Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Isn't it funny how knowing the story behind a song (or book or movie) can endear that song to you in such an overwhelming way?

I've always been drawn to the Christmas song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day'. A few years ago, my husband and I attended an awe-inspiring Christmas concert with Steven Curtis Chapman and Mercy Me. During the concert, as the melody and a deep base beat played ever-so-softly in the background, they shared with the audience a glimpse of the events that had inspired the lyrics to this song, written by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow so very long ago on Christmas Day in 1964.

After the concert, I investigated further, seeking more detail to the story. I learned that, in a very short time span, Longfellow had lost his wife to a tragic accident in their home, and his son had returned - critically injured - from the American Civil War that was devastating his beloved country. I can only imagine that his faith was being tested beyond measure and his hope for peace - in his country and his own life - was weak.

Something changed on Christmas Day 1964 when Longfellow penned the poem, originally titled "Christmas Bells". Maybe it was the re-election of Abraham Lincoln and, with that, the possible end of the terrible war; maybe it was the relief that came from his son surviving; or maybe it was the churches that - during the war - would ring their bells on Christmas as a call for ceasefire, bringing peace to the nation, if only for a day.

Knowing the history behind the words has made this song become even more beautiful, sorrowful, haunting, and hopeful. In many ways, it is a call for peace. Something we all hope for.

If you haven't already heard them, here are a few of my favorite arrangements of the song:

Mercy Me, from 'The Christmas Sessions' (my absolute favorite arrangement ... unfortunately this upload skips a bit, but it's still hauntingly beautiful!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzJ9wieZH0M

Casting Crowns, from 'Peace on Earth': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bK8xB1opuQ8

Steven Curtis Chapman, from 'All I Really Want for Christmas' (btw ... the title song, which is about adoption, will bring tears to your eyes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH5dPy0gwD0

Hope your Christmas was a blessed one! And, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Picture Book Must-Read!

As I've mentioned before, our household is a big fan of Karma Wilson and her 'Bear...' books. And, this is the very book that started the 'Bear...' craze in our household.

In "Bear Stays Up for Christmas", Bear's friends make a valiant effort to keep him awake for Christmas. Their efforts are successful ... but all that hard work keeping Bear awake makes Mouse, Hare, Badger, and the rest of the friends VERY tired. That's OK ... Bear's got them covered, and he works through the night to ensure a special Christmas for all of them.

The rhyming text is perfection, and the illustrations are so warm and cozy, it makes you want to snuggle up with Bear and his friends in his lair.

It's targeted to 4-8 year olds, but the pictures, lively characters, and catchy rhymes make it perfect for younger children as well.

If you're looking for a warm and fun holiday picture book classic for your family, "Bear Stays Up for Christmas" is guaranteed to please ... even when it's not the holidays (this is one we do NOT pack away after Christmas is over!).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sweet 'Yuletide'

We were visiting one of my favorite places ... spring, summer, fall, winter, I can spend oodles of time at Al's Garden Center no matter the season.

Their store was a veritable winter wonderland. We were admiring the intricate railroad town. My son couldn't take his eyes off the train as it chugged by again and again.

My eyes, however, were multi-tasking ... watching the train, taking in the beautifully-decorated surroundings, and people-watching, when the most gorgeous shock of color caught my eyes.

I had to investigate. Certainly, this beautiful plant was only flowering during this frigid time of year because it was currently housed in the greenhouse.

I abandoned husband and kids at the train table and made my way over to the colorful blooms. It was a Camellia 'Yuletide' ... a plant that celebrates Christmas by blooming in December with big, bright red flowers and vivid yellow stamens that pop from a sea of shiny evergreen leaves.

Talk about a cure for the winter 'brown-ness' that has overtaken most gardens by now!

Sadly, I do not have the space. But, if YOU do ... run, go get one! Put one of these stunners in a big pot on your front porch and - voila! - your entryway is effortlessly decorated for Christmas! (The blooms last through February!).

Enjoy your week!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Real St. Nick!

In honor of St. Nicholas Day, which was this past Sunday (I know, I know ... I'm late! :-)) ...

Santa Claus … love him and the joyful spirit of giving he brings to Christmas. I believed in him for a long time. I don’t remember the turning point when I went from a staunch believer to one who believed in the magical feeling he brought to Christmas, but knew it was my parents leaving the goodies. I do remember, over the course of several years, having questions … logistical questions that made me doubt the whole flying reindeer, down the chimney story. But, I never expressed my doubt out loud or asked questions of my parents, nor did I transfer any of my uncertainties to my three younger sisters.

Fast forward to me as a parent … still loving the magical feeling that Santa brings to Christmas, loving watching my children excitedly pour over toy catalogs as they carefully choose what they will request from Santa, and feeling just a tad bit of guilt as they ask a million and one questions about the Man in Red! After all … I’m kind of lying … which, as we’ve ingrained in our children’s heads … is generally enough to put you on Santa’s ‘naughty’ list! Did my parents feel this way? They never said anything to me. My transition was just … natural. It just happened.

So … we are trying, gently, to weave in the true story of St. Nicholas. When I was in college, I did a semester of study abroad in Austria. I was so fortunate to be there during the holidays and experience the celebration of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. On this day, children awaken to find their shoes filled with chocolate gold coins, oranges, and other special gifts. This day is a celebration in honor of St. Nicholas, a real person who lived in the fourth century and was the very model of love and generosity. While he and his generosity are believed to be factual, they sparked the larger-than-life legends and tales of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

“Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend”, by Julie Stiegemeyer, is one children’s book that paints a picture of the true St. Nicholas via a fictionalized story. It’s a tad overtly didactic (I tend to prefer covertly didactic :-)), but that’s okay, it gets the message across. And, it has a great ‘Dear Grown-Up’ section at the end that nicely details the life of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

So … for now, we’ll read this book, talk about the real St. Nick … and hope that Santa and Saint Nicholas (a.k.a. the truth behind Santa) someday in the future meld nicely into one another without drama!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Little More Hopeful

"Peaceful, Snowy Christmas" by B, December 2008

Every December for the past three years, my son has gone to the ‘Share’ drawer of his allowance box and retrieved a collection of one dollar bills that has been growing over the course of the year. This year, his younger sister was inducted into the fun with her own, slightly smaller, collection of bills.

The sum doesn’t amount to anything earth-shattering - maybe thirty to forty dollars. We then head out on what has become one of our favorite shopping trips of the year.

We look for puzzles, drawing paper, colorful pens, pencils, and crayons, play-doh, sporty Hot Wheels cars (for the boys!), Hello Kitty jewelry (for the girls!), cozy socks, and whatever else strikes us as something that might be fun or useful for the patients at one of our local children’s hospitals or for the kids that will be chosen as part of Operation Christmas Child.

Our children get to choose the cause. And, while we may gently guide them to certain aisles of the store or give them little ideas, it is their money and, ultimately, their choice of gifts.

Every day, I give thanks for two healthy children and pray for children whose health, wellness, and safety have become battlefields they face daily. The little friend who is on his eighth round of chemotherapy for a brain tumor; the young classmate who lost all of her beautiful curls to the poisons trying to kill the leukemia; and the innocent toddler who can’t yet defend himself against a parent’s anger and lack of self-control.

