Prediction: You Can Invent Your Future

alan kay quote invent life

 

Meet Phyllis.

Phyllis, the star of Susanna Leonard Hill‘s books PUNXSUTAWNEY PHYLLIS & APRIL FOOL, PHYLLIS.

Phyllis is a groundhog and a prognosticator, which sounds a lot like procrastinating. Especially when you factor in those Groundhog days in which she sees her shadow.  Then everything gets pushed off for another six weeks.

Can’t say I haven’t been there.

Anyway, you see those teenagers shuffling around in the background? They finished exams last week at the high school where I eavesdrop help out, and were kind of like groundhogs popping out of their burrows, looking for some sort of relief from the tortures of school winter. Phyllis could totally relate.

They even seemed to be engaging in ancient customs of weather lore. I think.

These shoes say early spring, right?

I think my backyard is ready for spring. 

I am happy to report that Phyllis did not see her shadow here in Virginia. In fact she had a ball.

And of course, Phyllis predicted the  Ravens would win.

And she also accurately guessed which snacks would be eaten first at my house this weekend.

As well as the Monopoly token Hasbro will eliminate from the boardwalk this week.

But I can’t tell you which token will be replaced.

Or else I will go directly to jail.

 

And as for today’s forecast?  Here’s to creating some possibilities.

A big thank you to Punxsutawney Phyllis. Check out Susanna’s website (link above) for more Phyllis adventures.

Are you forecasting BIG things for your future? What spring things are you looking forward to?  

What is your favorite Monopoly token?

Have a happy week! 🙂

Pepi the Dog & the Million Little Things of Friendship

Today I am happy to have a very special guest here: Alarna Rose Gray.  Alarna describes herself as an aunt, animal lover, and writer.  To me she is also a new friend.

AND she has a brand new book!

Hello Pepi_opt

Hello Pepi: A Toy Dog is for Real

There was a little puppy

 With a coat of raven silk,

A lightning splash upon his chest

And paws of peppered milk…

 

Hello Pepi is the first book in a wonderful new series for children young and old.  It is about the special friendship between a toy dog and his most important person.  The verse is smart, sweet and wonderful to read aloud. The illustrations make me nostalgic for the picture books from my childhood.  In short, the books made me smile.

Pepi is also based on a true story.

Here is that inspiration in Alarna’s words:

Hello Pepi is a collection of memories that form a fictional narrative of the life of one small dog.

But not just any dog.

Pepi was a dog that burst onto the scene of my life in a most unexpected way.

Pepi Age 1_opt

Pepi, Age 1

I had no intention of getting a dog. My flatmate at the time had suffered a terrible loss and wanted to get a puppy. Although between us we already had four cats!

 

We took a long drive across the city to the other side of town, and it was as we stood in the living room of a European lady that the magic happened.

He was a tiny black and white fella who made gentle cooing noises as I held him in my palm.

 

My flatmate had chosen his brother, the runt of the pack, and not wanting to separate the two, I made a snap decision to take the puppy home. Who can resist the cuteness of a little dog who quacks at the sight of you?

And this is where the reason for my writing the series came about.

 

It’s a common story. We fall in love with pets because we’ve bred them to be cute for us. But sometimes we don’t realise what that decision means.

At the age of eighteen / nineteen, having a dog, in particular, made me feel grown up and independent – that idea of being responsible for another living creature who you take out into the world with you.

Then the reality comes in. They need to be fed. Walked. Bathed. Cleaned up after. Trained. Not to mention all the very costly vet bills.

Little dogs, in particular, are quite high maintenance. They might be small, but they make up for it in energy, and (quite often) noise!

I’m a very quiet person, and can also be impatient. So the two together meant that I was in for some ride with Pepi!

Pepi Age 2a_opt

 

Pepi, age 2 

It really wasn’t until someone close to me pointed out how clever he was, that I truly began to appreciate his energy. And that’s the bittersweet tragedy of having pets. I don’t think we always appreciate how much they know, or what they give us… until it’s gone.

