A long time ago I studied languages in Europe. French, Italian. Spanish. So much romance! I was a fearless traveler. I dressed so I could jump over fences and run from bad guys. Here I am, 19, on a balcony overlooking Aosta, a small town in Northern Italy where I was a gymnastics coach for the local team. Being an athlete, and able to speak several languages, I was a confident teen and twenty-year-old. But I also spent a lot of time singing to myself as I walked through the streets. I made up melancholy songs--I remember some of them still.
Funny how things move in circles.
Many years later I have a daughter who is that same age. And she and I are alike in many ways. Last summer, at 19, she bought a ticket to Europe, and traveled there alone, with her red ukelele so she could sing to make money, or sing to make people feel happy, or sing when she felt lonely. She drank a lot of coffee, and met a lot of people, and came home and wrote a whole bunch of songs. Strawberry Hair is one of them, and it's sort of her story and my story wrapped into one. We all get wrapped into each other. I love that about family, about friends, about community.
How all of our stories are intertwined...
An idea that has morphed over time....
I pick up a shell or two when I'm at the beach, and often have one in my pocket to give away.
This little sheep purse holds just a few tiny things. A smooth rock, a tiny wooden cup, a dog's tooth, and several shells. I change out the shells and rocks from time to time, and when a little person needs something to keep them occupied, out comes the sheep purse.
I sometimes sit next to the child and marvel at how they manipulate, consider, and finger the items.
But most times it is a quiet work that can keep a four-year-old busy for longer than you'd think!
It is March, can you believe it? We are already more than two months into 2017, lent is underway, and I feel so grateful for more things than I could ever mention. I just turned in my taxes, so I can especially say that I’m grateful to be done with that!
In 2016, two children’s books, When God Made You, and A Book of Questions made their way into the world. One thing I have learned over the years is that I sincerely appreciate all of you who have supported these stories once they’re published. As you know, there is a lot of written material out there, circulating, spinning through our lives. Sometimes it’s good material, sometimes not, and sifting through it takes effort. My writing life is not just so I can play with words, but has turned into a ministry of sorts (you can ask my husband, and my tax guy!) and I hope that you find the stories I write worth the effort… I know that I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do this work…
Anyway. Promotion. A necessary something.
I have one more book to announce to the world, and then I think there will be a lull for a while. This email is to invite you to help me launch one final children’s picture book, The Suitcase, about to be published by Paraclete Press. I am looking for some wonderful word-of-mouth chatter, and several honest reviews to help propel the book forward. So here’s the scoop.
If you’re interested, I am looking for thirty people to be on my launch team. Ten have already signed up, so I have twenty spots left. Here’s what it entails:
Please let me know if you’d like to be a part of this team by simply emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m excited to see this book come into the world. The story is close to my heart.
The Suitcase. A story about giving.
Here’s a tiny bit about it:
As young Thomas shows his family the items that he has packed into his suitcase after hearing a stirring homily at church, they marvel at his inventiveness and loving heart. Thomas is traveling to the Kingdom of Heaven, and he knows what it takes to get there! Along with his suitcase, Thomas and his family figure out a way to accomplish the almost impossible goal that Thomas is so excited about.
Talking points about the book
So, let me know if you’d like to be one of the thirty to review the book and receive a free copy.
And just in case you’re in a searching-around-the-web mood…
Here is the book’s page for preorder on Amazon.
Here is the book’s page for preorder on Paraclete’s site.
And soon I will have a page up on my own website with a teacher’s guide, some information on the illustrator, and more behind-the-scenes goodies.
Sending you love during this beautiful time of year.
At the end of every calendar year I do a fair amount of reflecting. I look at my goals from the year--review the lists (I love lists) that I've created in my bullet journal, and begin a new plan for the upcoming year. I'm still mulling a few things over, still deciding on how to rearrange some of my life's puzzle pieces... Mainly, my writing.
Two and a half years ago, when I pulled my son out of public school, my whole life shifted. I knew I was giving up my writing life so that I could invest more in a living, breathing human. It was a good decision; we've seen so much beautiful growth come from my efforts. It's big work, though. Really big, creative work, and I am exhausted at the end of every day.
So most of 2016 was about John Ronan. He's eleven now, and absolutely, undeniably adorable.