I feel helpless. I can’t take the cancer away and I can’t shield them from being hurt by someone who is supposed to protect them. So I pray … alone, and then with my children, so they gain a sense of appreciation for being healthy and safe, and a desire to help those who are struggling with the opposite.

That desire to help is what our shopping trip is all about. After they have made their purchases, we drive to the hospital or the designated Operation Christmas Child drop-off site, where they pass the treasures along to a representative of the organization.

We don’t get to see any of the children that receive the toys, but we hope the gifts bring smiles and glimpses of joy to their faces on Christmas morning. Our gifts may be small in number, but they are a tangible way of feeling just a little less helpless and a little more hopeful. And, they are a way to celebrate love and generosity … the true spirit of Christmas.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a blessed one!

Oh ... and if you get an opportunity to see a movie over the holiday weekend, RUN, RUN, RUN to see 'The Blindside' ... one of the most perfect movies ever (according to moi!). :-) Loved it!

Enjoy! See you next week!

"Turkey" by B, November 2008

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Strength of Nature

The towering maple, stuffed with green leaves a mere month ago, is now disrobed - save for a few brittle leaves still hanging on with all the strength their withering bodies can muster. The shedding of leaves reveals an abandoned nest.

In the summer, we heard sweet squeaks coming from the nest and often witnessed a busy mother robin gathering worms from our grass. We could see the bottom of the nest from our patio, but had no idea what was happening inside. Even from our upstairs window, it was sheltered by the abundant leaves of the maple.

Last night, strong gusts of wind shook the trees, while rain and tree debris pelted our house. I half-expected not to see the nest when I opened the curtains this morning. But, there it sits. Bound firmly to the branch to which the mother robin originally attached it. Nature's strong winds were no match for nature's delicate, yet brilliant, weaving of grass and twigs.

Maybe it will be refurbished in the spring by another mother robin for her brood. Maybe it will remain vacant. Either way, I have no doubt this testament to nature's strength - a seemingly fragile structure - will remain rooted in that very spot for years to come.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to Fold a Fitted Sheet … Me vs. Martha!

At my former company, one of our wonderful employees - on his own time - took Martha Stewart's "30 Things Everyone Should Know" list, printed out each tip in full-color, and placed it in a binder. He made one for each of us in the department.

The other day, while searching for a book, I spotted that binder sitting on the bookshelf. Flipping through it, Tip #21 caught my eye - "How To Make A Bed." "Hmmm," I thought, "I wonder if there is a tip on how to fold a fitted sheet."

There wasn't ... but, there was a note at the bottom of the "How To Make A Bed" page, that referred the reader to MarthaStewart.com for tips on "How To Fold A Fitted Sheet."

Brilliant! I navigated my way to her website to discover what I had been doing wrong for all these years.

The following is a step-by-step breakdown of her tips versus my own process:

Martha: Stand holding the sheet by the two adjacent corners of one of the shorter edges. With the sheet inside out, place one hand in each of these two corners.

Me: Roll your eyes and sigh deeply and loudly … because you dread this task. Then, grab two outer corners of the sheet … whichever you can find first.

Martha: Bring your right hand to your left, and fold the corner in your right hand over the one in your left, enveloping it. Next, reach down and pick up the corner that is hanging in front; bring it up, and fold it over the two corners in your left hand; the corner that's showing will be inside out.

Me: Bring your two corners together and secure them with your right hand while your left hand grabs the folded side. Shake vigorously to attempt to straighten out the remainder of the sheet that is now dragging on the floor picking up whatever you just washed off of it. Mutter something about how much you despise this task.

Martha: Bring the last corner up, and fold it over the others; with its right side showing, it should envelop the other three corners.

Me: Toss the whole thing up into the air gently and catch it smack dab in the middle; remove the fitted corner which landed on your head and is now covering your face; proceed to fold it in half, if possible.

Martha: Lay the folded sheet on a flat surface and straighten it into the shape shown.

Me: Realize there is something small caught in one of the corners. Unfold the entire sheet. Remove a damp, wadded, wrinkled pillow case from the corner. Start folding process from the beginning.

Martha: Fold the two edges in so all the elastic is hidden.

Me: Stuff ... I mean, tuck in the edges, attempting to hide the elastic.

Martha: Fold the sheet into a rectangle.

Me: Think of the song “Rolling on the River” and use that hand motion to ‘roll’ the sheet up into an oddly-shaped version of a rectangle.

Martha: Continue folding until the rectangle is the size you want it to be.

Me: After you’re done ‘rolling’, fold it in half one more time and smooth it vigorously to make it appear less voluminous and wrinkled.

Me: Place under the flat sheet, so only one edge of the fitted sheet shows when viewed from the already-cramped linen closet. This will give the appearance that it has been folded correctly.

Martha’s directions (and accompanying pictures) can be found on MarthaStewart.com from the October 1997 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Clearly, you don't want any more of my directions on this particular subject!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Happiness Is ...

A 4-year old daughter who takes notice of the pink and purple hues in the sky as the sun sets ... and is excited to point them out to me.

A 7-year old son who - upon noticing that we have just run out of Halloween candy after passing out 160 pieces to 160 adorably-dressed trick-or-treaters and we still have 10 kids left standing at our doorstep - runs over to his own, freshly-collected Halloween stash, grabs 10 pieces of sweets, and proceeds to hand them out to the kids waiting in anticipation on our porch.

And, the following two songs (and videos) ...

I dare you to sit still while listening to this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoaTl7IcFs8

I dare you not to smile during this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TTAUv-FM3I

Snagging a book contract would also fit into this list quite nicely. But ... that will have to wait for another day! Something to look forward to, I guess! :-)

Have a happy one!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The A's of Autumn: Apple Cider and Awesome Awards!

OK ... awards first, then apples!

I recently received three awards from three absolutely, positively fabulous ladies whose blogs I adore!

Thank you to Sharon McPherson at Bookish Blonde for awarding me The Lemonade Stand Award! This award recognizes sites that show great attitude and/or gratitude. I am proud to be a recipient of this award.

And, thank you to both Lynnette Labelle at Chatterbox Chit Chat and Stephanie Faris at Steph in the City for awarding me the Heartfelt Award. Do you reach for a cup of cocoa or tea when you're relaxing, seeking comfort, sharing a plate of cookies with family and friends? You know the feeling you get when you drink a yummy cup of cocoa, tea, or a hot toddy? That is what the Heartfelt Award is all about, feeling warm inside. This one is often symbolized by a picture of a sweet little mouse in a teacup ... but, I thought the vivid red hearts on the black dandelion-like sketch was just too cool to pass up (apparently, this was created for any guys receiving the award who weren't interested in the whole 'cute mouse in teacup' kind of look!).

On to apple cider!

My normal Tuesday posting was preempted by a trip to the Pumpkin Patch with my son's class.