He suffered something similar to a stroke at fifteen. Even at that age, people in the street thought he was still a puppy, because he was so small, and full of energy. But he was never quite the same after that. He started slowing down. He got dementia. That’s when I decided to chronicle his life and spirit in verse.

He loved having the story read to him. He was a very musical dog, and the rhythm of the rhyme made him jump up in excitement. He knew it was about him, and he’d talk back as I read aloud.

Pepi Age 2b_opt

And that’s it, really. I wanted to share the joy of the experiences I had with him, as well as the lessons that I learned. My puppy parenting was far from perfect. But he always knew he was loved, and never held that against me. Except when I forgot to give him treats. Then he held a grudge . 🙂

Little dogs are also much maligned. People think they are stupid, or blame them for provoking their bigger dogs into a fight. But there’s a lot more to them than that. It just requires us to see the world a little through their eyes…

Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your story Alarna.

The first three ebooks are available on Amazon here.  But in celebration of the launch of her new series and the wonderful spirit of Pepi and friendship, Alarna would like to gift the first book to YOU.

So if you’d like an ebook of Hello Pepi #1, simply leave your email in the comments before Monday, December 10th.

Have an amazing weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unforgettable Books: Dreams Wrapped in Words

 


I am not even going to begin to pretend I understand MEMORY. That awesome, fickle power that likes to ditch me as I step into another room (or as Billy Collins says in his poem Forgetfulness, retires “to a little fishing village where there are no phones”).

I don’t know why some things stick, like the thirty plus year old memories of being a kid trying to fry an egg on the summer sidewalk or dig a hole to China, as opposed to what happened in oh I don’t know, the entire year of 2009 (there had to be something significant, but right now I can’t think of anything).

Some memories stay locked up tight, while others eventually slip out of one of those dusty, creaky memory doors.

 

 shirley plantation store house open door _opt

Nowadays when something does stay with me, I’m thinking there’s magic involved (or dessert–dessert can be quite memorable).

And I especially LOVE when I read a book with that kind of magic, that special something that manages to capture prime real estate in my brain.

Ever read an unforgettable story?

 

We wrapped our dreams in words and patterned the words so that they would live forever, unforgettable.”

― Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things

 

 

 

Happy Monday!

 

 

 

 

Steal Like an Artist or Wait for the Idea Fairy?

 

If you spend a significant amount of time creating–whether it’s writing stories, painting, or whipping up a unique batch of Brazilian cinnamon snickerdoodles, then you’ve probably heard this question:

Where do you get your ideas?

I don’t have a profound answer for that question.  If there is an idea fairy, she doesn’t come to my house.  Probably because of the way I handled those mornings when my kids noticed the tooth fairy hadn’t picked up their tooth.

Well kids, looks like there’s a fairy that needs a little sprinkling of punctual pixie dust, right? Let’s scoot on out of your room so we don’t embarrass her when she finally shows up.

Yea, I’m probably on a fairy Do Not Call list or something.

Anyway, I don’t think the idea thing is magic.  Sure those ideas show up in my head, but I know they get there via bits and pieces filtered in from my kids, the people having a conversation next to me in Panera, the TV, YouTube, the bakery in Whole Foods, the mall, the teenagers in the cafeteria at my son’s school when I spy volunteer.

Ideas come from a mash-up of pieces of my life, especially the curious bits.

Or as Austin Kleon says in his new book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

“I steal them.”

 

 

Okay that sounds like plagiarism, but the book is mostly about unlocking creativity.

But as it says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun.  So then what is originality?

  

“Undetected plagiarism.” ~William Ralph Inge

Hmm.

So what if you’re at the Whole Foods bakery, lured in by the smell of baking bread and as you get closer, you smell cinnamon.

That can’t be regular cinnamon, you think gripping the handle of your shopping cart.

You look beyond the glass counter, hoping for answers.

It’s Samba cinnamon, the person robed in angelic white informs you.  Harvested only once a year during Carnival.

How festive!  So then you’re thinking, What if I make bread? No–cookies, yes cookies.  Cookies rolled in Samba cinnamon and sugar.  No–crunchy Turbinado sugar!

