Monday, November 5, 2012

PiBoIdMo and 30 Todays

This past weekend ended daylight savings time (or began it?  I forget), and our household "fell back" an hour, earning (one would think) an extra hour's sleep.  But we have preschooler twins, so our extra hour turned into a just as early but extra long morning.  And I have to say, it was sublime.  Spending time with brand-new or nearly new people is a fantastic way to see the world with renewed eyes.  It's also completely exhausting, but despite that exhaustion, new people are inspiring, and my new people are making me better at the things I thought I was already doing kinda well.

Case in point:  The PiBoIdMo Challenge.  Once informed, I immediately said, "Yes!  I will do it!"

What is the PiBoIdMo Challenge?  Well, for real and specific details, you can check out Tara Lazar's site where she explains it.  In short, the goal is for participants to come up with 30 ideas for 30 children's picture-books in 30 days, making November a kind of national Picture Book Idea (PiBoId) month (Mo)!  I also find it a wonderful "keeping-writers-motivated-through-the-holiday-grind" challenge, and I can't thank Tara enough for sending out the mass invite.

My twins inspire a great many picture book ideas, and they often enjoy telling me lengthy yarns of their own, more often than not featuring their "brothers" Iron Man, Superman, and Captain America, and their sisters (or sometimes alter-egos) Hello Kitty and her twin sister Mimi (also "Boxy" in our house).  It's spectacular, and fun, and the cruelty of it is by the time they're in bed or I have access to a pad and paper, I'm so bleary-eyed from the day I can hardly remember my name (or to take the keys out of the front door lock, or to take the milk out of the cabinet and put it in the refrigerator where it belongs), let alone recount or even short-hand the cool, funny, and remarkable sayings, ideas and tales of the day.

Tara's great gift to me this November is to commit me to writing at least one down.  I wake up in the morning with that goal in mind, I hold onto it like a lifeline in raging waters throughout the day, and when an idea--ANY idea, as with a goal of 30, they don't all have to glow in the dark!--solidifies enough to form words, I scratch it down so at the day's end I can decipher my harried scrawl and translate it to an actualized, fully-formed book concept.

Today is the fifth.  So far, I have not missed a day.  While I began this blog with the intention of posting once a day, then once a week, then blinked and months sped by, I do believe I'm up for this 30 day November challenge.  And with a recently received writing rejection under my belt--a real one that took energy to apply for and months to receive--I believe in myself as a writer.  And with remarkable twin preschoolers lighting up my days, I simply believe in me.  Today, at least. 

To extra-hours and longer mornings.  

To exhaustion by preschoolers.  

To 5 down and 25 todays to go!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Seriously, Jack-Egg-Lanterns

In the mad pursuit of ambition and creativity, I find it's important to take time now and then to smell the roses--or the cinnamon and Allspice, season depending.  Lately when I break from my keyboard or lift my pen, I smell woodsmoke, see leaves turning, and think about Halloween.

This time of year, my to do list pulls quadruple-duty to accommodate costume-making, visits to pumpkin-patches, carving, cooking, stewing, souping and baking, and a new tradition of nightly processions by our preschool twins.  Lit only by their tiny, plastic pumpkin lanterns and a few flickering household decorations, they walk the dark hall from the bathroom to their bedroom emitting adorably ominous "ooooooos" and beaming ear-to-ear.  

There's just too much fun potential in Halloween to restrict the celebration to one day a year.  So here it lasts a month, and I got an idea (surely not original, but fun nonetheless) this past spring when all those egg coloring kits hit the clearance bins.  Jack-egg-lanterns! 


With our preschoolers lending eager hands to every task and activity, I'm relieved to report egg-coloring and Jack-Egg-Lantern making is more little kid-friendly and safe than pumpkin carving (which gave me enough palpitations this Halloween season, even with those "safe" carving kits), and easier for little arms than even pumpkin-gut scooping.  And with pumpkins going for $6 each at our local stores, even with supremely organic eggs from hand-raised chickens, each with their own little chicken condo and private yard, Jack-Egg-Lantern making is extremely affordable and my new favorite Halloween craft.

With two girls and four fast hands to keep busy, one orange packet of dye was not going to be enough.  So to keep four hands busy and keep two imaginations working, we combined the red, yellow and pink colorings to make multiple shades of "pumpkin."  I think next time a drop or two of purple would also make a deeper color.  Green and purple are great Halloween colors anyway, and we could have done more to make Goblin or Frankenstein eggs or Purple Monster eggs...  Okay, all the better for next time.  This time, we focused on the pumpkin.  Some turned out more pinky-orange, a few more yellowy-orange, but overall we got a good blend and loved the results! 

