Distance

Sometimes we can see more clearly from a distance.

When my daughter was in her early twenties, she handed me a photo of twelve dashing young men. She contemplated dating one of them and asked me to pick “the one”.

“Him?” I pointed.

“No.”

“Him?”

“No.”

“Him?”

“Sigh. No.”

Finally there was only one guy left.

“Never mind.” She snatched the photo and marched to her room.

In hindsight, the young man she picked turned out to be a great catch, but not for my daughter. They just weren’t right for each other. Even in a photograph, my mother’s intuition told me he wasn’t “the one”. Luckily, they never dated. And she found her true love.

This is how it is with my writers’ groups. I can become enamored with weak characters, silly gags, lame story lines, and superfluous sentences, but my writing friends aren’t so blinded by infatuation. From a distance, they can see what’s not right for me and my story.

I wouldn’t trade my critique partners for anything. They will save me from settling for the wrong manuscript.

Now if they could just help me choose broccoli over chocolate.

One More Moment, Please

“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.
~A.A. Milne, WINNIE-THE-POOH

FIXMEUP600Piglet and Pooh’s thoughtful exchange opens the “Fix Me Up” music video featuring Zach Sobiech, Sammy Brown, and Reed Redmond of A Firm Handshake.

The “Fix Me Up” soundtrack sprouted from the trio’s resolve to bring beauty and goodness out of 18-year-old Zach’s terminal diagnosis and impending death from osteosarcoma. In “Fix Me Up” Sammy pleads, “One more moment, please.” The Piglet/Pooh dialog fittingly echoes Sammy and Zach’s heartache, love, dread, and hope. By communicating their conflicting emotions with such urgent truth and transparency, the life-long friends remind us that sooner is better. Their message has hit a universal cord, as proven by Zach’s #1 hit single “Clouds”.

Bestselling children’s book author Kate DiCamillo uses music to create a specific mood in her books. In 2006, a New York Public Library Author Chat participant asked,”Which music would be the best soundtracks to accompany your books?”

DiCamillo answered,  “I wrote Despereaux to Bach, Winn-Dixie to Van Morrison, Edward to Rachmaninoff. Does that help?”

I’ve toiled to find the perfect songs for my work.  For children’s books, I’ve found that Veggietales Radio produces better results than Etta James. For my family memoir, baroque keeps me serious, but too stuffy. Buddy Holly helps me remember, but I find myself dancing instead of writing and regressing to an age nobody else remembers.  Colbie Callait helps me forget, but that’s not good when you’re writing a memoir.

I could waste a lot of time selecting songs and never do the work. My distracted mind needs music of focused urgency. Tuesday, my craft received a defribulating jolt when I won the “Fix Me Up” Deluxe Edition CD and music video DVD in a door prize drawing.

I’d already received a what-are-you-waiting-for kick in the pants while laughing, crying, and crying some more through Zach’s mother Laura Sobiech’s memoir, Fly a Little Higher.

Laura wrote Fly a Little Higher  in only twelve weeks, just months after her son’s death–with no lack of professionalism or clarity. I hadn’t been so inspired by a family story since Atticus raised Scout and Jem in To Kill A Mockingbird. And I’d never experienced such a graceful, life-giving death in someone so young–or old–ever. The Sobiech experience spoke to me. It said, “What are you waiting for?”

I bought extras for gifts. Shhhh.

I bought extras for gifts. Shhhh.

 

Zach (and Laura) raised the bar to billowy heights, but Zach’s short life reminds us to share our talents, not hide or waste them. And now we have his music to encourage and inspire us to reach higher in whatever we’re doing.

Now my favorite ear candy while writing for children: “Sandcastles” and “Star Hopping”. For living, breathing, memoir writing, and everything else: the “Fix Me Up” soundtrack set to repeat.

A Firm Handshake‘s melodies soar; their words stir, yet fill you with hope. By baring and sharing the fruit of their young, wise souls, the trio challenges others to be real, to step into the unknown despite our fears, and to live while dying.

“Because, let’s face it–we’re all dying.” ~ Laura Sobiech.

To experience more of this story, go to Zach Sobiech’s Page on the Children’s Cancer Research Fund website, especially SoulPancake’s  documentaries preceding and one year after Zach’s death.

Other links for you

I’ll leave you with KS95’s Largest Choir’s singing “Clouds” .

Zach Sobiech-RIP
May 3, 1995 – May 20, 2013

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.”
~A.A. Milne, WINNIE-THE-POOH

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

2014MayEliseIIOur vowel is moving. Elise Parsley, the “E” in KEM and our dear friend and critique partner, will ride off into the sunset with her husband, Jarrod, to experience new adventures in the far-off land of eastern Minnesota.

She’s become like family to us, so it’s painful to let her go.

Elise started preparing me and Kristi and her other critique comrades months in advance. “This isn’t good-bye,” she assured. “We’ll see each other again soon.”

I wasn’t so sure.