The skies were supposed to dump rain, thunder, and lightening across the region on Tuesday. It rained the night before, it rained the morning of, it rained as we drove to the pumpkin patch. And, then ... as we arrived ... the sun came out. And - with the exception of about three minutes of sprinkles - it was sunny and dry during our entire three hours at the Pumpkin Patch. It then rained on the drive back, and continued to pour for the remainder of the day. A-MA-ZING!

My favorite part was learning how Bauman Farms makes their oh-so-delicious apple cider. Here is the process in pictures:

Washing the apples, thank you very much:

Grinding them into a pile of mush (umm ... yuck!) within seconds:

Pressing out all the sweet juice:

Here comes the final product:

I love to see the behind-the-scenes workings of products like this. And, the final outcome was like drinking an apple pie (without all the extra sugar and butter!).

Happy Autumn!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I Do Not Like That Funky Dance

We noticed it when she was quite young ... an adorable ability to feel the rhythm of music.

At 18 months old, a quick glance in the rear view mirror often revealed a little head full of wispy curls bopping along to the exact beat of whatever song was playing on the radio.

Soon, her upper body joined in as her shoulders rocked to songs blaring through overhead store speakers, even as she sat, strapped securely to the shopping cart.

When riding along in shopping carts was no longer an acceptable mode of transportation, the full body jive came into play. It was subtle. She wasn't twirling in the aisles. She was just moving with the beat - from head to toe - as she walked.

This past weekend, we were in the produce section of our local grocery store. A very disco-esque song was filling the area with a lively groove and - as we would expect - the little girl walking just ahead of us started feeling it.

The beat took over her body ... legs, knees, hips, shoulders, head, and arms all coming together as she strutted to the beat in and amongst the pears and potatoes.

My husband could see that our son was feeling it too, so he attempted to give them a quick lesson in disco. "Hey ... do this!" he encouraged, as he reenacted a mini-version of the famed Travolta move involving the index finger pointing up in the air, then moving down and across the body to point at the floor.

Our son thought it was hilarious. Our daughter, however, stopped - mid-strut - and with a very serious tone looked straight up at my husband and said, "I do not like that funky dance."

She then turned and continued bopping her way down an aisle of lemons and limes.

Earlier this month, our daughter turned four with a Hello Kitty extravaganza of a party. The age of four, we are learning, brings with it loads of love, even more hugs and kisses, an enormous amount of spunk, imaginative stories, major meltdowns, serious opinions, a bit more independence, and hilarious moments. Moments that I can't wait to write down before I forget exactly what was said, so I can re-live them whenever I need to inject a smile or laughter into my day.

Hope your day is filled with wonderful moments!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This Book Is Doing Its Job!

It's a tricky thing ... keeping boys engaged in, challenged, and excited by reading as they get older and start moving away from the realm of typical picture books.

I've written along these lines before ... earlier this year in my post "Boy + Reading ...". And, recently, author PJ Hoover wrote about the subject in her post "Why Boys Aren't Reading".

For our 7-year old reader, the challenge is in finding books that have the unique ability to help him grow as a reader, but also appeal to his interests and his enjoyment of pictures and illustrations.

Just the right combination of the above equals a much less frustrated little man and a more willing and eager reader.

While he very much enjoys action/adventure and animal-related stories, his true love continues to be anything under the category of Transportation. From rescue vehicles to race cars to semi-trailers to construction machines, he is completely and utterly enamored.

This weekend, he told us that he wanted to buy another vehicle book, and he agreed to do so with his own spending money.

So, after a patience-teaching wait of three days from the time he first started chatting us up about it, we headed to Barnes & Noble. We found the section that included all the vehicle-related books within his age range, and told him to look through the books and decide which one he wanted to purchase.

In the midst of helping little sister pick out a book (because, of course, she had to bring her spending money too!), we looked back to find our son sitting on the floor, surrounded by four open books, pouring over each of them, intently trying to decide which he would be taking home. What a wonderful sight!

He settled on the above-pictured Big Book of Construction Machines, created by Parachute Press and published by the fabulous DK Publishing, Inc. The book has an age range of 7-10 years of age, which means it is perfect for helping him progress in his reading. But, the most wonderful thing is that he can't put it down. He reads it in the car and during moments of downtime; he reads it for school-required reading time; he reads it with his nighttime book-light after we've tucked him in to bed; and, today, he took it to school to show his teacher and friends.

Now that is a book that is doing its job!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Words Optional

If my count is correct, this magnificent children's picture book has exactly 28 words. Twenty-eight!

Not 1,300 ... not 1,000 ... not even 852 ... but, twenty-eight very effective words.

The illustrations carry the story and delight the reader. The talented Nancy Tafuri, who wrote and illustrated this gem, was so very clever when she crafted this Caldecott Honor and ALA Notable Book.

From the words, we know it takes place early in the morning, and that the mother duck is trying to find her missing duckling.

With each turn of the page, the child reader gets to search and point out where the little missing duckling is hiding. It has been tested repeatedly in our house, and consistently results in delightful giggles when the wayward duckling is spotted.

Oh, how I wish I could create such gorgeous pictures. This book is proof that illustrations can truly tell a wonderful story and, sometimes, words are optional.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Candy Man

The first time I met Sam, I was in the midst of my strength training routine. As I strained and sweated to lift the weights just a few more times, he came around the corner and – extending an old-fashioned doctor’s bag toward me – said brightly, “Would you like a piece of candy?”

I stopped what I was doing and peered into the open pouch on the side of his bag to find a multihued assortment of hard candies. I smiled and asked, "Are there butterscotch discs in there?”

“Oh, yes … I’ve got those,” he said with confidence as he dug his hand into the bag and plucked out a golden disc.

“Thank you!” I said, with the giddiness of a child surveying her haul on Halloween night.

He turned to leave, then stopped and glanced at the weights I was using, “You know those come in lighter versions.”

I laughed.

I soon learned his very appropriate nickname - Sam the Candy Man. I also learned what a treat it is to watch him work the room of fellow ‘Silver Sneakers’ exercise classmates, offering them candy and bringing joy to their faces.

Outgoing and jovial, his response to the question “How are you, Sam?” is – with 99.9 percent certainty – always a hearty “Super Darn Whoppin’!” And, as if he has planned it because he knows I love them, there is always a butterscotch disc sitting atop the array of sweets when he extends his bag to me.

I do realize there are a couple rules being broken with this story. The first time I was approached by Sam, I did – in fact – take candy from a stranger. The very opposite of the rule we drill into our children’s brains.

Second, the candy is being distributed and accepted at a fitness club where, it seems, most people would be working to thwart the effects of such sweet temptations.

But, these broken rules are countered by the simple happiness and feeling of camaraderie his smile, his kind greeting, and his sharing of a small piece of candy bring to my day.

Today, Sam was wearing a shirt with the caption “SAM-tastic!” splashed across the front. I wholeheartedly agree. And, to that I would add “Sweet”.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Wish I'd Thought of That!

Clever, that Jon J. Muth. I'll admit, I have yet to read the Caldecott Honor-winning Zen Shorts, which came before Zen Ties. But, I suspect it's just as brilliant.