For special egg-fects, we experimented with multi-color dipping, and striping our "pumpkin" eggs with white, clear, and black crayons to add dimension and texture.  Looking back, red or dark orange crayon might do even better, especially pre-heated to give the lines more solid consistency.   

Here's an example of white-crayon:

We drew our most vivid Jack-Egg-Lantern faces with a Sharpie, though black crayon also turned out well.  Maybe next time we'll go with yellow crayon for the faces, red or orange for the texture lines, and a deeper orange for the dye to create a lit-from-within illusion.  

I think the most important part of this trial egg run is that it's a simple craft with edible (and healthy!) results that kept us entertained for hours.  Dips, spills, stains, one egg off the balcony (and thankfully no neighbors walking below at the time), and tons of great opportunities for peripheral fun, like practicing our scary faces (see below).  

Of course, eggs aren't just for breakfast, or Halloween.  Consider Independence Day red-white-and-blue eggs in July, colorful ornament eggs around Christmas, glittery eggs for New Years, heart-kissed Valentine eggs in February, lucky green and pot of golden eggs for St. Patrick's Day, and of course the year-round preschooler favorite Green Eggs and Ham!  The key to year-round, nutritious fun?  Hard boiled eggs. 

Have a spook-tacular Halloween!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Might and Magic of (a parent's) Halloween

To me, this time of year is chilly mornings and wood smoke, thunder storms and hot apple cider (and an assortment of apple-everythings left over from a fun-filled, calorie-packed, walk-til-you-drop, craft-shopping, road-trip-extravaganza to Apple Hill).  I love summer, Independence Day is always a treat, especially this year after a day with dear friends and a surreal drive home on the 110 with continuous fireworks bursting on either side as if celebrating the Season of Us! 

But for me it's fall, or autumn if you're in that sort of mood, and the Halloween magic of October that sets the holiday season in motion.  Halloween is such a unique holiday in its diversity of expressions and dress, and it's the only one I can think of where we cooperate en masse to celebrate -- truly selflessly -- with a massive host of complete strangers.

And because of that excitement and energy, not to mention the massive scope of such a start to what promises to be a busy holiday season, my to-do lists have lengthened by half and my time shortened by at least as much.  Writing, drawing, coloring, and keeping life in general going must now compete with costume making, pumpkin carving, and not-for-the-faint-hearted baking, cooking, treat-making, and decorating.  And throw in all this election stuff on top -- it makes for tired, overwhelmed, and (if you're like me) countless opportunities to feel as if you're falling behind faster than you can say "Boo!"

Well, I take a lesson from Jack Skellington, the most recent obsession for my preschool twins.  For those of you who've yet to see The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack, the very successful Pumpkin King gets a bit ahead of himself and decides to take over Christmas, adding a few Halloweeny improvements here and there.  Right or wrong, Jack is a skeleton of action!  He embraces nightmare-long to-do lists (and nightmares in general) with an enthusiasm and lipless smile that would (and does) raise the dead.

So for those of you who, like me, will be up until 3am every night so your daughter can be a pink spider kitty with a Minnie-Mouse Bow next to her twin sister, the Blue Web (also with all-essential Minnie Mouse bow), I say enjoy!  We only get to be this exhausted for a shocking few years.  Sleep, shmeep.  Be a skeleton of action!

And when you do clean your pumpkins and spend the better part of an hour painstakingly separating the seeds from goo so you can roast them tomorrow, assuming the appliance guy comes and can fix the oven, don't then try to walk both slippery glass bowls back to the kitchen across the hard-to-clean carpet.  Not two bowls at once.  And do wash your hands.  Or spend another painstaking hour re-collecting and cleaning said seeds, along with the carpet and bowls and walls and you.  Forget for a moment that ever-growing to-do list and make two trips!  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Marvelous And Magical

I can't remember when or why I started drawing, but by kindergarten it was something I did a lot and greatly enjoyed.  I also had (and still have) a deep affection for books that began long before I can remember.  My parents had a lot of books I wasn't allowed to peruse at my leisure, mainly because most of them were words-only books and as I was an avid drawer I'm sure they wanted to protect their things from doodles and crayons.  I'm also sure that mild restriction only added to the great mystique books held for me, then and now.  Books were special, treasures.  My mom often took my brother and me to the "big" city library, and it was like walking into magic to be surrounded by all those books!  And an entire wing packed with books just for kids?  Amazing.  We'd select a few, check them out, cherish and re-read and re-read them at home, then carefully bring them back.  

Because they weren't ours to keep.  They were not mine.  Yeah, it's a thing.

