Drive On, Worker Bee

People are like cars. Some are newer, sportier models, zipping down the street, engines freshly oiled and cranked for speed. Some are reliable sedans or mini-vans. They get where they’re going. Some are older models that have weathered many storms, but are in need of an oil change every now and then.

(Where is she going with this? I hear you whispering.)

Lately, I’ve felt like the old model slowly making its way on the road, while the newer models zip around me, heading toward opportunities beckoning toward them that older models seem denied.

Of course, that’s a matter of perception. But man, I’ve felt beaten down lately.

Recently, I received this badge in the mail:

I have to thank Andy of City Jackdaw for it. He told me that the worker bee is the symbol of Manchester—a reminder of its industrial past. But it’s also a reminder of their resilience in the wake of the May 22 bombing at the Manchester Arena.

I needed this reminder, as I consider my life. Worker bee? Check. I’m happiest when I’m working on something. Resilience? Why do I always forget how necessary that is? Haven’t I lived long enough to know that you have to persevere through hard times? Rejections, money issues, writer’s block, loud neighbors, illness, the death of a loved one (I’ve experienced all of the above recently), breakups—they pop up like potholes here and there on the road of life. It’s our choice whether to stall out or drive on—to persevere through them.

   

I’m grateful for friends who prayed for me and encouraged me through this dry season, where I’ve felt trapped in a canyon surrounded by walls of doubt; a place where I can barely write even a grocery list. Words fail me. This too shall pass, they say.

I’m suddenly reminded of some lines from Peter Pan—“second [star] to the right and straight on till morning.” Sounds like driving directions to me. I know you can’t get to Neverland by car. You need pixie dust for that. But I can return to a state of wonder—a place I see just over the horizon—if I keep on driving.

Have you felt stuck in a canyon lately? What did you do to climb out and keep going?

Photos by L. Marie. Cutie Cars by Moose Toys.

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Fall into a Giveaway

Mwahahaha!
I am the creepy pumpkin luminary that presides over L. Marie’s armoire.

Now that it’s fall, I can’t help reminiscing about activities I loved in this season back in the day. When I was in elementary school, we used to bring leaves to decorate the classroom or to use as models for drawing time. Living in a climate where leaves change colors and drop to the ground made leaf gathering extremely easy. Finding a variety of leaves in a neighborhood where maple trees dominated—well, that was more challenging.

Happy fall, leaf. Dare I say, “How the mighty have fallen”?

We’d also make orange and black paper chains to hang on the walls above class drawings of trees with leaves cut out of paper, pumpkins, and other fall-ish things.

And of course, I enjoyed fall treats like Halloween candy (especially chocolate) and caramel apples.

I haven’t made a paper chain in a long while. Apple picking and apple donut eating have replaced the paper chain production. But I still love Halloween candy (especially chocolate) and caramel apples. Other fall food favorites include hearty teas and soups.

Recently, a good friend sent me a box of my favorite tea: maple apple cider. This friend knows who she is, so I won’t embarrass her by naming her here.

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But this friend’s generosity reminded me of another favorite, one that isn’t confined to a season or a reason: hosting a giveaway!

I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card (or its equivalent on Amazon UK).

All you have to do to be considered for this drawing is to comment below. Tell me a fall tradition you have or a food you love. The lovely random number generator will choose a winner, who will be announced on October 30.

Kirstea says, “Happy Fall!” Obviously, she’s not daunted by the luminary.

Caramel apple from galleryhip.com. Amazon gift card from Amazon.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Kirstea™ is a Shoppie doll made by Moose Toys.

The New Dinosaurs

Recently, I got around to reading an article in the Winter 2017 SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Bulletin—a quarterly publication. It had been in my bathroom for, oh, at least seven months. The title of the article—“Signing Books in Cursive?”—has a subtitle, “Children Might Not Be Able to Read It.” In the article, an author mentioned how she stopped signing books in cursive after her daughter and other teens warned her that kids wouldn’t be able to read her writing. The article went on to discuss how many teachers have stopped teaching cursive writing.

As I read the article, I was a little dismayed. I wondered how children who aren’t taught to read cursive writing would ever sign a check. And then it dawned on me: many people don’t use checks. They pay online with a credit card. Maybe by the time these kids grow up, they won’t even order checks.

I still use a check to pay rent and some bills like car insurance. And I sign the back of a check when I deposit it at the bank. (Beats chiseling rocks like we did back in the Stone Age.) And—something else that’s new—I don’t have to physically go to the bank to deposit checks. I can deposit them through my phone. (Though I choose not to do that. I’m still old school in some ways.)

It’s interesting to note what is now considered a relic of the past like the dinosaurs. I never imagined that cursive writing would be considered a thing of the past.