2016 also meant for me:
Head lice. I seriously started 2016 with lice. No one else in the family had it, and I think I cried when I found the first nit in my hair at about midday on January 1st. I slept in my son's bed for two weeks, washed my hair with shampoo drenched with tea tree oil, blew dry my hair until my head burned every single day. I wore my hair up, and ran my sheets and towel and blankets and pillow case through the hot dryer every day. And vacuumed. I didn't do anything else. No combs, no special shampoos. It worked, so that's why I'm telling you, but I'm hoping we never, ever encounter head lice again. Especially on the first day of a new year.
The release of two picture books. When God Made You was released in March and A Book of Questions was released in May. Feels like so long ago! That was a busy time, but so fun to see a project all the way through to completion, and then hear from children that they like the words!
I read several books this year, a few novels with John Ronan but most were grown up books that I read alone in the evenings. I struggled through The Idiot, completely enjoyed Laurus, and Jayber Crow, and was fascinated by And God Came In. I finally finished Kristin Lavransdatter. That was a feat. This year was my first time ever reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, and I would definitely recommend A Year Without Mom, a touching graphic novel written for kids. All in all, I read about twenty books (not counting picture books). That's a lot of extra curricular reading since I wade through about a novel's worth of words every couple of weeks in manuscript form as an editor.
I wear glasses almost all the time now.
But I am not complaining about the glasses! I love my job as a children's book editor and this year I edited and helped produce four books for Ancient Faith Publishing: When God Made You; Hear Me; Goodnight Jesus; and Shepherding Sam. And I'm working on another four that will release in 2017, plus ready to contract another batch that will be published in 2018. :)
In 2016 my son and I finished up our dyeing projects! That was a blast. We fiddled with oak galls, sycamore, coffee, cochineal, and indigo.
I played a whole lotta monopoly. Please don't make me play any more in 2017.
With my daughter at school in downtown Los Angeles, our family had a chance to explore beyond the traffic and visit museums and hang out in Japantown where we like to buy tea and eat ramen. We were also fortunate to visit Arizona, Mammoth, and the Seattle area a bit, plus I got to go to Wisconsin and Chicago for work. What the heck! What a year filled with gifts and blessings and good things! Have you looked back on your year and realized how many good things came your way?
My hair grew very long this year. My garden is a mess. Our dog is adorable. And I'm making pine needle baskets again after a short hiatus...
My brother and his family moved to town this summer!
Then my sister and her son just moved to town last week!
Sunday night family dinners are going to be something else!!!
And I'm learning Finnish. Hei! Moi! Kiitos!!!
Hard things happened too in 2016. At home we are constantly both at war and in harmony with autism. And when I look at the world outside my window, sometimes I cry. People are frustrated, some are unstable--mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Some are running from ruin or war. Whole countries are collapsing, and many people around the world are living without warmth and clean water... Sometimes I will pass the night in prayer, just hoping that we might bend, and allow God's mercy to heal the world. But we're stubborn. I'm stubborn.
Here's to a new year. May 2017 be one free of head lice! May you fight to achieve your goals, and see the good things that undoubtedly will come your way.
Happy New Year!
Well, maanantai is long gone, but since Mondays are my very favorite day of the week I didn't want to leave out the grand ending to my Finnish weekdays... After any weekend of family and church get togethers, on Monday, I am ready to get things done.
This Monday was perhaps a little different since school is out. I spent several hours writing, which is unusual during this season of homeschooling. What a gift. And sometime around noon, I put a mitt on my hand and played catch with the boy... And later in the day I pulled out my current Tunisian crochet project and pointed myself at this wall and stitched away...
I'd say one week of daily blogging is enough. I'll see you again soon, but for now I have a middle grade novel to conquer. And here are a few last things that I'm thinking about...
Wish us luck!
Sunnuntai. Sunday musings
Somedays you think there won't be any traffic when you're traveling to LA at noon, but you're wrong. There is always traffic.
[Loud] music to the rescue.
Then, MADELEINE! She has bangs. That's why I brave the traffic. To see that sweet face and listen to all of her plans for now and for later and to cheer her on. Someday I will write a post about why my husband and I are not discouraging her to be a "pop star," which is one of the weirdest things to think and write and admit, ever...
Rain. It was a gloriously rainy afternoon and evening. But after counting four major traffic accidents on the way home, I'm thinking folks have forgotten that rainy roads and 80 mph do not mix. (Have you all forgotten?!!!)
Coming home is always the best. Safe. Warm. Everyone asleep and looking angelic.
That was my Sunday, folks. Hope yours was amazing!