It seemed to me then a lot of things were "not mine."  Being little in a world of adults, everything seems made for giants or inherently dangerous or not allowed.  My world happened to be cable-TV-free, so there were no "just for kids" channels, and just-for-kid-ness seemed uniquely limited to things like Saturday morning cartoons, Sunday paper comics, booster seats at restaurants...  There was a vast adult world kids got to visit...and then had to take a nap.

One thing I knew was mine and just for kids was school, and I loved school.  Still do.  When I was in kindergarten, our school library held a bookmark design contest.  First prize was a brand new, hardbound Complete Winnie The Pooh.  I knew and loved Winnie the Pooh, even though I knew Pooh was not just for kids.  A grown up wrote it after all, and my parents enjoyed reading it and laughed at things I didn't quite get -- there's more to that bear than first meets the eye.  I didn't understand why I was sad when Pooh was left to wait on the hill for Christopher Robin to return, but I was, and I hugged my bear "Cousin" especially hard so he wouldn't be sad, too.  So, for the bookmark contest, I drew Pooh bear eating out of a pot of honey with bees flying around.  I drew it with pencil, just like a big kid, and I WON!  My bookmark design was selected over every other kindergartener, first and second grader in my little school and was replicated (probably just xeroxed, but it seemed like a very professional publication to me at the time) so everyone could take my drawing home and mark their places in their own very special books with it.  And as an artist, I got my first commission -- a hardbound book that was entirely, completely mine.

I don't still have that bookmark.  It was lost to the ages.  But I remember feeling shocked and  utterly surprised my drawing was chosen.  After all, I'd been competing against bigger kids--two full years bigger, and in kindergarten-terms, that's like a generational split.  That little bookmark contest felt like a huge endorsement and was what let me think of myself as more than a kindergarten kid visiting the world.  I started to think of myself an artist, and to see my artwork as something special that not everyone could do.

Not that I thought of cartoons, art, or anything creative as something I'd get to do for real.  You get to do art when the real work was done, after school or during free time.  I believed making art and drawing were enjoyments I would have to earn by working at other things, real things, because art is an indulgence reserved for leisure time and play.  I did not think, "when I grow up, I'm going to be an artist."  I was an artist already, just like I already had brown hair and a spider vein on my finger--it was just another inseparable part of me.  And for some reason, I thought that meant it wasn't valuable.  I don't know why or where I got that idea, but I wish I hadn't.  

At least some small part of me doubted that ridiculous conviction, though.  The part of me that was elated to be recognized among bigger, older, better-skilled, more mature competitors.  The part of me that cherished that Winnie the Pooh book and kept it safe all these years.  The part of me that's warmed by a rare sense of pride and a secret sense of shared magic when I read that book to my daughters, who also love that marvelous bear.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Woe Is Writer

If writing were this easy and painless, I'd have completed whole libraries by now...

I recently read an article about boosting self-confidence with the power of positive thinking.  

How original -- snide remark compliments of my inner critic.

When it's on break from beating me to a non-productive, quivering pulp, my inner critic often amuses itself with wonderfully cruel asides.  It should blog...  Funny thing, the article knew my inner critic well and said the reason it's swelled to the limits of my skull is because I'm a girl.

"Another perk of womanhood!  Yay!"
--said my inner-critic.  I'm calling her Unis.  (The rest of me had a bit of an f.u. reaction...)

The article claimed that's because little boys tend to be criticized way more than little girls.  What?  I have no idea why that would be the case, but let's say it is.  The article claims boys criticize and tease each other more openly than girls, and anecdotally-speaking that does seem to be the case.  And it feels true that girls grow and nurture a substantially stronger inner critic than boys.  Just look at public restroom behavior.  En masse, women don't tolerate gross bathrooms or slovenly bathroom habits.  Men do.  Within 10 minutes any male public restroom becomes a post-apocalyptic mire pit.  Which I don't get at all.  Anyway, the article said because they're more used to criticism being heaped upon them, boys learn early to shake it off, confront it, or ignore it.  Which is why some can miss a toilet or sign their names in pee and go right back to their day.  Men who don't behave that way--often just hold it until they get home, if they are so able.  On the other hand, girls perceive criticism often when it isn't even really there.  We experience it more acutely, and internalize it, making it part of our identities.  A slovenly bathroom reflects on us, and we will not have that. We'll demand intervention, call in a manager, complain, the most fringe of our sex may even attack the mess themselves!

I don't know if the article was accurate, but it felt and feels true.  At least as a description of me and Unis.  And the inner-critic theory also fits with the "practice makes perfect" model.  Most boys and men I've known do seem better at ignoring, compartmentalizing or confronting than I am, all skills I'd like to master, though not at the expense of decent public bathrooms.  And I do dread a regular regimen of high-fiber frustration and cardio-criticism just to build my confidence muscles.

"Embrace your anxieties."

Shut up, Unis.