Mr. Muth subtly introduces young children to haiku in this engaging tale. The main character, Stillwater (a rather large talking panda) has a nephew named, Koo. When he meets him at the train station, he says (you can all say it with me if you see where this is going!), "Hi, Koo!" So, so clever. And, Koo only speaks in haiku ... yep, he's got 17 syllables to say his peace. And, I have to say ... he is very artful with those 17 syllables!

Not all may agree with me, given that there is a lot of dialogue in this children's book ... but, I tend to write that way too, and love how well the dialogue works in this book.

Not only does it introduce the concept of haiku in such a clever way, but it has a beautiful message of compassion and respect ... without being overtly didactic.

And the watercolor illustrations ... well, they are simply mesmerizing. Vivid, yet sweet, with a nostalgic feel. They captivated and entertained my almost-4-year old even while I was explaining the Hi Koo / haiku wordplay to her! :-)

I highly recommend Zen Ties ... and am now looking forward to reading Zen Shorts!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Picture in Perseverance

per⋅se⋅ver⋅ance  [pur-suh-veer-uhns]
1.steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
2.Theology - continuance in a state of grace to the end, leading to eternal salvation.

Perseverance has, in many ways, become my personal motto. When people ask me how things are progressing with regard to my writing career and what it is like compared to what I used to do in the corporate world, I often respond that I have been learning the art of perseverance and patience.

Not long ago, I wrote about some significant changes that took place in the green space behind our house and backyard. In order to add power lines, the electric company first had to eliminate all the blackberries, bushes, and wild plants; then, piece by piece, they took down two incredibly large maple trees.

After the hard labor was complete, what remained was trampled ground, primarily consisting of wood chips.

But, two weeks ago, I was standing at the kitchen sink when a burst of color caught my eye. Just beyond our fence, a beautiful, bright sunflower had bloomed amidst the wreckage.

Now that's perseverance, I thought. It's not the grandest of sunflowers, but it survived nonetheless and blossomed at just the right time.

A great reminder for me that - with hard work and perseverance - good things will bloom.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Herman ... A Fish Tale

Last week, hubby and I took the kids to the stunning Bonneville Fish Hatchery in the equally-impressive Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Before actually going there, I would have never guessed I would be referring to a fish hatchery as 'stunning'. But, it is. The grounds are simply gorgeous. I walked around clicking pictures and commenting continuously on how beautiful everything looked.

The main attraction, however, is not the landscaping. It is Herman the Sturgeon. I couldn't help but think how perfect a character Herman would be for a children's picture book.

While myths abound, the true facts about Herman are limited in number, but staggering to the mind:
  1. Herman the Sturgeon is over 10 feet long.
  2. He weighs in at over 450 pounds.
  3. He is over 70 years old.

My son and daughter thought he was a riot. As he nonchalantly swam by, my son waved; while my daughter excitedly showed him her Pet Shop pups ... ya know, just in case he was in to that kind of thing.

As for me ... I'm still wondering about the picture book possibility. Looks like I've got some research in my future!

Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers - Part 2

** Story continued from previous post **

My bike pack didn’t fit correctly on the new bike, so I rigged it as best I could to the front frame and set off.

It was exhilarating. The towering pines. The still-cool, fresh air. I had been biking for only 10 minutes, not realizing that my bike pack was working its way loose from the frame.

Without warning, the pavement was approaching at warp speed. I put both hands out to meet it, attempting to break the fall and protect my head. Seconds later, I was flat on the ground, the bicycle partially perched on top of me.

I attempted to get a sense of what had happened. The bike pack was lying on the ground under the front wheel. It had fallen into the front spokes as I whizzed down the path, stopping the bike in an instant and hurtling me to the ground.

A man and his son biked by slowly. The young boy looked concerned and I heard him quietly ask his dad if I was okay. “Are you alright?” the father asked.

“Sure, yes … I’ll be fine,” I automatically responded.

I caught him glancing back at me, apparently not convinced. But, he continued on.

There was a hole in my favorite Nike workout jacket. And, the pavement had clearly won the fight in multiple places along my arms and hands.

I picked up the bike pack, then the bike – it had apparently escaped injury by landing on me. Something wasn’t right. I noticed a horrible pain searing through my wrist and up my arm as I lifted the bike. I put it back down, and attempted to lift it with the other hand. Same result.

I attempted to stay calm, but couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that I had, apparently, injured both of my arms in the fall, was bleeding, and still needed to get home.

No problem. A few turns and I would be back to the house in no time.

The homes of Sun River are laid out in a repeated Circle 8 kind of design. You can easily end up looping around the same neighborhood if you don’t know exactly where to turn. But, I knew where I was going. I wasn’t terribly worried.

Until I realized that I was looping around the same neighborhood … unfortunately not the one occupied by the house I was staying in.

By this time, I wasn’t feeling well. I was steering with the hand and arm that hurt the least. The other, which I couldn’t move at all, was holding the wretched bike pack.

I was feeling light-headed. I noticed two men, maybe 7 houses ahead of me, on their bikes. It looked like they were slowing down, heading for one of the houses at the end of the cul-de-sac.

I stashed away my pride, prayed that they weren’t crazed lunatics, and yelled, “Help … please!”

It came out as a squeak.

I yelled again and kept pedaling. Still not loud enough.

I yelled a third time. They had heard me. They got off their bikes and came toward me. “Are you hurt?” one of them asked, an obvious look of concern on his face as his eyes quickly scanned over torn clothing and bloody patches of skin.

The other simply said, “You need to get to a doctor. Are you staying around here?”

They placed my bike in the trunk of their car as I told them the address. Within a few minutes, we were there. Unfortunately, my friend and her aunt were not.

They decided to try the small, local medical office in Sun River. Our shoulders slumped as we read a sign taped to the door, explaining that the office was closed for Memorial Day weekend. They offered to take me to the hospital in Bend.

I convinced them that my friend and her aunt would be returning from their walk soon. An 8-month pregnant woman couldn’t get too terribly far!

Sure enough, as we drove up the driveway, they walked up to the house – looks of question and concern plastered across their faces as they watched me exit this unfamiliar car as the bike was removed from the trunk.

I shared a measly, but heartfelt, “Thank you so very much” with these two men who had been so kind, so concerned for the well-being of a complete stranger. Did they miss out on exciting plans while shuttling me around? Hard to say … they never uttered one word about their missed opportunities, only words of concern that I find the care I needed.

My friend and her aunt drove me to the hospital in Bend; then proceeded to spend their precious vacation time waiting with me in the emergency room. It was a long day of x-rays and exams, and my very pregnant friend endured hard plastic chairs as she waited. She uttered not a single word of complaint (though, I’m certain she was dreaming of the oh-so-soft and supportive chairs she could be sitting in back at the house!). She helped me with hospital paperwork (my wrists/hands were useless!) and – upon arriving at home – even washed and dried my hair (again with the useless hands).

In the weeks that followed, my husband got to experience washing and drying my hair while my wrists healed to the point of being usable again. I remember no words of complaint from him either (though I do remember a few complaints being uttered by yours truly about hair styling … poor guy!).