Just because some people can get their acts together by November 15th, and have their Christmas books out, and a pantry filled with fasting foods, and a wreath on the door, and their Christmas shopping done.... (Ha, who is that person?!)
(I'm not sure we should even try to live in that magical world.)
My son and I made an Advent wreath today. We washed out the glass candle holders. We gathered greens from the yard (bay leaves, succulents, and nandina berries). And then simply placed all the materials onto a large round plate. Every year we use different materials to create the wreath.
And we've also made a short list of some things we can do to give during this season of almsgiving. Here are our meager thoughts, and we would love to hear yours!
That's our list for now. We'd love to add to it if you want to share.
Anyone else excited that it's the weekend?!
So, John Ronan and I put on the piano guys and listened to a little Christmas music while doing math this morning. Friday is our art day, and cookie day when we think of it. But instead of cookies, today we sauntered off to a coffee shop and drank decaf, and read about the Wyeth family. We're studying the artwork of Andrew Wyeth all November. It was quite the moment when we both stumbled on the Helga Pictures. :)
Tomorrow we're making an advent wreath for the table, and in between we've brainstormed several ways to give during this time of almsgiving. One way is by giving slices of cucumber to our dog (he really loves cucumber). Obviously, our interpretation is wide and all-encompassing! We'll share that list with you tomorrow.
Today is a quick glimpse into our world of homeschooling. Every now and then I have a lot of editing work to catch up on, so I write out all of my son's school work on the chalkboard, and he and I sit side by side for most of the day, working, getting up to stretch and hug the dog, and dance, and eat, and such... Today was one of those days. We've only done that three times so far this school year, but I may plan for it more often. I find that he's exceptionally motivated when I'm not helping! Ususally I'm right in the midst of all his work between 9 and noon (because it's so fun to learn new things, don't you think?!!!).
Almost all of what we study, besides doing Khan Academy math on the computer, sits right here in this stack. Finnish, sketchbook, nat geo, journaling, Psalms, literature, history, art, Life of Fred... Everything else you can find at the library and the beach, in the kitchen, at the natural history museum, or just by sitting in the dirt, admiring the sound of the wind...
Thursday afternoons is horseback riding, and Toby is proving to be a "sarcastic" horse. Just two months ago John Ronan had three volunteers flanking both him and Toby, but last week and today he's riding alone! What a gift that he has this opportunity... Here's Toby trying to yank the reigns from John Ronan's hands. Equine sarcasm.
And here is Toby being perfectly respectable...
Tomorrow is Friday, which means (among other things) art and cookies!
Until then, friends..
"Beauty orders the heart." --Frederica Mathewes-Green
"Beauty is always a personal encounter; any beauty is a mediator between man and God..." --Newly elected Bishop Irenei of San Francisco
"We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it." --C.S. Lewis, from The Weight of Glory
With Wednesday close to being over, I send you love, and wishes for a Thursday filled with beauty.
Last Tuesday most of us voted. And last Wednesday so many of us freaked out. (!!!)
Now it's a new Tuesday. It's November 15, and for those of us who are Orthodox, it means that Advent has begun.
Guess what Advent means? It means something new is coming--an arrival, a beginning, a birth. I am NOT talking of politics. I am talking of a new you, and a new me. And the fact that it's time to prepare for Christmas! We are forty days and counting...
So get out the paints, bring in the tree, turn up the music, and let's prepare for something that has real meaning. Let's prepare our homes, and give more, and open our hearts, and pray more, and generally, let's just be awesome people to one another.
Happy tiistai, friends!
I was relayed this story several years ago by a young acquaintance, and even if it is legend, even if it's no longer true (or never really was true), it's worth repeating.
The young people gather in the evenings and make food together. They pass the time, eating and drinking, watching movies, playing games, and in conversation...
But the odd thing is--my acquaintance said--when someone speaks they leave space between speakers. White Space. Blank Space. Empty moments. Pregnant pauses. They allow a speaker to finish, the words just spoken finding time to be digested, and then the next speaker chimes in with their thoughts.
Can you imagine? I teach a class of fourth to sixth graders once a week. Our time together is often a raucous bellow of one speaker fighting for air space, and another one sulking, and a third poised to chime in. And some in the circle never speak, because it's just too much trouble. So I tell this story every year, to inspire them toward something different, and we work on it All Year Long!
"You just interrupted me!"
