Secret #2: Picture book coming!

It’s August. How did that happen?! It’s not only August, it’s the very end of August. As in almost September. I can hardly believe how quickly the summer has flown by, in a way that only summers can. Life here has been full of travel, visits with family, adventures by the sea, weekly trips to our CSA farm, digging around in our own small garden, work, deadlines, my son’s second birthday (holy cow, I have a two-year-old), reading (of course), and…writing.

This summer I haven’t just been writing in my journal. In fact, my journal has been about as neglected as this blog. I have been writing a story that you all can read next year when it comes out as a picture book!

I am very excited to announce that I am the author of a forthcoming children’s book from Getty Publications, due out November 2015. Excited is an understatement. This is a long-held dream come true, and I feel just plain lucky. Does luck ever feel plain actually? I feel extraordinary and giddy in my luck!

The picture book, with the working title Therese Makes a Tapestry, tells the story of a young girl whose family works at the Gobelins Manufactory during the era of Louis XIV. It is being published on the occasion of a major exhibition of French royal tapestries at the Getty.

Through the wonders of Skype, I have been able to meet the team of incredible individuals that I’m collaborating with, including my amazing editor and the fabulous illustrator. I truly couldn’t be happier with the process so far. Again, I thank my lucky stars.

So that’s the secret I meant to share much earlier this summer. Thanks for sticking with me as I come and go! Stay tuned for more book updates in the future.

Photo of books about French tapestry and textiles piled on a table

A sampling of the books that have adorned my coffee table and desk of late.

 

Secrets and playing catch-up

I can’t believe it is already May and nearly two months since my last post. In addition to keeping busy with part-time jobs, toddlers, travel, etc., I have been working on a couple of secret projects. One of these two projects I am now at liberty to share. I am cooking up baby #2, due in October! Ha, that counts as a project, right?

Photo of son on play structure smiling at mother who smiles back

Pregnancy takes up a whole lot of energy. Naps have reentered my life (although they seem to be slowly drifting out again). Thinking about our life a few months from now, I’ve decided to let myself enjoy the occasional nap at present. I mean, all that well intended advice to sleep when the baby sleeps is really only applicable the first time around. Once there are two or more kiddos in the household, will anybody be sleeping, ever? A fierce internal voice says, YES! The mama in me chuckles and sighs, Sometime, someday.

I will leave you in suspense about the second project. I promise it is more of a traditional project, though.

We have been reading a lot, as always. I even had put an Off the Shelf series together back in March but for some reason never posted it. Better late than never?

off_the_shelf_3-6-14

Here was the March roundup of books:

  • Ten Terrible Dinosaurs by Paul Stickland — counting and dinosaurs. Two of my little guy’s favorite things right now.
  • I Love to Sleep by Amélie Graux — this one I catch the boy reading on his own a lot lately. I like to think he is studying up.
  • Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell — oldie but goodie. This one makes me hungry.
  • The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson and Beth Krommes — just lovely. I was so happy when my son got hooked on this!
  • Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss — I am still surprised that my son has the attention span for this or Go, Dog. Go!
  • Noisy Way to Bed by Ian Whybrow and Tiphanie Beeke — this was a major hit. My son loves to make the animal sounds that interrupt the boy on his way to bed.
  • Snow by Manya Stojic — yes we were still reading snow books all through March. I stubbornly returned them before April even though the snow had not ended.

Journaling

Photo showing 13 journalsI have kept a journal since I was about eleven years old. Writing has always been an outlet for me, and a journal serves me as a way to release and cope with stress as well as to document mundane moments or celebrate the personal triumphs in my life. It is a place to experiment with styles and formats, although I confess I did this more in the past. Since grad school poetry has taken a backseat to other stiffer modes of expression, something I hope to change in the relatively near future.

Photo of journals stacked on top of each other

The bindings tell their own story.