Contracts have changed also. Twelve years ago, I received a book contract in the mail—ten pages of legalese on 8½ × 14-inch paper with spaces for me to sign in cursive. Last year, I received a contract attached to an email that required a code to open. I “signed” it on the document (printed my name, really).

How times have changed.

What are some things you’ve been made aware of recently that are considered to be relics of the past? How do you feel about that?

Cursive writing image from handwriting8.blogspot.ca. Photos by L. Marie.

It’s a Matter of Perspective

It’s Labor Day here in the States. On this day, we cease from our labor and go to the home of friends and enjoy fondue.

Oh wait. That’s just what I plan to do today. But for many of us, this is part of a much-needed three-day weekend. (Unless you work in a hospital, store, or restaurant and have to work on Labor Day.)

Before I head off for fondue, take a look at this photo. What do you think it is? You can see what it is if you scroll down to the end of this post. How close were you in your guess? Does the photo below change your perspective?

So many things in life are a matter of perspective. Ever reread something you wrote but put aside for years, thinking it was a lost cause then, but now discovering a treasure? Or perhaps you recently took another look at a DIY project you finished years ago. What did you think of it when you first finished the project? What do you think of it now?

Time can change your perspective. Think about all of the books, TV shows, or movies you loved or hated when you were a kid. Do you still love/hate them? Case in point: my parents loved documentaries. But when I was a kid, I thought documentaries were too serious and were super boring—unless they had something to do with predators like lions or sharks. Then I was interested. But now I love documentaries of all kinds.

Anyway, I recently reread some poems I wrote years ago, when I first began a daily poetry challenge. Now, I don’t consider myself a poet at all. Andy of City Jackdaw and his new poetry-centric blog, Coronets for Ghosts, is a published poet. Charles Yallowitz regularly features poetry on his blog. I just dabble at it, thanks to the assignment of a grad school advisor (also a published poet), who told me to get The Aspiring Poet’s Journal and do the exercises in it every day to inject more whimsy into my writing. I was a little resentful of the assignment at first. But I soon grew to enjoy it. I now look forward to my daily sessions.

When I first began writing poetry, I was convinced that a kindergartner just learning his or her ABCs could write better poetry than the ones I churned out. But last week, when I reread one of my earlier poems, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t as embarrassed by it as I’d assumed I would be. Time had softened my perspective. And no, I don’t plan to post it here. I don’t have that much nerve.

Off I go for some fondue. Before I go, let me ask you this: What perspective shift, if any, have you experienced recently?

Labor Day image from wallpapercave.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

When It Rains, It Pours

This weekend, we celebrated my younger brother and sister-in-law’s silver wedding anniversary with “a party of special magnificence.” (If you’re up on your fantasy novels, you’ll know that reference. If not, scroll down to the end of the post to find out where this quote came from.)

Yet the joy of the celebration was tempered not only by those who were invited but couldn’t come for various reasons, but especially by the arrival of Hurricane Harvey and the flooding of Houston. My parents and older brother and sister-in-law live on the outskirts of Houston. A tornado recently hit that area, thanks to the hurricane. Also, the sister of a friend lives in Corpus Christi where the hurricane landed.

After some phone calls, I’m relieved to mention that all are safe. Yet so many people are struggling right now, as you can see on the news, thanks to the rainfall.

My cousin, who had come to celebrate with us, mentioned that her husband is preparing to head down to Texas for storm duty. He works for an insurance company, so he has long hours of work ahead of him.

As the party wound down, we stared at all of the pans of untouched food, wondering what to do with them. My brother and sister-in-law finally decided to take the food to a nearby homeless shelter. Wouldn’t you know it? When they walked in, the workers told them that a record number of people had shown up that day and they weren’t sure what to serve them. In walked my brother and sister-in-law with the solution.

I sat outside after returning home from the party. The gray sky had a bruised sort of look to it, almost like it too mourned what was happening down in Texas. And I felt sort of bruised too. Bruised, but still hopeful.

Life certainly has some highs and lows, doesn’t it? From the wonder of the solar eclipse to the horror of Hurricane Harvey. There’s also the unrelenting sadness of homelessness. But as we saw on the news, people reached out to rescue those in Houston who were trapped in flooded homes. And a homeless shelter in Illinois was able to serve those in need, thanks to some party guests who didn’t show up.

P.S. The quote at the beginning is from the first paragraph of chapter 1 in The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Photo by L. Marie.

Life Off Camera

Happy Eclipse Day—the first total solar eclipse in 38 years that we’ll be able to see here in the States! Some friends traveled to Carbondale, Illinois for this occasion since that’s the place where it can be viewed the longest.

