (well, Snacks and I never found any dead guys).

Today, as the sun played peek-a-boo behind dusty, gray clouds and the last leaves clinging to naked branches fluttered in the near-stillness, I thought about the novel again and about the role seasons played in our lives. And I came up with a solution for a problem that's been bugging me about the story: How much time passes from beginning to end? 

I'd had a series of scenes in my head that were to play out over a period of time -- I guess I thought maybe a year -- but part of my hangup about writing it was how to fill that year. I mean, I know I don't need to account for every day, but I do need to make use of the year, right? Like, if you say you're going to need a year to finish a project, you mean that whatever it is you're undertaking will take a significant number of days and hours of your life such that a week, or a month or six months isn't enough time to complete it. 

I've never written a novel before and I'm attacking this from the viewpoint of a journalist who generally knows what happens in the story before they sit down to write it. But I don't know what's going to happen. I have an idea of some scenes and an ending, but I'm not certain how to get from one to the other. And I think what's holding me back is this idea that I was dealing with a few days worth of plot stretched out over a year's worth of digression (I know. Me digress? Impossible!). 

I suppose a lot of this would work itself out if I actually just wrote the damn thing already (but then what would the point of me blogging about writing about it be?!). But one thing that did work itself out during the walk today was how much time I was dealing with -- and I think what needs to happen can happen in a season: three months. And that one season will be useful thematically as well. 

And all the sudden what has seemed impossible for so many months -- actually finishing the novel -- seems possible.

Thank you Winter Walk.


Some other notes from today's jaunt:

The squirrels are excited about playoffs (or bowl games?)

I had such high hopes for 'Parkly Deer since he'd been righted after more than a year of lying on his side. But it looks as if he's down for the count again.

Like a scene out of "Bambi."

* Sorry mom.
** As you have no doubt noted, a Winter Walk is really no different than any other walk, and not at all deserving of being capitalized. 
*** Frickin' "Clifford's Birthday Party" in which Clifford invites his friends to his birthday party and they don't show up because they're worried their presents aren't good enough for such a special friend. As it turns out, they're right, as Clifford inadvertently destroys most of their presents within minutes of receiving them. All except for the tiny yellow sweater Jenny and her dog Flip gives him -- which in my opinion is about the dumbest present you could give a dog. I mean seriously, you're shopping for a birthday present for a dog and you decide a cardigan is your best bet? And then you don't even attempt to find one that will actually fit his much-advertised larger-than-average stature? He's called Clifford the Big Red Dog for crying out loud!!!! Then Clifford is forced to be gracious about your lame-ass***** gift act like the sweater will be just perfect for keeping his nose warm. Because, you know, dogs hate the fact that their noses are cold. 
**** Sorry again mom.
***** And again, mom.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I vote for llamas! (Sorry Mickey)

Since I haven't had much time lately to read grownup books, I thought I'd offer reviews of the books I am reading, which I was surprised to find offer great writing lessons!

Lily loves being read to, which as a writer and a 
reader and a major supporter of words in general, I'm pretty happy about. 

We have an ever-growing collection of books at home and visit the library once or twice a month to spice the repertoire up. 

Of course, Lily and I have somewhat different tastes in children's reading material. Unfortunately for the person who gets to read the same four to five book rotation week after week, Lily is the tastemaker in this household.

A while back our babysitter gave Lily a large stack of Little Golden Books from her childhood (I know, sweet babysitter, right?). Lily immediately rooted through the pile and found several that featured her favorite characters -- namely, dalmatians and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse gang

For the past couple months, not a day goes by when we don't read "Mickey Picnic" (as Lily calls it) at least once or twice or five times a day. 

In "Mickey Picnic" Mickey Mouse and his pals head out for a day of singing merrily, frolicking and eating the delicious lunch that Minnie had packed for them (the menu includes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold meat sandwiches, deviled eggs, potato salad, radishes and onions* and pink lemonade and a great big chocolate cake.** And yes, I did write that from memory.).

 As the gang piles into Mickey's car, Mickey comments about how strange it is to head out on a picnic without Donald, but everyone reminds him that "there's always trouble when Donald is along." In a subtle use of foreshadowing, nobody notices Donald Duck jumping up and down "in rage" as they drive down the road. 

The plot thickens when, after walking along the river bank  and going for a swim, the gang gets hungry and goes to change back into their clothes, only to find their pant legs and shirt sleeves tied into knots. It is determined that "some mischief maker" is about, and they hurry off to check on the lunch basket, and discover it has disappeared. 

I won't spoil the ending, suffice to say that there are some pretty tense moments involving the hunt for the missing lunch and uneasy relief when Donald Duck turns up with an eerily similar lunch he's happy to share with his friends.

What amuses Brad and me about "Mickey Picnic" (and at this point, very little about "Mickey Picnic" amuses us) is the language. The story was written in 1950, and it's really amazing how much the style in which we speak or write has evolved (or devolved, depending on who you ask). Take this page for instance:

"Oh!" groaned everyone. "Not the lunch!"
"Hurry into your clothes, everybody!" Mickey cried.
"We'll soon find out about this." 