Her consoling words came to  mind last night while I babysat my grandchildren. After story time, prayers, and last-minute water refills, I slipped downstairs to quietly pick up the house. As I washed the kitchen counters, huge five-year-old eyes peered around the stairwell.

I’m accustomed to at least one bed-time rebel. This one excelled in the charm department. She hugged my neck and sniffled as I carried her to her bed. “I can’t sleep. I’m afraid I won’t see you again.”

Little one still hadn’t succumbed to sleep when her parents arrived home. Instead, big tears welled up in her eyes. “I want Grandma to stay.”

“Oh, silly,” I said, as I kissed her soft, salty cheeks. “Wherever I go, I’ll be right here, in your heart. And, besides–this isn’t good-bye. We’ll see each other again soon.”

Then we planned picnics and play dates and parties. Just like Elise had promised me–picnics and play dates and parties–and so much more.

Today, I came across some photographs from a recent family excursion. This artwork adorned the walls of the Fort Meyers airport. The creative masterpieces put this moving business all in perspective.

OhThePlacesYouWillGoIIOhThePlacesYouWillGoWe’ll remain in each others’ hearts. And our work will keep us close. We are aunties to each other’s book characters. And Elise has promised to keep in touch–no matter how famous she becomes And there’s social networking and the old-fashioned cell phone and conferences and work shops and book signings and tours . . .OhThePlacesYouWillGoIII

Thanks to Dr. Seuss, I, too, can go to sleep now.

Oh, the places we’ll go.
Oh, the stories we’ll tell.

We love you, Elise!

Photos of our farewell SCBWI-MN meet-up

An interview with Elise about her three-book deal

Autism and Disney

“I am not the hero. I am the sidekick. I help others fulfill their destiny.'” ~ Owen Suskind

To those in the business of creating stories for children, your work has the power to impact lives in ways you’ve probably never imagined. In Life, Animated, a memoir, Pulitzer Prize-winning Ron Suskind shared how Disney movies provided the key that unlocked his autistic son from a prison of silence. Suskind’s book led CBS Sunday Morning to feature a report on this remarkable family by 60 Minutes journalist Leslie Stahl.

Watch “Breaking through autism with Disney movies“, produced by Sari Aviv and edited by David Ehagat. It’ll make your day.

Thank you, Ron and Cornelia Suskind, for raising the bar on parenting; to Owen Suskind, a hero in my book, for celebrating quality children’s stories with others; and to CBS Sunday Morning, for drawing attention to this positive and enlightening story!

Studies show that autism afflicts 1 out of 68 children in the U.S. – up 30 percent from 2013. Learn more about animation’s effect on this disorder through the official Life, Animated website.

Sugar-coated Love

TeddyBearCarWith children, the quality of an “I love you” often depends upon how much sugar we say it with. My mom passed this world eight years ago, yet the smell of molasses cookies still pulls me beside her at the kitchen counter; me standing on a chair, sneaking fingers full of batter. Nothing makes me miss her more.

Last evening we promised to bring dessert  for Sunday dinner with our daughter, son-in-law, and four grand-children. I saw these cute candy racecars on Facebook, and cooking only required a tiny double boiler of chocolate.

TeddyBearCars

At their house my grandkids tried to break us with hugs and kisses and cute sentences:

“Why awe you washing my wacetwack, Gwamma?”

“You’ll see.”

“Gwamma, can I see the dessewt? I can keep a secwet.”

“You’ll see.”

“Papa, I bet the dessewt you and Gwamma made is weawwy, weawwy good.”

The key to feeding fun desserts to kids without freaking their parents is to keep the sweet stuff secret until after the kids eat their healthy food. Sugar will not make the zucchini go down. Especially if it’s staring you in the face.

The key to making kids think you’re cooler than you really are: presentation. At the very least, you’ll think you’re cooler than you really are.

The one with the green tires approaching the bridge is speeding.

The one with the green tires approaching the bridge is speeding. We ate him first.

This was the bottom of the batch. We had lots more colors and cooler presentation, but I forgot to take pictures.

This was the bottom of the batch. We had lots more colors and cooler presentation, but I forgot to take pictures.

“That’s why you washed my wacetwack!”

Social media helps us think more creatively than our parents because of that collaborative dynamic. We can capitalize on others’ innovations and brilliance.

For a fun summer activity, my granddaughters and I made Rice Krispie Paintbrushes. I wish this photograph did them justice. We used more colors of the rainbow. But, you get the idea.

ReindeerandMolassesCookies

Even reindeer like Grandma’s Molasses Cookies.

For Christmas, we made Reindeer Cookies. Paintbrushes and Santa’s helpers came to our families compliments of Pinterest pins which led me to the original blog posts that provided instructions.

I’ve already purchased the Peeps for my Easter project. (I don’t have to worry about my secret being out of the bag, because my grandkids don’t read my blog.)

PeepEasterCake

This photograph came from http://cakecentral.com/.