I don't know. I feel as though our American ethos needs some mending. I feel as though all of our easy-ness, whether it comes to our daily chores, our stomachs and how we feed ourselves, how we dress, or how we speak, could use some thoughtful attention. We need white space. We need pregnant pauses. We need prayer. Whether that means hanging the clothes on the line instead of throwing them in the dryer, sitting outside with our cup of coffee to hear the birds chirp before we speed off to work, or simply listening to that person next to us with our full attention. So much attention that we wait, we wait some more, we think about their thoughts, and then we offer our own.
Maybe if we thought of speech as humble offererings? ...
Our lives take twists and turns, and sometimes the way we would choose to shape our days isn't exactly what ends up happening--sometimes laundry stays heaped in the pile, sometimes an emergency pulls us away from our work... I write these two lists in my journal each year, so I have a constant reminder of how I might prioritize my time and my energy each day. It's especially poignant right now, during Holy Week, as I seek to be intentional with my time and actions...
This second list is more practical; it fits into my daily life when I'm not thrown a bucketful of curveballs...
Today I've started the baking, have loved the little one through math, I've vacuumed and prayed,
but the garden, and a healthy lunch, and that book tucked over by the chair in the corner? And will I get to my writing, or have a chance to greet someone with a smile and a kind word? We'll see...
Prost, Kampai, and Cheers! Here's to the New Year and all the adventure it will bring!
This last month has been an absolute whirlwind. Visitors, parties, celebrations, traveling, books, editing, puppy cuddling,
hiding under the covers...
I've been absent from this space, mostly because my computer was crashing, crashing, crashing, and so I was treating it like a nervous animal, worried to upset it in any way, hopeful that I might type and tap quietly enough to get my work done. Then I just went out and scooped up a new computer, because, hey, I'm a writer! And an editor! And an amateur photo mama who cries when she can't organize all her pictures.
My older two monkeys both stepped into a new world two weeks ago. I'm still numb.
Madeleine graduated high school, and is heading to USC to study music. She is already wearing Trojan flannel pants to bed, and has plotted out her room, and even purchased blue enamelware and a French press for her mini-kitchen.
Andrew graduated from college; he studied history, racing through the program in three years. He's staying in Seattle to work and be with his friends while they finish off their last year... He signed a year lease on an apartment so I'm tearful every time I think of him NOT coming home, but I'm happy too. I promise.
Just look at him; he's adorable.
It's odd having these young people become so grown up.
And of course, there's the little one, who I still get to have around for several more years. Thank God for that! He keeps me on my toes, plus I get to field all of his very cool questions like: Do you think Marie Antoinette really LIKED cake? These kids keep the stuff happening, the good stuff, the stuff that ends up in books. :)
Three cheers, and a few tears, to growing up.
Wishing you all amazing summers, folks.
I lived in Italy a long time ago, and taught little girls how to be better gymnasts. I also learned to speak Italian, and just generally became a huge fan of mountain people and anything that had to do with living a simple life. I remember my first time returning to the States after being gone for so long. The supermarkets shocked me, and I refused to let my mom buy me anything for at least a year--consumerism was so palpable. Plus people spoke with their hands in their pockets. That was weird.
Recently, a story from long ago Italy resurfaced in my thoughts.
In Aosta, the town where I lived, I attended the wedding of a dear friend. During my ten-day stay, a gang of us decided to make the trip to Torino to the Ikea store. Something about a couch. And because they're Italian, a food excursion also needed to be tacked on to this errand. They'd heard of a festival of lumache (snails) that an entire town was hosting over the weekend. So Ikea first, then snails.
After the couch errand, which turned into a pillow errand instead, we ate and drank, and sopped up garlicky juices with bread. The snails were made in every way imagined--fried, baked, sauteed. We all just tasted, and talked, and walked, and enjoyed.
But THEN! Antonella got a tummy ache. The group was aghast. They rushed her to the nearest bar and sat her down, and fretted over her, and ordered her sparkling water and other digestifs, and offered their encouragment. They brought forth all their knowledge on digestion--the local remedies--should she stand, should she walk, should she rest? Should we leave?
She was not green. She was not throwing up. There was no fever, or sweat, or hives on her hands... She looked fine to me.
This story popped back into my mind several times these last couple of months as I have consciously worked on trying to remove some allergic reactions that I've developed over the years. Remembering how Antonella had listened so closely to her stomach made me realize just how out of tune we are with our bodies here in the States. Europeans are excruciatingly aware of their inner workings. For an Italian, good digestion is a crucial key to happiness.