An unfortunate turn of events became a personal experience in true kindheartedness, with no strings attached … from strangers, from friends, from family. And for that, I am thankful.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers - Part I

It was early. Dewdrops balanced atop the grass blades, sparkling in the morning sun that would soon be heating up the aptly-named resort town.

“Are you going biking today?” my husband asked, as he quickly took a final inventory of his fishing gear. He and a friend, whom we were vacationing with, were embarking on a remote fly-fishing trip along the Deschutes River. They would be out-of-range and unreachable all day.

“Yes!” I could hardly wait. I was a fairly avid biker and was thrilled to be taking advantage of the 35 miles of paved biking trails weaving in and through Sun River, some of it along the Deschutes.

My dear friend was 8 months pregnant. We were staying in her aunt’s stunning vacation home. They had a relaxing walk planned for their morning.

I grabbed a bottle of water, stuffed my I.D., some cash, and a snack into my small bike pack, and attached them to my bike’s front frame. I was off!

Or, maybe not. I had a flat tire. I pumped it. It immediately went flat. It was the inner tube. Dejected, I returned to the house.

“No problem,” said my friend’s aunt, “just take my bike!”

I was both excited and hesitant to ride her gleaming, new bike. Really, though, why was I worrying? I had never been in a bike accident before.

Odd, the power of suggestion. Not that it was even a suggestion, really. More like a passing thought.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dreaming ...

This is another of my favorite pictures from our recent beach trip. Do you see what's happening here? My two little people - faces plastered against the window, mouths salivating - as they watch the good folks from Bruce's Candy Kitchen make their tasty creations and dream that - somehow, someway - they'll either be offered a tasty treat or their parents will decide to go inside and make a purchase! What a riot!

It's quite similar to how many of us feel, I'm sure ... though I can only speak for myself. Maybe it comes in the form of an announcement that a publisher is now seeking and accepting the exact type of work you create. The butterflies start rumbling about your tummy, your excitement starts to build as you dare to imagine the possibility of getting your work published. You can hardly wait to get your manuscript into their hands.

I'm quite certain that if any of the publishers I submitted manuscripts to lived within a 100-mile radius of my town and had a window where I could watch them work through their slush pile ... I'd be standing at that very window, in a fashion quite similar to my children in the above picture. Nose smooshed against the glass; mouth salivating at the possibility of my work getting chosen!

Impossible concept, I know ... those piles of 'to be read' are never going to be open to public viewing ... but, fun to dream about nonetheless!

Have a great week of writing ... and dreaming!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bella Sinclair Award

Thank you, thank you to the ever-so-talented, thoughtful, and always kind Sherry Rogers, of Sherry Rogers Illustrations for treating me to the Bella Sinclair Award! Sherry, herself, epitomizes this award!!

I am a huge fan of Sherry ... she is the talented illustrator of numerous children's picture books (many through awesome publisher Sylvan Dell), she can grow tomatoes like nobody's business, and she always has encouraging words to share!

You can read about the history of this award on Ces's blog. It was created by Ces in honor of her friend, Bella Sinclair. Here is what Ces says about the award:

"I designed this award to celebrate art in the blogs and to honor the value of friendship, sisterhood, sharing and caring. It is to be awarded to the gifted, accomplished, eloquent and talented blogger whose friendship and influence inspire us to do our best. That I named it after Bella Sinclair is because she epitomizes all of these things. She is an inspiration to many of us."

I am passing the award along to Serenity, of Serenity Now (such a fun title ... I can't help but think of Seinfeld every time I visit her blog!). Serenity was one of my very first followers ... before I knew it was even possible to have followers! She encouraged me, from the beginning, as a blogger and a writer. Through our posts, we discovered numerous similarities ... it was like finding a kindred spirit in the blogosphere! And, her blog/website is always filled with thought-provoking, insightful, and humorous posts!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Eating Sand ... or, The Ups and Downs of the Writing Life :-)

This past weekend, we visited the always-stunning Oregon Coast. The roar of the ocean and the warmth of the velvety sand has the immediate effect of relaxing all the tensed-up muscles in my neck and shoulders. I love it.

And, so does the rest of the family. The kids are as content as can be digging in the sand, constructing sand buildings and bridges, and running alongside the frigid water. Jeff perfected a new sand-building technique I'd just read about in a magazine ... combining water and sand, and letting it drip from your hand into little sculptures. Witness here ... a mountain of sand trees!

What amused me most, however, was our attempt at flying the Blue Angel's jet kite. The wind was just this side of a little too calm and it refused to stay aloft. At one point, as Jeff held the string and Braden tossed the kite up in the air for one last attempt at flight, I grabbed my camera ... and shot this sequence:

Oh, yes ... we've got it ... we're heading up .....

no ... wait ... we're going down ...

oh dear ... yep, we're eating sand.

For some reason, as I watched this all happen over the course of mere seconds, my last rejection popped into my head. Usually, I'm waiting for a response from a children's book publisher. This time, however, I was thrilled to be waiting for a response from a magazine editor. It was the first magazine article I had submitted. I was branching out, expanding my horizon ... and I was quite excited by the prospect.

When the editor e-mailed back, I had the standard, "Do I really want to open this?" feeling in the pit of my stomach. But, of course, I did.

The first line was good ... "this is terrific", it read. I was soaring up, up in the air.

But, then I read the word, "unfortunately" ... oh dear ... I think we're going down.

"We can't find the right place for it in our line-up." And, there I was ... eating sand again!

I actually chuckled as I stood there, in the warm sand, silently connecting my rejection to the failure of the kite to fly on this particular day. Because ... on a different day - when the wind is just right - that kite will soar up in the air (and, yes, it will eat sand again too!!). It was a great reminder to me that someday - when the timing is just right - something I've written will find its place and get its chance to soar. In the mean time, I'll just have to learn to appreciate the sand!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I Love Awards! :-)

A gazillion thanks to Sheri, at the fabulous Diary of a Children's Book Writer blog, for awarding me the lovely

Superior Scribbler Award!

I am so honored and excited. Sheri is fabulous ... if you haven't already gotten to know her, you must stop by her blog. She is smart, funny, honest, helpful, and just as kind as can be. And, I adore the other blogs she chose as well, including PJ Hoover at Roots in Myth, and Rebecca at Rebecca's Writing Journey.

OK, now for following the award rules! :-)
  1. Each Superior Scribbler must, in turn, pass the Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy buds.
  2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this post, which explains The Award.
  4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List (!?) at the Scholastic-Scribe's blog. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives this prestigious honor!
  5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Seriously, I adore every single blog I follow, otherwise I wouldn't be following them. But, being the good rule-follower that I am, here are my five Superior Scribbler award recipients ....

  1. Rebecca Ramsey at Wonders Never Cease
  2. Beth Kephart at Beth Kephart Books
  3. Sherrie at Write About Now

Oh ... and there's also ... wait, is that my five already?! There are also a few blogs I adore that are on 'vacation' for the summer ... maybe I'll get the opportunity to pass an award along to them sometime in the future!