Before you know it you are sipping Darjeeling with a batch of warm Samba cinnamon infused cookies.  Did you make snickerdoodles?  Sort of.  It’s similar, but pumped up by the intoxicating addition of a South American spice.

It’s better.  You created something perhaps, original?

Maybe.

It sure is nice knowing  you can roll with your curiosity rather than waiting for the Creative Genius Idea Fairy.

 

“All creative work builds on what came before . . . If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.” ~Austin Kleon

 

Where do you think ideas come from?  Do you steal like an artist?

 

 

 

 

For the Love of Food and Nostalgia

 

“Eat. Write. Travel. Cook.”

Sounds awesome to me–add in “read” and it’s practically perfect.

Those are the four words Top Chef judge Gail Simmons wrote down when asked what she wanted to do with her life once she graduated college.

 

 Talking with my Mouth Full details her quest to create a successful career out of those four words.

 

As I read her food stories from childhood up to her hosting Top Chef: Just Desserts, I couldn’t help but get caught up in my own food nostalgia.

One of the earliest and most vivid food memories I have is of a glass bakery case filled with sprinkle cookies and pastel frosted cupcakes–all of which were right at my eye level.  I was maybe three or four.

I wonder how many hand prints and nose smudges had to be cleaned from that glass front everyday?

All I remember is the excitement.

Because there can be a lot of emotion tucked away inside of our food memories.

Like the laughter at family birthday parties, especially as my sister and I dipped forkfuls of cake into our tea cups.   The comforting ritual of a bowl of cereal as I watched Saturday morning cartoons.  Or the fun and freedom of walking to the tiny convenience store on the military housing base I lived on in Michigan to buy sweet chewy rice candy (I loved how the rice wrapper just melted in my mouth).

There’s the surprise I felt when I realized how much I liked the cherry beer I drank in Brugge five years ago.  Along with the wonder of the many chocolate shops that lined the cobbled streets, all filled with pretty little candies lined up in perfect rows–inside glass cases of course (I think glass cases trigger a Pavlovian-like longing in me now–it happens now even at Starbucks).

I won’t forget how curious I felt eating crawdads on a picnic table outside our neighbor’s house when we lived in New Orleans, partly because it was so different and partly because I couldn’t quite figure out if I liked eating those little critters or not.

And of course there’s the food we remember simply because we are with those we love.

 baby food face nostalgia _opt

 

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

~ M.F.K. Fisher (The Art of Eating)

 

What is your favorite food memory?

 

The Freedom and Adventure of Taking to the Road in YA

 

“All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change.”

~The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

 

Travel has always been a popular theme in YA fiction.  There’s something about that opportunity for change, freedom and adventure that can be so exciting.

I love road trips and remember them being especially enticing when I was a teenager (way back when I didn’t give much thought to flat tires, tired motels and greasy food).

It’s all about the fun and possibility.

YA adventure food travel _opt

 

Foreign food is part of the adventure too.

 

That’s my daughter creating her own YA adventures 6,000 miles from home.  She is meeting new people, learning a new language, eating different food and enjoying a journey that is more than just a trip from home.

 

 Because just like in real life, a great fictional trip is not just about the geography.

 

Heart connections in the Caribbean.

 

A road trip and the mystery of emotional distance.

 

Self-discovery in Italy via undersea archaeology

 

What YA journeys have you loved (real or fiction)?

 

Things That Make You Go Ew

 

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Cereal, eggs, toast?  If you live in Japan, it’s likely you ate natto. A.k.a. fermented soy beans.

Natto looks like Rice Krispy treats, but it’s not-o. They are a favorite breakfast food in Japan, often eaten with raw eggs and fish flakes.

And according to author Rachel Herz in her book That’s Disgusting:  Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion, they smell a bit like ammonia and tire fire.

 

 

 

Yum.

Then again, I routinely drink this for a mid-morning snack:

kale smoothie _opt

Frozen kale blended with fruit or the latest from Yankee Candle?

 

Grilled tarantula, octopus ice cream, frog porridge–one person’s meal is another’s poison. When I was a kid it was the crunchy onions in my mom’s beef stroganoff that grossed me out.

But disgust goes further than food.  It is related to other emotions like love, laughter and excitement.

