Armed and Dangerous

See this?

This is a sword. It might not look like it, but it is. I use it to slay the elements.

You hear that, Winter??? You’ve thrown what you got at me. Minus 11-degree temperatures with -20 windchill. Snow falling every day. Freezing rain on top of that some days. Days when I have to scrape snow and ice off the car sometimes two or three times a day. But you will not get me down! No, no, no! You. Will. Not. Break. Meeeeeeeeeeeee!

This is my fighter pack.

Yes, that is a cup from Starbucks. It is a hot mocha. Got my sword and my gloves. And my lemon loaf cake. And I’ve got books to keep me warm. (And soft blankets.)

   

See these? My babies! I call the one on the left Darth Vader. And the one on the right has a space helmet vibe. How apt that these are space heaters.

   

Don’t let this sunny day fool you. It got to ten above (-12 Celsius) that day and sixteen on Sunday. The forecast calls for more below zero weather with snow.

   

Ha ha, Winter! You think you’ll break me. Think again!

Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? It hammers at you, crusts you over in disillusionment with its icy winds.

So I bought this the other day.

It may not look like much. But the title on the package says something to me. Not to the surface me, but to the bone-deep me that needs a good word every now and then. It reminds me to keep dreaming even through the crusty moments. Dream big dreams, girl. Not just dreams of warm, sunny days to avoid giving in to the winter blahs but dreams that say cold, dark days like this won’t last forever. That there’s something beyond those midnight blue-hued days where you’re kicking icicles off your car. Off your heart.

Yeah, I know. Sometimes the iceberg of life is way too much for your little boat. And my little pep talk, with its mixed metaphors, is only a tiny splotch of Sunshine Yellow paint on your Great Wall of Despair. I don’t want to make light of anyone else’s pain. This pep talk is really to remind me to keep going, even when I don’t want to.

So, Winter, you won’t have the last laugh! Not on my watch.

Oh yes, Winter. I’m armed and dangerous. Don’t mess with me.

Even Kitty has a found a friend during the cold days. Though I don’t think this poor cat knows what she’s gotten herself into.

Photos by L. Marie.

In the Meadow We Can Build a Snowman . . .

Or we can try. With the recent snowfall in my area (another six inches of goodness), I gave snowman building a shot. (See photos below. . . . What’s that? You’re having trouble seeing a white-on-white image? Perhaps I should title it White Cat in a Snowstorm.) But the snow was too powdery and refused to pack. According to an internet article by Karen Sassone, “The Physics of a Snowball,” the snow was too cold for snowman building. (Wrap your mind around that!)

   

Henry’s snowman is coming along much better. And small wonder. He’s a yeti. Snow is supposed to be his element. Though camouflage, sadly, is not. He thinks you can’t see him in this snow. Please humor him and say you can’t.

   

With such snowy days upon us here, my friend Sharon reminded me of the following poem by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, whose recent passing many of us mourn. Here’s a snippet of her poem. (You can find the whole poem here.)

First Snow

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.

Penny over at LifeontheCuffoff has a post with another of Mary Oliver’s poems here.

Even with a temperature drop down in the teens and below (Fahrenheit), sunny winter mornings still seem magical. Everything looks sharper.

  

Since I was curious about why that is so, I Googled and found an article entitled, “Cold winter nights offer clearer night skies.” Well, guess that says it all. But here is a quote from that article:

[C]old air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air can. Hence, on many nights in the summer, the warm moisture-laden atmosphere causes the sky to appear hazier. By day it is a milky, washed-out blue, which in winter becomes a richer, deeper and darker shade of blue.

So there you have it! Still, I can’t help feeling like I’m in a Van Gogh painting when I contemplate the winter clouds and breathe the crisp, cold air

Title based on “Winter Wonderland” lyrics by Richard B. Smith. Photos by L. Marie.