Congrats! And, happy writing (and illustrating! :-)).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I'm thinking of moving my office to the kitchen ... specifically the area currently occupied by the sink.

This is my view when standing at the kitchen sink. Not only is it beautiful and serene, it also has something new to see each time I peer out the window ... a butterfly, a hummingbird, a new bloom ... or one of those 8-legged creatures that I actually prefer not to see.

Settings like this tend to fill me with inspiration and creativity when I'm working.

Not that staring out a window is going to get me very far, but - as you may have experienced - writing tends to involve a lot of, shall we say, thinking time ... your fingers may not be tapping across the keyboard, but your mind is working, creating, plotting, solving, striving.

What fills you with inspiration? Do you have a favorite location where your writing flows more naturally and ideas come more easily?

Wishing you an inspiration-filled day of writing!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fear ... Gratitude ... and a Buck to go with that Deer?

Last week was unexpected ... it felt, in many ways, as if we were in the midst of a nightmare; and, simultaneously, had a gazillion little moments that filled me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I mentioned my son turning seven one moment, and the next being incredibly sick for the first time in his life. After my post last Tuesday, his condition worsened. Over the remainder of the week, our little man endured blood tests, additional exams, a CT scan (requiring an IV, poor thing!), and – finally – a visit with a specialist. One by one, different possibilities were eliminated, and we ended up - despite an initial negative mono test reading – with a diagnosis of just that.

Thankfully, he’s turned the corner. Little ones rarely get mono but – when they do – they bounce back much quicker than the 14 – 25 year olds it usually invades! We can see it already … his sense of humor, his desire to play more, the color coming back to his face, the absence of a fever.

We are so thankful for this outcome … and for all your good wishes and prayers. And … the moments that filled me with gratitude … they were the concern from so many, including family and friends who were calling and texting daily to check in on his condition. And, the magnificent doctors and hospital who – despite us not having any pre-scheduled appointments – flawlessly worked us into their existing schedules on a same-day basis in order to quickly determine what was attacking his little body so they could fix it! And, my son, who despite being in pain and feeling so horrible, uttered not one single complaint. So brave.

On a lighter note …

TOOTH FAIRY PAYS DOUBLE! A lost front tooth brought a smile to our son’s face in the midst of a week where smiles weren’t coming as naturally and frequently as they usually do! And, we discovered that the tooth fairy pays a bit extra for pain and suffering when the tooth’s owner is under the weather!

WOULD THAT DEER LIKE A BUCK? We’ve been dining outdoors … and, on a regular basis, have been joined by our deer friend, who dines on the blackberry leaves at the same time. One evening, as the deer started walking away, our 3-year old hollered, “If you stay, I’ll give you a buck!” She then pretended to pick up a dollar bill and toss it to the deer, while we erupted in laughter at the irony of her choosing to bribe the deer with – of all things - a BUCK!

PLEASE LET THAT BE A HIGHLY TALENTED HELI PILOT! We’ve had much activity over the past few weeks in the green space behind our home. First, the towering maples came down. Then, the ‘placeholder’ lines were strung – by helicopter – to the electrical towers, in preparation for the real electrical lines to be pulled through. Helicopters are tricky to maneuver … so, I must admit to my heart pounding just a bit faster than usual as this one flew sideways, backwards, and very slowly over our house, as it strung the necessary lines! Oy!

Have a wonderful and healthful week!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Fiery Red Visitor

This past weekend was my son's 7th birthday bash - a Lego extravaganza! He was ear-to-ear smiles! We lucked out with a gorgeous day on Saturday ... comfortably warm with a slight breeze and flawless blue skies.

As we were decorating the tables outside, this little guy flew in for a visit. I've never seen one like it, and I'm not sure exactly what it is. To me ... it looks like a dragonfly. But, I'm not sure those come in a fiery-red variety.

I skimmed through a few lists of bugs ... but, I can only take so much of that before feeling like they're crawling up my legs and through my hair! I did find a similar-looking one called a Red Skimmer, but I'm sticking with the Red Dragonfly!

If you know what it is, let me know!

As for the rest of this week ... our big 7-year old, who has hardly been sick a day in his life, is very much a sick young man. He's got lymph node swelling in his neck giving him the look of a football player and making him unable to move his neck and head. That, combined, with a constant fever, has me a bit distracted. The doctor has ruled out several things, and we'll be re-visiting in a few days to see if the lymph nodes are shrinking back to their normal size, or if further investigation is warranted!

So ... please think good thoughts that our young man - who has been such a trooper while clearly not feeling well - will be back to his normal scooter-riding, bike-jumping, Lego-obsessed, silly, sweet, energetic self soon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Beware the Fleas of Italy

Some might find it surprising that I have such an obsession with Italy - Tuscany, in particular - considering what happened to me while vacationing in the beautiful country a few years back.

Hubby and I learned, after our trip, that the weather we thought to be normal for the late May/early June timeframe was very much non-typical. In fact, they had been experiencing a somewhat unusual heat wave. And heat waves can, apparently, bring on infestations of certain pests, namely fleas.

I should note here that I have an allergic reaction to flea bites. There’s a back story to that … I’ll share it at another time.

Our first stop was in Rome. There, I accumulated five or six flea bites. Thinking it to be a fluke, I grinned and beared the bites as they grew into large blisters. I was slightly miserable, but thoroughly enjoying the historic and culinary experience that is Rome.

Florence was the second stop of this dream vacation. In an effort to be frugal, I had found a wonderful Florence apartment on-line, boasting a gorgeous view of the Duomo. The owner was going to be traveling while we were in town, and had made his flat available for a reasonable price to gullible travelers such as myself.

The flat, with its musty stench and jungle-like plant arrangements did – in fact – have a view of the Duomo. Yes it did. If you went into the bathroom, which measured approximately 3 feet by 5 feet, and stood on your tip-toes to look out the 1 foot by 1 foot window, you could see the peak of the Duomo perfectly. (See that little bug, strategically located on the picture above? That's the bathroom window of our flat, as seen from the top of the Duomo! :-))

The bathroom – view or not – brought me to tears. Upon arriving in sizzling Florence, with my ever-so-itchy blisters, all I wanted to do was wash away the itchiness with a shower. After standing on my tip-toes to view the Duomo, I turned my attention to the task at hand. Unfortunately, a shower did not appear to exist in the 3 by 5 foot bathroom space.

Sink? Check. Toilet? Check (sort of).

Oh, wait … there is a water tank mounted over the toilet; a floor drain in the middle of the room; and a hand shower of sorts propped near the tank. Super … the bathroom is the shower.

I had exactly four minutes to wash, relax, and get my mind off my growing, itching blisters before the tank of lukewarm water emptied. Certainly, though, things would start looking up soon.

The next morning, I awoke to oodles of new blisters. It was then that we pulled back the covers to find fleas dancing on the sheets.

Day’s agenda: Visit the Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria; buy hydrocortisone and bulk supply of Band-Aids; and eat lots of gelato to numb the pain and itching.