I have finished every journal I have ever started, with the exception of a very first attempt from 1995 which functioned as much as a notepad as it did a journal. After a second “start” in 1997, though, each journal is complete. In middle school my handwriting was tiny. So neat and minuscule, I could never now replicate it. My entries became into letters to the important people in my life. A couple of my friends then also kept journals, and we would spend hours reading entries to each other. In high school I crafted elaborate collages of images and quotations to illustrate the day-to-day descriptions. I was not the healthiest version of myself in high school, and one horrible day I left my journal at school. Thank goodness two friends found it, and both denied reading it but from their concern-tinted voices and eyes I knew they had. I felt mortified but mostly grateful that they had found it and not someone else. In college my handwriting changed to the hurried but legible scrawl that it still is today. At the busiest periods I didn’t write as much.  Still don’t. So, for example, there isn’t as much about the time I spent living in France and later Thailand as I wish.

Photo of two journals

These two journals are remnants of my time in Thailand. The one on the left was a gift from my husband, purchased from a journal-maker in Bangkok. The one on the right I brought to Thailand with me, but the painting on the cover was done by an umbrella artist in Bo Sang near Chiang Mai.

I don’t write as much as I did when I was younger. I have had only three journals since college. But I always have my journal on me just in case, and would feel uneasy without one. Almost all of my journals have been gifts. I haven’t received a new one in years, actually, and that hardly matters because I still have empty journals that people gave me well over a decade ago. There has never been any method to my selection process. I don’t use them in the order in which I received them. I tend to just choose whatever journal feels right at the moment. At one point I liked to reread all of my journals once I completed one, but have long since stopped doing that. Less time and more journals. However, I did go 20140113-125735.jpgthrough and number them, as well as add the start and end date to each journal. That way I can easily figure out which journal to look in if I ever want to reference a specific event. Two days ago I finished my fourteenth journal. (In the first picture, you may notice there are only thirteen journals. I didn’t miscount, one is just in a different box that has yet to be unpacked.)

Lately I have been wondering about the relationship of blogging and journaling. Things like, what proportion of bloggers also keep journals? How many used to but stopped after they began to blog? If I were a middle schooler now, would I still have that circle of friends to share journals with, or would we have jumped to a blog or online journal format instead? I’m sure someone has written about this and even studied it.

Do you keep a journal? How have your own journals changed? Share if you’re willing!

Photo of journals packed in their unglamorous bin.

Packed away again in their unglamorous bin.

“Mainely” at home now

There have been quite a few changes in my life over the last few months. Primarily, when a fabulous job opportunity arose for my husband, we moved to Bangor, Maine. That last sentence makes it sound as though it happened quickly, and I suppose in some ways it did. We found out it was a possibility in January, knew it was happening as of February, and made the move in May. But those months in between were filled with preparations, flights to and from Bangor, minor surgery followed by prolonged illness for our son (nothing serious, just one thing after another), selling and buying a house, and waiting. Juggling graduate school, jobs (four between the two of us), and taking care of our dear baby boy led to quite a bit of stress. And our son decided to stop sleeping through the night during these months, which certainly wasn’t helped by the aforementioned health issues and our anxiety levels. We were exhausted to say the least. I finished up at work as best I could and made tearful goodbyes to my co-workers. I worried over the precious friendships I’d made in Madison and how lonely I would be in Bangor.

Train at dusk in Bangor, Maine

Train at dusk in Bangor, Maine

But it was all worth it in the end. Brian drove cross country with our two cats and, after living in a hotel for a couple of days with the baby, I flew out with him, and we even met Garrison Keillor on our flight. He was utterly charming and gave my little boy his blessing, which I took as a good omen. Despite my worst fears about traveling alone with a baby, everyone was friendly and helpful, and I, in turn, felt rather like super mom. I had planned and packed perfectly for once, although that was probably the first and last time that will ever happen.

Life in Maine is just swell. We love Bangor, and I’ll write more in the future about the city and all its offerings, because there is a lot to say. Our new neighborhood is fabulous. Our new house already feels like home in all its varying states of done and undone. The summer did start out rather lonely. There was a period where I avoided thinking too much about friends and co-workers back in Wisconsin because I was liable to burst into tears. I felt like I should wear a sign around my neck whenever I stepped out to the park (which is really just steps away from our house, so lovely!) with something akin to a classified ad for a friend. Despite (and probably because of) my lack of such an absurdity, I have slowly made friends. Conversations and visits with friends back in Madison make up for the day-to-day distance between us, and we’re now closer to old friends and most of our family.