2018 Holiday Giveaway

  

It’s almost Christmas! Even if you don’t celebrate the holiday, you can still receive a gift! Part of the Christmas story involves Magi bringing gifts to the newborn King. (Feel free to hum “We Three Kings” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” as you read this.) No one really knows if there were three Magi, also known as wise men, as the songs declare. But I know that right here, right now, there are three wise people—three delightful authors—who are part of the gift-giving process! Say hello to Sarah Aronson, Stephen Bramucci, and Melanie Crowder!

  

I couldn’t be more excited to have them here! Sarah is represented by Sarah Davies. Stephen is represented by Sara Crowe. And Melanie is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette. They have written several books between them. Some are already out; some are yet to come in 2019. It’s as easy as ABC to give books away when you have authors like this.

Sarah Aronson’s picture book (published by Beach Lane Books) and middle grade fantasy novel (book 4 of a series published by Scholastic)

  

Click here for a guest post Sarah wrote for this blog, which mentioned two of the books in her Wish List series. These books will debut in 2019. Click here and here to find out more about them.

Stephen Bramucci’s middle grade adventure novel (book 2 of a series published by Bloomsbury)

Click here to find a synopsis of this book. Click here for the interview on this blog with Stephen about book 1.

Melanie Crowder’s middle grade fantasy novel (book 1 of a duology published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers)


Click here to find a synopsis of this book. Click here for another interview with Melanie about one of her books.

Okay, I’ve blabbed enough. Time for a mini-gab with the authors!

El Space: Without giving any spoilers, what would you give your main character as a gift this holiday season if you could? It doesn’t have to be a physical gift. It can be a quality or a value. What was one of the best gifts you received when you were a kid? Why?

Sarah: In the fairy godmother world, just like the regular one, everyone likes presents! And yummy food! In book four [of The Wish List series], Isabelle even gets to try some latkes! When I was a young mom celebrating Chanukkah with two kids, eight nights of presents proved daunting! Also, I was a present procrastinator, especially when Chanukkah fell after Christmas! So I began giving them coupons. I made all kinds, things like One Night Out with Mom! or Get Out of Cleaning or Your Choice for Dinner. Soon it became a family tradition! Since Isabelle is now part of the family, I made her some coupons, too. I knew just what she’d want—since she and I are a lot alike! And although we are both people who like making others HAPPILY EVER AFTER (or HEA), we also like shoes. Especially sneakers. Since now that book four is done, we are also both on the go!

The BEST gift I ever received was a blank book. An invitation to be creative. To find my voice. Thank you, Aunt Ann!

Stephen: If I could give Ronald Zupan anything this year, it would be a gift certificate written by his parents for one adventure taken together. I think what he wants, more than anything, is time with them, so that gift would resonate the most. Of course, that doesn’t take up much room under the tree, so I think maybe a new adventure hat would be in order too. And any master adventurer would be happy with a sharpening stone for his or her cutlass. You know, essential stuff.

The real gift Ronald seeks is a genuine sense of self-confidence derived from within, not from others. But he’s working on that and making solid progress.

My favorite gift I ever received as a kid was a scooter. It was freedom for me—a way to get around and to connect with other kids. When you’re young, mobility is everything. Or it was for me, because my parents didn’t want to shuttle me everywhere and I wanted to be out and about. So all my favorite gifts gave me a sense of freedom—scooter, skateboard, bike, and a dog as an adventure companion.

Melanie: (1) If I could gift Griffin anything for the holidays, I’d give him a photographic memory, which would really come in handy. . . . I can do that, right?

El Space: Yup.