Try as I may, I’m not always able to capture, via my phone’s camera, all of life’s amazing moments. Like the time aliens took over New York, but were stopped by the Avengers (thus freeing us to all have shawarma at the end). Or the time when the evil peace-keeping robot (what an irony) threatened to destroy the world, and the Avengers had to help out again.

Okay, those events happened on the big screen, instead of in real life.

But I can’t help thinking of last week when I witnessed a territorial fight between two male hummingbirds. I immediately thought of Jill Weatherholt, a blogger/author you undoubtedly know. Lest you get the wrong idea, I didn’t think of her because of the fight. Jill has shown me photos of the hummingbirds around her house.

I was seated near the balcony at the home of some friends after their hummingbird feeder had been refilled and placed on the balcony. The usual ruby-throated hummingbird soon landed on the feeder. Let’s call him HB-1. I mentioned “usual,” because one of my friends told me this hummingbird usually came to the feeder. But this day, a rival came too—HB-2.

Oh no, he didn’t!

Oh, yes he did!

Pretty soon, tiny wings beat the air even faster, while long beaks jabbed. After a bob and weave, HB-1 got the better of HB-2 and forced his rival to fly away. Sadly, my phone was nowhere near me at the time, so I did not get pictures.

Nor was I able to capture something that happened at a birthday party I went to recently. The birthday child was a little girl who turned one. Over forty kids were present. One of the games they played was one involving a box wrapped with about fifty layers of wrapping paper. The kids sat in a circle and passed the box around, each unwrapping one layer, hoping to be the one who reached the last layer. That kid would have the privilege of claiming what was inside the box.

The kids gave that box the care and attention a neurosurgeon would give a patient. Every time the kids thought they’d reached the end of the wrapping paper, still more layers would appear. Without knowing what was in the box, they were fully invested in solving the mystery of what was inside. I was the one tasked with picking up the discarded wrapping paper, so I didn’t have a free hand to snap a photo. But I loved the fact that the kids were riveted by a wrapped box, rather than some expensive video game. (Lest you think I dislike video games, let me admit to you now that I play them. Just sayin’.)

Neither of these moments has the awe-factor of a solar eclipse, I know. But life has these little moments of mystery and wonder—moments too quick or too powerful to capture on film. Like the time a two-year-old hugged me around my knees. Like the laughs I shared with friends last week. I’m glad I was fully present, enjoying those moments, instead of fumbling for my camera.

But I was able to capture this butterfly not too long ago. He sat still, allowing me time to photograph him (though I wish I’d managed a closeup).

What moments have you enjoyed recently that took your breath away, but that you weren’t able to record on your camera?

Solar eclipse image from Wikipedia. Avengers poster from nzgirl.co.nz. Hummingbird from free-background-wallpaper.blogspot.com. Wrapping paper from zazzle.co.uk. Monarch butterfly photo by L. Marie.

Cloudy with a Chance of Awesome

If you were a kid like me, cloud watching was an integral part of your day. But when adulthood beckoned, bills and boys and benchmarks and a plethora of worries crowded out the cloud-watching habit. I have since discovered the error of my ways and returned to cloud watching.

I’m so glad I did. Clouds are beautiful masterpieces painted on a heavenly canvas each day. And they have been really interesting lately. Like these clouds below. They look like letters to me. What letters, if any, do you see?

    

Or how about this one? I see one letter just above the tree at the left, in the center of the photo. Do you see it?

For some reason, this one gives me a Cinderella-going-to-the-ball vibe. It’s actually the first “letter” in the first photo before the clouds shifted a bit.

I see numbers in the photo below. Do you? The cloud at the left looks like a 4 or a 1 and a 7. The middle one could be another 7 or a 1. The one at the right looks like an upside-down 2, or even a Z. What do you think?

This one looks like a heart (top center) surrounded by a larger heart:

This one has a cloud that looks like a hand (at the right):

Here are some others. For the second one, I think, “Sheep May Safely Graze.”

   

Clouds remind me of infinite possibilities—of creativity and wonder. Honestly, I’d rather watch the clouds than continue to watch recent news events, which have frustrated and angered me, and nearly driven me to despair.

That’s why I look up. I can dream of a world where hate has no place; where fingers aren’t angrily aimed at people in blame; where voices are raised in praise and gratitude, rather than in fury.

That’s why I’m also grateful for authors like Steve Bramucci, who write books to take kids and adults on an adventure. What a positive goal! (How’s that for a segue?)

This is as good of a time as any to announce the winner of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! by Steve Bramucci. (For the interview with Steve, click here.)

   

The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

S. K. Van Zandt!

S. K. Van Zandt, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented!

P. S. Keep looking up!

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Steve Bramucci. Cloud photos by L. Marie.