Funny, though–even after the extra attention to flamboyance and detail, the first dessert to disappear at any family function are Grandma’s Molasses Cookies. There’s something about that traditional smell of love.Grandmas Molasses Cookies

Go Bananas

Our church will host a Green Fair this Saturday to share ideas on how to live lives respectful to our environment. My parents, who married during the Depression Era, were green long before it became fashionable. They taught me that wasting was akin to stealing nourishment from a dying orphan. So, a recent epiphany on how to save aging bananas eased my orphan-killing guilt and made me feel like a better person.

FrozenBananasOldWayWe bought bananas every week, but often discarded those that over ripened. I tried resuscitating them like my mom taught me, putting over ripe ones in the freezer until I baked banana bread. But our crowded freezer protests by throwing hard food on our insteps. And  there’s only so much banana bread you can make before you 1.) can’t stand the sight or smell of banana bread, 2.) your weigh scale starts smoking, and 3.) your friends can’t stand the sight or smell of banana bread.

A food dehydrator might have been an option, but we don’t have the cupboard space for more kitchen appliances. Plus, I can eat just one banana chip.

FrozenBananasNew&ImprovedWayOne day it occurred to me that grapes taste good frozen, why not bananas? So, when our bananas reached the mm-mm good-to-banana-bread-ingredient teetering point, I peeled them, put them in a freezer safe bag, and froze them. It was life changing! They are perfect on cereal and ice cream; in smoothies and chocolate; and in baking–for those days we will surely crave banana bread again. * And banana bread tastes better with fresher bananas.

FrozenBananasinCerealAlso, studies prove that a good breakfast can enhance one’s productivity and overall health. Better bananas = a better breakfast. Hence, a better breakfast = better writing (or stock trading, or rocket building–whatever you’re doing). Freezing bananas reaps these great benefits:

  • less shopping time
  • smaller eco footprint
  • sweeter smelling garbage
  • more grocery savings
  • healthier eating

If you’re saying, “Duh! I’ve frozen bananas forever,” I wish you would have told my mom. You could have saved us both a lot of starving-children-in-Bangladesh shame.

Flour’s Famous Banana Bread reigns as our favorite banana bread recipe. One batch makes six small loaves or two big. The smaller ones allow for freezing more of the batch for company. You can get the small aluminum pans right in the baking section of your grocery store. Reuse the pans to stay ecosystem friendly.

The recipe is idiot-proof. I know from experience. I tend to mix the ingredients out-of-order and the bread still comes out great. They must taste even more amazing when you read the instructions first. 

Bananas! Bananas! Go green bananas!

Petburbia

Melissa Aromel BlackIf you love pets and art, you’ll love writer and illustrator Melissa “Artomel” Black. She has created an innovative and fun illustration challenge called the Petburbia project.

Here’s how Melissa describes Petburbia:

“I’m embarking on a year-long journey to meet, paint, and post pictures of amazing pets. The 2014 Petburbia project centers around Twin Cities suburbs. Who knows what kinds of pet and people personalities I’ll meet this year, or where 2015 will take me next.”

Rascals
Melissa’s latest Petburbia model, a wascally wabbit named Rascals.

Melissa pampers her featured pets and their owners. She travels to the homes of selected pets, interacts with each furry friend, takes loads of pictures, and even offers owners the first option to buy her painting of their pet for a nominal fee. And there’s absolutely no obligation or strings attached.

She just gave me this update:

I recently attended the Twin Cities Pet Expo and met a wonderful variety of pets. Half of my weeks are filled, leaving just 26 slots open.

My driving concept for this project is to find and paint animals with amazing personalities and unique stories.

Dogs are easier to meet, because they go out and about, but I’d love to meet and paint a few more cats. I also am looking for a horse, a ferret, a chinchilla or any other unusual pets with great stories.

As an artist, I’m really enjoying the challenge of turning water and paint into the silky ears of a spaniel or the fluffy coat of a puppy. Soon I’ll be tackling feathers and tortoise scales, so keep watching the blog!

If you are a Twin Cities MN area resident whose pet has star potential, send your information via the contact form on the lower right of Melissa’s Petburbia page. Hurry before her calendar is full!

Alice Herz Sommer-The Lady in Number Six

“I think I am in my last days but it doesn’t really matter because I have had such a beautiful life. And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.”
~Alice Herz Sommer

Today ash crosses adorn foreheads. They serve as a reminder that Easter is coming. Lent literally means “spring”, a season of preparation. The reflective 40 days ahead offer a prime opportunity for growth.

As we enter this growing season, Alice Herz Sommer’s preparation and waiting is over. She’s reached her “harvest” day. The 110-year-old pianist will go down in history as the last living Nazi Holocaust survivor. Yet, she was one of the world’s most joyful, hopeful, and “Lenten” souls.

Alice Herz Sommer says that music saved her life. Maybe her saving grace wasn’t the music, but her capacity to hear it.

THELADYINNUMBERSIXThis Lenten season, my preparation will be less about what I give up and more about who I want to become. In Alice Herz Sommer I’ve found a modern-day mentor.

Read more about The Lady in Number Six here.