View of downtown Bangor

View of downtown Bangor

The biggest transition for me has definitely been ceasing to work outside our home. I miss my job and co-workers something fierce. On the other hand, I love having more time to spend with my little guy, who began sleeping through the night again the day he turned mobile via an adorable monkey-type crawl. It’s funny to think about that now, because now he is walking, running, climbing, falling, sliding, dancing, and starting to talk. But then, we have been here five months already!

And actually, work has even popped up already, much faster than I was expecting. For now, all I’ll say is that I have an exciting opportunity still related to children’s literature. It might turn into something bigger, but even if it doesn’t, it has been a great experience and provided me with intellectual stimulation during naptimes.

Things are a bit crazy here yet. Our weekends have been filled with travel and visitors, a product of having family and old friends closer by again. While always fun, these activities make for a very different type of weekend than our weekends in Madison. Sometimes it feels like we can’t quite catch our breath!  But books are finally making their way out of boxes and onto shelves (organized by color nonetheless!), and we’re finding our groove.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ll have to change my site design to reflect the new locale soon. For now just know that I’ve been enjoying autumn in New England once again. And wondering how on earth it is that I have a toddler on my hands.

A Christmas Story

When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than a cat. Every birthday, every Christmas, every opportunity I had I asked for a kitten. For ten years, a cat remained an elusive dream. I loved our dog. I loved my guinea pigs. But I was a cat person through and through. Then I turned ten years old. I was in fourth grade. Christmas time rolled around, as it always does, in festive lights and spirited songs. On Christmas Eve I assembled, as always, a plate of cookies and a glass of milk to leave out for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer.  And then, as always, I began to write my letter to Santa. I had my suspicions about the whole Santa business. But I loved the ritual. I wanted to believe. Reading The Polar Express with my father each year made my heart beat faster and my tongue tingle with the taste of the imagined hot cocoa they drink on the train. That night, however, I put my dwindling belief to the test. “Dear Santa,” I wrote, and I cannot remember exactly what my thought process was, and when my pen changed route. But rather than my typical sweet thanks-for-being-your-jolly-old-self letter, I said something to the effect of, “If you’re really real, you’ll bring me a kitten this year.”

I put it all on the line. The gift I wanted most of all. The merry figure I wanted so badly to believe in.

On Christmas morning (and it was a white Christmas that year. Even if it wasn’t really, it will always be in my memory), my family joined together in the living room, the wood stove radiating heat as kindling snapped and sizzled. We opened our stockings as we always do, going around and around, each person taking a turn, pulling some small delight out one by one. After stockings my parents prepared breakfast, I played Christmas carols on the piano, and my brother probably set the table seeing as I had most likely avoided that duty by plopping myself down at the piano. We ate our breakfast cheerfully, as always. Eggs, bacon, some scrumptious cinnamon concoction made for us each year by family friends, and freshly squeezed orange juice. Then my brother readied the chairs around the Christmas tree, assigning each person a seat. He always handed out the gifts, and we opened them as we always do, going around and around, each person taking a turn. I love this tradition of slowness and suspense and lingering over each gift, enjoying each other’s pleasure.

That Christmas, though, I confess I was a little bit disappointed. I felt guilty about that disappointment, but it was there nonetheless. I had known I was too old to believe in Santa. I had known my parents weren’t really going to get me a kitten. But I couldn’t help hoping. We finished opening our gifts, and I pushed my disappointment down and stood up to play a little before getting dressed. Then a blurry magical moment. Someone pointed out that there was a letter in the tree, stuck high up in the branches. A letter with my name on it. Someone pulled it down and handed it to me and I opened it. There in my hands was a letter from Santa telling me that I would find my kitten waiting for me in the next couple of days. A Christmas kitten. I read it over and over. The handwriting didn’t have my mother’s elegant slant or my father’s hurried scrawl. It was neat, readable, and unrecognizable. Of course it wasn’t my parents’ handwriting. I mean, I knew they were opposed to having a cat. They would never have agreed to get me one. And I had written the letter so late at night that there was really only one plausible explanation: Santa Claus himself had written me a letter.  He had read my letter and understood the urgency, the fragile belief on the line, and he had responded. I cried happy tears. I was getting a kitten. From Santa. And there was nothing my parents could do about it.