I laughed then, but understand better now. To try to rid myself of morning congestion and other allergic reactions, I embarked on a diet that removed just about any food trigger one can ingest. For about 50 days I ate a very limited diet, and though I am not completely free of my allergies, they have diminished significantly. But better than that, I learned an Italian secret, to listen to my body, to care about my inner workings and treat my own person with more respect.
There were other, unintended lessons that I learned, which is why I'm writing this post. Because I want you to learn about your body too. I don't want children to have diabetes. I don't want to see my friends burdened with physical ailments that might be avoided. I want us to hear our own tummy's grumbles and react.
So that's the scoop, folks. Think about how you eat, where you shop, what you buy, and what your body is trying to tell you. Think about your kids, or other loved ones. Who knows what secrets may be in it for you?
Long, long ago. When my first born was still pink and pudgy, I took a class at a local yarn shop and learned the basics of Tunisian crochet. There were only four of us in the class: the teacher, myself, and two adorable octogenarians. Over the six weeks, I completed a sampler blanket, which still gets used from time to time when babies pop by and need cuddling.
There was something about the long hook--the stitching on, then stitching off again--that I loved. Like weaving... And so through the years I have continued to crochet this way--with one long hook, my sampler book as a guide, and my own imagination for patterns.
I've made sweaters and scarves, shawls and baby blankets. I've searched high and low for patterns on the internet. I've looked in shops across the country, but always without any result. So I've just made things up.
Recently I tumbled into a wonderful yarn shop in Cambria, California and told the shopkeeper of my love for Tunisian crochet. She waltzed me over to a shelf and showed me THREE books filled with patterns. I was stunned. But as I paged through them, there was that sadness that stirs when you realize it's just more of the same crochet-curse--awful, old-fashioned patterns that look like your grandmother might have whipped them up while watching soap operas in the 60s.
Anyway, it's not the 60's anymore! Introducing my latest shawl. Made from two lovely skeins of Madelinetosh Pashmina (merino, silk and cashmere!). Yum. I just sketched out a design, got to work, realized I switched hooks half way through, frogged, got back to work, mattress-stitched, edged, blocked, buttoned, and voila! Shawls are my favorite. Easy to throw across your shoulders when you're cold, and drop onto the back of a chair when it's no longer needed. And for my most recent project, I particularly wanted to make a shawl that could be tied in front so that my arms are completely free and ready for weeding, or riding my bike, or packaging up books to send to readers.
Here are some photos. Big thanks to Morgan, who snuggled into the soft pashmina and looked cute, and to Madeleine, who helped snap the pictures.
Here, I have the shawl fastened with a single button. Silly me, I forgot to tie the shawl while we were shooting, so unfortunately no photos of it being worn that way. Sorry...
If you are practiced in Tunisian crochet, or know someone who is, send them my way, would you? Only a few of us have made the trek, and I'm hoping to find a few more who have adventured along the same roads I have!
If there wasn't white space on a page, just think what a jumble your brain would try to make of the words?
Have you ever noticed that when you're cuddled with your little one, and reading a story aloud, that if you slow the pace, and pause between paragraphs, that the story takes on a deeper meaning?
And what about all that clutter in my home? Is the collection of candles gathering dust on the shelf adding anything beautiful to my life?
Lastly, your teenager is telling you of a struggle. And all sorts of advice is bubbling up inside your brain. Stories of your youth, warnings of friends who went astray. This is when we all should put a muzzle on our tongues. Just breathe and let them talk. Just be, and embrace the silence. When white space is intentionally created, those things that are left on the page, in your home, on your tongue, immediately gain more substance.
I love children's books. You know that! I adore writing them, and fiddling with words that somehow, someday, might jumble together, form something legible, jump into a real book, and maybe even make it into a child's hands... Words are music for me, and I love all the melodies and harmonies that arrange themselves in a story.
As convenient as it might be, I am not an illustrator.
But who cares? If you get the urge to draw a stone house with a blue door, then I think you should do just that.
I drew a stone house. With a blue door.
I didn't know how. I just started fiddling. And humming, and since it was still summer, and the kids were happy, I went ahead and painted that house for FOUR hours.
I've noticed how I've become more fearful as I've aged. Guess what? Drawing stone houses, and trying to knit, and taking your kids on adventures to places you've never dreamed of visiting, and learning a new language--why not? Why not. Being uncomfortable as you learn new things builds character--it makes you humble--it makes you courageous! and it can be contagious, inspiring others to try and fail, and try again.
Happy weekend, friends...
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." Helen Keller