That night, in the midst of an Italian heat wave, I went to bed wearing socks, sweats, and a sweatshirt. Certainly they wouldn’t be able to attack me through so much clothing.

They did. Our dream vacation was quickly becoming a flea-infested nightmare. Second only to my hubby, Lenirit Idrocortisone Acetato became my close and constant companion.

My main goal as I dressed each morning had become attempting to disguise the increasing number of Band-Aids and hideous blisters under the diminutive selection of warm-weather clothing I had brought along for the trip. “Certainly, I can make these capris stretch down to my ankles!”

In a heroic effort to keep his bride from going insane from the incessant itching, hubby suggested we ditch our next intended stop – Venice – and head north to the cool, fresh air of Zurich, Switzerland. Forget trying to be a good sport … I jumped on that bandwagon and, with a sigh of relief, concurred with the suggested change in travel plans!

By the time we left Florence in a mad dash to escape the heat-seeking fleas, I had 32 blisters lining my body from neck to foot … most of them concentrated on my legs, some measuring the size of a dime.

At this point, frugality was a distant and silly thought. I found and booked a room at the Zurich Best Western, where - upon arrival - I wept with joy at the beautiful tub and shower, and the gorgeous, fluffy down beds.

We emptied the entire contents of our luggage into the bathtub, ensuring no fleas had hitched a ride north with us. Dream vacation saved, though bite scars still remain as a bittersweet reminder of our time under the hot Italian sun.

We do plan to eventually make it back to Venice …this time, however, we’ll be a bit more mindful of timing, in the hopes that we don’t arrive during an Italian flea-infested heat wave!

Friday, June 26, 2009

One-Year Blog Anniversary!

Wow, this date snuck up on me! Hard to believe, but it is the one-year anniversary of my blog!!

In honor of this momentous (ha!) occasion, I'm sharing my very first blog post. I can guarantee none of you have read it, because - when I started this blog - I was scared to death of being 'out there' in the blog world and didn't tell a soul that I had started a blog!

OK ... I told one friend and one of my sisters, but that's it. And my husband, but that's a given.

It was a very covert marketing plan.

It wasn't until around October that I actually started truly trekking into the blog world ... perusing and discovering YOUR wonderful blogs!

So, here it is, originally posted on June 26, 2008:

Eau de Chicken Manure

It’s official. We have gone all-organic with our outdoor lawn fertilizer. After reading an article that all but pegged the rise in childhood leukemia cases to the use of common lawn fertilizers (due to certain ingredients that link back to ‘Agent Orange’ and other crazy stuff!), we switched cold-turkey.

Or should I say ‘cold-chicken’.

Maybe I should explain.

After reading the article and making the decision to switch, it just so happened that a well-known lawn care company appeared at our door offering a special introductory offer for lawn services, including fertilizing. They offered an organic alternative, so we decided to take them up on the lawn fertilization portion.

They came in the early-morning hours, leaving a little yard sign in the lawn as proof of their service.

It was a beautiful blue-sky day, and a comfortable breeze was pumping wonderfully fresh air through the windows and into the house. As I made my way down the stairs to grab a quick bite to eat, I noticed a stench that I couldn’t immediately identify. There was no one else in the house except me. I’d showered and – as far as I could tell – did not have a stench.

Wait a minute.

That is not exactly “fresh” air coming through those windows. That is the distinct smell of … chicken manure?

I quickly learned that chicken manure was the organic treatment used by the company and applied to our lawn that morning.

Mere minutes after my chicken manure ‘aha’ moment, I was back upstairs working diligently at my computer. And, with the window open, could hear a young voice, fairly close to our house, say, “Ooooh, it smells like dog poo!”

I hoped with all my might he wasn’t referring to our house, and quickly decided it was a good time to get the mail, allowing me the covert opportunity to investigate the smell from outside.

It did smell … but, truly, it wasn’t that bad.

I guess now it is just a matter of waiting to see if we ruffle the feathers (sorry!) of any neighbors with our au naturale fertilizer!

[Author note: A year later, we are still getting the same service and have noticed that it doesn’t even smell anymore after they apply the fertilizer. Though … we’re not certain our neighbors would say the same!]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Transported to France via "French by Heart"

If I had to choose one word to sum up fellow blogger friend Rebecca Ramsey's memoir, "French by Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France", it would be ... delightful.

No, wait ... engaging.

And, hilarious.

But, really, truly just delightful.

And touching.

Oh ... and heartwarming.

But ... really, I'm sticking with delightful.

And, very charming.

And real.

And oh so delightful!

Maybe it's because I dream of someday living in Tuscany. I know, I know ... that's not in France, but it's a similar uprooting kind of experience so just go with me!

I lived in Europe once before, as a college student in Austria. But that was different. I took two suitcases; she took an entire house worth of furniture, cars, a cat, and three children!

I attended a college where all the classes were taught in English, save for the intensive German class; she had to send her three children off to a French-speaking grade school.

I lived in a flat with other American students and not once did I lay eyes on our fellow building neighbors; she lived in a house in the middle of a French neighborhood with very curious neighbors!

Reading Rebecca's account of their four years in France was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining experience. It was the last thing I read at night before drifting off to sleep. It was like being transported to life in France each night, after a crazy day.

It became my nightly respite. When it ended, I was not pleased. My nightly trip to la belle France was gone. Where was I to go now?!

How about Tuscany via "Under the Tuscan Sun" ... after all, that IS my goal destination!

Thank you, Rebecca, for kick-starting my summer reading travels with your refreshing and witty account of family life in France!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Kind Hello

(Chinese Symbol for Kindness)

I was waiting for my mocha when he walked in. An elderly gentleman, perhaps in his seventies. Seemingly fit and slim, impeccably-dressed, though casual, he wore a sweet smile as he looked up at the board offering the names and prices of the various concoctions. The barista greeted him and offered his assistance. The man smiled. And, for some reason, something about him tugged at my heart.

He seemed a bit lost in this hustle, bustle place … wanting to be a part of it, but not sure what to do.

Was he meeting someone? Was he widowed? Recently? Was he lonely? Did he come to this coffee shop hoping for a friendly smile, a kind word, or was I just reading too much into it?

As I grabbed my cup, thanked the barista, and headed out, I noticed he was now near the door. No drink in hand. His head was down as he worked to get the zipper on his jacket working. I wanted to know that he was taken care of, but it wasn’t really my place.

As I walked by, he looked up at me. His eyes were a beautiful, twinkling blue, but there was a hint of sadness … or maybe loneliness. I smiled and shared a cheerful “Hello!”

I wanted to say more. I wanted to see if he needed anything. But, that would be too forward, too presumptuous … or would it be exactly what he had needed on that very morning?

I left the shop, hoping my smile and simple ‘hello’ was enough.

Have you ever felt that tug at your heart or that lump in your throat just from watching someone that you didn’t even know, sensing there was a need beyond what you could see?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Brilliant Jan Brett

If I'm counting correctly on my fingers and toes, it appears Jan Brett has written, retold, and/or illustrated over 35 books! Which brings one word to mind: "WOW!"