I did find my kitten, at a local animal shelter. When we arrived to the shelter on December 26th it was closed still for the holidays. However, one employee was there feeding the animals. She unlocked the doors let us in. A litter of kittens had just been delivered (by Santa, obviously). And there was mine, waiting for me: a playful, grey, fluffy furball with a white chin, a white chest and belly, and white boots on all four paws. In an attempt to be poetic I named him Snow Prince, thinking myself very clever since it looked like he had snow on his paws. He quickly captured all of our hearts, tortured our dog (who was the most patient, mellow dear in the world and Snow Prince was never quite the same after she passed away), terrified any guinea pig I had from that point on, and destroyed my mother’s beautiful furniture. He was the love of my life. He treated me like a sibling cat, cuddling, licking, wrestling with my arms, biting them. No one else put up with his wrestling moments, being the wise people they are, but I didn’t mind the scratches. I loved that cat too much. He trotted around with a rubber cricket—some old toy of mine—in his mouth, tossing it up in the air and batting it around. He lay on the floor next to my feet as I played the piano and purred. He waited for me to finish my showers in the morning so that he could walk in and lap up the water. He slept on my bed with me at night, and never quite outgrew pouncing on my toes if they wiggled just so.

One day when he was still quite tiny I went for a walk to our town library. It was a windy, cold, grey day. I kept hearing a little jingle behind me, but any time I turned around there wasn’t anything there. About half a mile from our house I finally turned and there he was, my little Prince, trotting behind me, his collar jingling. He had been darting in and out of the woods alongside the road. At the moment I turned around, though, an enormous truck zoomed past us. Prince spooked and ran into the woods. I hurried after him, and found him huddled in a ball, quivering. I turned around and carried him home.

He really was a Christmas miracle. In my hometown, it is unheard of for cats to live more than a few years because of the coyotes, owls, and other wildlife that prey on domestic animals. Snow Prince grew into a tough cat, nothing like his dainty name. He stayed out all night during a horrible lightning storm. He got into many fights, returning with battle wounds to show off. Once I heard the fight happening from afar and called and called and called his name fearing the worst. He returned home within the hour with a hole in his head, but seeming none the worse for wear. Eventually I think he just earned his keep. He outlived every cat we knew in town by more than double, triple, quadruple, quintuple in some cases. He survived enough misadventures that those other animals let him be, and he prowled the woods as he pleased. Well, and after probably twelve or so years, his stringy meat didn’t look so appealing.

Every summer when I went to camp Prince would express his displeasure by vomiting in my shoes or on a sweatshirt on the floor in my closet, which I wouldn’t find for months sometimes. When I went to college, my heart broke a little. Whenever I returned he would follow me everywhere, not even letting me go to the bathroom without him.  When I moved to Wisconsin after college and a year in Thailand, my heart broke even more. But I couldn’t take a fourteen-year-old cat that had always had a big house, big yard, and big woods for his playground and coop him up in a tiny apartment. Every Christmas I’ve returned to find him there, a little more deaf, meowing a little more loudly because he’s a little more deaf, and a little more arthritic, and even more affectionate. As he’s aged he’s been more content to lay in the sun and leave the prowling to the younger generation of felines. He loves nothing more than being held and hugging the holder. He even came to tolerate our sloppy, happy-go-lucky dog who could never take the place of our first dog, but who shares his smelly dog bed and therefore is acceptable. He’s gradually needed a little assistance hopping up on beds, but could manage clumsily if need be.

And this Christmas he won’t be there when I return. Tomorrow, my beloved Snow Prince will be put to rest, and I can’t even be there to comfort him. Or more to comfort me, I suppose. I know he’s suffering from poor health right now, and I want nothing more than for him to be content and comfortable. But it’s breaking my heart most of all that he’s so many miles away on such a hard night. I know he’s probably purring in the arms of my mom or dad, but not mine. I will never hold him again or bury my face in his fur. And in some ways the most grown up thing I feel like I’ve ever done wasn’t taking marriage vows, paying my first bills, buying my first home, or birthing a child. The most grown-up thing I’ve ever done was listening to my parents tell me that Prince’s time has come and not screaming no. Not begging them not to. Knowing that they are the ones with him every day and that they know when the scale of physical suffering and happiness has tipped too far to one side. And knowing that it must be terrible to tell me the news. The most grown-up thing I’ve ever done is to my let my kitty go. I turned twenty-eight in October. He turned eighteen this month.