Melanie: That, and maybe some Dramamine for his first trip through the portal. (2) I remember one year in late elementary school (the 80s, folks), I got these gold slouch pleather boots. I was in love! I don’t think I took those things off until they fell apart. But really, the best gift was those years when my parents loaded us all into the car and drove over the pass so we could spend the holidays with our cousins. It was magical. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Thank you, Sarah, Stephen, and Melanie for being my guests. For those of you reading this post, here’s something else you should know:

Sarah Aronson became a writer the complicated way! After (A) working for an exercise guru, (B) becoming a physical therapist, and (C) having two kids, running a school and selling books, she (D) took a dare and dove headfirst into writing all kinds of books for kids and teens. Just like Rube Goldberg, Sarah believes in the power of play, taking chances, and creativity. This February, read the end of The Wish List series: Survival of the Sparkliest! and in March, her first picture book biography, Just Like Rube Goldberg. Click here to visit her website.

Stephen Bramucci is the author of The Danger Gang series and National Geographic Kids Chapters: Rock Stars! He’s rowed down the Mekong Delta in a traditional x’ampan, ventured deep into the Australia outback with Aboriginal elders, and explored the Amazon Basin in Ecuador. He has a true passion for animals and his first book helped to support Orangutan conservation in Borneo. Click here to visit his website.

Melanie Crowder is the acclaimed author of several books for young readers, including Audacity, Three Pennies, An Uninterrupted View of the Sky, A Nearer Moon and Parched, as well as the new middle grade duology The Lighthouse between the Worlds. The author lives under the big blue Colorado sky with a wife, two kids, and one good dog. Click here to visit her website. (She has won multiple awards, y’all!)

Looking for their books? Click on each title below.

Just Like Rube Goldberg
The Wish List 4: Survival of the Sparkliest!
The Danger Gang and the Isle of Feral Beasts!
The Lighthouse between the Worlds

I’m giving away one copy of each author’s books. There will be three winners. Just to be fair and keep it to one book per author, since Sarah has two on preorder, you get to decide which one of Sarah’s books you’d like preordered if you’re chosen. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be announced on Christmas Eve—December 24. (If you are out of town and your name is chosen, don’t worry. You have until December 31 to acknowledge by posting a comment.)

Henry thinks some of these authors should write a book about him. He’s ready for his fifteen minutes of fame.

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from Goodreads and Simon & Schuster. Coupons by Sarah Aronson. Other photos by L. Marie.

Twiggy

In the 1960s, a model from London named Lesley Lawson became a fashion icon. Oh, perhaps you don’t recognize the name. Maybe the name Twiggy will jar your memory. However, if the 1960s was a decade your parents or grandparents remember (rather than you), you probably still have no clue who this is. Back then Twiggy was known for her waiflike look. Even today, some vie for the Twiggy look.

Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images

During my Sunday drive, I couldn’t help thinking of Twiggy with every deciduous tree I passed. Bare, vulnerable branches reached toward the gray sky, which brightened to blue in the afternoon.

Winter strips all of the pomp out of a tree. The circumstance is survival as a tree sheds its leaves and tucks into itself to wait for spring. But in their winter starkness, you can readily see the lovely “bones” of a tree.

In grad school, I had an advisor who did to my sentences what winter does to a tree. I had a habit of trying to get all fancy with my writing, adding phrases I thought grand. My advisor would send me feedback like, “This is crap,” which stripped all of the pomp out of me. Lest you get indignant on my behalf (or you just feel like chortling at the baldness of that statement), she was right. (I almost typed write.) I wanted to sound good, to show the world, “Hey look at me. I can use figurative language to dress up my writing” (though it made no sense character-wise). There is nothing wrong with figurative language. But as my advisor pointed out, if I couldn’t write a basic sentence—one with good “bones” like a solid action verb and a clear subject; one that fits the narrative well, instead of drawing attention to itself simply because it exists to feed my ego—what’s the point? She wanted to feel something, but couldn’t, thanks to my pretentious language.

So that’s why the twiggy-ness of trees moves me. Trees are so well designed, so graceful in their form. Starkness becomes them—and good sentences.

  

Twiggy photo from thegloss.com. Tree photos by L. Marie.