We own two of those 35+ ... "The Mitten", which is a Ukrainian Folktale she adapted and illustrated; and "The Three Snow Bears", a polar twist on the famed 'Goldilocks...' tale.

The stories are adorable. But, I could spend hours just looking at the lavish illustrations. They are phenomenal ... and make me wish I could illustrate!

They are also clever. Both stories feature illustrated foreshadowing, which I think is simply brilliant and is such an enticing element to a child (... and children at heart!).
For example ... in "The Mitten", on the left margin of each page, you see the main character - Nicki - going about his playful day, clueless that he has lost his white mitten in the snow and oblivious to the fact that he is being watched by the animals that will eventually crawl into that lost mitten. On the right margin of each page, you see the animal that will attempt to crawl into the mitten on the next page.

"The Three Snow Bears" applies that same concept with main character, Aloo-ki, as she simultaneously loses her dog sled team and discovers a lovely igloo, complete with a warm bowl of breakfast, comfy boots with a soft fur lining that fit her feet perfectly, and a cozy bed and pillow on which to rest. It just so happens the igloo belongs to a bear family, who saves Aloo-ki's huskies ... but is none-too-happy to find that she has eaten baby bear's breakfast, borrowed his boots, and is now resting peacefully in his bed!

If you are looking for classics to add to your bookshelf, these are a sure bet. Enjoyable to read over and over, and appealing for children and adults alike.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

“Little Piece of Heaven” Trumps Public Transportation

It was never my forte to begin with … taking public transportation. I would like to say that I did it because it was good for the environment and cost-effective. This would be a lie. I did it because I lived and worked in Seattle, and had few other options that didn’t cost me the equivalent of a month’s wages.

Our Seattle office of, oh, 275 or so employees had approximately 17 spaces crammed into the teeniest of spaces between multiple cement beams in the dungeons under the building. Parking was given to those with more seniority than I had at the time. My name was permanently on the parking-spot waiting list, in the hopes that one of the lucky parking spot owners would have a business trip or take a vacation day and I could use their space.

My other option was public parking in the downtown Seattle garages. The cost was somewhat staggering, but I always felt it was worth it when I did it. I used it way too often. Please don’t judge. Let me explain. Truly, it wasn’t just because I got to sleep a bit longer. And, it also wasn’t because I considered my dear automobile (which was quite fuel-efficient and considered low-emission, by the way) to be my ‘little piece of heaven’, which I did.

Let me give you just one example of my typical bus ride from West Seattle into downtown, and maybe you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

My bus route originated in the – ahem – rougher part of a little town that bordered West Seattle. My lovely little apartment complex sat on the side of a hill on the east side of West Seattle in a sort-of-okay neighborhood. In the fall and winter, I would walk up the hill from my apartment to my bus stop, darkness surrounding me in the early morning hours, hoping no one was going to jump out of the bushes. My plan of attack, if that did occur, was to use my high heels as weapons.

My stop was one of the very last before crossing the bridge and heading into downtown, thus the bus was often quite full. One piece of advice I’d been given by a seasoned bus-riding co-worker was to never, ever sit in an empty seat if you had the option of sitting next to someone who looked like they might make a decent bus-traveling companion. Better you choose who you’re sitting next to, rather than someone choose for you! Wouldn’t have thought of that myself.

One morning, I climbed onto the bus to find it completely packed, save one seat next to a lady. Perfect. I smiled at her as I quickly sat down, noticing that she looked like she had had a rough night.

I could feel her stealing quick glances at me, most likely calculating my friendliness-level and debating whether she should ask me what she wanted to ask.

“Um … excuse me,” she started, “how does my make-up look?”

I turned my head to look at her. Oh dear. What to say … what to say.

“Well,” I said, making the motion of a finger-sweep under my own eye, “you’ve got something here … and here.” Technically, her eye-liner and mascara were smudged beyond repair under and to the sides of her eyes. I gently attempted to guide her as she rubbed it off her face.

“I’ve been up all night,” she offered, “I had to work late, and close, and then this guy wouldn’t leave …”

“Oh, I know,” I nodded understandably, “that’s so hard. Well, don’t worry, you look fine. I think you got everything rubbed off.”

I thought we were done.

“My hair is a mess,” she continued.

“I wouldn’t worry about it … it looks fine,” I continued to encourage, noticing that it was a bit matted in areas.

“Do you know how to French braid?” she asked.

Are you kidding me?

It was at this point that I had a serious debate in my head. I didn’t want to lie, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to braid her hair even more. Would she know I was lying? I mean … here she was, sitting next to a girl with long hair. What girl with long hair doesn’t know how to French braid? Well, technically, I never did learn to French braid very well … so, in principle, it wouldn’t be lying to just say I didn’t know how.

“No, sorry … I never did learn how to do that,” I responded. “I always wanted to though.”

I’m not exactly sure why I felt the need to add that last comment. Thankfully, it didn’t open up an offer from her to practice my French-braiding skills on her hair during our bus ride that morning, and the remainder of the commute was travelled peacefully.

So, there … just one of my many Seattle bus stories. And one of the reasons my ‘little piece of heaven’ trumped public transportation.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Calming Water

I must admit, when I first packed up my apartment and headed south from Seattle, WA to Portland, OR ten years ago, I was reluctant and a bit teary-eyed. My bonus was going to be living with my hubby ... we'd been commuting between Seattle, where I worked, and Portland, where he worked, for four or five months. The I-5 corridor is lovely, but quickly gets old when you're driving it so very often! My company had an office in Portland ... thus, the reason for me making the move rather than hubby.

Anyone who has experienced the loveliness of Oregon might wonder why I was hesitant to make such a move. Both states are green and beautiful and filled with mountains and valleys and all sorts of natural wonders. And, Oregon is less ... drizzly!

It was the water. And, no ... not the variety of water descending from the sky.

Seattle sits between two major bodies of water ... the stunning Puget Sound to the west, and beautiful Lake Washington to the east. And, in and amongst those major bodies of water are more bays, rivers, lakes, and creeks than you can imagine. I had become accustomed to seeing crisp, blue water everywhere I went ... I biked along Lake Washington, and ran and walked along the Puget Sound. It was not only beautiful ... I found it completely calming.

And, here I was ... headed to a city with a river ... a single, not-always-so-blue river. Secretly, I wasn't pleased. Yes, there were lakes and creeks and all that stuff too ... but it just didn't seem as expansive ... as accessible.

But ... I quickly realized that I had increased my accessibility to the mother of all bodies of water ... the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. This made me quite happy. In under two hours, we could be at the beautiful Oregon Coast, playing on the soft-sand beaches. The roar of the ocean and the warmth of the sand - even when the air is chilly - tops my ultimate relaxation list!

We headed there this past Memorial Day weekend. It was perfect! Technically, the picture at the top of this post isn't from our most recent trip ... it's from last August, when it was a bit warmer and the water a bit sparklier from the sun's rays.

This breezy beach weekend, however, proved to be perfect for kite-flying! So, the stunt kite finally got a good workout!

And, as an added bonus ... we arrived home to find this beautiful first bloom on the clematis ... a perfect ending to a relaxing weekend!