Who talks like that anymore? I often stumble when reading the book out loud because the cadence and attribution are too clunky and formal. 

(Incidentally, if you like olde tyme things like this, check out which pheatures all sorts of phun ephemera).

Fortunately, we have some other books on hand that are much easier and enjoyable to read out loud, and that always remind me how fun language can be. (It's been at least a month since I've picked up my Kindle - I can't even remember what book I'm in the middle of - so at least I'm finding good reads somewhere!)

Like, for instance, "Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin" by Lloyd Moss and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman -- one of my favorite baby shower gifts from a college friend. (OK, so Lily doesn't gravitate toward this one, much, yet. Probably because it doesn't feature a talking mouse or spotted puppies). It introduces children to the different instruments in an orchestra and itself reads like a song with a great sense of rhythm and rhyme. Plus, the illustrations are bright and colorful and dreamlike. I love this page especially:

"With steely keys that softly click,
Its breezy notes so darkly slick,
A sleek, black, woody clarinet
Is number seven - now septet"
In addition to the rhyming couplets, I love the the ways the words complement and parallel each other within each internally (steely, softly, darkly, woody ... steely, breezy, sleek). What wonderful poetry.

And then there are the Llama books written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney -- given to Lily by Stephanie the most thoughtful gift giver I know (and also a llama enthusiast).

 In "Llama Llama Mad at Mama," little llama is forced to go shopping with his mom at generic mega-store when all he wants to do is play. The shopping trip becomes more and more aggravating for the young llama (as illustrated to adorable perfection at left. I know how he's feeling) until he eventually loses it and throws a great big temper tantrum in the middle of the store.

Thankfully, Lily has not had an in-store meltdown yet (consider myself jinxed) but I know my days are numbered. Toward the end of our grocery store trips (after she's finished her fruit snacks and the free piece of cheese the nice lady at the deli counter gives her) she begins chanting "back to Wiwy's house" with increasing volume. Her patience is bought at the checkout by the promise of a sticker from the nice lady who rings up our groceries ... but not before she attempts to rip off each plastic bag from the plastic bag holder and throw them on the floor.

The story is written in rhyme and Dewdney does a great job of building tension using long and short phrases -- they get shorter the madder Little Llama gets until we reach this page:

Flying pasta, spraying juice. Paper towels rolling loose.
Coffee, bread and chips galore. Shoes and sweaters hit the floor.
Dewdney does such an excellent job capturing the perspective of Little Llama (having to stare at knees because he's small, smelling gross perfume, not caring about what type of breakfast cereal his mom buys). I think as Lily gets older, she will totally relate to the story (although hopefully we can avoid any cart-emptying explosions).

Alright, I've rambled enough for now.***

* Onions? Seriously Minnie? Who eats whole onions?

** I really think the only reason Lily requested a chocolate cake for her birthday was because of this book. How do I know this? Because every time she talks about cake, she talks about "a great big chocolate cake," as it's referred to in the story.

*** How I end posts when I can't think of anything clever to say

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On rainbows, acorns and inspiration

During a recent trip to the library Lily picked out this book:

It's a story about how Maisy the mouse falls asleep and has a dream that features all her friends adventuring off to Rainbowland - a magical place filled with walking tea pots, turtles with watermelon shells and several other characters and images reminiscent of "Alice and Wonderland" or what I assume a mushroom trip must be like.

It's a strange little book (actually, the book itself is gigantic - maybe part of its appeal for Lily) ... but I digress. As usual.

Anyway (spoiler alert) it turns out that all the wacky images in the dream are a compilation of all the things Maisy sees in her waking life. When she wakes up the next morning in her bedroom you see the bee that inspired the bee-panda chimera we read about on the page where "Maisy dreams about a green leaf" and the goldfish that makes Maisy become a Mer-mouse on the page "Maisy dreams about an orange fish."

It struck me around the 12th or 13th reading of the book that writing fiction is a lot like dreaming. Not in the sense that writing fiction is something that is unrealistic (although as I've mentioned at this juncture in life it feels unrealistic) but rather that, like Rainbowland, the universe in which your characters live is a compilation of the experiences and observations you have in your actual life. 

Often, when  I see something unusual or unique out and about in the world, I catalog it as something that could potentially be used in a story. The dunk tank I drove by on the highway a couple years ago. The guy buying a shopping-cart full of canned cat food. The people who owned my house years ago and left meticulous not about all the appliances. 

I get really excited when I come across something that makes me look twice, because I never know when I might be able to put it to use later. It's like when I obsessively collected Peanut M&M wrappers for a time with no real plan and eventually turned them into a lampshade. 

Lately I've been compulsively gathering acorns in the backyard -- this might be a ploy to get the squirrels to vacate the oak tree so that my dog won't bark at them so much -- but I keep thinking they could end up as some sort of art project for the girls down the road. 

Maybe I'm just not working on the novel now because I need more acorns.