The Play’s the Thing

By now, you’re probably thinking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, since the title comes from that play, specifically Act 2, Scene 2:

More relative than this. The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

But I was actually thinking of what you do when you have downtime (like I did in this post). And in my area, we had oodles of downtime, thanks to the latest snowfall, which brought several inches overnight. What do you do when you barely have electricity (it flickered on and off on the night the snow began to fall in earnest and into the next day), no hot water, bad roads, and no internet, thanks to the snowstorm? (Working at home, I need internet.)

You go outside to scrape the snow boulders off your car, grumbling as you do so, because you can’t get your driver’s side door open. A layer of ice keeps it stuck fast. Same with the passenger door. And you need the scraper on the front seat. You grumble again. Finally, you get the rear passenger door open and crawl to the front over the center console, knocking your rearview mirror askew, and wind up in a tangled heap of boots, coat, and scarf in the driver’s seat. After shoving and shoving, you get the door open.

You scrape. And grumble. And scrape. Rinse. Repeat.

But then, something magical happens. In the distance, you notice the trees as the snow continues to fall. With the snow lacing their branches, they look like Christmas trees. And as you trudge wearily back to your building, you take in the sheer delight of a small child experiencing snow for the first time. His excitement is contagious. You think, The snow is pretty. Winter dresses the earth in frosting with a skill the finest cake decorator can only dream of emulating. (Okay, one tree is a little heavy on the frosting.)

   

This is a scene where you wouldn’t be surprised if a unicorn showed up.

  

As you talk with the child and his grandfather, you realize that going out to play is the thing to do on a day like this.

    

As I headed inside to cocoa it up, a friend texted, It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

It sure is.

If you have snow in your area, what’s your favorite thing to do on a snowy day?

Do you want to build a snowman?

Donatina thinks this chunk of snow looks like a dog.

P.S. The power finally went out for a while, then came back on, only to go out again and on again. Finally got internet early Tuesday morning.

Photos by L. Mare. Donatina Shoppie by Moose Toys.

Get Cozy!

img_4118When you live in an area where lately the temperature seems to hover between 9 degrees (Fahrenheit) and 2 below zero, you tend to crave anything that makes you feel warm and cozy.

Like my Sherpa blanket.

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Oh yeah! If I could wrap up with it while waiting for the train on frosty mornings, I would. When I throw it on, I instantly feel the weight and warmth of it. It’s like having a sheepdog wrapped around me.

I’ve mentioned the maple apple cider tea that makes me feel especially cozy. Nancy Hatch and Lyn Miller-Lachmann, expect to get some in the mail soon. (Yes, that is my way of announcing the winners of the giveaway announced in this post. I decided to go with two, since they both said they wanted the tea in the comments. Winners, please confirm below. If you would prefer to have a blend of flavors [click that link to preview] instead of only the maple apple cider, please mention that when you confirm.)

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Another way of getting cozy is to watch a cozy movie. I’ve mentioned in many posts that movies and miniseries adapted from Jane Austen’s books are my usual go-tos. However, Enchanted April is another favorite. This 1991 movie, directed by Mike Newell, concerns four women (Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright, and Polly Walker) who rent a villa in the Italian Rivera. It’s based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. With a cast like that, I can’t help feeling cozy, especially with so many sun-splashed days and lovely walks in the Italian countryside.

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Still another way of getting cozy is to curl up with a cozy mystery. Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Ngaio Marsh, P. D. James, and Dorothy Sayers were my authors of choice for years on cold winter days. Agatha, Ngaio, and Dorothy wrote during the Golden Age of mysteries (the 1920s and 1930s). There are many cozy mystery series now. For a great review of a cozy mystery, check out FictionFan’s blog. She reviewed one of the Murder She Wrote novels starring the one and only Jessica Fletcher. (Click here for that review.) I used to read those ages ago. I think I’ll pick one up again.

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I feel warmer already!

What’s your favorite way to get cozy this winter?

Book cover from Goodreads. Photos by L. Marie.