Tonight we had a video chat so that I could say goodbye, not that the deaf old boy could hear me anyway. He purred in my father’s arms the whole time. I think we all were crying.

Snow Prince is the most amazing pet a girl could ever have hoped for, and the one I thought I’d never have. And so even though he won’t be there this Christmas season, I will still do what I’ve always done: write my letter to Santa. And this year, I’ll be sure to thank him for the best Christmas gift there ever was.

Photo of Snow Prince the Cat

And then there were three

Two weeks ago, on August 19th, I gave birth to a handsome baby boy. He wasn’t due until August 31st, so his arrival came as a bit of a surprise since typically you hear about first babies being late if anything. Even a family history of punctual babies (I, my brother, my husband, and one of his two sisters all came on our due dates) hadn’t fully prepared us, and so we were packing the hospital bag after my water broke at 1am. Despite going into the big event on an hour’s sleep, we had a very positive labor and delivery experience. Our little boy has completely captured our hearts (and sleep), and we’re slowly adjusting to life with a newborn. I suspect by the time we actually feel adjusted, he won’t be a newborn anymore! Needless to say, that’s why I’ve been rather quiet on the blog lately. All is well, though, and I’m certain that my son will only bring new inspiration of books to read and thoughts to explore. Photograph of me with my baby boy

Adventures in May and June

This past month has been a busy one! My sister-in-law and her significant other visited over Memorial Day weekend. In addition to eating our way around Madison, a favorite pastime whenever we have visitors, we made it out to Blue Mounds to explore Little Norway. The grounds of this national historic landmark are stunning, and the tour much more informative than I’d expected to be honest. Lots of great details. My only regret is that we were in such a large group (that’s what we get for going on the last tour of the day on a holiday weekend shortly after a Groupon had come for it!), it was a bit cramped in each of the small houses and buildings, and our poor guide had to balance explaining each place and artifact with preventing over-zealous observers (and a particularly roudy youngster) from picking up and bumping into some unique and fragile antiques. The flip-side of that, though, is that you’re really able to see everything up close unlike in museums where spaces and rooms are roped off. I’d definitely go again and recommend the site to others. Make sure you bring your camera, iPhone, or other picture-taking device.

Clockwise from top left: 1) one of many gnomes hiding on the property 2) our trusty tour guide leading the way 3) lantern 4) only complete set of this particular wash basin, pitcher, etc. known to exist in the world 5) spoons, including unity spoons (attached by wood chain in center) created from a single piece of wood. A newly married couple were expected to manage these at their wedding! 6) tools
Center: The stave-like building constructed in Norway and shipped on Viking ship to U.S. for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

That Sunday the temperatures rose into the 90s (an oddity we thought was a fluke but turns out to be a pattern so far this summer!) and we headed to the only public pool opened in the area; most others didn’t open until June! Here’s what happens when you mix such high heat with a holiday weekend and one available public pool:

Monona Public Pool Memorial Day weekend 2012But let me tell you, it was worth the crowds to get into the water.

The following weekend we headed to central New York for our 5-year college reunion at photos from Colgate University reunion 2012Colgate University. We were happy to see a new brewery in town: Good Nature Brewing Company. While my tasting was quite limited due to the baby belly, everyone else tells me the beer was outstanding. At $2 a tasting, it was an inexpensive and fun way to spend the afternoon! Other highlights of the weekend included partaking in Colgate’s traditional torchlight procession, and dinner at one of our favorite spots: Dinosaur Bbq in Syracuse. YUM. We have managed to eat there for all the major landmarks in our relationship: first date, the night we got engaged, and now with baby #1 on the way!

The following weeks were filled with housework (of the repaving and patio-adding variety), house cleaning, working weekends, and a lovely baby shower that our parents made it out for! Now that the craziness of that month is over, I plan to be back and at it here on the blog. Stay tuned!