Disgust can inspire laughter.

We all have our own personal “ew” factor.

But we are not born with it.  Disgust is learned.

Children will play in dirt (even eat it), pick up bugs or dried poop and carry around that “sleeping” bird they found in the corner of the back yard.  They don’t know what’s disgusting until they are told.

But why is carrying around road kill disgusting?  After all, kids could collect and swap them like trading cards, right?  And they’re free, unlike Pokemon cards.

Herz says the fundamental function of disgust is to protect boundaries.

 

“We are the only creatures who experience emotional disgust and we are the only creature that knows it will die .”

 

Dead birds make us think of germs, disease and ultimately death.  So we develop psychological strategies to defend ourselves from that which we think is a possible threat to our existence.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Obesity, homelessness, or disability can bring out a reaction of disgust.  In fact, anything that “reminds us that we are squishable creatures with a finite time on this earth” can cause us to reject, shun, deny and even destroy.

Of course not everything that disgusts is actually dangerous.

Anyone want a slice of TOILET CAKE?

It’s too gross to post here, but if you can stomach it, click HERE.

Yuck, but then again it’s just cake, right?

What we find disgusting can be easily manipulated.

How else do we see salmonella carrying geckos as cute and charismatic insurance mascots?

Or get caught up in the kind of disgust that leads to derision or bullying?  Suddenly it’s no longer about survival–instead it can lead to missed opportunity or prejudice.

But reasoning can be our tool.

“The more we examine and reflect about the world we live in and the people around us, the more mindfully and compassionately we live.”

So fermented soy beans with a side of compassion?  Order up.

What are your thoughts? I would love to know what you think about the things that make you go ew!

 

 

 

 

Once More for Luck

Happy Friday!

Guess who got lucky?

Lena Corazon! She is the winner of a signed copy of Barry Lyga’s Goth Girl Rising.

But don’t you feel left out, because I won two more books this week, which means more great book giveaways coming soon.  So stay tuned.

I hope you have a great weekend.  I’m off to see that little indie vampire movie, and maybe even the new George Clooney one too.

In the meantime, check out George right here, making some woman a very lucky lady.

 

Gettin’ Lucky

Last week I got a Tweet telling me I won another book, which brought my book winning total in the last couple of months to seven.

My husband told me it was time for me to play the lottery, because apparently I was experiencing a lucky streak.

“Luck affects everything; let your hook always be cast; in the stream where you least expect it, there will be a fish.” -Ovid

So, luck is success born out of chance, not just something indigenous to the Irish.

IRELAND, LAND OF THE LUCKY.

Although my father in law once handed me cash just because I was standing next to him in a casino when he won. He said his good fortune was due to my presence ie,“luck of the Irish.”

Still I may need to rethink the “I’m Irish” heading on my next batch of queries.

But luck is more than just a matter of chance. In fact I think the real clue to luck in Ovid’s quote is: Let your hook always be cast.

Because luck usually requires some effort.

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
Thomas Jefferson

Seven books didn’t just fall out of the ether. There was a little work–I entered contests.

Although I did get one of the books from the very generous author Barry Lyga, simply because I’m a blogger.

Or Irish (I’m kidding, Barry Lyga is not profiling Irish writers).

No, the real reason Barry sent me a book was because I saw one of his Tweets that read something along the lines of Free books to bloggers!

So while “art depends on luck and talent,” as Francis Ford Coppola once said. It also requires effort like Thomas Jefferson so wisely put.

Like say spending some time in a casino, sidling up next to the Black Jack table wearing my VIP badge, Very Irish Person.

Or, entering that Breaking Dawn premiere contest.

Maybe.  But I do know that I can’t win if I don’t try.

I’ve got to put in some effort if I want to see Taylor Lautner -–uh, I mean the older actor who plays Bella’s father.

A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck. –James A. Garfield

Do you think some people are just lucky in life?

Drop me a comment below and you could win a SIGNED copy of Barry Lyga’s GOTH GIRL RISING (result determined by random, or is it?)

***Congrats to Karen McFarland who won last week’s giveaway of WHAT WOULD MY CELLPHONE DO?***